Novel Nights starts this Friday

This Friday, October 2, at 5 PM Pacific Time, I’ll be making a remote appearance as part of Novel Nights, a fundraiser to support Seattle’s Hugo House. This is the first of six Novel Nights events that will be taking place over the next two weeks:

Tickets to individual events are $25 each, or $75 if you would like a signed copy of that author’s book. You can also get a full series pass to all six Novel Nights, with or without signed books.

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A quick and dirty guide to the Matt Ruff oeuvre, or, what to read after you’ve read Lovecraft Country

I’ve gotten a number of requests from readers who’ve finished Lovecraft Country and want to know which of my novels they should try next. Because my books are so different from one another, this is always a tough question to answer, so I thought it might be useful to post a quick rundown of the options. If you see something here that looks interesting, you can click through to the main page for that novel and learn more about it:

The Mirage mini coverThe Mirage — An alternate history novel that came out of the same TV pitch session that produced Lovecraft Country. The story is set in a reality where the U.S. and the Middle East have traded places. The United Arab States is the world’s last superpower, and the “11/9 attacks” involve Christian fundamentalists flying planes into towers in downtown Baghdad. It’s not just the geopolitical situation that’s turned on its head; so is the sense of who matters. The novel’s protagonists—a trio of Arab Homeland Security agents—and the principal villains—the gangster Saddam Hussein, and a corrupt senator named Osama bin Laden—are all Arab Muslims. The Americans in the story are mostly nameless third-worlders, with the exception of a few high-profile terrorists like Donald Rumsfeld.

If you’re looking for another mix of history, genre tropes, and moral/social commentary with a similar tone and style to Lovecraft Country, this is probably your best bet.

88 NamesMy most recent novel is a near-future cyberthriller/twisted romantic comedy. The protagonist, John Chu, is a paid guide to online role-playing games who suspects his latest client may be North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The first two-thirds of the novel are set entirely in virtual reality, and most of the characters Chu interacts with, including his coworkers and his ex-girlfriend, are people he’s never met in the flesh, so he’s constantly forced to question how well he really knows them.

This book also came out of the aforementioned TV pitch session, and as such it forms a loose trilogy with The Mirage and Lovecraft Country, but despite the North Korea angle it’s much lighter in tone. If you’re up for a fun masquerade with video games and cybersex, this could be your ticket.

Bad Monkeys mini cover

Bad MonkeysMurder suspect Jane Charlotte claims to belong to a mysterious organization that fights evil. Her division, the Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons—Bad Monkeys for short—is an execution squad, though the man she’s accused of killing wasn’t on the official target list. The jailhouse psychiatrist assigned to Jane’s case gets her to tell the story of her career in Bad Monkeys: how she was recruited, what she did for the organization, and how it all went wrong.

I call this my Philip K. Dick novel. It’s a short, fast-moving mind-bender. Jane is the ultimate unreliable narrator: Catch her in an apparent lie or contradiction and she just throws another twist into the story, ratcheting up the weirdness while continuing to insist that it’s all true. If you like paranoid thrillers, you’ll probably like Bad Monkeys.

Set This House mini coverSet This House in Order: A Romance of Souls The story of a relationship between two people who both have multiple personalities. Andy Gage manages his unusual condition by means of an imaginary house in his head where his various “souls” all live together in relative harmony. He meets Penny Driver, an undiagnosed multiple who still struggles with periods of lost time; when some of Penny’s more self-aware souls ask Andy for help, they end up destabilizing his house and force him to confront personal demons from the past.

This was my first fully mature novel, and I still think it’s one of my best. If you liked the family and interpersonal drama from Lovecraft Country but weren’t so sure about the supernatural aspects of the story, this might be a good pick for you. Despite the wild premise, it’s a fairly grounded narrative with no overt fantasy elements.

Little SGE coverSewer, Gas & Electric: The Public Works TrilogyA science-fiction satire of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, written in the 1990s and set in the distant future year of 2023.

Rather than try to summarize the plot of this novel, I will direct you to the description of how I came to write it. If you find this origin story intriguing, then Sewer, Gas & Electric may be your cup of tea; if you are puzzled or appalled, you should probably read something else.

Fool on the HillA comic fantasy set on the Cornell University campus circa 1987. The cast of characters includes a retired Greek god, a lovesick writer-in-residence, a dog and cat in search of heaven, a group of modern-day knights, a race of magical sprites at war with an army of sword-wielding rats, and a giant wood-and-canvas dragon that comes to life in the novel’s climax.

This was my first published novel, and I think it holds up pretty well, especially as a time capsule of the era and the place in which it was written. If you’re a Cornell alumnus, a nostalgic adult of a certain age, a current college student who doesn’t mind dated cultural references, or a Matt Ruff fan curious about how I got my start, this could be for you.

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For All Nerds

Last week I was a guest on the For All Nerds podcast with Tatiana King and DJ Benhameen, talking about Lovecraft Country (my appearance starts at the 33:30 mark). This was my second visit to the ‘cast—I was previously a guest back in 2017, when they were known as the Fan Bros Show—and just like last time, I really enjoyed myself. For more Lovecraft Country conversation, be sure and check out the weekly “Safe Negro Podcast” editions of For All Nerds, where they go in-depth on each episode of the HBO series (starting with “Sundown,” here).

In other news:

* I am still answering reader questions over at Goodreads.

* On October 2 at 5 PM Pacific Time, I’ll be making a remote appearance as part of Novel Nights, a fundraiser to support Seattle’s Hugo House. If you’d like to contribute, you can buy tickets to individual events—other featured authors are Erik Larsen, Pramila Jayapal, Jess Walter, Sharyn Skeeter, and Neal Bascomb—or get a full series pass to all six Novel Nights.

* As of today, Lovecraft Country is on the New York Times bestseller list for the fourth week in a row!

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I’m 55 today

It’s been a weird mess of a year, but on balance I’m a very happy boy.

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Lovecraft Country: Sanctum

It seems like years ago now, but back in March I published a new novel, 88 Names, that is set largely in virtual reality (you can read more about the book here and listen to the official podcast here). My real-world book tour fell victim to the pandemic, but because of 88 Names’ subject matter, I ended up doing a number of events in VR, including a virtual book reading, an interview in Sansar, and a couple of visits to the Second Life Book Club (April 8, July 1).

Tonight, VR comes to Lovecraft Country. HBO and The Mill have created Sanctum, a series of three virtual reality events that will be hosted on VRChat. The first event, “Garden of Eden,” features afrofuturist art installations by David Alabo, Devan Shimoyama, and Adeyemi Adegbesan. Attendance in-world is invite-only, but the event will be livestreamed on YouTube, here, starting at 7 PM Pacific/10 PM Eastern.

And on a semi-related note: Lovecraft Country is once again on the New York Times trade paperback fiction bestseller list, climbing to the number 4 spot this week. I’m in good company, too, as Octavia Butler appears on the list for the first time ever—her 1993 novel Parable of the Sower debuts at number 14!

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#5

It was only a couple of days ago that I gently corrected an interviewer who’d referred to Lovecraft Country as a bestseller. Although sales of the novel had increased significantly since the premiere of the HBO series, so far as I knew it had only achieved bestseller status in some very specific Amazon subgenre categories.

But yesterday afternoon, the New York Times, continuing its tradition of giving me early birthday presents, made it official: On September 6, Lovecraft Country will debut at #5 on the trade paperback fiction bestseller list.

To say that I am thrilled about this would be an understatement. Before I go back to bouncing off the walls with glee, I wanted to say a quick thanks to the many folks who helped bring this book into the world, starting with my cadre of editors at HarperCollins: Tim Duggan, who bought Lovecraft Country but left Harper to work at Random House before I delivered the manuscript; Barry Harbaugh and Maya Ziv, who did the actual editing; and my current editor, Jennifer Brehl, who saw me through publication after Maya went to work at Penguin. I’m grateful as well to Jonathan Burnham, my Friend in High Places; my awesome production editor and fellow language nerd, Lydia Weaver; and my publicists, Rachel Elinsky and Heather Drucker.

My biggest thank you goes to my agent Melanie Jackson, who’s been looking out for me since 1987, when she sold Fool on the Hill to Atlantic Monthly Press just six months after I graduated Cornell University. This is her success too, and I’m very glad we’ve both lasted long enough to enjoy it.

#5!

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Lovecraft Country tie-in edition drops today

Today is the on-sale date for the TV tie-in edition of Lovecraft Country. It’s the same text as the original Harper Perennial paperback edition (including the P.S. section at the back), but with a sexy new cover and a new ISBN:

Bookshop.org • AmazonB&NBook DepositoryPowell’s

If you are a fan of the original Jarrod Taylor cover art, not to fear, that edition is still available too:

Bookshop.org • AmazonB&NBook DepositoryPowell’s

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Friday read: Sundown Towns

Watching the online reaction to Lovecraft Country‘s pilot episode this week, I’ve seen a number of viewers mention that this is the first time they’ve ever heard of the concept of a sundown town. So I thought I’d re-up my recommendation of James W. Loewen’s excellent book on the subject.

Sundown Towns was a hugely important resource when I was researching my novel. It’s where I learned about black travel guides like The Negro Motorist Green Book, and it’s also where I first read about the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. Most importantly, it’s a book that helped me understand that Jim Crow-era racism was just as big a problem in the North as in the South.

Contrary to what you might expect, sundown towns were relatively rare in the South, where black people were traditionally viewed as a source of exploitable labor and their presence tolerated. Elsewhere in America, attitudes were very different. Loewen documents the waves of ethnic cleansing that began in the post-Civil War era and continued through the mid-twentieth century, as white citizens in the northern and western U.S. sought to drive out non-whites who they saw as undesirable. Much of this history has been suppressed or forgotten, but the legacy of it persists: Even today, there are big swaths of the country where you’ll rarely encounter anyone who isn’t white, and that’s not an accident.

In addition to Sundown Towns, I’d also recommend Loewen’s other books, Lies My Teacher Told Me and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong. And Loewen’s website includes a sundown town database where you can learn about confirmed or suspected sundown towns in your home state.

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Couldn’t have asked for better

Last night some friends of ours set up a projection screen and sound system in their yard so we could have a socially distanced group viewing of the Lovecraft Country premiere. Lisa and I had already gotten a sneak preview of the show courtesy of HBO, but it was great to watch it with other people and see their reactions. (Mostly tense silence once the road trip started—during the encounter with the sheriff in Devon County, everyone got so quiet that I could hear the neighbors in the surrounding houses.) I also had a blast, before and after the show, tracking other viewers’ responses on Twitter.

I have lots of thoughts about the show but the title of this post sums it up. I’m incredibly fortunate to have had Misha Green leading the creative team that adapted my novel. It’s a wonderful translation of the story and I really couldn’t have asked for better.

I also owe big thank-yous to Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, without whom this would not have happened, to Yann Demange, who did an amazing job directing last night’s episode, and to the cast and crew, who in addition to doing great work were incredibly welcoming during my visits to the set. Shout out to my agent Matthew Snyder at CAA. And last but not least, thanks to HBO, for going all in on this.

Through the remainder of the show season I’ll be available to answer questions over on Goodreads. Just visit my profile page and look for the Ask the Author feature.

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Tonight!

…and just a reminder that the Ask the Author feature on my Goodreads profile page will be live after the show.

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