Welcome to a new monthly post here on my site! I’ll be interviewing authors and creators about their newest works, their lives, and what influences them. This month’s interview is with Lovecraftian extraordinaire Pete Rawlik. Pete has written over fifty short stories, the novels Reanimators, The Weird Company, and Reanimatrix, and the newly released The Peaslee Papers.
Hello Pete! I’d like to thank you for joining me here. Let’s start with an easy one: tell us a little bit about yourself. What made you want to be a writer? What do you do in your spare time?
I was born in North Dakota but grew up outside Philadelphia with summers in Ocean City Maryland. I went to Florida Tech where I studied Marine Biology and Aquaculture. To put myself through college I had a variety of jobs including making donuts, phlebotomist, medical lab technician, and shellfish testing technician. For the last twenty-seven years I’ve been studying ecology and managing environmental monitoring programs in and around the Everglades. I’ve been a life-long book collector, particularly Lovecraftian fiction. For more than twenty years I ran my own rare book shop before I was convinced to stop selling other peoples books and write my own. In my spare time you can find me rummaging through book sales, used book stores and flea markets, or out on the ocean deep-sea fishing.
As for writing, I can remember back into middle school writing short stories during rainy summer days when I couldn’t get out on Big Assawoman Bay. I still have some of this, including a trunked novella, a pastiche of Robert E. Howard’s Skull-Face stories. I wrote some in college, mostly bad poetry but a few science fiction stories in the Larry Niven vein. I dabbled a little bit after college writing for various fanzines. I had my first professional sale in 1997. As for why I write, I can only say its because I want to tell stories. I see things and just get ideas that won’t let me rest unless I put them down. I’ve spent many a sleepless night just writing notes down so that it would clear my head.
I’m a big fan of your novels and the interwoven stories of the Peaslee family and Dr. Stuart Hartwell. It’s truly impressive the way that your books include so many events/characters from Lovecraft’s body of work. Did this take a lot of planning to pull off? What kind of effort goes into a Pete Rawlik novel?
Reanimators, The Weird Company, Reanimatrix and The Peaslee Papers all grow out of this idea I had of doing a timeline for Lovecraftian fiction. Peter Cannon has already done this for Lovecraft’s fiction, but I wanted to do it for other writers as well. In doing so I made copious notes (some of which have been published as the Lurking Chronology) and wrote a chapter of the history of pre-colonial Miskatonic Valley (published in Crypt of Cthulhu #104). It was while prepping the next chapter of this project that I realized that several of Lovecraft’s characters from different stories where all in or near Arkham at the same time. The possibility of a crossover piece occurred to me and I began writing what was at times called The League of Lovecraftian Gentlemen, The Club Miskatonic, The Miskatonic Men’s Club, and finally became my novel The Weird Company. The problem I had was that I really wanted the Reanimator to be in this book but based on the time lines I had made Herbert West and his partner were simply unavailable. To resolve this, I decided to invent my own reanimator, someone who would act in West’s place who had all his abilities but none of his history. But in order to make this person work he needed his own back story, so I wrote a story about him, and then another, and another and another. Doctor Hartwell actually comes from Lovecraft, he’s Armitage’s doctor in The Dunwich Horror, I just tweaked him a bit, Doctors are wonderful professions to use as characters because they tend to encounter many people who are outside their usual circles, and whom often have problems. Integrating him into the other stories of the mythos was just easy. By the time I understood his character I had a whole novel written about him, that became Reanimators.
The Peaslee Papers and Reanimatrix were built in similar ways, focusing on characters that were in Lovecraft’s stories, but were never really resolved. In The Shadow Out of Time we spend a great deal of effort looking at Pr. Peaslee and what happened to him and his son Wingate, but very little time is devoted to his wife Alice, his other son Robert, and his daughter Hannah. I wanted to write stories from their perspectives, to see how what happened had impacted their lives. I was also very inspired by noir fiction, Reanimatrix is an homage to noir, particularly the book Laura by Vera Caspary (made into a fine movie by Otto Preminger). The Peaslee Papers was a very experimental piece, not quite a novel, but nor is a strictly a collection of short stories. I like to think of it as an epic, one that follows members of the same family across the entire life-span of the human species from when we were little more than primates until the heat death of the universe. A little ambitious, but people seem to have liked it. One of the things that all of these efforts have in common is extensive timelines, that often range from floor to ceiling. This allows me to make sure I maintain continuity both within and between books.
I love the way that your novels are dotted with references to stories and characters from all different genres and mediums. The first time I spotted an Indiana Jones reference, I nearly lost my mind. How do you go about including them? Do you keep a reference master list somewhere?
My fiction is often full of references to other pieces of fiction, both within the horror genre, but also in mysteries and in popular fiction. It’s a habit I picked up from writing for the anthology series tales of the Shadowmen (Blackcoat Press) which focuses on crossover characters in French literature. I love dropping these little jokes in, although admittedly some are never caught by my readers, while others send them into hysterics. I’m able to do this because I tend to be obsessive about things I love, particularly when it comes to media. I’ve been collecting Lovecraftiana for most of my life, but I also have collections of Nero Wolfe, The Thin Man, Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto and more recent things like Dexter and Wicked. I want to stretch the boundaries of genre, and at the same time play with solving problems or discrepancies that haven’t been discussed by their own authors. For example, in one of his early movies Charlie Chan mentions that he is eighty years old, he then goes on to keep having adventures into the 1980s which would push him well past one hundred and twenty-five years of age, he’s pretty spry for someone that old. My solution is to make him an early and unknown benefactor of the reanimation treatment, like wise a few other ageless or wound-resistant detectives. The problem is I don’t keep track, and I end up having to reread my own books or ask my friend Rick Lai what particular references mean. For example, I mention Darrow Chemical in several of my books and this is a direct reference to the film Return of the Living Dead, but as has been noted, it is also a nod to Geof Darrow who created the comic book Doc Frankenstein. Many writers do this, and Win Scott Eckert and Sean Levin have written several volumes documenting such events throughout literature going back centuries.
A lot of young writers I talk to get discouraged with the grind (sending stories out on submission, etc.) and the constant struggle that is the publishing world. Do you have any advice for any writers looking to get published?
Writing advice seems to be all over the place these days, because there are lots of new and interesting ways to get published. What I have seen work, and what has been my experience is that you have to start small and work your way up. The purpose of publishing houses is not to publish your book, it’s to make money, pure and simple. And these houses have limited slots every year, so shoving in a novel by a new writer isn’t at the top of anybody’s list. It happens, but that person is in competition with well-established writers with established readerships. Think of it this way, you don’t walk into an architectural firm, get a billion dollars and just start designing skyscrapers, you start small, show people what you can do, develop a track record and then when someone asks what your big plan is you whip out that thing you’ve been working on in secret for the last five years. Also, when you develop that track record, make sure its good. If you wrote a story for anthology x and it was rejected, don’t scream about how unfair things are, that won’t look good in the future. Editors talk to each other all the time. Similarly, if you are invited to an anthology, and promise them a story about vampires, with a length of 5,000 words and a deadline of January, you damn well better do it. Don’t deliver a 10,000 word story about werewolves two months late. Its bad form and won’t win you any friends. I can’t tell you how much work I have gotten because I’m capable of delivering on subject, on word count and on time, where other people haven’t. Its not just about talent, its also about professionalism, and doing what you said you would. That can go a very long way.
The other thing I’ll add is don’t throw away the trunked stories. Once you’ve established a relationship with editors those stories are going to become very valuable. They might be early work, and not up to your new standards, but they can be rewritten. You know now what was wrong with them. Fix them, and put them in your back pocket for when suitable and suited venues suddenly show up. I keep a whole stack of holiday-themes stories laying around just in case, because every few years somebody inevitably wants to publish a scary Christmas anthology.
What’s next for you? Any new books or stories on the horizon?
What’s next for me? For writers that’s always the big question, right? Its an occupational hazard, your book comes out and you’re on tour and the interviewer asks what’s next? Never mind the blood I just spilled for the last two years, and how I haven’t seen my family during the daylight in months. What is next? Can I say nothing? I want to say nothing. But that would be a lie.
The sequel to Reanimatrix is finished, with a working title of the Eldritch Equations and Other Investigations, it follows the further adventures of Robert Peaslee and Megan Halsey as they open up a detective agency in Arkham and have to deal with what appears to be the deaths of several math students at Miskatonic University. Its inspired by a line in the Lovecraftian rock opera Dreams in the Witch House.
I’ve put together a collection of my short fiction for publisher Gehenna and Hinnom, we’re calling it Strange Company, which is a reference to one of my stories, a one-time publisher of weird fiction, and the general tone of the book. We’ve pulled together a bunch of my stand-alone mythos stories, some mythos stories set in alternate histories, and some stories that are just plain weird but don’t belong to the mythos at all. Its my first collection and I’m looking forward to seeing it in print.
I’ve got a handful of stories subbed and another handful waiting to see print. Look for things – no, I can’t talk about that – well I wrote this piece for – no that’s not announced yet either. OK, I have ten stories and three poems awaiting publication, and another four stories awaiting acceptance/rejection. Is that enough?
No, well how about this. There’s an anthology I edited, called The Chromatic Court, it’s a riff of the common trope that the Yellow King is an avatar of Hastur, asking what are the avatars of the other Lovecraftian gods? How do we merge the themes of art, color and mythos into a single story? We got a bunch of good stories, more than we could use in just one volume, by some familiar names, some by people who I always wanted to work with, and some by new people who are just starting out. 18th Wall productions is the publisher and it should be out in 2019, I think.
Is that enough, please let that be enough. I’m dying here.
Let’s talk about books for a moment. What’s in your To Be Read pile right now? Any books you’re looking forward to in the future?
I have a very deep stack of books right now in the to be read pile. Scott Sigler’s Pandemic, all of David Hambling’s Harry Stubbs novels, Sherlock Holmes books by James Lovegrove and Lois Gresh (separately), Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide, Byers’ Hep Cats of Ulthar, Kiernan’s retrospective mythos collection, and a few other things. I was a big fan of Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Some where along the line that series got away from me. I was in a library store recently and they had the entire series in hardcover for a dollar a piece, so suddenly I added a dozen novels to the stack. This is just the top of the stack, what I pick up to actually read is anybody’s guess. And that guess will be as good as mine.
Last question: where can people find your works?
All of my books appear to be available from Amazon, or in finer specialty bookstores. I’ve seen fair representations in Providence and Portland, where I would expect to find my stuff. If you can’t find something you’re looking for let me know, drop me a line on Facebook, I usually respond within a day or so. If I don’t have an extra copy, I might know who does.