Sunday, 12 October 2008
Author Interview! Brian Evenson.
You spend ages waiting for an author interview and then two come along at once... ;o)
I really enjoyed 'Last Days' and had a few questions that I wanted to run past Brian. Luckily for me, Brian very kindly agreed to answer my questions. Here they are,
Hi Brian, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions.
An off the cuff comment in my review of ‘Last Days’ prompted people to leave comments suggesting how I deal with sunshine coming through my curtains and waking me up. Do you have any advice on how I could deal with this?
As someone who tends to go to bed really late and who has a hard time sleeping once it gets light outside, this is a question that I repeatedly ask myself. It can never be dark enough. I’d suggest watching the Norwegian thriller Insomnia and see how Stellan Skarsgard tries (and fails) to deal with this issue. Probably the only definitive answer is to sleep in the closet (unless your closet also has windows). If you do end up sleeping in the closet, it’s a better experience if you move the shoes and boots out first. (Also, you should be careful about revealing the fact that you’re sleeping in your closet in that it only tends to be seen as an appealing eccentricity to women you’re better off not dating.)
‘Last Days’ originally began life as a limited edition novella ‘The Brotherhood of Mutilation’, what led to your decision to expand on the novella and come up with ‘Last Days’?
When I finished writing ‘Last Days’, I felt like I really loved the world of the novella and wanted to spend more time exploring it. But I also wasn’t sure where I’d go with it, how I could continue the story and still keep the ideas fresh. When two friends separately told me about Paul Wittgenstein, the one-armed pianist, something clicked.
What can people expect to find in ‘Last Days’ that they won’t find in ‘The Brotherhood of Mutilation’?
The first 40% of ‘Last Days’ consists of ‘The Brotherhood’; since it was published in a very small edition by Earthling Press and is very hard to find, only a select few have actually read it. It’s about a man named Kline who loses his hand and falls into contact with an odd religious cult that takes literally the New Testament idea that you should cut of your hand if it offends you. The last 60% of ‘Last Days’ is entirely new and explores a splinter group of the original amputation cult, with Kline struggling to stay human as he brings on a kind of apocalypse. The novel taken as a whole can be described as exceptionally strange and darkly funny. I think it’s safe to say it’s probably different from anything you’ve ever read.
Have you ever been tempted to write something based around how Kline lost his hand in the first place? Apologies if you already have and I missed it!
I’ve thought about doing this, and may still do so one day. In any case, ‘Last Days’ might not be the end of the Kline saga—I’ve started work on another Kline story that takes place after ‘Last Days.’
The ending of ‘Last Days’ leaves a lot hanging and up to the reader to resolve. When you finished writing the book, did you have any solid notion of what Kline did next or are you in the same position as your readers?
No, I’m definitely in the same position as the readers. If I’d known what happened, I would have written it. But the story ends at a moment where several different things might happen, and where the story will move us on to a new place, a new phase. I hope the ending leaves the reader’s mind reeling, allows the story to continue in your head but also keeps it from settling down into anything predictable or safe.
Victoria Blake (Head of Underland Press) says of the works she will be publishing, “Fiction like this can be revelatory; it can tell us something about ourselves, what we're afraid of, and why." What do you think ‘Last Days’ can tell us in this regard?
I do think there are pretty serious questions being raised in ‘Last Days’ about identity and about the relationship of the individual to the group (particularly of an individual to a community of believers). I also think that the last third of the book explores the question of what it means to be human, whether there’s a line we can cross a line that takes our humanity away.
As much as I was hooked by the story I found it hard to read ‘The Last Days’ due to the constant racking up of the tension and uncertainty; every now and then I had to put the book down just to try and get my head around it. As the author, did you find yourself having to stop writing just to get your head around what was going on?
Yes. I tend to like to read fiction that has a strong impact on me, work that unsettles me, work that I end up thinking about for a long time afterward, and I hope that my fiction has that same effect on readers. It’s at least as harrowing to write as it is to read, and I end up living with those characters and that world longer than any reader would. There were a lot of moments when I found my head spinning, a lot of moments when I had to stop and gather myself and think whether I dared do something in a particular scene. The scene in the bar, for instance, with the striptease. Or the whole sequence with Borchert’s head. But also smaller things as well, little details that really surprised me and caught me off guard when I was writing them.
How does it feel to have created a cult, on paper, where people mutilate themselves in order to get closer to God?
Well, I think it probably felt better than creating it in life… It’s a strange world, and one I created drawing on my sense of what a totalizing religion (like the one I grew up in) was actually like. It was a lot of fun, and a real challenge to create a religious system with its own particular, peculiar logic. And to do that while at the same time playing around with ideas from detective fiction.
Do you have any plans to write more books for Underland in the future?
I think probably Victoria Blake is probably the better person to answer that one. Certainly I’d love to have Underland consider publishing me in the future, and I feel like they’ve been an exceptionally good fit for ‘Last Days.’ I hope we’ll work together again.
Finally, there’s a guy in a bookshop who’s wavering over whether to purchase a copy of ‘Last Days’. Tell him why he should stop wavering and take the book straight to the counter.
Maybe by letting them know if he doesn’t take the book straight to the counter he’s likely to get an ominous phone call from Gous and Ramse? Oh wait, if they haven’t read the book they won’t know what that means…
Seriously, I hope it’s the kind of book that you’ll get hooked by quickly if you start reading it. It’s strange and funny and absurd. It creates its own unique world. It’s also playing around with noir and hard-boiled detective traditions. Read the first chapter standing there in the bookstore and I think the wavering will stop. It’s not the kind of book you’d recommend to your grandmother or that you’d give someone for Christmas (unless you were seriously anti-Christmas), but it’s certainly a book you’ll never forget. (Probably your grandmother would never forget it either, but she’d stop sending you those cards full of nickels for your birthday as payback.)
Thanks for your time with this, I really appreciate it.
You’re very welcome.
Read my review of 'Last Days' over Here.