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Originally published at S. J. Chambers. You can comment here or there.

The new VanderMeer anthology was released today.

I am happy to announce that today sees the birth of a wonderfully bizarre and beautiful anthology:  Thackery T. Lambshead’s Cabinet of Curiosities, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, and which is available for purchase here.   This book is already an LA Times recommended summer reading selection, and features over 60 pieces of art, including four originals by Hellboy’s Mike Mignola and two original sculptures by Jake von Slatt.  In addition to that, it is chalk full of fine writing by some of my favorite writers.  You can find a table of contents here.

What’s it about?  Well:

“After the death of Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead at his house in Wimpering-on-the-Brook, England, a remarkable discovery was unearthed: the remains of an astonishing cabinet of curiosities. Many of these artifacts, curios, and wonders related to anecdotes and stories in the doctor’s personal journals. Others, when shown to the doctor’s friends, elicited further tales from a life like no other. Thus, in keeping with the bold spirit exemplified by Dr. Lambs­head and his exploits, we now proudly present highlights from the doctor’s cabinet, reconstructed not only through visual representations but also through exciting stories of intrigue and adventure. A carefully selected group of popular artists and acclaimed, bestselling authors has been assembled to bring this cabinet of curiosities to life.

An independent follow-up to the cult classic The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, a Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award finalist…

Contributors include Holly Black, Greg Broadmore, Ted Chiang, John Coulthart, Rikki Ducornet, Amal El-Mohtar, Minister Faust, Jeffrey Ford, Lev Grossman, N.K. Jemisin, Caitlin R. Kiernan, China Mieville, Mike Mignola, Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Garth Nix, Naomi Novik, James A. Owen, Helen Oyeyemi, J.K. Potter, Cherie Priest, Ekaterina Sedia, Jan Svankmajer, Rachel Swirsky, Carrie Vaughn, Jake von Slatt, Tad Williams, Charles Yu, and many more.”

Not only is this book an object d’art, but it is also my first anthology sale.  My story “Dr. Lambshead’s Dark Room,” relays my visit to the good doctor in 2000 for treatment of my Poepathy, an experience that not only cured me, but inspired my later writings on Poe, like “The Poe Bug.” It has mesmerism,  photography, and a lot of Poe-nerd artifacts for the Poe-nerd heart.

Nice Exposure, auto-portrait by S. J. Chambers

I wrote this story over a few months last summer:  the rough draft in Tallahassee, miraculously between weddings and Steampunky stuff, and took it to Nice  to polish up, and hoped-to-God the relaxing down-time of the Rivera would help me synthesize the effect I was going for.    I thought surely here, where Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald once roamed, and where inevitably my street was haunted by the headless Isadora Duncan, I’d be inspired.  But, the one morning when I stayed in to finish it,  I found I had no clue how the Dark Room worked.  So, rather than tear my hair out, I decided to screw around and pretend to be Cindy Sherman next to the flat’s picturesque window.  What developed on my Canon was the image to the left.

Besides some cropping, this is an untouched photo.  It really disturbed me, because I looked like I was leaving myself, or imploding with energy.  Those two thoughts sent me musing, and the following words developed  on the page:

“We continued through the hallway, and the will-o’-the-wisps grew brighter as we walked through the cabinet until    we entered a dark chamber, empty but with the exception of two worn Louis XVI chairs.

‘Ah, now we can really begin.’

He sat in one chair and gestured for me to occupy the other. The will-o’-the-wisps floated out of our hands and hovered between our eyes. They undulated, glowing and dimming in tune with my heartbeat that swooshed through my ears.

‘I want you to watch the wisps,’ he whispered, ‘and tell me:  Have you experienced these following symptoms: soaring soul, existential exigency, speaking in cryptically symbolic metaphor, vertigo caused by sublimity, vision heightened by chiaroscuro, dead-dwelling, or head-swelling?’

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘To all?’

‘Yes.’

‘Hmmmm. . . .’ His disbelieving expression ebbed into a dare-to-hope.

The two will-o’-the-wisps glowed blindingly blue and I became dizzy and hot, and the doctor and the wisps became double-exposed, and somehow I was split twain by the sides until there were two of me. One sat in front of Lambshead and the undulating wisps, while the other, conscious and seeing, was free to traverse the room.

‘Do you suffer from daydreaming reflex with reveries that include blackbirds, scents of an unseen censor, or aberrant alliterative applications?’

Beady eyes glowed from the wisps, and wings fluttered by my ears. I smelled dried flowers and cut grass, upturned earth and the fading waft of fabric softener.  I looked at my sitting-self in the chair and heard her indolent ‘Yes.’

‘What else do you see?’

Collage of illustrations included in the Cabinet.

I finished the story up that day, and sent it off.

If you are curious about what exactly I saw, and what the Doctor did to me, you’ll have to pick up a copy of Lambshead’s, but that is the VH-1 Behind The Scenes of  this story.

But, all of that aside, even if I were not involved in this book I’d be dying to add it to my collection.  The art is stunning, the stories unique and interesting, and the character of Lambshead himself is so enigmatic that I hope there is more about him down the line.

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