Name: Mae Empson
Author of: “Between a Rock and an Elder Goddess”
Geographic Location: Seattle, WA
Original Hometown, if different: Frederick, MD. Other cities I’ve spent time include Chapel Hill, NC, and Bloomington, IN.
Past publications: The first will be “The Frog Princess” in Crossed Genres issue 23 (October 2010). I also have a piece of flash fiction, “Woodside Waxing Gibbous” in Daily Bites of Flesh 2011 (December 2010.)
What’s your favorite H.P. Lovecraft story or other Mythos story? It’s definitely “The Whisperer in Darkness”. I think it is one of the most engaging and most horrifying.
What comes to mind when you think “Lovecraft” + “Erotica”? First, I think Lovecraft loved scholars, history, and research, and I think those things can be very sexy. I identify with those things. I want them to be sexy! Smart = Sexy! Second, I think Lovecraft’s style is to build the drumbeat of tension by keeping the occult largely off-stage as the story starts, and offering hints and glimpses, as the story builds, with the biggest reveal at the end, but even then, often only a brief, distorted, partial glimpse. The message is – this thing is beyond the power of words to convey, and I think that is captivating. The mind fills in the gaps. I think that has wisdom for erotica.
How did you hear about Cthulhurotica? Duotrope (www.duotrope.com). When I saw the cover and read the submission guidelines, I made writing a story for this publication my top priority because the cover was gorgeous, and I could see that the vision for Cthulhurotica was “smart, surreal, supernatural and seductive.” That really appealed to me.
What inspired your story? When I read back through some of my favorite mythos stories, I was very much struck how much Lovecraft’s horror is about evolution and devolution – it’s absolutely key. That made me think of Circe. As soon as I had Ancient Greece, I had in mind to map the Elder Gods to the Orphic cosmology, which took definite inspiration from an absolutely brilliant roleplaying universe created by my friend and mentor Jason Andrew (http://jasonbandrew.wordpress.com), set in a mythic Rome, which we’ve been playing about once every other week for the last year.
As I researched Circe, I remembered her role in creating Scylla, and decided that my story was definitely going to include Circe and Scylla, with Scylla as my tentacled monster, though it took me time yet to discover the exact nature of their relationship.
But, then, I challenged myself — did anyone in that time period even have the words to describe evolution in ancient Greece? If not, I didn’t think the story could work. I wanted to be accurate in that, to get the Lovecraftian atmosphere. And that took me to Anaximander. As I read the little that we know about his thought, I was so excited. One of the greatest joys for me in writing is that moment where truth suggests a story. I saw a throw-away fact that Anaximander spent time in Thrace, and I thought – wow, that’s a hot-bed of Orphic thinking. At that point, I knew the basic spine of the story. Then, I asked myself, where could my ancient scroll plausibly be found in the geographic area, and I ran across the Derveni Papyrus, which was another thrill to see how well it fit into what I was weaving. It is a particular joy for me in crafting stories to wed existing myth and history and true fact, and find links that I didn’t know existed until I researched them.
What music or movies helped you to write this story? Honestly, I don’t listen to music when I write. For movies, the movie that has most inspired me as a writer is definitely Pan’s Labyrinth. The movie does everything that I would like to do in a story – it melds a specific historical place and set of events with elements of myth and fairy tale, and uses that union to achieve something entirely new and beautiful and dark.
How many rewrites did you do before submitting? Two. I do much of my revising and shaping at the outlining stage. I have an indispensable reader in my identical twin sister, and she gave me a very helpful cold read. She didn’t know who Lovecraft was, or Anaximander, and gave me very thoughtful ideas about how to translate the literary/historic/mythic linkages that were in my head so that they would be accessible to the reader, regardless of what background knowledge they had when they first read the story.
What is your favorite bit?
She looked at him and let the silence stretch.
“Mander, if you will keep me company for the time you have left, I will whisper the secrets of the universe to you, the crazed babbling of flute-accompanied Azathoth, how Helios watches – a Cyclopean eye in a body of stars, how sleeping Oceanus dreams – the tentacled oozing leviathan, and how if both their eyes opened at once, the world itself would cease to be. I can show you things you would indeed find remarkable.”