As part of our series of Halloween-themed chats this month, we caught up with Mike Davis – editor of the dynamic and much-loved weird fiction hub Lovecraft eZine, as well as its more recent publication arm. Is Lovecraft, however, the be all and end all of the zine, and what kind of influence does he still exert on horror?
When did you first become acquainted with the work of HP Lovecraft, and what were some of the key elements that fascinated you about his writing?
Unlike most Lovecraftians, I did not discover his work in my early teens. As a kid, I read voraciously – we didn’t have a TV – but somehow I never stumbled across his stories. I can’t remember where I read it, but sometime in my early 20s I stumbled across a quote from ‘In the Gates of the Silver Key’: “I have seen what lies beneath, and it is not good to see.” That grabbed me, and after finding and reading ‘Silver Key’ I read all the Lovecraft I could.
How has your view of Lovecraft evolved over the years, particularly given his ballooning fanbase and writers paying homage to him, but also his somewhat problematic worldview?
To be honest, I’ve always been far more interested in the work of Lovecraft than in the man himself. I run a magazine and website titled ‘Lovecraft eZine’, but for me (and I think many others) the name ‘Lovecraft’ is a convenient label, another term for cosmic horror. Lovecraft eZine certainly rolls off the tongue a little better than ‘The Cosmic Horror and Weird Fiction Magazine!’
That said, he cannot be excused for his racism. That he held those views is deplorable. Of course, many other authors that we hold in high esteem were actually terrible people. Charles Dickens was a racist. Earnest Hemingway was a “gin-soaked abusive monster” according to his son Gregory, and a misogynist. Ezra Pound was anti-Semitic. Thomas Jefferson was a slave-owner. Ronald Dahl was racist. Norman Mailer was homophobic and sexist – so sexist, in fact, that he once said that, “a little bit of rape is good for a man’s soul” and called women “obedient little bitches”. Jack London was racist. So was Walt Whitman and Rudyard Kipling. And on and on and on.
None of this excuses Lovecraft, and I’m not a fan of the “he was a product of his time” argument. But it does seem strange that his racism comes up so much more often than other equally guilty writers. One could argue that we hear it more because we are fans of his work and his themes. I don’t think that’s the case, though. Whenever I hear Thomas Jefferson’s name, or read about him, I very seldom see the addendum “and he was a slave-holder”. I don’t see racism brought up much in regards to Walt Whitman, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, and so on – at least, not nearly as often as it is with Lovecraft.
Don’t get me wrong, though. If people feel the need to discuss Lovecraft’s racism or any other author’s racism, then by all means, they should. As for me, I know he was a racist, and I’m not sure what else there is to add.
Lovecraft is seen as one of the pioneers of ‘weird fiction’, and his influence – and that of his contemporaries in the genre – has taken on a wider, even international, scope today. From your experience with Lovecraft eZine, how would you describe the state of the genre today?
Some weird fiction authors and editors see weird fiction as a train, others as a wheel. I like the analogy of a tree, with weird fiction as the trunk. One branch from that trunk is Lovecraft – and yes, it’s a big branch. But there are other branches. Chambers. The Vandermeers. William Hope Hodgson. Shirley Jackson. Robert Aikman. Thomas Ligotti. Laird Barron. Michael Cisco. Kathe Koja. T.E.D. Klein. And so many others.
What led you to set up the Lovecraft eZine, and what were some of the most important developments for the zine so far?
I’d been in real estate for about 15 years when I reached the point that I just couldn’t do it any more, due to illness. My wife, son, and I moved to Texas in early 2011, and my wife encouraged me to stay home and rest. Instead, with my free time I started Lovecraft eZine.
I wanted to build not just a magazine, but a community as well. It was gratifying to see how many people gravitated to the eZine right away. Then I started the video chats, which evolved into the Sunday talk show. And I began to publish books a year or so ago. There were a lot of encouraging developments, but those are some of the highlights.
The community that surrounds – and is encouraged – by the zine appears to play a crucial role in how the zine operates. How would you describe the Lovecraft eZine community, and why do you think Lovecraft in particular boasts this kind of dedicated fan base?
The Lovecraft eZine community is full of incredible, awesome, loyal people. I appreciate them. They have become my friends. As far as why the fan base is so dedicated, there’s no one reason. Different aspects of Lovecraft appeal to different people. Some are readers. Others enjoy gaming, or Lovecraftian art. There’s something for everyone.
The zine also has a publishing arm. How did this first come about, and what can you tell us about some of your upcoming publications?
I’m not sure what started it. I just decided one day that it would be a good idea, and that it would be fun to do. I guess it’s like the magazine — I publish the kind of stories that I want to read. So far, I’ve published The King in Yellow Tales by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., The Sea of Ash by Scott Thomas, and The Lurking Chronology by Pete Rawlik. (I also published a Kindle edition of Blood Will Have Its Season, by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.) They have all been received very well by the community, and I’m happy about that.
In the near future, I’ll be publishing Autumn Cthulhu, an anthology, with stories by Laird Barron, John Langan, Gemma Files, and others. I’ll also be publishing a Jeffrey Thomas collection.
Do you have a final Halloween message for our readers?