Poetry and horror often collide, and the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival will be no exception. Among those coming to the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro, California from September 27-29th will be speculative poet Denise Dumars.
Denise Dumars is a college English instructor, a writer of Lovecraftian poetry and fiction and other scary things, and a student of the mantic arts. Her most current book of dark poetry, Paranormal Romance: Poems Romancing the Paranormal, was nominated for the Elgin Award. She lives in L.A.'s beautiful South Bay area but her heart is in New Orleans. We had a chance to speak with her recently.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started on all of this? What was one of the hardest things for you to learn as a writer?
I knew I wanted to be a writer from the age of 8 or 9. I didn’t know any writers and I lived in a working-class part of town where no one knew what to do with me, including my teachers! I read Poe, Verne, and Wells at that age, but got to HPL a bit later. I think the first person I told about wanting to be a writer wasn’t really able to mentor me much; no fault of his own, as he was a 2,300 year-old scribe named Pu whose mummy is still on display at the Natural History Museum! No living person recognized my abilities until I got to college, where I got kidnapped by English majors and never looked back!
When I was 19 a magazine published my first poem, and I learned that there were others out there who liked HPL. That was my first sense of community with others like myself.
The hardest thing for me to learn as a writer is, I’d say, ongoing: the fact that the vast majority of Americans don’t read, and of those that do, very few read poetry. In addition, the fact that people here in Southern California don’t respect writers because screenwriters are not respected by the film industry, which I think is a crime. I get much more respect in New Orleans and in Mexico than I get here!
What's your favorite H.P. Lovecraft story?
The Dunwich Horror, by far, for so many reasons, not just the fact that I did a book report on it which really confused my 6th grade teacher! I read it for the first time when I was 12, which I believe is the golden age of horror (16 being the golden age of SF.) I mean, it has a librarian as a hero—how cool is that? It also uses all of HPL’s tropes to their best advantage: the decaying hill folk, cosmic horror, ritualistic activity, and the realization that all the hoary occult tomes you may have ever read are actually true! And of course, because it is a spoof on the birth of Jesus.
What's been your favorite creation so far? What was the most unexpected surprise you've found as a writer?
My favorite short story of mine is probably “Topping Out,” not only because it captures a slice of Los Angeles that is all but gone, but also because it is prescient in a way that only a horror writer could appreciate. You see, it’s set in a cursed location that really exists; no business has ever had success there, just like in the story. I wrote it long before retail businesses gave up on it and it became the Peterson Automotive Museum, still in existence. Considering what happens in the story (you’ll have to read it to find out, but the title is a clue!) it could be viewed as predicting the assassination of rapper Biggie Smalls, because the Peterson Museum parking lot is where he was ambushed and killed; the museum has always had problems, and of course, the murder only reinforces its reputation as a cursed location.
The most unexpected surprise I’ve had is when people actually come up to me and say that they like my writing!
What's your advice to beginning horror writers to find their voice?
Read and read and read and read and read. This is the single hardest lesson that I always try to get across to creative writing students: YOU MUST READ. Read everything; not just horror. People don’t understand that in order to be a successful writer you must LOVE to read, or your own writing will fall flat. Plus, it’s karmic: why should anyone read what you’ve written if you won’t read their work? The second thing is to get out there and see what’s around you; even HPL with his limited income was widely traveled. Nowadays nobody leaves the house or even looks up from whatever nonsense they’re texting. A writer needs experience in the real world, which is weirder than you can even imagine sometimes.
What's a project you really hope to take on in the next few years?
I’ve got some novels in the pipeline, and I’d like to get them done and out the door! I’d like to write a couple of book series; currently I am writing a paranormal romance (guess the title of my poetry collection was prophetic!) with Corinne DeWinter, and I have just started a new-future detective series with Lovecraftian overtones, of course, as a solo project, and then there are numerous other novels, nonfiction, poetry, and short fiction projects I hope to complete. I’m also hoping to have my collection of short stories, Lovecraft Slept Here, published again at some point as it is out of print.
What's you recommendation for first-time readers who want to read more of your work?
I would say they could buy a copy of my current poetry collection, Paranormal Romance: Poems Romancing the Paranormal, since it also includes essays and will give the reader a sense of the kinds of things I write, plus I’m pretty proud of it. It has a long poem written by the technique of “automatic writing” which—no surprise here—contains references to the HPL universe aka the “Cthulhu Mythos,” which isn’t really what Lovecraft called it. I believe he preferred the “Yog-Sothoth Cycle of Myth,” which relates back to the Dunwich Horror, my favorite HPL story. If people want an autographed copy of my book, Mysterious Galaxy will have it for sale at the HPL film festival. Come to the reading at the Whale & Ale and I’ll autograph it for you!
What's your favorite music to listen to as you write?
I listen to YouTube on headphones a lot, usually roots music from Louisiana, humorous stuff such as “The Fox” or “Steampunk Style,” or anything by Aurelio Voltaire; he was at our film festival last year and I wish someone would have had me introduce him to the audience!
See her writerly exploits at www.DeniseDumars.com and her magickal side at Rev. Dee's Apothecary: a New-Orleans Style Botanica, at www.DyanaAset.com. And be sure to drop by and say hello during the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival!