Exploring Dark Short Fiction #3: A Primer to Nisi Shawl by Eric J. Guignard (editor)
By Dawn Ius
There’s often not a lot of discussion about horror writers outside of the horror writing community—and when there is, the same two names who are generally discussed with any academic credibility come up repeatedly: Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.
Author and editor Eric J. Guignard hopes to add variety to that elite list with a series of anthologies that will recognize the work of some of the lesser-known scribes of the genre.
“[Poe and Lovecraft] are widely recognized as the champions of poetic and descriptive dark prose, yet Lovecraft perished over 80 years ago, and Poe near a century before that,” Guignard says. “What they wrote is still compelling today—I’m not saying otherwise—but, so too are there living authors whose words can shape the boundaries of our imagination, who can invigorate and capture our modern tastes and sensibilities, and who can connect us in ways not possible by our literary forebears.”
The latest author to meet Guignard’s discerning criteria is Nisi Shawl. Six of her short works—including one original—are captured in EXPLORING DARK SHORT FICTION #3: A PRIMER TO NISI SHAWL, available now from Dark Moon Books.
In this interview for The Big Thrill, Guignard takes some time out of his busy writing and editing schedule to discuss this project, as well as share some exciting personal news.
Having never read anything by Nisi Shawl before, I was intrigued by the author’s work—and also your interest in it. How did you select this author for this anthology?
Nisi was selected for this project as she, among others I’ve selected, has a wonderful voice in her storytelling and a strong message in her writing. She’s involved in multiple genres and continuously works to also raise up others as well as promote ideals of the short fiction form in new and diverse ways.
The book provides some wonderful exposition about each of the stories, allowing the reader to immerse further into the meanings behind each tale, and connect with the author. Which of the six stories resonates with you most and why?
Naturally, all of the stories resonated in some way with me. But of my favorites, I’d probably have to say “The Beads of Ku” and also “At the Huts of Ajala.” Both were tales grounded in folklore, which has always held a particular fascination for me, and both took me to places that were unexpected and appealing in beautiful and thoughtful ways.
While all of the stories were great, I especially loved “Conversion Therapy,” which is the original work provided for this anthology. How important is it for you to have an original work in these anthologies?
It’s important to me in different ways. I wanted to give authors an outlet for an original work, a chance to write something meaningful for the book that would hopefully be representative of their work or views, or just something they’d like to express. It also adds value to the books themselves, that it’s not just a reprint compilation (especially for purist collectors of the authors’ works) and adds something new to the author’s bibliography. Additionally, and rather selfishly, it’s an opportunity for me to work with authors I admire, knowing that I got to be first publisher for one of their stories.
The accompanying artwork is quite dark and exquisite— what can you share about the pairing of the art with each story?
The artist for this series is Michelle Prebich, whom I first met at a Halloween convention a few years ago and instantly became enamored with her work. She has a very unique (recognizable), whimsical approach to illustrating that I love, and she’s insanely prolific, churning out work for videos, theatres, album covers, prints and postcards, and custom jobs all over the nation.
In terms of concepts, for some of the stories I may suggest to Michelle several ideas of a subject that I think would be good to pair with the story, but, really, I let her go where she likes with the image design; if she wants to do something else, I know it will look great.
Is another of these anthologies in the works? If so, what can you share?
Yes! I’m hoping to keep this series alive for many years to come. Right now, I’m working on volume #4 for the illustrious (and one of my personal favorite authors) Jeffrey Ford.
After that will be volume #5 for Han Song, which will be original translations of his Chinese work. And then, volume #6 for Ramsey Campbell, England’s most prestigious horror author.
You have an incredible number of projects underway, both as an author and as an editor. How do you balance those worlds, and how do the skills for each complement each other?
I started editing because I wanted to improve as a writer, and it’s helped immensely. I recommend it to anyone wishing to improve their writing. By reading submission slush I saw what everyone else was writing about, the same tropes and styles, and immediately knew to write something going the other direction. By an aggregate of stories, I would find flaws in writing that I would then recognize in myself. And I found it’s true that you can accurately judge a story based on the opening paragraph, and in most cases, the opening sentence. From editing, I gained experience in story development, author communications, layout, promotions, and so on. I now look at projects from the multiple eyes of “Editor,” “Marketer,” “Distributor,” and “Publisher” and it’s made me a better person.
Additionally, my day job of technical writing can get dull at times, but it’s also definitely improved my fiction writing, by articulating stories in concise language, with focus on impact, brevity, and an understanding of audiences.
You recently received some great news about your writing. Would you care to comment on/share for our readers?
Last week I received two nominations for the 2018 Bram Stoker Awards (the highest literary award of horror fiction), which was immensely exciting!
Awards in themselves don’t necessarily mean that one work is any “better” than another, but that it’s recognized at that moment for an excellent quality (in some subjective aspect), and, of which, I’m entirely appreciative.
I received nominations for Superior Achievement in an Anthology for A World of Horror (Dark Moon Books) and also Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection for That Which Grows Wild (Cemetery Dance), which is my baby.
Eric J. Guignard is a writer and editor of dark and speculative fiction, operating from the shadowy outskirts of Los Angeles, where he also runs the small press, Dark Moon Books. He’s won the Bram Stoker Award, been a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award, and a multi-nominee of the Pushcart Prize.
His stories and non-fiction have appeared in over one hundred genre and literary publications such as NIGHTMARE MAGAZINE, BLACK STATIC, SHOCK TOTEM, BUZZY MAGAZINE, and DARK DISCOVERIES MAGAZINE. As editor, Eric’s published six anthologies including DARK TALES OF LOST CIVILIZATIONS, AFTER DEATH…, and A WORLD OF HORROR, a showcase of international horror short fiction.
Read his short story collection, THAT WHICH GROWS WILD: 16 TALES OF DARK FICTION (Cemetery Dance Publications), his standalone novella, BAGGAGE OF ETERNAL NIGHT (Journalstone), and watch for his first novel, CROSSBUCK ’BO, which is currently being shopped around.
Outside the glamorous and jet-setting world of indie fiction, Eric’s a technical writer and college professor, and he stumbles home each day to a wife, children, cats, and a terrarium filled with mischievous beetles.
Photo credit: Jeanette Guignard
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