Next up in the Short Sharp Shocks! Is Erik Hofstatter with Book 19 – Isidora’s Pawn (foreword by Simon Bestwick). With a week to go to publication, Dean and Erik sat down and talked about the book and Erik’s writing process.
DEMAIN PUBLISHING: Here at Demain we really loved Isidora’s Pawn – without giving too much away can you tell us more about it?
ERIK HOFSTATTER: Thanks very much. The book is a homage to ageless Gothic classics of tragic and unrequited love--The Phantom of the Opera & The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s an intrusive emotion. Love. The character of Isidora was inspired by the ‘Jersey Devil’, a legendary creature from New Jersey folklore. The mythos seduced me right away. I combined those flavours with a Spanish traditional holiday called ‘El Colacho’, which involves men dressed as the Devil and jumping over babies who lie on mattresses in the street. People who read my short novel Toroa will know how much I relish writing about infants. But Isidora’s Pawn explores a different angle entirely. Another ingredient was a report about a Peruvian gang that supposedly murdered people for their fat. The book is also a farewell to my animalistic trio of stories, which began with The Crabian Heart and Toroa.
DP: A gang actually murdered people for their fat?! What is the world coming too...other than research into some very bizarre aspects of humanity ha ha what challenges did you face when writing the story?
EH: A friend of mine asked me once if I ever detected a web between my stories. I said no. BUT, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I tend to flirt with the same theme—a character study of damaged individuals. Doomed love. Fragile souls. The human experience. I just gravitate to it. I fear repetition. I don’t want to write another Crabian Heart. I don’t want to write another Toroa. I’m a dark fiction author, but also a foolish romantic so naivety and cursed relationships are recognisable idiosyncrasies in my writing. Isidora’s Pawn still shares an identical blood group with the other two, but tastes differently. I hope.
DP: Ah, the writer’s fear of repeating themselves. It does make me smile when I’m working on something and hit a wall and then come up with a novel way of solving the problem only to then realise that I used it in a previous piece of work...I too was conscious that in some of my stories during my second phase of creating (after I stopped writing books etc to concentrate on plays / short films) that the main character seemed to be the same person or a variation of the same person...perhaps that’s only natural, I don’t know...but I’ve tried to work on that...that person wasn’t me by the way which perhaps is even odder...is any of Isidora’s Pawn based on your own life?
EH: As Simon points out in his introduction, we all occasionally feel the urge to escape banality and break away from the shackles of modern society—to escape somewhere. Anywhere. I was born in the Czech Republic but uprooted from an early age by my parents. We lived in Austria, Ireland, and England. My father visited Canada, where he originally wanted to emigrate. I felt like a rolling stone most of my life. [The character of] Orrin and I share similar flaws. My love life was rather shambolic last year and I crossed paths with several charismatic women. All bled their essence into female characters inhabiting the story. I also experienced my fair share of heartaches from people I loved and trusted. Isidora’s Pawn reflects those disappointments. Mine and theirs. But as [the character] Eduardo explains, the cruelties of love are universal. There is no escape.
DP: Ah, that is so true my friend, so true. For those that aren’t familiar with your work – do you have a specific writing style and is there anything you find particularly challenging when you write / in your writing?
EH: Narrative is the arrow in my heel. I prefer to unravel the story through dialogue mostly. Sometimes I wonder if I should’ve tackled scriptwriting instead. I have an elementary formula. I provide the reader with a cloak of ambiguity. I want them to decode the story in their own way. No spoon-feeding. Take away from it what you will. That’s the beauty of art. It sings to us in different tongues. As for a specific style, I’m not sure. It probably changes from book to book. Like a chameleon. I’m unpredictable. I lie to myself a lot.
DP: Ah, you and I are very similar then – there was a great review of a novella I wrote in 2016 / 2017 where it was said that there was so much more going on under the surface, between the lines as it were that you thought the story was about one thing but actually it was about something else altogether. I really liked that. I compare some of my stories to those old ‘magic eye’ pictures where you have to keep staring and staring until the actual image appears and suddenly all the ‘confusion’ becomes clarity. In the screenplays I write I can’t be that ‘obscure’ sadly...I currently don’t (though am open to offers ha ha) but do you have anybody you consider a mentor?
EH: Karen Runge. Karen is my solo beta reader. She lent me her eyes back in 2015 when I wrote Katerina and has been a major consultant and pillar of encouragement ever since. She’s a true master of her craft. I refuse to release anything without her seal of approval. That’s the highest medal of respect I can give.
DP: It’s important to have that encouragement isn’t it? I was acting as a kind of mentor to a younger writer for a while but I’m not sure I was entirely successful as they’ve now given up writing which hopefully wasn’t because of me...anyway, anyway, so what next for Erik Hofstatter, anything you can share with us?
EH: Unfortunately, not. I spat out 1000 words into a new manuscript, so it remains shapeless. Even I don’t know what it wants to be yet. Another cacophony of sad hearts, most likely.
DP: Would you say then that you suffer from writer’s block?
EH: No. Not so much from writer’s block, I’m more frustrated with my writing speed. When I read that some writers lay down 4000 words in two hours—I want to hurl myself from a very tall building. That would take me months. My well of ideas rarely runs dry, but the journey from brain to paper is an arduous one. Still, I’m an indie writer. My rules. My time. No deadlines. No obligations. No pressure. I write what I want, when I want. Writing doesn’t pay my bills; therefore I can take as long as I need.
DP: Good for you. It’ll come when it’s ready, no point in forcing it I’ve learnt. Some days I can bang out 5,000 words or 20 / 30 pages of screenplay but then others it’s a struggle to get only a couple of paragraphs down...I’m guessing that you’re not one for outlining too much?
EH: Sometimes I outline a basic plot and sail in a direction I want to explore. Other times, the compass is magnetised and I get lost at sea. The story drifts into uncharted waters. Somewhere beyond the light of day.
DP: Very poetic. When you typed ‘the end’ (so to speak) on Isidora’s Pawn and read it over for the final time, did you feel you learnt anything from writing it?
EH: It made me think about Samsara. A repeated cycle of birth, mundane existence, and death. Sometimes I feel like I’ve lived this life before, you know? Like I’m trapped in the same scenario over and over. An everlasting punishment. I’m still searching for a way out.
DP: Ah, we really need to talk about this in more detail at some stage (but haven’t got time for it now unfortunately) but I’m beginning to think along the same lines particularly when it comes to ‘matters of the heart’...actually now I’m thinking about it, I’m writing a story for an anthology inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy and perhaps I need to work in this theory...yeah, leave that with me...okay, enough about me – finally Erik can you tell us all something which your readers might be surprised to find out about you?
EH: I practised martial arts for most of my formative years. It was my first love and fed me with grains of stability. I hold a rank of 3rd Kyu in Kyokushinkai Karate and 2nd Kup in Taekwondo. But then life happened. I abandoned my training and pursued writing instead. Here I am.
Here you are indeed! Thank you for your time Erik and all the best for Isidora’s Pawn.
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Dean M. Drinkel