Friday, October 10, 2014
AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Peter Jelen
1. When/why did you decide to become a writer?
When I was 20 I thought I had HIV. I had been tested several times and every time the results came back negative, but I still believed I was diseased and contagious, convinced that I was going to die–-soon. Since I was going to die, I figured I’d better go ahead put down all those stories that were floating around in my head before I got too sick. Of course, the sickness still hasn’t come, and I’m now certain I don’t have HIV, but I still write.
2. What authors inspired you when you were younger? What books do you enjoy reading today?
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut is what made me even attempt to write. When I read that book I saw what writing could be, and didn’t have to be. Until that book entered my life I never thought I could be a writer, Mr. Vonnegut made it seem easy. Today I mostly read indie poetry. I really enjoy Carl Miller Daniels, Damon Ferrell Marbut, Wayne F. Burke, Mike Algera, to name a few. I still however enjoy my staples like Dostoyevsky, Hunter Thompson, Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk.
3. What was the inspiration behind your novella The Cure For Consciousness?
I wondered, still wonder, if it’s natural for a man to raise children. If you look to nature, male child rearing is an anomaly. The male usually doesn’t stick around after conception. Being a protector, a provider, a care giver; that job tends to go to the female of most species. I don’t believe in gender roles, but I do feel that it’s a losing battle to fight against one’s own nature. In The Cure For Consciousness, Ernie Lobe struggles with his baser instincts and his inherited societal obligations. He’s been taught that he should be a protector, a provider, and a care giver, but that’s not what he wants to be. He resents the obligations, but will not give stop obeying them no matter how much they’re causing him to suffer. Basically, Ernie is too afraid to come out of the closet, and openly admit that he hates being a father. I guess my inspiration for this story came from my own selfish fears of fatherhood.
4. What are you opinions on the state of this technology crazed, gluten-free world?
I think they’re a Hell of a lot more things people should be concerned about instead of gluten. As for technology, it obviously has its benefits like access to more information at a near instant speed. However, at the end of the day, I think it’s a distraction, just like gluten. You know, it used to be people missed out on life when they were sitting at home watching TV, but now their missing out on life even when they’re living it. A little while ago I was driving to work and got stopped at a light, looked out the window and saw this crazy old lady attacking a 20 year old girl at a bus stop, relentlessly smashing her in the head with her purse. I stared with curious amusement until I noticed all the people who were also waiting at the bus stop didn’t even bother to look up from their phones. I couldn’t help but wonder what, at that moment, could be more interesting than this? It then occurred to me that if I would have recorded the old lady attacking the girl and uploaded it on to YouTube, those same people who were at the bus stop may have bothered to watch it. I guess my point is people are missing out because their heads are constantly craned down staring at a four inch screen instead of the panorama life. People seem to be more focused on what is happening in the virtual world, rather than on the world right in front of them. Not too long ago I was playing poker with some buddies, and one of them showed up to the game and spent the entire night playing online poker with his phone while simultaneously playing real life poker. Technology, although it webs us all together, has a way of severing us. Communicating through devices depersonalizes relationships. I’ve noticed in myself over that last few years that I find it more comfortable to communicate through a machine than face to face with people. I think the more we interact with machines, the more we will behave like them. Conscienceless. Indifferent.
5. Were any of the characters based on real people you'd known or heard about?
There was this one freak on the television show Bridezillas who said that if his tuxedo wasn’t fitted and ready for his sister’s wedding he’d be willing to go back to jail: “I’ll break my probation,” he said. “Hell, I could use a vacation.” This triggered the idea. Initially I was going to have the main character Ernie Lobe want to go to jail to get away from his family, then I decided to make Ernie even more depressed, and have death the ultimate preference to living as a “family man.” But as the character developed, I was thinking of my father, who I believe feels he’s like a cassette player, a person on this planet who no longer fits in and has long outworn his usefulness.
6. Will we see another novel like this, from the POV of inside a person's mind?
I have considered writing a prequel. Ernie was an easy character to write, and there’s no shortage of complaints he could have about the state of the world.
7. Can you tell readers about your other works?
I recently came out with a small collection of poems called Impressions Of An Expatriate: China, which is an honest, firsthand examination of my experiences while living in China dealing with culture shock, racism, and assimilation. In 2012 BareBackPress released my first book Better Than God, which is an eclectic bundle of short fiction. It’s got a little bit of everything in it; sci-fi, magical realism, anti-erotica. One of my favorite pieces in the collection is called “The Loneliest One” which is written in the form of a suicide note from God who decides to kill Himself because no one in the universe understands Him. I also really like the title story which is about a young man who’s father has Alzheimer’s and wants to be euthanized but can’t find a doctor willing to do it, so Michael, the protagonist, figures out a clever way to help him die. He straps 300 tablets of ecstasy to his father and puts him on a plane to Beijing, China (a country with the most stringent drug laws in the world) and alerts the authorities when he gets there.
8. Where do you see the emotional state of the world by the time the next generation is having babies and running the world?
Apathy, indifference, and a false sense of wellbeing will prevail in the world by the time the next generation is having babies.
9. What do you mostly want readers to take from The Cure For Consciousness?
A lingering sense of spiritual discomfort.
10. Would you like to see any of your work in theaters or on TV? If so, what actors would you like to see play your characters?
It would be great to see one of my stories adapted to another medium. The only actors or actress’ I could picture playing the roles would be the less than beautiful kind; people like Roseanne Barr or Kevin Spacey, or Rainn Wilson from The Office.
11. Where do you see yourself and your career in the next ten years?
I’d like to see myself retired from working a day job and writing full time. Hopefully have a best seller under my belt.
12. What would you be doing if you weren't writing?
Paying a therapist 150 bucks an hour to listen to me complain.
13. Can you tell KSR what you're working on next?
I’m finishing up my first full length novel called The Short Life of a Minimalist about a former reality TV star who can’t accept that the time has expired on his fifteen minutes. In his mind the cameras are still rolling, producers are still following him, and people are still paying attention.
14. What authors, dead or alive, would you like to collaborate with?
I’d love to work put out a graphic novel with Frank Miller or Art Spiegelman.
15. Thank you for participating in the interview. Can you please leave the readers with three things that may surprise them about you?
I believe there may be merit in the ancient astronaut theory.
I spent nearly a year in jail.
My favorite TV show is The Real Housewives of New York.
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