Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is a short story collection entitled, THE THING IN YELLOW—it’s a collection of thirteen short stories written in homage to the Robert Chambers book, THE KING IN YELLOW, which came out in 1895.
What’s it about?
DTN: I love THE KING IN YELLOW—I think Chambers managed to touch on some fascinating cosmic horror and weird fictional insights in his book. Themes of madness, the cursed play (of course), artistic decadence, and the cosmic grandiosity of the King in Yellow—all of that have made his work heavily influential on other writers of weird fiction, particularly HP Lovecraft, among many others.
I had this idea a few years ago to craft my own collection that uses the King in Yellow mythos in newer, more modern, even postmodern kinds of contexts. That’s how THE THING IN YELLOW came about. Each story explores that mythos in different ways, and offers up explorations of all sorts of things—artists and their creations, cultural preoccupations and fad/fan culture, madness (of course), art and artists, decadence, corruption, decay, and so forth. And I put all sorts of narrative zigzags in there, where one story might refer to something (or someone) in another story, so there are kind of easter eggs peppered throughout the collection. That was great fun for me, and makes the book work as a collection of weird tales, and as something larger.
Maybe it’s post-weird fiction, I don’t know. For anyone living today, what’s weird? Everything’s weird. Or everything’s so ordinary that it’s weird. It’s easy to be jaded in 21st-century America, honestly, which is pretty weird, when you scratch the surface a bit.
What makes weird fiction weird, and why does it appeal to you?
Weird fiction historically refers to speculative, especially horror fiction that tossed aside conventional tropes in favor of transgressive narratives that left readers in a, well, weird place. I half-jokingly call it “tentaclecore” because of the primacy of tentacles as the go-to appendage of weird fiction, a sort of mascot most famously embodied in Cthulhu. I have toyed with tentaclecore in my novella, RELICT, as well as my novel, CHOSEN—so, there’s some weird skin in the game for me. What can I say? I’m a sucker for tentacles!
That said, what I always liked about THE KING IN YELLOW was how Chambers channeled the weird in a more elusive, subtle, and understated way that was still haunting, hypnotic, and horrifying. The Yellow King is a far more shadowy and elusive entity than Cthulhu. I mean, people have made plushies of Cthulhu, for elder god’s sake! Nobody in their right mind would do that for the King in Yellow, which says to me that’s because the King still manages to give people the creeps.
The reason why the first season of TRUE DETECTIVE had so much power, beyond, of course, the great performances by the leads and the storytelling, was because it tapped into the Chambers mythos, just little hints and brushstrokes of the weird and cosmic horror. I love that about that. It elevated it from being simply a police story or a narrative of damaged men struggling with the contradictory challenges of American manhood to something far more cosmic in scope.
THE THING IN YELLOW is a collection of macabre tales, occult supernatural stories that offer still more glimpses of Carcosa, the Yellow Sign, the Pallid Mask, the King in Yellow, and the toxicity of the King’s evil as relates to human beings, going through their daily lives. Our lives are so steeped in the mundane day-to-day of social media and 24/7 connectivity that it’s easy to lose focus on the cosmic, even as that digital existence can lead a person to feel very small and insignificant, indeed. THE THING IN YELLOW wraps that existence in the tattered yellow finery of the Yellow King and toys with it in contemporary settings.
I willfully play with and name “yellowcore” in the collection, because there’s something particularly sinister to me in the marketing of madness and cosmic horror, and that’s an area ripe for further exploration, above and beyond what I put in these stories.
It is, in a more quietly atmospheric way. THE THING IN YELLOW doesn’t offer up characters to the ever-running woodchipper of contemporary horror; rather, it’s more of a diabolical dance with unseen (or only partly-seen) forces that are, at least within the confines of the story, very real, but resist being directly glimpsed.
For me, that’s always more interesting, much the way a ghost story, while light on gore, can serve up genuine chills. The chills in my collection are more analytic in their implications, and I think readers who enjoy “reading between the lines” may find all sorts of horrors and terrors lurking just beneath the surface, which is in keeping with the King in Yellow mythos. Madness is the flip side of reason, and the two carry out their danse macabre in this way, and who knows which one leads?
I know that I had a great time writing these stories, and found them immersive and oddly transfixing (itself a very meta experience for anyone writing about the King in Yellow), and I hope readers will, too, especially fans of this mythos. And for people who haven’t ever read THE KING IN YELLOW, I think if they stumble onto my collection, it’ll help them find their way to the Chambers book and appreciate it even more. Which they absolutely should.