Pull up a chair, watch out for the pitchforks and have a hellish marshmallow. Just don’t ask what’s in them!
Today for the fourth day in Hell I welcome Matthew Kirshenblatt and his character, the philosopher Nietzsche.
Matthew Kirshenblatt has always liked to tell weird stories. He has been inspired by the works of Gwendolyn MacEwen, H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, and Neil Gaiman. Once he began to work with myth and legend, and a bit of history however, his writing experiments began to take on whole new meanings. Between the realms of epic fantasy, soft science-fiction, horror, erotica, poetry, review, popular geek culture, experimental writing and even interactive hyperlink text games Matthew has attempted to make a strange niche of literature from which to expand himself. As of this moment he is currently living in Canada where the Greater Toronto Area lies half-waking while attempting to support the rise of a new Budgie Empire.
Find out more about him, if you dare, at Mythic Bios.
When you Gaze into the Abyss from Poets in Hell, copyright (c) 2014, Janet Morris.
His first story to be published in paperback format, Nook, and on Kindle is WHEN YOU GAZE INTO AN ABYSS. It is part of POETS IN HELL: the seventh book of Janet Morris’ shared universe series Heroes in Hell. In a place where historical, mythological, and fictional characters suffer after death for unknowingly breaking at least a few of the 613 commandments for having interesting lifetimes Lilith, the first wife of Adam, and the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche decide that they have had enough of their existences in hell. This story details the beginnings of their plan to escape torment.
Over to you Matthew….
How did you end up writing for Heroes in Hell?
It was through a series of tangents. I think ZombieZak, or Bill Snider as he’s called in human circles, found me through our mutual ties with the Horror Writers Association. After I added him to my Friend’s List, I found out he was host at the online Mortal Vampire Cafe Radio. Most of the time I just listened to him and the other guests, but eventually I started watching the chat room and even participating. So one day Janet Morris came into the chat. I believe she was actually there to listen to an interview that she and Chris had with ZZ. I hadn’t really heard much about Janet before this point, but I did know about her shared universe series Heroes in Hell.
At the time I saw her, I really wanted to make contact with her and perhaps get a chance to write something for her: to get myself out there beyond my Blog and my other online publications. But I didn’t really know how to go about it and almost let the opportunity pass me by. Instead, it was Janet who approached me. She told me that she’d had a hand in helping ZZ and many of the writers at the TMV Cafe actually publish (it wasn’t that long before that I actually realized the majority of the people in the chat were writers like me) and she asked if I was a writer as well. When I said I was, she told me she wanted to look at some of my work. So I gave her a link to my Mythic Bios Blog along with some stories that I did for Gil Williamson’s Mythaxis Magazine. She eventually got back to me and told me that liked what she saw and gave me the opportunity I was hoping for: writing a story for Heroes in Hell.
So the lesson I got out of all this? I’m not sure: I’d say that a combination of continuing to write, presenting yourself and being at the right place and time — having some of the Devil’s own luck — is as good a start as any.
How do you deal with writing in a shared universe?
With a combination of caution and eventually a bit of a free-for-all. For this particular story, my first one for Janet’s hell, I focused on the setting the most. I read all of Janet and Chris’ stories, as well as some belonging to my fellow writers, from Lawyers in Hell and onward. I asked some writers as many questions as possible, but mostly I spent the time reading up on the historical and mythological lore behind my characters, trying to figure out their own history in Janet’s hell and attempting to balance out my short without stepping on anyone else’s toes. I think one advantage is the fact that since time in hell is non-linear I eventually understood, with guidance from Janet herself, that I could just write the story that I needed to write while also accepting that it would need to be incorporated into the feel and continuity of her universe. Once I understood that this story is part of Janet’s universe and worked with her, everything fell into place.
The way I see it, a shared universe is a playground with building blocks and toys. Janet owns and primarily finds, makes, and arranges these toys but sometimes I can bring my own with the understanding that they will become part of her sandbox: even as I’m allowed to play with them and share them with her and my fellow Hellions. Oh, and it goes without saying that this is a playground with a sandbox in hell.
Why did you choose the characters you are using?
Wow, where do I even begin? I’ve been fascinated with the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche for quite some time. I love the fact that out of every philosopher I’ve ever studied from my Humanities education, his is a modern philosophy that is presented in an immensely creative fashion. The reason he really works for Poets in Hell in particular is because his aphorisms — his compact quotes and sayings — are something between philosophy, music, storytelling, and metaphor. He was writing in this prototypical state between forms — in this place where perhaps only the ancient and pre-Socratic philosophers used to tread — but the tone is all uniquely his own.
Nietzsche himself is the archetype of a “crazy philosopher”: of a man who was filled with many contradictions — including some nineteenth century notions about race and women — and yet driven by the idea of an individual being able to “free themselves” from social constraints and morality through sheer will. Pitting this philosophy against the deep flaws of this man is a fascinating exercise in creativity. I would imagine taking a person’s ideals and contrasting them with their actions and reality often is. Suffice to say, I’ve wanted to write a story about Nietzsche for quite some time.
Now Lilith is a fascinating character in her own right. For me, she has always been this scary yet intriguing character from Jewish folklore. Sometimes she’s depicted as a seductive demoness and other times a cold and ruthless immortal with powerful magic. But what really draws me to Lilith is that she is essentially, if you go by folklore influenced by the Bible and Near-Eastern narratives, the first woman: even before Eve. She was Adam’s first wife and wanted to be his equal: even if that meant having her time to dominate. When he would have none of that, she essentially left him for demons and God. In this mythos, she is the first independent woman. And what is there not to find interesting? She has eaten from the Tree of Immortality, left the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil alone, left the Garden of her own accord and taken mortal, demon, and angelic lovers. There are even some accounts of her seducing and learning sacred words from an aspect of God. You have to admire that kind of ambition and will. She is, to me, a strong female character with considerable knowledge and gravitas and I really enjoy attempting to write some of the different layers to her.
Suffice to say, pairing these two characters — seemingly and ironically both beyond the binary concepts of “good” and “evil” — in a story together where they have to interact in hell is an experience in and of itself and I’d not have it any other way.
Welcome to the Hell Interview Channel, brought to you infernally hour after hour.
Name (s) Friedrich Nietzsche
Age (before death and after you ended up in HSM’s domain) My shell ceased when I was fifty-five years of age. I believe it was when I was forty-four that I died in all the ways that mattered.
Please tell us a little about yourself. I am … I was, a philosopher turned to the profession of ideologue in hell. It was not by choice, but it could not be helped, I’m afraid. It is certainly better than the alternative.
Who were you in life? Pardon me, perhaps I was not clear. As I said, I was a philosopher in life. My father died before I truly knew him along with my infant brother. I was raised by a family of overbearing women, my aunts, my mother, along with my sister Elisabeth. I abandoned their dream of entering the clergy and created many aphorisms: my prosaic songs, my strange little poems, my tiny little philosophies. Some of them are now ‘slogans,’ as some of the English New Dead call them. One of the best I am known for is … Him, being dead. Sometimes, now, I wish I was right: when I do not wish I never existed to begin with.
How do you think you ended up in Hell? With all due respect … I would rather not talk about this. I suspect I know why I am here but, even now, I believe if possible every man’s damnation should be a private matter. However, since you have shown politeness, I will say from my time as a student of Latin I know that there were once more than seven deadly sins.
Describe your appearance in 10 words or less. A feeble wolf in suit’s clothing with a Kaiser’s mustache.
Where do you live in Hell? Tell us about your residence and area. I live at the Turin Towers apartments in New Hell. It’s name is a mockery of the city which I loved: where I spent the last of my true life. It is essentially a non-descript apartment where I stay, approximate sleep and discomfort, and work. Sometimes it is close to the Hellexandria Memorial Library and I walk there. Other times it neighbors the Hanging Garden and its … patient clientele.
Do you have a moral code? If so what is it? Is your moral code the same as it was in life? I believed in the Übermensch. Not in the Aryan or National Socialist ideology of the blond-haired, blue eyed genetically superior “over man” and the eugenics and genocide that nonsense supported after my time, of course. Instead, I believed that men created rules and laws and that an individual, with a tremendously strong will, could overcome those forces imposed on him and gain the power to choose the rules by which he decides to live. I, of course, am no longer deluded enough to believe that I am a strong man. I never was in that other life and I certainly am not now in hell.
Yet that was only part of it. The other part of this philosophy pertains to the idea that the world and time as we know it will happen and happen again. It is a cycle in which every joy, sorrow, pain, moment of solitude, and word is the same. It is the process of accepting and loving this cycle and one’s own fate, amor fati, that one can be free and find solace. By realizing that life is a cycle, you could free yourself to accept the rules of your own heart for eternity.
Do I believe in it now, I … cannot say.
Would you kill for those you love? After all sending someone to the Undertaker is not very nice! Perhaps. I was never truly a soldier. Once, long ago, I thought I was truly capable of many things. And sometimes … I apologize. I cannot remember. And for love … again, I cannot say.
Would you die for those you love? Die, being a relative term…. I would rather not die. Herr Undertaker makes a plaything of the eternal recurrence. My fate is appropriate as is.
Do you have any phobias? Are you plagued by anything particular in Hell? Aside from the stupidity of the Damned and the curse on all men in hell … my shadow.
What do you think Satan’s most creative punishment is here? The punishments that he lets us inflict upon ourselves.
Who are your friends here? Frau Babylon, Herr Förster, my sister Elisabeth, the Worker’s Party, the Xibalba Colonists, and perhaps Frau Woolf.
Who are your enemies? Frau Babylon, Herr Förster, Elisabeth, the Worker’s Party, the Xibalba Colonists, the Jews, Herr Wagner, hell itself and … a memory.
If I recall relationships are… difficult, is this the side of humanity you miss the most? If I recall correctly, this was always difficult for me. This much has not changed, save that I cannot lose myself truly in a brothel. Mostly, I was alone and sick in life. Mostly … This too has not changed. I suspect it never will.
Please give us an interesting and unusual fact about yourself. I despise — detest absolutely — being called Wilhelm.
Book(s) in which this character appears plus links:-
POETS IN HELL, in the story “When You Gaze Into An Abyss.”
Website/Blog/Author pages etc.