Leverett Butts discusses his academic career and his book on H.P. Lovecraft

"... Characters are usually my starting point. I need to know who my characters are and how they think and talk. After that, the plot mainly takes care of itself..."

Leverett Butts is a professor at the Gainesville campus of the University of North Georgia, and teaches composition and literature. His poetry and fiction have appeared in EclecticThe Georgia State University Review, and various short fiction collections. He has also earned several fiction prizes offered by the University of West Georgia and TAG Publishing. His first collection of short fiction, Emily’s Stitches: The Confessions of Thomas Calloway and Other Stories, was nominated for the 2013 Georgia Author of the Year Award in Short Fiction, and the omnibus volume of his first two Guns of the Waste Land novels was nominated for the 2016  Georgia Author of the Year Award in First novels. He lives in Temple, Georgia, with his wife, son, their Jack Russell terrier, and a couple of antisocial cats (one is dead, but the other is just a jerk). He has recently edited and contributed to the manuscript H.P. Lovecraft: Selected Works, Critical Perspectives and Interviews on His Influence. Wanting to learn more about his background and recent work, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse.

You can learn more about Leverett by checking out his Amazon author’s page and by following him on Twitter at @levbutts.

Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved reading?

Leverett Butts: I mostly enjoyed Tolkien, Stephen King, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Marvel’s Star Wars comics. Also The North and South Trilogy by John Jakes and Centennial by James Michener

Yanes: Are there any you still enjoy?

Leverett I have recently re-read all of these, and they are still great!

Yanes: You have built a fascinating career as an English professor that bridges creative and academic publications. How do you approach this balance between creative and academic? Specifically, do you keep your fiction separate from your academic life or do you let these types of work bleed into one another?

Leverett: They both kind of bleed into each other.

The Lovecraft book, in fact, started because I wanted a critical edition of his work for myself, and no one had one (I told the publishers I wanted one to use in the classroom, and I will certainly do that, but really, I just wanted one for my own enjoyment).

My current creative project, a retelling of the King Arthur legends as an American Western, began as a result of my academic work: I had read an article comparing the chivalric knight to the American cowboy and wondered if anyone had done a King Arthur Western, because I’d love to read it. They hadn’t so I set to work writing my own.

Yanes: In your part of Georgia, what is the creative writing community like? Has it been influenced by the growing film industry in Atlanta?

Leverett: I can’t really speak to that as I don’t really belong to any writing groups. I mostly write late at night or during my office hours at work, and then let my friends give me feedback on the work. I probably should try to join one, but I’m kind of an introvert.

Yanes: Whenever you approach telling a new story, what are narrative elements you feel are essential to have?

Leverett: Characters are usually my starting point. I need to know who my characters are and how they think and talk. After that, the plot mainly takes care of itself.

Yanes: When did you first become interested in Lovecraft’s work? Was there a specific moment that still stands out to you?

Leverett: Some friends in college suggested I read him. So I bought a copy of The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre. The first story of his I ever read was “The Rats in the Walls.” After that I was hooked. I wound up dedicating my critical edition of Lovecraft to the two college buddies.

Yanes: With so much already written about Lovecraft, what was your inspiration to produce this new book on his work?

Leverett: Honestly? Nobody else had done a critical edition of his work yet, and I wanted one for myself.

Yanes: While putting together this collection, were there any perspectives or insights into Lovecraft’s work that took you by surprise?

Leverett: Not by surprise, per se, but I was interested in several of the critical pieces: I liked how Gilstrap’s look at Lovecraft’s Victorian influences dovetailed nicely with Bealer’s examination of the modernistic aspects of some of Lovecraft’s work. I also enjoyed including a less academic piece, James Moon’s blog post about “Fungi from Yuggoth.”

And of course the author interviews and essays about Lovecraft’s influence on their work were fascinating to me.

Yanes: It has been over a century since Lovecraft first published A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson. Why do you think his work is still so relevant and influential?

Leverett: Lovecraft did things no one has ever done before. He moved horror from the realm of ghosts rattling chains and vampires in the night to more nebulous horrors. Horrors we couldn’t (and can’t) wrap our heads around. We get ghosts and vampires and werewolves; they make sense to us. But the Old Ones and Elder Gods? We can’t even make consistent pictures of them. We can’t understand their motivations. And that’s where their fear lies: Lovecraft calls it the fear of the unknown, but it’s also the lurking dread of having absolutely no control over not only the events around you, but of your own life.

This is why, I think, despite his problematic relationship with gender and race, we still come back to him. It’s why despite his dense writing style, we still read him. Other writers may write his stuff better, but they still lack Lovecraft’s dread (which I think is tied, consciously or unconsciously to his archaic and dense diction).

Yanes: When people finish reading this collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s works and accompanying critical pieces on the author, what do you hope readers take away from this manuscript?

Leverett: For new readers, I hope they come away wanting to explore more of Lovecraft’s work. For readers already familiar with his work, I hope they come away with an appreciation for the varied ways Lovecraft can be read and enjoyed.

Yanes: Finally, what are some projects that you are working on that people can look forward to?

Leverett: I am currently writing the fourth and final volume of Guns of the Waste Land, the Western retelling of King Arthur legends I discussed earlier. The first three, (Departure, Diversion, and Dispersal) are available in kindle format from Endeavour/Venture Media and in paperback from Hold Fast Press.

I am also tinkering around with what I hope will be my next project: a collection of interrelated short fiction titled Blame It on the Mistletoe, which reinterprets the Norse Ragnarok myths as pulp fiction gangster and hard-boiled detective stories.

Finally, I am working with Brad Strickland (who contributes an author essay in the Lovecraft book) on a werewolf novel, The Bloody Georgia Moon, which is based on two separate family legends I heard from my dad. Apparently I am distantly related to Emily Isabella Burt, Georgia’s “real-life” werewolf.

Remember, you can learn more about Leverett by checking out his Amazon author’s page and by following him on Twitter at @levbutts.

And remember to follow me on twitter @NicholasYanes, and to follow Scifipulse on twitter @SciFiPulse and on facebook.

 

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