This morning, I wake to pale sunlight and the gossip of fifteen parrots in the paddock outside my window. An hour before work and enough (solar) power to fire up the computer. But Microsoft has other ideas…
But more of that later.
Malcolm Steadman is a man who will drown in his own mind. This you should know. You should also know that there is nothing to be done to prevent this. In three months Malcolm will take his first proper plunge. Then he will begin to drown.
This quote is from Existential Terror and Breakfast, by MP Fitzgerald, a writer of mordant wit and a somewhat black outlook. In the stream bed of fiction, among the numberless sands of indie novels which are, frankly, not very good, MP Fitzgerald’s work stands out like a speck of real gold. So I asked him if he’d mind being interviewed for this blog, and he said yes. Yay!
Rose: In the Nihilist Horoscopes, another of your books, every star sign has a borderline personality disorder and a dark destiny (if not for the actual individual concerned, then for their unfortunate victim). In another of your books, Existential Terror and Breakfast, the hero is a deeply depressed – yet somehow uneasily amusing – disaster zone. Are you a man with a message, and if so, what is it?
MP: I want people to question their perceptions, realize that we are all a mess inside, and have a laugh when we inevitably find out that we are wrong about everything. When you open a horoscope you are looking for meaning and corroboration, but this is at odds with the inherently absurd nature of the universe. Everything in The Nihilist’s Horoscope goes awry because the planets and stars do not know about you. They are barren ancient rocks that will be around long, long after you die and you fretting about material things is ultimately trivial.
For instance, in Existential Terror and Breakfast, Malcolm Steadman has goals that are totally at odds with the lessons that the universe tries to teach him (perhaps the universe is a crap teacher..). He deals with his depression privately and holds onto a veneer of normalcy, when things are wrong at the core. Malcolm’s biggest enemy is boredom, because it means that he has time to recognize that his American Dream has failed.
Asking the stars for advice is selfish. Holding onto a delusion is selfish. We think that we are the heroes of the story, but the universe has auditioned us as the fool. This is only a tragedy if we fail to laugh at it. (You mean I’m not the leading lady? Ouch)
Rose: To what extent does your writing reflect who you are as a person – are you like the typical comedian who laughs on stage and cries in the wings, or more like the typical nihilist who revels in death and destruction by day and enjoys a blissful home life in the evening? Or neither?
MP: I’m probably a little bit of both, honestly. I can’t help but think that dark things are funny. It is how I cope, and I think that laughing at the dark stuff can actually help us empathize with something that we otherwise would avoid (I just do it because I’m mean). My writings reflect very much how I think about things, but they usually come short in the conclusions. I stretch my nihilism further in my writings because I think it makes for an uncomfortable punchline, but in my day-to-day I have rejected nihilism, or at least its bleak conclusion. So what if there is no inherent meaning in life? Dogs are a thing, go play with them! There exists an animal that just wants to play with you! The absurd can be a joy if you let it be.
Rose: What motivates you to write? Not-so-filthy lucre, the creative drive, the lure of fame and recognition? Other?
MP: The fact that my time is finite. I write because being productive feels good, and at the end of my life, I will have something to show for it. Days do not feel wasted when I write. It can be hard, and I do not always enjoy it, but I can go to bed knowing that I did something that was important to me. Don’t get me wrong, fame and money are awesome! But those things will only motivate me so far. When I have writer’s block I remind myself that someday I am going to die. That’s healthy…right? (Sure it’s healthy. You could die tomorrow. Write today!)
Rose: What’s the biggest challenge of being an indie writer, in your opinion? And how do you, personally, judge quality in writing, indie or otherwise?
MP: I think that the biggest challenge for an indie is marketing. When you are indie you do not have to ask permission to publish, and indeed you have the freedom to reach an audience without a corporate gatekeeper saying no, but that comes at a price. You do not have the marketing expertise or budget that a traditional publisher has. If you want to reach your audience you have to be the marketer. It is a bit sobering, and it can be just as much of a challenge as playing the submission/rejection game of traditional publishing. Few writers get into the indie scene because they are naturally good at advertising their art as a commodity, but all of us will have to learn how to do that if we want to make a living. (Rose: either that or sleep with the CEO of Book Bub...)
As for the second part of the question, if you can surprise me, then you are a good writer. I can usually guess where a plot is going, and if you can spin me around, and it makes sense, then I am a happy camper.
Rose: If you met a guy like Malcolm Steadman, the hero of Existential Terror, what would you say to him? Cheer up mate, worse things happen at sea? Or, you know what, you can order these great euthanasia drugs online these days…
I’d tell him that he needs to admit to others that he is ill and find a productive hobby. Isolation is your worst enemy when you are depressed, you need to seek out others and ask for help. There is no shame in that. I’d tell him to find active engagement in projects of worth so that he had something to occupy his time and be proud of. I’d tell him to stop eating those breakfast burritos because dear god man no one needs to wake up at 3 AM to go to the bathroom! That’s what I would tell him. What I did to him is entirely different…(If I met a guy like Malcolm I’d probably marry him, so I could cheer him up. Then he’d infect me with his angst, and we’d both end up cowering under the kitchen table eating Doritos.)
Anyway, to continue the story of my own existential terror experience at breakfast, I powered up the computer, my head pounding with ideas poised to pursue and devour the fleeing keyboard like a lioness tackling an antelope….and it said ‘Updating…this will take a while. Do Not Turn Off.’ In MS Speak, this means two hours and half my limited satellite data. So instead of creating a great work of literature, I put the washing on. Thanks, Microsoft.
Now tell me…do YOU believe in star signs? I don’t…unless they say something nice about me, like ‘The Aquarian is the most brilliant and charming of all the star signs…” Obviously then they’ve hit the nail squarely on the head.