Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Why I Wrote "Blue Moon of Cthulhu"

My introduction to the Mythos came about in a strange way — appropriately for the Mythos. While I was living in Ashland, Kentucky between 1976 and 1978, I read a science-fiction magazine, which I no longer have, in which Dr. Jerry Pournelle wrote of attending a symposium given by Dr. Stephen Hawking on black holes. What he revealed about them was so unsettling to Dr. Pournelle that he felt impelled to describe the symposium as "a quiet afternoon of Lovecraftian horror." To learn what Dr. Pournelle meant by his outlandish adjective, I tracked down the works of H. P. Lovecraft and got hooked on them, as many of you who are reading this blog have gotten.

[Something to which I did not have access while I was living in Ashland was the Internet. Entering the phrase in quotes into Google, I learn that Dr. Pournelle's article appeared in Galaxy, volume 36, number 9. Maybe, somewhere, you'll find the copy of it that was once mine — if it hasn't gone down a black hole. Still, it would not have been wholly lost.]

Like many another who has gotten hooked on the Mythos, I have succumbed to the temptation to produce my own writings in it. The seven of these that took the form of short stories are collected in Blue Moon of Cthulhu. The first of these stories, "The Calming of Cthulhu," began in the mid-1980's when the sentence "A blood-red moon hung low over Arkham as Cthulhu rode into town" popped into my head. I had a clear image of the Great Old One and of his steed, but nothing else for nearly a decade until, one day while I was walking around on the campus of the University of Kentucky, the rest of the story came to me in a flash. The story turned out to be a lighthearted treatment of the Mythos, but, at least so far, I've suffered no ill consequences from the lightheartedness. Perhaps, when the stars are right…

Sometime in the Nineties, I bought from a huckster at a science-fiction a chapbook titled The Second Book of Rimel. From Duane Rimel of Washington, I learned that tales of the Mythos could be set in places besides Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Inspired by Rimel, I turned my hand in 2001, shortly after a new millennium had begun, to writing a tale of the Mythos set in Kentucky, which, of course, supplies the "blue moon" to my own book's title. This time was dark in my life; the darkness shows up in the story that I wrote, "The Transformation of the Troglodyte." Residents of the Bluegrass will recognize nearly all of the places mentioned in the story (I except only the protagonist's residence, which was in real life the obscure duplex in which I lived then), though not even the most determined investigator will find the bookseller's door in Midway or the cavern in McConnell Springs Park. I was haunted by "The Mad Prophet of the Shakers" until I put his story onto paper. Will he haunt you, too?

What does "when the stars are right" mean? I recall asking myself this question one time early in the new millennium while I was looking at a conjunction in the evening sky — not in the morning sky, when the protagonist of "Dreams of a Conjunction" is looking. My conjunction may have been of Mars at opposition and a crescent moon, but memory is mutable — and fickle. I wrote the short story for submission to an anthology that was suggesting original creatures of the Mythos. My original creature is Rasidep, whose name is an anagram of despair. Perceptive readers may guess Rasidep's source. The verse in the short story is original with me.

"Heritage of the Heretic" began as a title in search of a story. Readers of August Derleth's posthumous collaboration with H. P. Lovecraft The Lurker at the Threshold will recognize how it influenced a key point of the short story that would complete the title. I set the story largely at Harvard University because I was researching it for a novel that I ended up not writing. Had I known that I would publish the story in Blue Moon of Kentucky, I would have set the story in one of Kentucky's premier private liberal arts institutions: not Transylvania University, here in Lexington, as that institution's name would be both trite and misleading in this context, but perhaps Centre College in nearby Danville. I include in the story the notion that a character in my story reads Lovecraft's stories and learns that they are true. The story's protagonist, Ahithophel Grant III, also learns that each of us has his or her own role to play in the Mythos…

Among other things, I am a Civil War buff. I have been studying that war in Kentucky for nigh on to forty years now. When an anthology called for short stories set in nontraditional (in terms of the Mythos) historical settings, I chose to try my hand at a Lovecraftian tale set during the Civil War in Kentucky. Yes, the blue moon has risen again. The war crime that Second Lieutenant Laban Whittington, USA, sets out to avenge is based on a true bushwhacker murder that took place in Morgan County, whence my ancestors came. When Lt. Whittington enters Eastern Kentucky's hills, he takes a detour into — well, not The Twilight Zone, as that never dealt with the Mythos, did it? What a pity. I think that others besides me would have enjoyed an episode titled "The Lurker in the Hills. What do you think?

I wrote "Bookworms" while I was holed up in a motel room as the temperature plummeted outside in what weathercasters then called a "polar vortex." That sounds Cthulhian, doesn't it? Oddly enough, the story's protagonist has never seen winter. I wanted to write a story from an alien's viewpoint and show how the Mythos might affect creatures both like and unlike us. Note that bookworms can have more than one meaning — also that another conjunction is occurring. I guess that I am still asking what "when the stars are right" means. Briefly, they were right for the Great Old One Hixiling…

"The Dark Between the Stars began as another title in search of a story. The story that it found emerged from background to a hard science fiction Oort Cloud novel, Madness of the Glyphs, in which Cthulhu is mentioned in passing. In the short story, in an all-but-forgotten space station in orbit over the dwarf planet Eris, a Mythos role-playing game has evolved into a religion. What happens to the religionists — and to a skeptic among them — when a long-buried alien intelligence is willing to play the role of their god? I had fun writing the story of an arch-skeptic, Keturah Harness. Will you have fun reading it?

I wrote "Once in a Blue Moon" for the short-story collection. I've wondered what life-in-death would be like for a Great Old One bound to such a state by cosmic forces. I answer this question for a Great Old One trapped in a bend of the palisades of the gorge of the Kentucky River between Camp Nelson and High Bridge. Yes, the "blue moon" shines for the last time. The Great Old One's blue moon is different from Kentucky's. Also, the Great Old One's view of history as revealed in Lovecraft's classic tales of Yog-Sothothery may be somewhat biassed. Would it surprise you to learn that Great Old Ones are opinionated?

You can read the first short story and part of the second in Blue Moon of Cthulhu by clicking on Look inside.

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