Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire has been writing Lovecraftian horror fiction since the early 1970s, beginning when he served as a Mormon missionary in Ulster. His work has been highly influenced by the Golden Age of Weird Tales and by those authors that August Derleth published with Arkham House. Yet this old-time traditional writing has been tainted by Pugmire’s lifestyle as queer punk rocker, resulting in a curious blend of the past and modern culture. His goal as an author is to be Lovecraftian-up-ye-arse. His books for 2012 include Uncommon Places, The Strange Dark One–Tales Of Nyarlathotep, and Encounters With Enoch Coffin.
What projects are you working on?
I actually wasn’t planning on completing any new books this year. Writing has become so difficult because of my household situation, and so I’ve been being lazy and doing nothing but reading and dreaming. I had three books published last year, and I shall have three new books published this year, plus one of the books from last year will come out in trade paperback this year. That’s too much! I asked my chum Jessica Salmonson to collaborate on a collection of weird fiction with me, but that will be a two-year project. But just last night I was dwelling on the fact that next year is 2013–THIRTEEN!!–and how can I NOT have a new book out in that year? So I am now determined to spend the rest of this year trying to write Monstrous Aftermath, a new collection of weird tales inspired by H. P. Lovecraft’s “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnets. I plan to set most of these new tales in Sesqua Valley. Like all of my plans and hopes and dreams, this may not become a reality–but at the moment I am pretty determined to write the book.
When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing wee musical plays for the Mormon Church when I was a kid. I loved musical theatre and was certain that I’d be an actor as a profession. I toyed with writing fiction during my teen years, but I wasn’t much of a reader then, being more obsessed with horror films and my plans on becoming the next Boris Karloff. Then I went to Ireland to work as a Mormon missionary and they wouldn’t let me attend horror cinema. Robert Bloch was a pen pal, so I began to collect paperbacks of his novels and collections, and then I began to buy anthologies in which he was one of many writers, and that got me hooked on horror fiction. Bought my first Lovecraft book in Omagh, Northern Ireland–The Haunter Of The Dark And Others, and the title story had been dedicated by Lovecraft to my buddy Bloch! Upon returning to the States I discovered Arkham House books and the Cthulhu Mythos, and I decided I was going to become a famous Mythos writer.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I first got seriously interested in being a writer while in Omagh. I placed my first-published story with SPACE & TIME. But it wasn’t until I got home and discovered the Cthulhu Mythos that I found a genre that I wanted to focus on. I was determined to become a FAMOUS Mythos writer, with all of the cockiness of ignorant youth. My desire was to excel as an author of modern Mythos fiction. As I matured, the becoming “famous” part wilted away, replaced by an intense determination to write my own kind of Lovecraftian weird fiction, and to do so as well as possible. After I came out as queer, I began to read non-horror gay writers like Oscar Wilde, and that led to an interest in World Literature that has now taken over my life. I wanted to approach writing as an art-form, to write prose that was poetic, beautiful, strange. I felt that if I stayed true to that vision, I would in time gain my own wee reputation. My obsession with becoming a famous writer transformed into a keen obsession to be know primarily as a Lovecraftian writer.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I never thought about writing books when I began. I sold all of my tales to the various small press horror journals, of which there were once so many. Eventually I had small press publishers like Jeffrey Thomas shew an interest in collecting some of my stories in book form. So the first time I actually worked on a book of my own was when Delirium Books offered to publish my first hardcover collection. I assembled what I felt were my best older stories and then wrote some new ones especially for that collection. Then Hippocampus Press shewed interest in a collection, and I got to work with S. T. Joshi as my first actual editor. I carefully organized that book and wrote many solid new tales for it, I wanted it to be an impressive book. Since then I think in terms of books to be written or compiled. I’m always thinking about my next book. Each of the three books to be published in 2012 have been designed as books. Uncommon Places is basically a collection of my prose-poetry and vignettes. The Strange Dark One collects my tales of Nyarlathotep. Jeffrey Thomas and I co-wrote an entire book of new fiction concerning a diabolic New England artist, Enoch Coffin, and that will be published in hardcover this year. I love planning books, their shape, their flow and form.
Who or what has influenced your writing?
My big influences are Shakespeare, H. P. Lovecraft, Oscar Wilde and Henry James. I came to Shakespeare as an actor, but his plays transcend theatre and are works of glorious poetry. It was Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos that shaped who I want to be as a writer and gave me my genre. Henry James wrote some of the finest short stories ever published, and (like Lovecraft and Wilde) he saw himself primarily as a serious Artist in Literature, as do I. His prose style has probably influenced my own more than any other writer. Wilde’s fiction and poetry has keenly influenced my artistic vision, but so too has his life story, his decadence, his artistic stance. My own life choices, being queer and punk rock, have also influenced my approach to writing, my themes of being an Outsider, &c.
How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
As a kid I would spend two weeks of every summer with my cousins in North Bend. I was captivated by Mount Si. When I began to seriously write Lovecraftian fiction I wanted to invent my own haunted locality, my own version of Dunwich. So I used my memories of North Bend and Snoqualmie Valley and invented Sesqua Valley. At first I used the setting merely as a way of writing cliched Mythos tales, but with maturity came the realization of how I could use the valley to write what I consider unique Lovecraftian fiction that is entirely my own thing. The valley continues to grow in my imagination. I look forward to trying to write a new book that is almost entirely made up of Sesqua Valley tales.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Yes, one that may be called High Literary. Others have called it dated or Victorian. I see good writing, writing poetically, a thing of Eternal Beauty. My style is my attempt to create beauty through Literary Art. Hopefully my style is natural to myself and doesn’t get in the way of my telling a story, but there have been many who find it intrusive. My work is an acquired taste, and that’s fine, since I strive for individuality as an artist.
What genre are you most comfortable writing?
Lovecraftian weird fiction, with a strong aesthetic sense, in which I embrace all of my darkness, my perversity, my sense of wonder.
Is there a message in your work that you want your readers to grasp?
To thine own self be true.
What book are you reading now?
The Book Known As Q: A Consideration Of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, by Robert Giroux.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Laird Barron is the new writer who has completely enthralled me with the genius of his work. He is brilliant.
What is the most misunderstood aspect of your work?
Haven’t a clue! I think some people assume that I am trying to write LIKE H. P. Lovecraft, whereas my style is an echo of a multitude of influences. I’m not trying to BE H. P. Lovecraft but rather to pay sincere homage to his genius.
Any memories of particular works?
That which I consider my best work is Some Unknown Gulf Of Night, which is a sequence of prose-poems and vignettes all inspired by Lovecraft’s “Fungi from Yuggoth.” The book came to me as a surprise, I was suddenly inspired to write it at the end of 2010, and I wrote it in six weeks in a state of aesthetic self-hypnosis. I have never experienced anything like that as an artist. I entered my own world, my world as an obsessed H. P. Lovecraft fanatic, ABSOLUTELY — nothing else existed for me. My gawd, it was a delicious and delirious experience!