This edition of SONGS was my first exposure to Ligotti’s work, a triumph of lyrical prose and existential horror.
I don’t pre-order books very often, but when I found out that
Thomas Ligotti—quite possibly the greatest horror writer on the planet—had returned to writing fiction after many years away, I pre-ordered THE SPECTRAL LINK immediately.
Ligotti rose up from indie horror mags about 25 years ago to become a regular contributor to WEIRD TALES and one of my personal favorite authors. I discovered Ligotti’s unforgettable work in 1990 when his first collection SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER appeared in my local bookstore.
I was about 20, living in my home state, and had just graduated from the University of Kentucky. I was staying on the couch at a friend’s apartment and had a college degree, but could not find a decent job thanks to the general nature of Kentucky and the Great Recession of the Early 90s. Needless to say it was not a very happy or productive time for me.
When SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER fell into my hands (or I should say when I scraped up the last of my heard-earned cash to buy the book), I was utterly captivated. My problems disappeared as I poured over the arcane secrets of its pages. Here were stories with the cosmic horror of Lovecraft, the creeping terror of Poe, and the kind of florid, surreal imagery that only Ligotti can create.
My desperate, couch-dwelling youth was transfigured by beautifully weird stories such as “The Lost Art of Twilight”, “The Troubles of Dr. Thoss,” “Masquerade of a Dead Sword,” “Sect of the Idiot,” the entrancing “Vastarien,” and the mind-bending “Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story.”
Ligotti’s horror was metaphysical, personal, phantasmagorical, and completely mesmerizing. Not to mention inspiring as hell. I was still trying my best now and then to sell a story to WEIRD TALES, a goal I had set during college two or three years earlier. My fiction endeavors were fueled by a string of terrific rejection letters from that mag’s editor (Darrell Schweitzer) and the encouragement he gave me with every rejection. So writing was in my blood, but it had not yet flowered into something significant. It was a raw and burning passion. Ligotti’s brilliant darkness fed that fire inside me. More than ever, I wanted to WRITE.
I soon quit my craptastic minimum-wage job and moved off my friend’s couch (couldn’t even pay my third of the rent). After a few months back at my parents’ house I set out to get my own first apartment. Another crappy (restaurant) job served to bring a smidgen of stability to my life. What the hell—I no longer had any interest in pursuing a job with my degree—I was more interested in forming a psychedelic hard rock band with some fellow college graduates and underclassmen. Which I did. (Long live the Wild Love Rebellion! We rocked. Seriously…)
Suffice to say, life improved greatly from there on out, despite a rough patch here or there. In 1992 I was thrilled to find a second Ligotti collection, GRIMSCRIBE: HIS LIVES AND WORKS. I immediately devoured it. In 1994 Ligotti’s third collection, NOCTUARY, was released, bringing another assortment of terrific terror tales into my life. More cosmic inspiration.
Soon Ligotti’s muse practically dried up. He no longer felt the spark or passion to write—or if he did, he lacked the inspiration. His life, as I came to understand it, was a complicated and neurotic existence, and his personal difficulties with consensual reality and “the real world” had inspired most of his work. Yet he was nice enough to let me reprint one of his early stories (“Ten Steps to Thin Mountain”) in my online fiction ‘zine COSMIC VISIONS. (This was ’96-’98—WAY before online fiction ‘zines became common or popular.) COSMIC VISIONS was an experiment that was ahead of its time, but it did give me experience as an editor that would come in handy later.
Now and then an obscure Ligotti story would appear in WEIRD TALES or possibly even somewhere else. I learned to keep an eye out for him. Several more collections emerged in the years that followed, including THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY, which presented stories pulled from previous Ligotti anthologies. During this time I had spent almost two years living in Chicago as a working-wage stiff. When it became apparent that my marriage was beyond salvation, I moved to California for better opportunities (and a better lifestyle) in late ’98. I had come a long way, but I was still “chained to the desk” of a job that I really didn’t enjoy.
It was with great pleasure that I discovered MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE: THREE TALES OF CORPORATE HORROR in 2002. An instant classic with a limited print run, this was Ligotti applying his sense of existential dread and cosmic horror to the mind-numbing tedium of corporate slavery. In these stories the horror comes from a vast and faceless corporate entity that controls the lives of “regular” people with mysterious rules, invisible personages, and the foggy hell of haunted nowhere towns.
At this point in life I had my fill of corporate, cubicle-dwelling life. I hated everything about it. Some people weren’t meant for cubicles. The stories in MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE resonated with a deep core of dissatisfaction and dread that I carried with me every day, as I tried to tow the corporate line in the professional prison of the office cubicle. Ligotti had created another disturbing masterpiece.
A couple years after reading MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE, I finally divorced myself from all corporate jobs and decided to become a teacher. Best decision I ever made, and it also supported my goal of being a professional writer. After I’d established myself as a teacher, I could write in the summers and holidays.
It was a plan that, funnily enough, actually worked. Teaching and writing are my two passions. Perhaps it took Ligotti’s characterization of corporate existence as a soul-killing prison to give me the courage to break free. Although more directly, it was the movie SCHOOL OF ROCK that inspired me—the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. If Jack Black could do it, so could I! Still, Ligotti’s work underscored my own loathing of the corporate/cubicle lifestyle, cementing the idea that I was not alone in reviling it. Discontent is the catalyst of action.
As for Thomas Ligotti, once again the Master’s muse left him high and dry. He wrote next to nothing for the next few years. He made statements in interviews that he might never write again—that it was no longer in him. Like any great artist, he was struggling with his own demons, which didn’t always support or sustain his writing. An unproduced script appeared, along with more reprint volumes, graphic novel adaptations, an infamous essay, and even a book of DEATH POEMS. But there wasn’t much hope that Ligotti would finally write a novel, or even another collection of short stories. The author himself didn’t know if he had any more fiction to write, and he was brutally honest about this lack of inspiration.
Recently I was thrilled to discover that the Master has come back to fiction. Subterranean Press is releasing a brand-new Ligotti book called THE SPECTRAL LINK on June 30. It includes two new stories—not a lot to be sure—but even TWO new Thomas Ligotti stories is a major event in the worlds of horror and weird fiction. Here’s some of what Amazon’s page has to say about the book:
“Throughout Ligotti’s ‘career’ as a horror writer, many of his stories have evolved from physical or emotional crises. And so it was with the surgical trauma that led to the stories in THE SPECTRAL LINK, an event that is marginally mentioned in the first of these stories, ‘Metaphysica Morum.’ In the second story, ‘The Small People,’ Ligotti returns, although not precisely in the usual fashion, to his fixation with uncanny representations of the so-called human being. Having nearly ceased to exist as he lay on the surgeon’s table, the imposing strangeness of the nature and vicissitudes of this life form once again arose in his imagination.”
If you’re a fan of horror and/or the weird, and you haven’t read Ligotti yet, now is the perfect time. Pre-order THE SPECTRAL LINK here, or look for other Ligotti books here.
This July is going to be extra-creepy (in a good way)…
Welcome back, Thomas Ligotti!
You were missed.