Joseph S. Pulver Sr. is a major talent in modern dark/weird fiction, and one of the most gifted exponents of the legacy of Robert W. Chambers and H.P. Lovecraft. I asked him about his inspirations and working procedures.
Teleread: What did you count as your primary influences and stylistic models, and how did you combine them?
Joseph S. Pulver Sr.: My primary… 60s AM radio. A Jefferson Airplane track followed by James Brown followed by the Buckinghams and Henson Cargil, proves anything can go with, be fitted to, anything when fit properly. When it comes to form I see the page as a canvas, so Jack Kirby (and comics in general) and E. E. Cummings, and post-modern hybrid poetry are always in my thoughts. Beckett, John Rechy, David Goodis, Michael Cisco, Robert W. Chambers (for the obvious YELLOW reasons), Robert Bloch, Henri Michaux, Ligotti and King, Philip Lamantia, Selby, and Lovecraft, top the writers and poets that opened the way for me.
Stylistically, I’m a huge crime and noir fan, in my mind the desolation of Goodis’s streets married to Stephen King’s “everyman” is a perfect stage for horror/weird fiction works. Set the waltz in poetry and I’m the happiest of campers.
Teleread: Did you approach writing with any articulate plan or intention, or develop things by experimentation and ear?
Joseph S. Pulver Sr.: It’s all seat-of-the-pants, lt, the work, goes where it needs to go. I’ll either have, start with, a line or two that won’t leave me, or I’ll have a note like, a vampire hires a gun-hand to kill another vampire, and I’ll run from there.
Teleread: Why did you particularly favor Chambers and the King in Yellow mythos over Lovecraft and other cosmic horror exemplars?
Joseph S. Pulver Sr.: What’s behind the mask! !! Over the decades, HPL’s work was codified, that took the mystery out of it for me. RWC’s has retained all its mystery- no one has, or can, write the play, we still do not know the secret history of the United States, Carcosa could be many things, and the same can be said for Hali and Hastur. I should also add, that Poe and Robert Bloch set me up for Chambers. The narrators in “A Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” and Bloch’s Jack (the Ripper), Norman (Psycho), and Juliette (Bloch, “A Toy for Juilette”) and Fowles’ The Collector, made me look around and examine what’s behind that curtain/facade, we call a face. We see, and most often believe, what’s offered to us, but if we look, we might find the demon-mouth of MADNESS and all it dreams of creating, nothing terrifies me more.
Teleread: What do you think accounts for the current strength of the dark/weird/horror genre cluster?
Joseph S. Pulver Sr.: The size of the talent pool and its variety. The WOMEN of Weird Fiction are finally sitting at the table – about damn time!!! Just think of it, for every Laird Barron we have a Caitlin Kiernan, for every Simon Strantzas we have a Helen Marshall. We have Molly Tanzer, Sunny Moraine, and Chesya Burke, and Livia Llewellyn and Gemma Files, to name a few. And LGBT and writers of color only enhance the districts of our fiction – think of the crippling limits of the menu w/out their talents. Our best editor is a woman, Ellen Datlow.
The VanderMeers have long been spearheading examinations of The Weird that look to Europe and South America, instead of marching to the drum of HPL. And as The Weird examines and includes other literary sources (as, I believe, it always has), Paul Bowles, Beckett, Bukowski, Nabokov, Hesse, Robbe-Grillet, Helen Adam, Joyce Carol Oates, Jack London, Roberto Bolano, the weird fiction cosmos, for reader and writer alike, widens and the possibilities expand.
Finally, we do not, or have stopped and/or cut down on, thinking in cinematic terms – literature does not need 3 acts, and every sentence does not need to move the narrative forward. Set aside the constrictive harness and you can create Picasso’s Mandolin.