I read a 1982 Del Rey collection of sixteen stories, including the now-ubiquitous-in-geeky-circles “The Call of Cthulhu,” but the ones that stood out for me were “The Colour of Space,” “The Dunwich Horror,” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” All of these stories, however, had amazing opening paragraphs that drew me in quickly. Also, all of these stories are written in infamously convoluted sentences that I really fought to comprehend – and oddly, when I was finally able to hold them in my head, found myself caged completely by the imagery. It took more effort, patience, and concentration then I will usually put into reading, but the resulting effect was deviously poetic, and quite unique.
Of course, the monsters and suspensefulness of Howard Phillips are renowned, but they are couched remarkably in lush, though dyspeptic settings. Here are just two of the so many:
Besides, there was a strangely calming element of cosmic beauty in the hypnotic landscape through which we climbed and plunged fantastically. Time had lost itself in the labyrinths behind, and around us stretched only the flowering waves of faery and the recaptured loveliness of vanished centuries – the hoary groves, the untainted pastures edged with gay autumnal blossoms, and at vast intervals the small brown farmsteads nestling amidst huge trees beneath vertical precipices of fragrant brier and meadow-grass. Even the sunlight assumed a supernal glamour, as if some special atmosphere or exhalation mantled the whole region. I had seen nothing like it before save in the magic vistas that sometimes form the backgrounds of Italian primitives. Sodoma and Leonardo conceived of such expanses, but only through the vaultings of Renaissance arcades.
West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without having ever caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled side bulging beneath low gambrel roofs.
Lessons for writing: As I was reading each story, I thought: “What a fantastically amazing movie this would make!” But it also brought home to me the magic, ingenuity, and technology of really fine writing when it is done right: it makes a movie in your head, it's portable, and it's created on a much smaller budget!
Oh, H.P Lovecraft's life and personality were suitably bleak and miserable enough to provide the yeast that made his stories rise, but why don't you visit his alma matter, Miskatonic University?