In the afterword to his story "The Million-Shadowed One" from his collection Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts, W. H. Pugmire writes:
As a child I was such a freak that I never felt love from family or society. I was always being critiqued and made fun of for being so stupid, lame and weird. Perhaps part of the reason I created Sesqua Valley was so that I could have a place where all the weirdness that is within could find a home of acceptance and love. I often visit Sesqua Valley in my dreams, and I am always accepted absolutely for who I am.
I'll be honest with you, that gives me some pause. Like maybe I should just stop here and say "This isn't for me, but maybe YOU guys would like it!" I suspect that would not be sufficient, but it gives me no pleasure to tear down the work of a writer for whom it is so self-evidently personal, and who, anyway, isn't exactly skyrocketing to fame and riches. But the Pugmire fiction I've now read inspires in me wild fits of furious dismissal.
It's a game played by those of us who are deluded into thinking that we pen Lovecraftian prose, to take a plot or aspect of plot from Lovecraft and rework it into a story of our own.
And it read like fan fiction. Somewhat better fan fiction than I imagine is the norm -- I confess to not having really read any before, a giant blind spot, I'll grant you -- but that doesn't mean that reading it didn't grind me down something awful. I read three stories, "The Million-Shadowed One", "The Child of Dark Mania", and "The Hands That Reek and Smoke," as well as a handful of poems. None of these are long, the stories about eight pages each on average, the poems are all sonnets of fourteen lines, and after a while I just couldn't hack it. Here's a sample of Pugmire's way with dialogue from the beginning of "The Hands That Reek and Smoke":
"You must see Nyarlathotep," she panted, refusing the chair that I had offered her, preferring to frantically pace the wooden floor. One hand clutched a large canvas that was covered with a thin sheet of cloth.
"It amazes me," I said, smiling patiently, "that hair as short as yours can look so disarrayed."
"Screw the hair," she shot back, at the same time running a gloved hand through the thick unruly mess. "You've been moaning for over a year about your inability to write, to dream fresh vision. I tell you, go see Nyarlathotep, and he will drench your brain with phantasm."
My issue isn't "But nobody talks like that!" but rather that immediately in this story -- this passage is right at the beginning -- Pugmire's style reveals itself as an adolescent's idea of grandiosity. When I think of a modern Goth, you know, person, I imagine a very serious, very immature, very self-regarding as well as self-loathing, person who has a small nest of interests about which they don't really know that much, but more importantly whose idea of creativity is to simply try to recreate to the letter that which they admire. Which of course can describe a whole swathe of personality types; it's just that Goths are the ones who would write "he will drench your brain in phantasm."
Here's a sampling of lines from Pugmire's poems:
In dreams you sense the passion of the daemon
That lures you from the slumber of the sane.
In shadow'd realm of candlelight I borrow
A semblance of your cunning wolfish ray.
I lean against a mountain wall and watch
The slanting sunrays beam in golden light
That self-substantial fire, twice more cold
Than those refracted rays of lunar stream.
"This is most peculiar, Geoffrey. Do you say you actually touched a cosmic otherwhere?
And I'm expected to somehow not stop reading right there. He uses "outrè" a lot.
Pugmire has achieved some level of success with his writing. Discerning horror critic ("somewhat discerning" I'd say, but whatever) S. T. Joshi is a huge champion of Pugmire, and Centipede Press has given his work this kind of treatment. Laird Barron's got his back. Other critics have seen much more of Wilde, and even Henry James, in the stories than my own unquestionably meager experience came at all close to revealing. But this stuff, today, these stories and poems, whipped my ass. I wanted nothing more to do with them after I was halfway through the third sonnet. I couldn't take it. All moons and strange music from unknowable instruments and paintings that drive you insane and ruins and the moon again and something in there about water probably...this shit broke me a little bit. There, I said it. Maybe I hate horror now. Maybe tomorrow I'll write about P. G. Wodehouse. Fuck it.