East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Invoking the Emperor of Dreams

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This is going to be an interesting weekend: I have a story I need to complete by Monday, and it’s turning into a headache. Its now 4 am in the morning as I write this (a very Lovecraftian state of affairs, don’t you think?) and I’ve started writing at 8 pm, and not a single word I wrote in these eight hours I did not cancel. repeatedly. And gladly so, because they sucked.

I have the outline, the plot points mapped, the characters and their names and traits and back story, I know what will happen, and how. The twist is there, and the drama and the irony. Everything’s perfect. What sucks, and sucks big time, is the language.

The story I am writing is for a tribute collection for the late, great, lamented Clark Ashton Smith, the Emperor of Dreams himself, CAS, the ancient and revered Klarkash-thon, a giant among giants, the Hermit of the Californian Hills, the Aramis of the Three Musketeers of Weird Tales.

I am writing a story set in Zothique – because that’s my favorite CAS series, and because it would be awesome to have a Zothique story of mine published. But here’s the rub: CAS’ stories were not much about plot, or character. You can summarize that on a post-it. The stories were about place and atmosphere, and most of all, about language.

The legend of Mmatmuor and Sodosma shall arise only in the latter cycles of Earth, when the glad legends of the prime have been forgotten. Before the time of its telling, many epochs shall have passed away, and the seas shall have fallen in their beds, and new continents shall have come to birth. Perhaps, in that day, it will serve to beguile for a little the black weariness of a dying race, grown hopeless of all but oblivion. I tell the tale as men shall tell it in Zothique, the last continent, beneath a dim sun and sad heavens where the stars come out in terrible brightness before eventide.

Clark Ashton Smith, The Empire of Necromancers, 1932

It seems so simple, doesn’t it?
Well, it’s not. And so, in these late hours of the night – or early hours of the morning – here I am reading through my Necronomicon Press copy of Tales of Zothique, trying to impress on myself the rhythm and the tone of CAS’s prose. Not much, I need just a smattering, a hint, a first note to tune my instrument.

Because in the end what I am trying is an act of falsification – I am trying to emulate CAS’s language and use it to tell my story. A story that features, of course, an ancient city and a cruel king and what my friend Riccardo called “the haggard corpses and half-naked vampiresses of Smith’s stories” – and that are part of the fun of writing stories in the CAS universe.

Because compared to H.P. Lovecraft, CAS had a refreshing vein of spiciness, and his stories were sexy in a more intellectual way than Robert E. Howard, who remained mostly adolescent in his representation of alluring princesses and kick-ass sword women. You need to have taken a few rounds around the block to appreciate Smith, he’s a writer for grown-ups.

Many were the necromancers and magicians of Zothique, and the infamy and marvel of their doings were legended everywhere in the latter days. But among them all there was none greater than Namirrha, who imposed his black yoke on the cities of Xylac, and later, in a proud delirium, deemed himself the veritable peer of Thasaidon, lord of Evil.

Clark Ashton Smith, The Dark Eidolon, 1935

So, on to the city of Ummaos in the empire of Xylac, for a thorough re-read of The Dark Eidolon. Tonight we invoke the Emperor of Dreams, for his spirit to be our guide. On the weekend, we write.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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