September 21, 2016

The Hills Have Tentacles: an interview with Nathan Shumate, editor of "Redneck Eldritch"

Gef: How did you come about on creating an anthology of Appalachian-themed Lovecraft stories??

Nathan: Well, I had previously spearheaded the anthology Space Eldritch, and then its follow-up Space Eldritch II... and while I enjoyed working with all of the contributors to those two volumes, I think that we were pretty much done with the space-opera-crossed-with-Lovecraft flavor of those stories. So I tried to find a theme that could still play off the “Eldritch” brand, but was pretty much the opposite... and I realized that, because we had concentrated on the cosmic scope of Lovecraft’s stories, we had pretty much ignored one of his other themes: that of the human propensity for superstition and social regression. So Redneck Eldritch would allow us to play with ideas that intersected with Lovecraft’s suspicion of “degenerate” people.

Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from your previous anthologies?

Nathan: When doing the first Space Eldritch anthology, I found that even though we had literally the breadth and depth of the interstellar cosmos to inspire us, Brad Torgersen and I almost wrote the same story. With Redneck Eldritch, I realized that the same ideas and themes would occur to multiple contributors, so I structured the project for communication to head that problem off: I put all of the invited contributors in a single Google Group, I asked them to PLEASE broadcast their story ideas before writing, and I posted their drafts, once I had seen them, back to the group with the plea to keep abreast of what their co-contributors were doing. I think doing this allowed the stories to each stake out their own territory under the umbrella theme; it also spared me from having to say, “Great submission, but I’ve already got this story.”

Gef: When going through the submissions for something like this, what is the biggest stumbling block you see for writers when tackling Lovecraftian/cosmic short fiction?

Nathan: Well, here’s the thing: A good Lovecraft-inspired story can be exquisite, but there’s nothing worse than bad Lovecraft pastiches. I had done several open-submission anthologies prior to this, so I had dealt with a slush pile full of writers at all levels of craft, and there was no way I was going to subject myself to Lovecraftian slush! That’s why all of the Eldritch anthologies have been by invitation only — I’ve come to know several writers whose skill set is adequate to the task, so if they agree to be in the anthology, I know something of publishable quality will be the result.

But more than that, none of the writers in these anthologies are primarily writers known for their Lovecraftian output — a few of them had never attempted anything with a conscious Lovecraftian bent, and one of them even had to go out and “cram” to feel he was up to the task. Too many beginning writers who love Lovecraft love only Lovecraft — they bring nothing to their stories save their retreads of what they learned from the Old Gentleman himself, and the result is that their stories are simply more of the same. (I did the same thing in high school, so I know whereof I speak.) The world doesn’t need another writer generating inferior copies of Lovecraft stories — we’ve already had one August Derleth, and we don’t need another.

Gef: How have you found your progression as an editor thus far?

Nathan: I’m pretty awesome. :) Seriously, though, I’ve grown quite confident in my ability to recognize a good story, and also to act as a second set of eyes to point out an early draft’s weaknesses so that they can be shored up. And the fact that I’m getting more and more experience doing that with other people’s output means that I can bring the same skills to bear on my own

Gef: What kinds of stories resonate with you as a reader?

Nathan: What really grabs me first and foremost is storytelling ability: confidence with using the language and stringing together a narrative. A good storyteller can hold my attention for forty-five minutes recount his trip to the supermarket to buy green olives. If the story is engaging right in the here and now — if what I’m reading from page one is interesting in its own right, not just something I need to know so that the later scenes will make sense — then you can probably slip all sorts of plot holes past me.

Gef: Horror can get a bad rap a lot of times, so what do you consider to be the saving grace of the genre? For someone not reading it, what are they missing out on?

Nathan: I’ve been thinking a lot about what the definition of “horror” is, aside from a category under which things can be shelved at Barnes & Noble. I think that a big clue to what it actually is, at least as far as I define it when I write it and I publish it, is the fact that many people instinctively lump it in with the other “speculative fiction” genres of science fiction and fantasy, without being able to articulate why.

What I see is that “horror” is the flip side of the “sense of wonder” that results from good SF and fantasy. It’s not just being scared — you can get that from a realistic novel about struggling with cancer or with marital betrayal, neither of which I want to see shelved under “horror” — it’s being scared in a way that cracks and expands your paradigm. It can be, very literally, consciousness-expanding; and, as my friend Michaelbrent Collings points out often, it can possibly lead to the most uplifting, goodness-affirming catharses in fiction, as characters are pushed to discover just who they really are when everything around them has been taken away.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Nathan: I’m busy enough that I don’t have time to read “guiltily” anymore (I recently sent my gargantuan collection of Mack Bolan paperbacks to the thrift store) but I’ll often indulge in a SyFy-style creature feature — “Enigmasaur vs. Tentilicus” or whatever — if only because I’m interested to see just how far a high concept title can carry an otherwise lackluster production.

Gef: When you read outside your chosen genre, what kinds of books do you gravitate towards?

Nathan: Hm... I don’t know that there’s one thing that ties together any disparate reading I do, aside from research. I guess what hooks me about the out-of-the-ordinary reads is the same thing that grabs other readers when they read outside their familiar genres: There was something in the back cover blurb or in the first page that was so intriguing, so captivating, that you can’t help but keep turning pages.

Gef: What other projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Nathan: Let’s see. I’ve been doing some woodcut art prints on Lovecraftian themes which are visible on my personal site, — I’ll have an Etsy store set up once I’m stocked on shipping supplies — and I’m working on a second edition of The Golden Age of Crap, a cross-section survey of VHS-era B-movies (now with full-color posters!). My next fiction project is a post-apocalyptic adventure with Lovecraftian overtones. Everything I’ve shepherded to publication through my publishing company Cold Fusion Media is at And I’ll probably be distracted by another shiny thing soon enough.

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