Claude Lalumière‘s Nocturnes and Other Nocturnes (infinity plus, December 2013) collects twenty-five dark stories of sex and death, spanning realism and a breadth of fantastical genres. Previous books include the collection Objects of Worship (2009) and the mosaic novella The Door to Lost Pages (2011). He has edited or co-edited twelve anthologies in various genres, including Island Dreams: Montreal Writers of the Fantastic (2003), Lust for Life: Tales of Sex & Love (with Elise Moser; 2006), Tesseracts Twelve: New Novellas of Canadian Fantastic Fiction (2008), Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories (with Camille Alexa; 2013), and Super Stories of Heroes & Villains (2013). With Rupert Bottenberg, he’s the co-creator of the multimedia cryptomythology project Lost Myths.
KEITH BROOKE: Your most recent collection, Nocturnes and Other Nocturnes, falls into three sections: “Shades of Noir”, “Nocturnes” and “Strange Tales of Sex and Death”. What’s the rationale behind this collection and the way it’s organized?
CLAUDE LaLUMIÈRE: As a reader I love the concept of the thematic collection, so, as a writer, I try to organize my stories and books that way, too. I’ve known for a few years that I had a collection brewing on the related themes of sex and death. Its exact breadth and scope kept changing, though. Of course, sex and death are a big part of most stories we tell, but I wanted to assemble those stories of mine that put those themes explicitly – and intimately – in the forefront. Until recently, I couldn’t quite figure out how to make the book come together and make sense as a statement or united work.
Then, in early 2013, I woke up one morning with the story “Our Love” rattling around in my mind. I had no idea I was going to write anything that day, but once I’d finished it I knew that I’d written the final piece, the final word, for my sex and death collection. The book had to end with “Our Love” (and it does).
Knowing that I’d finished writing it, I worked harder at assembling my new collection. I kept looking at all my available stories that fit the theme and kept reorganizing them this way and that, until I could no longer ignore that several of my “nocturnes” (a term I coined to describe the form of fiction called contes in French) absolutely had to be a part of the mix; I’d previously decided to exclude such texts from my previous collection, Objects of Worhsip, even though a few would have been excellent fits in that book. I already knew that my noir and quasi-noir stories would be slotted in the “sex and death” book. And there was a subset of my SF/fantasy/horror tales that had to be in there, too – those less outrageous in their speculative fancies than my usual SF and fantasy; more intimate and only one cognitive break away from reality.
The uniting thread of the book is not generic but thematic. To paint a satisfying picture of my fictional explorations of those themes, the book had to be fluid about genre. But it also made sense, tonally, to group stories by mode. So I open with a subset of noirish realist tales (Shades of Noir), continue with a group of mythic nocturnes (Nocturnes), and end with a group of intimate stories of SF, fantasy, and horror (Strange Tales of Sex and Death). The book moves from realism to myth to fantasy, a path that made sense, especially given the theme(s) at play.
KB: You’re one of those writers who is hard to label, with your work fitting most comfortably into the gaps between genres. Is challenging categorization a deliberate strategy on your part? Is genre labelling a good or a bad thing?
CL: My life as a writer would be much easier if my work could be easily slotted anywhere. No, it’s not intentional. But I can’t seem to avoid it. As to genre labelling, it’s neither a good nor a bad thing – or rather both a good and bad thing. It’s both useful and unfortunate, necessary and distracting, fun and annoying.
KB: Many of the stories in Nocturnes and Other Nocturnes are explicitly erotic, albeit erotica with a strange and dark twist; several of these have been published in Maxim Jakubowski’s Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica. What’s the attraction of dark erotica, and what kinds of things are you exploring in these stories?
CL: I rarely set out to write explicitly erotic fiction, but I also don’t shy away from sex or from the sexual implications of who my characters are or what situations they find themselves in.
KB: Much of your creative efforts over the years has gone into your multimedia cryptomythology project, Lost Myths (working with collaborator Rupert Bottenberg). What do you mean by ‘cryptomythology’ and where’s the best place for interested readers to start?
CL: From 2010 to 2012, Rupert and I posted 101 Lost Myths at lostmyths.net. Until this past January the full archive was online, but we recently scaled that back and have kept only 21 of the more interactive or multimedia myths on the site, because right now we’re working on the book version of Lost Myths, and we want the website to be a complement, not a substitute, for the eventual book. The best place to start would be the very last Lost Myth we posted, “Cryptomythology 101“. Also, in the Nocturnes section of Nocturnes and Other Nocturnes, readers can find text-only versions of several Lost Myths.
What is Lost Myths, or cryptomythology? Basically, it’s made-up mythology, with the conceit that it’s myth that’s out there to be found but hidden from consensus reality. We have a lot of fun with this concept.
CL: I’ve tried collaborating with other writers, and I can’t do it. Writing is too hermetic a process for me to be able to collaborate in that sense. However, I love to collaborate with artists who work in fields other than writing, or with a co-editor for anthologies.
In those two instances, I find collaboration easy, fun, and enriching, both for me and for the work.
With Rupert, sometimes we start with an image of his, and I write text to go with it, and then he maybe tweaks the image to further fit the text, or adds new images to the final product. Or sometimes we start with a text of mine, and Rupert either illustrates it or adapts it to comics, and I might tweak the text based on Rupert’s comments.
When it comes to Lost Myths, Rupert and I have an inexplicable creative synergy that continues to surprise both of us. The collaborative sum is always greater than the whole of our respective parts.
We also had musical collaborators on several Lost Myths. For example, on “That Long-Foretold Second Coming,” we started with a text of mine. Then, Rupert added an illustration. Then, his father, composer Wolfgang Bottenberg, wrote a piece of solo cello music meant to accompany a dramatic performance of the myth. Then, my friend Saskia Latendresse, a cello player, was brought on to play the cello part. Saskia and I rehearsed for several nights until we were both happy with how her playing and my performance interacted. Then, we went over to musician and recording artist Matthew Jacob Lederman’s home studio, and he recorded us performing the piece together.
Right now, I’m working with one of my favourite cartoonists, Bernie Mireault (creator of The Jam), and that process has been mind-blowing. Bernie is a genius, an artist’s artist whose work since the 1980s has influenced, directly and indirectly, a generation of cartoonists, and working with him has been and continues to be not only incalculably fun but also a valuable learning experience. Bernie enhances everything I give him in ways that constantly leave me in awe. I can’t wait to be able to show people the work we’re doing together. But it’s part of Avatars of Adventure, a larger project of mine, and I have to wait for more pieces to fall in place before going public.
KB: As well as your work as an author, you’re also a prolific anthologist, with a dozen titles to your credit and more in the works. Surely picking a few stories to put in a book is the easiest job in the world? (Pause, as interviewer ducks for cover.) Or is there more to it than that? How did you get into this field and what are you trying to do with your anthologies?
CL: There are three types of anthologies I’ve worked on.
- Contract anthologies where I edit pre-selected stories (I edited four volumes collecting the winning stories from a literary competition); in this case, my job is to work with authors to hone the stories into publishable form and to find a good reading order for the book.
- Thematic reprint anthologies; in this case, my favourite strategy is a mix of approaches: stories I already know I want; writer submissions; reader suggestions; and lots of research and reading. There’s very little editing per se with reprints (but there is some).
- All-original thematic anthologies; this is where it’s most fun to work with a co-editor. I love the back-and-forth, the passionate arguments, being compelled to view stories through each other’s editorial eyes. I’m not fond of the lowest-common-denominator effect of slush readers or editorial committees, but two editors working together as equals is tons of fun and, to my mind, leads to a much more powerful final selection than either a solo editor or a committee could do. In this kind of anthology, there’s often quite a bit of substantive editing.
As to what I’m trying to do … I love short fiction. Writing and editing are two complimentary facets of my passion for short fiction.
CL: Well, I hate to play favourites. But I will point to two stories that had special meaning for me. In Island Dreams: Montreal Writers of the Fantastic, I published the final work by my dear friend Martin Last, who died three years later. Martin was a man who had led a rich life and befriending him and his lifetime companion Baird Last (who died a few years before Martin wrote this story) changed my life for the better in many ways. For Super Stories of Heroes & Villains, I convinced George R.R. Martin – although he was sceptical at first that it would work – to let me use his interstitial material from the first Wild Cards volume to form a unified mosaic story sketching the secret history of the Wild Cards universe. This material had never appeared in quite that form before, and I love the results. People have told me it’s one of their favourite stories in the book.
KB: Next up on the anthology front is The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir, co-edited with David Nickle. Tell us more…
CL: Well, the idea is to provide a snapshot of the noir esthetic in Canadian fiction today, with new works by contemporary Canadian writers, regardless of genre. Again, as in my own Nocturnes and Other Nocturnes, the thread will be thematic and not generic. We want to see noir explored in as many genres and modes as writers can come up with, including but not limited to traditional crime noir, lit noir, erotica, weird horror, superheroes, etc. We open to subs on 1 March, and details are at claudepages.info/new-canadian-noir. David and I were judges for a story contest a few years ago, and we’ve been waiting ever since for the right project to co-edit.
KB: And what next from Claude the writer?
CL: There’s Avatars of Adventure, a comics project with several cartoonist collaborators, including Bernie Mireault, Rupert Bottenberg, and a few more I can’t name yet. There are two Lost Myths books in the works, in collaboration with Rupert Bottenberg: one is a fake nonfiction book, surveying Lost Myths from around the world and beyond; the other is a collection of Lost Myths comics stories. I have another thematic collection that’s almost done, this one a collection of my adventure stories; it’s shaping up to be my longest collection. And I’m a few episodes shy of completing work on my mosaic novel Venera Dreams.
Keith Brooke‘s first novel, Keepers of the Peace, appeared in 1990, since when he has published seven more adult novels, six collections, and over 70 short stories. For ten years from 1997 he ran the web-based SF, fantasy and horror showcase infinity plus, featuring the work of around 100 top genre authors, including Michael Moorcock, Stephen Baxter, Connie Willis, Gene Wolfe, Vonda McIntyre and Jack Vance. Infinity plus has recently been relaunched as an independent publishing imprint producing print and ebooks. His novel Harmony (published in the UK as alt.human) is a big exploration of aliens, alternate history and the Fermi paradox and was shortlisted for the Philip K Dick Award. His latest novels include Parallax View, a sort fiction collection co-authored with Eric Brown, and the Expatria duology. He also edited Strange Divisions and Alien Territories: the Sub-genres of Science Fiction, an exploration of SF from the perspectives of a dozen top authors in the field. He writes reviews for The Guardian and Arc, teaches writing at the University of Essex, and lives with his wife Debbie in Wivenhoe, Essex.