Paul Auster: The Interview

Let me tell you a little secret: as a freelance writer, I tend towards selecting topics that are personally gratifying. As such, I try to reserve my freelancing for speaking to other people whose work I respect or idolise in some way. A prime example: my recent phone interview with Paul Auster, which was exhilarating. I was sweatingly nervous the whole time. Please enjoy.

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Paul Auster

Voter Turnout: New Story

Natalia reads her latest topical speculative fiction: Voter Turnout. Listen and download for free. Vapes! Drones! Tattoos! This story has it all.

Thinking Out Loud About Alex Garland RE: “Ex Machina”

 

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Alex Garland

As a speculative fiction writer, I willfully live in a bubble. I read other sci-fi writers here and there, but other than movies, I avoid anything new or modern. For the past five years I’ve been working, on a sci-fi book. As my publishing debut, I have tried to write from inside this aforementioned bubble. I don’t want the outside coming in, making my work impure and self-conscious.

At an after-hours dinner party in St. Petersburg, Russia (that’s a normal situation to drop in here, right?), I began talking with another musician from London, who was seated next to me, about my book. My elevator pitch was ill-formed and clumsy, but from what I managed, she suggested some similarities to the film Ex Machina. The film was on my must-view list. But unlike many of my peers, I’d rather sleep than stay up all night catching up on the latest TV series. I’m very behind on pop culture. I have two kids and I like sleeping. That’s my excuse.

I’d bumped the film up on my mental list, and left it there. I’d get to it eventually. I had writing to do. Having recently completed a first draft–bringing the story to a point where I can present it to others–I’d have to step out of the bubble and contextualize my work. Let in friends, peers, my first set of readers, then make edits and changes to please a wider audience, and, hopefully, publishers.

This morning I researched a “science hotline” that Hollywood uses to fact check and review fake scientific ideas for feasibility. The Martian was successful partly due to this type of cerebral investment by its creators. Viewers who were actual engineers and biologists could appreciate and engage with the story, because the on-screen concepts were founded in real-life science. My story has science: AI future science. I’d have to call the hotline.

But something caught my eye: “What’s this on the sidebar: Ex Machina. They must have called the hotline!” I clicked. I read. And then, an explosion of synergy. I still had not seen Ex Machina, nor read anything about it beyond a one-line synopsis. While the movie’s science-y stuff and setting described, as in this article, was very different, there was an uncanny and WTF detail I couldn’t deny: the lead character’s names were identical to mine: Nathan and Ava.

Of all the names, of all the millions (billions?) of combinations of two separate names, not to mention the edits and development the Ex Machina script must have gone through…  And in my case, having changed my main character’s names a few times: how did we arrive at the same pair?

In an interview with a screenwriter’s magazine, director and writer Alex Garland mentions the genesis of one of his character’s names from Ex Machina:

“Well when I was first working on this, I called her ‘Eve’. But then I thought that this was too prosaic, because of Adam and Eve and that kind of thing, so by changing it to Ava, it felt like it had some of the qualities of them name ‘Eve’, but it wasn’t as on the nose. And also, ‘Ava’ looks like it’s an acronym–like it stands for ‘Advanced Vehicle Automation’, or something like that. It just felt right.”

More importantly, how am I, somehow, randomly, intuitively, spiritually, synergized to this writer/director, via the ether? Alex Garland: who is this guy? How could I find him, and when I did, what would I say to my new Internet boyfriend? Very quickly I realized the creeping and cyber-stalkery were going nowhere. Turns out famous people are really hard to get a hold of via the Internet. CRUSH: OVER.

Days later I sought out Ex Machina on Netflix and watched it. Conceptually, brilliant. Aesthetically and visually, lovely. Casting, great. But I was left perplexed: why so gendered? Maybe that was the point. At risk of spoiling the film, I was deeply offended by the impractical footwear and outfits available to the women in this film. That said, the compound where the film mostly takes place is, definitely, a fetishized laboratory. If that’s possible. Garland has created a fantasy world where shirtless and sexually frustrated men go to ogle robots whose main programming is set to “Self-Preservation via Cockteasing.”

I wonder if the tagline: “AI JUST GOT A WHOLE LOT SEXIER!” ever came up in any  Ex Machina marketing meetings? I wanted to like this movie. I wanted to feel an even deeper connection with my impossible boyfriend, Mr. Garland. I wanted to be swept away by this film. I wasn’t. I still like and admire Mr. Garland as a writer and director, but now we’re just friends.

Flash Fiction (2) – A Poetry Book & Podcast

As 2013 draws to a close, I’m pleased to announce my participation in the Yellow Bird Project’s “Selected Poems by Indie Rock Stars.”

While I’d hardly call myself a “star,” much less self-identify as an “indie rocker,” the inclusion of a mysterious piece I wrote called “Flash Fiction (2)” is tons of fun. You can sign up to receive a poem a week leading up to the release of the poetry book in January. And if you scroll down and look through the “A Taster” section, you can both read AND listen to my reading of the piece. Anyhow, I’ll keep this short and sweet. It’s an honour to be included.

Here’s a very weird illustrated portrait of moi taken from the book:

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I hope everyone out there has a great holidays and happy new year. All my love to you, Natalia.

Morrissey Fan Fiction (or What’s Left of It)

Months ago I proclaimed with all the fanfare my social media network affords that I WOULD BE WRITING MORRISSEY FAN FICTION. And, to my credit, I wrote and even designed cover art for said piece. But I never felt like it was good enough. It lacked substance. Then I took out the fictitious and Morrissey parts and it became a memoir of my university days that I considered shopping as a work of non-fiction. Then I was overly self-conscious, thought it was too personal, and wanted to bury it. Until the other day: when working on “my novel” I exploded that thing that began as a Morrissey fan fiction and re-worked most of it into my opus, leaving only this piece of shrapnel: Flash Fiction (3).

Part inspired by the 90’s era SAAB automobile of Dears bass player Roberto Arquilla — who when asked about the 1989 900s 16 valve (no turbo), affectionately called it a “money pit.” He has since parted ways with the beast. Yet I always admired the shape of that car, though it was perpetually falling apart and smelled of cigarettes. Those were the days, my friend.

The Mozzer illustration is by Joe Ollmann, whose books you should read. In a frenzied enthusiasm about writing my first fan fiction I asked him to render a picture of Morrissey, which he almost immediately sent back to me attached to a self-deprecating email, which I appreciated as much as the drawing itself.

Enjoy this nugget, Flash Fiction (3), or what’s become of my Morrissey Fan Fiction

ALONE (short story)

I’m pleased to release a new short story for your reading pleasure on these brief Fall afternoons. What is this story, ALONE, all about?

Two marooned astronauts cope with isolation, existentialism and artificial intelligence in this romantic tragedy.

I’ve been writing on ALONE for nearly a year, picking it up and working feverishly on it, then putting it away for weeks at a time. Finally I decided to let it out into the wild. This germ of this story sprouted from wanting to write something that made the reader (you) feel uncomfortable. I test my protagonist with impossible situations, of being alone and confined while travelling through the infinity of space. What does life mean at that point? What would keep someone alive or cause them to give up hope?

This is a sentiment I’ve often felt — though not while travelling through space where a technical malfunction could mean certain death — but on tour. In a tiny bunk on a tour bus, squished up in a van with 6 other people or on an intercontinental flight for hours on end: each day, every day, for months at a time. On the road, my purpose is constantly tested, patience taken to new heights. On a terrestrial tour, if something goes wrong, it is easily remedied. You pull over and the problem easily solved. But what would you do in space, alone, with limited resources and millions of miles from anything resembling home?

I also tip my hat to CBC’s Canada Writes and their “Sci-Fi Twitter Challenge” — though I’m not exactly sure what that means. I guess this is my long-form contribution to the community. There is sadly no podcast at the moment (as my lengthiest finished story, the MP3 file would be too enormous). For eyeballs only. Happy reading.

Photo Intermission and Tonight: Literary Death Match!

Without coming off as vain or anything, I offer you this link to a recent photo Murray took of me. I’m so pregnant right now it’s crazy. I have one month to go. Wish us luck and happiness, etc, etc.

Anyhow, this afternoon I will be on Home Run (the local Montreal CBC drive time radio show…with Sue Smith!) at around 5:45PM along with Literary Death Match creator Todd Zuniga. I’ve been doing more press than I anticipated for tonight’s event! Heck we were even in The Link!

If you’re in Montreal as the city descends into the madness of Pop Montreal, I hope to see you there…or somewhere, at least.

Montreal’s 3rd Literary Death Match happens Tuesday September 18th at Sala Rossa. Click here for more info.

Literary Death Match: Less Slam and More Smack-Down

I shall be guest judging at Montreal’s upcoming Literary Death Match, where poets try to, uh, out-read each other. I like the competitive angle — there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek here, too — poetry readings should be fun, less “slam” and more “smack-down.”

Anyway, I’m supposed to give hilarious and constructive criticism, which really makes me wish I could be a little drunk for this event. But, alas, I will be 8 months pregnant. Which (total change of subject) brings me to the internal chuckle I get out of the mileage I’ve gotten out of that portrait. In reality, I feel like an over-inflated balloon has been implanted under my skin, while I get my lungs and intestines repeatedly punched and kicked by the small person growing inside me. IRL, I look like this:

Still TOTALLY HOT, I know. I can’t help that….insert smiley face of your choice, most likely 😛 to denote deep sarcasm….

Montreal’s 3rd Literary Death Match will be held Sept 18th at La Sala Rossa. Show starts at 7PM. Click here for FB event info.

Pregnant Natalia photo by Murray.

Coming Soon: Morrissey Fan Fiction

Inspired partly by the faux-nnouncement that Morrissey would be retiring from show biz in two years (a statement he later said was “wishful thinking” on the media’s part), I decided to write a piece of fan fiction. I’ve never written anything (with any kind of seriousness) like this before. And I’m sure veteran writers of fan fiction would likely scoff at my only scraping the surface of how deep a “fan” can go. What I’m writing is more “The Wrong Boy” than some sort of made up day-in-the-life of Mozzer. That’s not my style.

While it’s not yet finished, I’ve been obsessed with writing this story. It is dark yet romantic, and at times threatens to cross the line separating YA and A fiction. But that’s how I roll: I like to dive into something without knowing too much about it. Artistically, it’s often the only way to keep your mind free, and your muses unburdened by influence or unwritten rules. What is popular, what “sells,” these preoccupations pepper the mind in evil, counter-productive ways.

So I write without prejudice, and expect to be critiqued with full prejudice, because that’s how I’ve come to understand the Western World. We are natural-born haters, because it would be impossible to like and to agree with everything. Opinion drives us, it defines us, and the internet has given each of our opinions an equal voice.

Anyway, this is not about that. This is about the next short story that I’m pushing through. This is the “hype” post, with the story itself coming soon. This piece is a little therapeutic to me since it’s slightly personal, but a story I’ve been trying to tell since my teenaged years. I was just always too close to tell it. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Recently, Murray and I produced a documentary about The Dears (we’ll talk more about that later). We had to dig through boxes and bins of archival material: analog photos and photocopied press kits, 3.5″ diskettes and cut-and-paste artwork. In this digging, I was forced to look through my “personal archives” as well. Maybe you don’t keep these things, but I have bundles of letters from my family, friends, ex-boyfriends and crushes. I have writing journals and diaries from my high school and university days — memories, stories, feelings I know I’ve long forgotten but that are well documented.

A person changes so much as they grow — every experience, the big and the small, moulds us whether we like it or not. Our opinions harden and soften, we are shape-shifters, never the same, never looking back…

So in many ways, this story I’m writing is a reflection of that. It is completely fiction, and has been totally fun to write. And I got my pal Joe Ollmann to “bang out” some cover art for me. I’m excited to let you read it! It’ll be on my Scribd shelf soon!

Better Late Than Never

I promised a new story last week — a deadline I completely failed to meet. I hope you will forgive me.

This story, entitled “After All,” was written with a very moderate audience in mind. I had initially written it for a CBC writing competition, so I challenged myself to write a “tame” story. Here’s the description:

Robots are the main companions for the elderly in this heartwarming portrait of two unlikely friends. 

I promise I won’t wait a year before releasing another story. The next one will be a lot darker and give you something to sink your teeth into. For now, some springtime fluff to help get you through your daily commute, or however you use things like this. Enjoy!

Listen on Bandcamp or Soundcloud. Read the story below, or on Scribd.