[This issue, we sit down for a quick interview with Scott J. Couturier. Here, he discusses his new collection of horror and weird fiction, The Box and Others; and his upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: Your short story collection The Box and Others is being released by Hybrid Sequence Media in June. Congratulations! How did you decide which stories to include? Were there any you had to leave out, and hope to feature in another book?
Scott J. Couturier: Thank you! The Box & Others includes stories written across a five-year span, from 2017 to 2021. It was actually quite a toss-up to determine the contents; I wanted the collection to have a solid grounding in the everyday, the better to subvert & transmute it. Whether the setting is the so-called present, the far future, or an alternate world, The Box hones in on an ethos of intersecting dread, awe, transformation, & sacred profanity, with some splatters thrown in for good measure. This focus left a lot of stories on the table, & I have two more collections ‘in the wings,’ i.e. at the beginning stages of being assembled. One pulls together my more arcane & high fantasy short fiction, & the other is a direct sequel to The Box, titled From Weir (after my story which appeared in March 2022’s issue of Cosmic Horror Monthly).
ev0ke: These stories cover the range from horror to weird fiction to dark fantasy. What draws you to these sorts of stories? What do you find so compelling about them?
SJC: I appreciate being shocked by a sense of the transgressive numinous. Fantasy drew me in when I was a kid, providing alternatives to the drudgery of everyday reality, & I figured (growing up) that I would one day write paperback fantasy novels for a living. However, I always felt attracted to the darker edges of popular fantasy, & invariably my favorite parts featured some form of undead menace, shadowy sorcerer, or malign demon-god.
Around 2011, I was working at Goodwill as a book processor. At the very bottom of a box, as it happens, I discovered a timeworn copy of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath by H. P. Lovecraft. For most, the Cthulhu Mythos is their entry point to Lovecraft’s work, but for me, raised on fantasy, his Dreamlands, inspired by the works of pioneering Irish fantasist Lord Dunsany, were exactly the anodyne my stricken sense of wonder needed. I found myself ravenous for more, & set about reading the Weird classics, an ongoing process occupying the last decade-plus. I admire Weird fiction’s boundless syncretism, its ability to draw without reserve on tropes of fantasy, science fiction, horror, literature, hard science, & esoteric sources to create an ever-shifting chimera which can only be described as “weird.” Above all, the feeling of wonder-by-way-of-terror & dimensional displacement great Weird fiction conveys is, for me, both a means & an end. Whether I’ve achieved that in The Box is up to the individual reader, but this love of the medium was a major inspiration, & I had fun writing the stories, which I think comes across.
ev0ke: The Box and Others features a wide variety of ghouls and creepies and monsters. If you had to pick a favorite, which would it be, and why?
SJC: Wow. I had to pause & look over the table of contents – it is quite a menagerie! Of them all, the most awful monster to me is the narrator of “Sustenance of the Stars,” who is actually a human being. As for a favorite, the creature in “Stitches” has all of my empathy. I don’t know its fate, & that haunts me sometimes.
ev0ke: There are many well-known horror and weird fiction authors (HP Lovecraft, MR James, Stephen King). Who would you recommend? Which overlooked authors do you think deserve a larger audience?
SJC: Of the classic authors, if you enjoy Lovecraft especially, I can’t recommend Clark Ashton Smith highly enough. Lovecraft’s devout correspondent, Smith’s poetic vision suffuses his Weird fiction with an ethereal, alien beauty, though often savage & fraught with cosmic irony. His scope is truly massive. William Hope Hodgson’s work – stretching from short Weird tales of extraordinary grotesqueness to poetry & multiple novels, including the far-future dystopia “The Night Land” – is singular in its pungency & ability to express that feeling of baneful innominate forces pressing ever-closer. Also, & here is a writer so under-read it might actually be criminal, the Polish Weird fantasist Stefan Grabiński is almost without par in the form, though his work is only spottily available in English. And last but not at all least, C. L. Moore, a classic Weird Tales contributor & prominent early woman writer of speculative fiction. In her “Northwest Smith” stories she set the stage for the modern archetype of the space mercenary or “scoundrel,” à la Han Solo, & in her “Jirel of Joiry” series she contributed foundational building blocks to sword-&-sorcery while also creating one of genre’s first warrior-women. Beyond all that, her writing is extremely accomplished, dizzying with opiate strangeness, & I would love to see more people reading her & acknowledging her myriad contributions.
As for current writers, off the top of my head I’d cite the work of Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, John Linwood Grant, Matthew M. Bartlett, Kathe Koja, Manuel Paul Arenas, M. Ennenbach, Christopher Ropes, Sean M. Thompson, & Sarah Walker. Looking very much forward to Paula Ashe’s new book. Though he passed in 2019, it’s hard not to place W. H. Pugmire among the class of “current writers.” His work with Lovecraft’s mythos is arresting.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
SJC: This autumn my first collection of speculative poetry will be released by Jackanapes Press. Titled I Awaken In October, it contains sixty poems addressing, among other themes, nature veneration, pagan identity, Weird phantasy, faerie tales, Hallowe’en, & folk horror. I’m in the process of assembling a follow-up collection of Weird & horror verse, as-yet untitled; beyond that I’m actively writing material for From Weir & brooding over a novel project, my first in many years. Also, my partner & I are working on our second album as Nefarious Foodie, a DIY music project, with an expected release date sometime this summer. Add editing manuscripts for clients & promotion for upcoming releases, & it’s an extremely & enjoyably busy time!