Writer Interview with Fenwick
Fenwick, who is not giving his name or image as he holds a general fear of something he calls The Machine, is a practicing Public Defender in California. He lives in the 8th most conservative city in the United States, which makes being a regular Democratic party volunteer a tad akward. After graduating with a BA in history he promptly went to Law School where he graduated magna cum laude. Currently he is seeking out his International Common Law Certificate in hopes of working for the US diplomatic corps.
He is not a published author, but has made numerous attempts at it. Most of his work is found on AH.com.
How long have you been writing?
Since I was about thirteen.
What is the earliest work of yours that you have published or intend to publish?
I had art friends who really had this drive to make comics. This was in that odd point when we had the internet but no one used the internet. Meaning this was all by hand. So you had 13 year old boys drawing impossibly, Rob Liefeld inspired narrow waisted big breasted women, and overly muscular men. Then you had me writing the story cause “Fen cannot draw for shit, yo.” And, yes he really did say “yo.” Mind you I was on the “project” for all of three weeks before they kicked me off. They wanted violent, super powerful, murdering space gods. I wanted this:
Only picture I drew for them. Simply 13 year olds get powers, and to me they had no skills at all. So it was buying Lucha Libre masks, and just whatever was at the thrift shop. I kept writing what I felt was realism and no one wanted that so away I went. They published something, but it was on the school printer for like one issue.
Who were the earliest authors to be an inspiration for your writing?
I really liked Tom Wolf. First book I got into, like could not stop reading was “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” It was his personal account of traveling the world with Ken Keesy (One flew over the cuckoos nest) and it was about drugs, but not really. Just these really honest conversations and events.
Which other authors do you consider to be an inspiration and for what reason?
Terry Pratchett for his sense of humor, and also taking clearly impossible events but setting them in what can only be real life. A cop in a world with dwarves, elves, and trolls. Or a “hero” who is a honest coward.
Harry Turtledove for giving me scifi trash novels. Not as in bad but as in plentiful, cheap, and giving me what I want. My that sounds really bad out loudE
Warren Ellis. Comic book author but I view comics as any other medium. Yet when he writes about things that are not superheroes he is amazing. Ministry of Space is one to pick up, it is the British Empire conquering the stars thanks to a certain WWII black budget. Transmetropolitan an amazing technological society which has just as much crime, disease, poverty, and everything. Lastly is Planetary, which while having superheroes is really this amazing attempt to make all literature, cinema, and any idea of heroes and villains live in a unified world.
Are you inspired by any landscapes or buildings, or even towns and cities?
Kansas City is one. I have been to China, Europe, and South America but as an America I say Kansas City Missouri. It is that awful mix of urban blight, urban sprawl, urban renewal, and urban decay in one central location. You can see these amazing Art Deco buildings right next to rusting out pre-WWI factories, and at the same time what looks like someone nailed 2014 technology to the side of the buildings. It is a really nice city mind you, but it is the ability to go from a wooden shack and fifteen minutes later be in the most ornate of buildings. Really it is how I like to view things in the world, a big huge mess of things somehow working out.
Another is Los Angeles. I live here, and I get to enjoy not the freeway and chain restaurants but the side streets and very clearly defined neighborhoods. It is kind of cool to walk down a street and suddenly everything is in Spanish, and then turn the corner and you are in Little Tokyo. Plus ever since the smog was cut down it is just bright and blue sky.
Which was the first writing of yours that you are proud enough to say “I did this about?
For me it was this story in which it is the 1920s. An art critic and his boyfriend are at a party to see this new painter. These guys have to be in this room of communists, and booze hounds flaunting prohibition but have to hide being gay. Yet all of this is so they can see the amazing abstract artworks of Adolf Hitler. I really liked that story. Wrote it in like two hours.
Have you been surprised by a negative reaction to any of your work?
In college I wrote this story for the campus literary magazine. It was a really simple story about a guy in a train station avoiding the police. The guy had a bomb, and it was the liberation front or something. Of course everywhere was swastika flags and such so obviously the guy was the hero. I got my little certificate, and my $20 but it was in the “filler pile.” So it was never needed. While that bummed me out, on my submission draft was this single message at the end which was like, “This was rather insulting.” To this day I have no idea what that meant. Was it the terrorism? Was the reader a Nazi? What? Tell me Mrs. T what was it?!
Other than authors (and friends and family) who are your heroes?
I like, I guess you would call them crafty people? Thurgood Marshall, SCOTUS justice, ACLU lawyer, went to the Southern US in the 1950s to defend black men accused of rape or murder. He was a really smart guy, and surprisingly brave, but it was that “I trust the law” kind of bravely. I know in about twenty minutes I will be in my car and go “oh should have him!” But really the British Naval Intelligence of WWII, or the CIA, even some of the lesser known NATO intelligence operations in which a handful of guys clearly diverted thousands if not millions of men on some harebrained scheme.
Do you find Alternate History a genre that is more difficult to write in than others, perhaps due to the focus on plausibility?
Not at all. What is plausible? I mean WWI was because a single guy died in his car which took a wrong turn after trying to visit people injured from an assassination attempt earlier that day? Go to a civil war museum sometimes, and you will see two bullets fused together titled, “US-Confederate musket balls.” In any film that is when the audience rolls their eyes and leaves. However it happened all the time. So when someone says it is not plausible something occurred all that means is that the half-baked reason why something occurs needs a few more minutes in the old mental oven.
Do you write much non-narrative fiction, e.g. in the pseudo-historical fashion of articles and features from another world?
I play a game called Shared Worlds. The entire idea is to take a nation and write its history from a factual stand point. Some write stories, myself included, but mostly it is writing detailed events.
Your ‘Fenwick Writing Challenges” inspired 2 of my short stories that I later turned into novellas. Do you know how inspirational you were? Do you know if any other works resulting from those were published?
In some ways yes, but it always surprises me how many have gone “hey Fenwick great idea there.” Really I get these ideas and I know I cannot write them how they are in my head, so I send them off to others. To my knowledge no one else really used my writing challenges and got them published. I know I have gotten nice rejection letters from all the stories I wrote for them.
If you could go back in time to learn the truth about one historical mystery or disputed event what would it be?
I want to know who Jack the Ripper is. I cannot explain why that event is so interesting to me. I think it is the setting. All those smoke filled, foggy hazed nights and some fellow in a top hat arrives luring his victims away. It is like the perfect horror story for Victorian London, and yet the fact it really happened only to suddenly stop makes me really want to know who Jack was.