It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful. - H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu (1926)
One of our favorite past times that we like to partake in, is to scare the crap out of ourselves. One of the best authors at doing that is none other than H.P. Lovecraft, famous for crafting stories of strange mythology, horrific creatures, and never ending madness. We have audio books of his stories playing in the background when we are playing Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, or any other similarly creepy themed game.
Sometimes though, there are Lovecraft stories that we don’t know about, or worse yet, sometimes we just don’t understand what we are reading. That’s why during our travels, The H.P. Literary Podcast moderated by Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer has become an invaluable listening experience and why they are our g33k of the w33k for this week.
Every week Chris and Chad will record a 30 minute Podcast that will delve into a particular Lovecraftian story. They will go over the basic plot premise of the story, but also delve in details like how it connects with other stories, what might have influenced Lovecraft at the time, and much much more. Many of the episodes will feature specials guests, who have some form of expertise in Lovecraftian fiction and that simply helps the listener get a better understand of what the story is all about.
At a high level, that little overview would be reason enough to listen to the Podcast. Yet it should be noted that the production quality of the Podcast itself is really remarkable. While they are discussing a story, Chris and Chad are able to conjure up the same emotions and feelings of dread that they felt when first read it, and as the listener you are prone to feeling that as well. Each week a guest reader will recite excerpts from a particular story, while ominous music plays in the background that is unsettling and exciting all at the same time. The Podcast is part literary review, part radio cast, and full entertainment.
I won’t lie, I got freaked out listening to their three part Podcast about The Dreams in the Witch House as I was driving home from work. Right as their guest reader got to a super scary part, I hit a deer with my car. True story, and it frightened the crap out of me. Seriously, these guys are that good. After that crazy experience I knew that I had to interview Chris and Chad and thankfully for me, they were up for the challenge.
With all of that in mind enjoy our interview with Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer down below and please leave any comments or questions that you may have for them in our comments section at the bottom of the page. We’ll make our best efforts to encourage them to swing on back to the site and answer them for you.
g33k of the w33k
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Why did you decide to focus on HPL?
Chris Lackey: I had been big into podcasts and always felt that most of them lacked any real quality control. I told Chad we should do one, but wasn’t sure what it should be about. We talked about it for months before we decided on Lovecraft. Besides loving his work, we felt that the Lovecraft fan community was pretty hardcore and would be good to pursue. There were a few podcasts out there that did readings of his work, but nothing that really discussed it.
Chad Fifer: I’ve had a thing for Lovecraft since I first read his work as an adolescent. I used to write HPL-themed songs with my old band. We just knew a lot about the guy and we’ve been involved in the Lovecraft “community” for some time. Also, there was the fact that HPL has a lot of fans who are more often than not disappointed by the films and books that get released based on his work. The success of the HPL Historical Society’s Call of Cthulhu adaptation showed that people would respond if the material was treated well. We thought, “let’s go back to the source and show why this guy’s great.”
Did you always want to make this into a podcast or were there other formats you toyed around with?
Chris Lackey: Chad and I had a lot of filmmaking and animation experience, but the whole idea was first to do a podcast. Then the subject matter was later decided.
Chad Fifer: Yeah, we hit on the podcast idea first. We’d had a really good time doing a commentary track for an animated comedy film we made, and wanted to do more off-the-cuff yapping. Podcasts are completely DIY, which appealed to us, and then we came around to the idea of a “book club” format.
When was your first episode? And what has changed since you started and what have you tried to keep the same?
Chris Lackey: We aired our first episode, a short overview of Lovecraft’s life, on June 30, 2009. We actually recorded one draft of it, then chucked it and started over again. We were really just trying to figure out what we were doing. We did more viewer mail to start off with, but we started to feel that it was not really on the subject, which was Lovecraft. I’d like to think that we keep up the quality of the show. The production values are important to us, but the content much more so. We usually cut out about 10 minutes per episode, leaving in the best stuff. I feel a lot of other podcasts just record whatever comes out of their mouths. They need to edit! We think ‘Is this something that the audience wants to hear?’ ‘Is it on topic?’ ‘Is it actually funny or clever?’ Not that everything we keep in is gold, but the worst of it never goes online.
Chad Fifer: At the time, Chris lived down the street from me in Santa Monica, so it was just something for us to do, a way for us to hang out and record the conversations we’d probably be having anyway. We’ve tried to keep that “nerds hanging out” spirit, even though for most of the show’s run we’ve been separated by the Atlantic. We’ve definitely got a loose format for the show, but the only rule is that nothing’s set in stone, we can do it however we want. We knock the shows out FAST, so we try hard not to linger or get too obsessed about anything. If our observations were all terrible, or a reader’s sound quality was bad, we just try to make the best of it. That’s one of my favorite parts of producing the podcast – working within limits.
A question that can always evolve, but what is your favorite Lovecraft Story? What story is the scariest to you?
Chris Lackey: I just love The Call of Cthulhu. It’s really the most ‘Lovecraftian’ to me. It has all the elements that I love in his stories: cultists, madness, monsters and a god! But I think The Shadow Over Innsmouth is one of the scariest. That chase through the hotel and the town is one of the scariest things I’ve ever read.
Chad Fifer: Shadow Over Innsmouth is probably my favorite as well – I do distinctly remember getting a chill the first time I read it. But I really can’t remember the last time one of the stories “scared” me – they’re better at articulating a cosmic type of horror that catches up with you later. I’ve always loved the syrupy-goth stories like The Outsider and The Hound. I’m excited because we’re coming up on The Thing on the Doorstep, and that one is really out there – may be my new favorite.
Having worked with the Lovecraftian mythos in many different mediums such as film, audio drama and gaming narrative, which do you find the most enjoyable? Which do you think is the most successful at portraying Lovecraft’s work to an audience.
Chris Lackey: For me the most enjoyable is table-top role-playing. With movies and recordings, you’re doing it for a wide audience and you’re investing a lot of time into it and hoping for some kind of big return. It’s a gamble. With RPGs, it’s all just for fun. But the best medium at portraying Lovecraft’s work is his work itself. There is so much in his language that is lost in any other format. Or, if it’s kept in, it sounds cheesy. Lovecraft works best as literature. That’s not to say I don’t love Lovecraftian movies and radio plays.
Chad Fifer: I don’t really play the games so much anymore, but they do nail the atmosphere and the overall scenarios one should expect in Lovecraft. For me, it’s all about the reading and writing, which is why we do the literary show and not a show about all the comics, movies, games and music… Chris and I both have short stories in an upcoming Stone Skin Press anthology called Shotguns vs. Cthulhu. It’s a collection of pulp action stories crossed with Lovecraft’s mythos. I had a GREAT time writing for that book, and am currently working on another short fiction collection that’s tied to the mythos.
How long does it take for you guys to research and take notes on the stories before you record?
Chris Lackey: Not too long. There really are only a few solid sources for Lovecraft knowledge. Mostly Joshi’s Lovecraft Encyclopedia, but I try to find essays when I can that relate to the story. I would say the typical episode prep takes 3 – 4 hours.
Chad Fifer: Yeah, it’s hard to say and depends on the story. Usually it’s a couple of hours to prep, about an hour to record. The time goes in when we cut, because we edit the conversation and add music/sfx. I’d say that one typical half-hour episode takes Chris and I between 12 and 15 hours to produce, start to finish.
Chris Lackey: I actually started out playing the RPG when I was 14. Never heard of Lovecraft before that. Then I started picking up the collections and would read stories here and there. I’m still reading new Lovecraft that I’ve never read before for the show. One of the best parts about doing it.
Chad Fifer: I read The Case of Charles Dexter Ward when I was in junior high, then dug into the “best of” in high school.
Besides Lovecraft, what other authors do you enjoy?
Chris Lackey: J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Raymond Carver, H.G. Wells, Charles Stross and Poe. I’m a big comic book guy, too. Bendis, Kirkman, Mignola, Morrison, Moore. My guilty pleasure is Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files.
Chad Fifer: I’m late to the party, but I just read Game of Thrones and loved it. I’ll occasionally pick up the new Stephen King book, but my reading is all over the map and not usually horror. I just enjoyed Kevin Mitnick’s Ghost in the Wires, about his hacking career. I really enjoy American history and popular science. Steven Pinker is great at breaking down complex ideas. I just ripped through the full canon of Sherlock Holmes, because I got a Kindle and all of it is free! I guess my favorite authors are Charles Dickens, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mark Twain, Raymond Carver… a lot of folks who aren’t writing anything new, so I’m always up for a new recommendation.
When you aren’t looking into the lore of Deep Ones, what do you enjoy as a hobby and like to do for fun?
Chris Lackey: Like I said, I’m a big gamer. RPGs and Boardgames. I go to the movies as much as I can. But I don’t watch much TV anymore, though I do love some Futurama when I can get it over here (England). I read lots of comic books and I love a nice cup of coffee.
Chad Fifer: I’ve been doing some form of acting or theater for most of my life. I met my wife at The Second City and we both spent a lot of time doing sketch comedy. I’m always hoping I’ll have time to get back and do some Shakespeare again. I write and direct here and there, but I have the best time when I’m just acting in a show, working with a group of people, focusing on doing my part.
What other Podcasts do you listen to in your spare time?
Chris Lackey: Well, This American Life and Radio Lab are big staples. But I’m a huge fan of Skeptics Guide to the Universe as well. Also, Point of Inquiry, Pulp Gamer, and Yog-Radio (I also do News from Pnakotus with Paul MacClean). My new favorite is WTF.
Chad Fifer: I don’t listen to any, really, which is probably bad. But I’m usually writing and so can’t listen to people talking while I work. I’ll binge on This American Life and Radio Lab every couple of months if I have a long road trip.
What would you do if you found out that mooncats were real and they were totally willing to have your back in any kind of rumble?
Chris Lackey: Make a deal with NASA and do some moon missions. Also, I would start a cult.
Chad Fifer: You’re making an assumption that this hasn’t already happened.
Are there any other HP Lovecraft Projects that you would like to work on in the future?
Chris Lackey: I would love to do some kick-ass Lovecraftian comic books. I’ve seen stuff out there, but it generally doesn’t feel like I think a Lovecraftian comic book should feel. That said, Chad and I are doing a graphic novel called Deadbeats, which is Lovecraft-flavored, but goes off on it’s own merry way. I also would love to do a Lovecraftian radio drama series.
Chad Fifer: Deadbeats, as Chris mentioned, which will be drawn by excellent artist I.N.J. Culbard of At the Mountains of Madness fame. It’s gonna be great!
Chris and I also did adaptations for Self Made Hero’s upcoming graphic novel, The Lovecraft Anthology Vol. II. I adapted The Hound, which has been illustrated by Bryan Baugh, and Chris adapted The Temple, with art by Ade Salmon. The first anthology was really cool, and this one will be out early next year – everything in it looks beautiful. And aside from the short story collection I mentioned before, I’ve got a somewhat Lovecraftian horror script that Stuart Gordon is set to direct – we’re now just searching for some folks to step in and produce.
I’m sure that both of us will be working in the Lovecraft milieu for quite some time. And I totally just used the word milieu.