Michael Horvath, author of "Brighter Graphite", a collection of two novellas, is also Director of Acquisitions at a prominent midtown art gallery. I want to thank him for taking the time to answer a few questions about his book, and art background.
(photo © Stephanie Bart-Horvath 2010)
I understand that you are the Director of Aquisitions for an art gallery in NYC. Can you explain a bit about your art background and how you became an author?
Basically, ever since I was six or so, and got a lot of strokes for my drawing ability, I wanted to be an artist, knew I was going to be an artist, so my direction was set. I was a shy and obsessive kid and kept to myself much of the time. Really, I don't feel I had much of a choice. When I entered the University of Akron's art program, I met others like me, which sealed the deal, once I had a supportive community. This was in the mid-70's, and the faculty was young and very plugged in to what was going on, and a really great local music scene was developing, and there was a sense of community and energy. It was great! One of the guys in Devo taught there for a while, so there were many ideas floating around... I was writing art reviews for the University newspaper. I met people who were influential to my thinking, so that was good.
As for writing, a lonely kid with curiosity and a lot of time on his hands has to do something to kill time. I loved reading and would obsess on my favorite authors at the time--HP Lovecraft, Poe, Kafka. They all wrote evocative stories, which put you "there," so this escape put me "elsewhere" which is what i was after... I would try to mimic their styles in my early attempts I took one creative writing course in college, and had my first story published in the first issue of YAWP, the literary magazine started by the teacher of the CW course. He became a poet of some renown, and was very supportive of my work. I think his name was Elton Glaser, but I'm terrible remembering names. I concentrated on the art and didn't start writing again until 1995, when I worked myself out of my home studio with a series of 34 concrete sculptures, and started jotting notes for the story that became Graphite.
Since I read certain authors voraciously and was mesmerized by the the work of specific artists, it all mulched up in my mind, and I cannot differentiate how one affects the other-- it is all of a piece, and my creative mentality, I guess.
What was the strangest job you have ever held?
Without a doubt it was it was the summer I spent counting traffic at the AM and PM rush hours-- 6-8 AM and 5-7 PM-- for the city of Akron. They had been using mechanical pneumatic counters with long hoses across the highway; cars registered 2 signals, the front and back wheels, trucks at least twice that. But the City had to verify the numbers with humans.The split shift was absolute hell. Those were my party days, and I was usually late picking up my partner to go on-site. they moved us all over the place. The point, I guess, was to count the truck traffic for proper taxation. Big semi's rolling over the hoses with their 12 wheels or whatever would sever them and screw up the data. So we had to do it by hand on clipboards that had counters on 2 sides, one for cars, the other for trucks. And then back to the site at 5PM for the evening rush. Excruciating.
I later sublimated the monotony and repetition of that job, however, for my senior show when I sequestered myself in the University gallery until I completed One Million Marks, which was a grid of scratch marks--four vertical marks with a diagonal slash through them. I lived in the gallery until my task was finished, nine days and four hours. Beautiful huge drawing, 9 x 11 feet, in vermillion on the bumpy white plywood walls, which appeared to waver in pink patterns... And thus, I became a millionaire.
Who are you most influenced by? Has anyone ever compared your writing style to another author?
I am most influenced by writers who have the ability to put me "there." I admired Lovecraft, despite all his excess, for his ability to drag you through his various hells by a steady stream of poignant sensory details. He had good pay-offs, too, his climaxes quite satisfying. Kafka, ditto. I read William Gibson's Neuromancer about ten times. Martin Amis and Will Self blow me away... There are so many good writers out there that, in order to write, I quit reading. Apparently I have hit my saturation point for input, and must now output. Artists that have influenced me most are Caravaggio, Leonardo, Duchamp, Chris Burden... I could go on and on.
As for comparisons, you compared me to Nabokov, and let me say here that I am unworthy! He is the best writer in any--and all--languages. I started re-reading Lolita a few years back and just had to put it down. His sentences are so loaded and perfectly phrased that it would have taken me years to get through it. Like eating lobster at every meal.
I do obsess over my writing, though Nabokov-esque quality is every writer's goal, I would think.
What was the writing and publishing process like for you?
It was a rush and a thrill and very daunting. But my editor, John Paine, shepherded me through the process in a fairly painless way, and made good suggestions about the pacing and plotting, as did my publisher, Chris Sulavik. I was well mentored, and it helped my confidence a great deal. Thank you, guys.
Your novella "Graphite" follows an eccentric on a journey to Graphite, a strange and foreign city where everything and everyone is covered in a fine gray powder, to discover why his beloved pencils keep breaking. In "Brighter", we are introduced to a unique world where a war is brewing between two different classes of artist, and bear witness to the Proof - an ancient and deadly test that is both an honor and a humiliation. How did you come up with these story ideas?
As an unrepentant eccentric thinker, I was just following my instincts and letting go. Graphite started with a note card while I was working myself out of my studio with the sculptures. And then another, seemingly unrelated note to myself, and then another, and so on until I had a pile of these obscure and unrelated observations started to coalesce into a unified and strange fantasy. Puns and a mordant sense of humor have always set my mind in motion, and it all whirl-pooled into Graphite, the story. I must say it was one of the most interesting and profound creative processes I've experienced. It really opened my eyes. In fact, Graphite almost wrote itself. So I just trust that process, trust my gut.
Looking at my body of written work, I tend to write strident satires about odd and needy people who get what they think they want, and the consequences that follow. I have a dark sense of humor, and enjoy flexing it.
Are you currently working on another project?
I have several stories in eternal revision, and a rough draft of a novel that needs expansion. My life is hectic and time is hard to come by, so I don't get to my creative work as much as I want.
Which authors do you enjoy reading?
Martin Amis, Will Self, Kafka, I would like to read Moby Dick again... but my time restraints declare: write it or read it!
What is your take on E-books and E-readers, as an author and reader?
I like it, and it is the obvious new frontier: Green Lit. On the other hand, I love the book as an object, a portable repository of info and adventure. I also appreciate the book as an art object, my wife, Stephanie, is a great designer, and the aesthetics involved in designing a book are as complicated as creating a painting.
If your house was on fire, and you could only rescue 5 novels from>> your>>> bookshelves, which 5 would you save and why?
Tough question, and unfair. But OK--in no particular order: Moby Dick--the Great American Novel of revenge and obsession, and everything you wanted to know about whales. London Fields--Martin Amis is a funny, ironic, mean and poignant writer, and I dearly love all his work. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas--Hunter Thompson's Howl, and it is a howl, even though it isn't a novel. My Idea of Fun by Will Self, dark and bitter wit. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, the other Great American Novel, a monster book of spiritual devastation by a fearless writer. These are the very books I should use as kindling to start the fire in my library and free myself of their influence...
What authors/novels/ websites would you recommend to our audience?
Well, Brighter Graphite is book that immediately comes to mind...
Every writer I have mentioned is eminently worth reading. My advice to adventurous readers is to take chances on authors they have never heard of, read the backs of new books, look for the new guard. As for websites, I end to focus on sports sites (I am a devoted Cleveland sports fanatic, for some reason. I went to the Catholic grade-school that was folded into another Catholic grade school that LeBron James attended... Sports are a matter of faith for fans in northern Ohio. I also read a great deal of science-oriented websites. And humor sites, I like to laugh, or I'll cry.
The best general recommendation I can offer to everyone is use your time well. Time is the currency of life.
Thanks so much for agreeing to answer these questions. It's wonderful to get to know the person behind the book!
It was my pleasure; thank you for giving me this opportunity to rant.