Part 2, May 2003:
TW: About two months have passed since the first part of this interview, much
more time than scheduled... What about time in Thomas Ligottiís life? Does it
crawl or fly?
TL: Boredom is not one of my afflictions, so the weeks and months and years
are moving pretty fast for me.
TW: Letís talk about the Subterranen Press publication Sideshow and Other Stories,
which I enjoyed very much. The conception and the length (or better shortness)
of the stories remind me of some of your former works like the "Notebook
of the Night" section in Noctuary, and the idea of "a sideshow world,
where everythingĎs ultimately peculiar and ultimately ridiculous" represents
a basic theme in all of your stories. When did you write Sideshow and what were
TL: I wrote Sideshow, and Other Stories about ten
years ago. The section of the story called "The Malignant Matrix" was
based on a dream. That was where the story started. Then I decided to write several
similar pieces and connect them into a miniature horror story collection, which
is a story structure I had been thinking about using for a long time. The words
"peculiar and ridiculous" as a characterization of all existence are
taken directly from the notebooks of Paul Valéry.
Valéry was a real
thinker and the more you think about the world, the more peculiar and ridiculous
it seems. Thought is very destructive of everything that gives us a sense of stability
and meaning in our lives. I simply extrapolated on this idea.
TW: Reading Sideshow, I felt echoes of Franz Kafka
and Bruno Schulz... Especially "The Astronomic Blur" reminds me of the
latter one. But, on the other hand, one can also feel the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft
in some of the stories. Is Sideshow a little homage to some some of your literary
idols? I remember you once called yourself a "fanatical student of literary
TL: I can understand how "The Astronomic Blur"
would recall Schulz to a reader, since it combines the cosmic with the local.
But the idea of the "little store" is also one that has haunted my imagination
for many years. Such places used to be common in the older neighborhoods of Detroit,
which is geographically close to where I grew up, and the sight of them always
stirred in me a sense of mystery.
TW: The foreword begins with the words "At
the time I met the man who authored the stories that follow, I had reached a crisis
point in my own work as a writer of fiction". Did you yourself experience
such a crisis point before writing Sideshow? And if so, how did you handle this?
TL: Iíve had doubts about the value of writing
fiction practically from time I started doing it. But other impulsesóthe pleasure
of using my imagination, the craving for attention, my aspirations to be like
my idols Lovecraft and Poeókept these doubts in the background for a long time.
With Sideshow I simply decided to use these personal doubts as the subject matter
for a story. This is a typical tactic for a writer to use in order keep on doing
what, for no good reason, heís been doing for so long.
TW: In "The Abyss of Organic Forms" the
narratorís half-brother loves to visit the local race course. I found this interesting,
because I read in an older interview with you that you yourself used to attend
horse races with your brother. Is "The Abyss..." some kind of dedication
to your brother or to your own past?
TL: Yes, it is. My brother and I still attend the
local race course on occasion. Since both of us now live in Florida, weíre more
likely to bet on jai-alai than on horses.
TW: One of my favourites in Sideshow is "The
Phenomenal Frenzy". Itís amazing, but you need only two pages to evolve an
eerie atmosphere of absolute weirdness. I guess the short (and shortest) story
is still your favourite literary world ...
TL: Indeed it is.
TW: "The Phenomenal Frenzy" ends in a
disillusioned way that Iíd like to call typical ligotti-esque: "But this
same place, a true resting place in which I should have been able to live out
the rest of my life in some kind of peace, was now only one more thing that I
had to fear." Thatís something I found in nearly all of your stories: Even
the apparently good things turn out to be just another charade, a facade in a
sideshow world and they mutate into something weird or evil. Compared with this,
the end of the afterword sounds unfamiliarly positive: "I ... had triumphed
over my literary crisis and wanted nothing more than to get back to my desk, my
brain practically vibrating with an unwonted energy in spite of passing another
night without sleep."
TL: To my mind, the narratorís eagerness to continue
writing is actually quite monstrous. At the same time, it is, as you say, very
positive. In my observation, the most monstrous and vile people are those who
are filled with energy and confidence. The more energy and confidence they have,
the more monstrous they are. These people make life miserable for those of us
who have doubts about everything we do and above all about existence itself.
TW: Sideshow and My Work Is Not Yet Done have been
published by Small Press publishers. Is Thomas Ligotti going "back to the
roots"? Apart from the fact that you donít reach a mass market with your
works: What are your reasons to be published by Small Press publishers?
TL: It was very fortunate for me as a writer to
have been published by larger publishing houses in both the United States and
abroad. Without this development, my stories would be known to only a few readers
of small-press horror fiction. And, of course, every writer wants as many people
as possible to read his work. However, after a time it became apparent that my
fiction had reached its optimum audience . . . and that this audience was not
very large. So there was no point in continuing to publish with larger presses,
especially since I could retain greater control over my work with small presses,
which in addition created higher quality books.
TW: Speaking of the Small Press: Durtro Press in
London will publish Crampton in June, an unreleased script for the THE
X-FILES, written by yourself and Brandon Trenz. Can you tell us something about
the genesis of Crampton ? Were commercial considerations the main motive
or did you find something in THE X-FILES that inspires you?
TL: First, the screenplay that Durtro will be publishing
began as an episode of the X-Files but was subsequently rewritten as a feature-length
script by myself and Brandon Trenz. This script is no longer part of the X-Files
world except for the fact that the two main characters are still FBI agents. As
for the genesis of the X-Files script, this came about because Brandon Trenz,
who was a colleague of mine at my old job, had an idea for the opening to an X-Files
episode that he related to me and a few other people who regularly gathered together
to talk about movies, music, books, television shows, and whatever. I thought
that Brandon had the beginnings of a good idea for an X-Files episode and encouraged
him to develop the idea into a script. By that time, around 1996 or so, I was
no longer a regular viewer of the X-Files and couldnít have cared less about writing
for that or any other television show. At the same time, I wasnít writing much
in the way of horror fiction and thought that perhaps I would stop writing altogether.
This situation left me in the position of having nothing to do for the rest of
my lifeóin other words, I had no significant distractions that stood between me
and the fact of my death. For this reasonóthat is, in order to have something
to do that would take my mind away from contemplating my deathóI became involved
with Brandon in developing the idea of this X-Files script. Neither of us had
any idea that we had no chance of getting the producers of the show to read this
script. We had no conception at all of how things worked in Hollywood. Nevertheless,
we pressed on until the script was finished. Then we found out that the only thing
that we could do with the script was to submit it to contests that offered the
promise of promoting your work if you won. Well, we didnít win these contests,
but Crampton was among the top finishers, both as a television script and as a
feature-length screenplay. Over the years a series of developments have taken
place that hold some promise that we may be able to get people in Hollywood to
read our stuff, which now includes not only Crampton but another screenplay by
the name of Michigan Basement.
TW: The book will be accompanied by a 6-track CD
that features your own music, according to DurtroĎs promo text you will even sing
on some of these songs. I know that music has part of your life for a long time
now, but nonetheless thatís a big surprise! Can you tell us something about it?
How did it feel to create your own Soundtrack for your own work?
TL: For one thing, I do not sing on any of these
tracks. These are spoken-word pieces backed by music that I recorded on my home
8-track recorder using my guitars and a synthesizer. The whole production is therefore
quite lo-fi, even crude. The six pieces were inspired by the themes of Crampton
and the title of the CD is The Unholy City. It was a lot of work for me to put
this CD together because I have no talent for the process of recording. Nevertheless,
producing a CD that contained both words and music that I had written is something
that Iíve wanted to do for a long time. I wish I had more time and energy to pursue
similar projects, but I donít.
TW: Another forthcoming Durtro release will be a book called Teatro Grotesco .
Are these the stories from the "Teatro Grotesco" section in The Nightmare
Factory or is it new material?
TL: This forthcoming collection will indeed incude
the stories from the "Teatro Grottesco" section of The Nightmare Factory,
since none of these stories has yet to appear in hardcover. It will also include
about 7 other stories and novellas that Iíve published since The Nightmare Factory,
excluding the stories in My Work Is Not Yet Done . I donít know when it will it
be ready for publication.
TW: And now the inevitable question: What about
Thomas Ligottiís future projects ...?
TL: Durtro has a cycle of poems that I wrote within
the past few years. The title of the collection of 14 pieces is Things They Will
Never Tell You. Two new stories will appear in Weird Tales. Also, Brandon and
I are now in the process of signing with a talent agency that handles screenwriters
and have begun work adapting my short novel My Work Is Not Yet Done as a movie,
although no one has requested that we do any such thing. Aside from that, I donít
really have any plans for future projects. Then again, I never really did.
TW: Recently Iíve read an old interview with you
in the magazine Tekeli-li. I found it very interesting that you mentioned the
unknown German author of the book The Nightwatches as some kind of reinforcement
for your own work. Is it by chance the book Nachtwachen, that was published under
the nom de plume Bonaventura at the beginning of 19th century? This is one of
the forgotten masterpieces of the Romantic period and hardly known even in Germany
TL: The Nightwatches is indeed a forgotten masterpiece.
Any book that is so explicitly at odds with the social and religious culture of
the world is doomed to be forgotten. A modern-day counterpart to this book is
the work of the Austrian novelist and playwright Thomas Bernhard. But Bernhard
was always raging against the nazi mentality that he saw as still holding sway
within Austria, so his work has been embraced somewhat, at least in Europe. His
work is still too grim for consumption by English-speaking countries. English
and American readers will only tolerate books that ultimately uphold the status
quo and offer people reasons why their miserable lives are worth living.
TW: Literature is a very important part of your
life and there are several writers that you adore or that even inspired you. But
frankly: What about modern horror literature? Are there living horror writers
whose works you enjoy or who do deeply impress you?
TL: For all practical purposes, Iíve read all the
books that I ever want to read. And that includes horror fiction. I donít follow
the horror scene the way I did in the 1970s and 1980s. Even then, there were very
few writers whose works I fanatically sought out, but those were enough to make
me feel that writing horror fiction was a worthwhile pursuit. My favorites were
the obvious greats: Ramsey Campbell, T.E.D Klein, Dennis Etchison, Joseph Payne
Brennan for his poetry, and a few others. In recent years, a number of horror
writers have been brought to my attention who would have given me the same sense
that writing horror fiction wasnít a total waste of time if I had read them during
my fanatical years and who I feel are carrying the torch for what I consider true
horror fiction in the great tradition of Poe, Lovecraft, Machen, and James. These
writers include Matt Cardin, Quentin Crisp, Monika Angerhuber, Mark Samuels, and
a host of British ghost story writers.
TW: What do you think about the future development
of horror literature? I donít know exactly the situation in the US, but in Germany
(as well as the rest of Europe) many of the younger horror writers orientate towards
American bestselling writers like King and Koontz. The results are rather boring,
because you hardly find a writer with an original voice ...
TL: Except as a form of popular entertainment,
I donít think that horror fiction ever had a future. In my view, it has been only
pure accident that joined the tastes and temperament of someone like Poe or Lovecraft
to a talent sufficient to express these tastes and this temperament, which, as
Lovecraft pointed out many times, are the province of very few individuals. Letís
say it once and for all: Poe and Lovecraftónot to mention a Bruno Schulz or a
Frank Kafkaówere what the world at large would consider extremely disturbed individuals.
And most people who are that disturbed are not able to create works of fiction.
These and other names I could mention are people who are just on the cusp of total
psychological derangement. Sometimes they cross over and fall into the province
of "outsider artists." Thatís where the future development of horror
fiction liesóin the next person who is almost too emotionally and psychologically
damaged to live in the world but not too damaged to produce fiction. Itís a delicate
balance . . . and the determining factors are not predominantly literary.
TW: Some short questions in conclusion. What is...
TL: Distraction, escape, a way to transform the
intolerable into the enjoyable, a booby prize that we give ourselves for continuing
TW: ...the best reason to laugh?
TL: Because youíre high.
TW: ...the worst book you ever read?
TL: Iíve never read a book I didnít like. I can
tell on the first page, usually in the first sentence, if Iím going to like a
book, a story, a collection of essays or poetry. If I know I wonít like it, I
donít read it.
TW: ...the difference between cats and people?
TL: Itís always a sad occasion when a cat dies.
TW: ...a good day?
TL: A day without pain or the prospect of pain,
which is to say, none.
TL: The bottom line.
TW: Last not least, thank you very much for doing
this interview with me!
TL: Youíre most welcome.