Hello and Happy Tuesday.
It’s raining in Paris today, but the heat it’s still here. So all I want to do is lying on my couch while reading a good book. And guess what? I have one.
Now the author I’m hosting today is not your average author. I met him a couple years ago (no, not “in flesh” sadly, but on the net) and we became friends quickly enough. At that time, he showed me an excerpt of what he was writing at the moment; it involved two men, a fireplace, and melted chocolate. It was so sensual, so … erotic, I was hooked!
He’s coming back now with a story that takes place during WWII and on the German side (I told you he was not the average writer!) Oh and did I mention that he speaks French too? Yea, he does. Another good point for him J
Well, I think it’s time I leave you with him. Please welcome Mister Anthony Kobal!
The morning, you are tea or coffee?
Tea is for sleeping at night; morning I need the jolt from coffee. I know people who drink Coca-Cola or RedBull for the caffeine, but that’s not kosher with me. Coffee feels the most natural, and I only regret it when I cut back on it and get a massive withdrawal headache, which teaches me not to drink so much coffee.
However, coffee is just the substance; at work it’s just a couple of cups in the cafeteria. On weekends it’s very different, because it’s *where* you have coffee, and with whom, and you get to select the richness of the coffee, and you can interact with the barista, the patrons, and whomever you’re with. Saturday morning for me means coffee at a café with someone else who likes coffee, and I get to do the crossword puzzle from the New York Times.
What kind of books do you write?
I love history: I enjoy researching and writing love stories about eras that have some historical significance. I can hardly read a book about a time or place in the past and not start to think about how I’d use real characters and invent characters to interact with them, especially if the characters can love, despise, plot against, or intrigue with each other.
Why did you choose this genre?
I think it’s very powerful. Once you set a story in Holland, say, you immediately have that country’s history, mores, customs, personalities to use and play with. That feeling was instilled in me by reading an interview with film director Alfred Hitchcock; he’d say ‘now what else is in Holland? Windmills – chocolate – wooden shoes…’ Yes, it’s clichéd but he made it work, and I enjoy weaving in that kind of detail into a story. In my book “The Second Ring,” we are in occupied Norway, 1941-3, and I thought a sauna would be a wonderful, even naughty place to have a scene. And while one would probably find more saunas in Sweden than Norway, it is plausible that there would be some there.
But saunas are secondary. Good stories – despite the plot—are almost always about character. That’s what interests me most. And when you have the freedom to allow these characters not only to talk and interact, but to love and have sex together, and to play with their passions as well as their talents and expertise, it’s a pretty powerful thing. There are some excerpts from the book at thesecondring.wordpress.com—but the scene in the sauna, actually, is one of my favorites in the book, as it gives my hero a chance to observe his men and allow the romance with the Norwegian to ascend to the next level. (see the excerpt at the end of the interview)
When you write, are you keyboard or paper?
I have always loved writing with pen and paper. I write with a fountain pen and a large nib. A relative of mine said ‘everything you write looks like the Declaration of Independence!’ – I know it’s an affectation, but I love it too much to give it up. I adore calligraphy, I truly love to write real letters to people, with real, engraved, commemorative postage stamps on the envelope. I think they’re exciting to send and receive. I like to bring that kind of romance into my stories. But for actual writing of novels, I find I think too fast to write with a pen. Pens are fine for taking notes, working out problems or making character arc diagrams. When it comes to dialogue, I want to go as fast as I can, like living speech, and I tear through it at the keyboard.
Are you more motivated to write when the sun shines or when the weather is gray?
Grayness, yes. When the sun shines I’d rather be outside, and computers aren’t conducive to that, as you can’t see the screen, you run out of batteries, etc. If I’m in a café, sometimes that works all right, although the romance of the café impels me to write in a notebook, where I can sketch, write words, make diagrams, write music, etc. But yes, I find rainy days are a much better time to write, because I don’t feel so guilty about not being outside getting Vitamin D, or skinny-dipping.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere, taken in through all the senses. The hard part is trying to remember it all, or write it down, or somehow preserve those feelings – all that input. Then the hardest part of all is to make sense of it so that it services the theme of a book. Quite often a scene will come to me that I have to write out, but it doesn’t fit, or is too ridiculous for the story. Sometimes I can twist it so that a different character says or does it and it’s not as ridiculous, but sometimes it just doesn’t work and has to go.
When you start a book, do you already have the whole story in your head, or is it built progressively?
Whatever kick-starts the story has to have two or three roots that grow out of it. Meaning that unless I can see a little bit into the characters, the motivations, desires, it’s not going to go anywhere, and will end up in my cheese-rind bin on my computer.
It usually goes like this. I have an idea for a story, and think of a good starting point for it. I write maybe four chapters and see where it’s going. If I like it, the first chapter at least needs to be severely re-written, but I leave it as it is until I get further in and get to know the characters. Then I revise the opening. At about the three-quarters finished point, I am a basket-case, because nothing seems to be working and it’s all falling apart. Then I usually skip to the end and write that. That way, at least I have the whole story arc, and can see it from a great height. Then it becomes easier. If I want this to happen, I need to foreshadow it way back there. Once I can do that kind of revising, I think I’m in good shape, and the book seems to be living on its own. The final creative hammering happens when I need to knit in the fabric the themes and motivations and I backtrack to get it all to be harmonious. In final phase of editing with the publisher, there are certain problems that come up that need to be solved, but those aren’t as deeply rooted as when you’re inventing the story.
How do you feel before the release of a book? Fear, joy? And after?
Intense trepidation before release, just to be sure it’s going to appear at all! But it’s like being the director of a play – there’s no nerves on opening night; you’ve done all you can, and it has to stand on its own.
Between your first and last novel, do you feel a change? Do you write differently?
I’ve written many different kinds of works, from music, poetry, stories, articles, novels. Yes, there is a progression; you feel as though you’ve done the best you can, but there’s a sense of building mastery. Whether that is mastery of the form, or just mastery of something much smaller is immaterial. You get increasingly more assured as you write more and more.
They say that writers project themselves into the skin and into the head of his hero / heroine, is that the case for you?
Definitely. If you’ve got something to say, you need to say it through your characters, and the hero is a likely place to find the soapbox, or at least the megaphone. It’s interesting that in Shakespeare, you’d tend to think that Polonius is Shakespeare’s mouthpiece, what with his precepts of living: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be…” and so forth. But in the play, Polonius is a doddering old windbag who meddles in Hamlet’s affairs, and is inadvertently killed by him. So in a way it was Shakespeare using the situation of Laertes’ leavetaking to inject Shakespeare’s precepts, and then, short tale to make, close in the consequence and have him go back to being a windbag again.
It depends also on the kind of narration. In my most recent work, “The Second Ring,” which is available through nobleromance.com, it is in the First Person, which obviously is the most intimate. You don’t know what anyone else is thinking but Axel, the man narrating. And that gives you some advantages. My WIP is written in the third person, which give you more of an omniscient point of view. You can jump around and say what any character is thinking, although you need to be careful about that. Any good third-person narration has to be selective. Otherwise it’s chaos and too confusing.
You define yourself more like a bookworm, a city mouse or a country mouse?
Oh, I’d say I was a country mouse bookworm. Nothing makes me more peaceful that the thought of reading a book by the fire with a dog at my side. That fantasy used to include me smoking a pipe as well, but I’ve given that up. And the dog sometimes morphs into a cat. But the city is only a necessary evil—not somewhere my body feels it must be in order to live and work. Mark Twain said, “Heaven for climate: Hell for society.”
Molière said: “Writing is like prostitution. First we write for the love of it, then for a few friends, and in the end for money.” What do you think about it?
I love Molière; I am not sure his quip is applicable to the 21st century! I should think that many people write for the money before anything else and it’s either interchangeable with the love of it, or love has nothing to do with it. Before you can start to write well, you need to be well-read, (IMHO). And seeing that the craft of writing needs to be either self-taught or learned at the feet of mentors, I’d say that learning how to write is tough. You need criticism, you need a copper-bottomed bullshit detector (mangling a Hemingway quote), so that you can learn how to do it. You need to imitate, then deviate from the imitation. I know a few young writers who simply don’t understand how to manipulate the language yet. So far as ‘a few friends’ go—I am not sure that’s applicable any longer at all! Unless we talk about social media now, and you write or blog to a small audience of subscribers. But if that is the case, the allusion to prostitution is gone.
And, not to take poor Molière to task, but the comment probably would be seen as base and sexist now – prostitutes begin selling their bodies for the love of it? Ouch. Then for a few friends? Double-ouch! So it is a very witty comment seen in 17th century terms; but I think most 21st century women would take exception to it.
Your books have already been translated?
Hélas, non. Je t’attends. I have translated some Baudelaire into English; that is as close as I have gotten.
Do you pay attention to literary criticism?
I read the Times Book Review every week, and it does whet my appetite for new books; sometimes it gives me ideas for stories of my own. I am hungry for reviews of my own work, only because I think of it as a conversation. Without getting any feedback or criticism it’s like shouting down a black well. I don’t care if it’s good or bad. I could write a bad review of my own work in a blink.
The days are 25 hours. You spend that extra hour in the garden or in the kitchen?
I’d probably sleep through it! I’d say half hour in the garden and half hour in the kitchen. Music playing somehow, somewhere during that span of time.
What is the book you would bring with you on a deserted island?
Probably The Picture of Dorian Gray. I don’t know why! I’ve read it a dozen times, and just love the story and the prose. But I would be hard-pressed to select one book only. Maybe I’d bring one of those books that I’ve tried to read and just never could get through—being on an island would force me to finish it. Buddenbrooks, War and Peace, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Plato’s Republic, Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Don Quixote.
In the evening, do you turn off the light directly or do you take the time to read?
No question. I pile books in bed with me and choose one that I fancy and read until it falls from my hands. When I am alone in bed I share it with books. I am of the opinion that Heaven is a kind of library, and you have all eternity to browse and read the best editions of the best books that ever were written. Maybe then I could finish Buddenbrooks.
The family set to work, carrying water down to the site and lighting the fire, soaking the stones. We made a campfire outside, then sat and had our dinner at dusk on the bank of the hill, watching the proceedings with the red glow of the sky, spectacular clouds in ribbons above, and the mountains higher than any we could have imagined.
Some of the young women had short, sharp knives with them, with which they cut small branches from the birch trees. Somehow, I thought this was some sort of protection for them against us, but realized that this was part of the sauna tradition. Apparently, the women in the family cut birch twigs and tied them together like little brooms, then used them to strike the sauna-bather on the skin as a method of increasing the circulation. My skin prickled just to think of it, but literally they would flagellate each other to increase the blood-flow while they were roasting themselves in the furiously hot air driven from the fired rocks. I couldn’t help but notice that, although the girls tied the branches together with ribbon, the final product looked rough and formidable. It occurred to me that were one really to lay into a fellow sauniste, many of the brittle branches would break off, leaving the most flexible, hardiest withes, so these were really scourges in the making. They demurely handed them over to the Norwegians among the men, and then scurried back to the house.
Disappointed that the ladies would not be accompanying them, my men made coarse jokes about them, and I barked a few desultory orders at them to shut up, as they disrobed and left their uniforms in various piles close to where we had just eaten. Watching from the path leading to the sauna, I saw my two dozen jackanapes looking white and peeled, marching naked, breathing steam like a herd of draft horses, brandishing their broom-like swatters, running hastily into the sauna shed, where they slammed the door. Immediately, they began to laugh and horse around.
I gave them ten minutes, then went in to supervise. As I opened the door with a creak of the hinges, the rowdy group became silent; then when they saw it was I who intruded, became even more riotous.
It was a very small sauna. The stove in the corner had the tray piled with rocks, and they were ladling water onto it, causing a ferocious geyser of steam to fill the cramped space. The men were chock-a-block on the benches, standing, squatting, sitting in each other's laps, having much too good of a time.
I quickly disrobed and folded my clothes neatly just outside the door. I should have asked one of them to assist me, but I was more anxious to be part of their fun than to demand protocol.
The sight of my men in the pink glow of their bodies was nearly as overwhelming as the closeness of the air and the sensuous odor of the warmed wood. The nearness of the bodies made it look like a romantic painting depicting a seraglio. As I sat on one of the benches, a set of male hips walked past me, saying that Klaus was there, but I could barely make him out among so many interpassing limbs. The tangle of legs and chests and backs and buttocks that kept assembling and re-assembling in my mind was vertiginous.
They were alternating whipping each other with the birch branches, the green leaves still attached. As they swatted each other, the leaves flew in all directions like feathers. I could not let this opportunity pass, and soon was anonymously trafficking with the enlisted men and the Norwegians, moving about, brushing bodies with them. More than once, a muscular pair of haunches brushed my thighs, and a number of side-stepping masculine torsos paraded by me, their dark crotches ornamented by pale spouts of their cocks in all shapes, sizes, colors.
I shouldered my responsibility well to keep their circulation going, laying into them with the birch, nearly destroying one of the brooms I held, exercising my enthusiasm. When you begin to thrash six, seven men's backs, buttocks, chests, you become a kind of Torquemada, meting out this absurd kind pleasure-filled torture. At one point, a man tripped and landed in my lap, laughing as he did so, his sweating arse squirming over my thighs. As he stood up, he tripped again and landed across my knees, his plump posterior bent perfectly situated for a proper birching, and I held his back down with the left arm, and laid into his buttocks with a will, striking first one side, then the other of his rosy nates, with my leafy whip. He was laughing like a drunken circus clown until he sensed that I was drumming him more than the intended prescription, and as his arse began to turn violet in the dim light, I dumped him unceremoniously onto the floor.
Then I rose to put water on the stones, feeling flush with the heat and the excitement. And there was Klaus, sitting close to the stove, his bare chest running rivulets of sweat, his armpits damp and dark. As I stood, ladling the water over, I could not help but admire his perfect arms, their sculptural symmetry a finely wrought work of art, and the cunning way his shoulders curved into the planes of his chest. A drop of perspiration clung to the tip of his nipple.
In that moment, I realized that I had overstepped my own boundaries; not only was I naked among my men, which might be forgivable, but realized that I had a fierce erection that pointed like a compass-needle, straight toward the man I so admired.
There was no way to cover it up. The stimulation from the heat and the fierceness of the sexual energy that was driving through my body kept me at full spate, my cock standing nearly straight up, touching my belly.
Klaus glanced at it, then snapped his head up high to look at me in the eyes.
I knew that if I'd turned around I was as good as dead. But Klaus knew how to think on his feet; when he saw that I could not help my sexually flushed state, he leapt up, and hailed to his mates in some mixture of Norse languages.
"Avanto Snøenhoppe!" As he burst through the door, they all followed him, a dozen red rumps dashing and brushing past me in a fury to get out; outside, the sound of their bodies plunging into the sparse snowbanks was accompanied by their shrieks of pain—or was it joy? I, too, ran out and the cold air stung my skin, making my all too eager member shrink immediately to its more harmless state, and when I dove into the blur of white that was a fine powdery snow, I lay there, steam rising from my body.