Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cora Buhlert - Countdown to Death

Today, we are pleased to feature Cora Buhlert and her book Countdown to Death.

Where do you currently live?
I live in Bremen in North Germany, famous for the Bremen town musicians from the fairy tale. I write in English, though.

Tell us a little bit about your life.
There's not a whole lot to tell. When I'm not writing, I work as a technical translator and teach English at a local high school. I'm also working towards a PhD degree. Really, I'm quite boring.

When did you first start writing?
I started writing sometime in primary school, though I didn't get semi-serious about it until I was about 15 and really serious until I was in my twenties.

What was your very first story about?
The very first one was a pretty blatant Enid Blyton pastiche about a bunch of kids solving mysteries. Another early work was a "Heimatroman" (a peculiarly German genre of stories about women in dirndl dresses and men in lederhosen experiencing melodramatic adventures in the Alps) about two sisters called Heide and Alice who go searching for the elusive Edelweiss flower. The first story I wrote in English was a never completed science fiction novel which opened with a flying red sportscar kidnapping two teenaged girls with a tractor beam and flying out across San Francisco Bay where an alien ship was waiting. Why San Francisco? I have no idea, except that my 15-year-old self probably thought it was a cool location.

Have you written anything that you were too afraid to let anyone read?
There's a bit of early fanfiction that I've never shown to anyone. Not because it was slash – I was far too innocent for that sort of thing. However, in those pre-internet times I thought I was weird for writing stories about other people's characters, so I never showed those to anyone.

Did you experience anything you’ve written yourself?
Many of the descriptions of driving through East Germany or crossing the border between East and West Germany in my Cold War spy novelette The Other Side of the Curtain are directly based on my own experiences as a teenager during the mandated annual family visit to my great-aunt in East Germany. Even the town where my great-aunt lived makes a brief appearance. Communist East Germany was such a weird place that you couldn't make it up.

Who are several of your greatest literary inspirations?
In no particular order, Enid Blyton, Jane Austen, Isaac Asimov, William Faulkner, Thomas Pynchon, Leigh Brackett, Magda Trott (a German YA author no one has ever heard of)

What kind of education have you received, and how has that affected your writing?
I have an MA degree in English literature and am working towards my PhD. The University of Bremen was one of only two or three universities in Germany that offered creative writing classes in English at the time and I was very lucky to attend those classes. The creative writing professor and editor of the university literature magazine was a great mentor to many young writers, including me, though he never quite got my urge to write genre fiction.

How much research time customarily goes into your projects?
It really depends on the project. I have written quite a few historical short stories and novellas, which require a lot of research. Others pretty much wrote themselves with no more research required than checking a couple of facts in Google.

Who is your favorite literary character?
Do I have to pick just one? In that case I'd go with Susan Calvin, the robotics expert with eyes like liquid nitrogen from Isaac Asimov's robot stories. When I was a teenager stuck among silly classmates with silly crushes on generally silly boys, Susan Calvin with her no-nonsense attitude was a revelation. Susan Calvin did not care for boys or romance or silly social rules. Susan Calvin did not take s*** from men. Susan Calvin designed robots and she was the best person at that job.

Who is your favorite character of your own creation?
It's a toss-up between Stella d'Anvers, singer, dancer and sorceress and just plain awesome, from an upcoming story called Cartoony Justice or Carrie Ragnarok, soy extraordinaire from Shape No. 8. I'm also very fond of Richard Blakemore and Constance Allen from Countdown to Death.

If you were ever to write an autobiography, what would its title be?
"I'm really quite boring, so why don't you go and read my fiction instead" On second thought, that might be a bit long for a book cover.

Tell us about your featured book.
Countdown to Death is a thriller novelette in the style of the pulp magazines of the 1930s. It's the story of Richard Blakemore, a pulp writer with the habit of dressing up as his own character, the masked avenger known only as the Silencer, by night. As the story opens, Richard is in deep trouble, for he or rather the Silencer has been found guilty of murdering the mafia boss Antonio Tortelli and was sentenced to death. However, as the execution date draws nearer, the Silencer suddenly reappears to stalk anybody involved in the case, insisting that Richard Blakemore is innocent. So did Richard Blakemore really murder Antonio Tortelli? And who is wandering about dressed as the Silencer? And will the truth come out before Richard Blakemore is due to fry in the electric chair?

Why did you write that?
I did some research on the pulp magazines that flourished in the first half of the twentieth century and was fascinated by how those pulp writers wrote at an absolute breakneck speed, often pounding out fifty or sixty thousand publishable words a month or more. And instead of being crap, as might be expected, a lot of the stories and novellas they produced were still in print some sixty to seventy years later. And they were a lot more enjoyable than many of the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners from the same period.

So I decided to write my own pulp-style thriller. I came up with a masked crimefighter, because there were so many of them in the pulps, called the Silencer. But the twist was that the Silencer was a pulp writer himself who had gone over the edge and started to actually live the adventures he wrote about. True to the genre, there's also a beautiful woman who loves our hero, a loyal sidekick and a police officer who has a highly conflicted relationship to our hero. Plus, thrills, chills, danger, action, adventure and a ticking clock.

I set the Silencer stories in the 1930s, because I loved the fashions and movies and design of the period. Besides, the economic, political and social tensions of the era would provide plenty of material for stories.

Is there anything special you would like your potential readers to know?
There are two further adventures of the Silencer entitled Flying Bombs (It has zeppelins. Who doesn't love zeppelins?) and The Spiked Death (It has a villain doing dastardly things to scantily clad damsels in distress. Who doesn't love scantily clad damsels in distress?). I also have several other stories and novelettes in a variety of genres available at the e-tailer of your choice.

Where is the one place you’ve traveled where you’ve felt most like you fit in?
As a student I spent half a year in London and felt right at home there. I still get that homey feeling whenever I go back.

I also spent quite a bit of time living abroad as a child and teenager, because my father had a job that required a lot of travel. As a result, I lived in Mississippi, in Singapore and in Rotterdam. I felt pretty much at home in Rotterdam, but then the Netherlands aren't that different from North Germany. Mississippi took some time adjusting (mainly the warm and humid weather), but I eventually felt at home there. Singapore was nice and I enjoyed the experience, while it lasted, but I never really felt at home there. Visiting Rotterdam now, it no longer feels like home, because too much has changed. I have never been back to either Mississippi or Singapore, but I imagine the changes would be even more drastic.

What activity or hobby, besides writing, do you find most enjoyable?
Like every writer, I love reading. I like crocheting and quilting. I also went through a filmmaking phase in my twenties and would probably go back to filmmaking, if I wasn't writing.

What was your favorite childhood toy?
The top three are Rosa, a stuffed pink elephant that I was given when I was too young to remember, Steffi, a blonde toddler doll I got for my third birthday from my great-aunt in East Germany (the one we visited every year) and Zebra, a stuffed zebra I bought from my own pocket money. I still have all three of them. Rosa and Steffi are somewhat battered, since they were loved a lot and the quality was not the best. Zebra is still in good shape, though, since he was a quality product and quite expensive for the time.

What is your most valued personal possession in life? Who gave it to you?
That's difficult to answer. I used to collect vintage dolls and toys, antique china and pottery, etc…, so I have several things that are quite valuable.

As for what I value most, it's probably a silver charm bracelet dating from the time I spent in Mississippi. At the time (late 1970s), they were selling all sorts of silver charms at every tourist attraction. My parents bought me charms shaped like every US state we visited and also some from prominent tourist attractions and an enamelled American flag and so on. There's also a plain charm engraved with the dates we stayed in the US. I filled the bracelet up during later visits to the US, though tourist charms became increasingly difficult to find. I bought the last few missing state charms on the internet. Over the years, the bracelet became something of a good luck charm for me. I wore it for exams at school – driving my fellow students mad, because the charms jingle when you write – and later university.

If you lost the ability to see every color but one, which one would it be?
Red. Because I often see red.

How do you treat people you’re not fond of?
Usually by avoiding them as much as possible and greeting them with an icily polite hello before getting the hell away when it's not possible to avoid them completely. However, if someone pisses me off and I am forced to endure their presence, I can get quite nasty.

What is hiding in your closet as we speak?
A big stack of comic books, German pulp magazines, old notebooks full of scribblings and random junk that has accumulated over the years.

What do you see as your greatest achievement?
Gaining my MA degree, gaining my translator's diploma, writing and finishing a novel (coming soon in e-book form), publishing various short stories and novelettes.

What, to you, is absolutely wrong?
Balloon skirts. Cause they look awful on absolutely everybody

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Writingwise? That would be "Write every day, but set yourself a minimum wordcount so low that you can make it every day".

In general? Get yourself a good education, so you always have something to fall back on.

If you had to explain the concept of “love” to someone who’s never heard of it before, how would you?
A feeling of intense attraction to another person, so intense that it makes you physically ill and that the mere thought of being away from that person feels like a death sentence.

What about “hate?”
A feeling of dislike for a thing or person that is so intense, that you just want to scream and beat the offending thing or person to a pulp and all that holds you back is that hitting the thing or person would be wrong.

You’ve decided to buy an exotic pet, what do you go for?
An iguana. Why? I recently watched a TV show where a character had an iguana as a pet and I became quite attached to the little guy (and was heartbroken, when the poor critter was eaten by a zombie). Besides iguanas are unlikely to mess up your home. Monkeys are cute, but the thought of a monkey running free in my home and climbing on my furniture drives me nuts.

What do you classify as an “Adventure?”
Going somewhere I've never been before and just setting off in a direction that looks interesting without looking at a map first. Interestingly, I write much the same way, by just jumping in and seeing where the story takes me.

If you could learn one new thing instantly, what would it be?
A new language. I'm not sure which one, though. Chinese or Japanese, if I actually want to make some money of my new found skills (translators for Chinese or Japanese are always in demand). And something offbeat like Welsh or Irish or Hebrew or Finnish, if I just want the thrill of speaking a language very few people in my immediate surroundings can speak or understand.

Finish this sentence. “I sometimes find it hard to…”
"…sit down and write, but once I get going I find it just as hard to stop."

Throw off the shackles of hesitance and click your way to Cora's work below.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for having me, Peter. I really enjoyed the interview.