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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Lovecraft Country: Sanctum

#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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Comments Off on #5

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments Off on Friday read: Sundown Towns

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Tonight!

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments Off on Tonight!

Ask the author on Goodreads after Sunday’s Lovecraft Country premiere

The HBO series premiere of Lovecraft Country is just three days away now. Starting Sunday night, and continuing throughout the series’ first season run, the Ask the Author feature on my Goodreads profile page will be switched on. So if you’ve got questions about the show, my books, or anything else within reason, you can post them there. Beginning on Monday, August 17, I’ll try to answer one or two questions a day.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Ask the author on Goodreads after Sunday’s Lovecraft Country premiere

Lovecraft Binge-watch: The Call of Cthulhu and the Laplace’s Demon

This post is #3 of a series.

In “The Call of Cthulhu,” Lovecraft introduced his most famous monster, an alien god with the body of a dragon and a head shaped like a giant squid. Cthulhu currently waits, dead and dreaming, in his house in “the nightmare corpse-city” of R’lyeh, which lies hidden beneath the waves in the most remote region of the Antarctic Ocean. From time to time—when the stars are right— R’lyeh rises to the surface and Cthulhu sends out a telepathic call to his human worshipers around the globe, whose assistance he requires to complete his resurrection. “Call” tells the story of one such moment in the spring of 1925, when the apocalypse was barely averted. But the cult of Cthulhu endures, and one day, inevitably, R’lyeh will rise again, and Cthulhu will emerge to destroy human civilization.

A Hollywood adaptation of this story could easily cost tens of millions in special effects alone. But in 2005, Andrew Leman and Sean Branney filmed The Call of Cthulhu on a shoestring budget of $50,000 by staging it as a classic silent movie, with many of the same effects techniques that would have been used in the 1920s. The waves of the Antarctic Ocean are billowing sheets of fabric with glitter for spray; R’lyeh is a stage set built from plywood and cardboard; and Cthulhu, when he appears, is a stop-motion animated model. Shot on video and computer processed to look like old black-and-white film stock, it’s surprisingly effective. And if you watch it on DVD (which you’ll have to, since it’s not available on streaming), you’ll have a wide choice of languages for the intertitles, including Basque, Romanian, Welsh, and Luxembourgish. Be sure to check out the “making of” featurette, too.

And if you’re up for a black-and-white double feature, I’d recommended pairing Cthulhu with The Laplace’s Demon, an original Italian-language film directed by Giordano Giulivi. The title refers to a hypothetical being imagined by Pierre-Simon Laplace, an early French scientist who believed in a deterministic universe; the demon knows the position and momentum of every atom in the universe, and can calculate with perfect accuracy any past or future event, including the actions of sentient beings. In other words, with enough information and processing power, free will is revealed to be an illusion.

In the film, a team of seven researchers working on predictive software are invited to the remote island home of the mysterious Professor Cornelius. Upon their arrival, the researchers and the boat captain who brought them to the island find themselves trapped inside the professor’s mansion. A videotaped message informs them that they are to be the subjects of an experiment. The same room where they found the videotape contains a scale model of the mansion, and looking inside they can see eight white pawns—one for each of them—whose clockwork driven movements exactly mimic their own. A careful examination of the mechanism reveals that the pawns are not being manipulated by remote control; their movements are pre-programmed. And every so often, the uncoiling of a large clock spring triggers the appearance of black queen—corresponding to mechanical monster inside the real mansion—that zeroes in unerringly on one of the pawns. This is the experiment: If they cannot figure out a way to defy the model’s predictions, they’ll all be dead by dawn.

The Laplace’s Demon is available to rent or purchase through Amazon Prime.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Lovecraft Binge-watch: The Call of Cthulhu and the Laplace’s Demon

Lovecraft Country: first reviews of the series

The premiere of the Lovecraft Country HBO series is just a week away now. The review embargo lifted this past Friday, and the advance reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

First out of the gate is this rave from Alan Sepinwall at Rolling Stone, who says Lovecraft Country is “one of the best shows HBO has made in a long, long time.” Time magazine calls it “stunning” and “an absolutely wild ride.” And there’s a lot more in this vein.

Needless to say, I’m over the moon about all this—and I can’t wait till next Sunday.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Lovecraft Binge-watch: Colors out of Space

This post is #2 of a series.

In H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Colour out of Space,” a meteorite lands on the Gardner farm in the wooded hills west of Arkham, Massachusetts. The meteor is carrying some sort of alien life form encased in globules of a strange and indescribable color. The color contaminates the farm’s groundwater and mutates the local plants and wildlife; as the corruption advances, every living thing in the vicinity, including the unfortunate Gardner family, begins to decay and die. In the end, the color launches itself back into space, leaving behind a “blasted heath” of gray desolation where nothing will grow. The story’s narrator fears that something else might be left behind too. Referring to a reservoir that will soon cover the blasted heath, he writes, “Nothing could bribe me to drink the new city water of Arkham.”

“Colour” was reportedly Lovecraft’s favorite of his own works, and it’s a favorite of filmmakers as well: IMDb lists a half dozen adaptations, beginning with the 1965 Boris Karloff film Die Monster Die! More recent versions include the 2008 Colour From the Dark, which sets the story in fascist Italy, and a low budget Spanish film, Blasted Heath (original title: Erial), which despite the name is really more of a Night of the Living Dead knockoff.

The latest take, 2019’s Color out of Space, is by South African director Richard Stanley. I’m a fan of Stanley’s two previous films, Hardware and Dust Devil, so I was really looking forward to this one, but ultimately it just didn’t work for me.

My main complaint about the film is that it can’t seem to decide what tone it’s going for. This a tale of cosmic horror in which Nicholas Cage plays an alpaca farmer. I’d describe his character arc as Goofball Dad into Cranky Goofball Dad into Psychotically Angry Goofball Dad Slaughtering Mutant Llamas With a Shotgun. Which would be fine if the whole movie were an absurdist comedy, but if that was the intention, Cage is the only actor who got the memo. Joely Richardson as Mrs. Gardner plays her own descent into madness straight, and delivers most of the film’s truly horrific moments. But the tonal inconsistency undercuts this, and I found the result neither scary nor funny. It’s just weird.

There were things I liked. Visually the film is gorgeous. Tommy Chong turns in a good low-key performance as an aging hippie squatting on the Gardner’s land, demonstrating how comedy can work in a horror film. The Gardners’ daughter, Livinia (Madeleine Arthur), has a nice meet-cute scene with hydrologist Ward Phillips (Elliot Knight), though their relationship doesn’t go anywhere. And of course I was grateful for the excuse to make bad puns about the Necro-llama-con.

Color is currently streaming on Hoopla if you’d like to check it out for yourself.

My own pick for best “Colour” adaptation is the 2015 German film Die Farbe, by director Huan Vu. It relocates the doomed farm to the Swabian-Franconian Forest but is otherwise very faithful to Lovecraft’s story. Die Farbe is shot in black and white, except for the alien color, which, as in the Stanley film, appears as a pinkish purple. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Tubi (free, with ads), and Kanopy (free with a public library card).

I also want to namecheck two other films. The first is Creepshow, the 1982 horror anthology by George Romero and Stephen King, whose second vignette, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” (based on King’s short story “Weeds”), is clearly an homage to “Colour.” In this case, the meteorite is filled with an alien version of the goop you smear on Chia pets. Farmer Verrill (played by King) gets some on his fingers and soon has space moss growing all over his body. This one’s definitely a comedy, but everybody involved knows that, and it’s short enough that the joke doesn’t wear out its welcome.

My other recommendation is Alex Garland’s Annihilation, based on the Jeff Vandermeer novel of the same name. A meteor strikes a lighthouse on a remote stretch of coastline and creates an expanding zone called “the shimmer” that mutates everything inside it. The shimmer’s boundary blocks radio transmissions and knocks out drones. Human investigators sent inside don’t return, with the exception of a Green Beret played by Oscar Isaac, who shows up at his home a year after his disappearance, suffering from amnesia. Federal agents arrive shortly thereafter; they scoop up Isaac and his wife, a biologist and ex-soldier played by Natalie Portman. With Isaac now on life support and fading fast, Portman volunteers to join a team of four other women (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny) on an expedition into the shimmer.

Though I haven’t read Vandermeer’s novel, the film feels like a cross between “Colour” and J.G. Ballard’s The Crystal World. Like Stanley’s Color, it’s a visual feast, but the tone is consistent and the characters are a lot more interesting. Currently streaming on Epix and DirecTV.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments