Interview with author W.H. Pugmire by Brian M. Sammons

May 10, 2016

Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire has been writing Lovecraftian horror fiction since the early 1970s. As unique as they come, W H Pugmire has never been afraid to stand out in a crowd and a Pugmire story, much like the man himself, is not easily forgotten. H.P. Lovecraft historian has called Pugmire, “the prose-poet of the horror/fantasy field; he may be the best prose-poet we have.” A statement I thoroughly agree with. Poetic, beautiful, weird, and creepy, that’s what you get from this author, and I am ever thankful for it.

Speaking of thanks, than you for taking the time to talk with us, Wilum. You have always been one of the most fiercely original authors and people I’ve ever read or known. You’ve also always been nothing but a gracious gentleman to me and so many others over the years. When I get together with other authors and editors and we gossip, as we’re wont to do, about who are terrors to work with and who are absolute joys in this business of ours, your name always comes up high on that second list. So yes, thank you for dong this interview, Wilum, but also thank you for just being you. But enough of me gushing, let’s get on with it.


BMS – Now before authors began to write they were readers, so what were some of your earliest literary loves? Who inspired you and made you want to keep on reading?


WHP – The first author I began to read was Poe, when I was in grade school. At that time I also began to “fiddle” with writing my own versions of Poe’s tales. Then I found a copy of PSYCHO in my high school library, and that was my introduction to Bloch’s fiction.


BMS – Do you have a favorite book? One you have read multiple times?


WHP – The Aspern Papers, by Henry James


BMS – Was there always a love for horror and Lovecraftian weird fiction or did that develop over time?


WHP – I began as a horror film junkie. I didn’t begin to read weird fiction until I was a Mormon missionary in Ireland and my superiors told me I couldn’t go to ye cinema to watch horror films. So I began to read instead, beginning with the books of Robert Bloch, with whom I was in correspondence.


BMS – Do you recall when you first thought about writing your own stories? Was it a sudden epiphany, a gradual thing, or something else entirely?


WHP – I began to write wee horror stories when I was in Junior High School. Then I began to write more seriously while in Ireland.


BMS – What was your first sale and to what market?


WHP – “Whispering Wires,” in Space & Time 20, 1973.


BMS – What is the best thing about being a writer?


WHP – The psychic link is gives me to H. P. Lovecraft.


BMS – What’s the worst thing about being a writer?


WHP – Ye damnation of writer’s block.


BMS – If I asked you for three stories or books that would give a reader who is unfamiliar with your work the best representation of what you as an author, what would those three be?


WHP – My new book forthcoming from Centipede Press, An Ecstasy of Fear and Others. Monstrous Aftermath (Hippocampus Press, 2015). Encounters with Enoch Coffin (Dark Regions Press, 2013)


BMS – H.P. Lovecraft has his Arkham, Ramsey Campbell created Severn Valley, Stephen King always returns to Castle Rock, and you have the Sesqua Valley. What can you tell readers about your addition to the horror atlas?


WHP – When I began to write my Lovecraftian tales, I wanted to have my own setting, something like Arkham or Dunwich. I remembered reading that Derleth suggested to Ramsey Campbell to invent a British locality that Ramsey could bring to authentic imaginative life. I knew instantly that my own setting would be in a town similar to North Bend, when my relations lived. I wanted to give it a name that sounded Native American, and Sesqua came instantly to mind.


BMS – When did Sesqua Valley first appear? Was it always your intention to create your own legend-haunted locale for many of your stories, or did that just happen over time?


WHP – The first Sesqua tales were published in the early 1970’s, stories like “O, Christmas Tree” and “Never Steal from A Whateley.” At first Sesqua Valley was just a cool setting for my youthful Mythos stories; but then, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I began to see how to use it to write my own special kind of Lovecraftian fiction, bringing in a queer aesthetic and bohemianism.


BMS – Of all the authors I have known and worked with, you seem to embrace the title “Lovecraftian weird fiction author” the most. Some people seem to chafe when labeled as such, but you proudly and happily raise that flag high. What about Lovecraftian fiction fascinates you so?


WHP – It seemed to me that writing Lovecraftian was often considered a youthful “phase” that horror writers pass through on their way to doing mature work. I wanted Lovecraftian horror to be the foundation of my mature work, and so I have been audacious in writing fiction that is a kind of mature and professional Lovecraftian fan fiction. I want my books to be remembered as the work of an obsessed H. P. Lovecraft fanboy.


BMS – Of all of Lovecraft’s wonderfully weird creations: characters, Old Ones, settings, mythology, etc., which is your favorite? What has he dreamt up that speaks to you the loudest and why?


WHP – Nyarlathotep and the night-gaunts are my favorite Lovecraft beasties, and I have used them often in my own tales. The Strange Dark One—Tales of Nyarlathotep is my definitive collection concerning ye Crawling Chaos.


BMS – You have a number of books published by Dark Regions Press, one of them, Encounters with Enoch Coffin, you did with another favorite author and person of mine: Jeffrey Thomas. What could you tell us about that book?


WHP – The book came across as an accident. I was trying to inspire my buddy Stan Sargent to be more active in writing, and so I suggested to him that he create a recurring character that lived in San Francisco and was an artist. Stan hated the idea, and the more I thought about it the more it appealed to me.  I knew that I wanted to create a cool sexy male artist who lived in New England; and I wanted a co-author who was also an illustrator. Jeffrey Thomas came immediately to mind. Writing that book with him was a supreme pleasure.


BMS – You also collaborated with David Barker on The Revenant of Rebecca Pascal and In the Gulfs of Dream and other Lovecraftian Tales. What could you tell us about those?


WHP – David is one of my oldest Lovecraftian chums, and it seemed like it would be fun to write a book in collaboration with him. Unlike my working with Jeff, David and I actually began to work on stories together, both of us writing portions. It was a wonderful experience, we worked so well together. Revenant was actually supposed to be in In the Gulfs of Dreams &c, but our publisher decided it would make a nice wee stand-alone volume. It was so well-received that our publisher suggested we write an entire novel together, and so we spent last year working on a novel set in Lovecraft’s dreamlands.


BMS – How do you write with another author? What is your process? Is it different with each collaborator or have you found a way that works best for you and stick with it?


WHP – It isn’t easy, but with David it has worked rather well. He has to keep encouraging me, because I have such doubts about my writing or I get lazy and complacent. The latter portion of our new novel, Witches in Dreamland, is mostly David’s work, cos I got lazy and my imagination dried up. David and I wrote individual chapters, and it was thrilling, the way one of his chapters would totally inspire me to take the novel in a direction I hadn’t planned on. The coolest aspect of collaboration is that your imagination works in a totally different way than when you write alone. Your co-author takes you down paths you would never have found on your own.


BMS – You and I did a little something together that will be coming out from Dark Regions Press soon. I’m talking about the anthology called The Children of Gla’aki, which is a tribute to Ramsey Campbell’s greatest Great Old One. Your story in that book, “The Secret Painting of Thomas Cartwight,” can you tell us a little bit about that tale, not only a teaser of what it is about, but how it came about?


WHP – I had such fun writing that story, and it is one that I would never have thought of if you hadn’t invited me to write for the book. My immediate inspiration was to go “to ye source,” to read what Ramsey had written about Gla’aki. I saw that there was a legend telling how Gla’aki was known to appear in various lakes throughout the world, and that was what inspired me to set the story in Sesqua Valley. I am enormously fond of writing tales concerning artists, and to my delight “The Inhabitant of the Lake” featured a haunted and obsessed painter; so I brought his legend into my tale and played with that. I knew that I wanted to write a story that was Cthulhu Mythos to ye core—and I think I did.


BMS – You’ve been writing Lovecraftian horror for more than a few years, how has that genre changed, as both a fan and creator, since the time you began writing until now?


WHP – The genre has matured greatly, thanks to modern editors like Ellen Datlow and S. T. Joshi. In the old days, directly following August Derleth’s death, it was a genre of amateurs and fanboy writers. Writing Mythos fiction was seen, I think, as a very fannish activity. S. T. Joshi and Hippocampus Press changed all that by seeking excellent work by talented writers. PS Publishing has been publishing some absolutely brilliant books of Mythos fiction by modern writers. The genre is now flourishing as never before.


BMS – Can you share any info on what you’re working on now?


WHP – I’m trying to begin work on two new books written in collaboration with mates: a collection of tales inspired by Clark Ashton Smith, that I am working on with Henry Vester, and a second collection of Enoch Coffin stories with Jeff. However, there are some forthcoming items concerning Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth that I know will compel me to write yet another book of things inspired by Lovecraft’s sonnets. Hippocampus Press will soon release their The Annotated Fungi from Yuggoth, a tremendous book in which each sonnet will have its own illustration. And Fedogan & Bremer will soon release a new reading of ye Fungi and several other poems by Lovecraft, read by William Hart—and that is gonna be fucking awesome! Just thinking about those two projects gets my blood boiling with a kind of creative fervor to write a new Fungi-inspired book of me own.


BMS – Any words of advice, or even warnings, you would like to give to beginning authors?


WHP – Just write. Concentrate on producing work before you even think of trying to find publishers who may be interested in your fiction or poetry. Have a solid body of work that you’ll be able to shew prospective publishers. Write your brains out, babies, and do the best work that you can. If you’re writing Lovecraftian horror, find a way to make it extremely personal, a reflection of your tormented soul, your haunted mind.


BMS – What is the best way for people to learn more about you and your work?


WHP – My Facebook timeline or my personal blog:


Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire has been writing Lovecraftian weird fiction since he was a young girl in the 1970s. His first American collection was published by Jeffrey Thomas, through his Necropolitan Press, in 1997. Pugmire’s books include The Tangled Muse, Some Unknown Gulf of Night, The Strange Dark One, Uncommon Places, The Fungal Stain, and Gathered Dust and Others. In April of this year Arcane Wisdom Press will publish a new collection, Bohemians of Sesqua Valley. Wilum is currently writing his first novel, inspired by Derleth’s The Lurker at the Threshold, and he will be working on an Enoch Coffin novel with Jeff in some dim future aeon.

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