Monday, April 28, 2008

Interrogate the Author: Starring Kristopher Reisz

Today we have yet another quest at my humble blog aka Kristopher Reisz and he is going to talk about this and that, all connected to literature of course, some way or another. Enjoy.

1. Hello Kristopher and welcome to this edition of "Interrogate the Author" with me, the innocent, but oh-so-curious Harry Markov. Thank you for the opportunity to sit on my virtual chair and answer all my nonsense. Now let's warm up. How are you feeling?

I'm feeling pretty good. It's about 1 a.m. here, and I just got off work. But the coffee's br
ewing, so things are looking up. How are you?

Thank you for asking. British manners really make my day every time. I am doing just fine. So as we all know, writers usually get this bang on the head by an invisible epiphany and suddenly from ordinary human beings we all get the strange notion to start creative writing. When did your epiphany bang you and how did that happen? I mean it could have been either a novel or an actual hit in the heat. Details are usually wanted here.

Nobody watches a five-year-old singing to himself or making a dinosaur from Play-Dough and asks, "Why are you doing that?" Even if they did, the five-year-old wou
ldn't feel any need to explain himself.

Through childhood, creativity in a dozen different forms is seen as natural as eating or sleeping. It's only after we become adults that we're expected to put it aside for hard work, mowing the lawn, and–weirdly–raising children of our own. I never had a bang on the head or any sort of epiphany. I do what everybody did once; I just never quit.

3. I usually like to ask a few questions about the author's lives and while usua
lly I have trouble here, I find your life to be really question worthy. For starters you like X-Men and the instant geek fan in me squeals and wants to know who your favorite character is and whether by any chance the comics have affected the way you perceive a story before putting it down on paper. All media has influence on the creative process as far as I know.

If you want your kid to read Faulkner someday, get him hooked on Spiderman now. Even if the writing isn't illuminating, the discussions about why it blows will be.
Half the fun of fandom is arguing with other fans. Hang out in a comic book shop long enough, and people will start dissecting plot arcs, character developments, and symbolism–all the building blocks of fiction–with considerably more passion and verve than the average college lit class.

Without quite realizing it, by age fourteen, I'd learned to strip a story to its naked structure, turn it to different angles in my mind, and articulate what I thought worked and what didn't. Once I could do that with comics, I could do it with capital-L literature, and eventually, my own stuff. For a writer, you can't beat an education like that.

4. I am so jealous, because I never had that kind of environment. The only heated discussion was about whether Julio slept Maria-Conchita in last episode of a nameless soap opera. Now you are known to have worked as a paramedic, which by my standards is bad decision: blood, guts, horrendous pay and outrageous hours (it almost fits the superhero description, but they only want to deceive you). Since I have read "Unleashed" I see you are making use of the medical aspect after Daniel gets attack near the ending. Have you ever thought of using whatever medical knowledge you posses to write a medical thriller/paranormal? And while you are at it, share something about the time you saved people's lives.

Well, I know what people look like on the inside. (There's a lot more yellow than you'd think.) I guess that could come in handy if I ever decided to write a medical thriller, but so far, no plans.

5. You have also been a pizza delivery guy. I have to say that I can't be coaxed into working that since I would eat the delivery before it even reached halfway to the destination. Have you ever snuck pizza slices secretly and can the experience gathered in those times ever be applicable in your new line of work?

No. It was just the shitty job I had to take after I dropped out of college.

6. Now to end the personal part of the interview. Right now through your blog I have learned that you are caring for the mentally ill, which basically answers my next question whether you were a fulltime writer. Apart from being creepy, do you enjoy your work and how does it add to yo
ur experience as a writer, cause usually you have to live to have something to write about and make it look believable?

Last week, a 300-pound patient attacked a nurse. It took four people to wrestle her down to the floor, including me and a guy named Ed who started working there in the 80s. .
The patient was a 19-year-old schizophrenic. She's been in and out of the system most of her life. And she was screaming, spitting, and–certain we were going to kill her–ready to kill us first.

The on-call doctor wouldn't answer his phone, so we couldn't give her any drugs. So you know what Ed did? This grizzled, grouchy bastard who's always looking at me like he's scraped more useful things off his shoe? He talked to her. Sat
there and talked to her like she was family. He just kept telling her nobody wanted to hurt her, everything was fine, just relax, just relax.

It took about twenty minutes, but Ed reached down past the sickness and fear and convinced her to trust him. While the nurses were still running around trying to wake the fucking doctor up, Ed helped the girl o
ff the floor, patted her on the back, and took her back to her room.

Working at a mental institution is exactly as "creepy" as you want it to be. Mostly, it's about talking and listening. In fact, that's what all "life experience" is about. It's not about tearing down the street in an ambulance or being twenty-four and wondering what the hell you're doing with your life. It's about talking and listening and finding something worthwhile in every person around you. Then you have something worth writing about. Otherwise, you never will, no matter what half-assed adventures you wind up taking.

7. Wow, that depth of an answer almost brought tears to my eyes. I clap to you for that. It’s weird interrupting the moment, but here comes the most generic question I bet you have answered many times before. Why werewolves? Seriously. The world has seen enough of vampires, werewolves and zombies, even though I like them in general, and still people persist. I would suggest to turn towards mythology and pick something new like Rachel Vincent does with her upcoming YA Banshee series.

The werewolf and the vampire will be
here long after you and I are dead and forgotten. We're just human, but they're humanity. They're representatives of primal terrors that have passed through generations. They aren't going away anytime soon.

8. The whole act of turning into werewolves is triggered by the infamous Amarita mushroom and alongside the whole metamorphosis the thin line of hallucination, drugs and unreality is drawn. This is one of the little details, which made the book more interesting. It's a new aspect, which adds color to the whole mythos. How did you come to this idea to tie shapeshifting to drugs?

I stole it. Psychedelic mushrooms have been suggested as the source for everything
from whirling dervishes to Vikings' battle-frenzy to witch covens believing they could fly and, yes, turn into wolves.

Ecstatic rituals–sometimes involving hallucinogens, sometimes just hours of dancing and chanting–crop up throughout history. Participants experience becoming something both more and less than human. Individuals fuse into a single unit, a pack.

That sort of stuff fascinates me. I think that, if I hadn't lucked into this writing thing, I'd have been very happy as a cultural anthropologist.

I prefer the term *borrow* and boy are you relieved to know that lore has no copyrights. Otherwise you are in for lots of trouble. Now in the book the Amanita is referred to as a rot eater god. Although I think I can explain that on my own terms I would like to hear the author elaborate on the idea.

Well, first I decided to make mushrooms trigger the pack's transformation into wolves. All fungi are saprotrophic, meaning they feed on decaying organic matter. Then I decided that, since my mushroom had once been worshiped as the flesh of a god, it should feed on human decay, on lives that aren't going anywhere and dreams that have been left to spoil. So Amanita became a rot-eating god, both biologically and metaphorically.

Nice one. I knew it was really that deep. I’m good. So have you shroomed yourself?

Only once. Usually, my vices weren't so exotic.

Naughty boy, you! Tisk, tisk, tisk. So the pack in "Unleashed" wear tanker boots and the accent on these boots is heavy within the whole book and I am not sure whether you just like those boots or whether they are some kind of mark to identify themselves as individuals from society and whether they are not warrior attributes, because one way or the other Misty, Mark, Val and Erick have to survive in a world, which isn't built for them.

The boots started as a throwaway detail that ended up taking on a life of its own. At any high school, you'll see Body Piercing Saved my Life t-shirts, Abercrombie & Fitch logos, and patches and buttons for a hundred different bands. A major part of fashion, and a major part of the book, is signaling your allegiance to one group or against another. I figured the pack would find some way to symbolize their status as outsiders, as different from the people around them, even when they were just sitting in algebra class.

But symbols and uniforms have a way of dehumanizing the person wearing them. While
the boots start as sign of anti-establishment, almost punk rock, rebelliousness, they eventually take on a darker, more brutal, more paramilitary aesthetic. Over and over, I found that the best way to describe what was happening to the pack was to go back and describe their boots.

12. Viewing the book as a whole I have to say that it is a remarkable story about growth and self-discovery in a grimy city with the paranormal perks. How did the idea about "Unleashed" formed inside your head?

My editor killed my first idea because, even though it was urban fantasy, it wasn't geared toward young adults. So I went to lunch with two friends, Scott and Edna, and bounced a few ideas off of them. I said a werewolf love story could be kind of cool and Edna, who's an old-school feminist, banged her palm against the table and said, "Make the girl the werewolf! The girl never gets to be a werewolf!" I thought that was a neat idea, so I ran with it.
Of course, this was before I read Annette Curtis Klause's wonderful Blood and Chocolate, but I think there's room for two novels about werewolf girls and the boys who want them.

Anyway, from there, I added a bunch of research, some memories of a girl I was sort
of in love with and sort of terrified by in high school, thoughts I had while watching the riots in France that were going on at the time, a few bottle caps and bits of string I found laying on the sidewalk, and I don't even remember what else. I'm still sort of amazed the whole contraption sort of worked without blowing up in my face.

13. Dude, too many people mention that book. Freaky! Anyways although this book is stand alone, do you think that there is a small chance that there may be a sequel with the story or at least have the werewolf/shrooming core inside?

No. I've told the story I wanted to tell. Making it longer wouldn't necessarily make it better.

14. For that matter do your future plans feature a series? Do you think that a series is a manageable challenge? There are writers, who naturally posses the skill to finish a story in one book, while others weave a winding story through a series. Which type do you think you are?

In my bottom desk drawer, in a notebook filled with story ideas, are about a page and a half sketching out what could become a trilogy someday. Or it might just molder there with the dozens of other orphaned ideas.

Generally, I'm suspicious of series. Too many fall into a comfortable rut, with no satisfying conclusions and nothing major ever at stake. Or the author simply reboots them about the fourth book in.

If I ever do get to that trilogy in my desk drawer, I need to know, before writing the first line, that all the character development and plot threads will all arc towards a real conclusion, and that journey will be worth three books for both me and the reader.

15. So now let's jump to your newest and greatest project. Where is your creativity focused right now? I am sure the paranormal literary scene has much to gain with your next project. Does the focus fall on the YA as an age and what will be the problems active through the book?

Yes, the next book will be for young adult too. Why? Because they write the best fan letters. Also, if they like your book, they friend you on MySpace. If you use MySpace as your only metric, I'm way more popular than Cormac McCarthy.

It's a ghost story, except sort of not. And I think The Drowned Forest would make a good title, but that might change by next week. It does have a giant catfish in it, though. I'm very proud of that.

16. Go young adults! So while jumping up and down your whole life chronology I think it's time to ask about your first novel "Tripping to Somewhere". From the small blurb the potential read is left with an ambiguous idea of what is in store. Is it paranormal in nature as well and what can you share about your debut and the things you learned from it?

Tripping to Somewhere indeed deals with the paranormal. It's got witches, a very strange crow, and Christopher Marlowe, 400 years old and feeling just fine.

What I learned was that, like wise parents, my editors would let me say "cocksucker" as much as I wanted without raising any fuss, knowing that I'd eventually get bored with the word and drop it by the second book.

17. Success is measured in different ways and in literature it is to stretch outside the borders of your country. Have you managed to sell some foreign rights and by you I mean your agent and if you had the power to choose, in which land and language would you love to see "Unleashed"?

Dutch. I flew out of Amsterdam on KLM once. All the flight attendants were eight feet tall, blonde, and spoke the most inherently funny language I'd ever heard. Seriously, they might have been saying, "We've lost power in two engines and are probably going to die now. Please make peace with whatever god you believe in," but it all sounded hilarious.

18. Speaking of stretching past the borders. Would you like to see your novel on the big screen? I know that things don't usually happen like that. It is the movie company that decides, but still what are your thoughts on the matter?

Well, if Steven Spielberg starts throwing money at me, I'm sure as hell not to proud to pick it up.

That said, I don't spend much time worrying about it. Film and novels are two different mediums with different strengths and weaknesses. If, while writing a scene, I start thinking, This would look great in a movie , chances are it looks like shit on the page.

19. Now this question is somewhat misplaced, but I was curious nonetheless. Are you an outliner, when it comes to the craft, or seat-in-the-pants writer?

While writing Unleashed, I kept a notebook full of ideas and stray bits of werewolf lore. About halfway through I wrote a quote from the Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke in giant capitals that take up the whole page: "No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy."
I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions on that.

20. Now for a grand finale. How did you feel, knowing that you were interviewed by a teen, who speaks English as a second language?

Recently, I went digging through some old journals I'd kept during my high school years. It turns out that, when I was a teen, English was my second language too. Oddly, my first language was apparently a hieroglyphic system composed of Dead Kennedys logos and doodles of super heroes.

And this concludes this installment of "Interrogate the Author". Stay tuned for the next one, which will feature Jason Pinter, best selling author of the Henry Parker series. He is an odd bird; writes crime novels, but what he has to say is worth mentioning.

To visit Mister Kristopher Reisz click HERE. To get inside Mister Kristopher Reisz's head click HERE. Of course visit amazon for "Unleashed" and "Tripping to Somewhere"

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