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Bewildering Stories Interviews

Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

You’ve been a Bewildering Stories veteran for a year and a half now, since “Piece of Cake” appeared in issue 57. How did you discover Bewildering Stories? Are there any particular improvements you’d like to see made to the website?

I was reading the cartoon User-friendly. They have this link of the day, and one day Bewildering Stories came up. After reading some of it, I thought: “Hey, I can do this too!” and I figured I’d send in a story for the fun of it.

I can’t say I can think of any improvements to the site. It works for me, and seems to get more and more sophisticated without me messing with it.

Has anything changed since you posted your bio? Anything you’d like to add?

My bio... well. Just look at that thing now. I think it took me 15 minutes to come up with it, and it was pretty accurate at the time. Now, well, it still is pretty much accurate, except for the bit with the pictures, which has obviously changed. My cousin has a photo album on the web, and so does my old college. Then there was that party I went to... there is evidence of me being there too. They were celebrating something to do with ten years passing since whatever. Don’t care. Some guy fed me a lot of beer. Had steak.

I am still underweight. I think I’m actually losing weight now. That’s work. And it is tiring, so you can expect some delirious sounding stuff in the future.

Some of your stories, from “Piece of Cake” on, have car-chase scenes.

As stated in my bio, I used to entertain myself writing stuff like that. It is a good way to eat up space if done in a certain way. The normal everyday reader of the BwS E-zine has not been subjected to that with full force though.

A good chase needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. Oh, and lots of collateral damage. That means fruit vendors at random intervals.

Are you a fan of car-chase films?

Yes. A film is hardly complete without a good, destructive car-chase, I feel. I feel Lord of the Rings needed one. I used to watch a lot of those chase movies that came out in the 1970-1985 period. The grand opus of those films would have to be The Junkman by H.B. Halicki. A fitting title if there ever was one. Nowadays most good chases seem to be in Chinese action flicks, or French ones.

Are you an automobile race driver, yourself? Do you participate in athletics? Have you done so in the past?

I’m not a race driver. I just participate in everyday traffic. That can get interesting. Every time I use the turn signal, Evil is summoned. It definitely helps to have a quick and/or a trashy looking car to scare the other drivers. Most people seem to go with big wheels to fend off Evil. Big diesel trucks that get 25-35 liters per 100 kilometers (10-12 MPG’s). Nasty, that is.

About the most athletic thing I have done is walking home after getting drunk. And I’m not sure which part of that would be the athletic one, the getting drunk or the walking home. There was this guy once who went to the Olympics drunk. It was in 1984 I think. He got a medal.

What authors do you like to read? Do you have any favorite books or stories you like to reread?

H.P. Lovecraft is good. Found his work on the web, and I think I’ve read most of it now. Apart from him, there is little worth repeated reading.

The last time I read an actual book, made from actual real paper (as opposed to those pesky plastic books) it was by þráinn Bertelsson. This book by this guy. Good stuff. He is one of those authors who doesn’t take himself too seriously. He has also made a bunch of films, some watchable. One has a car chase in it.

How do you start a story? Does the “Twisted Fairy Tales” approach work best for you?

The “twisted fairy tale aproach”: I sit in front of the monitor until I figure out roughly what I can write in a day or less, and attempt that. Begin at the beginning and let it flow organically from there. A few times I had something in mind since earlier in the day. A few times I just snatched something really ancient and changed it a little. (The ancient folk tales don’t all make sense, they seem to be just descriptions of some random farmers getting lost and meeting elves, or whatever else they met after a bottle of Landi.) Sometimes it is like old issues of the National Enquirer, minus the Elvis sightings of course.

Do you outline stories in advance? Or do you write what seems to come next? Do you keep a notebook of ideas? Or do you write whatever your imagination comes up with on the spur of the moment?

I definitely do not keep a notebook. I do not know what would happen if I did. I’d probably end up writing the story there. Sometimes I have a good idea of what I am beginning to write before I start. It used to be just about getting charachters to hit each other with cars, now...

I actually wrote “Piece of Cake” at school some years ago. In 1997, I think. Or ’96. I wrote that in a notebook, in Icelandic. The reason why it is on the web in English is that I picked it into my computer and sent it to my cousin. He asked me to translate it for him, so he could show it to some people he knew, and I did. I had that pretty well outlined in my mind before I began.

“Brian Pilkington Solves a Crime”, “Reality TV Bites” and “It Can Play Dead, Too!” actually came to me when I was watching TV. The first is a case straight out of Dateline, altered to fit my purposes, the middle you can guess by yourselves, and the last was when I saw “Divorced single mother heroin addict born again Christian stripper Barbie” or something to that effect on the news. The News. They also thought it was amusing.

“Catnips” is a branch from a story I wrote after going to class tought by a rabid feminist, while I was hungry and thinking about food. I got a few weird Sci-Fi ideas from that woman. Also, some of my friends used to eat catfood like snack. They said it was good stuff. The story I used for basis is all about Sci-Fi, blood, gore, Evil and food, and very little about story or the main character. Would have made a nice essay, but then I would have needed to keep notes and cite references. Not to mention keeping the catfood business to myself.

The rest is mostly stuff I came up with and wrote on the same day. The bizarre endings are probably because of that. I start out with a good idea, and write until I think everything is there, then save and forget about it. Some of that stuff wasn’t even edited before I sent it.

What do you find most enjoyable about writing?

How cheap it is!

Seriously, I do get weird ideas. I can either tell them to people around me to scare them (again, I must tell myself to not talk about cannibalism in a crowd. Or feminism. However, it seems to scare feminists less, and they have been known to feed me some caustic alkali liquid, or gin, not sure which. Probably because they spend all their time thinking about slime), or I can write it down in the form of a story.

Writing is also sometimes a good way to fight boredom.

When you write a complete story, it is almost always quite remarkable. And yet endings seem to be very difficult for you. Why might that be? Do you enjoy the story and characters so much that you don’t want the story to end?

Ten years ago it used to be easier: when everybody is dead and all has been destroyed, the story is officially over. When the body count got down from three-digit numbers it was at the expense of plot, and the plot was all about something other than just finding wild reasons for people to mangle and kill each other. So instead of a complete story with a bunch of set-piece events of gratuitous violence and destruction, there are bizarre events in themselves, that once explained, have nowhere to go. Nobody blows up or drives off a cliff in the end.

In short, I just run out of stuff to say.

Humor and irony play a large role in your stories. Do others find you humorous and ironic in person? Is your world view humorous and optimistic, or does humor transform an underlying pessimism?

Some guy once referred to me as “post-modern,” and I was just talking to him. With great emphasis. But then, most times when I speak with that guy, I happen to be drunk. Very post-modern of me. We don’t have a word for “irony” in my language — at least not as explained in the Wikipedia.

My world view is out the window and through the TV and media (the papers). Interestingly, the TV manages to tell me the truth entirely by accident. It is a logic puzzle made from reality. Being a bit cynical helps in solving it.

My world view alternates between a bleak, Evil one, and sort of happy and optimistic. Mostly the bleak, Evil feeling comes if I have to look at some of the local architecture for long, not to mention navigating the streets. I was driving out parcels yesterday, and I still have this surreal evil feeling lingering. Did you know that sometimes street numbers start at 16? And that some streets cannot be accessed by roads? That is so bizarre. I can’t work in an environment like that.

Do you have any personal goals in mind for yourself as a writer? Fame and fortune? A great novel or other work?

Yeah. I intend to write a magical tome for summoning demons from hell, other dimensions, the mall and wherever else they hail from. For this feat I will need a few sheets of human leather, and a supply of nubile virgins to make Erzsebet Bathory jealous. And some gummibears to eat while I work on it.

Until then, I have a couple of ideas I need to write. I think they will be long ones. 10,000 words or more.

What humorous stories have you found in science fiction or other genres that you would recommend as exceptionally good? Or have you read any particularly dark and haunting tales that you would recommend to our readers?

I am very fond of old pulpy literature, like this: The King in Yellow. I have not yet read all of it, but it works for me. I once read a nicely crafted story by Algernon Blackwood, called “The Willows.” Must hunt down more by that author at some point.

Also I read a story once called “The Colder War” by a Stross something. That was both humorous and dark and haunting.

As for humorous, I can recommend the “tales from the White Hart” by Arthur C. Clarke.

Mostly I have read stories of Vikings and kings hacking at each other. Those are almost all written by anonymous. The style does not quite fit with modern literature, but they can be amusing. That is, if you are amused by limbs being lopped off in combat and dialogue that belongs in a Schwarzenegger movie.

Do you think that science fiction or speculative literature generally is by nature optimistic or pessimistic? Or does it have elements of both?

That varies from author to author. That’s my view. But how could I comment on, say, Robert Harris’ Fatherland? (I rather liked that one.) Is that optimistc or pessimistic? If your view is that we are better off without Nazis ruling Europe, then I guess it is optimistic. At least we don’t have Nazis, right? In the same genre, Orwell’s 1984 is very cynical and pessimistic of the human race as a whole. His work is in my view pessimistic because it might still happen — forget that, has already happened: The Soviet Union, North Korea, China, Cambodia... One wonders that maybe it is just a question of time before humanity destroys itself like that.

Star Trek is... *sigh*. The thing looks bloody evil to me. What a foul future is depicted there, all filled to the brim with super-scary technology like those transporter thingies. What is that? And why is there only one culture per planet? Is everyone cloned, I ask? It is a social democrat paradise that is being depicted, but it looks pretty bleak to me. Optimistic says one, pessimistic says another.

Where do you think speculative fiction might be headed in the future?

Sooner or later all technology will be discovered. (I have that planned to happen next Thursday.) All that fun stuff like light-speed engines and communicators that allow people to speak in real time between galaxies, and I don’t mean Fords. Then, it will still ramble on about ghosts and whatnot. It does not matter if anyone finds or invents ghosts. They can be speculated about anyway.

Or do you mean sooner? I will see it when I get there. If I don’t like it, there is always stuff on the Gutenberg project archives.

Have a nice day

Copyright © 2005 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

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