Joel Lane, author of “Ragged Claws” (for the sign of Cancer) in Astrologica: Stories of the Zodiac edited by Allen Ashley answers a few questions.
Give us a little bit of background on your writing career.
I started reading supernatural horror fiction, in the form of traditional myths and legends, as a child. In my early teens I discovered the modern weird fiction genre and became obsessed with it as a way of exploring contemporary life. I’ve been writing for over thirty years. To date I’ve had nearly 200 stories published in various professional and amateur contexts, including four book-length collections of supernatural horror stories and one booklet of noir stories. Also two novels that were published as mainstream fiction though they have genre elements; and three book-length collections, and one pamphlet, of poems.
What appealed to you about the Astrologica project?
It’s always a pleasure working with Allen Ashley – he seems to know how to get the best out of me, usually by getting me to develop and intensify the endings of my stories. And I liked the idea of being able to play with star signs as archetypes without having to buy into the whole fortune-telling thing. For me it became a bit like writing a “Cthulhu Mythos” story: you work with the ideas as folklore, not as something you literally believe, and that lets you focus on the more interesting symbolic aspects.
Why did you choose this particular star sign for your story?
I had a sleepwalking episode similar to the protagonist’s experience at the start of the story, including having to crawl sideways out from under my bed. So that put the idea of someone identifying with a crab into my head. And I’ve always liked the shore as a setting – it’s the sense of being at the edge between two worlds. Shore life at the invertebrate level is always trying to deal with a changing environment, needing to hide and then be free, to hold on and then let go, which seems to me an interesting parallel to the contradictions and cycles of urban human life.
Which star sign are you and what qualities of that sign do you display?
Libra – and while I wouldn’t claim to be always the most well-balanced of people, I’ve always tried to maintain a balance of things in my life, personally and creatively. Whenever something appeals to me I also feel drawn towards something different. I don’t throw myself totally into new things: I try to add them to the picture, to balance the elements. Needless to say that isn’t always a good idea.
What is the most accurate /least accurate horoscope you have ever read?
I stopped reading horoscopes in the press many years ago but they would generally say things like “Today will be a special day for you” and then something dreadful would happen. I developed a reverse superstition about horoscopes: whatever positive things they promise you won’t come to pass, and your reading the horoscope may be part of what fucks things up. More generally, I think that when someone you know “tells your fortune” they are using their own knowledge and insight to express where they think your life may be heading, and the astrology is just a prop. Horoscopes in the press are like politicians’ speeches: they say nothing at all while trying to make as many people as possible feel they have said something of value, or imagine that they feel that.
Where do you go from here?
I think we all face difficult questions about the future. You have to take a stand on the crisis our society is facing: either come out of the neo-liberal closet and say you support the destruction of the NHS and employment rights, or start organising for a general strike and a socialist fight-back against the lies of the austerity programme. You can’t just sit back and insist it’s nothing to do with you.
On the creative front, I’m working on a collection of ghost stories and a collection of more offbeat “slipstream” stories, and a collection of poems mostly on political themes, and a book of essays on great writers of weird fiction. And hoping to get started on a crime novel about alcoholism. I’ve also taken a positive step towards realisation of my hibernation plan with the purchase of a winter duvet.
[Photo by Ella Lane]