Monday, October 12, 2015

THE GALS' 31 DAYS OF HORROR: AMONG THE STACKS: Martin Berman-Gorvine


In deepest, darkest February, await with dread the release of Martin Berman-Gorvine's new horror novel All Souls Day by Silver Leaf Books, the first in a four-book series.  If a demon and its servants ruled your ordinary town, demanding an annual virgin sacrifice, would you have the courage to stop them - and at what price?  This question confronts Amos Ross, Suzie Mitchell and Vickie Riordan, high school seniors in a version of the 1980's that never was, twenty years after the Cuban Missile Crisis triggered World War III and left the United States a devastated wasteland.  The ancient, demonic god Moloch, whose worship was forbidden by the Old Testament, exercises absolute control over Amos, Suzie and Vickie's hometown, the fictional Philadelphia suburb of Chatham's Forge.  The town is an oasis of prosperity that the nuclear war hardly touched, but its comfort comes at a fearful cost: a the high school prom every year, the prettiest and most popular senior girl is chosen by Moloch and his servant, the evil Pastor Justin Bello, to be spirited away to a former National Guard armory known as the Castle, where she is imprisoned alone for five months only to be beheaded and eaten alive by Moloch on All Souls Day, the Second of November, the anniversary of the war.  And this year, 1985, is Suzie's turn...



The Gal in the Blue Mask:
That book sounds ... amazing!!  Wow!  Okay...so...welcome to The Gal.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.  

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
I'm a writer, which means I live mostly in my head.  As for externals, I was raised in the Philadelphia suburbs.  I currently live in the Washington, DC suburbs with my wife, my younger son, three orange tabby cats, two shy, overgrown kittens, and a sort of Muppet dog.  My older son lives in the Chicago area.  My day job is reporting for and editing specialized newsletters.  My hobbies are reading, mostly history or speculative fiction, attending science fiction conventions, swimming, cleaning up dog and cat excreta, and sneaking books into the house under the nose of my poor wife, who fears I am creating a book singularity.  

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are five things most people don't know about you?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
1. I lived in Israel for six years when I was in my twenties, mostly in the Tel Aviv area.

2. My favorite place in the world is Assateague Island, which straddles Maryland and Virginia and is home to the famous wild ponies.  I used this setting in my YA science fiction novels Save the Dragons (Wildside Press, 2013) and Heroes of Earth (Wildside Press, 2015), and in my as-yet-unpublished paranormal mystery-romance Haunted Island.

3. When I was ten or eleven, I built Lego spaceships with a friend the same age and sometimes with my little brother, and we would have "Lego wars" with these ships.  So far, not so strange, except that since these wars often led to the actual physical destruction of carefully constructed spaceships (I remember one strange-looking specimen I'd produced with a sort of Cubist face made of Lego windows that I dubbed "Modern Art"), I drew up a twenty-two page, handwritten "Lego Constitution" to govern the conduct of the Lego Wars.  Which worked about as well as "international law" usually does.

4. I have two 10-sided dice in the outer pocket of the backpack I carry to work.

5. I wrote dozens of haiku, mostly in junior high school, a few of which were published in poetry journals.  Amos in All Souls Day writes a haiku to woo Suzie and slips it through the air vents in her locker.  I swear I did not do anything like that.  I did something even dorkier to woo a girl I had a crush on: I pushed some wild violets I had picked through the air vents in her locker.  And I didn't attach a note.  She went out with someone else.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
Probably Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham.  The strikingly phallic imagery of a train carrying a car, carrying the eponymous breakfast, penetrating a tunnel through a mountain, appealed to my already twisted young brain.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
I've just started Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's Long Earth series and Andrew Carroll's Here is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History, every page of which boasts some incredible fact I guarantee you've never heard before.  Just for instance, did you know that John Wilkes Booth's older brother saved Abraham Lincoln's son from being hit by a train a couple of years before the president's assassination?  And they say we fiction writers make up outrageous stuff.  This just goes to show that the prejudice against "amazing coincidences" in fiction, which was originally driven by a reaction against certain Victorian-era writing habits, is only a literary fashion and doesn't necessarily produce more "realistic" fiction, whatever that is.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
I'm of the school of thought that the creative impulse is often, if not always, akin to the grain of sand that irritates the oyster, stimulating it to produce a pearl.  As a child, I was a lonely, picked-on, self-pitying nerd (a term that has no positive connotations when I was growing up the 1970's and 80's).  When I was in seventh grade, I wrote a satirical sociology of the junior high school I was attending, dividing my classmates into five castes: Averages, Toughs, Pseudo-Toughs, Brainy Averages, and Brainy Weirdos.  The last of these groups was the one I saw myself belonging to: "These have even higher I.Q.s than Brainy Averages.  They are usually wimps.  They do not conform to any usual style of dress (unless they are Pseudo-Toughs) and are likely to become nuclear physicists, cellular biologists, or something like that.  They are not usually dangerous except when you trip over them."  (See my blog post here for the whole thing.)  As you can probably guess, when I wrote about the "Brainy Weirdos," I already saw myself as a writer, and had done so for several years, producing reams of poetry, short stories and essays.  I was hooked on expressing myself that way for the moment in elementary school when I read aloud in class an Inspector Clouseau ripoff I had composed for an assignment and basked in the laughter of my classmates - and for once, they weren't laughing at me.
            All this experience served as inspiration for writing All Souls Day.  The immediate occasion, though, was National Novel Writing Month.  For those who don't know, NaNoWriMo comes around every November, the challenge being to start from zero on November 1 and compose 50,000 words of a new novel by November 30.  What a great way of suppressing the inner censor!  I reached the finish line of the first time last November, but only by giving myself the additional spur that the main characters would all die messily if I fell short.  (Since it is a horror novel, this threat was credible.)  The result is a rebarbative masterpiece that everybody in my family has personally sworn to me they will never read - my number one beta reader, my sixteen-year-old son, Daniel, tried the first chapter and said, "Dad, you're sick, and I don't mean that in a good way."

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
I have a basement desk surrounded with pictures I have taken on Assateague Island, a National Geographic map of Mars, artwork depicting the characters in my books, and a book-lined wall...and I hardly ever use it.  Instead, I do most of my writing on the subway to my day job, at the dining room table, or at any other (in)convenient place and time.  My Muse is perverse.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
Ye gods, nobody should watch me write.  I have a horrible process.  It's like watching those notorious Democracy-brand Sausages being made.  All that tripe and backroom dealing.  (The vegan version uses TVP saturated with blood substitute.)  I'll write a couple of sentences or a paragraph, check my word count so far that day, get frustrated or distracted and switch over to read some news on the internet that makes my blood boil.  Then I might balance my checkbook before writing another paragraph and repeating the cycle.  Somehow this results in 1,000 words being written.   Unless I really get into the characters' heads and my fingers start flying, in which case I might write more than twice that.  I'm compulsive about the damn word counts on the days that I actually do write something, as opposed to the far greater number of days when I don't.  So NaNoWriMo must have been designed with me in mind.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
I have written that message-driven fiction drives readers away.  This is because, even if one agrees with the message conveyed, the writer's insistence on shoving it down one's throat at the expense of the plot, the characters, and everything else that makes fiction enjoyable is liable to trigger a gag reflex even in the most sympathetic reader.  And yet I have been told that some of my books are indeed too heavy-handed in this respect.  It's a challenge I'm still working on.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?  Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
The spare, philosophical, romantically violent short stories of Argentina's Jorge Luis Borges (in English translation) were an early influence on me, and I must thank Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth summer programs for introducing me to him the summer before I turned thirteen.  Borges' short story The Garden of Forking Paths may have been my first exposure to the concept of alternate history that has come to dominate my fiction, including the Cuban Missile Crisis-triggered World War III that forms the "historical" backdrop to All Souls Day.
            Selected Phil Dick novels have also influenced me.  His 1962 novel The Man in the High Castle is one of the best known of the Nazi-victory alternate histories, though Robert Harris's 1996 novel Fatherland is much more chillingly plausible.  These and Stephen Fry's Making History, wherein Hitler's birth is prevented and the Nazis "therefore" win the war in Europe, provoked me into writing my first published novel, The Severed Wing (Livingston Press, 2002), which asks the question, suppose nobody had ever heard of the Nazis and their six million Jewish victims had not been murdered?  My point being, contra Fry, that there was nothing inevitable about the Holocaust.
            But when it comes to science fiction novelists, Robert Charles Wilson stands for me head and shoulders above Dick and many others due to the complex humanity of his characters.  I fell head over heels for Mysterium, an underrated 1994 classic of Wilson's with an alternate history setting - a Gnostic version of Christianity reigns, with mild tyranny, over Europe and the Americas, while Greco-Roman paganism survives alongside it, though it is barely tolerated.  The book and Wilson's Hugo Award-winning 2005 novel The Spin contain impressive meditations on religious and philosophical questions.
            I mustn't leave out George Orwell.  His essay Reflections on Gandhi stands for me as a model of what political writing should be, and it influenced how I depicted one character's arguments for nonviolence, and the other characters' reactions to her, in Heroes of Earth.
            But probably the strongest resonance with my own preoccupations is found in Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time novels.  The character of Gloria, the champion of nonviolence in Heroes of Earth and Save the Dragons, has more than a little of Mrs. Whatsit & Co. about her, and L'Engle's vision of a cosmic struggle between good and "the Dark Thing" finds a strong echo in Gloria's fight with a shadowy force called "the Gray Ones."  In Save the Dragons, one character actually gives another a copy of A Wrinkle in Time.
            And surprising as it may sound, a L'Engle-style cosmic struggle also forms the philosophical substrate of All Souls Day and my novel 36, a creepy horror-novel-like foreshadowing of the rise of the "Islamic State" that I wrote in 2004 (although it wasn't published until 2012).
            The only horror writer I have read at any length is Stephen King.  I think he is an excellent writer, but he hasn't influenced me as deeply as the others I mentioned.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
For me, the single most important quality in fiction is emotional authenticity.  Readers are really very patient creatures who yearn to lose themselves in the story, and will readily forgive the most outrageous inconsistencies in the plot, errors in basic physics, violations of elementary logic, and even syntactical tangles, so long as the characters are not forced to act in ways contrary to their nature.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What does it take for you to love a character?  How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
I love tough-minded, strong women so much I married one, and they are often the protagonists of my novels.  The description applies to two of the three main characters in All Souls Day, Suzie and Vickie.  But for me, just as important as "loving" my main characters is being able to identify with them to the point that I "become" them while writing; I mean the magic that occurs when my fingers are typing on my keyboard but it's Suzie, Vickie or Amos speaking.  For that reason, I much prefer the first-person singular voice and the present tense for immediacy of identification.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
Amos from All Souls Day, hands down.  Portrait of the artist as a young, self-pitying, clueless nerd who wants desperately to be loved, he is.  That was me thirty years ago.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Are you turned off by a bad cover?  To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
I can be attracted by an eye-catching book cover, but a boring one won't necessarily put me off.  I designed two of the covers of my books, the one for 36, which was published by Livingston Press, and the one for Ziona, which I self-published on Amazon/CreateSpace.  I was given the chance to approve the covers my publishers commissioned for my other four novels; I'm quite happy with all of them.  For All Souls Day, I asked an artist friend, Marina Makarova, who lives in St. Petersburg, Russia, to design the cover, giving her a detailed description of what I wanted.  I'm happy with that one too!

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating your books?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
One important lesson I've learned is the importance of ironic distance from your subject matter.  That doesn't mean treating the characters with apathy or disdain, and it doesn't preclude compassion, which should go without saying.  Unfortunately it does bear repeating, because people have got irony mixed up with sarcasm or cynicism, as witness the faddish success several years back of the earnestly titled book Against Irony.
            What I mean is that a writer, especially if drawing on events from his own life, needs to have gained perspective on them.  It's akin to Wordsworth's definition of poetry as "emotion recollected in tranquility."

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
The tragic ending of one of my earlier books - I won't spoil it by revealing which one.  I actually sat at my desk and cried as I was writing it.  I've toughened up a lot since then, and was entirely dry-eyed through the gorier parts of All Souls Day.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
All Souls Day marks the debut of a new genre I'm calling "alternate history feminist horror," or "femaltor" to the future fans.  Marketing minions take note.
            Seriously, like Joss Whedon, I am troubled that horror is often a highly misogynistic genre, with terrible violence perpetrated on (usually attractive, young) women who have no chance to fight back and whose suffering is depicted purely for the sake of sadistic, pornographic voyeurism.  None of the characters in my novel is a passive victim of violence; I strove to make them all fully realized depictions of human beings caught up in nightmares.  If Suzie is trapped in a variation of the tale of Bluebeard, she's not going to sit around waiting to die horribly or be rescued by a man.
            And then there's the alternate history angle: the world of All Souls Day is a nightmare version of the 1980's in which the Cuban Missile Crisis escalated into World War III.  I drew on Michael Dobbs' recent history of the real historical event, One Minute to Midnight.  Read it and it will scare the pants off you, far more than any horror novel; we are all very, very lucky to be alive.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
I usually have a title in mind very early on in writing the first draft of a novel.  That's not necessarily something I'd recommend to other writers, it's just the way my mind works.  In the case of my book, All Souls Day is an event on the Roman Catholic calendar, two days after Halloween, so there's a link to horror's great calendar day; the Cuban Missile Crisis reached its height in late October 1962, so in an alternate history I had the nuclear war taking place on All Souls Day of that year; and last, but not least, the fate of the souls of girls murdered as human sacrifices to the demon Moloch is a central aspect of the story.  (What happens to them was suggested by my son, Daniel, the same one who says I'm sick, but not in a good way - thanks, kiddo.)

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
Novels, because of the greater scope for character development and descriptive detail.  I've only had a handful of short stories published (a hand missing a couple of fingers), while All Souls Day will be my seventh published novel, so the latter form really does seem to be my metier.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
All Souls Day is not as much of a departure from my previous novels as it may appear at first glance, although it is a horror novel and all my other published novels are science fiction.  To begin with, All Souls Day, along with all but one of my other novels, has an alternate history angle, which is a funhouse-mirror version of real history.  Most of my non-science fiction reading is in history; I have always been fascinated by its chaotic operation, especially the question of why the noble struggle for a better world is so often twisted into its opposite, with the idealists frequently causing far greater suffering than those who make no pretense of loving humanity.  What is in the dark heart of mankind that leads to so much killing?
            Against this dark vision I set my heroes, mostly young women with a lot of courage and moxie, and add in a sense of adventure and fun.  I hope the result is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
I mentioned the necessity of emotional truth in fiction.  Carla Coupe, my editor at Wildside Press, saved me from committing a major sin against that in Heroes of Earth with the character of Gloria, an eleven-dimensional bookstore owner who first appeared in my 2013 novel Save the Dragons.  She (Gloria, not Carla) sometimes appears as a thirtyish red-haired woman and sometimes as an orange tabby cat, and helps my human characters cross between different parallel worlds.  Well, I had her actually bowing out of the story at a pivotal point because things were getting too dangerous, leaving my teenage main characters to fend for themselves.  Carla called this cheating my readers, and she was absolutely correct, and the reason was that Gloria would never be such a coward.  I rewrote the story accordingly.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your 'trunk'?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.  Do you have one?)

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
I wrote three full-length novels in my twenties, none of which have been published.  Graduation was a satirical coming-of-age story about a lonely, picked-on, self-pitying nerd boy who has a love affair with a young teacher; Wanted in the Promised Land was a contemporary satire about American expats in Israel in the 1990's; and Letter to a King was a historical novel about the Khazars, a Turkic-speaking tribe that ruled the southern Russian steppes in the early Middle Ages and converted to Judaism.  The first two of these probably qualify as juvenilia - I lacked sufficient ironic distance from the stories.  As to the historical novel, the protagonist was an early instance of my strong female heroines, and I had a good story - when her kingdom is overrun by the Rus, Deborah, princess of the Khazars, heads for Muslim-ruled Spain to seek help from the Jewish courtier Hasdai ibn Shaprut, who really did exchange letters with the Khazar king.  Unfortunately I did not have a satisfying ending to this novel.  I am thinking of recasting it with fantastic elements.
            A much more recent novel of mine that is still seeking a home, Haunted Island, is a classical ghost story, mystery and romance rolled up in one, inspired by actual events in my favorite setting, Assateague Island.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
The survivors of the terrifying events described in All Souls Day are going to find they were only the beginning (cue sinister laughter).  It's a four-book series, after all!  What other demon haunted landscapes await them in the irradiated, post-apocalyptic wilderness left behind when America and the Soviet Union exploded everything they had in a desperate, doomed struggle for world supremacy?
            Also, Jo Purnell, who first appeared as the annoying kid sister of one of the two teenage main characters in my 2013 novel Save the Dragons, returned to a more central role in Heroes of Earth earlier this year, and I can feel she is definitely demanding her own novel.  She's going to get what she wants, too, because I'm a little intimidated by a girl who can telepathically talk to dragons, out-think Albert Einstein and Robert Penrose in mathematical physics, effortlessly picture higher dimensions in her mind, is musically talented, and is also outspoken and willing to fight for what she believes in.  The challenges she faces will have to be considerable to be worthy of her.  But she may live to regret getting what she wants, if I stick with horror.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where can we find you?  (You know, STaLKeR links.)

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
website ** website ** website ** website
blog ** Facebook ** Google+ ** Twitter ** Tumblr

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
It was great having you on today, Martin.  Thanks so much for being a part of The Gal's 31 Days of Horror.  
            Before you go, do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you'd like to say that we didn't cover in this interview?

Martin Berman-Gorvine:
Meet me in person at Balticon, the big science fiction convention in Baltimore May 27-30, 2016, where I will be signing books and participating in panels.


About the author:
Martin Berman-Gorvine is the author of six science fiction/fantasy novels: the Sidewise Award-winning novel The Severed Wing (Livingston Press, 2002); 36 (Livingston Press, 2012); Seven Against Mars (Wildside Press, 2013); Save the Dragons! (Wildside Press, 2013), which was a finalist for the Prometheus Award; Ziona: A Novel of Alternate History, an expansion of the short story published in Interzone magazine, May/June 2006 (Amazon/CreateSpace, 2014);  and Heroes of Earth (Wildside Press, 2015).  His short story "Of Cats' Whiskers and Klutzes" appears in the 2015 anthology Brave New Girls, and his horror novel, All Souls Day, is due out from Silver Leaf Books in February 2016.

About the books:

Genre: Science Fiction, Swords & Sorcery
Publisher: Wildside Press
Publication date: 10.15.2013
Pages: 252

Seventeen-year-old Teresa thought she knew Philadelphia, but she stumbles into Gloria's Gateway Books & Records and discovers a portal to parallel universe where Napoleon conquered Europe and Great Britain and where dragons still live.  She also discovers Tom, whose Philadelphia is the capital of a Britain exiled from the Home Islands, now a part of Napoleon's l'Empire.  The Philadelphia boasts electric carriages (invented by Sir Benjamin Franklin), as well as airships for long-distance travel.  However, Tom's father believes dragons hold the secret to designing heavier-than-air craft - but dragons have almost died out.  When his father is kidnapped, Tom and Teresa travel by airship to the subjugated Home Islands in search of answers.  There they discover who kidnapped Tom's father, and how to save the dragons!

Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Wildside Press
Publication date: 5.8.2015
Pages: 349

If alien beings had conquered the Earth, would you feel justified in using terrorism to drive them out?
            Close to half a century after starfish-like creatures from a star 20 light-years away short-circuited Apollo 11's mission to the Moon, Alison Grossbard, her brother Arnold, his girlfriend Kayleigh Scott, and their friend Jo Purnell struggle with this impossible moral dilemma and the trials of growing up in coastal Virginia.  Their actions will change their world forever.

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