Welcome to the blog, Alex. Thanks for joining us!
Thank you much, Rachel. It’s great to hang out for a bit with you and your readers.
What can you tell us about Gears? What is the significance of the title?
Gears is a comprehensive collection of my published fiction spanning 2010-2013. Peppered among the 70 flash fiction and short stories are a handful of pieces that were written especially for the collection and that I never submitted for publication. There are nearly 400 pages of great, solid fiction, and most of the pieces are no longer than a few pages, so a reader with limited time can still enjoy the collection whenever a sliver of time arises.
The title Gears came about from my fascination with components working together to form a whole. Whether or not that whole is efficient does not matter to me; in fact, the more inefficient it is, the more interesting to me because that means its parts may be flawed.
This fascination with parts reaches beyond the mechanical. For example, I am intrigued by how political and social systems are subdivided, or how society arranges its many parts in its many boxes (caste systems, socio-economic strata, etc.).
The stories in this collection act very much like cogs in the Machine that is the book itself. And in addition, in every story there is a type of movement whether physical or ethereal, implied or described.
As with any complex system, I feel there are myriad details that must be examined, the gears that move within the process itself. It’s oftentimes that these gears are doing much more interesting work than the Machine. Think about the crazy, frantic activity that goes on inside our bodies while we sit on the couch and veg out in front of the TV.
You’ve been compared to Vonnegut and Gogol. What are some of your literary influences?
My influences have changed over the years and continue to change as I learn more about life. I started reading at a very young age in Romania and became obsessed with Jules Verne’s amazing sci-fi novels.
Later, in the States, as a young boy, I fell in love with Mark Twain for his storytelling and sense of humor and Ernest Hemingway for his amazing use of sparse language used to communicate difficult and intricate subjects. Hemingway led me to Gertrude Stein and her experiments with language.
Those two opened up the floodgates and I became enamored with: James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, William Carlos Williams, John Steinbeck, Ezra Pound, Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Gore Vidal, James Thurber. Soon after, I discovered and was very much influenced by Kafka, Camus, Orwell, Sartre, Andre Gide, Milan Kundera, Charles Bukowski, John Fante, and even the lyrics of Roger Waters (Pink Floyd).
Nowadays I’m entangled in the brilliant magic of three particular authors: Roberto Bolaño, Andrei Makine, and Herta Müller. I’ve been alternating between each of these great authors’ works and have discovered yet again a renewed verve for my own fiction and direction in which I want to take it.
How do you create your microfiction? Do you ever start writing a flash fiction piece and realize there is a bigger story to be told – or vice versa?
I see my micro/flash pieces first and foremost. I actually visualize the scene. Having gone to film school helps with this strategy.
For micro/flash fiction I look to transport the reader quickly into the material. I always like writing an undercurrent of instability into short pieces because it challenges the reader and often leaves him/her on an unbalanced plane of sorts. I want the reader to make decisions and form opinions, so I try not to give too much or provide too much exposition or a complete ending (if an ending at all). I, myself, feel comfortable with being uncomfortable and challenged by art and literature, and so I aim to transfer that to my readers, as well.
My current work-in-progress (soon to be finished), a small novel called The Sun Eaters, was expanded from a flash fiction piece with the same name published by The Monarch Review in 2012. That transformation came seamlessly; I wanted to know more about the characters myself, so I decided to expand the short scene into a full-length novel. But I don’t naturally look to expand material that is meant to be compressed.
I think at times there are definitely larger, more developed stories waiting to be told, but as a writer I aim for restraint first and foremost. When I set out to write anything, I have a solid idea of the size of the work I want it to be. And so I practice a lot of restraint when I set out to write flash fiction or microfiction.
A longer work like a novel is a totally different animal. A writer must fully commit to crafting a novel and stay with it, no matter what. A work the size of a novel must be planned; that is to say, personally I need to have a good idea of what I’m sitting down to write and about how long it will be. Aside from the micro that surprisingly and successfully turned into a novel, I’ve always had a concrete plan for the length of a piece.
What makes experimental fiction different from other genres?
Writers like Joyce, Stein, Dos Passos, Virginia Woolf, Borges, Calvino… all seem to have some intangible quality or reservoir within; it’s almost as if they’re naturally inclined to propel art through experimentation. Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is one of the most amazing pieces of experimental work that I’ve ever read. I took three passes over that novel to just barely get the basics of understanding Faulkner’s genius at work there. I probably need at least that many more.
I’m actually quite interested in the experimental direction in which an author can push a larger work. Bolaño’s 2666 is a perfect example of how a writer can propel a novel far past its conventional size and scope.
Do you have any new projects in the works?
I mentioned my novel up above, which is nearly finished now after almost 2 years of work. The Sun Eaters follows the story of two young boys---brothers---at the end of WWII in an unnamed Eastern European country struggling to survive famine, winter, and political ideology (Communism). Despite what I just described, it’s a story of triumph of the human spirit, of the optimistic energy of children, and my homage to storytelling itself and how it helps us traverse horrific moments in our lives and history in general.
I also write a monthly, non-fiction column for The Prague Revue. It runs the first Wednesday of every month. I am doing an ongoing series called “Tales from the Trough,” which takes a behind-the-scenes look at my experience with journalism and working for CNBC/MSNBC in the 90s on political talking heads TV shows. My collected work so far can be found here: http://www.praguerevue.com/AuthorStream.fjsp?author=Alex%20M.%20Pruteanu
Thank you so much for joining us on the Freelance and Fiction blog!
Great being with you and your readers, thank you.
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