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The Key-Lime Pie Effect

June 6th, 2008 5 comments

THE KEY LIME PIE-EFFECT
by Matteo Curtoni

“I haven’t had a key lime pie in ten years.”
“When ya had it, did ya like it?”
“I was a completely different person ten years ago. Let’s give key lime a day in court. And a large glass of milk.”
– from Natural Born Killers

I know – being worried about readers’ reception is essentially silly. And I feel it’s even sillier when you’re not exactly worried and you’re still hard at work on a novel that’s coming out in January 2009. But these days I’m wondering about some of that stuff. Just wondering. About the difference between my earlier stories and the stories I’m writing now.

It’s been a quite long time since the last time I wrote a novel I really cared about and I really wanted to see published. It was called Una notte a mangiare smania e febbre, it came out in 2000 and (for Italian standards, mind you) sold reasonably well. It was a story about real-life vampires – about a group of pretty fucked-up twenty-something guys and girls doin’ an unidentified drug called “the fever” and behaving just like vampires. Some of them in a relatively conscious way, some of them not knowing anymore that they’re still regular flesh and blood, that they’re human and not vampires. Killing a lot of innocent people, having sex like there was no tomorrow, killing each other. A lovely no-future tale about sex and death, more or less. But as dark and nihilist as it was, I know it didn’t lack a sort of cupio dissolvi-kind of poetry. And readers loved that poetry, probably more that they loved the blood-and-sex-and-violence side of the novel – more than I anticipated.
Let’s put it this way: if it was a song if would have sounded like a Dead Can Dance song.
Or a Cure song.

None of it was planned, I just felt that way when I wrote it. People still love that book and keep asking me where they can find a copy even though it’s long been put out of print by my former pub-lisher. Of course my ego & I just love the fact that they still love it, that new readers keep feeling drawn to it and keep looking for it.

But that story was born eight years ago, and I was a completely different person then.
I’ve written a lot during the following eight years, but a lot of stuff that I didn’t feel like sharing with a single living soul. I had my reasons, most of them way too much tortuous and/or painful to be discussed here. I’ve translated a some great novels (and a bunch of mediocre or plain shitty ones as well but let’s not get into that now), I’ve published a couple of side-projects under pen names and with one of them I had a damn lot of fun (I blogged for a year and a half impersonating one of my pen names and it all was just plain crazy) but apart from my nonfiction true crime pieces and some short fiction, I didn’t publish anything using my real name. During my “publishing hermitage”, needless to say that, things changed for me and my stories. Lots of things. Influences changed, I changed. And, inevitably, stories evolved. But the readers that are still pretty much in love with Smania e febbre have no idea about it all, about how much and in what terms my writing evolved.

That’s what I’m wondering about these days. Because South of Hell – my new novel about a mod-ern-day Sawney Bean Clan – is very, very, very different from Smania e febbre. It’s harsh and ter-ribly angry, and any dark kind of poetry is nowhere in sight, as far as I can tell. South of Hell is cyn-ical and dirty and pissed off at society in a way that eight years ago I couldn’t possibly anticipate I would ever feel someday.

And (let’s stick to music) this novel doesn’t sound at all like Dead Can Dance or the Cure.

It sounds like the Cramps.

Or like Johnny Cash on acid.

Or both.

So here here comes the key lime pie-effect.

I’m not really worried because this is the book I’m in love with now, the one I feel like writing and I feel the urge to write. But I wonder about the readers who might expect to find more of the same stuff that they found in Smania e febbre. Because they won’t find any of it – except a brief cameo of a couple of characters that survived the events of the other novel and they’ll both be very different from what they were then.

Key lime pie tasted very different eight years ago for me.

Well, I guess we’ll just find out how much different it will taste for readers as well.

And writing’s the only way to find out.

In the meanwhile, let’s have a glass of milk.

A large one.

Best,
M.

Ravenous

May 6th, 2008 8 comments

by Matteo Curtoni

I don’t know if it’s the same for some (or all) of you, but my stories are hungry. They’re always hungry and some of them are more than hungry – they’re ravenous. Of course they’re hungry for  love and attention, for the hours I spend working on them. But the hunger I’m talking about now is something different. It’s the hunger for the things that stories want to find inside my head when I’m writing, I guess. They sink their teeth into paintings and photographs that I just vaguely remember sometimes, into songs from obscure or not-so-obscure bands that I happen to find on Myspace, into pages from authors I love or I loved a long time ago, into pieces of news half-heard on the radio while I’m having a coffee in a bar. Anything, really. But I don’t think it’s up to me to look for the words and sounds and images that they need to feed on, so I let them find all that stuff where and the way they want – and I must admit that usually chance helps them with their hunger more than I could ever hope to do, even if I decided to try.
These days I’m writing a new novel called A Sud dell’Inferno – which means South of Hell – that’s coming out in January 2009, here in Italy. It’s set in Milan and deals with a sort of modern-day Sawney Bean Clan. (By the way, mesdames et monsieurs, if you’re not familiar with the deeds of Sawney Bean and his lovely wife Black Agnes Douglas, I warmly recommend you to check out their terribly amazing story.) And South of Hell is really, really ravenous… indeed one of the most ravenous stories I’ve ever written. While I was still working on the plot, it devoured Johnny Cash and Rob Zombie, 16 Horsepower and O’Death and The Flesh Eaters, passages from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and William Faulkner’s Sanctuary that had been haunting me for a long time and still haunt me today,  Harvey Bennett Stafford’s Muerte! – Death in Mexican Popular Culture and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Russ Meyer and Daniel Pennac’s Le Dictateur et le Hamac. It chewed and swallowed so many true crime stories that its belly’s still aching to this day and later it ate news about the fires that every goddamn summer turn some of Southern Italy to a wasteland of ashes and smoke and even ate some scenes from Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trailer.
I told you: it’s a ravenous book, and that’s one of the reasons I’m so fond of it.
Now that I’m working on it full time (until last week I was working my head off translating The Mike Hammer Collection Vol. 1 and I didn’t have much time for anything else) it keeps feeding and feeding and I guess that’s appropriate enough, since hunger is one of its central themes.
I never, never try to find out why a certain story’s hungry for the things it feeds on. It would be a waste of time, probably, and I guess that it would feel somewhat unfair. I just let them chase their appetites the way they want, without asking questions, without investigating too much. I’m sure it’s not a matter of influences – literary and/or creative influences are something deeper and older and much more complex for me than the banquets that stories consume inside my head. Rather, I think it’s a landscape that stories ask me to create for them, a landscape made of pages and sounds and hints and fragments, that won’t necessarily be visible or perceptible between the lines once the novel will be written but that somehow creates a much more deeper focus on the creative process of writing.
Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, I gotta go now.
There’s a ravenous novel that’s demanding for my attention.
Bon appetit to all your stories.
Best,
M.

THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE WRITER

March 6th, 2008 8 comments

(Admin note:  Matteo will be here with a longer piece next month, same time.  This time I caught him by surprise, and he didn’t have as much time as he wanted.  I asked him just for a short introductory piece…and here you have it.  He’s an Italian author who writes in English as well as his native tongue, a translator, and a great guy.  Enjoy! – DNW)

 

by Matteo Curtoni


I’m not sure I know who the Good and the Bad really are, but I can tell you something about the Writer. That much I can do, and I think I should since it’s my first post here. The Writer is 34, he’s Italian and he’s always loved language so much (or so obsessively, you’ll be the judges) that some years ago he decided that writing in his native tongue was not enough. Just not enough. So he started writing stories in English as well. Those stories won a couple of contests and the Writer got noticed by an Italian publisher. The publisher offered him a contract. Of course the novel he wrote for the publisher was in Italian but it was based on one of the short pieces he’d written in English because, hey, linguistic schizophrenia needed to be fed somehow. The novel was quite sick, dark and weird but it sold reasonably well anyway. Since stories and novels or ideas for stories and novels unfortunately aren’t accepted as currency, while working on further indignities he’s planning to subject his readers to, our man makes living out of translating. From English to Italian. He’s translated novels by Joe Hill, Douglas Coupland, Katherine Dunn, James Lee Burke, just to name a few, and he considers himself damn lucky for the opportunity to translate their works. He keeps wondering about the Good and the Bad and about what the hell they’re doin’ inside his head, but he has reason to suspect that they’re studying French. Sooner or later he’ll find out, anyway. Last but not at all least, he’s terribly happy for the chance to contribute with his words here. Hope you’ll enjoy them, ladies and gentlemen.

 

–Matteo Curtoni