Shivers and Sighs Week: Interview: Carrie Cuinn

Carrie Cuinn is the owner of small indie press Dagan Books. Cthulhurotica, an anthology of erotic horror inspired by the writing of H. P. Lovecraft, is their first title. It contains fiction and articles by Cody Goodfellow, Kenneth Hite, Jennifer Brozek, and many others. It seemed appropriate to discuss this anthology, in light of its subject matter.

IFP: In your introduction to this book, you say, “Readers expecting a collection of monster sex stories might, after all, be disappointed.” What do you mean?

CC: I think it’s fair to say that there are people who find tentacle porn arousing. As I learned when I started reading submissions for this anthology, there are also people who want to see humans being sexually abused by each and every one of the monsters in the Mythos universe. Because of the title, I still get informed that my book is “clearly” about “something disgusting” by people who haven’t read it yet. I wanted to say at the very beginning that this isn’t the kind of book we put together. There are only a few stories that actually show monsters in a sexual way. It simply isn’t the focus of the collection.

The writers whose work I chose for Cthulhurotica wanted to use the Cthulhu Mythos to explore the very human feelings of fear, desire, need, anger, domination, or jealousy…In this way, they’re carrying on the work started by H.P. Lovecraft, who wrote weird tales about space and monsters, in order to talk about the human condition. While these stories are undoubtedly sexual, and in most cases extremely erotic, at their core, each is about what it means to be a person living in Lovecraft’s world.

IFP: Some Lovecraft aficionados would say sex and Lovecraft are like oil and water. But the man seemed to have a lot of subtext going on in his tales, didn’t he? I mean, how exactly did those fish-people from Innsmouth come to be?

CC: The townsfolk of Innsmouth are actually devolving toward their primal fish selves. It’s unlikely that there are actual fish monsters in their genetic ancestry, but long association with the sea has broken down their humanity. As they are incestuously close, breeding amongst themselves, successive generations show the progress of the locals’ monstrous features. It was Lovecraft’s way of illustrating his racism, because after all, he was a bastard. On the other hand, he’s got an entire town of people intermarrying and loving each other up. At some point, they’ve all become at least cousins and they’re still mating. So, yes, there’s a lot going on under the covers in that town.

However, Cthulhurotica isn’t about what Lovecraft would think of sex. That topic’s already been thoroughly covered. It is about the erotic possibilities of the world that he created. Lovecraftian purists can still find something to enjoy in the book because we don’t have the man himself exploring his long-theorized kinks. If we remove Lovecraft-the-person from the Mythos universe, we remove this particular conflict.

IFP: I imagine the slush pile for this anthology must have been something special. What was the most common mistake writers made when they sent a story?

CC: Ignoring me when I asked for a plot. There were some beautiful settings by writers who never introduced a narrative more complicated than, “And then they had sex.” There were characters with no story arc, or graphic sex scenes with little reference to anything from the Mythos. It was sad, really, because I don’t like rejecting anyone, but if you don’t submit a story that meets the stated requirements, it doesn’t give me much of a choice.

IFP: What did you learn from putting together this anthology? Were there any surprises along the way?

CC: I learned that, even though Lovecraft originally wrote for an audience of educated white males, the readers who enjoy his work now are part of a much broader spectrum of race, gender, and sexuality. The writers who submitted to Cthulhurotica were representative of this, as well. I was particularly surprised (and delighted) by how many women submitted work. I was also surprised at how sex-positive the female writers were compared to the men. I found it interesting that the stories featuring sex-with-monsters as an act of betrayal were all written by male-identified authors. The biggest thing that I learned was that dozens of people, authors and artists, were excited to take my odd little anthology idea and run with it. People I didn’t know supported me and for that, I will always be grateful.

IFP: How did you pick the cover artwork?

CC: I got lucky with the cover. I wanted something sensual and that obviously hearkened back to Cthulhu. I knew I wanted pinup girl quality and didn’t want something cheap or cartoony. I was searching online portfolios for an artist and found that Oliver Wetter had already created this image. He was delighted to let us use it for Cthulhurotica and is on board as the cover artist of our next anthology. His work is so beautiful, amazingly detailed, and I expect him to be a Dagan Books artist for years to come.

IFP: Who worked on your interior artwork?

CC: We had three artists whose work was featured in the book. Kirsten Brown, who also wrote “Le CiĆ©l Ouvert” let me purchase two of her images: the Whateley Family Portrait, and The Brides of Tindalos. Stephen Stanley, who did the Fisheater image, which accompanied Leon J. West’s “Amid Disquieting Dreams”, was a friend of West’s who’d actually already drawn up the art after reading the story, before I’d accepted it for Cthulhurotica. Galen Dara created three original images for the book: The Deep Ones, Lovecraftian Love, and my personal favourite, Love From the Black Lagoon.

IFP: What makes a good erotic story?

CC: I think you can’t write good erotica unless you enjoy sex. It doesn’t matter if you prefer it alone, in a group, with a man, or a woman, or a creature with extra appendages in all the right places, but you should be able to express a desire for good sex. There are stories in this collection which feature sexual acts in a non-erotic way and in those stories, the sex is (and should be) scary. The ones where the erotica is genuinely arousing are the ones where it’s treated like a healthy, happy activity. The characters want to have sex because sex makes them happy. In that case, the build-up and desire and need are palatable on the page, and by the time the sex actually happens, you’re rooting for everyone involved to have a great time.

IFP: Who is your favourite romantic hero?

CC: The story itself isn’t a romance, but I had a crush on Stu Redmond from Stephen King’s The Stand from the time I was a teen until…well, I probably still do. He was a strong man who wasn’t afraid to be humble, or silent, and he was smarter than he let on because he didn’t feel the need to be cocky. He did what he thought was right, even when he didn’t want to do it, and he took care of a woman he loved, even when she was having another man’s child. Stu was heroic, and romantic, just by being a good man in a bad world.

IFP: What horror movie would you watch on Valentine’s Day?

CC: Something that scared me so the person I was with could protect me and make me feel…grateful.

IFP: What’s next for you?

CC: Our next book is IN SITU, an anthology of science-fiction stories centered on the idea of alien archeology. Think of the original Stargate movie – you found a thing, you don’t know what it is, so now what? We have stories about finding alien artifacts on earth, on far-off planets, or out in space. There are stories about aliens coming to Earth and about humans travelling out into the Universe. No matter where the narrative takes you, each one comes back to the idea that real aliens – not blue humanoids that happen to have a culture exactly like one you’d find on Earth – will probably be so different from us that we can’t assume we know how to handle anything they’ve left behind.

IFP: Anything else you would like to tell our readers?

CC: Cthulhu wants you to buy our book.

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IFPShivers and Sighs Week: Interview: Carrie Cuinn