What compelled you to become a writer in the first place?
Hyperacusis. I used to be a musician, a composer (and not a very good one). When composing the music for an opera, I had to focus intently on the imaginary sounds in my head and find a way to transcribe them perfectly so that the orchestra could replicate those sounds, harmonies, and rhythms. Over the months I spent on this project, I developed a superhero-like awareness of sound. I could walk into a room and hear the faulty electrical wiring, for instance. And every sound ripped me away from the inner sounds I was struggling to put on paper. Sounds became annoying then they turned painful.
It got to a point where I couldn’t bear public transportation; I couldn’t bear to be in conversation with anyone. I had to find a way to make a living in complete silence – or as much silence as I could find. My small apartment in the north of Paris had paper-thin walls. I could hear my neighbors walking about, doing the dishes, and having arguments. I spent most of my time fantasizing about the walls coming to life and killing my neighbors and bringing me some silence. I spent so much time and energy into fantasizing about killing my neighbors that I decided to try and make a career out of it. I penned my first manuscript, “Edifice Complex”, a tragic story about a man’s erotic, obsessive relationship with the residential building he lives in and how they team up to kill the other occupants in an ill-fated attempt to be alone together.
It’s a strange book, and I haven’t found the right publisher for it yet. But I was so happy with the results that I went on to write another manuscript, and then another, and then another.
Who are some writers every new/beginning writer should read and why?
I would suggest reading contemporary writers in the genre you’re interested in. As for my preferred genre, horror, I’d recommend Ania Ahlborn. And if you enjoy being scared, check out Adam Nevill. His latest “The Redening” is easily the scariest book I’ve ever read. For historical fiction, I really like Emma Donoghue, especially her plays – notably “Ladies and Gentlemen”.
Beyond that, I’d suggest reading in your preferred genre and try to stay current. There’s value in reading the classics, too, of course. But there’s a lot of great work being produced nowadays – much of which goes unnoticed. Plus, contemporary authors need the support far more than those that are no longer with us.
What are some writing tips you would offer new/beginning writers?
I would strongly recommend production over perfection. Many beginning writers have a difficult time completing a draft simply because they want it to be perfect. It won’t be. And that’s perfectly OK. Finish the draft – that should be your main, if not only, goal – you can worry about making it good once the first draft is finished. And don’t try to make it perfect. Rather, strive to make it an honest, albeit flawed, representation of who you are as a writer at that given time. When you produce your next manuscript, presumably that one will be better. And so on.
The quest for perfection, I feel, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to creativity. Don’t fall into that trap. Be OK with your shortcomings. Know that your best work will not be your first or your second novel, and that’s fine. Worry about finishing your work then move on to the next project.
Also, on a technical front, a problem I see in a lot of work from new writers is that they insert themselves into the narration. Instead, let your characters or narrator tell the story. It’s surprisingly easy to tell when a writer takes the narration away from their characters or narrator. The joy of writing (and of reading) is discovering new perspectives. Writing fiction can be tricky at times. You have a great story to tell, but you shouldn’t be the one who tells it. Instead, you have to turn that privilege over to the characters or narrator you create and trust them enough to do a competent job.
Some books change our lives. Can you share which books have absolutely changed the way you look at the world, the way you approach life? How did they affect this change in you?
A Clockwork Orange. I grew up in a multi-lingual environment. (I am French-American with family, also, from South America.) When trying to express myself, I always had a certain reverence for language. I believed words and their meanings were written in stone and should not be toyed with.
Then I read a Clockwork Orange wherein the writer, Anthony Burgess, blends Russian and English together to create a slang or dialect for his characters. I found it beautiful and inventive, fun and effective.
When you see someone “break the rules” with such wildly successful results, you almost never want to follow the rules again. I’d say that book had a big influence in how I view language as a living, malleable creative tool as opposed to a set of rules and restrictions that must be adhered to with legalistic rigor.
If you were allowed to give one argument as to why the world should read your work, what would that argument be?
Forgive me if I’m being overly literal in my interpretation of this question, but honestly, I don’t think the world should read my work. At least, I wouldn’t want the world to read my work. I’d rather only a select few, imaginative, empathetic lovers of fiction read my work. The rest of the world, I feel, is too hung up on reality and moral absolutes. They’d miss the point.
I fear that most the world would not understand my work. And what’s even more frightening is that a significant portion of the world actually would. Either outcome has implications I don’t want to consider.
My relative obscurity is one of my most defining characteristics. If that were taken from me, I fear I would cease to be me and would turn into an amalgamation of people’s biases and perceptions of who they think I am or who they think I ought to be. I don’t have the strength of character to exist without my veils of secrecy and my airs of exclusivity. I don’t want the world as my reader. I have more tempered ambitions, and I’m happy to be selective.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
I have a collection of psychological horror novellas set for an early 2022 release from Running Wild Press titled “Delirium’s Muse” – a collection of 5 novellas that explore the mind’s frightening yet fascinating ability to rationalize the irrational, to grant escape from the ravages of reality into the more comforting cradle of delusion; 5 stories of flight, of fugitives of reason who set out on a fugue from the torments of truth into the more hospitable terrain of madness, where sanity is but a seed to be sown in the fertile fields of fantasy.
Beyond that, I enjoy reading and making videos about books and authors I like for my YouTube channel. I am also working on a fictional autobiography. After the success of my one-man comedy shows in Hungary and Poland, I had delusions of being a brilliant comedian and would fantasize about my rise to fame in the comedy circuit of Central Europe. So, I’m working on a memoire from the perspective of my delusional, fantasy-prone imagination. Also, I hope to get a big apartment and fill it with cats.
Michaël Wertenberg is a French-American author, widely published in literary reviews and genre anthologies, subsequently compiled in the self-published collection The Orthography of Madness and Misgivings and a collection of modern horror fables Stories to Tell Your Children (assuming you are a very bad parent)