I haven’t Blogged in a very long time, preferring instead the medium of podcasting (The Horror Show with Brian Keene and Defenders Dialogue) and my weekly newsletter, Letters From the Labyrinth. Therefore, my apologies if I’m a little rusty.
The number one question I’ve been getting from readers since Friday morning is, “Who is S.T. Joshi?” This question has replaced such long-time stalwarts as “Why isn’t The Rising a movie?” and “Will you ever write a fifth Rising book?” and “When is Suburban Gothic coming out?” The answers, by the way, are “Because Hollywood hasn’t ponied up a dump truck full of money”, “I’m writing one now. It’s called The Fall. It will be out in 2020″, and “I’m still working on Suburban Gothic. As I’ve gotten older, I find my muse leaning more toward quiet supernatural tales and surrealism, rather than extreme horror, and thus, it’s been a slow process.”
As for the answer to that new, most popular question, S.T. Joshi is a former trustee of beneficial knowledge who was corrupted by a irrational devotion to influence and power, and thus, through his own arrogant ambition, sowed the seeds of his eventual downfall.
Oh, no. Wait. I’m sorry. That was Saruman, a fictional wizard created by J.R.R. Tolkien.
S.T. Joshi is a historian and editor who has written extensively about the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, M.R. James, and other important authors in our field. His contributions, bibliographies, and biographies of these figures are crucial, essential reading for anyone with a desire to look deeper into the history of our genre — and I myself will certainly be referencing these important works as my own History of Horror Fiction progresses.
Mostly though, to the general public, he’s primarily known as “the guy who wrote a biography about H.P. Lovecraft.”
In recent years, Joshi has attained notoriety — not for his exemplary work as a custodian for our genre’s rich history — but for being an old man yelling at clouds. In particular, he rails against what he calls “Lovecraft Haters”, which is a group composed of anyone who dares to discuss Lovecraft’s possible racism or xenophobia. Mr. Joshi has put his keen academic mind to ferreting out some of these supposed “Lovecraft Haters” on his own (launching into ridiculous tirades about colleagues such as Ellen Datlow, Daniel José Older, Nick Mamatas, Nnedi Okorafor, Scott Nicolay, and S.j. Bagley, for example). Other “Lovecraft Haters” are names whispered in his ear by Jason Brock — the Grima Wormtongue to Joshi’s Saruman. (Without getting off into the weeds, Jason Brock is notable only for shepherding the latter career of the legendary William F. Nolan — for which Brock earned deserved accolades and good will — and then used those accolades and good will to further his own career instead, which is unfortunate). Mine is one of the names Brock whispered.
So, for the record, I don’t consider myself a Lovecraft Hater. I own many volumes of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, including Arkham House originals. I have visited his grave on numerous occasions. I have viewed his private papers at Brown University. I have touched — physically touched — the original manuscripts for At The Mountains of Madness and The Colour Out of Space, seen his doodles in the margins of letters, and even some of his blood, dried on a letter in which, as he explains in the margins, he squished a mosquito. I consider myself a fan of Lovecraft’s work. H.P. Lovecraft is one of the most important writers of horror fiction — ranking alongside the aforementioned Dunsany, Machen, Bierce, and Blackwood, as well as Poe, Hodgson, Jackson, King, Matheson, Bloch, Campbell, and others.
With that being said, the probable origins of Lovecraft’s work are, in my opinion, repugnant. Lovecraft was racist and xenophobic. You don’t write poems like “On The Creation Of Niggers” or call the feline character in one of your best stories “Nigger Man” if you’re not racist. These beliefs fueled his fiction, and the creation of his mythos. So much of Lovecraft’s work is driven by fear and disgust of “the other” or of genetic mutation. And in turn, so much of that work shaped and molded this field.
Despite their repugnance (or perhaps because of it) I think those origins are worth discussing. Joshi does not. He threatened to boycott a recent convention because the programming included a panel discussing the racist themes prevalent in Lovecraft’s work (and then reportedly defied his own personal boycott by signing books in the dealer’s room of that same convention). Because I wondered aloud on my podcast why he’s against discussion of such things, it further inured me as a “Lovecraft Hater”. Joshi also railed against the World Fantasy Awards discontinuing their bust of Lovecraft. When I stated on my podcast, “If I was a person of color, and I won that award — an award from my peers recognizing my work — I wouldn’t want a man who thought I was sub-human glowering down at me from my brag shelf”, this further fueled Joshi and Brock’s insistence that I am, in fact, a Lovecraft Hater.
It’s also important to note that Lovecraft’s racism is not a new topic, brought up by some supposed younger, newer generation of political Progressives or SJWs. The great Robert Bloch himself discussed Lovecraft’s racism in his seminal “Heritage of Horror” essay. Joshi doesn’t seem to have a problem with that. Based on his actions, he seemingly only has a problem with people discussing it if they are women (Ellen Datlow), LGQBT (S.j. Bagley), persons of color (Daniel José Older and Nnedi Okorafor), or apolitical “white trash” Appalachians (myself). I find that interesting…
So, again, for the record, I am not a “Lovecraft Hater”. I respect the man’s work. I don’t, however, respect the man.
But it’s not just Lovecraft Haters whom Joshi directs his Palantir at. My friend and peer Laird Barron was recently a target of his invective, under the guise of a “review”. What the public doesn’t know is that said review wasn’t inspired or created under the auspices or intention of literary criticism. No, it was pure spite. You see, Joshi was a self-avowed fan of Laird’s work. Joshi bought a story by Laird for the A Mountain Walked anthology (published by the wonderful Centipede Press). When Joshi later reached a deal with Dark Regions to reprint the anthology, he asked Laird for permission to reprint the story again, even though a second printing wasn’t in the original contract, for a sum that was less than what Laird found agreeable. Laird politely declined and sold the story elsewhere for a greater sum, as any professional writer would. And suddenly, Joshi decided to “critique” his work in a transparent take-down that caused a minor stir among horror authors but wasn’t even a blip on the radar of most horror readers.
Which brings us to last Friday, and the reason why so many of you are asking me, “Who is S.T. Joshi?”.
Why did Joshi turn his attention toward me? I don’t know. Maybe it was our coverage of his antics on my podcast (where he is a recurring source of amusement). Perhaps he was offended that I sandwiched him between “Lovecraft Haters” Ellen Datlow and S.j. Bagley in the inaugural chapter of History of Horror Fiction. Or maybe he was driven half-mad by Jason Brock’s incessant whining.
Regardless, I woke up at 5am Friday morning. Publisher and author Ross Lockhart had sent me the link to Joshi’s tirade overnight. I clicked the link and read Joshi’s Introduction, where he states that I am “A grotesquely prolific blowhard” and that my work left him in “excruciating agony.” This pleased me. I thought it was funny enough to craft a cover blurb out of, so I did. Then some readers asked for it on a t-shirt, so I made this. And that was pretty much it.
I didn’t read Joshi’s critique, because his opinion means nothing to me. I respect his work, but I don’t respect the man. His review of my work is exactly equal to any one-star Amazon customer review (although I suspect his review may be more erudite and include proper grammar and punctuation). His critique means absolute zero to my career, my publishers, my family, or my self-respect. So instead of reading it, I played video games with my nine-year-old.
Others who did read the entire critique told me that it basically consists of Joshi taking 5,900 words to say that I’m a terrible writer. Which I also found amusing, since Nickolaus Pacione can make the same point in five words or less. I find it curious that a mentally ill man whose only infamy stems from sending death threats to writers like Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Mary SanGiovanni, Ray Garton, and myself is effectively communicating more clearly and concisely than a man who ostensibly makes his living as a critic.
Several of you have asked if I am angry. I am not. The only part of this that made me angry (and again, I didn’t read Joshi’s piece) is that he apparently takes several shots at you — my readers — referring to you as “The Great Unwashed”, “intelligence-challenged”, and other unflattering euphemisms. I think that’s a dick move.
Here’s the thing, folks. I’m not writing for S.T. Joshi. I’m writing for the high school football coach in Texas. I’m writing for the mother in Canada whose only company while she sat at the bedside of her toddler during his fight with cancer, was a stack of my novels. I’m writing for both the men and women who have carried my books with them in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere (and sent me bizarre selfies to mark the moment). I’m writing for the kid in study hall and the dude on his lunch break at the factory and the woman leaving her shift at the call center. And — I’m somewhat surprised to learn — I’m writing for Joshi’s fellow academics, several of whom posted publicly on social media over the last two days, joining the rest of us “Great Unwashed” in pointing and laughing at the old man yelling at clouds.
I am told that Joshi’s website was down for most of the day yesterday, and has been sporadic today. Many of you have asked if I did that. No. I did not. My computer skills are as bad as my usage of proper punctuation and grammar. I did not hack or shut down Joshi’s website. Perhaps it was a deluge of the Great Unwashed, coming to point and laugh?
So no, other than his comments on you, my readers, I don’t feel anger. Only amusement.
And, to be honest, a great deal of pity.
Who is S.T. Joshi? He is a man heading into the twilight of years. A man who used to have cachet and relevance. A man who is frightened by a changing world. A man who has made a career out of writing about H.P. Lovecraft, and who now fears that this legacy is being chipped away at by others. A man who fails to see that the only person chipping away at his legacy is himself. A man whose rabid frothing over perceived slights to Lovecraft’s legacy only serves to tarnish the legacies of them both.
Yes, I feel a great deal of pity for S.T. Joshi. If anything, we need to learn from his example. When we reach that age — when we come to that point in our career, and our popularity and influence have waned, and our audiences are dwindling down to the Jason Brocks of the world — we need to be better than Joshi. We need to strive for more. Being an “Angry Young Man” has a certain charm. Being an angry old man does not.
It makes me sad to see S.T. Joshi’s staggeringly important body of early work overshadowed by the antics of his later years.
I respect Joshi’s earlier work, but I do not respect the man.