Why a collection of contemporary Lovecraftian stories written by women? The evidence for answering this question is there for anyone to see; simply review the Table of Contents from Lovecraftian-inspired anthologies over the past number of years (and there are many) and it becomes evident that the bulk of contributions published in these collections were written by men. Here, some draw what seems to them an obvious conclusion—women simply don’t write Lovecraftian fiction. Of course, anyone who has consistently read both Lovecraftian and horror fiction in general will know that this is not the case.
—Lynne Jamneck, introduction to Dreams from the Witch House (2015) v-vi
Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1969, Arkham House), the very first anthology specifically dedicated to the Cthulhu Mythos, featured no stories by women. Nor did The Disciples of Cthulhu (1976, DAW), New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1980, Arkham House), or many subsequent anthologies of Mythos fiction. While female authors, poets, editors, and artists have been far from absent from Lovecraftian fiction, their voices have not been equally heard by readers. The overall under-representation of women in Mythos anthologies over several decades must be understood to appreciate the background against which Lynne Jamneck was working when she was putting together one of the first all-women Mythos anthologies in 2015.
Dreams from the Witch House (Dark Regions Press) hit shelves the same year as two other Mythos anthologies of fiction by female authors: She Walks in Shadows (Innsmouth Free Press) and Cassilda’s Song (Chaosium). These three anthologies share few authors in common, testament to the number of talented women writing in the Mythos…and, perhaps, a notice to the editors of male-dominated Mythos anthologies that keep filling book after book with the same old names: there are women Mythos writers out there. Good ones. Why not publish them?
Gothic Lovecraft (2016, Cycatrix Press) was co-edited by Lynne Jamneck & S. T. Joshi. This limited-edition anthology shares several of the female writers with Dreams from the Witch House, and is one of the better gender-balanced Lovecraftian anthologies, before considering its interesting theme and what the various authors do with it. The combination of talent and editorial insight makes for a solid Mythos anthology.
Lynne Jamneck has been kind enough to answer questions about herself as a Lovecraftian writer, and her experience as a Mythos editor on Dreams from the Witch House and Gothic Lovecraft:
How did you get into Lovecraft and the Mythos?
Lynne Jamneck: I can’t actually remember. I know that no-one came to me and said here’s someone you should be reading. All things considered, it was probably the result of discovering Stephen King as a teenager, and likely after reading King’s Danse Macabre. I’m sure he mentions Lovecraft in that as an influence and/or talks about him in some context. But I also didn’t immediately go out and look for Lovecraft’s writing. But it’s a name that, once you’ve seen it a few times in print, it sticks, you know?
Do you feel that being you (female, queer, non-American) has shaped your understanding of Lovecraft and approach to the Mythos?
LJ: Difficult to say, but probably, at least to a degree. Definitely the cultural and race aspects of both Lovecraft and his work. Having lived in South Africa during Apartheid and then through the country’s democratization has unquestionably shaped my perspective of the Other, including myself as Other. Funny though, I’ve never particularly found Lovecraft’s lack of female protagonists something that specifically put me off his work. There’s often overlap of the human experience regardless of gender. Maybe it’s because from a young age I’ve had to imagine my own experience, as queer, within the contexts of others due to a lack of representation. It’s more of a curiosity – in the same situations, how would women react to Lovecraftian terror? How do they experience it?
Besides being an editor, you’ve written a good bit of Lovecraftian fiction yourself. What draws you to write it?
LJ: The lack of closure. I hate writing stories with resolved endings. It bothers me. I do it to annoy people who ignore the realities of life.
What made you decide to edit two anthologies of Mythos fiction?
LJ: With Dreams from the Witch House, it was definitely with the aim of exploring the female approach and reaction to cosmic horror, more so than because I wanted to make a point about including only women based on gender… Does that make sense? Maybe it’s the same thing. And it was an opportunity to work with writers who I believed would be able to present this in a unique manner, while at the same time possibly discovering writers I was unaware of and providing them with an opportunity to contribute to the dialogue. Gothic Lovecraft happened because of several fortuitous opportunities all connecting at the same time. It was an opportunity to explore the more lurid nature of Lovecraft’s universe and its echoes in the style of Gothic horror.
Were there any barriers to editing and publishing an anthology of Lovecraftian fiction written solely by women?
LJ: Not at all, at least not from Chris Morey at Dark Regions Press, who I initially approached with the idea. There were a few grumbles about people not being able to submit because they were male, which I didn’t pay much attention to, considering that male writers still seem to represent the larger percentage of authors included in horror anthologies.
You wrote in the introduction to Dreams from the Witch House “Perhaps it is simply that women write the Lovecraftian differently than many of their male counterparts traditionally have.” Do you think this is true historically—that writers like Joanna Russ and Ann K. Schwader have brought their own understanding to Lovecraftian fiction?
LJ: Definitely. This links back to what I mentioned previously about reaction and response to cosmic horror, to that sense of awe (in the traditional sense of the word) one experiences when confronted by something your mind can barely make sense of. It’s a curious combination of attraction and being repelled all at once. I know I’m generalizing, but I think there is definitely a difference in terms of how women would deal with such circumstances compared to men, at least based on the cosmic horror I’ve read. It’s interesting; the female perspective often comes across as more accepting of cosmic inevitability…there often appears to be some kind of recognition… It’s difficult to pinpoint.
Dreams from the Witch House, She Walks In Shadows, and Cassilda’s Song, all came out at about the same time in 2015. Were you aware these other anthologies of Mythos fiction were in the works while you were editing Dreams?
LJ: Only at a peripheral level, primarily from mentions in conversations with others. I knew that Witch House would have a different sensibility so I didn’t engage in comparisons.
The first printing of Dreams contained “The Genesis Mausoleum”—which had been plagiarised from Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Seed from the Sepulchre.” How did you discover the plagiarism? How did you handle it?
LJ: If I recall, someone who had read an advance copy told me but by then it was too late to remove it from the first print. I was livid. I made sure to let as many publishers as possible know about what the individual had done because I didn’t want any other editor to have to experience the same thing. It’s deplorable. There’s absolutely no excuse.
You partnered with S. T. Joshi to edit Gothic Lovecraft. How would you describe your working relationship? What did both of you bring to the task?
LJ: S.T. is an extremely generous co-editor. I think we played off one another well. His knowledge and scholarship on Lovecraft is very broad. In turn, I wrote my MA in English Literature on Lovecraft and Poe (ten years ago, yikes!), which provided a good foundation for us to work from. From my end, I probably brought a bit more of a modern approach to some of Lovecraft’s ideas, informed by a queer/female perspective.
Both Dreams from the Witch House and Gothic Lovecraft contain a mix of well-known Lovecraftian authors and some that are less well known. Did you have specific writers in mind when starting both projects?
LJ: Yes. As I noted above, I knew from the outset that I wanted to work with Joyce Carol Oates (I’m always surprised to learn how few people realize Lovecraft is an influence in a decent amount of her work), Caitlin R. Kiernan, Gemma Files, Sonya Taaffe, Karen Heuler, and Lois Gresh because their work signified the sensibility I had in mind for the anthology. Once I approached these authors, small but important signposts occurred in our conversations that directed me to additional writers (apart from those who submitted during the open call) and, well, the magic just happened.
Did you achieve what you wanted with Dreams from the Witch House?
LJ: Overall, yes. My aim was to collect and present stories that imbued readers with a sense of dread and unease not only while reading it, but that would linger and reoccur in the mind at unexpected moments. That’s what cosmic horror is to me. The inescapable.
Do you feel the Mythos scene has changed since Dreams and Gothic Lovecraft came out?
LJ: It’s difficult to comment on the scene as a whole and admittedly, I tend to seek out Lovecraftian/cosmic fiction that is less obvious in terms of using the typical Lovecraftian conventions/settings/monsters. There definitely still is a generous degree of retreading. I tend to look for fiction that, while recalling Lovecraft, presents the notion of cosmic horror in a new way; that doesn’t need Cthulhu or Nyarlathotep to instill the sense that we are atomic specks on a small rock in a very, very big universe we still know precious little about.
In your thesis, “Tekeli-li! Disturbing Language in Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft” you talk about how the shoggoths have appropriated the word (‘tekeli-li) of the Elder Things—do you think writers today appropriate Lovecraft and his Mythos?
LJ: Absolutely, some more successfully than others. Among the rehashes there are fantastic narratives like Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country that appropriates the mythos in the best way possible, all the while remaining quintessentially ‘Lovecraftian’, to produce a story that is super relevant today, right now. These and other stories (e.g., The Fisherman by John Langan) is the kind of legacy that Lovecraft’s work has, in its best form, evolved into today.
While editors don’t play favorites—what’s your favorite story from Dreams and why?
LJ: Why do you do this to me! Sneaky-sneaky. I’ll meet you half-way and give you a story I love for a specific reason. I knew right away, after finishing “The Body Electric” by Lucy Brady that I wanted to include it in the anthology. The story is a super-great mesh of the Old and New coming together in a way that I found extremely relevant to a mainstream, modern cosmic horror sensibility. I find the idea of something cosmically threatening meshing with computer code more than a little bit unsettling, for reasons that should be 100% obvious.
Thank you Lynne Jamneck for answering these questions, and I hope we see more from you in the future.
Aside from editorial laurels, Lynne Jamneck is a Lovecraftian writer in her own right with stories such as “The Paramount Importance of Pictures” (2006), “Azif” (2011), “In Bloom” (2016), “Oude Gouden” (2017), “We All Speak Black” (2018), and a scholar whose thesis “Tekeli-li! Disturbing Language in Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft” was published in Lovecraft Annual #6 (2012).
Dreams from the Witch House may be purchased direct from the publisher.
Gothic Lovecraft may also be purchased direct from the publisher.
Lynne Jamneck’s other works may be purchased through her Amazon author page.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).