H. Harksen Productions is an independent, small press specializing in dark fiction—specializing in Lovecraftian fiction & Cthulhu Mythos tales. There latest anthology is entitled Eldritch Horrors: Dark Tales.
From the deepest oceans to shadowy woods, dark cities, across wars and unspeakable realms of the unknown-to forbidden books, strange cultists, dread lore & mad, ancient Gods from beyond time & space. The world is not safe; no one is safe.
The collection includes fourteen new tales of the gruesomely weird by Paul S. Kemp (of Forgotten Realms fame), W. H. Pugmire (with new Sesqua Valley tale!), Gary Hill, Thomas Strømsholt, and others. We spoke with editor Henrik Harksen and asked him to tell us a little about himself, the publishing industry, Victor Borge, and state of Lovecraftian fiction.
LNN: Tell us a little about yourself in general.
HARKSEN: Well, I have a MA in Philosophy, am married with my wonderful wife Hanne with whom I also have a wonderful baby girl, My (yes, I know that name is weird in an English speaking context; the proper pronounciation is the 'y' somewhat like the German 'ü';-)). We also have a cat in our household (rather typical for a Lovecraftian, eh?). Oh, and I live in Odense, Denmark. The same city that fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen was born in.
LNN: What is your background in the publication industry, and how did you end up publishing Lovecraftiana?
HARKSEN: I don't really have a background in the publishing industry. Assuming you're talking about a professional level of publishing. Although I have been involved with school magazines and journals (incl. when I was studying Philosophy at the University, where I was Assistant Editor). And for the four issues it existed I helped editing Studies in Fantasy Literature.
It all started years before, though. I have published various amateur publications for a number of years. In fact I have done so ever since I was a child back in the late 1970s. Back then, though, I was creating "LP record covers" for imagined albums. Hehe. So I guess that's where it really started. Go figure:-P Later still I also created "publications" of my own writings (mainly poetry and fledgling short stories; but also the papers at school, college etc.). As you can see, it was way before the Computer Age, so it was back when it was really "copy & paste";-)
It is in connection with the latter that I came up with "H. Harksen Productions". I wanted to write a Copyright note, even in my amateurish mode & state of mind, and for some reason it sounded grander to use a company name instead of merely a name. Don't ask why; I am weird, that's all I can say. And in my wild imagination I also thought it would be cool with an English sounding company name, for, after all it could be great if some day I published Internationally, right? Hehe. (Also, more often than not I wrote in English anyway, even if my native language is Danish.) And, as you can see, my name remained, even in that--at the time fictive--company name.
In the late 1990s I was invited by Derrick Hussey (publisher of the excellent Hippocampus Press) to join the Esoteric Order of Dagon Amateur Press Association, an APA with a time-honored tradition, dedicated to things Lovecraftian and with the world's leading Lovecraft scholar at the helm, S. T. Joshi. Here I started getting more "serious" with what I did, not only when it comes to writing but also when it comes to creating aesthetically satisfying looks of my 'zine, The Philosopher, and the odd booklet I designed once in a while and shared with the members. All of it published through said amateur small press company, hehe.
LNN: Tell us about the mission of H. Harksen Productions. What are your goals for the press?
HARKSEN: My goal with H. Harksen Productions is to primarily (1) publish good, solid, quality stories in the Lovecraftian/Cthulhu Mythos vein (primarily with a focus on new directions of the genre & the ideas), (2) include high quality illustrations and artwork, (3) with aesthetically satisfying layouts and design of the books. The latter is quite important to me. A subsidary goal is to publish non-fiction, Lovecraftian-related books (such as the August Derleth monograph by John D. Derleth published November 2009). In Denmark I have also published a non-HPL horror anthology, which seems to be well received; at this point it is unlikely I will do the same in English.
I am proud that with my first English publication, Eldritch Horrors: Dark Tales, I have managed to gather well-known authors (i.e. Paul S. Kemp, who is a New York Times bestseller of Forgotten Realms novels, and Lovecraftian writers such as W. H. Pugmire) as well as talented new-comers; and succeeded in gathering what I think is an array of excellent pieces of artwork by the esteemed artist Jørgen Mahler Elbang. So I am off to a good start with (1) & (2), I think;-)
A personal goal is to improve my skills. Each publication from me shows improvement--and I learn every step of the way. I wear many hats and I have gotten better at taking the time doing what's needed for each process. I am talking about editing, proof reading, typesetting, designing layout, marketing etc., etc. And since this is all done in what little spare time I have this requires quite a lot of planning. To get closer to these goals I am now receiving help from a good friend of mine from Australia, who will assist in proof reading future products, Phillip A. Ellis (who is an excellent poet of the weird, btw!).
LNN: Your first publication was a purely Danish horror anthology. What prompted the decision to switch to English?
HARKSEN: That is a fair question, but it is really the other way around. Originally I intended to publish in English first--but switched to Danish. The reason is quite simple: I wanted to learn the basics first, and it felt safer doing this when concentrating only on a very local area--in Denmark. Would have been too big if it was the whole wide world from the beginning. Likewise I wanted to have personal contact with the first printing facility I used--so I used one with an office in Denmark. The idea essentially was to learn, before doing a fullfledged International publication. And so I started off with hplmythos.dk#1, Fra Skyggerne og andre Cthulhu Mythos noveller (2007).
Eldritch Horrors: Dark Tales was delayed, but I finally got around to publish it:-) I hope it is the first of many hplmythos.com volumes:-D I have been so fortunate to have so many talented people on this first project, so I am optimistic.
LNN: You wrote a critical essay entitled, "Some Thoughts on The Ninth Configuration," which will be included in the book American Exorcist: Critical Essays on William Peter Blatty. Tell us about this article and how you got involved in horror scholarship.
HARKSEN: The collection was published in 2008 by McFarland. I'd written a (minor) piece for editor Benjamin Szumskyj's Fritz Leiber: Critical Essays, and he kindly asked me if I'd be interested in contributing with an essay to this one; evidently I said yes;-) In "Some Thoughts..." I employ Philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum's theory on literature and philosophy as presented in her excellent essay collection Love's Knowledge (1990). I won't bore you with the details, but in essense I try to demonstrate that using specific parametres (cf. Nussbaum) some heavy philosophical, existential (& religious) features clearly show themself in Blatty's The Ninth Configuration. Features that are especially enlightening qua Blatty's writing.
The article is really a background work for a larger, philosphical thesis I am working on--which revolves around the horror genre (especially HPL's writings & philosophical stance), theory of literature (with particular focus on Nussbaum) & philosphy ("can we get genuine insight/knowledge from a work of fiction?" in particular).
What got me involved in horror scholarship... Hehe... It started with me reading Professor Airaksinen's fascinating and, to me, frustrating The Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft. Just about everything he wrote in that book grated on my nerves & my senses. It didn't resemble anything I'd read and understood of HPL when some years earlier I'd delved into his letters (the original Selected Letters by Arkham House). But I was going on memory alone, since it had been a while since I had looked at HPL's letters and stories, and that wasn't satisfying. I delved into everything I could get my hand on (at first this was through the University's library), cross-examined it with philosophical theories I knew--learned some new ones along the way--and wrote a paper at the University about some of the things I ended up concluding. A rewrite of this paper was later published as "Metaphysics in "The Music of Erich Zann"" in Lovecraft Studies #45 (2005), edited by S. T. Joshi. I actually contacted Mr. Joshi before joining the EOD, via e-mail, asking him about some of the issues I were working on. At first he wasn't too keen on my core thesis of the paper (although he liked the project and praised it as well as urged me to continue), but when I showed him some hardcore evidence of why I thought it made sense that HPL made a distinction between "ontology" and "metaphysics" he acknowledged my argument. That was a proud day, I can tell you! Almost as proud as the day he asked if I'd mind contributing the piece in Lovecraft Studies. Wow! Me--with a piece in the heart of HPL studies??? I couldn't believe it.
Still can't, actually...;-)
I could say a lot more about horror scholarship--and its philosophical ramifications, in my opinion--but I think this covered the basics of your question ;-)
LNN: What is the state of the market of Lovecraft-themed fiction, both in Denmark and the world wide markets?
HARKSEN: The state of the market seems to be growing again. Tremendously so. Ellen Datlow does excellent editor work, for instance; and the Cthulhu Unbound Series seems to garner much--well-deserved--praise. And even S. T. Joshi has joined the "new Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos line" surging these years, editing anthologies for Perilous Press. A writer like the marvelous W. H. Pugmire seems to be more popular than ever and with new works in the pipeline already sold to publishers. So things are looking very good, very good indeed.
I am glad you asked me about the state of "Lovecraftian-themed fiction" and not "Cthulhu Mythos fiction", since I make a distinction between the two. As do many others nowadays. There is nothing wrong with the latter but, a few stories and novels excepted, for many years the Cthulhu Mythos equalled Lovecraft and Lovecraftian fiction. I write a little more about this in my introduction to Eldritch Horrors: Dark Tales, but gladly things have changed. And with focus more and more on the Lovecraftian aspect I am very excited about the current boom.
Sadly I can't say the same about the state of things in Denmark. Yes, on the amateur/fan-base level there is a lot going on, but so far I seem to be the only Lovecraftian trying to publish books with a decidedly Lovecraftian twist. And it is hard to convince the bookstores that it's a good idea having these books on their shelves. I am working against the tides, I must admit, but at least the libraries have been fairly recepting and now that there seems to be a stirring of interest in horror literature, more generally (some of the larger publishers have started publishing horror again), with a little luck times they are a-changing;-)
That said, I am fortunate that the horror society here in Denmark has embraced my project and are very supportive. So I am not complaining.
LNN: Scandinavia is often viewed by conservative Americans as "godless" and "secular." For these people, these terms are pejorative and are used to frighten small children to attend Sunday school and mobilize the right wing political base. However, though many do consider themselves atheists, in fact Scandinavia has a deep, religious tradition, and Denmark even still has a state-sponsored church (at least they still did when I was there). How do Danish beliefs and attitudes towards spirituality--or the lack of them--play out with Lovecraftian ideologies, and how does this affect the way Lovecraft is perceived in Scandinavia?
HARKSEN: The last question first: It has no affect at all. At least, I don't think so. Yes, Denmark still has a state-sponsored church (but besides that it is separate from the state). I would say that the majority of Danes consider themselves, hm, semi-religious. A rather lukewarm description by American standards, but if you really go into a discussion with many Danes I am quite sure most will step away from both outright atheism and all-embracing religion, saying something like "Well, I am sure there is something more but..." This, I think, is tied up with Danes in general having embraced--without knowing it--Søren Kierkegaard's notion of religion as a private matter.
The strange thing is that most Danes feel rather uncomfortable with religion. As for spirituality, well, here it is more or less the same but with an inclination to either believe in "that kind of thing" or dismissing it with a sneer ("superstitious bullocks!"). I think. Many will say spirituality is linked with religion in some way.
Personally I side more or less entirely with HPL's view that there is no God or meaning in the universe. He said something like being "in theory an agnostic, but in actuality an atheist"--I will simply say I am an agnostic with heavy leanings towards atheism;-)
Considering HPL's views on the matter I would say he ought to be more easily appreciated in Denmark than in, say, the US. Oddly enough he isn't--besides the usual cult following & acknowledgment from underground milieus such as roleplay and the heavy metal scene. The main reason for this is that in Denmark we just don't have a strong tradition for weird tales in literature. What is appreciated is, generally speaking, strict "realism" in some form.
LNN: Which do think tend to me more successful for Lovecraft inspired authors: pastiche, emulation, or more subtle invocations of Lovecraft's style and themes? More specifically, what things do you look for when scouting out material for your collections?
HARKSEN: I am sure they can all be successful, one way or the other. It depends on your criterion for "success." Truth be told I look for them all when I look for material. I will readily admit to have a personal preferences for "emulative" and stories with "subtle invocations", since, in my opinion, they are more personal and more easily provide a genuine worldview & new approaches to the philosophical themes often found in HPL's work.
For Eldritch Horrors I looked for a wide spectrum, in an attempt to catch all of the variations you mention. I know there are readers for them all, and I figured it could be fun to introduce something for everybody, so to speak. In the past there has been an emphasis on the Cthulhu/Derleth Mythos formula, and I wanted something else. But some will prefer, say, Leigh Blackmore's "The Return of Zoth-Ommog" (entrenched in classic Mythos storytelling) and perhaps think Ron Shiflet's "Out of the Frying Pan" an odd-ball that doesn't follow the "rules." But they both clearly take inspiration from HPL and the Mythos--but in a very different way. In presenting this spectrum I hope to show how amazingly versatile and varied inspiration from HPL can be. It is really unlike anything else in literature.
I may follow different roads in the future, depending on the publication I have in mind. For instance, W. H. Pugmire has said it could be interesting to see stories taking place in, say, Copenhagen or Prague, or some other non-US location. It all depends on what you want in the book you're planning. There seems to be readers for most of it, anyway. Grandpa from Providence started something unique.
LNN: What advice do you have for aspiring Lovecraftian authors, and when do you plan to start accepting submissions for future collections? Will you host an open call for papers?
HARKSEN: I'd say to any aspiring writer that they should write what they want to write. But also not be blind to what the potential editor advices... Consider it carefully before, maybe, dismissing whatever is said. There could be something to it. I will not disparage any newcomers by saying it is a mistake to lean up close to HPL in writing style and thematics, since this really can be good exercise (not to mention great fun). But I will say that sooner or later they need to find something that is their take on it; their approach. I am not necessarily talking about "finding your voice"--whoever says you only have one voice anyway?--but merely pointing out that if you have yourself in the writing then it is more likely to be interesting. In doing this you also expand the whole Lovecraftian (and Cthulhu Mythos) universe, which is something I certainly appreciate.
My basic advice is really repeating HPL on the matter. So, in short: Read HPL's advices, take them to heart--and you're off to a good start;-)
As for future submissions... When I have laid out the basics of my new project, hplmythos.com Vol. 2, I will post an Open Call for Submissions on the website. I doubt it will be on this side of 2010, but stay tuned for early 2010;-)
And, please--dear Potential New Author--please read the guidelines carefully and only send in something that actually fit within that framework. (Note that I say "framework." That's on purpose. You see, the idea I have in mind, thematically, can be approached in many ways. So it's not that I am totally square--but that I want to see relevant material, okay?)
Oh well, so much said about that and yet I remain secretive about the specifics. Neat, eh?:-P
LNN: What does you wife think of your interest in Lovecraft, and will she let you buy a plush Cthulhu doll for your children to play with?
HARKSEN: Hehe. Yes, I am sure she will let our daughter play with one. (That reminds me that I want to buy one for her! Thanks!) She thinks I have an odd and strange interest. It is one she does not share at all. However, the issues pertaining my HPL & the horror genre that hold my interests have popped up in conversation again and again, and she now understands my fascination (which is, mainly, because of the philosophical elements raised in good horror & weird tale literature--especially in a writer like HPL, or, say, a writer like Thomas Ligotti), and understands why I want to delve into these dark matters.
In other words: She respects it.
LNN: What is the best Danish translation for cyclopean? (All I could come up with is "uhyggeligt," which seems far too banal)
HARKSEN: LOL. A good question... You're right. "Uhyggeligt" would be "scary." As far as I know there is not an exact Danish match to "cyclopean" but I would say a good substitute would be "enormt." (Which again can be translated back to "enormeous";-})
LNN: If Victor Borge had performed a skit entitled "The Music of Eric Zann," what would it have looked like?
The really scary thing is that a skit actually popped up in my head! Have you ever seen his classic act, "phonetic punctuation"?
Imagine him making saying "Cthulhu-like words" in between the singing (as in, "ïa!", "fthagn" etc.), add a viol playing in the background... And Dean Martin either dropping dead as the act closes or, more powerfully, him being sucked out of a window teethering with an abyss totally incomprehensible etc.
Not entirely true to "Zann," perhaps, but certainly with a Lovecraftian punch;-) I'd say something similar could be built around a lot of Borge's other, classic acts:-D
LNN: Anything else you want to put on the record?
HARKSEN: Well, I'd like to advertise the next English-written books from H. Harksen Productions, if you don't mind:
The Unspeakable and Others by Dan Clore (revised and expanded edition of his collection of macabre tales; with many illustrations by the amazing weird artist Allen K.) - coming this November!
August Derleth Redux: The Weird Tale 1930-1971, a non-fiction monograph by the Derleth scholar John D. Haefele. Look out for this brand-new look at Derleth and his importance for the weird tale genre. Also this November.
Hex Code and Others by John Mayer. My first hardcover publication, with a very exciting, original novella and some macabre short stories. Mayer was a friend of the late Karl Edward Wagner, and one of the stories has Wagner as a central character;-) Mayer is also a talented artist and has created beautiful artwork for this publication that sees the light of day early 2010.
Thanks for your time & your interest in H. Harksen Productions. Also thanks for your time, Reader:-)
LNN: It has been our pleasure