Literary Remix

I am completely loving resetting “The Shunned House” in Middle Tennessee. And I feel like I’m learning a lot about Lovecraft’s writing style that isn’t solely apparent from reading it. One is that he often just throws in words like “horrible” “terrible” “terrifying” or others where they don’t really fit in the sentence. Like he might say something like “I had a horrible sense of awe looking at the terrible door to the basement which stood as a terrifying edifice.” Okay, but why is the door terrible? It is because he says it is.

So, it’s like you have a story, which is, in its own right kind of creepy and then Lovecraft has a list of twenty or thirty words he seems to go back through his draft and insert into sentences where they almost make sense–where you can skip over the fact that they don’t quite sit right when you’re reading it–but when you’re writing, as I am, so close to the original, you have to consider “Is this a turn of phrase I want? Is it a turn of phrase that even makes sense?”

It’s a weird thing, because, if there’s one thing they drum into your head as a young writer, it’s “Don’t steal from other writers.” So, I’m having some problems just mentally adjusting to the idea that, no, I really do want to steal this whole story. It feels like such cheating. And yet, it almost just feels too like remixing. Taking the story and setting it to a slightly different melody.

And the world is slightly different, not just in setting, but in time. My narrator has to run a French paragraph through an online translator because he doesn’t know French. The fact that his uncle is single seems to have slightly different implications–an older Southern gentleman incredibly interested in genealogy. I mean, let’s not stereotype, but let’s not pretend the stereotype isn’t there.

I like it.

And it was awesome yesterday because I really don’t know French so I had to send the fragment of my fake letter to the French authorities to K. to see if she could come up with or know someone who could come up with a passable French translation, which I then did feed back into Google Translate to get a kind of more watered-down English version of the English I had started out with.

I needed a Frenchman or two, so of course I picked our friends, Timothy Demonbreun and Joseph Deraque.

Here’s the fragment from the letter Tim wrote to the folks at Fort de Chartres about the death of Joe’s family:

Jean Deraque et la plupart de son groupe de chasseurs (deux fils, ainsi que quatre Indiens) sont morts de la maladie familiale des Deraque. Seul le benjamin, Joseph Deraque, vit toujours, mais il est très affaibli et languissant. Je l’ai ramené en ville pour voir s’il peut être sauvé. Nous avons enterré les corps sur une falaise inhabitée un peu en amont, et les Indiens comprennent bien l’importance primordiale de ne pas perturber le site.

You don’t even have to know French to know that “morts de la madadie familiale des Deraque” is probably not good. That’s what I love about it, especially, is that, even if you don’t know French, what you can pick out is not good. There’s been death. Something something. Joseph Deraque. Something somethingsomething. The Indians comprehend the primary importance of not disturbing the site.


From here on out, I’m going to write horror stories in French for people who don’t speak French, because that is some creepy shit right there–that feeling that something bad has happened, but you can’t quite suss out what.

If this part of the story works, it’s going to be because of K. and this great French letter.


9 thoughts on “Literary Remix

  1. Bad writers copy; good writers steal. You gotta absorb this stuff if you want to be able to take it and wrench it out of shape and make it your own, ya know.

    I kind of love that you are doing this, much as I don’t love Lovecraft.

  2. I’m a little worried that it’s the Lovecraft people who are going to be pissed. I hope they see it as a delightful homage.

    I’m still trying to decide how closely to stick to the end. This is a tough question. In a Lovecraft story, it is both horrifying and expected that there will be a giant elbow in the basement.

    So, do you honor Lovecraft by sticking a giant elbow in the basement?

    Or do you honor the idea that whatever’s in the basement speaks to the author’s larger concerns? Because, then what’s in the hole in the basement is much, much different than a giant elbow and fits the mythologies of this region that interest me.

    Obviously, I’m leaning toward the second.

  3. I like the letter. It has truthiness. They really did write matter of factly about unexpected brutal dispatches of large numbers of people. The voyageurs were not given to editorializing — just relayed information that might be useful. It would have also been common knowledge to everyone in Fort de Chartres what “la maladie familiale” was. (This is making me think that in your story, there might have been a more compelling reason for Le Grand Derangement than simply the British invasion of Acadia…which would be very cool, and since Acadia is close to Lovecraft country, a closing of the literary circle.)

  4. I love this project, I love this excerpt. I love that I retain just enough rusty high school French to decipher bits of the creeptastic letter without completely understanding it.

    I must vote for something besides a giant elbow, however. There are limits.

  5. Yeah, I am really so very excited about this, I’m almost giddy. It’s going to be a real treat for those of you who read me regularly. All this history crap will pay off!

  6. Okay, my brain, filled with terrible Cyclopean horrors, has decided that you should call it “The Shined House” and have the cellar be the historic site of a terrible, incomprehensibly eldritch still explosion.

    Since then, all tenants have gravitated to hideous addictions and the making of homemade explosives/growing of pot/selling of oxies/labbing of meth in the cellar.

    A night of investigatory terror leads to the discovery of an animated, pulsating copper coil, still embedded in the cellar walls from the ferocity of the original blast. As the hero smelts the copper into liquid with his handy improvised flamethrower, the yellow, hideous moonshine vapours drifting over the city intoxicate the just and the unjust alike.

    After the vapours clear, the house becomes a rehab center. The end.

  7. You give me WAY too much credit. All I did was track down some fellow French majors who actually used their expensive VU degrees and thus still speak the language. Mme. Scott would be appalled at how I have atrophied. No, this part of the story will work because Betsy is awesome.

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