Please welcome David J. Schwartz back to the blog, who was gracious enough to answer some of my questions about “Bear in Contradicting Landscape,” his story from The Book of Apex Volume 4. Thanks so much for letting me dust off those old English-major-overanalysis skills, David!
“Bear in Contradicting Landscape” features a writer unexpectedly coming face to face with his own character, so I have to ask, was Eddie a character you had previously written that was coming back to haunt you?
“Walk Out,” the story Eddie and Ann come from, was a real story that I wrote some years ago. I don’t know if Eddie himself really haunted me, but the story did, to some extent, mostly because there was a time when I was determined to keep fixing all my old stories until they were saleable. But “Walk Out” was fundamentally flawed, and looking back at it got me thinking about the invisible (to me) ways in which I’d become a better writer, one who would never have attempted such a story. I wanted to explore that, and that’s more or less where the story started.
I was struck by the various examples of animal imagery, which seemed unusual for a story in an urban setting. Was there a particular reason behind that?
Mostly the animal stuff grew out of a pair of cats that lived at a warehouse I worked at in Chicago for a while, and some of their antics. The encounter between the cats and the rabbit happened more or less as described in the story, except that in real life the ending was more immediately gory.
The bear, though, I can’t really explain. I may have had a dream about a bear around this time, or it may just be that L is right and I have a tendency to throw in a lot of symbols when I’m not even sure what they mean!
Both Ann and L seem much more textured and “real” than their male counterparts. They have hobbies and interests, backstories, while Eddie and the narrator each seem to be floundering in their search for identity. Why did you make that distinction?
I don’t know that this was conscious at the time, but in part it’s because Eddie and the narrator are reflections of each other. Eddie was lost in the same way my narrator-self is at the time of the story, and the journey he ends up taking is an inversion of Eddie’s journey in the story he comes from. And it’s probably worth saying that I find that most men in real life flounder for identity for quite a while, because socially constructed masculinity is a morass of unrealistic and unhealthy expectations that we all have to wade through to figure out who we are. But that’s probably another topic.
The more the narrator acknowledges that writing is a way to exercise his need for control, the less control he seems to have. Why did you take that control away from him? In the end, does his crisis of faith make him stronger, or break him?
Oh, I think he’s broken by the end. I mean, just to be explicit, the narrator is me, and I do see writing as a way for me to try to exert some control in my life. But I recognize that that is a crutch, and in the story I thought it was important to break that crutch and see how he (I) copes. And he doesn’t, not very well.
Who and what do you like to read?
Lots of things: history, biography, mystery, classics, and of course genre fiction. Vonnegut, Dinesen, Cervantes, and Austen are some favorites. The best books I’ve read recently were Sex at Dawn, Hild, and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
Can you talk a bit about your recent project, Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic: The Thirteenth Rib? How did you come to write a serial, and was the process different from other writing you’ve done?
Gooseberry Bluff is set in a world where World War II was won through magic, not technology, and so the advancements since then have been of the occult variety. It’s a lot of fun, with a diverse cast and a lot of twists, and hopefully a lot of humor.
I had been developing a serial with one company, and that fell through, but at almost the same time Amazon announced their serials program, so my agent approached them and they were interested. I had five of thirteen parts written when we signed the contract, so it was more of a time-crunch than on my first novel, and I didn’t have the luxury of going back to change things, so sometimes I was locked into choices I made early on. But it was a fun challenge and a great experience! There will be more, too, though I don’t know when yet. I might mention that the Kindle edition is on sale this month for $1.99, too, so folks can pick it up cheap!
David J. Schwartz is an eleven-year-old bookworm in a grown man’s body. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota in an apartment with many books. So. Many. Books. His short fiction has appeared in such venues as Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and the World Fantasy Award-winning Paper Cities. His first novel, Superpowers, was nominated for a Nebula Award; his second novel has a long, long title. His website is snurri.com.