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Event Horizon Chat with Thomas Ligotti
Event Horizon Chat with Thomas Ligotti
Online Chat Transcript (December 3, 1998)
Published by TLO
04-10-2005
Event Horizon Chat with Thomas Ligotti

Ed_Bryant
Hello, Ellen, hello, Thomas Ligotti; welcome all the rest of you to Flashpoint. Sorry about my delay. The usual techie weirdness (actually my own ignorance).

Ligotti
Good evening, Ed.

Ed_Bryant
So. Since we're late, I'll just say it's a genuine honor and pleasure to welcome Thomas Ligotti to Flashpoint. I doubt there's anyone present who isn't to some degree -- and maybe to a very large degree -- familiar with his work, beginning with the stories and their first compilation more than a decade ago in Songs of a Dead Dreamer.

Ligotti
Hey, Ed, I could ramble on about something moderately spooky that I saw today.

Ed_Bryant
Feel free to ramble . . .

Ligotti
Will do. Well, I was driving to work and had to stop for a train at a railroad crossing. The street on which I was stopped was on the outskirts of one of those little "historic" towns that have a lot of nicely restored houses as well as some that are . . . not as nicely restored. The house that I was idling my car in front of was one of the latter type -- a crummy old place with two stories of peeling paint and a roof that was missing some shingles. As I was looking this house over I noticed that although there were no lights on inside there were some figures in the tiny front window of the place. At first I thought these figures composed a Christmas display of some kind but then I saw that they were actually large dolls. In another window on the first floor of the house was a doll seated at a desk. And then I looked up at one of the second-floor windows and saw a life-size doll standing over a crib with a baby doll in it. And all the time that I was looking at this crummy house with all those dolls in its windows I was listening to a tape that was playing what might be described as background music for Frankenstein's laboratory. You know, spacey and somewhat cacophonous electronic music. It was a cool moment that was diminished a bit when I noticed a small sign in a corner of one of the windows that said -- you guessed it -- SORRY, WE ARE CLOSED . . .

EH_Datlow
(sounds just like something you'd write:])

Guy_Incognito
(reminds me of Robert Aickman story)

Ligotti
But it was a really crummy sign and there was no other indication that I could see that this was a business that dealt in dolls.

GSchmidt
Tis a Front for the Doll Mafia.

Ed_Bryant
Even with the payoff of the sign, even with the context of the CRT screen, it's still a great compacted chill.

BruceBaugh
(Inquiring minds want to know what the music was, just to play along at home.)

TIverson
Current 93?

GGrabowski
It has a certain self-referential horror there. Horrorist whose work often involes the themes of abandonment and dolls confronted by weird doll-infested house at lonely railroad crossing.

Ligotti
Coincidently, while driving home from work today I was stopped at the same railroad crossing on the other side of the tracks. But this time my car was standing in front of a place called The Nail Lady, which wasn't a very spooky venue, although it's not a bad title for a horror story.

EH_Datlow
LOL.

Ed_Bryant
Right there with the retail sign I saw a short while ago for Mr. Clutch.

My first formal question, Tom, has got to be about H. P. Lovecraft. Hardly anyone seems to discuss or even mention the Ligotti name without evoking the shade of H.P. Lovecraft. I've got to say I see the Ligotti writing persona as a unique voice. So how do you feel about the inevitable linkage with Mr. Lovecraft?

Ligotti
That's fine with me.

Ed_Bryant
Where, how, did you first encounter him?

Ligotti
I first came across a Ballantine paperback of Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos in a drugstore in 1971. This was my first exposure to Lovecraft's stories and those of the so-called Lovecraft circle. It was these stories that made me want to write horror, specifically of the Lovecraftian variety, although it was not until 1976 that I actually started doing so. Over the years there've been quite a few other writers the influence of whose works shows up in my stories, sometimes in subtle ways and other times quite openly and shamelessly.

Ed_Bryant
I believe you found a receptive home in the small presses then. A few years later, was it the artist Harry Morris who approached you about publishing a story collection? And could I ask you to mention some of those other influential writers?

Ligotti
Harry was the first editor to accept one of my stories for his legendary magazine Nyctalops. It was about five years later that he published my first collections, decorated by his amazing illustrations. As for those other writers who influenced me . . . in a number of my early stories, such as "Dream of a Mannikin" and "Les Fleurs," I did my best to ape the lavish language and maniacal first-person voice of Vladimir Nabokov, as well as copping his brilliant strategy of using a fantastic narrative structure to tell a fantastic story. Nabokov's was a simple idea, really, although very few writers before him had employed this very commonsensical approach to fantastic fiction. Nabokov conjured a spectral world right before a reader's eyes, often, I'm sure, without many readers noticing that he had done so. Of course there are any number of authors with fancy prose styles and intricate, though not necessarily fantastic, narrative structures. But Nabokov's works also conveyed to my mind a profound perception of a perilous and senseless cosmos upon which art may impose a temporary, though ultimately helpless, order. There's a line in Nabokov's short novel Pnin that goes, I hope I've got this verbatim: "Harm is the norm; doom shall not jam." It's this background of bleakness with a foreground of hypnotic artistry that has appealed to me in Nabokov as well as such writers as Bruno Schulz, Jorge Luis Borges, William Burroughs, and the Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard.

Ed_Bryant
That's an impressive and thoughtful list. Do you see horror as its own neat genre? Or is it, as Steve Tem and other writers have suggested, primarily an emotion?

Ligotti
Well, the easy answer is that it's both an emotion and a distinct literary subgenre. Why complicate matters.

BruceBaugh
Horror seems to run strongly on oral traditions, with recommendations passed along furtively. I'm curious as to what other authors you'd recommend to us that we might otherwise not encounter, whether or not they've been an influence on you?

Ligotti
Indeed. Other writers who've influenced me to varying degrees have been such nineteenth-century poets as Aloysius Bertrand, Charles Baudelaire (you already know him, though), and Baudelaire's progeny of Symbolist and Decadent poets, such a Maurice Rollinat and the French Canadian poet Emile Nelligan, who went mad at the age of nineteen but lived 50 more years.

Gaylene
Mr. Ligotti, do you have any plans to publish your early works (say, from your early and mid 20s)?

Ligotti
I destroyed all my early works, some two dozen stories only, a long time ago.

Jackula
Do you envision your stories, or any subset of them, as taking place in a particular and integrated fictional world, a cycle, or "mythos"? And if so, did you plan them that way or did it just happen?

Ligotti
I don't think even Lovecraft projected his mythos and I'd be lying if said I could accomplish such a feat. I don't even find such an enterprise all that interesting.

Ricky_Smith
Mr. Ligotti, in your intro to The Nightmare Factory, you cited The Haunting as the best horror movie. With the Psycho remake opening tomorrow, I ask: what classic horror movie would you like to see remade?

Ligotti
I don't care what horror movie they remake as long they as they do it better than they did the first time, which in most cases was pretty miserable.

JLanglois
I've not read any of your work, despite many recommendations. I was wondering where you'd suggest someone new start, and what music might make a good theme for the work?

Ligotti
I get that all the time. My advice would be to visit the Thomas Ligotti Online website, where you can read a selection of a half-dozen tales for free. I can't listen to music and read at the same time, so I couldn't tell you.

Gregory
Did HPL's fragments, "The Book" and "Azathoth," influence your writing of "Vastarien" in any way? They seem strikingly similar.

Ligotti
I have to say that those fragments in particular were not a factor in the writing of "Vastarien". However, I tend to take more cues from Lovecraft's earlier work, and certainly "The Book," although written later in his life, was in the style of his early stuff.

Donovan
I've heard the (sometimes foundationless) complaint from a number of people that your stories lack plot. Like Lovecraft, I believe that in horror tales plot is secondary to the evocation of an emotion. I can get more satisfaction from reading one of your more plot-bare tales than a bookshelf of King. How do you respond to the charge of plotlessness?

Ligotti
I'm not sure why readers see my stories as plotless. Perhaps it's because the storyline is buried a bit farther back than is usual in most horror fiction. Perhaps at this point I should bring up the incredible importance of Poe, who is so often overlooked among contemporary horror readers. Probably the reason I don't often mention Poe is that his significance for my writing is so fundamental and pervasive that I don't even take special notice of it, although any reader can easily detect the both direct and indirect mark of this master, especially in forming my conception of what the literary form of the short story should consist of and apsire to. What Poe invented -- at lest as exhibited in his best stories, such as "Masque of the Red Death" and "Usher" -- was truly a new literary form, one that combined qualities of the lyric poem, the personal essay, and the traditional short tale. It's very interesting that almost no fiction writer has followed the model that Poe is recognized as establishing. After Poe the short story evolved or relapsed into a fictional form that stands in relation to the novel as a one-act play does to a full-length drama -- that is, just a shorter version of the longer form. Lovecraft was outstandingly one of the few writers of his time to have grasped the value and possibilites of Poe's short story. The same could be said of Jorge Luis Borges, who was quite explicit about his familiarity with both Poe and Lovecraft.

PrimaveralDecay
I'm an artist myself, though a painter, and I share the same view of an "icy bleakness of things." I often feel like the protagonist in Nabakov's story "The Terror." Can you elaborate more on your worldview and what possible events in your life might've led up to your view? And also, ever heard of the Yugoslavian band Devil Doll? They have similar ideas running through their music. And when is your next collection of tales or any new individual story coming?

Guy_Incognito
(way to hog your turn)

PrimaveralDecay
sorry ;)

Guy_Incognito
kidding

Ligotti
If I had to describe the general outlook expressed by my horror stories I suppose that terms like "nihilistic" and "pessimistic" would serve well enough for conventional purposes. Essentially I just have a very negative attitude about life, the universe, and everything. Any given story I write simply serves as an occasion to develop this attitude. I'm not familiar with Devil Doll. My musical interests are fairly limited.

Gaylene
Mr. Ligotti, would you consider reprinting "The Agonizing Resurrection . . ."? I have tried for months to get a copy in any readable condition -- any ideas of where to obtain one? Also, could you please post the URL for the Thomas Ligotti Online site? Thank you so much for the opportunity to communicate with you.

Ligotti
You're very welcome. I don't know the URL offhand but a simple search should turn it up. The site was created by Jonathan Padgett, who, among his several significant talents, has worked as a professional ventriloquist.

TIverson
{http://www.Ligotti.com}

Gaylene
Thanks!

GGrabowski
Feel free to ignore this if this seems too technical or whatever. Teatro Grottesco and Other Stories shares a very distinct unity of theme, with lots of shared elements between stories. Was this intentional or incidental, and if it was intentional, I'm interested in what formal compositional methodology you used to work out the structure of the story ensemble, if it wasn't simply improvised at the time of writing.

Ligotti
The first story that I wrote in that series was "The Bungalow House". This story sort of suggested this urban underworld of eccentric artists. The next story was "Teatro Grottesco" and it seemed very natural to continue working in the same milieu.

GSchmidt
There is a particular quote from your "Journal of J P Drapeau" about the existence of reality and how the world would be more comfortable if it were closer to mythos that I've found I relate to strongly. How much as a theme have you integrated this concept into your works? And, if I may be so bold, how much do you believe in this yourself?

Ligotti
Usually the views and attitudes are exaggerations, or more accurately, idealizations, of my own views and attitudes at the time I'm writing the story. Over time I've found that these views and attitudes have remained fairly consistent and fairly negative.

Gaylene
Forgive the lack of ettiquette knowledge . . . but is there any information available on "The Agonizing Res . . ."? My question referred to it, but Mr. Ligotti did not answer. I do not want to offend him by asking again.

Ligotti
I think if you do a book search among the used-book sites on the internet you should turn one up.

Gaylene
Been there, done that, but thank you anyway. I will keep trying.

jab
Hello Mr. Ligotti, my question is the following: towards the end of the album All the Pretty Little Horses by Current 93, you recite the poem from the end of "Les Fleurs." Along those lines, I was wondering whether there are any plans to make your stories available on audio tape, recited by you or somebody else.

Ligotti
There aren't any plans to issue any of my stories on audio tape, although there is one already available: "Alice's Last Adventure."

Ricky_Smith
Manikins, dolls, ventriloquists' dummies -- why do these creeps keep turning up in your stories?

Ligotti
I've never made any conscious decision to write about puppets and mannikins and so forth. It just happened that these images had a strong and mysterious attraction for me, so naturally they turned up in my stories when I started writing. I guess that puppets are for me what space monsters were for Lovecraft: a menacing symbol of some essential and terrible fact of life. Exactly what that fact is would be difficult to specify. There's something that seems profoundly insane and groteque about puppets and other representations of human beings, something that says to me, "This is how you are and this is how the world is."

Ed_Bryant
To relay a question from an absent would-be participant named Andreas, have you any plans to work in a longer prose form than you already do?

Ligotti
The short answer is no. I have a long answer but things seem to be getting pretty hectic at this point.

TIverson
Greetings. Thomas Wiloch's style seems to be somewhat similar to your own. As you know each other personally, have either of you discussed a joint anthology?

Ligotti
No. The closest we've come to working together in an artistic way was in the early 1980s when I assisted Wiloch in publishing his fanzine Grimoire.

Donovan
You've indicated that your own philosophies echo those expressed in your works. It sounds as if your philosophies are similar to Lovecraft's. Have you ever had any religious affiliation?

Ligotti
I was raised a Catholic and I took that religion very seriously as a child but abandoned it in my late teens.

PrimaveralDecay
Do you have any new stories coming out soon, such as in a anthology or a collection? And also, I heard before that you like Stefan Grabinski, he's a great and sadly forgotten writer.

Ligotti
I have two new stories schedule to appear in upcoming anthologies.

EH_Datlow
What anthos are those?

Ligotti
One from Mark Ziesing provisionallly titled "A Quaint and Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore", and the other from Al Sarrantonio to be titled, and I hope I'm not revealing something I shouldn't, 999.

RedXenia
Your work is very interesting. I had noticed the Borges influence at once, as well as some of the other writers mentioned, but I wonder if you feel any affinity with Eco, if not in literary style, in literary influences or tastes?

Ligotti
I haven't read Eco because I just can't read long conventionally written novels.

TIverson
What do you find funny? Much of your work is nihilistic, but the Gothic Tales (Agonizing Resurrection) were hilarious.

Ligotti
Strange that most readers find those pieces funny, since I didn't intend that effect at all. Only a single reader, a critic in Germany, discerned that those pieces could be best described, in his words, as "an apotheosis of pain."

Gregory
Do you have any plans for a novel or novella?

Ligotti
The story in the 999 anthology is fairly long but it's not a novella and since I don't read novels I don't have much interest in writing one.

Ed_Bryant
Right when the conversation is rolling, I'm afraid I have to apply the brakes. Time's drawing rapidly to a close on Flashpoint. But I want to express enormous appreciation to Thomas Ligotti for appearing tonight. Remember that his website is http://www.Ligotti.com.

PrimaveralDecay
Thanx Mr Ligotti!

Ligotti
You're most welcome.

Gregory
Yes, thank you very much.

Donovan
Thank you, grim scribe.

N_Etchemendy
Yes, thanks Thomas, and moderators! Great evening.

BruceBaugh
Thank you, sir!

TIverson
Thank you!

Guy_Incognito
Thanks

Ricky_Smith
Well done.

GGrabowski
Thanks for the evening, Mr. Ligotti.

Ligotti
You are all very very welcome.

BruceBaugh
And just think, no autographing to follow.
jab I can now say that i've been in the same room as Mr. Ligotti. (Sort of)

Ed_Bryant
So again, thank you Thomas Ligotti, producers Ellen and Rob, and all of you who listened or, especially, asked questions. Good night, all.
5 Thanks From:
G. S. Carnivals (02-24-2010), hopfrog (01-01-2009), Sam (02-23-2010), Spotbowserfido2 (02-23-2010), T.E. Grau (04-08-2012)
  #1  
By unknown on 04-10-2005
Re: Event Horizon Chat with Thomas Ligotti

Quote
I get that all the time. My advice would be to visit the Thomas Ligotti Online website, where you can read a selection of a half-dozen tales for free. I can't listen to music and read at the same time, so I couldn't tell you.
haha...TL came off as a pretty nice guy...doesn't seem very aghoraphobic...or he's just good at covering it up
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  #2  
By Dr. Locrian on 02-23-2010
Re: Event Horizon Chat with Thomas Ligotti

Just thought I would bump up this old, online, group chat interview that took place over eleven years ago now. I came across it again as I was browsing through the old Ligotti mailing list.

Among quite a few other Ligotti quotes, I particularly like this one:

Quote
I guess that puppets are for me what space monsters were for Lovecraft: a menacing symbol of some essential and terrible fact of life. Exactly what that fact is would be difficult to specify. There's something that seems profoundly insane and grotesque about puppets and other representations of human beings, something that says to me, "This is how you are and this is how the world is."
Thoughts?
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  #3  
By Jezetha on 02-24-2010
Re: Event Horizon Chat with Thomas Ligotti

It just occurs to me - couldn't Ligotti's 'nihilism' be his way of snubbing the Great Puppeteer (in Whom he ostensibly doesn't believe anymore)? By refusing the 'gift' of life, he cuts himself free.
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