Marked to Die
As the whistles and gunpowder smell of fireworks die away and we start to approach, with premature anticipation or dread, the festive season, and as the dark winter evenings that seem to call up atavistic memories of roaming wolf packs draw in, we break a long Chômu silence to bring you news of Mark Samuels, Snuggly Books and other matters.
First we present an interview with Chômu author Justin Isis, regarding the curious and remarkable Marked to Die, an anthology of fiction in tribute to the illustrious Mark Samuels, whose collection The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales we published in 2011. The anthology, edited by Justin Isis, was released earlier this year, from Snuggly Books, and is available from the publisher’s website and elsewhere.
Interview with Justin Isis Regarding the Mark Samuels Tribute Anthology
Chômu Press: What formed the initial impetus for the Marked to Die anthology?
Justin Isis: A vague desire to write Mark Samuels Real Person Fiction or fanfiction, resulting from a vague feeling that other people would eventually end up doing this, and I wanted to take the initiative and get there first. From there it was mostly a desire to rope other writers into this scheme and see what they’d come up with. The tribute anthology format is a pretty inherently boring and conservative one, from my perspective, and I wanted to see what interesting things I could do to somehow subvert or reinvent it while still fulfilling the basic obligation of honoring the subject material. Mark’s own writing is a model of stylistic focus and consistency, which made it weirdly ideal for this kind of thing—there were enough clear jumping-on points, and his own approach had been influential enough that I felt confident the writers I solicited would have a lot to work with. I think we succeeded in stretching the format pretty far at times through multiple layers of metafiction, random author insertions and the contributions of some writers who’d barely even read Mark’s work—balancing it all, of course, with stories from some of his oldest and closest friends who understand his style, influences and thematic concerns on a deep level.
Chômu Press: What would you say are the non-obvious aspects of that stylistic consistency that have ultimately fed into the anthology—the non-obvious jumping-on points, if you like?
Justin Isis: Mark’s writing is often compared to that of Thomas Ligotti, who’s an admitted influence, but when looked at closely, they don’t actually have that much in common—Ligotti’s stories are much more consistently unreal and vague about the details of place, for example, whereas Mark always seems to be coming to grips with London as it decays. The idea of some kind of psychogeography or deep engagement with setting (deep topography?) was one I hoped the contributors would seize on, and a fair number of them did: Thana Niveau’s ‘Language of the City,’ and David Rix’s monumental ‘Slag Glass Lachrimae,’ which is rooted firmly in the England of rising housing prices and persistent low-level despair. That kind of attention to setting gave the book a grounding it otherwise wouldn’t have had: even as it ranges pretty far over the globe with stories set in Russia, Japan, South America, etc., it still seems to keep one leg of the compass fixed in London. You could also pick up on the religious underpinnings of some of Mark’s stories, which of course have been the subject of some controversy. A few of the contributors chose to play them straight, while others engaged with them in fairly unexpected ways. There’s a pretty clear metaphysical thread running through the book.
Chômu Press: The anthology, of course, is called Marked to Die. Do you think there’s a morbid, or perhaps simply unhelpful prejudice, against living writers? This anthology is an attempt to celebrate a writer in his lifetime, but writers are often more celebrated in such a way (and in other ways) after their death; is this the inevitable result of the time investment necessary for reading books, so that it takes a while for the reading public to sift the good from the bad, or do you think it’s something else?
Justin Isis: Since the book has come out I’ve seen at least five or six comments along the lines of “Is Mark Samuels dead? No? Well, he probably should be if he has a tribute anthology.” There’s definitely a sense in which writers are only seen as real, as accepted, once they’re in the ground. But the intention of this book was never to be any kind of monument in the tombstone sense; neither do I think it comes close to capturing everything about Mark’s writing. I’m fully expecting him to keep changing and evolving, and if his recent work (such as the upcoming novel A Pilgrim Stranger) is anything to go by, the public impression of his writing might be completely different in another ten or twenty years. I mean, I did say that I expected there would be further tributes, further instances of him being used as a character, etc. Marked to Die gets things rolling, but it’s really just the beginning. More generally, I don’t think much time at all is needed to evaluate quality, it’s just that the cult of death is excessively prevalent. Look at how much revenue is being extracted from Kafka, Lovecraft and others who died poor and unknown. I’d rather focus on the living.
Further Intriguing News
The Samuels-related news does not end, however, with the release of the Marked to Die tribute anthology this year, or even with the enigmatic A Pilgrim Stranger mentioned in the interview above, for the next book to be released by Chômu Press will be the Mark Samuels collection Written in Darkness, previously released as a limited edition hardback by Egaeus Press. The author himself has become the latest of many to publish his works directly, and fans of Mark Samuels can now find his Glyphotech and Other Macabre Processes back in print and available for purchase at Amazon, soon to be followed by his short novel, The Face of Twilight.
Before we go, we would like to urge all readers who have enjoyed Chômu Press publications to take a closer look at Snuggly Books, who are publishing some of the same authors as Chômu (see, for instance, the attractive reissue of Quentin S. Crisp’s long out-of-print collection, Rule Dementia!, or the forthcoming publication of Brendan Connell’s masterly fictional life of a Paraguayan actor and star of Cinecittà, Clark), and other interesting contemporary authors most deserving of the reader’s attention. For the adventurous connoisseur, Snuggly Books are also unearthing and disseminating (sometimes in new or first translation) notable works of Decadent, Symbolist, and otherwise curious or exotic literature, such as The Tarantulas’ Parlor and Other Unkind Tales, by Léon Bloy, and The Soul-Drinker and Other Decadent Fantasies, by Jean Lorrain.