About a year and a half ago I was interviewed about my ebook Scratch by Stephen Foland for a website he was writing for at the time. Due to circumstances beyond his control the site closed down before the article was posted. It was a really good interview and I was sad that no one ever got to see it.
I saw Stephen last night and he said to just go ahead and post it myself, so here it is. Stephen asked some really good questions that went to the heart of my novel as well as some bigger picture aspects of my life and writing in general.
There may be Spoilers ahead.
Ten questions for Wayne Wise, author of Scratch.
- Where did you get the inspiration for Scratch? What was the first mental image you had that really crystallized the concept?
Scratch began its life as a short story in a series of fanfics that a friend and I were writing set in the Marvel Comics universe. Somewhere along the line I realized that there was a core of a much bigger story in it and that it would be easy to strip out all of the superpowers and Marvel trappings and still have something. What survived is the basic idea of a madman attempting to kidnap his biological daughter from her mother and chasing them to this rural community with a secret. I think the central image of a small, innocent-looking girl with angel wings chained in the basement of a church is what led to everything else. The prolog, though it has been rewritten and polished several times over, appears much the same as it did in the original story.
- The book seems to be focused on the savagery that exists in the hearts of so-called civilized men. Though there are supernatural elements in the story, the real monsters are the humans. Like in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters there is the notion that all we need to be at our worst is the slightest nudge. Do you subscribe to the notion of “Original Sin,” if not in the theological sense, then in the social philosophical sense?
In most of my work that deals with the supernatural the real evil seems to come from people and not from the “monsters.” We do horrible things to each other without a supernatural agency being behind it. Every day, the news is filled with far worse things than I can invent. I think it is easy for people to blame an outside force for what they do rather than take responsibility for their actions. In the novel the residents of Canaan are eager to blame Scratch for the evil in their town. He becomes a whipping boy for their guilt and by projecting it onto him, metaphorically and physically through the agency of Gabrielle, they are able to expiate it. Part of my goal is to show the dark side of people. I don't think we are served by hiding or ignoring darkness. It festers in the dark, if I may be so obvious in explaining my primary metaphor in Scratch. This tendency of mine probably originates with being a long time fan of Alice Cooper (something I know we share). Alice always showed us the dark underbelly of our culture. The other part of my goal, hopefully, is to balance that by the good achieved by other characters in my story. As far as “original sin” goes... I don't really subscribe to the concept in a metaphysical sense. I think that is also projecting our own evils onto supernatural precedents in an attempt to remove ourselves from responsibility. If I'm born in sin then I really don't have to take responsibility. It's Cain's fault. I think we're all capable of evil acts, or at least we're tempted by them. I think it's easy to make little decisions that seem like nothing at the time that can lead to bigger evils. The benefit of Horror, or Fantasy or SciFi is that it allows you the metaphor to deal with this stuff.
- In Scratch, the small town of Canaan, West Virginia is brimming with emotional intrigues and deception. Is this a case of “writing what you know” in terms of your experiences with rural towns or upbringing?
Let me say up front here, that though I was raised in a small, rural church (that's a photo of the church I grew up going to on the cover of the book, circa 1929), we never actually kept a young girl or an angel chained in the basement. It doesn't even have a basement. I haven't attended that church in years but still know people who do and quite honestly, as much as I have moved away from it in my life I have nothing but warm feelings toward it and the people who go there. They are good people and I don't really trace my own feelings toward religion to any antipathy toward this community. Quite the opposite in fact. I may no longer follow their religious path, but the basic lessons of compassion and kindness and mutual support inform my earliest memories. My book is about secrets, and the lengths people will go to to protect them. I think any community has secrets, the classic “skeletons in the closet” thing. It doesn't have to be rural. Any place with a long history has a history of secrets... lies, addictions, violence, infidelities, deaths, murder in some cases. It's part of human nature. Canaan is, in the tradition of fiction, an exaggerated example. None of the residents of Canaan are based on anyone that I know specifically. That said, in the big metaphorical picture of my life, I've known every one of those people.
- You’re an author of comics as well as novels, who would you say are your primary influences in each form?
Too many to name. I devour books and comics. It's easier to track my comics influences. The Hernandez Brothers of Love and Rockets fame, in terms of both storytelling and art. Matt Wagner, creator of Mage: The Hero Discovered and Grendel. Scott McCloud on Zot, before he did Understanding Comics. Elfquest. Nexus. I've been going back and really looking at Dan DeCarlo and Harry Lucie, famous Archie Comics artists and both big influences on the Hernandez Brothers. Those are the ones that I can trace specific influences to, but really, I learned to read from comics. My entire sense of storytelling and heroic fiction can be traced to Marvel and DC in the 60's and 70's, so all of those creators. In writing... Everything. Stephen King, in terms of genre, certainly. Charles DeLint. Jonathan Carroll. Hermann Hesse.
- What was the moment in your life where you knew that you were going to write?
I've always known, on some level, that I wanted to be a storyteller. My earliest form of play was pretend in the effort to tell stories. My action figures were actors in stories of my own creation far more often than they were the characters they were marketed as. My nephew and I (he's the same age as me), used to spend hours playing in the woods, and it was always about playing out an entire narrative. We were “making movies.” It was improvisational theater. We would create characters and play out an entire story in the course of a Saturday afternoon. I always had a notebook full of drawings and notes for stories. When I was fifteen I wrote a typed, single-spaced 90-plus page “Men's Adventure” novel, full of sex and violence (neither of which I had any experience with at the time. No, you can't read it). But it was a full story, with a plot and lots of characters. I spent a lot of years trying to find my voice, more than a lot of authors, it seems.
- Scratch, along with This Creature Fair, and Bedivere Book One: The King’s Right Hand are all available as e-books. What do you see as the future of print publishing, and what do you perceive as the advantages of the e-book in terms of the current marketplace?
I love books. Physical books. I love the way they feel, the way they smell, the experience of reading them. I hope print books never go away entirely, and I don't really see that happening. I have mixed feelings about the ebook revolution. As a creator the terms for me are very good. I have control over the product. It succeeds or fails on its own merits. My royalty on a $2.99 ebook is better than my royalty on the $21.95 trade paperback edition of the novel I had published through a more traditional publisher several years ago. Online booksellers have killed a lot of brick and mortar stores, and as there are less and less of them traditional publishers are getting more and more conservative with what they will publish. They aren't taking as many chances with new authors. Thanks to Print-On-Demand technologies there are more small publishers than ever, but they don't really have much to offer in terms of royalties or advertising or getting your book in the stores. Self-publishing has always been looked down on in in the book industry, but I come from the world of comic books where it is an ideal to aspire to. It's a completely different mindset. Epublishing is DIY, utilizing digital technology. I wrote it, designed the covers, found artists to realize them for me, found editors, formatted it, promoted it... I am the business. I own the rights. A far as the future goes, it's hard to say. I hope books stay in print. Through a program affiliated with Amazon I will soon be making my three novels available in print editions, and while they will cost more than the ebooks, it's still a good deal for me, and I still own the rights. Sales on ebooks are up across the board while sales on regular books are down. I think the cheaper price of ebooks can have the effect of people actually buying and reading more. They say don't judge a book by it's cover. Don't judge a book by it's format. The story and ideas are the same whether it's on paper or on an ereader. Judge the content, not the method of delivery. The technology is out there, it's not going away. Mp3's changed the music industry but they didn't kill music.
- One of the major criticisms of the horror genre as a whole (as well as in DC’s “New 52”) is the gender roles of women. How would you characterize the sexualization/victim cycles present in the genre as well as in Scratch?
That's a really good question. When I sit down to write I don't really think in terms of this sort of thing. Characters appear to me as part of the creation process and they play roles in my story, many times taking the narrative in directions I didn't intend. As a result, there's not much of a conscious intent on my part to address these issues. I'm a victim of the tropes of my genre and the conventions of storytelling. That's not to dismiss or downplay the seriousness of the issue you raise. In the genres I work in there is always going to be the bad guys who are victimizing someone. The victimization of women in fiction is a complex issue. Some say it perpetuates the victim role. Others point out it is a reflection of reality and draws attention to the issue. It probably does both, depending on the context. In Scratch, an incident of date rape is a part of Holly's past and serves as part of her motivation and character. She was victimized by Billy in her past, and he continues to victimize others in the course of the story. He is, pretty overtly, the bad guy in my story. Hopefully, I present this in a fashion that shows what a messed up person he is and don't use these scenes gratuitously or pruriently (though I'm sure that's debatable). Like the residents of Canaan who do horrible things and blame it on Scratch, Billy is unable to take responsibility for his own failures, projecting blame on everyone else. This blame turns into violence as he becomes more deranged. I would argue that Holly, in spite of her past victimization, is healthier at the beginning of the story than her husband Adam is. She is in touch with her creativity, is a successful mother, and her career is on track. He's an emotional mess. I think Holly reclaims her power from Billy by the end of the story as well. In Canaan we see the incredibly dysfunctional relationship between Ed and Abigail, where she is without a doubt an abused woman. I don't think Ed is ever portrayed in a positive light. I think we have all known couples who live like this, so this portrayal is representational of a dynamic that actually exists in the world, healthy or not.
I think it is also fair to point out that there is a lot of victimization of men in the novel as well. Without giving too much away, a couple of men have a pretty harrowing experience in Canaan. I don't have statistics to back this up, but my guess is that violence against men happens in fiction as often, if not more so, than violence against women. As a society we are more accepting of violence against men. It's not as big of a social issue so it doesn't get commented on as often. And once again, that's not said to undermine the seriousness of the issue of violence against anyone.
The eventual body count in Scratch is pretty democratic in regards to the sexes.
I like to think that when writing I treat characters equally, at least in terms of being honest in the presentation of who they are, male or female. People are complex, and any fictional narrative, no matter how detailed, is shallow compared to the depths of real humans.
I don't know if I've really done justice to this topic. It's a big issue and is pervasive in all storytelling.
- There is a great deal of esoteric symbolism present in the story: Animal spirits, labyrinths, womb and birth imagery. Was this something that evolved unintentionally and organically in the writing, or something that you actively pursued?
These are all topics that have fascinated me for years, so I've done a lot of research and reading on them. I didn't really know they were going to be featured as strongly as they were until I started writing. Some of this comes from personal experience as well. In the early 90's I had a series of significant dreams about bears. Now I come from a Jungian perspective on psychology, and had immersed myself in the whole Joesph Campbell craze of the time, so when this happened I naturally started reading everything I could on bear symbolism. There's a great book called The Sacred Paw by Paul Shephard that sums up pretty much everything you might want to know on the topic. Adam's dreams in the novel are based on my own, though his are more specifically narrative than mine. The bear knocking on his bedroom window and beckoning, as well as the image of a bear in the worldtree, come straight from my dreams. Once I started this symbolic path in the book it took on a life of its own and grew well beyond my original plans. The juxtaposition of mythic, more nature-based shamanic imagery against the admittedly twisted Christian imagery of angels and devils was certainly intended.
- You’re forthcoming about your role as a practicing magician. Can you tell us a bit about your own personal cosmologies? Chaos-based? Thelema?
I guess if I'm going to toss out the word “Magician” in my author bio I should be ready to address the issue. I've been meaning to blog about my thoughts on this topic, but hadn't gotten around to it. Let me say at the outset, I don't have any real answers for anyone else, nor are my comments meant to be definitive. I'm all about everyone finding their own path. This is what works for me.
This will probably be long, so bear with me.
I don't really follow any specific cosmology. I've read about most of the more well-known systems, of course. I've spent time with the Tarot, and read bits about the Kaballah, and alchemy and the medieval magical systems. I'm aware of most of the ideas from Crowley and that movement. I've also read the spiritual ideas from most of the world religions. I've read Biblical writings and the Tao Te Ching and parts of the Upanishads and Wiccan/Pagan histories and lots of other stuff. None of these work for me whole cloth, partially because they simply don't reflect the world I live in. There are lots of great ideas and they have made me think differently about the universe, but none of them claim my allegiance. I'm a bit of a spiritual gypsy, picking and choosing the bits that work for me (so I guess I'm a little chaotic, in that sense). I'm a little skeptical about anything that resembles a closed system. I don't cast spells in any way that would make sense to anyone. I don't mystical rituals that I ascribe to. I'm incredibly wary of any system that claims to have all of the answers to anything, whether an organized religion, an organized political party, or an organized magical system. My belief in regards to this is that far too often the followers of these systems begin to confuse the metaphors of their belief for the things these metaphors point to. That leads to trouble.
I think we are always removed from the ineffable. Short of neverending enlightenment I don't think we can understand the true workings of the universe, at least the metaphysical ones (and I say that while being completely open to the idea that science may one day explain it all). We talk about these things through myth and metaphor. And then we go to war over who has the best metaphor, completely missing the point of the whole thing. Everyone needs to find a system that works for them, but always remember that the accoutrements of the system are only symbols, not the truth itself. I think that's what the admonishment about worshiping false idols really means.
For myself the idea of the Magician is a metaphor to remind me to be aware of the magic in the world, and that by being aware of it I can bring it into my life. Other than through fictional characters like Merlin and Dr. Strange my first real contact with this mode of thought came through my reading of the Carlos Castaneda books in my late teens. Now, I'm aware that a lot of his work has been discredited, at least in terms of whether it ever actually took place. Even then I didn't care whether it was “real” or not. I read it as a parable. Something doesn't have to be real to be true. I now know he took a lot of ideas from other metaphysical systems. My point here is that this was my first contact with the idea of living life as a “sorcerer.” I reread the entire series a couple of years ago and was amazed at how many of these ideas still form a lot of my core beliefs. Magic is perception. If you want to change the world, change the way you see it. The only true power we have is power over self (the only kind that interests me, anyway). Before we can change anything else we must effect change on ourself. In psychology it's called reframing. Change your belief system and you change the world around you. Travel the path with heart, or “Follow your bliss,” as Joseph Campbell would say.
Then I started reading about quantum physics, and man, that stuff is pure magic. Yes, I know that there are scientific formulas that prove these theorems, but as a lay person, the math might as well be esoteric magic symbolism. Ideas like David Bohm's Implicate Order theory, or a holographic model of the universe resonate with my perceptions. The idea of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, at least in terms of a metaphor for me since I don't pretend to understand the math involved, sounds a lot like the idea of changing your perspective and changing the world. For me it is easy to see the connections between the ideas of quantum theory and the classic metaphysical systems. Physicist Dr. Fred Alan Wolf wrote on these topics, and I believe coined the term Quantum Shaman (I may be mistaken on that, but it's where I first encountered the term). My friend Steve Segal, in his recent book Geek Wisdom talks about how there are Math Geeks and there are Myth Geeks, but at heart it's all the same thing. I'm definitely more of a Myth Geek.
I have an MA in Clinical Psychology and read tons of Jungian work, applying his thoughts to all of the esoteric systems and what they represent in psychological terms. As I said, the works of Joseph Campbell provided the basic framework I still use to look at the contact point between all of these topics. In the 90's I read a series of psychology books that talked about Masculine Psychology by breaking it down into four basic archetypes. The first book was called King, Warrior, Magician, Lover. Truly healthy men, according to the book, are able to tap into the positive qualities of each of these (and each has negative connotations to beware of). The author's take on it is that anyone who engages in any type of specialty knowledge, be it a brain surgeon or a car mechanic, is accessing the Magician. He is the technician of knowledge in one guise, and the technician of the sacred in another. Sorcerer and Shaman. Math geek and myth geek.
Around that same time is when the bear dreams started showing up, so my interests turned to Shamanism. I tend to prefer this as a more naturalistic approach than all of the formulas and symbolism. But I recognize that this tends to have a religious connotation to it. Real world religions still have shaman who engage in a lifetime of dedication. I am not that. Many years ago I was “ordained” as a minister by an online service that professed no specific religious belief other than that of everyone having the right to get legally married outside of the strictures of organized religion. I did it as a whim, but discovered that it was legal in all states. My primary social group has always been a hodgepodge of beliefs and non-belief, yet when things like marriages and funerals come up they all seem to recognize the need for some sort of ritual. Because of my beliefs and demeanor I have fallen pretty naturally into a role that we all refer to, tongue in cheek, as “Shaman of my tribe.” I have performed a dozen weddings and one funeral.
As a creative person, in my case a writer and an artist, I believe that all Art is an act of magic. It is an effort to take my perceptions of the universe and make them visible. I am creating myself more than I am any work of art. Comics creator Alan Moore (of Watchmen fame), claims to be a magician, and in his case it is with all the trappings and esoteric history one expects from that word. He has said that writing is an act of magic. When we write, we spell. Grammar serves as our grimoire. We are giving life to an idea and casting it out into the world. Positive or negative (and I try for the positive), this effects change in the world. Ideas are memes that change people, so we need to be careful about the ideas we put out there. Grant Morrison, another comics writer who claims to be a magician (I'm sensing a theme here) talks about Pop Magick (google it to read his thoughts). He is not caught up in the magical traditions of the past, but believes that it is here around us all the time, taking new forms that reflect our current culture, which I happen to agree with. He talks a lot about the idea of Sigil Magick, which basically is giving an idea a symbolic form and putting it into the world. In his view the McDonald's golden arches logo, all corporate logos, are sigils that have tremendous power in the world. Anyone who sees the logo associates a whole complex of ideas with it and it changes their behavior, in this case for the purpose of making money for the owners of the logo. His series, Batman Inc. deals with this idea.
I believe that everything is connected. I believe this because it feels right to me and science tells me it is true. If it is true, then everything we do has connections to every other thing. Being conscious of these connections is what is magic to me. We all experience synchronicity, which is defined as “Meaningful Coincidence.” The key here is finding the meaning. It's always there if we look for it, because by looking for the meaning we create it (Heisenberg, anyone?). All it takes to see it is a change in our perception. Seeing the connections allows us to align ourselves with the universe. It's living life in balance. It's the Tao. It's recognizing that what we put into the world is what we get out of it.
“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
- What other projects do you have in the pipeline right now?
I'm working on the second novel in the Bedivere series. Right now it's a trilogy in my head. It's a more complex story, so the writing of it can be a little slower. I have ideas for more stories set in the world of both Scratch and This Creature Fair. There are several characters from my print novel, King of Summer (which will be available as an ebook eventually), who will appear in further stories. I'm in the really early phases on a non-fiction project about comics and my personal experiences with it. I'm not exactly sure what kind of form the final product will take, but it's shaping up.
Thanks for the interview and review. These were wonderful questions that forced me to think... always a little dangerous.