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You were born in Germany and there Eckemforde you left for Berlin, what were you hoping to find / discover in Berlin? Was it to continue studying? At this point had you decided to become a writer, because we read that you had experience as an actor and presenter for a show for the gay community … so which came first?
Born in Eckemforde but grew up in a small town of 2000 people in lower Saxony where the latest book is based and where I couldn’t wait to get out of. I Fell in love with a girl at 19 and headed for Berlin. I wanted to become an actor and so did that for 6 years and the morning show was something I did on the side and for the experience and earn a little money which never quote worked out. As an actor I wasn’t really happy, I found it stressful being you as a private person and you as an actor. I would go some place and it would be ‘look at me, do you have a part for me’, Always advertising yourself and I didn’t feel very comfortable with that. I like to be a showboat sometimes but mostly I prefer to be alone. I enjoy the acting and being on stage, its really exhilarating but you need to be very hungry everyday to do that. You need to wake up each morning and want to do it but for me there are days where I wake and just don’t want to do that, where I just want to be very private. For a career in acting you just need to be on all the time. So then I went on to study American studies and from there I became a writer, received a scholarship to in Buffalo in York State, extended it and ended up staying.
From there you decide to change not only the city but also country and continent for America. In your story ‘Sea World’ Mayor Mitchell said “All that noise, the smells, the lights. Who wouldn’t want to come out and have a look?” can this be related with your decision to live in America, or what motivates you to stay in the country?
I loved how big the Country was, you can drive and drive, an expanse of landscape. In ’92 I took a cross country trip while I was still living in Berlin and was wowed, that’s also part of the motivation to start American Studies and to me America was… to me in Germany the people choose a career and then you stick with it, then if you change there must be something wrong with you. In America its more “oh you changed career, good for you. You did something else, that’s awesome!”. In America change is appreciated and there the attitude is always something better is coming, you can always jump to something greater, something more interesting. I found it really liberating to be around this attitude that the future will always be better. You could what you want with your life and that is really cool. They don’t judge you like that and have much more positive attitude than German people. German’s often say how Americans are superficial and blah, blah, blah but there are just two levels. On a small talk level you can easily connect to people and its very pleasant to that, they are always your friend. Its exactly this level of friendly that you always want but then if you want to get to know them better you can always
talk about something deeper. Whereas in Germany if you ask ‘how are you’ they’ll reply oh really shitty, didn’t sleep well and you get the whole life story and you don’t want that.
The sky just felt bigger, I could suddenly just breathe. You can just drive for days!
You’ve devoted much of your life to teaching, in particular what is it you most want to convey to young people and are they both a motivation and influence to you?
Do you think you take a bit of social responsibility in what you teach?
How do you implement these in your stories?
I think it keeps you younger. Younger people are more curious and have more ideas of the possibilities. A lot of older people just become set in there ways. But really I just want to teach them to write. You have a project and you want to find out how to make that project better. You have to be intrusive in your work. When I was studying acting one of teachers said “you don’t have to like each other in the group but when you start working you have to really close to one another, you have to have each others back and stick together. Its just about the writing, how to you can make it better, craft it, polish it and I think I want to instill that work ethic, the enthusiasm for the work, I know it sounds cheesy but just to give yourself to what you do. It’s not about ‘oh I want to be a writer’, being things is really stupid as it is only about the work. It’s a great responsibility, they need to feel that they can grow as writers. When stories have overt messages they’re crap. If you want to portray something you observe in the world I think the story will carry that message with it but the reader should never feel like he or she is being taught something. You watch something and you get a little bit of the vision of something, where you are placed in society, how things work and then its about the story and whatever you feel is happening in the world will be carried through onto the story but not by saying oh this is how it is. Rather by describing who the characters are and how they relate to the world. I wrote these little essays ‘Sea World’ and ‘Hitler Town’ where I know I don’t have a message saying you should be doing this or you should go out and do that. Its really up to the reader and I really think you as the author, once you have written something are beside the point, you die immediately after you publish that thing.
The Majority of your stories dwell on the dark side of society, is there something within them that is part of your youth, your city, the history of your parents or grandparents?
I don’t write autobiography because if I said that my sister would kill me but I feel very drawn certain dark themes to cracks in society where things don’t work out so nicely. I do think that comes out of growing up where I did and watching the things happening that I watched, so I have more sympathy with people who take a more crooked path. I like the areas where people do screwed up stuff and feel they need to take very extreme measures in order to make their lives work. The desperate people in this world who need to get out of here, people who feel oppressed by what they experience. I always found that much more interesting, after all if life were really happy there would be no books because nobody would write a book, we would eat fruit and drink champagne all day if we were happy. I like the darkest scenes because I think that’s when you really know who people are, put them in a really bad situation, see how they act and then you know who they are.
With ‘Next door lives a girl’ where did the initial idea evolve from?
This came from the small town I moved to as a child. I always wanted to write about it. I always carried around the idea but I never knew exactly how I would I that. In order to portray exactly how it felt I sensed I had to do something really drastic. Before I didn’t know what that was but then at some point it sort of I knew that this can’t be a kind of normal drawn out novel, that the chapters would have to be really short and also the voice of the narrator would have to just portray what he sees, what happens but not judging it. Once I had the voice and how I wanted to structure it, it really came together. Also, the landscape of that industrial suburb, bunkers and the production halls where they made the ammunition, that’s exactly how it was, where I grew up. The war was always around me. At first when you grew up as a kid you were thinking how nice all the little hills were but then when you are a little older you realize that those were bunkers. We were sometimes still able to get into some parts of the bunkers and so you feel the whole time that the war is still around. They say its over but all around is still repentance of it, so I always wanted to write how it felt growing up, how never really felt very safe throughout my childhood, from what I saw and who my parents were, what they are saying and what they are doing. Going up against people with this possibility of violence. For long stretches I felt very uncomfortable. I wanted to portray the emotion through something that carry’s that and at some point it just came to me to use a group of boys in the badger and fox form. I really liked the girl hidden in the dark room as she is the symbol of what is happening to all of them, these suppressed creatures, naked dirty souls. She’s really the mirror image of the boys, she’s only half a human being, that it would take much more love and care than anyone’s willing to give to turn this girl into a full human being.
Do you have a favourite Latin American author?
I really like Garcia Marquez, not that I write like him but its just that his writing is stunningly beautiful. I think generally writers here are aloud and willing to explore boundaries . I heard from my publisher that here the writers live much wilder life style. In an America they are like little beaurocrats, they go to the office 9 to 5. A lot of them don’t drink a lot. It seems like the life of the writing here is much more poetic than elsewhere.
Your next book ‘Your house is on fire’ we understand is to be published in 2012, which is the main theme in this new story? Will it be translated into Spanish?
I hope so. Its the story of four young people. When the book starts they are seven years old and when they bookend they are about nineteen. It’s their story but also the story of this little village in northern Germany called the Devil’s Moor. Its very dark, its sinister, a lot of murder, rape and patricide. It’s told from four different points of view, two boys and two girls. Each tells their part of the story and so they intersect until they become more and more complete but none of them know the whole thing. Only the reader will know in the end the whole story. The story assembles for the reader as the narratives serve only half the truth or story. The darkness has sort of its own beauty with a little fairy tale atmosphere.
After completing a story, novel do you have a ritual celebration?
I go to dinner with my wife.
Finally, what is your favourite type of music?
Dead can dance is one of my favourite bands, the national. I usually like rather dark and somber music. Music wise I am stuck in the 80’s but the good 80’s not the bad 80’s the Cure, Dead can Dance… darker things. Interpol I like too, especially the first two records.