Interview with M. Eugene Weiss

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a boring suburban town on Long Island east of New York City until my family moved to a boring suburban town north of New York City. Being near NYC was always important to me as a kid because it was so exciting and fascinating, forbidden and dangerous, and filled with unknown secrets. My father read Tolkein to my brother and me at bedtime, and my mother read us the Narnia books, and while this may not connect to NYC on the surface, my parents also made sure we saw the Cloisters around that time. For those who don’t know, the Cloisters is a museum in a medieval castle that some Rockefeller had shipped over to the US stone by stone and rebuilt on the top of a hill in northern Manhattan. It’s hard to express the effect of being a suburban kid, driving through what was then a questionable neighborhood, seeing the monstrous looking creatures out my car window, and ending up in a castle in a forest (really a park, but I was ten) filled with suits of armor and tapestries covered in kings and unicorns, and all surrounded by beautiful walled (see: cloistered) gardens. It was like stepping from one forbidden exotic mythical land, NYC, into another. Like stepping out of Moria and entering Lothlorian.
When did you first start writing?
I first started writing in High School, mostly terrible poetry, though fantasy was always on my mind. I remember writing a short piece of fiction for my 10th grade class where a young man is standing on a battlement, holding the hilt of his sword, waiting for something to happen (a fairly apt metaphor for my entire adolescence).
What's the story behind your latest book?
I started writing The Forest Between itself later in high school. You see, there was a genocide happening in Bosnia at the time, the early 90’s, and I read about it nearly every day for some morbid reason. I read about how the Serbians were murdering all the men and boys in villages, and taking women to rape-camps to “ethnically cleanse” the Bosnians of being Bosnian. It made me deeply angry, and I was frustrated by my own impotence. I knew I couldn't help, and those who could were doing nothing. Later, the US intervened and saved Bosnia in one of history's most under-reported “good” wars, in my view. But at the time I just wanted someone to kill the men who would do such a thing. In my impotence and anger I created Syllay to carry out the vengeance I wished to see. The other characters came later, but Syllay is maybe my oldest fictional character. I created the Green Ones to reflect how demonic and monstrous men can be, and I created Syllay to set the world aright.
Who are your favorite authors?
One of the things that kept me writing this book was that I don’t enjoy a lot of fantasy that’s out there. Beyond the “classic” names, Lovecraft, Poe, Howard, and of course, Tolkien, I generally grow frustrated with modern fantasy authors. I love Tolkien so much, I mean, he nearly started this genre by himself. Hell, I named my first daughter Eowyn. He had flaws, of course. There is a little too much traveling, and like Philip Pullman has pointed out Tolkien avoided the topic of sex. But when you invent an art-form, I think you get a pass. I think the genre has more than made up for his lack of sexual content. George R. R. Martin by himself has exhausted the topic, mostly in an indulgent way.
What about Game of Thrones? Martin is very well regarded.
There’s just too much depravity. Have you noticed how the majority of the sexual content is either grotesque or rape? It's one thing to make Tolkien's mistake and under-represent sexual behavior in your characters; it's quite another to indulge almost exclusively in prostitutes, incest, and sexual assault. It begs some disturbing questions about both the author and us, the audience. Furthermore, nearly every character is either an evil backstabber or dead. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed some of that interminable series, but after a while I got a little tired of the anti-heroes everywhere. I could quibble over his, and worse, his fans' claims that its “realistic” or "like real life." I mean, Martin's world has a 9th century feudal social structure, but everyone is wearing 14th century ceremonial plate mail in combat, and acting with the morality of the Borgias of the 16th century or Caligula. And we're supposed to believe that this society has existed for 5000 years, five times longer than any comparable society in our own history, without anyone having invented the long bow or gun powder. Really? A feudal culture without an oppressive religious or social structure? Come on, realism? And Martin’s the first one to talk about history being his inspiration. Well, I’m not yet a writer on his level, but I’ve taught history, and he is no student of history. There are plenty of examples in “real” history of true nobility in the actions of individuals who stuck by their friendships and loyalties for life. It isn’t fashionable to remember those relationships and those true heroes, in fact it’s quite the fashion to ignore or tear down those heroes.
Can you argue with his success?
Sure, why not? He's no Shakespeare, or Faulkner, or Tolkein. Look, he does a lot of things well. There is a depth to his world that I envy, and aspire too. There were a lot compelling characters and stories, for those first three books. But honestly, his story has come off the rails. It’s a bloody mess now. You can set your watch to bad things happening to characters you like, its practically a gimmick at this point. I think he has forgotten that he is the writer. He is in control, not the characters in the story or the world in which they live. But he’s lost that, I think, and he’s going to have to do some extraordinary writing to get himself out of the corner he wrote himself into these last two books. And of course, I’ll be there, buying them, and reading them in a week like I always do. Which is, perhaps, a better answer to my critiques than anything.
However, at the end of the day, all of fantasy asks the question, what if magic was real? Well, what would magic do for those heroes and villains of history? It would empower both, and the Machiavellian and the depraved would have their successes, and those that stand against them would hold even more dearly to the principles that have always faced down such political machinations: loyalty, friendship, honor, and love. These values exist too, every bit as much as they ever did. I’d rather read stories with characters that believe in something greater then themselves. And I’d rather write those stories, too.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Failure to become a mainstream author, to be honest. As the world gets bigger and more populated with people trying to be writers, the traditional avenues build more gatekeepers into the process, and the chances of making it past those gatekeepers diminishes. It used to be that publishing a book was something of a vanity project, and I'm not talking ancient history, this was only in the last hundred years. Then we had this publishing renaissance brought on by the paperback industry in the last fifty years, and even then you would send a manuscript into an editor and expect them to at least glance at it. But over time editors hired assistants, who then started relationships with agents, who in turn hired their own assistants, who then hired unpaid interns to sit around and read manuscripts all day, each of which is expected to follow an increasingly complex set of submission guidelines, with synopsis, cover letters, and excerpts of varying lengths. Any misstep along the way could lead to a book being discarded out of hand by an overworked and underpaid 22 year old with a freshly printed bachelor’s degree in English Lit from a private college who could be seven steps away from an actual editor willing to publish. It’s a nightmare just thinking about it, and I just decided to stop playing that game.
How do you approach cover design?
My wife did the cover art for The Forest Between, and I couldn't be happier with it. She is very talented and a student of art history and design. She is a particular fan of Art Nouveau, which is so perfect for something like a cover of a fantastical novel. It was fun working with her because we had this ridiculous push-pull where I wanted her to draw what she wanted, and she wanted to draw what I wanted her to draw, and that negotiation persisted for a time. I have asked her to consider doing a series of illustrations for my book, if she wants to, and I hope she will illustrate all my future book covers.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read a lot of history books for pleasure these days. I did a lot of fiction reading when I was in graduate school recently, and I found that somewhat rewarding, if not always pleasurable. Straight fiction can be sort of the opposite of pleasure reading. Since then I have fallen back into my history reading. My brother is a historian, and very bright, and so I find I have to constantly keep up on my facts just to hold my own when we talk, but there is something about well written history (not always easy to find) that I just adore. Something like A Distant Mirror by Barbera Tuckman is the gold standard of well written narrative history.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
There’s this really strange feeling I have when I've been writing at a pretty steady daily clip for a few days. It’s like the same feeling I get when I am reading a really exciting book, like I can’t wait to get back to reading it to find out what happens next, only, when I’m writing I can’t wait to make what happens next happen. Then there is the feeling of being done, holding the first complete manuscript in my hand, and being able to ignore the weeks of editing to come, and pretend for that moment like it’s actually complete.
Published 2013-09-30.
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Books by This Author

The Forest Between
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 114,400. Language: English. Published: September 21, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic, Fiction » Young adult or teen » Fantasy
A knight and swordsman from an empty land. A thief from a hanging city. A Channeler of magic with no memory of his past. These three, brought together by chance, must join Syllay, a hunter-warrior of the most ancient tribe of the Forest Between, to drive out the depraved evil that has come to her land.