Upon his death, H.P. Lovecraft, the acknowledged master of “weird fiction,” left behind a list of 221 unused story ideas, ranging from brief images to complete plot outlines.
Or so said some blog, which then provided the list. I’ve never double-checked this, because both the concept and the list were so good that questioning it seemed foolish. Seeking out the truth, as Lovecraft would be the first to remind us, is never without its consequences.
In any case, when I later found myself searching for a communal writing project to put together, I immediately turned to that list and to its short and wonderful glimpses into a dead writer’s mind.
For one, the only thing more exciting than writing without limitations is writing with limitations. Being forced to incorporate some specific image or theme tends to excite our creative instinct in a way that a blank, unlined page does not. For another, there is something about the unused story idea or the unfinished novel or the unfilmed movie that fascinates us. Never having completely transitioned from imagination to disappointing reality, these partial works of art aren’t burdened with the inevitable flaws of a finished piece. They are stories that start on the page and end completely in our imagination, just the way we want them to.
So I put together a pool of writers from across the country, ranging from playwrights to improv actors to magazine editors to internet comedy writers, and I gave them all the same simple proposal: I would use a random number generator to assign them one of the Lovecraft ideas. They would then write, with the only limitation being that they fulfill all aspects of the idea they were given. So if they were assigned idea number fourteen, “A hideous sound in the dark,” they were free to write anything at all as long as it included a hideous sound in the dark. If, however, they were assigned one of the full plot outlines, complete with sample dialogue, then they would be forced to follow that outline exactly.
The writers agreed, the ideas were assigned, and, slowly, a series of strange and beautiful pieces of writing started drifting back to me from all parts of our nation. It seemed that Lovecraft, despite the setback of death, had taken up writing again.
This book is the result of that experiment. It was written by people who had no idea what was going to happen to their writing. It was edited and laid out by someone working on a fold-out card table in the early morning hours, before boarding the subway to work. It includes horror stories, poetry, memoir, and one bit of memorably odd text art created by a playwright from Texas.
Enjoy our weird little book. I can only hope that Lovecraft, in whatever cosmic and inhuman world he has found himself, would approve.
Joseph Fink, Editor
UPDATE: Because of great changes, a planned reprinting of A Commonplace Book of the Weird has been delayed indefinitely. You can order the Kindle version here. We will post here on this page & on social media if and when a new printing is available. Thank you for your patience.