By Sophia Wasylinko
From a millenarian apocalypse cult to searching for that profound shiver, Jones gives us his insight on writing the weirdest of fiction.
Sophia Wasylinko investigates weird fiction, cults, and more in “The Squicky Side of the Cosmos: An Interview with Scott R. Jones.”
Weird. Unusual. Lovecraft. Blackwood. Cthulhu. All part of that undefinable, unsettling, yet irresistible world of weird fiction.
While traces of weird fiction can be found in genres such as horror, fantasy, and sci-fi, it doesn’t explicitly fit within the style and rules of genre fiction. The horror is subdued, the fantasy is dark, the science fiction is stripped of scientific jargon. Although there are now places like Weird Horror Magazine and Cosmic Horror Monthly that accept weird fiction, these stories traditionally have had limited commercial opportunities despite their dedicated fanbase
Publication does not guarantee success, and some weird fiction writers only achieved fame after their demise, with more fading into obscurity. H.P. Lovecraft is their grandfather, controversial as his legacy is. More recent authors such as China Miéville and Mona Awad are writing weird fiction for a new generation.
On Vancouver Island, we have Scott R. Jones. A weird fiction writer and editor, he lives in Victoria with his wife and children. He was nominated for the LOCUS Award for his debut novel Stonefish (2020), while his short story collection Shout Kill Revel Repeat (2019) was nominated for the Sunburst Award.
I asked Jones to spill the secrets behind weird fiction. Additional commentary and information provided by yours truly are in the square brackets.
Wasylinko. What is weird fiction? How would you define it for someone new to the term?
Jones. I think of weird fiction as horror by way of the uncanny.
Wasylinko. What sets weird fiction apart from horror or dark fantasy?
Jones. There's an unsettling element to good weird fiction that you find only rarely in horror and never in dark fantasy, I think. There is a quality of awe to good weird fiction that often earns it the label “cosmic horror.” Humanity is small, the universe is beyond good and evil and populated by alien god-things that drive one mad. Good times!
[To put it simply, cosmic horror is the fear of the unknown and forces outside your control. Instead of tangible monsters that can be defeated, you have an unforgiving void with superpowered creatures that reduce humans to pathetic ectoplasms. Cosmic horror is also called “Lovecraftian horror” after the OG himself.]
Wasylinko. How did you get started with weird fiction?
Jones. Lovecraft by way of Ramsey Campbell, actually. I started with Campbell and he put me on to Lovecraft.
[Ramsey Campbell has been in the weird fiction/horror business for fifty years. His first professionally published piece, “The Church in High Street,” was published by Arkham House, a weird fiction imprint founded by Lovecraft’s friends and colleagues. Many of Campbell’s stories are set in Brichester in the Severn Valley, a fictionalized version of his hometown in Liverpool, England. Three of Campbell’s novels—The Nameless, The Pact of the Fathers, and The Influence—were made into Spanish films.]
Wasylinko. What is your favorite weird fiction author, novel, and/or story?
Jones. Nathan Ballingrud's first novel, The Strange, is coming out soon which is exciting as I've been a fan of his short fiction for a while.
[You may be familiar with Ballingrud if you’re subscribed to Hulu. Wounds (also released on Netflix) is based on his novella The Visible Filth, while Monsterland is based on North American Lake Monsters: Stories. The Strange are in bookstores as of March 21.]
Wasylinko. Where do you get your inspiration for weird horror? Are there any special routines or rituals you do to get the creative juices flowing?
Humanity is small, the universe is beyond good and evil and populated by alien god-things that drive one mad. Good times!
Jones. I'm very interested in Gnosticism and simulation theory and the occult so I mine from my readings in those subjects, but also I had the fortune to grow up in a millenarian apocalypse cult and that does things to a mind. As for routines, I'm mostly a sit-down-and-write writer. Get the tap running and inspiration follows.
[Wait. A cult?!]
Wasylinko. Tell me more about this cult.
Jones. If you're only familiar with them as the people who knock on your door on a Saturday morning to pimp some Jesus at you, you wouldn't know the Jehovah's Witnesses to be a millenarian apocalypse cult but that's exactly what they are and I grew up within that cult. My father was a local cult leader (called an "elder") and so were my uncles, and, until I escaped in my late twenties I was on the fast track to being one myself. Happily, I saw some kind of light from somewhere and woke up, but it's been a hard road, I can tell you that for free. I'm incorporating more and more JW lore into my current attempts at fiction but the reality of the cult is far far worse: industrial scale cover up of child sexual abuse within the international JW community, tens of thousands murdered by their "blood doctrine" (they aren't allowed to take blood transfusions, basically) and their rampant misogyny and homophobia. They really are a treat. Anyway, stay well clear.
[The Jehovah’s Witnesses state that they are not a cult, since they have no fixed human leader and they allow members to make their own decisions. Communities have faced persecution in countries such as China and under the Nazi Party, and they have been targeted in smaller attacks including one on March 9 in Hamburg, Germany. However, they’ve also come under fire for the reasons Jones mentioned. All in all, the Jehovah’s Witnesses exist in a gray area of “almost but not quite a cult” that’s best left untouched.]
Wasylinko. What is your favorite weird fiction trope or theme? Have you noticed any recurring themes in your own work?
Jones. I love the 'narrator writing down his fate as it happens to him' trope. "That hand! The window! The window!" from Lovecraft's Dagon being the classic example. When it's done well, though, or cleverly approached, I dig it. My own themes currently seem to be camouflage, forbidden knowledge, spirituality, and reality-as-simulation.
Wasylinko. You’ve written a lot of weird fiction and also edited it. Is there a difference with how you approach weird fiction in another person’s work versus your own?
Jones. I'm looking for that profound shiver of the uncanny in both cases. I know what I like / what works when I see it.
Wasylinko. What do you do when you’re not writing weird fiction?
Jones. I am a humble supplicant of Hermes in service to King and country under the banner of Canada Post Corporation. I'm a mailman.
[Readers, take note: Your mail carrier may be a writer.]
Wasylinko. What advice do you have for people who want to write weird fiction?
Jones. If they want to write it then they've probably already read it and that's key. Weird fiction tends to make writers out of readers.
Wasylinko. People might be interested in reading weird fiction after seeing this interview. What stories or novels would you recommend to them? Anything from your own bibliography?
I am a humble supplicant of Hermes in service to King and country under the banner of Canada Post Corporation. I'm a mailman.
Wasylinko. Finally, what does the word “gooey” mean to you?
Jones. Something squicky with an organic element to it, perhaps some species of sentient protoplasm.
From ectoplasms to denizens of Darkness, weird fiction isn’t something you can easily look for. When it comes, it takes you by surprise, paralyzing you until it slowly seeps away to lodge in a corner of your mind. Then you pick up your pen and paper—or, since this is the 21st-century, your laptop—and write, hoping to recapture a fragment of your weird experiences.
Scribble by Scott R. Jones.
Sophia Wasylinko is a writing student but spends her free time listening to K-pop or bingeing YouTube. (Oh, and reading for fun.) Give her a Stray Kids concert ticket and you'll be her BFF. Warning: She's bad at taking selfies.