Welcome back, everyone, for the 14th installment of my Atomic Interview series. If you’re a regular reader of the Anxiety, you know I’m taking a break from writing reviews for the time being but I’m trying to make up for it with more interviews and some original fiction. I can’t promise any of this will be the best thing you’ve ever read, but I can promise it’s better than listening to the guy in the next cubicle explain how he spent $15 emptying the snack machine of Combos just to make Roy from the IT Department angry.
This time around I’m happy to welcome Andrez Bergen to the Anxiety. Andrez is the author of THE CONDIMENTAL OP (available here), 100 YEARS OF VICISSITUDE, TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT, and this fall will see the release of WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA?. You can check out all of Andrez’s available works at his Amazon author’s page.
The interview begins after the publisher’s description of THE CONDIMENTAL OP:
A collection of noir, surreal stories, comicbook asides, hardboiled moments, fantasy, dystopia, sci-fi, snapshots of Japanese culture, and the existentialism of contemporary experimental electronic music. This is Bergen’s baptismal short story collection, bringing together recent short stories, never-before-seen older material, new comicbook art, and a range of incisive pop-culture articles written about music and Japan from 1999 to 2013.
Mark Bousquet: Thanks for joining me for the latest Atomic Interview, Andrez.
Andrez Bergen: No, thanks for inviting me on board.
Mark: We’ll talk about a whole host of your books, concentrating on the soon-to-be-released THE CONDIMENTAL OP, but let’s start with the personal. You’re an Australian whose been living in Japan for over a decade now. How did you wind your way to Tokyo and what you do there?
Andrez: I actually came here for a range of reasons—I love Japanese food, older movies by Akira Kurosawa, anime, manga, and even silly jidaigeki samurai TC shows. Principally, though, I came to Japan for travel as I very much respect the culture and history, and also the music. I was running a label called IF? Records and producing stuff as Little Nobody, and my game plan was to follow-through here in Japan with techno and experimental electronic music. I did that for quite a while, as well as journalism on the side—I specialize in music, food and cinema. In around 2007 I got back into writing fiction. But the continuous money-spinner? Teaching English. This pays the bills. And otherwise I’m trying to be a half-decent dad to my seven-year-old.
Mark: I’m an academic focusing on 19th century American and environmental writing, meaning I do a lot of literary criticism to pay the bills and a lot of fiction writing on the side. It can be all parts frustrating, relaxing, inspiring, and tiring going back and forth. You write in multiple fields, as well. Can you talk a little about how you separate the different kinds of writing you do? Is that a seamless move for you?
Andrez: Actually, good question—I guess, to be honest, I don’t really separate them at all. I’m constantly making stuff up in my articles, and plundering those articles for fodder in my fiction. They bounce out of one another. My articles on saké, fugu (blowfish) and sumo wrestling ended up being decanted into the novel I published last year, 100 YEARS OF VICISSITUDE. While I was researching that novel I came up against the March 1945 firebombing of Tokyo by 300 B-29s, and ended up doing an article about that as well. My mate Eva Dolan, another writer/journalist, recently called me a magpie and I think that name sticks. I like it.
Mark: Let’s turn to THE CONDIMENTAL OP. How did this collection come together? What are people going to find between the covers?
Andrez: This collection started out as a project I half-heartedly dabbled with in 2012, a way in which to archive some of my short stories and newspaper articles. I’m terrible at archiving and backing-up, so this gave me the excuse. But I was also working on my third novel and didn’t really have the time to fart around, so ended up shelving the compendium. I found I had space to continue the project in January this year. I was bored and needed to focus on something, so the timing was great. As I collated material, I ended up expanding the breadth to include not just recent published short stories and articles, but older material too, like an article from 1999 and some short, rather embarrassing prose pieces I penned in 1990. There were a couple of recent comic art things I wanted to included, which my publishers agreed with, and I decided to stitch it all together with a running commentary that gives everything background—I hope!
Mark: In your introduction to the story “Victor Victoria” in CONDIMENTAL, you write how the story came together because of a prompt to write a story around a classic movie title. “Given I’m a movie journalist,” you write, “this was a Heaven-sent request. I decided to use the Blake Edwards cross-dressing romp VICTOR VICTORIA (1982), which starred Julie Andrews and James Garner—but I’ve never seen it.” In writing the story, you draw on everything from Howard Hughes’ HELL’S ANGELS to HOGAN’S HEROES. This purposeful blending of genres and influences is something you do frequently in your writing. What makes this appealing to you? How do you make certain to blend all of your ingredients into a cohesive story so that the reader gets a unified experience? Or would you rather give them an unsettled experience?
Andrez: That’s an intriguing question, Mark, and I wish I could deliver something spiffy to balance it out! But the honest answer? I love blending together contrasting source-material. I used to do it with music, I love all the things I source and/or pay respect to, and I think anything can work in the same sentence so long as you feel adequate affection for what you’re citing. I don’t think I consciously aim at the unsettled experience, but I would like to believe I’m in some way challenging genre stereotypes.
Mark: Writers write, as the saying goes, and you certainly produce a large amount of writing. I’m curious, though, if you have a preference between short stories and novels? Based on many of the intros in CONDIMENTAL, it often seems like short stories are an escape for you from the novels – snacks instead of meals. How do you balance writing shorter and longer works?
Andrez: I prefer novels, because of the depth of layering and all the different angles that can emerge during the process. But I tend to freestyle the novel-writing process rather than plan it out too much, and along the way I write short stories or appropriate old articles/ideas into the manuscript, and try to tie them together. I really do enjoy short stories too – they’re more of a challenge because of the limited space and time to get your point across, but they can also be fun. Quick snacks indeed, rather than the overpowering banquet.
Mark: What’s going on in TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT? What kind of person is Floyd Maquina and why did you make him our guide into TSMG’s dystopian world?
Andrez: Floyd’s kind of me, if I took my alcoholic and chemical tendencies to extremes, and if I’d gone through the hell Floyd has. I mean, this guy is stuck in a near-future, last-city-on-earth hellhole where certain people are repressed, cosmetic enhancements are out of control, there’s pollution and economic stagnation, and Floyd’s wife has been stolen from him. I’d drink like a fish too. I liked the odd mix of fragility and strength in Floyd, the way in which he’s an outsider in this mad world. But more than these details it’s my homage to the kinds of noir/hardboiled stories I grew up on, written by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, made into black-and-white movies by people like John Huston and Howard Hawks.
Mark: 100 YEARS OF VICISSITUDE is described as “a purgatorial tour through twentieth-century Japanese history, with a ghostly geisha who has seen it all as a guide and a corrupt millionaire as her reluctant companion.” In all of your novels (including the upcoming WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA?) you take us into a different world. A two-part question, then. First, how do you go about world building? I know many authors who create a massive, thorough back story for their world before they even write the novel, and then there are people like me who get an idea, run with it, and then at some point piece together all the details. Which is closer to the way you operate?
Andrez: I think I definitely steer your way, as half the time I’m winging the yarn with no idea whatsoever about how it’s going to end. Characters shape themselves, bend, appear or disappear through the process of the rewrites. But there is a part of me that’s always focused on the particular world behind the story, looking at all the angles and trying to make sure it all clicks.
Mark: And the second question – are there themes that bind your work together despite the varied settings?
Andrez: I’ve been somewhat lucky that all three novels at least partially relate to the backdrop world I created in TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT – it’s easy for me to go back and read that, and fun to bounce out of some of the situations and characters there. Neither 100 YEARS OF VICISSITUDE nor WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA? are sequels, but they share minor details. It’s a great place to bounce out of. All three novels have their own themes interweaved, their own special homage. In TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT its noir and post-apocalyptic sci-fi, with 100 YEARS OF VICISSITUDE it was Japan, family and a whacked-out love story. WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA? goes back to noir, heavily weighted in the spirit of the 1960s Marvel Comics that I cherished as a kid.
Mark: What kind of ghost story is 100 YEARS OF VICISSITUDE? How do a ghostly geisha and corrupt millionaire get together to take a tour of the previous century?
Andrez: Initially, I intended it as the simple tale of identical twin centenarian woman who’d worked as rival geisha, but somehow Wolram E. Deaps got dragged into proceedings, took over the role of narrator, and it became a study of redemption, revenge and family in the afterlife. Kind of. I loved the way “the ghostly geisha and corrupt millionaire” meshed together as characters, leading each other by the nose through various set pieces, most of all Japan since World War II. They really did take on a life of their own, and it was a sad day to wrap their tale. But it needed the wrapping up. There’s only so much to say in the post-mortem of two not particularly nice lives.
WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA? – Written by Andrez Bergen.
Heropa: A vast, homogenized city patrolled by heroes and populated by adoring masses. A pulp fiction fortress of solitude for crime-fighting team the Equalizers, led by new recruit Southern Cross – a lifetime away from the rain-drenched, dystopic metropolis of Melbourne. Who, then, is killing the great Capes of Heropa? In this paired homage to detective noir from the 1940s and the ’60s Marvel age of trail-blazing comic books, Andrez Bergen gloriously redefines the mild-mannered superhero novel.
Mark: Next out from you is WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA?, which will be out in September but is already available for pre-order. The book description posits that this book is a mash between 1940s detective noir and 1960s Marvel Comics. What drew you to bringing these two genres together?
Andrez: I think it began with my early love of comics when I discovered back-issues of 1960s Marvel stuff like the X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four and Captain America. I was mad about Jack Kirby’s artwork in particular, but later discovered Jim Steranko and Barry (Windsor) Smith. These heroes were imperfect, quibbling, and had some hilarious one-liners – yet they fought the good fight when they needed to do so. I also mentioned growing up with classic hardboiled noir by Chandler, Hammett and James M. Cain, a lot of this the film adaptations. I cherished the quick fire dialogue, the street-smart cynicism, and the wayward characters that circulated around Spade and Marlowe. So when I decided to write a novel that heavily references comic books and came up with the title WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA? – a play on the 1978 George Segal/Robert Morley vehicle WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE? – it stood the reason that this had to be a murder mystery, and what better way to explore the terrain than via detective noir? That’s what I thought, anyway. It was a snap decision.
Mark: And finally, where can people go to learn more about you and/or your work?
Andrez: I guess online the easiest place for my writing is through the hack blog I keep at http://andrezbergen.wordpress.com. I occasionally update another blog about Japanese stuff at http://iffybizness.blogspot.jp, and I do a monthly column called “Flash in Japan” for Forces Of Geek. If anyone wants to get all old-school and investigate the music I was doing as Little Nobody, there’s quite a bundle still at Beatport: http://www.beatport.com/artist/little-nobody/69970.
Mark: And that’s that for this round. I want to thank Andrez again for chatting with me – one of the best parts for me in doing these interviews is either getting to know people I know better, or in this case, getting to know someone new. Andrez has been great to chat with behind the scenes over the past couple months and he’s been nice enough to send me some of his work and I can heartily recommend giving it a look.
I’ll end with my reminder that the best thing you can do to help spread the word of a book you like is to leave a review at your bookseller of choice. The fact is, there’s lots of books out there and reviews help readers decide. That’s all for this installment. Be well, everyone, and thanks for reading.
When he’s not chatting with other authors, Mark Bousquet is doing some creative writing himself. He is the author of multiple novels and collections, including The Haunting of Kraken Moor (horror), Gunfighter Gothic (weird western), Stuffed Animals for Hire (children lit), Dreamer’s Syndrome (urban fantasy), Harpsichord and the Wormhole Witches (cosmic pulp), and Adventures of the Five (children lit). He has also published a review collection entitled Marvel Comics on Film, which covers every cinematic and TV movie based on a superhero from the House of Ideas. A complete listing of all his work can be found at his Amazon author page.