Delve Deeper

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blood, Sin & Nightmares: an interview with Joe Pulver...

Kelly Young recently had an opportunity to chat with author Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. about Lovecraft's Mythos, the King in Yellow, music, noir and more! Joe's latest collection, Sin & ashes, was recently released by Hippocampus Press...

Joe, you started writing late in life, and had the first thing you ever wrote published - "Nightmare's Disciple". Walk us through the journey. What led you to start writing, and of all things a Mythos tale, and how did you get that into the hands of a publisher? 

     Hi Kelly, thanks for asking me to do this.
     We got our first computer. No one knew how it worked, and the kids were gonna need it for school work, writing reports, etc., so I got elected to find out how the word processor worked, so I typed a a a a b b b b c c c c etc. Got sick of that. One day I typed a page of text, that became the prologue to Nightmare's Disciple.
     I was an avid reader, a shark. Never considered writing anything, never wanted to. I thought that required talent - and I was certain, when it came to the arts, I didn't have any talent.
     Everything begins in a Supermarket on a Friday morning. I saw a new Brian Lumley book, saw that it wasn't a Cthulhu Mythos book. I wasn't happy and thought, why isn't anybody writing Mythos stuff? Took my groceries home, was talking to a friend on the phone, told him about the Lumley book and Lovecraft. He said you want to read that shit, then you have to write it. I laughed.
That night, sitting at the computer, in the middle of winter, I didn't want to keep typing a a a, so I thought, if you were going to write a Mythos story, what would it be? I typed the first page, which became a prologue. A day or two later, I typed three pages of the first chapter.
     The friend I had talked to on the phone, a literary snob, came over, saw the file, read my four pages. I didn't know he had read that, I was in the other room. When I came back, he said "What are you doing with this?".
     I said, "I'm learning how to use the computer!" [laughs]
     He said, "No, what are you doing with this?" and pointed at the text.
     I said "Nothing, I was just fooling around."
     He said, "This ain't half bad!" coming from someone who read Mann and Nabokov and Ford Maddox Ford, I thought Hah!. He said "What's next?"
     I said: "Nothing."
     A couple of days later, with no real plot in mind, other than Columbo, I didn't want to hide the mystery/crime, I wondered what was on page five. So I typed to find out. When I got there, I wondered what was on page seven. Around page 10 or 15 I thought, "Hmm, as a personal amusement, let's see how far we can go." and I kept typing.
     I had a revised first draft of Nightmare's Disciple and I heard about the NecronomiCon in Salem, Massachusetts. I also heard about Bob Price, "Crypt of Cthulhu", and Necronomicon Press. I thought, I have this manuscript, two of my friends read it, they liked it. So I'd thought go to Salem, find Bob Price, walk up and ask him if he'd read it and tell me if it had any merit.
     I went, found Bob, and he agreed to read it and I didn't hear from him for 11 months. I figured, he thought it was trash, end of story. One morning my phone rang, Bob Price said "Hi, this is Bob Price. I went to my mom's to visit this weekend, took your manuscript. I couldn't put it down. Do you want to hear the introduction?"
     "To what?" I replied.
     "To your book!"
     He read me the introduction which, due to page considerations, as Nightmare's Disciple was 400,000 words, Chaosium elected not to use.
     I was absolutely floored by his introduction, I asked him to read it to me again. Three more times.
     He told me he was an editor at Chaosium, freelance, and he was going to recommend that they put the book out as part of their "Call of Cthulhu Fiction" series. 11 days later I had a contract from Chaosium to publish Nightmare's Disciple.
     I asked them if Bob was going to edit it, as a first time writer and as someone who was not a writer, I wanted a real editor to go through the manuscript. Lynn Willis said "No, it's fine just the way it is." There's where this all started.

Your short stories have taken hints and cues from Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, from silent films and crime novels and film noir, but one source you keep returning to is Robert W. Chambers' "The King in Yellow". Tell us why this particular piece, which has been overlooked by so many others, is so fascinating and important to you.

     I'm a rabid fan of Robert Bloch. Rabid. Bloch gave us Jack the Ripper, Norman, and Juliette. Also I'm a huge fan of Poe. Madness. Murder. To lose one's mind is the scariest thing to me, to enter that unknown, that darkness, terrifies me. The King in Yellow, a book, its words have the power to drive one mad, the concept strikes a deep chord in me, scares me like few others. Add the setting, and my long-standing love of masks! !! The mentions of the play and the names-I have major interest in NAMES due to Lin Carter and his book Imaginary Worlds. Then there's the fact that I discovered Chambers at 16. And that Robert Chambers lived 4 miles from the porch where I was reading "The Yellow Sign", which was less than 30 miles from my house. HOOKED! The work just amazed me, and never left me. It's so rich, it suggests so much to me, I can't escape it's allure, nor do I ever want it to. And I doubt my fascination with the King in Yellow will ever diminish. I am also drawn to how easy I can change settings to fit the KIY... It is a coat of many, many colors.

You seem to be the current Master of Carcosa. Are there any other authors - past or present - that you feel are paying homage to The Tattered King?

     Current Master of Carcosa? Hah! Pass the pipe. I guess, according to some I am... But that's another thing that is not for me to say... What I will say is, I dream here. Play in the phantom veil. It is a place I feel at home, it comes very easily to me. Hell, it's like breathing...
     Yes, there's a canon. Chamber's core stories!! ! Karl Edward Wagner's "The River of Night's Dreaming"!! ! James Blish's "More Light!". Vincent Starrett's "Cordelia's Song". Michael Cisco - "He Will Be There". Ann K. Schwader has several poems I also include in The Canon.
     As a crusader and hardcore King in Yellow purist, that's the canon as I see it. For now! !! Others may have different opinions about it.
     The King in Yellow has absolutely nothing to do with the Cthulhu Mythos! There is not something with tentacles in the lake. I want my Chambers pure. The King in Yellow is my personal crusade. To date I've written one poem, one short, one-act play and approximately 30 King in Yellow stories. I have no idea if they're any good. People like you, Kelly, and Bob Price, and S.T. Joshi and several other notables, consider them to be very meritorious. That's not for me to say. I think some of my King in Yellow material is pretty good, but I don't think I've written anything, yet, that's as good as the texts I mentioned as being part of the canon. That's my dream. To write something that is good enough to be a right and proper part of the canon.
     Richard L. Tierney, Will Murray, John Tynes, Bill Laughlin, Galad Elflandsen, Mike Minnis, Wilum H. Pugmire, and Arinn Dembo have also written worthy King in Yellow texts.
     There may be other things that I haven't seen, but at this point I believe I've read 95 percent of all the King in Yellow material that exists. I, a few years ago, read nearly 200,000 words of unpublished King in Yellow material. I may have missed something. Hell, I may have missed something brilliant. But of what I'm currently aware of, that's where it stands.
     My fantasy for the canon. KIY tales from Liz Hand and Jack O'Connell!! !!

Your writing style differs from story to story - sometimes hard-boiled pulp, other times stream-of-consciousness poetry, and often, a mix of the two. How would you describe your own writing? Give us a crash course in "Pulverese".

     PULVERESE-HA [Laughing. Shaking my head.]
     A poet, I can't recall the name, once said something along the lines of "a poem should be a world unto itself". This applies, as far as I'm concerned, to whatever I'm writing. Each tale is different, unless I using a character again, so different voice/style.
     My writing? I don't consider it writing. Pulver wanted to play guitar. Pulver was a poor kid, couldn't afford a guitar, never got that guitar. Words are my song, I'm finally playing my guitar. As I play, the crunch of Noir, the ballet of Carcosa, the Free-Jazz of Lovecraft's cosmicism, these are the things I bend and weave together.
     I love Noir, Hard-boiled, Pulp, Comics--Make Mine Marvel!, POETRY, SciFi, Bloch, Horror, Dumas, Vachss, it all goes in this cauldron I call a brain, and when I begin a piece, a text, things boil. Frank Zappa would put Doo-Wop and Stravinsky in the same song. To me, that's a fingerpost.
     Let's say we're in a car, driving down a grey, urban street, we turn, ah there's a few trees, green, so we continue along and we have more trees, and then no city. So I'm writing and the scene changes, so why not change voices? We are in a new place we see new things and react differently. I let the text reflect changes like these. Mix. Stretch. Push it. Maybe you are crying, then you're mad as hell, different feelings, different trains of thought and emotion, so let the words reflect the changes. Slow. Fast. Stretch. Find HOT words, hot ways to show it in the sentence. Listless, well, bend it. Again, words, let them SHOW as well convey narative...
     So I have a note and it says "A vampire hires someone to kill another vampire". That's my whole story idea. Is it going to be a poem? Is it going to be this? Is it going to be that? I never know until I start typing, it's then, when I hear the song. I merely write down the notes, or try to.
     Going back to the poet I mentioned, each text is "unto itself". I bring to it, from my cluttered tool-box, whatever IT needs, wants.

You use a lot of musical references in your writing, and even have a tale that revolves around Jim Morrison. How important is music to your writing? And does music influence the tale, or does the story you're writing decide what music you'll be listening to?

     Yes, music influences my writing, as does art, and other things. Almost all of my texts have internal soundtracks. Sometimes you'll find, at the end of my pieces, my soundtrack notes.
     Sometimes a piece starts because of a piece of music. "Dogs begin to bark all over my Neighbourhood" began when I was listening to Jeff Beck. I thought, that's the story title! But it's not the soundtrack. I stood up, turned around. Saw John Zorn's CD. Spillane. That's the soundtrack. Put the CD in the player. Pushed play. It started. I began to type. When Zorn's composition ended, I was done. Spellchecked it. That's that.
     Most times the soundtracks do not influence me that overtly. But they sometimes do. One of my new texts, is a riff off H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness". I saw the CD "Before and After Science" by Brian Eno sitting on the shelf. The whole story was instantly there.
     Music is a heavy influence, sometimes a text of mine is the direct result of a thought or feeling based on a musical composition. Sometimes, I begin a text and as I'm typing the relevant soundtrack makes itself known to me. It's different for every text.

"Another Desert Night With Blood" has made it into Ellen Datlow's latest "Year's Best Horror" anthology, and you continue to draw rave reviews for your work. Do these kind of accolades mean much to you, or are you past that kind of stuff?

     They mean a lot to me. I, like every other writer, sit alone, bleed, write in the dark alone. I have no idea if anyone will like it. When I'm done, there is no applause. So once I finish a piece, my very first thought is the reader. Will she? Will he? And I start to worry-damn near panic.
     I have been unable to buy an ego. Know anyone who'd like to sell me one? I'm in the market.
     I love the process, but I'm rarely happy with the outcome. I'm unable to distance myself from whatever I'm writing, so I can't see the "whole" of it. Therefore I can't see whether it's any good or not. I sure hope so. I try. I try to give the tale and the reader my best.
     Praise, love it. When I got Ligotti's (out of the blue!) my feet didn't touch the floor for 2 hours. It's very nice to hear readers, and your peers, say your work has merit. Very nice, indeed. I have not gotten over it. I haven't moved beyond it. And I do not want to.
     On the other hand, when somebody destroys you, or one of your texts, it's a powerful body-shot. They hurt.
     I have been amazed and delighted by the praise of Ligotti, Barron, Datlow, Price, Joshi, and others. I don't understand it, but I sure like it. I only hope I can continue to write material that readers and my peers find of merit.

You've written one novel, and then two collections of short form fiction and prose. Do you enjoy telling shorter stories more than the long form? Will we be seeing a new novel any time soon?

     As a reader I love nothing better than novels, immersion in a whole world. Characters, colour, depth. I like short stories too. But as a reader, I prefer the long form-DUNE, Flicker! !!
     There were some who said Nightmare's Disciple was too long. As I said, I asked to have it edited, but was told "No". My reaction to that, was to write short. Severly short. The short form is fun. With the short form you have to put it on the line right away. No time to dally. I interpret that as "hellbent". Prose-wise, poetically, all bets are off. Run like hell. It's sprinting. You're absolutely free. Going 1,000 mph w/ yer hair on fire, that's thrilling.
     Bob Price just asked me, comissioned me, to write a tale set in Leng. He also asked for a tale that was "more linear" and a little less "Pulverese". I told him I'd be happy to, but in my mind, being restricted to a more conventional form of storytelling, it seemed to me that it would be a long tale. I finished it. It's nearly 16,000 words. It was kind of fun to return to the long form.
     I have written a new novel, it's called "The Orphan Palace". It's currently being looked at by a publisher. We'll see if I continue with the long form. I'd like to.
     At the moment I have many short texts accepted for publication this year, and many short pieces that are done that I have yet to submit. I'm also working on half a dozen new short texts. In a perfect world, you'll be seing more novels from me and more collections. I already have half of my next collection, which will be called Portraits of Ruin, complete. And I am very much looking forward to a release later this year from Double Feature Press, which will be comprised of a 40,000 word collection by me (called NIGHT BEGETS) and a 40,000 word collection by Robin Spriggs.
     Absolutely delighted to be in the inaugural book by this new publisher, Double Feature Press. And I am absolutely over the moon to be included in a book that contains the wonderful work of Robin Spriggs.

You wrote Nightmare's Disciple and the stories contained in Blood Will Have Its Season while you were living here in the States, and the majority of SIN & ashes while you've been living in Europe. Do you find that your location has played an important part in the stories you've written? Your newer stories do seem to have more of an "old-world" feel to them.

     Yes, the location is having an effect. You can take the boy out of the US, you can not take the US out of the boy. I suddenly, truly know the value of American soil and what it stands for. That has a very deep effect on my writing. And as a Stranger in a Strange Land, I've gained whole new perspective on a multitude of cultural and personal values. I see new sights. I see new styles of dress. I see new attitudes. And I miss things in ways I could never fathom. A writer is an observer. What he or she sees, can't be avoided and it does find it's way into your work, or at least into the mind, and in my case, the heart as well.

Karl Edward Wagner's classic "The River of Night's Dreaming" was made into an episode of the old Showtime series "The Hunger"… but all references to The King in Yellow were tossed out. There are a few KiY amateur films available… is there anything out there that has grabbed your attention?

     I applaud the efforts of amateur filmmakers when it comes to the King in Yellow. Has anyone made the King in Yellow film I see, and want, no. I have nothing negative to say about any of the short King in Yellow material I have seen so far. I was not there to see what difficulties may or may have not been encountered in the production. I'm not privy to the budget and time constraints of these films. Do these things matter? Yes, they do. That some filmmakers have chosen this as a source material I can only say "Thank you!", because who knows what it will inspire in someone else. And one of the things I am absolutely commited to, is a King in Yellow film that is true to the canon and wins new fans and admirers for the work of Robert W. Chambers.
     Toward that goal I will soon be working with someone I admire a great deal, on a King in Yellow screenplay. We will see, what the future holds, cinematically, for the King in Yellow.

What's next for you? What do you want to do that you haven't done?

     Next for me? I have half a dozen things I am currently working on and am very much looking forward to completing. I am working on and researching, a new novel. Due to the theme, I can't discuss it. It's a great idea. There is probably a whole hell of a lot of people out there who could do it better than I (I'd kill to sit Liz Hand in a chair and whisper in her ear as she wrote this.). But, ideas are gold and this one's mine win, lose, or draw. Due to the subject matter there's a couple of hoops and hurdles I have to deal with to get it done. But I'm hoping to be able to get around them.
     As I said, I'm halfway through my next collection, Portraits of Ruin and am looking forward to working on the King in Yellow screenplay in earnest. Like any other writer I have a slew of story ideas, a few of which the muse is very charmed with.
     The one thing I have not done and long to do is to write a hard-noir novel. No supernatural element, no horror, straight noir. I'd also like to further explore Sci-Fi.
     A couple of last things: I'm hoping SIN & ashes get's discovered by readers. Nightmare's Disciple and Blood Will Have Its Season are both about to become e-books. I'm very much interested to see what the electronic format has in regards to my work.
     I'd like to get an agent. I sure don't know about how one obtains one (I'm not to good at begging)- but I'd sure like to get one.
     My ultimate fantasy would be to write a Dr. Strange novel. No sex. No four-letter words. But no other constraints. Are you listening, Marvel? Yes, Dormammu! !! Dr. Strange is almost as dear to me as the KIY.
     There is also a good chance I'm not done w/ Caligari yet :)

That's it! Thanks for your time and for sharing your wonderful talent!

     I can't thank you and Craig enough for giving me this platform. You guys are both marvelous. And I apologize for rambling so much. Certainly hope I didn't bore the hell out of your readership too much.

     All my bEastly best!! ! 

(Thanks to Kelly Young and Joe Pulver)


  1. Craig, I cannot thank you and Kelly enough for the support and for this platform.

    Kelly you made it easy for me to step out of my shell and speak. Danke!! !

  2. Fucking great interview and so much excellent knowledge to glean from. Thanks all three of you wise guys for making this happen.
    Ia! Ia!

  3. Thanks for the kind words - It sure
    helps having such an interesting subject to interview...

  4. Thanks Nick, but Joe and Kelly made this one happen!!!


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