Thursday, September 3, 2015

Author Interview: Andrew Michael Schwarz

Today, we have a guest. Huzzah! I met Andrew Michael Schwarz at Campcon back in June, and when I saw that he had a new release, I wanted to have him over here to talk to us. He has great taste in books, writes horror and dark fantasy, and shares my general disdain for actually naming favorite books. But I should probably shut up and let our guest get in a word.

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VF: So, tell us a little about yourself.

AMS: I’ve done a lot of different jobs and professions. I am able to pick things up quickly and do well with them. Because of this, for most of my life, I have been improvident, preferring adventure to stability. Growing up I fantasized about being a writer, but wrote very little. In my early 30’s I decided to get serious about it.

VF: You write horror and fantasy. Since we talk about subgenres a lot over here… where would you say the line is between dark fantasy and horror, if there is one?

AMS: I think horror is a very misunderstood genre. Like other genres there are many different styles of horror. I think traditional horror delves deep into subconscious fears and is heavily concentrated on death as the worst thing that can happen. In dark fantasy you get a more pleasing style of horror, where the fear of death is replaced with various examples of how to survive it--or I should say, how to keep living despite having died.

For me, all horror can be defined as “all the ways we survive death.” From ghosts to vampires to killers you can’t kill (Jason and Freddie) to narrowly missing being slashed apart, you have examples of how to beat death. It’s very interesting from that viewpoint because it puts the whole genre into perspective. We actually need horror because it shows us how to live forever and tells us that, above everything else, we are eternal. Over and over again, through all the various monsters and ways to “come back” it seems to want to show it, say it, prove it. Very interesting.

VF: What’s your favorite speculative fiction book or series? What about your favorite non-spec-fic book/series?

AMS: Hmmm, that’s not going to be easy to play favorites. China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station is high on the list, but I love Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witch books, and they are probably the winners. I am geeky fan boy with those books, like it made my day to get the last signed copy of the new vampire book that came out a few months ago. When I read those books, I am not even aware that I am reading. I am just floating in another world.

Non-spec-fic, it might be Les Miserables. Though I am only half way through it at the moment, I am enthralled with it. I love those characters and their plights.

VF: Which authors inspire you? What is it about them/their work that connects with you in such a deep way?

AMS: I love a lot of authors. I am a fan of Stephen King, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, some classic authors like Dickens and Victor Hugo, but I think on a consistent basis, Anne Rice really scratches the itch for me.

I have often wondered what it is about Anne Rice’s stories and characters that captivate me so much. I have looked very hard at this to try and figure it out. The best answer I have is that out of the tragically damned nature of her characters comes profound statements on the human condition, which resonates deeply with me.

VF: Your books tend to take place in urban and contemporary settings. Why do you think those settings lend themselves so well to speculative fiction content?

AMS: I think the city or urban setting is an extension of the traditional haunted house with its trap doors and secret passages of gothic horror fame. Cities, like old houses, are “alive” with history. We, in America, might not be able to appreciate this to its fullest extent because our cities are so young, but all you have to do is walk through an old European city like Amsterdam or Paris to feel the layers of rich history that permeates every nook and cranny.

In urban fantasy, this history wants expression. The city wants to come to life like an old haunted house. I think we can add layers of complexity to our still young American cities through our mythology.

VF: Who would you say is your favorite character of all time?

AMS: Another attempt to get me to play favorites. I’m going to say Stile of Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept series. I find this character’s integrity to be awe inspiring.

VF: A few rapid-fire questions. Be sure to think on your feet!

How do you take your coffee? With half and half, always.
Favorite after-hours drink? I’m a big fan of the Appletini
Night-owl or early-bird? Night owl, to my own detriment
Guilty pleasure TV show? I watch very little actual TV, but if I’m being totally honest here, I have to go with Saturday Night Live.

VF: Your book Incorruptible just hit print. You mind telling us a little bit about it?

AMS: Incorruptible introduces occult PI Thomas Hunter who is a cross between Phillip Marlow and Corwin of Amber. I describe it as occult, paranormal detective fiction. Thomas Hunter has a trio of entities that reside in his body and carry out various biological and mystical functions that allow him to investigate occult crimes and issues. Some of these functions include advanced healing, the ability to see ghosts and increased strength for short periods of time. These entities also have personalities and since they control parts of the body, they sometimes take over Hunter’s mouth and embarrass him.

He has no idea how he got these entities because he has amnesia. In Incorruptible he investigates the occurrence of bodies that don’t decay, what Catholic mysticism calls Incorruptibles, associated with saints. (Another way to survive death.)

This series fuses hermetic magick, Catholic mysticism and Freudian concepts. All the paranormal aspects are designed to walk the line between magic and explainable phenomena. An example is one of Hunter’s entities named Animal. Animal is the personality of Hunter’s physical body who often takes over Hunter’s motor controls to perform certain actions. Animal will occasionally speak for Hunter and Hunter will often have conversations with Animal where the two of them use the same mouth. So, one might say that Animal is a self-aware entity that shares the body with the individual known as Thomas Hunter and affords to him certain supernatural qualities, like increased fighting skill. Or one could say that Thomas Hunter is suffering from schizophrenia. All the magic in the book is designed to go both ways. Hunter is always trying to figure out how a certain “trick” is being done.

VF: And just one last question: what’s the one book you think everyone should read?

AMS: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

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Thanks for stopping by! While he's packing up and I'm cleaning up the coffee mugs, check out this little sneak peek from Incorruptible, available in ebook and now in print! (You can find out more about Andrew over at his website, by the by.)



Excerpt:
I made tracks for the basement, where I guessed the Relic would be.

She didn’t have to show me where the basement door was. I’d spotted it coming in. It was the only door that looked original. It opened to a rickety set of wooden steps, which fell straight down into gloom.

If the ghost didn’t scare me, the steps surely did.

I got you, bud, said Animal.

My toes spread inside my boots, cat-like, and my thighs rippled in a strange peristalsis. I’d had no idea legs could do that. After, I was steady in the dark.

Not gonna thank me? he asked.

“Fuck you.” I was still pissed, but aside from his asocial tendencies, Animal is the kind of guy you want on your side in a knife fight. The one guy you would take with you on a vertical cliff climb. A flex of muscle here, a quickened reflex there and voilĂ , he’d have you landing on your feet and running to the next death trap while making a snide comment.

The basement swirled with dust. I sneezed. Unfinished, yes, but not what I was looking for. I needed to find the oldest thing in the house, and I figured it would be down here. See, the upstairs was all new. New floor, new woodwork, carpet, paint, you name it. Remodeled. I wanted the original house. That’s the part the specter holds on to. What I call the Relic.

That’s my own term. You could call it the “Object” or, I guess, the “Thing.”

“Relic” is more descriptive. Find the Relic, find the ghost. A cracker barrel slogan. It works a good ninety percent of the time. After that there are other ways.

I scanned the dismal dump. Lumps of dust covered stuff. Old mattresses, boxes, chests, sheeted furniture. The usual fare for such scenes. It bored me. God, it did. Hauntings had become so dull. It’s always the same thing. You rarely get variety. It’s equivalent to the private dick’s matrimony case. You get tired of chasing cheating husbands.

I strolled through the usual terrain and let my dead eye take the lead. Dust, dust, sheet. Dust, dust, sheet. Dust, dust, blue fire tongues outlining a rectangular pattern.

Bingo.

“Third, is that all we got, sweetie?”

No change in the scene meant, “Yes.” I stood back and did a quick eyeball measurement. Height and width of a door, yup, secret passage.

“Ani, need a kick,” I said and then waited. “Hello?”

“Waitin’ for Kairos, babe,” Animal retorted, using my lips to say it out loud.

“Jesus Christ, you guys are slower than shit today!” I yelled.

Then it came. The kick. My leg jolted forward at a speed I would not be able to tell you, and struck the blue flames on the far right of the door, about where the doorknob should have been. I felt nothing. Plaster exploded and an old, rickety oak door opened in a yawning creek, followed by a cold blast.

“Nice.”

The feeling in my foot would return after restoration of cellular homeostasis, about fifteen minutes.

Couple things to know: I died once, a fatal car accident, and when I woke up I wasn’t normal. I’d also forgotten everything that had ever happened to me, but for a single memory.

Afterwards, little by little, I’d learned that I had a bunch of weird fricking entities living in my head. I say “weird fricking” because that is the most apt description I have found to date. In time, I gave them all names. Or they had names and I discovered them.

Animal—or Ani—you’ve already met. Then we have Third, an entity that operates through my gray “dead eye.” I address it by Third and actually the thing answers up to nothing else. I have to address it politely, because if I don’t the little shit just tunes me out completely.

I’m not blind in that eye, but when I call on Third, she sort of hijacks the ocular nerves and changes channels. I get a spiritual overlay on the material world or really vivid visions depending on the application.

The best way to explain Third is like this: place a lens from someone else’s prescription over your left eye. Then imagine it had a dark tint to it. Now note how well your uncovered eye sees. That’s Third Vision, the eye that is not covered.

Kairos-Kronos: this is an entity that’s two sides of the same thing. The Einstein of the whole operation, Kairos-Kronos is always performing some abstruse calculation as relates to space and time. You address him as Kairos if you want opportune timing and Kronos if you want regular timing.

There’s one other, but we’ll save it for later.

My nipples went hard. Sounds sexy, but really it was just cold in there. I walked through the doorway and found what I was looking for. The room had not been touched. It had been sealed off and entombed. Preserved.

“Interesting Relic,” I said, “a whole hidden room.”

The temperature was an indicator, too, but it could have been colder due to the vault-like placement downstairs. This is yet another reason why I don’t use all those ridiculous gadgets. I mean, do I need an infrared thermometer to tell me my tits are hard?

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