Today we're talking with Stephan Morsk, author of HE: A Sexual Odyssey
FQ: You mention that Norman Mailer is your favorite novelist. I was wondering if you could tell readers what exactly it was about his writing you take the most creative inspiration from? Not to mention, is there a favorite book of his you care to mention?
Mailer was a complex character. He was a Harvard graduate who originally was interested in engineering but switched to journalism. He was an alcoholic, he stabbed one of his many wives, he ran for mayor of New York (lost) and made some films. He also won two Pulitzers. But what comes through in his writing is his thinking style which bursts salvifically through every sentence. Plus his great sense of timing. Incidentally he penned Tough Guys Don’t Dance in sixty days. The publisher wrote him a letter saying either send us the manuscript or return the money. I defy anyone who reads that book to say they could have written it, especially in that amount of time. He had a way of alienating people. If you get Dick Cavett’s book Talk Show, the enhanced edition, you can push a button and watch Mailer go head to head with Gore Vidal on Cavett’s show. (He literally did head bump Gore Vidal in the green room). Amazing!
My favorite book of Mailer’s is American Dream. I haven’t read them all but that one does skirt the antipodal boundaries of genre and general fiction.
FQ: The Writer’s Digest Competition successes must have been truly exciting. Were the entries that won the 7th and 8th place novellas, such as HE?
They were genre short stories. I was new to writing and I largely imitated the styles of others. I also drew inspiration from movies such as China Town or more recently The Long Goodbye, a fabulous noir send up of Chandler’s impenitent novel.
I became hooked on novellas when I entered Parrot Moon to the Paris Literary Award. I didn’t win, but I realized the novella is the perfect investment of time for writer and reader. Rather than years you’re only tied up in one project for a matter of months, and often the reader can zip through the work in an hour or two. I’m a fairly slow reader myself and enjoy the sense of completion a novella can give.
FQ: Is crime fiction your favorite to write, or are there other interests you enjoy?
For a long time I stayed away from crime fiction because, after all, genre is the black sheep of the literary enclave. However, it provides a ready thread for a plot to march to conclusion, and allows one many opportunities to skirt the boundaries of genre and the elixir of literary fiction. In the end writing is writing, no matter how you choose to filet it.
FQ: The mixture of obsession with the espionage angle could lead one to believe that there will be sequels. Are you thinking about using the law student in other tales.
Quite perceptive of you. I’m now on the third sequel to HE. The first Trashy Novel: A Love Story takes the character of Eve in HE and reincarnates her as Beatrice. In I one gets into the head of the law student as a first person narrative. I’m currently working on She that follows Beatrice’s woes to a more saturnine conclusion. Apparently I’m hung up on pronouns.
FQ: In relation to your next project Trashy Novel will this also be a novella along the same lines?
As I said, it reincarnates Eve as Beatrice and yes is a novella which I finished a while ago. I’d like to take this opportunity to correct some of the reviewer’s comments which I appreciated, hostile as some of them were. To imply that my work is pornography is nonsense as pornography has no plot. The reviewer made mention of the plot multiple times in her review. To characterize it as erotica might fit, but I view the struggle of the narrator in HE as someone who finds he cannot relate to women on anything but a genital level and is trying to exorcise that demon. In Trashy Novel: A Love Story the relationship with Beatrice, the one woman who he feels might save him from that isolated autocracy is explored. I agree with the reviewer that HE is no James Bond, on the other hand women are clearly interested in him including the ‘madam’ and even the sado-masochistic nanny Misha. At the same time that the reviewer bemoans the trashiness of the novella she criticizes what she calls ‘thousand dollar words’. The vocabularium as I call it is one of the more uplifting aspects of HE and distinguishes it from other so called erotica. I can only conclude that she was somewhat angry about my work and thusly a tad illogical. I suppose the worst review would have been indifference.
In I we get inside the head of the narrator and therefore are able to flush out some of the bones and butt of his inner hegemony. (Excuse the $1000 palaver).
FQ: Being in the mental health profession, does this background and experience allow you a more in-depth view into the human mind? Helping you to delve into the feelings, thoughts and emotions of others?
I certainly hope so. Writing is an art the splatters more of our own personal mishegos into its substratum than any other. Our writing is an ineluctable evisceration of who we are. Much of what we pen may be an attempt to understand ourselves.
FQ: I have to say, for some, the cover art chosen for HE is a bit of a surprise. Is this, like Mailer, more of a risky choice-a challenge to some readers to let go of their learned behavior and give this a chance?
I’ve learned since publication that it was much more of a risk than I had ever imagined. I gave Infinity Publishing the basics of the cover and they created it, nicely I might add. However, not one bookstore in the Twin Cities area would agree to let me give a book talk, and even the NYTimes refused to run the whole cover in an ad. (The same week I found this out they ran a special fashion insert with a woman’s nipple clearly visible through her blouse.) They agreed to run the upper third of the cover in an ad that’s coming out June 2nd. Several other publications have done the same. This truly surprises me. I’m staring at a copy of Updike’s Villages that has about thirty classical nudes on the cover.
There seems to be a double standard in the culture regarding literature. Even though sensuality has been in outstanding writing since the beginning of history (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lolita, Portnoy’s Complaint, Fear of Flying to name a minuscule few) there seems to be a misguided opprobrium for certain works, indifference to the sexuality in others. Mailer testified in a trial regarding the ‘pornographic’ aspects of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. We can’t seem to reconcile literature/erotica as one egalitarian continuum, libido being a crucible in the human evoke. As such I view sensuality as more than appropriate if not a necessary nexus within the human landscape. The cover simply reflects part of the book (breasts that were ‘freaks of nature’).
I remember an old saying that goes something like, oh, don’t judge a book by its cover.
FQ: In your opinion, considering subject matter, do you feel your writing is more aimed at the female or male target audience? And why?
Probably the male demographic is more predominant in the same way that the female sexualogue Fifty Shades of Grey is woman oriented. I’m sure many men have read that (not I) and therefore would have to say there is enough of interest in HE for anyone to indulge an hour or two of their time. Perfect for a plane flight!
FQ: In this latest literary age of Fifty Shades excitement- do you feel the market is more open to these ideas?
Yes, but I wonder about the gate keepers. In this age of Solomonic enlightenment we see the same forces at work that banned and burned books in Puritan Massachusetts, even set witches aflame in bonfires of intolerance. But in truth I know the readers are there untainted by the oleaginous forces of repression, open to honest literary talent in all its peritoneal eructations.
For more information on HE: A Sexual Odyssey and the author, Stephen Morsk, please visit the website www.morsklitmonthly.com