Author Stona Fitch is one of the masters. I first stumbled across his work via one of my quirkier hobbies—that is, looking for extreme/banned/ultra-disturbing movies to watch—and came across the film SENSELESS (2008, Directed by Simon Hynd). I was so blown away that when I saw it was based on a book, herds of wild horses gone rabid and sporting six-inch fangs couldn’t stop me from getting my hands on it. And what a book. Any avid reader has experienced this: discovering a work that reaches far beyond its entertainment value. A book that touches you, stays with you, changes you. Stona Fitch’s SENSELESS got me thinking about dark literature on a completely different level. I mean it very seriously when I say this man has all the marks of genius. Read him. Read him. Read him.
But before you do that, here’s a chance to get to know him—because as well as being a prodigious novelist, he’s also the kind of legend who isn’t above giving interviews to his breathless admirers on their basic little blogs. How? Why? I don’t know. Let’s not question such beautiful things.
So with utmost pleasure (and a whole lot of awe), I present: Stona Fitch.
Karen Runge/Stona Fitch Interview
November 30, 2015
When did you first start writing fiction?
Early, really early. But I veered into journalism in my teens and twenties. Ended up working as a feature reporter in Anchorage, then as a crime reporter in Miami during the cocaine era. Writing on deadline is a great experience for any writer, but I turned out to be a terrible reporter. I liked to make things up, which is generally frowned upon in journalism. And I always felt kind of bad when I wrote about people who managed to get themselves into trouble. So, I turned back to my first love, fiction – dark and otherwise – and never left. My first novel, STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS, was published in 1992, beginning my slow, relentless rise, like the world’s oceans.
Who are some of your literary heroes, and what have you learned from them?
Eastern European writers (Kafka, Bohumil Hrabal, Bruno Schulz) taught me to explore the strange and fantastic. The modern crime masters (Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, Charlie Williford, Richard Price) showed me how to compress dialog and move a story along. Literary writers (John Fante, Harry Crews, J. M. Coetzee) inspired me to focus on language and craft. And writers of novels with overt or covert political themes (Graham Greene, Russell Banks, Walter Mosley) reminded me that books can reach beyond entertainment.
I’ll happily argue that your short novel SENSELESS is one of the most impactful, insightful and relevant dark novels of the last few decades. What inspired it, and what was the process of writing it like?
Thanks for that, Karen. I wrote SENSELESS in the late 1990s, during the bright shiny years before the 9/11 attacks in New York. In fact, it was published on the exact day of the attacks – auspicious timing for a book about international terrorism, amoralists who will do anything, online hostages, the degradation of empathy, and the undermining of the European Union.
What inspired it? I had been working in Belgium on and off for years, and always sensed a palpable anger and disenfranchisement in the grittier neighborhoods of Brussels and Antwerp. That initial sense permutated into a dark, disturbing novel that wrote itself over a few months. It was like being possessed by the loas, as described in Haitian voodoo – uncontrollable, intense, exhilarating, painful. Other books I’ve written have had some variant of SENSELESS’ manic combustion (I’m a binge writer), but never to the same extent.
SENSELESS has gone on to appear in more than a dozen countries – including a recent reissue in France from Sonatine. It’s been made into a UK feature film. And it continues to get attention for being a prescient wake-up call about the terrorist era. That said, I still feel more like the novel’s surrogate than its author.
You once described yourself as ‘more musician than writer’. How has your experience as a musician impacted you as a writer? What music inspires you?
I spent a few years on the road with a country punk band (Scruffy the Cat) when I first moved to Boston. I think what I carry with me from that time is the immediacy of a live audience. When you’re playing in a band, you can see whether you’re connecting with people or whether they’re losing interest. When I write, I’m very aware of keeping the audience engaged. I cut the boring parts, the literary equivalent of long guitar solos. And I try to keep paragraphs and chapters tightly compressed, like pop songs.
Your writing often contains some very disturbing elements. What are your thoughts on dark literature in general? What role do you think it plays, and why do you think so many feel the need to create it / seek it out?
I think humans are hardwired to imagine, detect, and seek out darkness and danger. It’s how our species weathered much more fraught times when a strong sense of intuition and imagination ensured survival. In the long game of survival of the fittest, the aware live (and pass on their DNA) while the naïve die. By imagining the worst, we could avoid it, destroy it, or at least try to understand it.
For much of the world, many of the daily demons and visceral fears no longer exist, leaving a void filled by dark fiction, films, art, and games. In short, readers and writers of dark material are more evolved – but you knew that already.
What are you reading right now?
A lot of non-fiction, mainly. I’m reading the new Luc Sante book, THE OTHER PARIS – his New York book LOWLIFE is one of my favorites. Because I live in Boston, I’m reading WITCHES by Stacy Schiff, a great exploration of the Salem witch trials. And I just started Charlie Williford’s biography, which proves that every writer’s life is a cautionary tale. Like I needed any more proof of that.
I just finished DARK HORSE, the second book in the Boston-based crime series I write under my 100% more Irish pen name, Rory Flynn. It’s out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in June, 2016, and I’m outlining the next two books in the series. I’m an associate producer for GIVE + TAKE, now winding its way toward becoming a film. And I’m co-founder/editor-in-chief of the Concord Free Press, the world’s first generosity-based publisher, which will be receiving a major award at NoirCon in 2016.
And the old-faithful that never gets tired… What advice do you have for young writers?
The advice I see online always sounds discouraging. It shouldn’t. It’s a great time to be a writer. There are more ways to get your work to readers, supportive communities of writers, and wider interest in dark work that used to be pigeonholed as genre. Young writers just need to write a lot, read a lot, and love to write and tell stories. Readers can tell if your heart’s in your work, or just your mind (or worse, your bank account). Reach a little further with every story or novel. Don’t make other people suffer for your art. And don’t give up – ever.