Andrez Bergen interview @ Atomic Anxiety

AtomBomb 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.

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.

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