FYI, FAQ

Hard to believe, but we’re less than four weeks away from the publication of The Destroyer of Worlds. A couple quick news updates:

* I’ve created a preliminary Frequently Asked Questions page for The Destroyer of Worlds, covering such obvious topics as, “Do I need to read Lovecraft Country first?” and “Will there be more Lovecraft Country books after this one?” If there’s something I’ve missed that you’re curious about, feel free to ask me in the comments below. (I also plan to do another Ask Me Anything session on Reddit around publication, and my friend Blake Collier and I will be doing a reader Q&A segment on the forthcoming Destroyer of Worlds podcast.)

* I will be appearing in person at the 2023 Emerald City Comic Con on Sunday, March 5. My exact itinerary is still being worked out, but I’ll participating in at least one panel and signing books at the UW University Book Store booth. The most up-to-date version of my schedule can always be found on the appearances page of this website.

More soon!

Lovecraft binge-watch: children of the Yellow King

This post is #5 of a series.

One of H.P. Lovecraft’s inspirations was Robert William Chambers (1865-1933) an author of weird fiction whose most famous creation, The King in Yellow, is a play in book form capable of driving readers insane. The narrator of Chambers’ story “The Repairer of Reputations” describes his experience with the play this way: “I remembered after finishing the first act that it occurred to me that I had better stop. I started up and flung the book into the fireplace; the volume struck the barred grate and fell open on the hearth in the fire-light. If I had not caught a glimpse of the opening words in the second act I should never have finished it, but as I stooped to pick it up, my eyes became riveted to the open page, and with a cry of terror, or perhaps it was joy so poignant that I suffered in every nerve, I snatched the thing out of the coals and crept to my bedroom, where I read it and reread it, and wept and laughed and trembled with a horror which at times assails me yet.”

Books that harm the reader remain a popular subject in horror, though modern versions of the trope often substitute other media. In John Carpenter’s excellent “Cigarette Burns,” an episode of the Masters of Horror anthology series, the medium in question is a film, La Fin Absolue du Monde, whose premiere ended in a deadly riot. Norman Reedus plays a ne’er-do-well theater owner and cinephile who is hired by Udo Kier to track down the movie. (La Fin‘s sole print was reportedly seized and destroyed after the riot, but Kier knows this isn’t true, and he’s willing to pay handsomely to see it before he dies.)

The phrase “cigarette burns” refers to the changeover cues that let projectionists know when a film reel is nearing its end. As Reedus gets closer to his quarry, he starts seeing flashes of these cues superimposed on reality—a sign that the film’s spell is already taking hold of him. As the protagonists of such stories invariably do, he ignores the warning and keeps going.

The entire Masters of Horror series is currently streaming for free, with ads, on Tubi; “Cigarette Burns” is the eighth episode of season one. For a double feature, you might try pairing it with John Carpenter’s other entry in the cursed media subgenre, In The Mouth of Madness.

David Amito and Michael Laicini’s Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made, is a mock documentary about another supposedly cursed movie. A brief introduction gives the history of the film: At a 1988 screening in Budapest, the theater spontaneously combusted, killing everyone inside. A number of programmers at film festivals to which Antrum was submitted died shortly after watching it. When a 1993 showing of Antrum in San Francisco also ended in tragedy, the movie was withdrawn from circulation. Until now.

A liability disclaimer then appears on screen:

…and after a thirty second countdown, the cursed film is shown in its entirety. It’s a clever gimmick—undercut, in my case at least, by the fact that not only did Antrum fail to kill me, it never came close to making me believe that it could. But it did get me wondering whether there’s a version of this film that would make me believe, and what that would look like.

Antrum is currently streaming on Tubi and Freevee. (Note: if it does kill you, please don’t @ me.)

My current favorite example of the cursed media trope is Graham Reznick’s Deadwax. Hannah Gross plays Etta Price, a record hunter who becomes obsessed with finding the Lytton Lacquer, a legendary LP whose producer, Lyle Lytton, died during its creation; the sound of Lytton’s death is said to be encoded in the grooves of the record.

On its own, the Lacquer is worse than useless. Listening to even a fraction of it causes madness; listening to the whole album is fatal. To employ the Lacquer “properly,” the would-be listener must first be “tuned” by hearing three other Lytton records—Keys One, Two, and Three—played in synchrony, after which the Lacquer becomes a door to another reality. It goes without saying that this is one of those quests where success will leave you wishing you’d failed. But by the time Hannah realizes that, it’s much too late to give up.

Deadwax is billed as a series, but the episodes are short (the total running time is less than two hours), which gives it an overall structure and feel very much like that of a concept album—one that I would highly recommend. It’s available to stream on Shudder and AMC+.

Paul La Farge (1970-2023)

I am surprised and saddened to learn of the death of novelist Paul La Farge. He was the author, most recently, of The Night Ocean, which offers a fascinating fictional take on the real-life relationship between H.P. Lovecraft and his young fan and collaborator Robert H. Barlow.

Because of the Lovecraft connection, the Los Angeles Review of Books asked me to interview Paul when The Night Ocean was published in 2017. A month later, when he came to Seattle on book tour, we met up for coffee. In my all-too-brief interaction with him, he came across as a smart, thoughtful, and incredibly friendly guy. I was really looking forward to seeing what he’d write next.

You can read my interview with Paul here. And you should definitely check out The Night Ocean. As I write in the interview intro, it’s “one of those impossible-to-categorize books that seems to constitute its own genre.” My favorite kind, and a good legacy to leave behind.

Lovecraft binge-watch: The Whisperer in Darkness

With the publication of The Destroyer of Worlds just five weeks away now, I thought I’d revive this series of blog posts about Lovecraft-inspired films and TV series.

In Lovecraft’s 1930 novella The Whisperer in Darkness, a Miskatonic University folklorist named Albert Wilmarth strikes up a correspondence with a Vermont farmer, Henry Akeley, who claims that the old legends about monsters living in remote areas of the countryside are true. These creatures, the Mi-Go, are extraterrestrials from Yuggoth, an undiscovered ninth planet located at the outer rim of the solar system—but their real home is much farther away, in “strangely organised abysses wholly beyond the utmost reach of any human imagination.” Wilmarth is skeptical at first, but Akeley provides him with photographic evidence and a Dictaphone recording of one of the Mi-Go speaking to a human confederate.

Unfortunately for Akeley, the Mi-Go are jealous of their privacy, and they know he’s been telling tales about them. Some of his letters to Wilmarth are intercepted in transit; those that get through describe an increasingly dire situation in which the Mi-Go stage nightly attacks on Akeley’s isolated farmhouse. He’s able to hold them off for a while with guns and police dogs, but his days are numbered. “I am fully resigned,” he writes at last. “Can’t escape even if I were willing to give up everything and run. They’ll get me.”

This despairing missive is followed a day later by another letter—this one entirely typewritten—in which Akeley’s attitude is completely transformed. It was all a big misunderstanding, he says. He’s met with the Mi-Go and it turns out they’re TOTALLY friendly! They’d really like to meet with Wilmarth too, so he can see for himself how friendly they are! He should come up to the farmhouse as soon as possible—there’s a convenient train that’ll get him into Brattleboro, VT just a few hours after dark! And, oh yeah, as long as he’s coming, he should bring along Akeley’s letters, and the photographs, and the Dictaphone recording…

You’ll never guess what happens next.

Andrew Leman and Sean Branney followed up their 2005 silent-film version of The Call of Cthulhu with an adaptation of Whisperer (trailer here). Like the prior film, it’s shot in period style—this one’s a talkie—and the black and white photography makes the low-budget special effects more persuasive. Matt Foyer gives a good performance as Wilmarth, and even the hammier acting—like Daniel Kaemon’s turn as the villainous Mr. Noyes—feels both deliberate and appropriate, exactly what you’d expect from a 1930s horror movie.

The screenplay improves on Lovecraft’s novella in a number of ways, starting with the fact that Wilmarth’s decision to go to Vermont feels a lot more believable. There are still plenty of warning signs, but nothing so blatant that only an idiot could fail to see that the Mi-Go have laid a trap. And the film’s climax is both more elaborate and more satisfying, with Wilmarth doing his best to disrupt the Mi-Go’s plans for world conquest before attempting a desperate escape in a crop duster’s biplane.

The Whisperer in Darkness is not available on any streaming service, so unless you’re lucky enough to live near a really good video rental place, you’ll have to buy the DVD from the H.P.L. Historical Society. I think it’s worth the money—and if you haven’t already, I’d recommend treating yourself to a copy of The Call of Cthulhu as well.

Library Journal on The Destroyer of Worlds

From the January 1 edition of Library Journal, another positive advance review for The Destroyer of Worlds:

Readers can expect the same genre-blending, dark humor, and creepy atmosphere from the first book, but this time Ruff presents each character and their compelling journey in alternating chapters. As the narratives overlap and come together, readers will be held captive until the thrilling conclusion. This series excels in how it continues to draw parallels between its pulpy plot and the entire civil rights movement. The cosmic dilemmas make for a great read, but the unease is amplified by readers’ knowledge that these Black characters are about to be thrust into a very real fight for freedom.

7 weeks and counting

This holiday season I did that thing where you promise yourself you’re going to get a lot accomplished in the downtime between Christmas and New Year’s, and then proceeded to accomplish almost nothing, unless leveling up all fourteen character classes in Soulstone Survivors counts as an accomplishment.

But no matter, I’ll be busy soon enough. The publication date of The Destroyer of Worlds is just seven weeks away. I’ve started listing confirmed events on my appearances page. For now it looks as though my in-person events will be limited to the West Coast, but I’ll be doing plenty of online promotion as well. If you’re interested in scheduling an interview or a remote author appearance, please get in touch with my publicist, Rachel Elinsky.

Happy New Year! More soon.

Kirkus reviews The Destroyer of Worlds

And they like it:

Where its predecessor was constructed of separate stories focusing on different family members, this book operates with more interwoven narratives that Ruff manages to yoke together into one ripping yarn with shocks and surprises at every turn… The best news this book delivers is that we’ll likely be seeing more from its vivid cast.

The full review is here.

A new look for the website

↑ How it started / How it’s going

Over the past month and a half I’ve been working on a long overdue redesign of this website. I swapped out the old Twenty-Ten WordPress theme I’d been using since forever and replaced it with the spiffy new Astra theme, which meant learning how to use the WordPress block editor (time-consuming and a little daunting, but ultimately worth it). I also restructured the site to make it easier to navigate and find stuff. I’m still tinkering around the edges and figuring out what other features I might want to add, but overall I’m very pleased with the new look.

Another thing I’m very pleased with is my new web hosting service, Siteground, which offers all sorts of cool innovations like a technical support team that actually provides technical support. When I first switched my domain to the new IP address, I was having an issue with emails bouncing back to the sender; Siteground diagnosed the problem and fixed it in about fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, it’s three weeks and counting since the tech team at my old host service said they’d “get back to me” about why their built-in file download tool had stopped working.

I’ve also opened a new social media account on Post.news, which you can reach using the link in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen. For now I’m still spending most of my scrolling and posting time on Twitter (it’s like having a front-row seat to the crash of the Hindenburg), but I wanted to make sure I had somewhere to go if and when the bird site finally goes down, and Post feels like the most promising of the current alternatives. And whatever happens, you can always find me here.

Signed books for the holidays, 2022 edition

This is your annual reminder that signed copies of my novels make excellent holiday gifts. (N.B., though The Destroyer of Worlds won’t be published until February, it’s available for preorder right now.)

You can get signed and custom inscribed copies of any of my novels from Secret Garden Bookshop in Seattle (206-789-5006 / bookshop@secretgardenbooks.com). Tell them what you want and they’ll order it, get me to sign it, and ship it anywhere in the world, usually within a few days.