Weird Tales: Caleb Wilson on Delighting in the Weird

Writer: Caleb Wilson
Weird Tales Story: Court Scranto (Issue # TBA 2008)
Writer Bio: Caleb Wilson’s fiction has appeared in Diagram and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Vol. 20. He attended the Clarion writing workshop in the summer of 2007, right after which he got married, and has been moving around the country ever since.


I write weird fiction. I don’t mean anything fancy or cliquish by that. All I mean is, when I write a story, it makes me feel weird, and I like that. I love to be confused when I’m reading, a bit unsure exactly where my next footstep is going to fall, and I try to write what I want to read, so I guess it’s only natural. Being lost in fiction is a vicarious thrill for me. In real life I wouldn’t want to be trapped in a maze of Cairo alleys, unsure whether I was dreaming I was dreaming or dreaming I was awake or actually awake or if I’d slipped between the cracks of a more treacherous layer of reality altogether… but I still find Robert Irwin’s The Arabian Nightmare delightful.

Delight is the emotion that I look for when I read and try to find when I write. (Always aim high, I say.) I want smiles, gasps, laughs, some tears, some frowns, a shudder or two. Weird delight is seeing a humdrum personality in an outré body, eight-armed or feathered or made of papier mâché. Weird delight is what appears to be an interdimensional madcap in the body of an accountant or clerk or a kid sister. Weird delight comes from taking whatever the world has to offer and shunting it through a certain filter. Weird is unrelated to genre. There’s weird fantasy, weird realism, weird poetry, weird non-fiction.

Weird can be sunny (like the picture book The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars by Jean Merrill, a retrospectively realized influence of mine, which is a strange book, and slightly alarming, but above all joyful–it includes sheet music for the little song the elephant sings when it smashes!). But when I think classic “Weird Tales” weird I think of darkness.

Okay. I can admit to a certain delight in the grim and unwholesome. But the sick and horrible has to be edged with at least the tiniest glint of a smile or I don’t enjoy it. Compare H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith (both still worth reading, I find, because in their stories are both cool things I want to emulate and broken things I want to fix). When Lovecraft wrote about some hapless witness to mindbending vistas of cosmic disgeometry, he had the guy go insane, because Lovecraft was afraid. Smith, I think, wanted to visit these places himself, and as a result he wrote stories which are sometimes nothing more than travelogues of nonsensical alien realms that include only the sketchiest portraits of their sardonic cardboard rulers. At least it seems like he was having fun.

I don’t have any real desire to write cosmic horror. Forget vicarious delight: I’m pretty sure that if the universe cracked open in my living room and a six-foot long tentacle covered with six-inch tentaclets popped out, I would be laughing even as I ran away.


  1. Tim Wolfe says

    But what if it only wanted to invite you over for tea, and a good knitting session afterward?

    The weird doesn’t only smash cars, you know. It’s not always lost in hypnopompic alleys. Most days it must be satisfied to discover that it doesn’t mind doing the dishes after all. Only now and then does it do something so conventional as tell us a story.