Q: Describe what you do in 25 characters or less.
A: Lovecraft, Mythos, horror.
—Paula R. Stiles, Editor Interview: Innsmouth Free Press (5 Sep 2011)
Innsmouth Free Press was founded by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, with Paula R. Stiles as her editor-in-chief. The initial website ran from 2009-2011, and as the founder describes it:
Innsmouth came to be because of a conversation I was having with Paula R.Stiles, who is our editor-in-chief. I told her I wished there was a TV series set in Innsmouth, with weird stuff happening every week. We convinced each other we should launch a zine and it should be horror-themed. We would publish Lovecraftian fiction three times a year and daily non-fiction. We’d also have sporadic meta-fiction masquerading as “news” items from Innsmouth.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Interview—Silvia Moreno-Garcia (4 Oct 2010)
This graduated into a full-fledged micropress with a schedule of both print and electronic publications: the anthologies edited by Moreno-Garcia & Stiles and published through Innsmouth Free Press are Historical Lovecraft: Tales of Terror Through Time (2011), Future Lovecraft (2011), Sword & Mythos (2014), and She Walks in Shadows (2015) which won the World Fantasy Award for best anthology; an American edition of the latter was published as Cthulhu’s Daughters: Stories of Lovecraftian Horror (2016). Their other publications include Innsmouth Magazine, which ran for 15 issues from 2012-2014, a series of anthologies co-edited by Moreno-Garcia & Stiles, and publications including the anthology Fungi (2012), Nick Mamatas’ collection The Nickronomicon (2014) and Jazz Age Cthulhu (2014).
What set Moreno-Garcia & Stiles apart from the beginning is both initiative and a focus on diversity. While Ellen Datlow and Paula Garan‘s editorial voices and choices were focused primarily on publishing the best of contemporary Mythos fiction, name authors, and non-pastiche works, the Innsmouth Free Press anthologies are dominated by fresh voices, many of whom have never published Mythos fiction before, although many of them like Molly Tanzer and Orrin Grey have since become much more well-known in fiction circles—including a surprising number of women and non-American writers as well, with some stories being translated from French and Spanish into English.
Their first two anthologies Historical Lovecraft and Future Lovecraft deserve to be considered together. They are in a sense the most “typical” titles, collections of Mythos and Lovecraftian fiction united by a simple theme, in the same vein as Chaosium’s numerous “Cycles” and the innumerable small press efforts, which proliferated in the late 2000s as desktop publishing became ever more accessible to editors on a budget. Moreno-Garcia & Stiles’ Historical & Future Lovecraft are both competent examples of this work and complementary, showcasing their willingness to think outside the Lovecraftian box both in terms of contents and authors.
Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?
A: We are separate from other Lovecraft/Mythos publications in two important ways. First, for our zine and micropress anthologies, we intentionally look for fiction from all over the world, featuring a variety of cultures. Lovecraft, for all his fears and xenophobia, frequently referenced other cultures and set his stories in other countries. You’d be surprised how many non-Americans are writing Mythos. We also like to foster women writers and we look for a variety of protagonists–including women, people of colour, and members of the LGBT community.
—Paula R. Stiles, Editor Interview: Innsmouth Free Press (5 Sep 2011)
More than that, these anthologies showcase a personal interest in the subject—in history, science fiction, and H. P. Lovecraft—and how they combine. Historical & Future Lovecraft are more than an effort to make some money, and this too sets a trend for Moreno-Garcia & Stiles’ later editorial work.
We might have titled this anthology When Lovecraft Met Howard and Moore. But we didn’t. Because we didn’t think that sounded too sophisticated. But that is the impetus of this book—to united two pulp sub-genres. Not that they haven’t been united before.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, introduction to Sword & Mythos (2014) 7
Sword & Mythos showcases further initiative on the part of Innsmouth Free Press. While individual authors had worked to bring together elements of Lovecraftian horror and sword & sorcery, going all the way back to H. P. Lovecraft’s contemporaries Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Catherine Lucille Moore, Sword & Mythos might be the first dedicated anthology to look at pushing that meeting of the genres—as opposed to individual Sword & Sorcery anthologies like Flashing Swords! or collections like Richard Tierney’s Scroll of Thoth.
In working this genreblending Moreno-Garcia & Stiles were also very aware of the historical racism present in some of the work of Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, etc. and chose to address this directly:
Lovecraft and Howard’s views of people of color are well known and there is no denying their visions can be highly problematic in this regard. […] The question then becomes: Can we and should we continue to access these pulp visions? The answer, we think, is yes. Though that does not mean that our visions have to be the same as the ones prevalent in Lovecraft and Howard’s era. Wile hardly a woman might have made it into Lovecraft’s short stories, and while Howard might not have featured many a person of color in a lead role, we are not the same writers they were. […] our speculative fiction is changing and will continue to change. The boundaries and heroes of yore are different, as are the stories.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, introduction to Sword & Mythos (2014) 9
This determination to not just reflect on the issue of race in Lovecraftian/Howardian fiction but to do something about it is, really, no more or less courageous than their publication of Mythos fiction from African authors like Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso or Mexican writers like Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas–and this ability to not just perceive a gap in Mythos voices but work to do something about it led directly to their award-winning anthology She Walks In Shadows:
There was a Facebook discussion where someone asked “Do girls just not like to play with squids?” By squids the person meant Lovecraftian stories, there was the assumption there are no women writing it because it doesn’t interest them. There was a long discussion about this on several spaces. At some point someone said women were incapable of writing Lovecraftiana and at another point someone said if you want something different, why don’t you do it yourself. So we did. Of course then some people got mad that we actually were action-oriented and not just talk, but that’s another story.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, An Interview With Silvia Moreno-Garcia (16 Oct 2015)
In their introduction to She Walks In Shadows, Moreno-Garcia and Stiles sketch a brief outline of women in Lovecraft’s fiction—and of women writing Mythos fiction, taking part in the adaptation and spread of the Mythos in art, film, etc. And they add:
Yet, the perception that women are not inclined towards Weird or Lovecraftian fiction seems to persist. We hope this anthology will help to dispel such notions. We also hope it will provide fresh takes on a number of characters and creatures from Lovecraft’s stories, and add some completely new element to the Mythos. Most of all, we hope it will inspire new creations and inspire more women to write Weird and Lovecraftian tales.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, She Walks in Shadows (2015) 10
If the editors had set out to do nothing more than prove women could write Mythos fiction, they have done that—and more than that. She Walks in Shadows a solid Mythos anthology by any measure, one that follows through on a single theme, exploring not just the role of female authors in writing Mythos fiction, but of women in the Mythos: the stories interrogate, expand upon, and re-imagine the female characters in Lovecraft’s body of work…and that has never been done before, not on this scale or addressed this directly.
The lack of women in the Mythos is an issue worth addressing.
It is not a problem solved by a single book, although it may be no surprise that She Walks in Shadows is definitely a step forward in raising the profile of both female Mythos authors and female characters in the Mythos—and the editors are aware that this is the beginning of recognition, not the end:
In the horror genre, and that includes Weird fiction, women don’t seem to get much attention. Whenever there are lists of Top Ten Horror Writers people remember to include folks like King, Lovecraft, yet even figures as crucial as Jackson can slip through the cracks and be ignored. Some anthologies routinely used to include only all men in their TOCs, I’m thinking of several Lovecraftian books which did this not even five years ago. So, there’s a complex problem. Yes, there are less women horror writers than men. But the ones we have can have a hard time drawing attention. And how do we get more women interested in the genre? In creating and consuming and being part of it, that’s not an easy thing to do but part of it must be visibility. Anthologies can help highlight the work of women which we don’t see, but I should say it’s not the only way this should be done, nor is it an instant solution to get more women interested in the field.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “An Interview with Silvia Moreno-Garcia” (16 Oct 2015)
The publication of She Walks in Shadows also carried with it a degree of backlash from the fan community, proof if any was required that gender discrimination is alive and out for blood in the field of fantastic fiction. Silvia Moreno-Garcia mentioned a bit of the feedback from the book’s publication and what followed:
Well, when io9 did an article on She Walks in Shadows I got some angry comments and a memorable e-mail saying we were menstruating all over Lovecraft and tainting his legacy.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Women in Horror Month – Interview with Silvia Moreno-Garcia (3 Feb 2016)
Some white supremacists seemed upset when they viewed a panel on racism and Lovecraft I was in, which was posted on YouTube. Some people are upset we did an all woman anthology. But ultimately Lovecraft does not belong to me or you or anyone. Writers can respond to him in their own way and that’s the beauty of it. We have more than half a dozen POC writers in this anthology writing their version of cosmic horror, of Lovecraft’s Mythos, of Weird fiction. I think that’s awesome.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Women Write Lovecraft: An Interview With Editors Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles (6 Oct 2015)
While Moreno-Garcia & Stiles were resourceful and intrepid to get She Walks in Shadows edited and published, they were also on the front lines to receive all the negativity that came from readers upset at the all the often-unspoken issues that underlay why their publication of a diverse set of writers was so important in the first place. That kind of hate understandably takes its toll:
I’m not very comfortable in the Lovecraft community right now. There are things that are said that rub me like a little grain of sand. Only I’m not an oyster so I don’t produce a pearl as a result. It just rubs and rubs and leaves you raw.
I have abandoned most of the Lovecraft groups and communities I used to be a member of. I was just too tired.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, It’s Your Birthday H. P. Lovecraft (20 Aug 2014)
Paula R. Stiles & Silvia Moreno-Garcia have not completely abandoned all things Lovecraftian; Moreno-Garcia’s masters thesis was Magna Mater: Women and Eugenic Thought in the work of H. P. Lovecraft (2016) and Paula R. Stiles continues to publish Mythos fiction such as “Light a Candle, Curse the Darkness” (2017)—but Innsmouth Free Press is at the moment in abeyance. No more Innsmouth Magazine. No more anthologies, at least for right now.
It is important to emphasize the chances taken by Moreno-Garcia & Stiles. With every unknown writer, with translating work from French and Spanish for an English-speaking audience, in choosing to address issues of historical racism & contemporary misogyny—in not just giving voice to their principles but actually publishing books that show to the world “We are here, right now, writing in the tradition of H. Lovecraft”—they show their quality to the world. Because they could have gone on publishing themed anthologies, or stuck to “safe” material by known writers…and instead, they chose to take a shot at doing something new. Despite the jeers of the world. That’s courage.
Women have emerged from the shadows to claim the night. We welcome them gladly.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, introduction to She Walks in Shadows 10
Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)