Six Questions…with Joseph Pulver Sr.

An inimitable master of style, Joseph Pulver, Sr. is known for his novels Nightmare’s Disciple and The Orphan Palace as well as numerous short story collections including: A House of Hollow Wounds, Portraits of Ruin, and King In Yellow Tales Vol. I. Pulver won a Shirley Jackson Award for The Grimscribe’s Puppets, a tribute to the work of Thomas Ligotti. The latest Pulver edited anthology, Cassilda’s Song, is now available in electronic format. We are honored to have Joe participate in the Six Questions series.


The big news is the release of Cassilda’s Song. You assembled a fantastic team of writers for this anthology. What was the genesis of this project and what was it like working with all these talented ladies?

Open the 1970 ACE edition of Robert W. Chambers’ The King In Yellow and the first thing you encounter is “Cassilda’s Song”, the poem. Chambers wrote the poem. Wagner wrote “The River of Night’s Dreaming”. Pulver wrote “A Line of Questions”, “Under the Mask Another Mask”, “Cordeldia’s Song”, and others. All are tales and poems about women, or told by women. So where the hell was Cassilda’s statement, song? I’ve always wanted to hear her side of the affair! What does SHE think? What did she do? What did she see? I’ve bugged my dear friend, Ann Schwader for decades for new KIY poetry, and included 6 women writers in A Season in Carcosa(I had invited 10, but, sadly, 6 was all I received), I need and want to hear what women have to say. And with the release of Cassilda’s Song and the quality of the works, my desire has only increased; just take a look at the talent pool out there, many of our BEST writers are women!

Many of our BEST writers have always been women.
Shelly, Jackson, Brackett, Tuttle, JOC—
Many of our BEST writers have always been women.
Koja, Files, Llewellyn—

Many of our BEST writers have always been women!

I began shopping the book (in ‘08), got told, time and again, great idea won’t sell, I pass. Well, damn, I’m not giving up! I NEED to read tales of the King in Yellow by women!!! So, I did finally find a publisher and I reached out.

I was a fan of every writer in Cassilda’s Song and OVERmoon when they agreed to contribute. It was a very great honor and privilege to work with each of the contributors, to open my inbox and get WOWed by what they had written. Go, read their work, in Cassilda’s Song, and in other places, you’ll see the might (and range) of their talents. Working with them on this longstanding, pet-project of mine was a dream come true!

We can’t have a little time with Joe Pulver and not ask a couple of questions relating to Robert Chambers and The King in Yellow. There are so many takes on the KIY mythos today. Is there any direction you would like to see explored in the future?

First: more KIY works by women! 2nd: diversity!!!!!!!!! I want to know what POC discover in Carcosa, and in The Play. I want to know how the LGBT community sees and reacts to RWC’s creations. 3rd: And I must know what writers from France and India and Rio and Rome and Arabia and Southeast Asia and Poland have to say on the subject. Lastly: how might the play, or other Chambers creations, effect people of various religions?

Is there any aspect of Chambers’s work you would like to see more of? Less?

I’d like to see the world of “The Repairer of Reputations” explored in more depth, imagine Michael Cisco looking at the Lethal Chambers, or imagine Kathe Koja’s take on a performance of the Play in the era of “TRoR”. Without writing the Play, I’d like to see more of it explored (what would a tale about an Italian translator of the play be like, or—)… and I am not in the least bit interested in seeing anything Derlethian.

What do you think is the main appeal of The King in Yellow?

The heady combination of its mystery and cosmic horror. And, of course, there is timelessness to Chambers’ four core tales.

Your writing style can be a challenge to read, but it also has a unique visual aspect. How did it evolve?

Apologies for being a challenge. [It’s not a problem at all! ~Ed.]

I never wanted to write, I was a reader! But in the 90’s I began attending Bob Price’s Kalem Klub and met Michael Cisco—blame him. I sat there as he read his brilliant tales and the cascade of imagery washed over me. To me, it said, there are no limits, stretch out, do not limit yourself. So I tried to stretch, “The Songs Cassilda Shall Sing”, “PITCH nothing”… were my first attempts to use the page as a canvas, to use “space” and other fonts as clues, cues, and devices to nudge the reader, or hit them in the head. Being filled w/ Jack Kirby (Jack was no mere artist, he was a storyteller. His work jumped off the page, gave you new ways of SEEING.) and E.E. Cummings (see my comment on Kirby) (and 100 other poets) and libraries of Crime/Noir/Hardboiled books and Dylan (and Eno) and John Fowles and City of Night and tons of other books, Robert Bloch and HPL and Beckett and—… I saw everything (each instrument in my toolbox) could be put into this blender I call a skull and presented in a fashion where not only did the words carry the reader along, but their placement on the page informed the reader. I also felt there should be no divide between standard narrative and poetics and began trying to fuse the two forms.

From there (“The Songs Cassilda Shall Sing” and “PITCH nothing” were both written in the very early 2000’s), I just kept going. While I’m working on a text, I let it present itself on the canvas of the page in the manner it speaks to me.

Music is an important part of your creative process. When you sit down to write, do the songs inspire the piece or do they set a tone?

Depends, music is my heroin, I have it on all the time—I find it hard to breathe w/out music. There are times the music (which I see as spiritual weather I’m listening to directly informs me, or offers different directions in intensity of mood, and there are many times the music is simply what I’m in the mood to listen to. Occasionally a song or LP title gives me an idea (Humble Pie’s “Stone Cold Fever”, Eno’s “Before and After Science”), one that might not have anything to do w/ the song’s lyrical content. My playlists vary, often wildly, containing compositions that, to some, might not go together–I might have Antonio Carlos Jobim and Black Sabbath and Willie Nelson and Deathprod and Scott Walker and Morton Feldman and B J Thomas all on the same playlist. Wildly varied playlists like this quite often inform the work in small ways, or some part of a song does.

Most often, I have some idea about the tale I’m working on and choose the spiritual weather I think will aid my search for the text by shading or framing my mood (to some degree).

(Interviewee’s note: Soundtrack to these answers – Steve Earle” Lungs”, Nick Drake “River Man”, Andy Sheppard Surrounded By the Sea) [insert grin]


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