Ruff continues the story of the Turner family in The Destroyer of Worlds: A Return to Lovecraft Country (Harper, Feb.).
Tell me about your relationship with Lovecraft’s works.
I went into Lovecraft when I was no more than 11 or 12. Initially, he didn’t really work for me, because his fiction felt really slow. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that the things that seemed like a deficit to me when I was a kid were actually Lovecraft’s strengths. His stories are all about anticipatory dread. It’s all about alienation, being in a scary place where all the warning signs are telling you, “You don’t belong here. There are hostile forces out to destroy you. You need to leave.” And of course, the characters never do.
How did you land on the idea of America as Lovecraft Country?
When I conceived the book, the initial idea was not Lovecraft at all, but The X-Files: imagine if Mulder and Scully were Black travel writers living in the Jim Crow era. It was the idea of contrasting two kinds of horror, the classic paranormal horror, but also the more mundane terrors of life for a Black person in that time. Lovecraft came into it because I needed a way to connect these two things, and he was perfect for that, because Lovecraft is horror, but he also had this white supremacist viewpoint. And so by extension, Lovecraft Country is a reference both to the paranormal landscape that Lovecraftian monsters come from, and also to white America in the 1950s and ’60s.
What made you decide to write a sequel?
The way I approached it was first thinking about what the natural endpoint would be, which was the passage of the Civil Rights Act. When I did the math on that, Horace, who is 12 years old when Lovecraft Country begins, well, in 1964, he’s going to be 22. So I decided I wanted to tell Horace’s coming-of-age story. This book in particular is about death and coming to terms with mortality. All his life, Horace has been told that life may be hard, but when you die, you go to heaven and live happily ever after. Now he’s at that point when you first start asking yourself, well, is that true? What if this is the only life I’ve got? And if I’ve been dealt an unfair hand, what is that going to mean for me? That’s really the central thing. How do you find the will to go on and not give up in despair? And part of the answer is to understand that the people who came before you faced the same questions and every time they had a choice between giving up and continuing to live, they always chose to keep going. It’s only because they did that that you now have your chance to wrestle with that same question. And only if you make the same choice to keep going will the people who come after you get their chance. By giving the future a chance to happen, the people who come after you may fix the problems that you yourself didn’t find a way to solve.