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Written in Blood: An Interview with LC von Hessen

by Cat Voleur
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LC von Hessen is the author of the collection ‘Spiritus Ex Machina’ now available for purchase through Amazon. In celebration of the five stories I asked them five questions about their collection and the borders of  the horror genre in regards to speculative fiction.

 

CV: The collection is quite unique in regards to genre. Although it is not horror exactly, I think there were strong horror elements incorporated into some of the stories. How would you describe the style of your work to new readers?
LCvH: Much of what I write falls under the genre known as weird fiction. Attempting to define this genre’s parameters in any definitive way always leads to a lot of debate in my observation, but generally speaking, it’s a melding of horror, speculative/science fiction, and/or fantasy that aims for a mood of discomfort and unease rather than outright fear. There’s often, but not always, a supernatural component, which may or may not be real within the context of the story and may or may not be explained in any detail. There’s far more of an emphasis on the atmospheric and existential as primary sources of the protagonist’s distress than there is in mainstream horror, and it lacks that latter genre’s typical tropes and monsters (although there may be atypical monsters–tentacled creatures are a weird fiction mainstay–and tropes that are played with or subverted in some way). 
The best-known weird fiction author is definitely HP Lovecraft, who helped popularize the term “weird fiction” and is closely associated with the midcentury pulp magazine ‘Weird Tales’ in which various genre cohorts like Clark Ashton Smith also appeared. I’ve seen the work of genre progenitors like Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe classified as weird fiction in retrospect, as well as later non-genre authors like William S. Burroughs and Bruno Schulz who have influenced weird fiction writers active today. If this all sounds rather confusing, now you know why defining the term leads to so much debate! “Weird fiction” is an extremely broad spectrum that encompasses the unsettling ambiguity of negative space and the visceral, explicit, awe-inspiring macabre.
As far as popular non-literary examples people might recognize, the first season of ‘True Detective’ incorporates elements from weird fiction authors like Thomas Ligotti and Robert W. Chambers (albeit with a decidedly conventional non-weird ending). In my opinion, a lot of so-called “elevated horror” (which I firmly believe is just a marketing descriptor that’s only useful for getting funding and/or asses in theatre seats, rather than a new or genuine category) like the work of Ari Aster, Robert Eggers, and Oz Perkins could qualify as “weird.”
Genre labels are a nebulous sort of thing anyway. The first and oldest story in this collection, “An Infernal Machine,” written when I was in college, was mainly influenced by Kafka: back then I wasn’t thinking of it as a genre story at all. Yet in retrospect it clearly falls under that umbrella.
 
CV: The stories all fit together very well in terms of both style and theme, while all having their own unique tale to tell. What was the inspiration behind the collection as a whole?
 
LCvH: ‘Spiritus Ex Machina’ came about when Nick Mamatas asked me to contribute a collection of previously-published, no-longer-under-contract stories to his then-upcoming ‘From Beyond’ StoryBundle, where it would be offered in a package with other works of cosmic horror and weird fiction. I almost turned him down because I had so few fiction publication credentials thus far, but I realized there was a lot of thematic overlap in many of those stories in regard to science, technology, the arts, and the concept of creation within those fields. So I put this short collection together and, for the front cover, borrowed a collage I’d made for the original chapbook version of “The Spectral Golem” (which appears last).
The ebook bundle was available for three weeks in April and now Spiritus Ex Machina is up for sale with no time limit. It represents basically all my short fiction published before Covid hit, minus some surreal prose-poetry shorts and true-crime-influenced stories I self-published in a series of zines and a chapbook years ago, back when I still had the time and energy to print and assemble such things at home.
CV: Did you or do you currently have a piece from this collection that you’d consider your favorite? Or one that you’re particularly proud of?
 
LCvH: My favorite is probably “Heirloom,” which jumps around in time, space, and perspective, and takes its inspiration from such diverse sources as recent dreams I’d had, recurring childhood daydreams, old-school gothic fiction, and the venerable “Grandmother’s Predictions” fortune-telling machine on Coney Island. I wrote the majority of that story in one night while catsitting and fueled by multiple cups of strong tea, aiming to make the deadline for E.T.A. Hoffmann tribute anthology Machinations and Mesmerism (where it was ultimately first published).
 
CV: Do you have any projects on the horizon moving forward? Is there any way for fans to keep up with news and updates?
 
LCvH: Always. This month I have a story out in Planet Scumm’s Snake Eyes issue, and in September I’ll be in the Matthew M. Bartlett tribute anthology Hymns of Abomination. This fall and winter I’ll have work in the latest volumes of Nightscript and Vastarien, about a year after I last appeared in each of them. Hopefully next year will see publication of two delayed anthologies I’m in on the subject of New England folk horror and LGBTQ-themed horror, respectively. And I’m currently working on a couple of commissioned monologues for a short horror film and a mixed-media art installation.
The best place for updates is definitely my Twitter.
 
CV: Because this is an interview for Slasher Radio, I have to ask; What’s your favorite scary movie?
 
LCvH: It’s impossible to pick just one! My father loved horror movies, so as a very small child I had seen very grown-up movies like Tourist Trap, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Lair of the White Worm, and Waxwork: there’s a special place in my heart for the grotesque FX-laden pre-CGI horror of the ’80s to mid-’90s. But among my all-time favorites is Hellraiser II, which has so many delicious elements: the undead femme fatale, the obsessive occultist mad scientist, the darkly surreal journey into Hell itself, and a peek into the backstory of the Cenobites. It also has one of my favorite film scores, which I’ve used as a soundtrack when doing some of my own writing.
You can check out the collection here: ‘Spiritus Ex Machina’
And follow LC von Hessen on Twitter @LCvonHessen

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