Edward J. Rathke (http://edwardjrathke.com/) released the book Noir: A Love Story on Civil Coping Mechanisms this past summer. It’s a detectiveless detective tale sifting through 26 perspectives in order to find the truth behind two deaths, one town that exists nowhere, and what it means to have a dream.
Edward’s memoir, Transdimensional Transgender Transubstantiation, came out in October 2014, and an existential fantasy novel, Twilight of the Wolf (Perfect Edge Books), in March 2014. His novella, Girl With Ears & Demon With Limps, came out in February of the same year. Edward’s first book, Ash Cinema (KUBOA Press) was published in 2012.
1: Which literary genre, if any, influenced Noir: A Love Story the most, and why?
There are a lot of things that influenced Noir: A Love Story, and surprisingly few of them are literary, actually. It’s very influenced by experimental literature, but only those that experiment in a structural way. There’s little being done to the sentence in the novel, but the structure’s where it gets pretty playful.
There were three main goals: I wanted to write a novel that could be read in any order, where the narrative to happen completely off the page, and that was built on dissonance.
Those were the driving forces here and I’m still surprised it came out as well as it did. I wrote this in five days, and the biggest part of the editing process was taking these 26 narrators and stitching them into an order that I felt was dynamic and captivating. Because of the way I built the novel [and it was very much an act of building], the real narrative movement is one of contradiction, and the reader must build the narrative, and create it for themselves, because I’m largely just dropping breadcrumbs to lead you out of the forest.
The biggest influences, though, were film and music. Especially Max Richter’s From the Art of Mirrors and Wong Kar Wai’s filmography, but especially In the Mood for Love and 2046. Also Terrence Malick and Kim Ki-duk and Andrei Zvyagintsev and Olafur Arnalds and Prokofiev and Zhang Yimou and Christopher Doyle and Shigeru Umebayashi and Zbigniew Preisner and Abel Korzeniowski and hundreds more.
2: What’s the best thing about writing? The worst?
The best thing is when you’re flying on the keyboard and you’re not really writing anymore but just trying to keep up with the visions hurricaning past you. It becomes more an act of translation than anything else, and I’m just trying desperately to tie the visions to the page. And then there’s the calm that comes when you’ve spent all day at the keyboard and you have forty or so pages to show for it.
The worst is how I plummet out of the real world. I stop eating or sleeping or doing anything. I write in marathon sprints so if I’m noveling, that’s all I’m doing for a week. Not really time to be a real person. And then when I’m not writing, there’s the constant ache and wailing within me telling me to get these stories down.
3: What do you do if inspiration is flagging? Do you have any tricks against writer’s block?
I don’t think I’ve ever had writer’s block. My problem is laziness and time. Always time. I have about fifteen novels swirling around in my head right now and just no time to get them down. That’s how it always is. The second I start writing a new novel, there are eight more climbing out my ears, trying to get me to listen harder to them.
With all that going on, my biggest problem becomes what to write next, which can be much more stifling than you’d probably imagine. When you have a room full of screaming ghosts, it’s hard to pick one and let it haunt you for a while.
4: Are you a day person or a night person? How does that influence your writing and writing habits?
Night person. Unquestionably. My body’s natural sleep pattern is to sleep at 6am and wake up around noon. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t really live on that schedule.
Because of this, I do most things after people fall asleep. That’s how it’s always been. I need the quiet chaos of the witching hour to breathe right, think clear, and sing and dance. But because of how the world runs on a different clock, I’ve learnt to write at any and all times of the day. Sometimes I’m waking up early, writing before work. Sometimes I’m sneaking it in when everyone’s eating lunch. Then there are buses and planes and cars to write in. But, yeah, I write whenever I can, really, which is rare these days, but hopefully I’ll be able to find time soon.
But how has it influenced my writing? I think it’s made my fiction very vignettey. My memory’s terrible, and I can partly blame that on never sleeping, but it’s made my life feel more momentary and more unbound by time, which is why my novels are sort of fragmented and fractured in nature. I’m just giving you moments, ever fleeting, which is how my life has always felt.
5: In the anti-terror squad of writers, what is your task or specialty?
Ha, I love this question and wish I had a good answer for it. I’d probably be the double agent, secretly waging guerilla warfare against the establishment and giving information and aid to the other literary rebels.
Either that or diplomat, trying to make peace between the many different factions.
I guess those are sort of contradictory, but that feels right to me.
6: Any particular question you wish people asked about your writing?
I don’t know. It’s really hard for me to say. I’ve written six novels [with maybe four more in various states of disrepair/unfinishedness], maybe ten novellas, three poetry collections, and about 500+ short stories, but very little of my output has been published, so the questions I’d ask probably wouldn’t make sense to anyone else. I mean, Noir: A Love Story was written when I was twenty two and is only now coming out, and I’ve become a very different writer and person over the years in between. For me the interesting questions are how these things all relate to each other, since all my novel[la]s are part of the same branching reality and come from the same basic mythology, in its various iterations.
I guess the other questions would be: What is your deal with dust? Why so many wolves? What’s your deal with giant trees and made up religions? What happened to the quotation marks? Why can’t you write at least one book with just one narrator?
7: What is your fascination with dust? Where does that come from? I’ve noticed it in several of your stories.
Not really even sure how to respond to this. A lot of people have been asking about it lately, so I guess they deserve an answer. I don’t think it’s an obsession that’s always been there, like wolves and ravens and gods. I can’t remember exactly when it started but I’ve always loved how dust drifts in the air and makes almost transient constellations when hit by the right kind of sunlight. Maybe my house growing up was particularly dusty, but I remember lying on the carpet with my dog, watching dust become cosmic. There was a review of Twilight of the Wolves that recently came out and mentioned how I often move from the atomic to the galactic within the same sentence. I guess that just feels natural to me, to move from the smallest entity to the largest, because they look the same when you watch them. Everything is chaotic when you look at it closely, but from a distance you see a unifying pattern. An asteroid belt looks like a mess of rocks when you’re close to it, but from far away it has a specific pattern and beauty. Like, when your face is right up in floating dustmotes, you don’t see the way they dance. When you enter a room with big windows and there’s that sort of halflight coming in, and dust wanders through the air: it’s an enormously beautiful sight.
I used to try to write stories where nothing human happens. What I was trying to capture is that beauty. The beauty of dust. How humanity isn’t the primary agent of existence, and that impossibly awesome things happen without our participation. And dust is a big part of that, I guess, for me. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about fungus and bacteria, and probably for much the same reason. Those things are literally transformative, and dust carries that same power, but in a different direction. Fungus and bacteria turn Death into Life but Dust is just what happens after the end. Writing that now, I see how Noir: A Love Story is influenced by these thoughts of dust too, because it’s a novel that takes places after the story is over. But dust: it’s probably the deepest obsession in my life, or maybe just the wire between them: Death and Time. Dust is their handshake.
And then when I really started noticing it was when I lived in South Korea in an apartment by myself. I fought a daily war with dust. The first novella in Ash Cinema is a reflection of that battle. I would clean every inch of my apartment and wash and scrub it. I moved all the furniture, washed under every crevice. I’d be up until weirdly late in the night doing this. And, invariably, I’d wake up in the morning with everything covered in dust. I had no idea where it was coming from or why it was impossible to keep an apartment so small clean, but the dust beat me. Eventually I just lived in it, coated by it. Dust coats everything and we’re made of it. As we live it sloughs off us almost constantly, and everything we touch will be dust and is coated by dust. It’s like how every mountain is a desert waiting to spread. We’re just mountains waiting to crumble into dust.
So what is the fascination? I don’t know. For me it’s too big to answer, but this hopefully gives a direction or starting point. My whole life is dust. Our whole existence is dust. Civilization is dust in waiting. The past is dust, and the future must fight through the oceans of dust.
8: What advice, if any, would you give your younger writer self?
To not care about publishing and to not care about how people will react to your writing and to stop trying to be like the writers you admire. Don’t kill your darlings. Protect them. Kill your heroes. Do it every day.
9: What are you working now?
There are two novels going right now. One is a giant monster novel which I’ve restarted three times because I keep getting it wrong. Right now I’m translating it into epic poetry to see if that’ll help, which is, yeah, so very odd, but fun. Weirdfun. It’s the novel with the best title I’ve ever thought up, which makes it scary because I don’t know if I can make the novel as good as that title. It’s called 13 Angels Screaming at the Mountain.
The other novel is a kitchensink novel. I wrote it because of how frustrating 13 Angels has been to write. That novel’s become so much about different constraints and it has such specific goals and ideas, that this new novel is the opposite. It’s the first novel of mine to be from a single first person perspective, because Michael J Seidlinger challenged me to do that at AWP. It’s also probably horror, or biopunk. It’s whatever comes into my head. There are religious cults, monsters, fungi eating the planet, biotechnology and nanotechnology going insane, an apocalyptic wasteland spreading, and the entire midwest has become a giant sprawling city because the coasts are all under water. Basically, any idea I get gets thrown into the novel and I see what happens. It’s endlessly fun. Probably the most fun I’ve had writing since Noir: A Love Story.
The interviewer’s bio:
Berit Ellingsen is a Korean-Norwegian writer whose stories have or will appear in SmokeLong Quarterly, Unstuck, Birkensnake, and other places. Berit’s short story collection, Beneath the Liquid Skin, was published by firthFORTH Books in 2012, and the novel, Une Ville Vide, by PublieMonde in 2013. Berit’s work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the British Science Fiction Award, and included in the Wigleaf top 50 longlist. Find out more at http://beritellingsen.com.