Bewildering Stories interviews

Gary Inbinder


Okay, Gary, I give up: what’s the origin of the name “Inbinder”? For the longest time I thought you might be a neighbor of Deep Bora or Prakash Kona!

Don, as far as I know the name derives from the German and means ‘to bind’ something. Inbinders may have been fieldhands who bound sheaves. They could have bound books, as in the name Buchbinder. Or whatever else folks back then bound. I don't know. There are variants of the name, e.g. Binder, Einbinder, Anbinder and Ainbinder.

My grandfather Inbinder was a Russian Jew who immigrated to the USA around 1900. After my grandmother died he returned to Russia in the 1930s and presumably was killed in the war. Some family members believe he fought with the partisans against the Germans, but there are no records.

What authors and fiction do you particularly like to read? What other media, such as films, do you enjoy?

My tastes are very eclectic, but I do tend to read in streaks. For example, many years ago I went on a Zola streak and read just about every Zola novel I could get my hands on.

I also went on a Japanese streak and read Tanizaki, Kawabata, Mishima and Haruki Murakami. One of my favorite historical novels is Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi.

I also like the old historical fiction commercial classics like Sabatini’s Scaramouche. And I’ve read, and to some extent been influenced by, English authors from Dickens to Waugh and the great Russians, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Pushkin and Dostoyevsky.

I like Japanese animé, and I also like big epic films, like David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Bridge on the River Kwai. But I also enjoy quirky little character studies like Sideways, Jane Austen films, Whit Stillman’s contemporary comedies of manners and historical films, especially those about the English writers and poets like Pandemonium (Wordsworth and Coleridge) and Haunted Summer (Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley and Byron).

Of course, Haunted Summer, which is about the summer the Shelleys and Byron met in Geneva is of interest because of the Frankenstein theme in my novel, Confessions of the Creature.

Do you have any favorite stories you like to reread?

Tanizaki’s “Terror” is a great short story about paranoia. I like to go back and re-read it every once in a while. And I can always enjoy Gregor Samsa’s transformation into a cockroach.

Do you consciously emulate any of your favorite authors?

I’d say my emulation was more unconscious, or maybe semi-conscious.

What non-fiction do you like to read?

History, both ancient and modern, especially those involving an era I’m writing about in historical fiction. I read several books on ancient Rome as background for Noble Lies and several on late eighteenth, early nineteenth century history for Confessions of the Creature.

When did you first start writing fiction for publication? What motivated you?

I started writing fiction for publication about three years ago. The prime motivation was being pushed into an early retirement from the law. I figure the world can use more writers and fewer lawyers.

How do you write? Do you keep an idea notebook? Do you outline stories first or do you just start writing and see where the story takes you? Or some process in between?

I’m afraid I haven’t been too methodical. For example, about three years ago I re-read Frankenstein and thought, “Gee, I wonder what would have happened if the monster lived?” That was the beginning of Confessions of the Creature.

Or I re-read Plato’s Republic and Tacitus’ The Annals of Rome and got an idea for the future dystopian culture of Noble Lies.

So I suppose, in part, my reading gives birth to ideas for writing. Of course, my own life experience and observations play an important role in the creative process.

What do you find hardest about writing? What do you find most enjoyable?

Hardest: Grammar, punctuation and syntax. Seriously, it’s hard building a strong, logical plot structure, especially when you don’t go in for formal outlining.

The most enjoyable experience is feeling the characters come to life on the page, and writing good, believable dialogue.

In your novel Noble Lies and even in short stories like “Good Eating” and “Nanodeath” the characters eat and drink a lot, and they typically have good taste — or as good as circumstances allow. Might you, perhaps, be a gourmet at heart?

In my bio I say that I like good scotch and cognac, a taste I share with characters like Ludwig and Viktor, a.k.a. the Creature. Maybe I was influenced by the heroic appetites of old (all that feasting and mead drinking) that was cleverly parodied in Fielding’s Tom Jones. And isn’t there some historical basis for believing that Alexander the Great drank and feasted himself to death?

You’ve mentioned that the “Iron-town” chapter in Noble Lies is reminiscent of Chicago, and that perhaps as a consequence you find the noir style easiest. Do you deliberately avoid that style?

I’m not sure that I deliberately avoid it, and I return to it, now and then. I do like to test myself by writing in different styles, with greater or lesser success.

“Doppelganger in the Loop” is set in your home town of Chicago. Is there a biographical subtext to the story?

I used to ride the Lake Street “el,” and the girl is based on a high school crush. I’ve also had recurring Lake Street El dreams about going around in circles and missing stops. I’ll leave further analysis to others.

Noble Lies and Confessions of the Creature introduce artificial, transhuman characters. Do you find that these characters enable you to tell certain kinds of stories that could not be told — or perhaps not told as well — with human characters?

I think the transhumans are good mirror images of our own strengths, weaknesses, and foibles. They can also be the “other” who makes demands of us, such as the androids’ claim for human rights, equality and dignity.

How did you connect with Drollerie Press? What factors went into your decision to publish Confessions of the Creature with them?

I read good things about them on-line, they were signing some good writers, I liked their mission statement and philosophy. Deena Fisher and Amy Garvey had solid business experience and knowledge of publishing and marketing, and “Confessions” seemed perfectly aligned with the sort of novel they wanted to publish.

Noble Lies strikes me as a kind of reverse time-travel novel: it’s set in a far future, but the hero, Luddy, exerts a corrective influence on societies that are copied from Antiquity or, in some aspects, from modern history. And yet it’s the personal relationships and the lifestyles that seem to interest you most. Did you insert magic into the story in order to prevent the plot from being construed as representing a political platform?

I think the magical aspects come from my interest in myths and legends, and of course those myths and legends can have political implications, namely they elevate the founders of a civilization to demi-god status.

Do you have any favorite topics or themes you like to build your stories around?

The stories I like almost always involve a journey or quest and transformation of character. The interesting thing is how the character gets from here to there, and what happens along the way.

I also like the “fish out of water, story” e.g. the knight who suddenly finds himself in 21st-century Los Angeles, or Dorothy, who finds herself in Oz. Getting them back home, sometimes sadder but wiser, is always fun.

You are one of Bewildering Stories’ first official Review Editors and you’ve been one of our mainstays ever since. What do you particularly like about Bewildering Stories? What improvements would you like to see?

Bewildering Stories is a great place for new writers to get a start, but it’s also a great place for experienced and polished writers to publish things that might not get a home elsewhere. BwS respects and encourages writers, and is one of the few literary magazines, print or online, that provides good constructive criticism and a chance to re-write and improve a submission. Improvements? Hmmmm... how about paying? Just kidding.

What writing — or other — projects do you have in mind?

I’m still doing some edits and polishing in Noble Lies. I’ve made a couple of attempts at poetry, but I’m not sure that’s going to lead anywhere. I do have a couple of ideas for a third novel, but the chick is a long, long way from being hatched.

Thanks Don. Great questions and I appreciate the opportunity to share my views with BwS readers.

Gary

Thanks for the interview, Gary, and especially for your stories and your steady and reliable hand in the work of the Review Board.


Copyright © 2008 by Gary Inbinder
and Bewildering Stories

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