Interview with Scott J Couturier

CHM: Your story: Hatchling appeared (in March 2021) and was one that I thoroughly enjoyed. The main character, Harold, was a wonderfully executed audience surrogate. Was there any specific inspiration for that character?

Couturier: I can’t say there was a specific inspiration for Harold, just lots of non-specific memories of working under the thumb and eye of a corporation, which to me has a hint of cosmic horror about it without any embellishment. I guess Harold and what he goes through are partly inspired by the helplessness – and cluelessness – we find ourselves in in modernity, though none of this went through my mind on a conscious level when I was writing “Hatchling.” I certainly feel sorry for him!

CHM: In your opinion, what is the most difficult type of scene to write?

Couturier: This is a good question…I’m constantly trying to push at my boundaries, to write in ways or use settings that I’ve never used before. Several years ago I was much more clunky about romance and sexual elements, but those have really come to the fore in my recent writing. Really, I’d say the greatest difficulty is knowing how to develop a subtle atmosphere, dropping just the right hints in the right places, one word saying as much as ten couldn’t…that, to me, is the real magic, and something I love Weird fiction for.

CHM: Wow. Wonderfully put, and I couldn’t agree more. What has been your go-to quarantine activity?

Couturier: Honestly?

CHM: Honestly.

Couturier: Writing and listening to music and reading. Working a lot – I’m an editor for a local publishing company, which has kept my mind both focused and distracted. Also working on personal health and well-being, lots of walks, gardening, trying to get into better dieting habits, drinking probiotics, the works. It’s been a very transformative time, for sure. In 2020 I challenged myself to complete at least a story a month, with a focus on writing “up” to the fear and horror of daily reality. Also, my partner and I started really playing music together again, and recorded an album (something we’ve been threatening to do for years) titled We Live In The Summer, which will be out later in 2021.

CHM: Covid-19 aside, do you prefer to cook or to eat out?

Couturier: I’m terrible at cooking. I enjoy the atmosphere of relaxation in a restaurant, and so does my partner; thankfully he’s a great cook, though he’s gotten a little tired of his own cooking in the last year (I’ve tried to help out in my own clumsy way). That said, I of course appreciate a good home-cooked meal, but after a year+ of avoiding it, I’d definitely have to say “eat out!”

CHM: What is your drink of choice?

Couturier: Coffee! And lighter beers, a good amber ale.

CHM: Great answer! Nice balance. For me, it happens to be dark coffee in the morning and white wine in the eve.

Couturier: I love white wine too. Red used to be my go-to (semi-sweet to dry), but years of living back in northern Michigan has me liking white wines almost exclusively. Lots of wineries hereabouts, the growing culture is changing from apples and cherries to grapes and hops as the climate alters. They still haven’t figured out a red grape that grows well in the region, so the vast majority of local wines are white.

CHM: I love a well-developed villain. Who would you say is your favorite literary villain?

Couturier: Most of what I read anymore doesn’t have explicit heroes or villains. I’d have to say my favorites are the villains who are ‘villains of necessity,’ more ambiguous characters whose actions walk the line between necessity and villainy. Elric from Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series, Raistlin Majere from Weis & Hickman’s Dragonlance books, or Lestat in Interview with a Vampire, manifestly a monster but just living out his destructive nature to the fullest – as humans often do. I also love a good malign god or two, but it can be hard for me to think of them as “villains.” Tsathoggua, Clark Ashton Smith’s toad-bat god of ancient Hyperborea, is a favorite. Oh! Also, the Vogons from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

CHM: What do you think about the e-book revolution?

Couturier: Big question…I think it’s a good thing, manifestly, for us to move towards a way of distributing information without using physical resources. Personally, I prefer having a solid book in my hands, but then I’ve clung to that since I tend to associate reading a manuscript on a device with “work.” E-books provide whole new avenues for the individual author to be heard, and the flourishing of indie presses in the time of the Big 5 – in fact, I think it’s the Big 4 now – is also a very positive thing. To get a ‘big’ book deal you need to tailor yourself, very particularly, to what those publishers want to see and release. There shouldn’t be a monopoly on popular taste, and e-books help make a much broader diversity possible.

CHM: Yeah. I have never loved how part of being traditionally published (necessary to be a real writer according to some) you must conform to the agenda of effectively, one or a number of large corporations. But I think even in 2021, small press writers and self-published writers can find lots of success.

Couturier: Absolutely. New modes are evolving right now, seemingly on all fronts of reality, and I think the future of small presses in particular has a lot of potential to fundamentally shake up how people find/read books and interact with authors. Writers can now make a living by appealing to a modest-but-loyal base of readers, which of course has pretty much always been the case with Weird fiction. To be self-published and succeed…I really respect those authors who can handle the whole juggling act, doing the writing AND the publishing AND the promoting. Especially with promotion, I need help, and benefit from having outside advice and support – so I learned after releasing three self-published novels. It can really feel like fighting your way upstream, especially since a lot of readers and fellow-authors still look down somewhat on the self-publishing path.

CHM: You’ve been placed in a psychiatric facility against your will. What do you say to convince them to release you?

Couturier: Haha! “The world is my sanitarium.”

CHM: I think we all can relate to that, especially as of late! Do you have a favorite non HPL weird lit writer?

Couturier: Clark Ashton Smith. His language, the utter voluptuous imagery and fertility of his imagination, his sense of humor and irony, his grip on how to make your skin and soul crawl…only he can show you everything as opposed to only giving hints, and have it be every bit as horrifying as those hints suggest. He also had a true artist’s dignity, an “Emperor of Dreams” who lived in a remote cabin with no electricity, often working menial jobs to support himself and his parents. There’s very little racism in his stories, and he’s not up-tight about sexuality, viewing life through a more sardonic (and less neurotic!) lens than either Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard. Also, I admire his ability to move between mediums – from poetry to visual art to short fiction to carvings, and even a few novels completed when he was still in his teens. A true polymath of fantastic vision.

CHM: Wonderful writer! There is a story or two of his slated to appear in the CHM Crypt soon.

Couturier: I’m thrilled to hear that, and especially interested to see which stories you choose! CAS is a hidden force of Weird fiction; I hear lots of readers say his work is too “dense” for them, but Smith himself understood what he was writing simply wasn’t for everyone, also knowing his work would endure. In a way his writing, to me, is more Poe-like than H. P. L.’s, insofar as it has a real sensual edge and a French (CAS eventually taught himself the language to translate Baudelaire) sensibility of decadence and irony. He has a devoted cult, to say the least, and his huge influence on much of latter-20th-century fantasy tropes would, I think, surprise most readers of not only fantasy but Weird fiction.

CHM: What is something you love but can’t understand why?

Couturier: I love the desert. I understand why, that is, I could list a bunch of reasons why, but really it’s just a draw. The desert has an incredible, stark beauty, and the absence of humidity – but again, I’m just listing traits. I love the desert, especially the American Southwest. It’s an atavist thing. I also, weirdly, am obsessed with islands.

CHM: What is a writer quirk you think you have?

Couturier: Sometimes I think it’s all a quirk! I keep very odd hours – often up all night, pass out sometime before dawn, or sometimes after. I’ve always “come alive” at night, and it’s when I do my best work, either with writing or editing for clients. Thankfully my job allows me to do things elastically.

CHM: I think that tends to be pretty common in our field. Okay, quirkiness aside. I have a very serious question.

Couturier: Fire away.

CHM: How many chickens do you think it would take to kill one lion?

Couturier: Not even one chicken. Just an ill-placed bone.

CHM: Great answer! Getting back to your writing, how long does it generally take you to write a story?

Couturier: This varies wildly from story to story. Some come all in a rush, and are about 90% finished copy. Other times a story gets revisited and rewritten over and over again, often in response to a rejection letter or a thought I’ve suddenly had about how it could be better. These stories go through phases, until finally I have to tell myself they are good enough and step away. Still other stories get written in chunks over a series of days, and are essentially complete after a few rounds of editing – done and finished in a week or two weeks. I try not to interrogate that aspect of my process too much, as each story seems to take its own mold and have its own needs.

CHM: Very insightful. You could say our stories tend to take on lives of their own.

Couturier: It’s funny you say that…I’ve written on the theme several times, and just read an amazing story by the Polish Weird fiction/horror writer Stefan Grabiński titled “The Area,” which deals with a reclusive fantasist who shuns both human company and writing itself, settling into long years of dreaming dreams that have no way out, no outlet of creative expression to make them manifest. At the same time he’s fixated on an abandoned Gothic-style house across the street, which starts filling up with the shades of those characters he has dreamed up, but never allowed out of his head into the world! A tale of pathologically stunted creativity, absolutely chilling. So, yes, every story has its own individual quality, for sure, and each “breaks into the world” in its own way.

CHM: Anything extra you would like to say?

Couturier: My first collection of Weird short fiction is due out this September from Silent Motorist Media. It’s titled The Box, and has “Hatchling” featured as the third story. 60,000 words, 16 stories in all; I’ve also got two further collections in the works, though I can’t make official announcements yet. Poetry and a second fiction collection, hopefully manifest in later 2021 and ‘22; I hope whoever is reading this will consider checking them out.

CHM: Wonderful! We will be sure to get the word out for you when that collection becomes available! Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview and I wish you the best of luck with your upcoming endeavors!

Thank you for reading!

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