Ding-dong the Merry o; I am an interview virgin no longer!
This past weekend I had the opportunity to interview author Noah Mullette-Gillman. I had a lot of fun coming up with questions and Noah did not disappoint me with his thought-provoking answers. So tie your plastic bibs around your necks, ladies and gentlemen, and read on to sample a small portion of Noah’s brain. Mmmmm. Brains.
1. Did you always want to be an author?
Yes. But there were other things I wanted to be first. What I mean is, I imagined writing a novel to be such a huge and cerebral task that it would be something I would only be able to undertake when I was near the end of my life. I believed and knew it would be my most important work, but I thought it was a long way off.
In the meantime, I really wanted to be a rock and roll singer. Not much in life makes me as happy as standing up on stage and singing in front of an audience. I remember there was a time when I lived in Boston when I went years working in customer service. I didn’t have much money. I couldn’t think straight, and I was pretty much miserable. The parties didn’t cheer me up. I knew some wonderful women during that time, but they weren’t enough to keep me going.
It was getting up on stage for about 15 minutes every Sunday night at The Kells’ open mic with my band, and then reading poetry with a jazz band behind me at the Lizard Lounge on Monday nights that kept me waking up and going to work.
It was maybe a half-hour total every week when I really felt alive, but it was enough.
Of course, being in a band is tough. People argue. And some people start to get very strange when they can actually imagine their dreams really coming true, so my bands didn’t last and I had to find something else to make life worthwhile.
2. How much of your writing is based on past experiences/people? Give me an example (no need to use real names).
A friend of mine once commented that in each of my stories I seemed to be fighting against a different problem in my life. I wrote a cowboy zombie movie because I was terrified of zombies – absolutely phobic. Afterwards, I wasn’t quite so scared.
Luminous and Ominous was a quasi-autobiographical work. Just a few people in the book were 100% people who I know. I borrowed exact dialogue and scenes from real friends to create many of the characters, but most of them were not meant to actually be those people.
For example, I visited my friends Andrew and Amanda. The scene in the book when Henry first visits his friends Barney and Samantha was heavily influenced by an afternoon I spent with them in their apartment. Some of the dialogue came right out of their mouths. But Andrew wasn’t meant to be Barney. Amanda wasn’t Samantha. The characters were very different from my friends. Some characters in the book borrowed pieces from more than one real person that I know. And I’m not Henry. Henry and I are actually very different people.
I spent about three years trying to write Magic Makes You Strange. I had the initial ideas in Los Angeles. Later, I wandered the streets of Prague trying to make the pieces all make sense and fit together. Originally, it would have featured a man and a woman who had a lot in common with me and one of my exes. Then I created Nevil Dever and Edward Whistman. These characters were so vivid and real to me that I didn’t have to make it a story simply about myself and my friends. Using magic as a metaphor for art, the narrative, the action, was so powerful that the story didn’t need me and it didn’t need my friends.
3. How would you describe your writing style/tone of your stories to someone who hasn’t read you yet?
One of the reviewers for Magic Makes You Strange commented that this was the third one of my books she had read, and that the three of them couldn’t be more different. This is intentional. I feel the need, for the sake of professional pride, to reinvent the wheel every time I drive. The White Hairs really couldn’t be more different from Luminous and Ominous, and Magic Makes You Strange is again a new style. Yes, I hope I am growing as a writer, but I think the differences between these books are more a matter of choices that I’m making rather than limitations in my skill.
Some people have told me that they think Magic Makes You Strange is much better written than Luminous and Ominous. Some prefer the style of Luminous and Ominous. When I release a sequel to Luminous and Ominous, it will be in the style of the first book, not Magic Makes You Strange. It’s not that I’m changing, it’s that I’m doing different projects and approaching them in the way I feel fits.
Song writers are expected to write different songs and different albums in different styles. I don’t think authors should get it easier.
4. Do you like happy endings? In your stories, that is?
In my stories?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. There’s a place for happy endings. Certain kinds of stories demand them, but I am more concerned with what the ending of a story reveals.
I used to say that the difference between American movies and European movies was that the American movies ended when the story was done, while European movies ended when the portrait was complete. To an American, the European story can seem to climax too early.
5. Which of your books is your favorite and why?
No. I don’t have an honest answer for that. I’m especially proud of Luminous and Ominous because of the structure; both with the two timelines and also the interlocking duality of meaning all the way throughout. The construction, the geometry of it, impresses me more than the content of the book. It’s worth thinking about, and worth re-reading.
Many people tell me that The Confessions of Zeuspater is my best work, and I am very proud of it. A lot of research and serious thought went into the comparative mythology of that book. At times, I felt more like I was finding the connections, rather than being creative at all.
I think Magic Makes You Strange is the one with the most potential. If the number of readers justifies it, I’d love to write a whole mess of books in that universe. I’ve spent a lot of time and thought figuring that whole world out.
6. Do you ever write yourself into your book, whether it be little pieces of yourself into the main character, or an authorial walk-on role a-la Stephen King? If so, which of your characters most closely resembles you?
Not directly. There’s never been a character who WAS Noah in one of my books, but they all have a part of me in them. I have a lot in common with Farshoul (from the White Hairs) or, I did at that time in my life. Henry and I (From Luminous and Ominous) are similar in a number of ways, but also very different. I’d like to think I’m a lot like the great and handsome Nevil Dever (From Magic Makes You Strange.) Maybe on my best days…
When I write, when I create a character, I do actually ask myself how my protagonist is different from me and I consider it a goal to make sure they are. I don’t think anyone is interested in just reading my fantasies and wish-fulfillment. I’m trying to be more interesting than that.
7. In “Magic Makes You Strange” you do a significant amount of world-hopping/time travel, and your creepy antagonist in “Luminous and Ominous” is an extraterrestrial flora/fauna. Is it safe to say you have a firm interest in space studies and sci-fi in general? Any particular book or movie that really fueled that interest for you?
I’m usually not a fan of Physicist Neil Degrasse Tyson’s. I really do think that Pluto’s degrading from a planet to a dwarf planet was done on less than logical grounds, and really just as a publicity stunt. But I’ve seen him on TV lately arguing fervently about the real reasons why we had, why we no longer have, and why we need a real space program.
The first space program was there to compete with the Soviets. That’s why we dropped it immediately when the Soviet Union fell apart. It wasn’t intended to give us inventions, or something to believe in. Those were bonuses.
But when we have a space program, we have a culture of innovation. Why did electronics need to start miniaturizing? So we could fit them on a space shuttle. What effect does it have on a culture, when we all believe we’ll get to stand on the moon one day? I believed that when I was a kid. I no longer do. And look at how our culture has changed. America doesn’t do anything new or exciting now. When we dream about the future, we don’t dream of advancement and imagination, now we dream of how many ways the world can end.
In business they say that if you’re not growing you’re dying. We need to be a culture which is exploring, or we are a culture in decline. And I think right now we are a culture in decline.
8. You have a 100 word story in the newly released anthology “100 Horrors-Horror in the Blink of an Eye.” What kind of gear-shifting did you need to do to go from a novelist, to a drabble writer?
It was an incredibly difficult task. I spent an evening sitting down watching horror movies, one after the other and writing multiple 100 word stories until I got one that I liked.
Imagine how hard it is to actually say something in so few words. Now make sure you have a story, you have some sort of movement and action. Make sure your 100 words starts in one place and ends in another. It was really hard, and a lot of fun!
9. I detect a lot of spirituality and mysticism in your books. Explain how such concepts play an important role in your work/life.
I’m not religious, but I do and have spent a lot of time thinking about life. I have seen very strange things in my day. I have experienced the supernatural. I am the son of two Astrologers. When I was a boy, my mother ran a program out of our home called the “Pleroma Holistic Health Center.” Every month she would have a different guest speaker. One month it might be a past-life reader, the next a numerologist, the next a specialist on hand-writing, or a psychic. Some of them were more impressive than others. I was left with a higher impression of some of these disciplines than others. But it went a long way towards opening worlds for me. I think a lot of things are normal which seem outlandish to others.
My brother was too young, so I was the only child who would sit in on these events.
Like any writer, my understanding of what the world is influences my work. I remember reading 95% of Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Red Mars” before putting it down. I was maybe 10-20 pages from the end, but I decided I didn’t want to finish it. She offered a vision of what it would be like to live in an alien world completely devoid of anything spiritual or sublime or unexpected. Her view was apparently that our understanding of the universe would in no way be changed by terraforming a new world. It was utterly mundane. I found that laughably implausible. That was, to me, more ridiculous than aliens, ghosts, Gods, or time travelers, or the wondrous things we haven’t thought up yet.
10. If you were writing this interview, what question would you be dying to ask yourself?
Why are you so damn sexy?
11. If you could be an X-man, which one would you be (either actual, or one of your own creation)?
Nightcrawler was always my favorite.
Thanks for your time, Mr. Mullette-Gillman! Keep on rockin’!
All in a day’s work, M’am
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