If you like horror fiction you’ll know Angel Zapata. His stories have a tongue in cheek feel to them sometimes that undermines the reassurances a reader seeks. He is adept at subverting what it is the reader thinks he is taking away. He allows the things that breed on horror to seep through the cracks. He is also a fantastic poet and he has a collection of short stories called ‘The Man Of Shadows’.
He met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about William Blake and the irrational.
How much do you think crime and horror fiction overlap?
I can’t remember the exact quote, but to loosely paraphrase, author Douglas Winter said, “Horror is not a genre or a kind of fiction, it’s an emotion.” So using that statement as a definition, there is no overlap because there is no parallel. It’s possible to have crime fiction with or without elements of horror. For example, suppose your character is a shoplifter. Yes, it’s a crime, but unless he’s shoplifting babies, there’s really nothing horrific about the act itself. Thus, “horror” can only be a reaction, and not a world unto itself. That’s why it’s impossible to spin a tale of horror without utilizing a complimentary genre such as crime, mystery, suspense, sci-fi or fantasy.
Of course I say all this and on my recent fiction collection it specifically denotes it as a “horror short story collection” as if that’s sufficient enough to describe it. Go figure. It’s like William Blake said, “This world is a fiction, made up of contradiction.”
Who are your literary influences?
Hands-down, William Blake is the most influential writer in my life. I know the majority of his work is poetry and engravings, and that he was considered everything from mystic to lunatic, but he had the ability to transform simplistic strings of words into tangible sunlight and breath. I think this type of skill is what makes literary “literary.” It’s the difference between “reading” words versus “feeling” words. In my opinion, in order to create literary fiction you can’t just be a writer. You have to be an alchemist of language.
Regarding works of horror, H.P. Lovecraft rules my heart. He could describe a white wall and make me either weep or gasp in awe.
Do you think if he was alive today William Blake would create a new form of illuminated e book and would he add anything to ‘The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell’?
An illuminated eBook sounds positively magical. Blake would most certainly purchase a Kindle as the name fits his inclination for igniting emotion, and then he’d probably hand-paint each of the sleep-mode images as they formed. It would be amazing to see how prolific Blake would become in the digital age. I think a man who painstakingly wrote and painted his own individually engraved plate transfers would be delighted by the absolute magnitude of self-published books today. Here’s a man who believed that “those who restrain desire, do it because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.” No longer must writers find themselves fettered by publication inhibitions or lack of means. Now writers can thrive in a utopian unity of opposites, a divine order where writer becomes publisher, publisher returns to the pen, and somewhere in between the two converge. More than anything Blake restlessly awaited a world “without contraries,” because he knew it would offer “no progression.”
At the end of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Blake writes about sharing the bible only with devils and giving the world a hell bible whether they want it or not. Watch the evening news. His caveat remains regrettably relevant. From what I know of the man, Blake would never deviate from his own cause, so he wouldn’t add or delete anything from his work.
How do you interpret Blake’s comment ‘Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse an unacted desire’ and how do you reconcile it with his comment ‘Opposition is true friendship’?
Blake was a beautiful thinker, wasn’t he? ‘Desire’ for Blake was always the prompt for exposing the spiritual, imaginative self which most of us repress or fear to reveal, and without desire there would be no foundation for reason. Thus, a life without ‘desire’ would equate with death. And death of one’s own imagination far outweighed physical death, regardless of perceived innocence.
Now ‘opposition’ was one of the strongest forces of energy Blake vehemently advocated. It wasn’t so much conflict, but moreso identifying similarities and contraries, negatives and positives, dualities in every aspect of life; be it religious, political, etc. His greatest works alone prove this: Songs of Innocence and Experience and The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. He questioned everything. It’s all about pulling down the veil of pretense and exposing truth, regardless if beautiful or ugly, because he wanted to take what was conventional or intolerable and turn it inside-out, eliminating the need for such distinctions.
These two concepts flow like intercepting rivers. Or to put it another way, ‘opposition’ seeks balance while ‘desire’ is the weight on the scales.
Wordsworth defined poetry as ‘the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings’ arising from ’emotion recollected in tranquillity’. Blake wrote in his Marginalia on Wordsworth ‘Imagination has nothing to do with Memory’. What do you make of his observation?
For most of us, using one’s Imagination is basically the real-world creation of something invented in the mind; a physical manifestation based on an intellectual prompt. So for Blake, Imagination without action could be likened to an unfulfilled desire. Wordsworth was usually passive with his creativity, like in his poem Daffodils, ‘For oft, when on my couch I lie’ or The Solitary Reaper ‘I listened motionless and still.’ Imagination was a matter of life and death for Blake; it was passionate, violent, constantly pushing forward: ‘He who desires, but acts not, breeds pestilence’ or “Imagination is the real world.’ It would seem Wordsworth’s poetry was based primarily on self-discovery. Blake’s poetry shouted, “This is who I am!” vs. “Who am I?”
That type of clarity is what I strive for in my own work.
So who are you?
I define myself as a man standing between two property lines. On one side, I’m a husband, father, and blue-collar worker. On the other side, I’m a writer. I struggle to find balance. Although I’ve come a long way in the craft, I’m still not always comfortable calling myself a writer because with the confession comes inquiry. And with that curious stranger’s probing comes departure from my safe, solitary cocoon. That’s the honest truth. In fact, outside my small community of bloggers, very few people know I write. My immediate family knows I write, but my wife and eldest son are the only ones who actually read any of it.
I know many writers will probably shun me for the sacrilege, but it’s possible I’ll someday surrender the pen and explore some other expression of art. There are plenty of ways to tell stories without words. I have a multitude of desires, and as Blake said, I don’t want to be guilty of not acting on them. But until then, these fingers remain slave to my beautiful muse.
I’m always pushing myself to be better and explore new styles and genres. As of late, I’ve shied away from horror short stories. I have poems I want to share and a slowly gestating novel. I’m also having fun editing 5×5 Fiction.
What do you make of Michel Foucault’s observation in ‘The Archaeology Of Knowledge’ that: ‘The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and it autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network?’
Is everything I write or you’ve written connected in some underlying way? Definitely. Fiction or non-fiction, there are always elements of truth that the writer has either observed or experienced. We create and/or document history.
Awhile back I read an article that said it’s conceivable our genes, the very DNA in our bodies, contain the memories of our ancestors; everything they saw and did is locked away inside of us. If it can be proven, it would totally give new meaning to the notion that there are ‘no new ideas’ only adaptations of previously existed life. And as writers, if we can learn how to consciously tap into that well of information; think about the knowledge we could pass on to the reader.
Tell us about your book.
My book, ‘The Man of Shadows’ is a collection of twenty-five short stories of horror and is published by Panic Press. It was written over the course of approximately three years. My goal was to breathe new life into zombies and vampires while simultaneously introducing readers to new dark folklores and fresh perspectives on demonic activity. There’s blood and guts for the hardcore horror fan as well as controlled chaos for those who prefer their horror a bit more suggestive or cerebral. The first story, ‘The Mouth of Babes’ is one of my own personal favorites. It’s about a guy who runs an online web service featuring real death images. A friend who works at the morgue has a particularly strange body to show him. It’s a woman with a tattoo of a vicious-looking mouth on her abdomen. And somehow, the mouth is still alive on the dead woman’s skin. Believe me, you’re in for a fun ride, especially if you enjoy the company of junkies, winos, prostitutes, devils, witches, and cannibals.
Do you think that you can’t get rid of your demons without getting rid of your angels and how is this idea involved in your writing?
Interesting question. The idea that angels and demons are raging war all around us has always fascinated me. Most of my writing is plagued with devils and angels masquerading as men, so it goes without saying, the constant struggle for that good vs. evil balance is foremost on my mind. When I first started writing, I suffered a constant hesitation of thought. I was fearful of my own dark ideas. Call it residual damage from years of Catholicism, a brief stint at apostasy, Pentecostal brainwashing, and frustrations with the occult. It wasn’t until I surrendered to both of these inner voices, demon and angel, that I was able to truly create without restraint.
I don’t know, maybe this is too spiritual an answer, but I agree with the statement. You can’t have one without the other, nor can you have unequal sides. Equilibrium of thought is paramount to successful writing.
Joseph Conrad in ‘Heart Of Darkness’ suggests that civilisation is a lie. Do you think that we are ruled by the irrational?
Hmmm, I’ll apply the ‘we’ here to mean ‘writers.’ When you ask fiction writers why they write, most will answer, ‘Because I must.’ Must what? Write… create. Create what? People, cultures, and worlds. In a word: civilizations. This impulse, addiction, overwhelming drive to write must, at times, seem ‘irrational’ to those around us. But somewhere in our brains there’s a need to create order, succumb to chaos, to breathe life into every shade of ink. Are we ruled by it? I think anything we allow ourselves to be ruled by can become a type of irrationality. Just look at how many illogical decisions have been made in the name of love or religion. I don’t know how many of us are ruled by irrationality, but as for me, I’ll stay slave to the pen.
Thank you Angel for giving a profound and unforgettable interview.
Angel Zapata is author of the horror short story collection, The Man of Shadows, available in paperback or eBook through Panic Press, Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. He also edits 5×5 Fiction: 25-word stories told in 5 sentences of 5 words each. Visit A Rage of Angel and 5×5 Fiction.