[Today, we sit down with poet and author, Scott J. Couturier. Here, he discusses his personal spiritual tradition; his love of weird fiction, fantasy, and horror; and his upcoming and on-going projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your own personal spiritual path? Does it have a name, or is it more intuitive and eclectic?
Scott J. Couturier: I think ‘intuitive and eclectic’ is a good summation. My personal path is wholly syncretic: I’ve grown into it naturally. At the end of the day, if I had to give it a name I’d settle on ‘Writer’ (same as when I was six years old!).
ev0ke: Which Deity/ies, Powers, or spirits are honored in your tradition?
SJC: I revere Beauty (its conception, evocation, ideal, and reality) as my primary guiding principal; per Keats, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” I have a gravitation towards the fantastical/strange and a reverential love of nature, which translates into a sense of strong association with Celtic and Norsemythology and symbolism; however, one of the only anthropomorphic deities I actively address is Ganesha. I love the polymorphous diversity of pagan religion and thought, the ‘unlimited individuated fractals of universal truth’ thus encompassed: I am in personal service to Pan, Gaia, Woten, Hecate, Thoth, The Muses, and The Fates, and feel a soul-deep affinity to the powers of Hallowe’en.
I also maintain a rich form of ancestral worship, revering great artists and visionaries. Blake, Lovecraft, Poe, Captain Beefheart, John Coltrane, Patti Smith — I honor the spirit of recorded music as a recrudescence of the ancient bardic tradition, fused now with Promethean electricity.
ev0ke: You work as an editor at Mission Point Press. As someone who is both an editor and a writer, what do you find most rewarding about each?
SJC: As an editor, it’s always a pleasure to work with a client who has a strong, well-crafted manuscript they want to bring into the world. Helping to clarify their visions, honing the story while carving out the chaff — I’m glad to help, and like to think of it as ‘fitting out the rigging’ (it’s always a pleasure to see these vessels finally take sail!). Alternately, I work with many clients who are at more rudimentary stages of their creative process. Here I act almost like a college instructor, a career path I’ve contemplated more than once (I was just looking into Masters programs when covid-19 made landfall in the states). Above all, I’m happy with/rewarded by the clients I’ve worked with over the years. It’s been an honor to help them tell their stories.
As a writer…I find in writing my sole reason for existence on this planet, a calling I gravitated toward since the moment I understood words existed. I’ve worked at being a writer every moment of every day of my waking life, and often in my dreams; I find the act of creation rewarding, the crystallization of something beautiful or strange, forever scintillant in cryptograms of language. Only in the last few years have I really reached a place with my craft where I can sit down and (more or less) achieve what I set out to achieve. Poetry has become more and more rewarding to compose, with the result that I now have a volume of fantastical/horror/liminal/Weird/pagan verse in the works.
ev0ke: As an editor, what one thing do you wish writers would do?
SJC: I wish that writers — especially young ones — would contextualize their manuscripts as ‘works in progress’ not only as concerns the material, but as concerns their evolution as a writer overall. Even if a specific manuscript fails to achieve what you want it to achieve, it’s still work towards that greatest and most ineffable of goals: being a writer. Ideas and characters can be salvaged, but often taking the leap to achieving a coherent manuscript means ‘killing your darlings’ (that old chestnut). As I say to each of my clients: ‘Okay. You’ve sweated and slaved over this manuscript. You’ve shed tears and blood, put in the time and research, revised it until you’ve gone crosseyed. Now — be prepared to do that all over again.’
ev0ke: Many of your stories and poems could be classified as fantasy, horror, or weird fiction. What do you find so compelling about the speculative genres?
SJC: Fantasy is Freedom. The very idea of conceiving of fantastical environments opens doorways of awe and intrigue in the mind, forming a medium by which age-old achetypes and primeval impulses can experience fresh, effervescent life. Fantasy is, by its nature, transgressive: it dares by dint of its own premise to gaze beyond the surrounding world, to portray vistas profoundly ‘other’ and foreign. To me, fantasy, horror, and Weird fiction all blend together (along with sci-fi, which I also dabble in) to form a palette of speculative expression infinitely vast and profoundly moving in both present scope and future potential.
More than anything I savor the ethereal, surreal atmosphere of a well-wrought Weird tale (‘Weird’ covering a broad syncretism of fantasy, horror, esoteric/pagan influences, and sci-fi, a genre-defying genre; I also like to term Awe Fiction). The Weird writer strives, above all, to achieve an atmosphere and instill awe, drummed up by a wide range of expressive mediums: fear, uncanniness, awesomeness, reverence, terror, ecstasy, despair, revelation, morbidity, grotesquerie, dream, decadence, transmutation, inhumanness/alienness, stark Beauty, longing. The sense of incredible powers encroaching on our measly Maya projection of everyday life; the flight of fancy that has no grounding at all in objective reality, existing solely as a fantastical construct (Tolkien was vehement in denying his work possessed the slightest whiff of allegory). It is the infinite potentialities of fantasy, horror, and Weird fiction that draw me, compelling me to write work classifiable in these genres. As the great poet and Weird fantasist Clark Ashton Smith declared: ‘Only the impossible has any real charm; the possible has been vulgarized by happening too often.’
I think the speculative writer has a very distinct and sacred duty right now to create at the height of whatever power they can summon. Ursula K. Le Guin said in her acceptance speech for the National Book Award in 2014: ‘We will need writers who can remember freedom.’ I heard this as a personal call to action.
ev0ke: Your work has appeared in a wide variety of venues, ranging from Space & Time Magazine to Cosmic Horror Monthly to Trumpland II: Divided We Stand. Do you write with these venues in mind, or just write and then find the proper venue? And which was the most difficult to get into?
SJC: It’s a combination. Some stories I start writing because the story comes to me (most poems are written this way). Other times, a venue appears and I’m inspired by the theme or call to write something for it. Still other times (these are increasing) I’ve been invited to participate in some really extraordinarily cool community projects, like the forthcoming Residents of Innsmouth art book edited by Russell Smeaton (short stories, poems, and vignettes based around Lovecraft’s fabled seaport, written by a menagerie of writers with lovely renders by Smeaton to acompany each contribution).
Trumpland II: Divided We Stand is the sequel to another charitable anthology, Trumpland: An Alternative History of the Future, in which I also have work. In this fortunate instance I was invited by a very talented writer (Leland Lydecker) to contribute to the first anthology, with all proceeds going to various charities (primarily the ACLU). I believe in the power of charity anthologies, and, of course, every little bit helps. With the release of Trumpland II, all proceeds for both anthologies will go to RAICES (who are fighting a frontline battle to free those needlessly incarcerated by ICE in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic). Needless to say, US ‘detainment’ centers will soon become death camps unless something is done.
On writing: For many years (starting in college, with major composition lasting from 2011–2017) all my creative energies were focused on a series of dark fantasy novels, collectively titled The Magistricide. I completed and self-published three volumes of a projected five, but became increasingly interested in the short story form (which I find the most challenging). Simultaneously, I was falling down the wormhole of contemporary Weird poetry, reading works by KA Opperman, Ashley Dioses, Wade German, Phil Breach, Adam Bolivar, and discovering writers like W. H. Pugmire for the first time.
My partner Shayne Keen (a writer of merit — he has work featured in Residents and both Trumpland anthologies) exposed me to countless writers (not to mentions bands!) that warped and accelerated my trajectory — Tom Robbins, Kurt Vonnegut, Bob Dylan, Octavia Butler, Robert Graves, Stephen King (crazy as that sounds). All this, coupled with reading the ‘golden age’ pulp Weird fictioneers, launched me on a spree of poetry and short story exploration that continues to the present day.
As for the most difficult to get into — those would be the venerable markets I still haven’t ‘cracked.’ I’ve been submitting to pro-paying venues, publications like Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Black Static…someday, I hope to make it into their pages.
ev0ke: You have self-published the first three volumes in The Magistricideseries. What advice can you give authors who are considering self-publishing?
SJC: Haha! Be prepared to put in a lot of work. A good self-published author achieves a mastery of self-promotion: I know some writers who make a fine living traveling to various book fairs, who send out press releases to dozens of magazines and newspapers each time they have a new release, who push and push and have a good head for ‘business’ (it also, obviously, helps to have money going into the process, so you can invest in promotion). All of these things I’m not very good at, so — do the opposite of me, basically!
ev0ke: What is your writing process like? Lots of trips to the library? Hours online doing research? Long walks?
SJC: Long walks are a must. I’ve come up with many of my ideas during trips between the house and the supermarket some blocks away: there’s a nice wooded path to take. One of my latest stories, a ‘folk horror’ tale encompassing nature worship in the midst of catastrophic climate change, was inspired by a stand of willows that freakishly sprouted on our favorite walking beach last summer (Lake Michigan has never been higher, so the beaches are either eroding away or being taken over by wild growth).
I also garden (tomatoes, herbs, hot peppers, pumpkins, summer squash: the few things that will grow in northern Michigan!), so that provides a good bit of inspiration.
I steep myself in good books and music — currently I’m reading The Ghost Pirates by English Weird writer William Hope Hodgson, after just finishing his Carnacki series of occult detective stories. Recently I’ve read Wormwoodby Poppy Z. Brite/Billy Martin, The House of the Goat by an author I know online named Alan Sessler (a fun horror send-up of the Satanic Panic), and Collected Ghost Stories by M.R. James (I spent the early winter steeping myself in English ghost stories).
As for my writing process itself…. Once I was a ‘butt in the chair every day’ writer. When I took on work as an editor, my output slowed (this coincided with me shifting my focus to poetry and shorter stories, another determining factor). I suffer from low-grade anxiety and high-grade depression, and will confess the years since the last election have taken their toll on my ability to ‘schedule’ my writing. However, my output remains constant, in fits and starts, and I am always exploring new forms and ideas, so I wouldn’t say I’ve lost my impetus or dedication. It’s just not as easy to stay creative by a schedule’s dictation. I run with inspiration when it comes, which (fortunately) is often enough to keep my brain from exploding.
ev0ke: Where can readers find your published works?
SJC: The first three volumes of The Magistricide are all available on Amazon. Their titles are: The Mask of Tamrel, In The House Of Madame Heretia, and The Curse of Roc-Thalian. The last, featuring an interdimensional vampiric entity, shows an increased shift towards a horror and Weird fiction aesthetic. I’ve re-edited the first volume, and plan to rerelease it soon, most likely again self-published. Cut out lots of passive voice, excessive semi-colons, and generally just tightened the prose: I gave the ‘me’ in 2014 the benefits of the editor I’ve become since! Someday I would like to continue the series, but life is busy and I’ve got so many projects boiling right now that I can’t say when it will happen.
As for my current published poetry and fiction, here are some choice venues. My sonnet ‘Ghosts Everywhere Writhe’ will see release in issue #9 of The Audient Void: A Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy in 2020. My third appearance in this excellent publication, helmed by editor Obadiah Baird; I’m also proud of the poetry I’ve had featured in the pagan webzine Eternal Haunted Summer, which is all accessible online. I’ve had poetry featured in issues #9-onwards of Spectral Realms, edited by noted Weird fiction scholar S.T. Joshi; my poem ‘The Plague Queen’ (eerily predictive of our current pandemic) appeared in issue #33 of Eye To The Telescope, also viewable online.
As for fiction, I’ve had stories featured in nearly every anthology released by Planet X Publications. These include Test Patterns, Caravans Awry, The Phantasmagorical Promenade, and 32 Horses On A Vermilion Hill (volumes I and II), as well as upcoming releases Test Patterns: Weird Westerns and Strange Stories of the Sea. One story I’m very excited about, forthcoming in issue #4 of The Dark Corner Zine, is titled ‘The Box,’ and is one of my most successful pieces of pure cosmic horror. As for the lighter side (though still cosmic horror), my story ‘Monster of the Mind’ will be debuting in the anthology The Nightside Codex, due out soon from Silent Motorist Media. In that story you can see a bit more of my humorous side: I loved Douglas Adams long before I ever heard of Lovecraft.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
SJC: Right now I’m fighting through the quaratine doldrums, pulling together the final few poems to complete my first poetry collection (to be titled Poems from the Crooked House). I’ve had a lot of encouragement to complete it, and can only thank the fellow writers, poets, and editors who continue showing enthusiasm for my work. I’ve also amassed enough short fiction to fill two collections, one of Weird fiction and one of dark fantasy tales. I’ve been surprised to discover that dark fantasy is one of the hardest ‘sells’ in the contemporary short story market, so many of those haven’t seen print yet. I’m hoping to pull everything together into a three-volume series, though — I still feel some short stories are missing, yet to be written. My current fictional undertaking is a fantasy occult detective narrative, with a queer protagonist who keeps surprising me at every turn. Just — letting the world spill out in front of me, feeling it out. It’s the joy of writing, the greatest escape from this world I know of.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published works can be found there.]