A Brief Interview With the Editors of Children of Cthulhu


Originally for Raw, New Things #5, 4/1/2002

As the reader may infer, I greatly enjoyed reading Children of Cthulhu. Between it and Chaosium’s Song of Cthulhu, my anthology reading has been less from a sense of duty and more for pleasure. Following the release of Children of Cthulhu, I spotted postings from both the editors on alt.horror.cthulhu, and approached them for an interview. They graciously accepted, and I here present the fruits of that exchange.

Q: What are your editorial backgrounds?

Benjamin Adams: John's the real pro as far as editorial work goes. My own background was in fanzine editing during the 1980's, after which I began writing professionally in 1993. This is my first professional editorial work.

John Pelan: I started editing/publishing back in 1986 when I launched Axolotl Press. Since then, I guess I've edited pretty close to three dozen books.

Q: What made you decide to put together a Lovecraftian anthology?

Benjamin Adams: The concept for The Children of Cthulhu had been knocking around in my mind for years. As far as I'm concerned, the finest single anthology of original Lovecraftian fiction that has ever been published was [Edward] Berglund's The Disciples of Cthulhu. I read it at a young age — probably when I was 13 years old — and it has resonated with me ever since. In fact, that book may be largely responsible for my becoming a professional writer of dark fiction.

The Disciples of Cthulhu featured no Lovecraftian pastiches, but was instead full of dark, literary horror that happened to deal with Lovecraft's core concepts. I firmly believe it's one of the strongest single horror anthologies ever published, second only to Dark Forces in my estimation.

So during the late 1990's I decided it was time to give a new generation a new anthology that was up to par with The Disciples of Cthulhu. Since John Pelan and I were acquainted with each other as members of HWA [Horror Writers’ Association], and we both lived in Seattle, I went to him with the idea to see if he would be interested in it. Several years later, the end result is on bookstore shelves, and holds very close to my original conception of the volume. And maybe . . . hopefully . . . some 13 year old out there will pick it up and have his or her life turned on a slightly new course because of it.

John Pelan: Well, after listening to one of my rants on the sorry state of Lovecraftain pastiches Ben came over to the house and asked if I'd ever considered doing a Lovecraftian anthology MY way. We both agreed that [Edward] Berglund had done a splendid job with Disciples and that was the bar we should try and hit.

Q: Were there any guidelines or rules that you gave to the authors?

Benjamin Adams: The core guideline was that we didn't want to see pastiche. We wanted to see original stories in the authors' own voices that dealt with Lovecraft's themes. The stories themselves are the titular children of Cthulhu. That was our golden rule.

John Pelan: Sure! Here they are:

Open submission call for The Children of Cthulhu

Edited by John Pelan and Benjamin Adams

Publisher: Del Rey Books

We are proud to announce that we are looking for submissions for The Children Of Cthulhu, to be published by Del Rey Books. But we are not looking for the standard Lovecraftian pastiche, so please don’t dive into the trunk and send us a reject from a Chaosium anthology, because that is exactly what we don’t want.

Allow us a little background:

Much of the fiction that has been passed off as "Lovecraftian" has contained only purple prose offered as "style" and bizarre proper nouns trundled out as "atmosphere". What’s been often lacking is a true grasp of Lovecraft’s vision. The stories written by Howard Phillips Lovecraft in the 1920’s & 1930’s were rife with a terrifying vision of an indifferent and chaotic universe, a universe populated by beings that were, in their total alienness, in fact almost inconceivable by mere humans. The cosmology fashioned by Lovecraft dealt at length with the tragic results of a frail humanity accidentally encountering these "Great Old Ones" or their minions.

Lovecraft constructed a loose myth-cycle of stories, dropping names like Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth and Nyarlathotep through his tales like so many bread crumbs. But the trail of crumbs Lovecraft left for us leads nowhere. It was never meant to do so. His stories are frequently contradictory in their details about these monstrously alien beings that seeped down to Earth from the furthest depths of space and time. The myth-cycle—named "The Cthulhu Mythos" by Lovecraft’s protégé, August Derleth, but more properly referred to as "Yog-Sothothery" by Lovecraft himself—is full of dangling loose ends and tantalizing hints at vast cosmic truths.

Unlike an author of today, who would be more concerned with retaining rights to their intellectual property, Lovecraft had no qualms about allowing other writers to utilize his concepts and weird, alien beings. These other writers included his peers; Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Robert E. Howard, and a number of protégés such as Derleth, Bloch, Kuttner and others who became the first "Lovecraft Circle."

So began a grand tradition of authors borrowing Lovecraft’s concepts; in many cases, expanding upon them and adding their own spices to the fictional stew. The original Lovecraft Circle inspired others, and now there are literally thousands of stories comprising the "Cthulhu Mythos." However, many have missed the point that the true horror in Lovecraft’s fiction lies in the unknowable, the mystery of a vast and infinitely strange cosmos. There have been numerous attempts to codify and catalogue the entities of his cosmology, to present a cosmic genealogy as it were; these attempts have for the most part been unsuccessful.

These authors, not being nearly as inventive as the members of the original Lovecraft Circle, have fallen victim to the tendency to merely throw in a few Lovecraftian beasties and the Necronomicon. These pastiches are not even so much derivative of Lovecraft, but of others who followed him, such as Derleth, and as such have fallen into hidebound rhythms: Seeker after occult lore discovers unspeakable volume of ancient lore, conjures up Cthulhu and all Hell breaks loose. Many of the authors of these pastiches are not even familiar with other works in the horror field, and thus have no connection to Lovecraft’s own inspirations, such as Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen and M. R. James.

For this collection we are looking for new tales dealing with Lovecraft’s themes and creations. We have no need of pastiche; we need literary, forward-thinking stories told with the authors’ own voices. As a touchstone we recommend authors look to breakthrough, landmark anthologies such as Dark Forces or even Dangerous Visions. Our one caveat is that heavy sexual content is not appropriate, considering this volume will be part of Del Rey’s uniform set of Lovecraft trade paperbacks, and will be widely read by teenagers. Nothing more than a hard "R," if you will.

We have extremely limited space for open submissions, so we can afford to be extremely picky. Do not send us something unless you are certain it is your absolute best work. The rewards will be great; this book will likely remain in print, and earning royalties, for a very long time.

Stories should be between 5000 – 10,000 words in length.


Q: What makes Children of Cthulhu philosophically different from other Lovecraftian anthologies currently available?

Benjamin Adams: We were determined not to rely on pastiche and the usual Lovecraftian tropes, especially long litanies of Cthulhoid names and mysterious tomes of forgotten lore. There has been altogether too much of that in the past. We wanted stories that would stand on their own to readers who had never read Lovecraft before. And, again, for the most part I believe we were successful.

It's really all set forth in the introduction to the volume.

John Pelan: As above, we solicited writers that we knew had a great understanding of Lovecraft's work and themes and would be likely to bring their own approach to the Mythos.

Q: Did Children of Cthulhu come out as well as you had hoped or expected?

Benjamin Adams: I'm still a bit too close to the project to have an unbiased take on it. At this point I believe I'm being hypercritical of a couple of aspects . . . what they are I will leave unsaid.

John Pelan: Better.

Q: Why Del Rey, as opposed to Fedogan and Bremer, Arkham House, or any other specialty publisher?

Benjamin Adams: I have to grin at this. Quite frankly, we began at the top . . . and the top wanted the book. They were the first publisher to whom we submitted. I had mulled over some of the other publishers, but John said "Let's start at the top." And the top was Del Rey.

For me, personally, Del Rey has special significance. Their line of books formed my tastes in science fiction, fantasy and horror during the 1970's Not only was my first exposure to Lovecraft from the Del Rey editions (the wonderful "head" covers of the early 1970's and the editions immediately following — not the ones with Michael Whelan covers), but also my first exposure to J.R.R. Tolkien, Larry Niven, Philip K. Dick, Stanley G. Weinbaum and Edgar Rice Burroughs. To me, Del Rey is the fountainhead . . . although their glory days are long past, still I have a special fondness for them in my heart.

John Pelan: Not to take anything away from other publishers, but Del Rey is clearly positioned at the top of the mountain and is obviously the best venue for a major book of this nature.

Q: The book seems closer in size to an Arkham House or Fedogan & Bremer book than the standard large-publisher hardcover. Was this something under your control?

Benjamin Adams: I had no say in it . . . I'm interested in knowing John's answer!

John Pelan: Del Rey is making a statement with this book. We did come in a bit over-budget, but I'm notorious for that.

Q: Are there any stories you would like to share about the compilation of this volume; memorable events, epic battles, humorous anecdotes?

Benjamin Adams: Only the typical true life horror stories of dredging through the slush piles to find some real gems. The amount of sheer garbage that was submitted was appalling . . . I find it hard to believe there are so many people who refuse to read guidelines or abide by them. I am especially proud of finding Meredith L. Patterson's and James Van Pelt's stories through the slush pile . . . they're really quite extraordinary pieces.

John Pelan: Nah, I don't bite the hand that feeds me. Probably the most humorous is the that it took so long to get this project approved. One of the first people I asked for a story was Poppy Z. Brite... She immediately responded by writing "Are You Loathsome Tonight?" and so much time elapsed that she wound up having to use it as the titular piece for her short story collection. Obviously, I wasn't going to let the book be published without it, so we have one reprint in the anthology.

Q: What is your favorite story by Lovecraft, and why?

Benjamin Adams: "At the Mountains of Madness," and "The Mound," hands down. They both hit sustained notes of prolonged suspense and horror that have very rarely been approached by any other writers. And, yes, "The Mound" is a collaboration . . . but it's been so heavily rewritten by Lovecraft that it truly stands as one of his own.

John Pelan: "The Shadow over Innsmouth", it does a superb job of encapsulating many of his themes and it's just an excellent piece of weird fiction.

Q: What is your favorite story of "Yog-Sothothery" not written by Lovecraft, and why?

Benjamin Adams: The entirety of Berglund’s The Disciples of Cthulhu. Every story is outstanding, and I'm not going to pick any one over another.

John Pelan: Ramsey Campbell’s "The Tugging", James P. Blaylock’s "The Shadow on the Doorstep" and Michael Shea’s "Fat Face". All three are excellent examples of why Lovecraft's "Yog-Sothothery" is still such a viable sub-genre in the right hands.

Q: Would you consider doing another Lovecraftian anthology?

Benjamin Adams: In a heartbeat . . . but John's tied up with a Lovecraftian project of his own that he proposed with which I'm not involved. I do have a concept of my own but it would probably be a logistic and legal nightmare to pull off. Who knows, though?

Thanks for the interest in The Children of Cthulhu! I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did helping assemble it!

John Pelan: Michael Reaves and I are preparing Shadows Over Baker Street for publication by Del Rey in 2003.

I wish to thank both gentlemen profusely for their time and effort, and wish to take another opportunity to say good things about their book. If you haven’t read it, for Hastur’s sake, go out and get it!