I knew of Scott Adlerberg before we became Facebook friends via his rapidly rising reputation in the online indie literary community. Like me, he’s an avid film buff who seamlessly if subconsciously blends genres in his own fiction, as if trying to pack as many of our common interests and influences into a singularly stimulating brew out of unbridled, eclectic enthusiasm, driven by artistic ambition and boundless imagination.
Scott’s style is cinematic as well. His lean, clean prose paints vividly evocative images in the reader’s brain with a feverishly fluid sense of narrative construction coupled with compelling characterization, drawing us into his alternate universes that may reflect our own realities (and dreams), but remain unique products of his intensely personal if universally relatable vision.
I’ll let Scott take it from here, since he knows how to describe his darkly seductive inner worlds more accurately than any outside observer, however enthralled and entranced we may be…
Your interest in cinema seems to influence and inform your fiction. Are you really a frustrated filmmaker at heart, or does being an author fully satisfy all of your creative urges?
That's an interesting question. When I was in college, I took a filmmaking class or two, and back then, I definitely wanted to be a filmmaker almost as much as I wanted to be a writer. And then even later, as years went by, I would often imagine, as I'm sure a lot of film loving writers do, being a director and making movies. After all, movies are the TOTAL ART. And I'd see a film by Scorsese or Argento or Herzog or Lynch, whoever, and say to myself, "If I could be doing that, making films..."
But strangely, with time, that desire has faded. I've come to realize that as much as I love to watch films, experience films, just sink completely into films, I'm not sure I'd want to make them. First of all, you have to love cameras and lenses and lighting equipment and editing programs and so forth, and I'm not someone who loves that stuff. I mean, yes, there are directors who aren't great technicians and rely on a great cinematographer and a fantastic lighting person, but the best directors know all the technical stuff cold and are masters with it. Plus, as I saw even making little films in college, you need an inordinate amount of patience. Hours to set up a shot, instruct the actors, take input from the actors, do the blocking, get the crew in order, and then, hopefully you can call “action”. And that's one take. Now let’s do it again. But wait, people on the set are hungry and want to take a break for food. Not to mention managing the egos and issues of everyone on the set. Managing people, being the boss, as I've learned from several years at my regular job as a manager of a pretty large staff for a NYC bureaucratic agency, is a major pain in the ass. Even in a creative venture, a film, I'm sure this would be the case.
So taking all that into account, no, I'm glad now that I never pursued film. The trappings around film are exciting and the finished product can be the great, but I don't know how much I'd enjoy the process of filmmaking like I enjoy and take satisfaction from the process of writing. And with writing, of course, you can do whatever you want as you tell your story. The solitary nature of the activity is one of the best things about it. Yes, you can drive yourself nuts trying to get things right, the sentences, the plot, the characters, but however it comes out, everything is on you. You write something great, you write something terrible, you alone are responsible. It's just you with your own imagination and the goal is to create something as close to that original vision of what you had in your mind as possible. That's the challenge and what a stimulating challenge it is. You have that daily battle, the highs and lows, and the fun of concocting stuff on your own. Film remains an influence, a love, a passion, something you’re saturated in, but, yeah, I've definitely reached the point where I'm content to stick to only writing.
Your work often blends elements of both horror and noir. Do you consider your work to be an intentional as opposed to incidental hybrid of genres?
I don't set out on purpose to do hybrids or mash-ups or anything like that. I don't say, let me try to mix horror and noir, or fantasy and crime, and see what happens. Nothing like that. I just try to tell the best story I can, hopefully in a somewhat inventive way that keeps the readers guessing and off-balance and interested, and if the story uses elements of different genres I happen to like, then why not? You sort of incorporate your different influences naturally, I think, or at least as unselfconsciously as possible. Which is a way of saying, no matter how disparate the things making up your book, they have to be in there organically, not just because you want to mix ingredients for the sake of mixing ingredients.
Jungle Horses, a novella I did, starts out in its first half as a realistic noirish story in London, and then in the second half, without warning, it completely changes gears and becomes a fantastical story set on a Caribbean island. Same main character and secondary characters in both parts. That's a story where almost everyone who has read it said they didn't see the second half and that abrupt shift coming, but even there, it wasn't like I said I'll mix genres because I just want to mix genres. The plot and the so-called genre shift, both halves involving horses, came to me pretty quickly, a bit like a dream, and it seemed right and I went with it.
My novel Graveyard Love, on the other hand, I worked on for much longer, and I was very fussy with putting it together. That one definitely mixes horror and noir. Some people who've read it have said it's more a crime story, others have said it seemed more horror to them. Either description is fine with me, as is saying it's a little of both. But again, the original idea of a woman who keeps visiting a tomb in a graveyard and a man watching her from his house across the road every day, becoming obsessed with her, while she has her own obsession that involves the person buried in the tomb - the original idea was a mix of horror and noir from the very start. I didn't graft one genre onto the other.
How significant are any particular social issues when you’re in the artistic process, whether subliminal or obvious?
Not especially significant. I'm a news junkie and have been for a long time, and now, since Trump became president, I'm more of a news hound than I've ever been. What's going on now isn't what I'd call uplifting, but it is fascinating. You know the historians are going to have an absolute field day with this period. But for all that, my story ideas tend to come most from the subconscious, either actual dreams or daydreams or images that pop into my mind or a plot idea that comes from somewhere, and I don't preoccupy myself with social issues when I'm writing. I definitely don't aspire to write something escapist, so people can forget the issues of today, but exploring social issues, writing something akin to social realism, that kind of thing, though I may love reading that kind of fiction from someone else, is not what I find very interesting to do. Social issues for all their huge importance in day to day life, don't fire up my imagination when it comes to writing fiction.
At the same time, I'm aware of course of what's going on and have my views on things, and so I'm sure there's stuff that reflects social issues rather subliminally. I would say that as much as anything, I'm interested in psychological states and human motivation, and whatever topical stuff gets touched on when I do a story gets touched on through the prism of the characters' individual quirks and obsessions and mood shifts.
What are some of your influences, literary or otherwise?
So many, of course. I'll give some examples book by book. In Spiders and Flies, my first novel, a kidnapping story set partly in Martinique, I went entirely for a story that would have a dreamlike feel. It has a coherent and pretty complicated plot, but it unfolds like a nightmare. The David Lynch of Blue Velvet and the first Twin Peaks series was certainly an influence, as well as the writers Paul Bowles and John Hawkes. Bowles and Hawkes are among my very favorite writers ever, and for that book, I had a little of The Sheltering Sky on my mind and Hawkes' own version of a crime tale, The Lime Twig. Amazing novel.
Jungle Horses was my attempt, in part, to write a weird island tale, a kind of story I've loved since I was a kid. There's H.G Welles' The Island of Dr. Moreau, and two great mysterious island stories by the Argentinian writer Adolfo Bioy Casares, who was a close friend of Jorge Borges. Casares wrote these two novellas - The Invention of Morel (whose title itself alludes to Dr. Moreau) and A Plan for Escape. The Invention of Morel, by the way, was a clear influence on the TV show Lost. But anyway, those two novellas combine fantasy and science fiction and even mystery story aspects and do so in tales of 100 pages give or take, extraordinarily tight writing with brilliant plotting.
Graveyard Love, combining horror and noir, as I was saying, is a psychological thriller, and reflects a lot of things I've enjoyed and ingested over the years, from Edgar Allan Poe to Jim Thompson to Brian De Palma to Alfred Hitchcock (especially Vertigo, Psycho, and Rear Window). Italian filmmaker Michele Soavi's Cemetery Man was an influence, as was Ruth Rendell's crime novel Master of the Moor. Rendell has a character in her book, quite disturbed as we discover, who does a lot of walking through the countryside as the main character in Graveyard Love does, walking and simmering , plotting unseemly things. She's a remarkable writer, Rendell, and she does everything well. She's a master plotter, a superb stylist, someone who can write crime from the criminal's or the detective's perspective with equal dexterity. Even Henry James was an influence, in particular his story The Altar of the Dead, about a pair of people who obsessively visit the altars of dead people important to them.
It's funny. Sometimes you write a short story or book, and you don't realize that a particular literary or film work was an influence on you until your story or book is done and you've put some distance behind it. Then it dawns on you: "Oh yeah, Highsmith influenced me here." Or: "J.G. Ballard there." Or someone mentions how your story reminded them of so and so, and you're like, "That's true. I love so and so but didn't realize they were an influence on my own story till you just mentioned it."
What’s next for you?
In January, I have my 4th book coming out - Jack Waters. You might call it a historical revenge thriller. It's set in 1904 and about a guy, Jack Waters, who lives in New Orleans. He earns his money by playing poker. Through his gambling skill, he has a comfortable life, but one day he kills a man he catches cheating against him. On the run, he flees Louisiana, and he moves to an island in the Caribbean. It seems he'll be able to resume his poker playing life, but he runs into problems with the island's rich and powerful. Frustrated, he joins a rebellion against the government, but his reason for joining the revolutionaries has nothing to do with politics. He has his own reason for joining the rebellion, based on revenge against someone high up in the country.
I've been working on it for awhile, so I'm excited it's coming out.
So are we, Scott, thanks and cheers!
Scott Adlerberg lives in Brooklyn. He’s written the novels Spiders and Flies (2012) and Jungle Horses (2014), and his most recent book is the psychological thriller, Graveyard Love (2016). He regularly contributes pieces to sites such as Criminal Element and Literary Hub. He co-hosts the Word for Word Reel Talks film commentary series each summer in Manhattan and blogs about books, movies, and writing at the crime fiction site Do Some Damage. In January 2018, his new novel will be out - Jack Waters, a historical revenge tale, from Broken River Books.
PHOTO: SCOTT ALDERBERG