Saturday, September 15, 2012


Just released is the exciting new supernatural novel from Penguin Books, YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE, YOUR CHILDREN ALL GONE, by German author Stefan Kiesbye. 
Here is a summary of the story from from Penguin:

Shirley Jackson meets The Twilight Zone in this riveting novel of supernatural horror

"A village on the Devil‘s Moor: a place untouched by time and shrouded in superstition. There is the grand manor house whose occupants despise the villagers, the small pub whose regulars talk of revenants, the old mill no one dares to mention. This is where four young friends come of age—in an atmosphere thick with fear and suspicion. Their innocent games soon bring them face-to-face with the village‘s darkest secrets in this eerily dispassionate, astonishingly assured novel, evocative of Stephen King‘s classics short story “Children of the Corn” and infused with the spirit of the Brothers Grimm."

Here is an interview with the author:

A Conversation with Stefan Kiesbye

Q: YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE has drawn comparisons to the Brothers Grimm—it imagines an archetypal rural German town that seems to be possessed by enormous evil. Would you say there is one prominent moral to the novel, as a fairy tale would have?

A: I try hard to avoid morals. They restrict narratives, especially longer ones like a novella or novel. The complexity of human life is always underserved when people try to use it for an agenda, a lesson, or any kind of easy meaning. This is also a reason I dislike tales of redemption. They seem to be afraid of their own darker side, as though darkness has to be overcome to be worth a story. I love the beauty of dark tales, the beauty of characters who are conflicted and always make the wrong choices.

Q: Does the village of Hemmersmoor exist?

A: The landscape I describe, the Devil's Moor, is real, and I drew on some of the legends and folk tales of the region. I grew up in the Devil's Moor, and to me, it was a place where the everyday of the 70s and 80s coexisted with a superstitious and supernatural past. People moved in and out of these two realms with ease, and after school, children would be instructed by their parents and grandparents in those things that exist "between the heavens and Earth."

Q: Publishers Weekly said that, in YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE, you pose the question, “can a terrible history generate a terrible present?” Is that accurate?

A: I believe it is, and the novel explores how the past influences our present choices and decisions. We are always living in the aftermath of someone else’s disasters. The narrators of YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE are caught in the debris of their parents’ lives and can’t disentangle themselves. They re-create the hell they were born into and learn how to navigate it. Hell is a very normal place for them.

Q: Who are your literary influences? YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE has been compared to the stories of Shirley Jackson, the Brothers Grimm, Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. How does it feel to be in such esteemed company? Were you inspired by any of these writers?

A: It feels awkward to be mentioned with these (very diverse) writers; the air gets a bit thin. But the Brothers Grimm were my very first reading experience, and I never lost my love for these tales – so yes, they were a great influence.

Q: The novel centers around the lives of children, which adds an extra element of horror to many of the stories. Why did you decide to make children your main characters?

A: Children have a more direct approach to their surroundings, don’t think in term of politics or long-term goals. While many people see that as an advantage, or try to label it ‘innocence,’ I reject those notions. It’s just a more visceral way of life. Yet ironically, in this stage of boldness, children are facing the absolute power of parents and teachers. Their world is ruled by others. In order to get by, they have to rely on wit, violence, and cunning. They can’t oppose their fathers or mothers openly, but they can try to get rid of them in more secretive, darker ways.

Q: You grew up in Germany but wrote the first draft of YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE, YOUR CHILDREN ALL GONE in English (after studying creative writing in the States), then translated it into German for the publishers there, then back to English again for Penguin Books. What was that experience like? Do you prefer one translation over the other?

A: It was a challenge to write the same book twice, to make everything new again. However, I’m a sucker for translations and the many ways in which texts shift and get rearranged in the process. I appreciate finding new idioms, new words, different tastes. No version of YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE is better than the other, and yet they are distinct. The English version I believe to be more elegant; the German translation was born from nightmares and insufficiently suppressed memories – I had to delve back into the language of my childhood, it was hard to breathe sometimes.

Q: Do you feel that there are stark differences between German and English literature?

A: I’ve focused for so long on English literature, especially American literature, that I’m no longer an expert on German literature. Yet certain conventions differ, conventions that came into play during my translation. For example, Americans –post-Hemingway – appreciate artful simplicity and don’t mind repetitions. The rhythm of these repetitions is a constant in modern American literature, yet Germans seem to interpret them as an expression of inadequate vocabulary. They demand from their writers to use as many different words for simple verbs and nouns as possible. It’s a question of good manners.

Q: You currently teach creative writing at Eastern New Mexico University. What do you think of the next generation of writers? Has the language of the internet had an effect on your students’ writing?

A: Patience has been greatly reduced, patience with verbal and written communication. The stories I grew up with now seem awfully slow, and my students have learned to anticipate those writers’ every move. They can see the beauty, but the stories might not seem urgent enough anymore. Their reality is an entirely different one.

We are all affected by this new impatience, but maybe especially that next generation of writers. This is neither good nor bad, it is just what it is. And the challenge for every writer is to reflect the changes we’ve seen and find an authentic expression for the iAge. It’s not enough to dust off our realism or launch into overwritten rants. We might see a tremendous change in how literature is written, one equivalent in scope to Modernism. The Industrial Age turned the world upside down then, and our generation witnesses an equally dramatic change in how we perceive ourselves and others. This change is driven by communication – with friends, family, and strangers from around the globe – and it will have a lasting impact. For literature, this is a very exciting time.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a new novel, a story that plays with and borrows from the horror and crime genres. I grew up on detective novels and devoured Hammett and Chandler long before I got interested in Hemingway or Gertrude Stein. But to me, ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ are not really different, just varied expressions of the same time, the same desire, the same hunger.

Here is a YouTube "book trailer":

I'm in the middle of reading it now (a review will come later) and have to say that is a masterful tale in the best tradition of Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson. Some very unsettling and creepy scenes so far.

Today, through the generosity of Penguin USA Publicity, I have a promotional copy of YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE, YOUR CHILDREN ALL GONE that I'm just dying to give away . . . FREE! That's right. I'll even pay the gawd-awful postage rate.

In the fashion of the other free giveaways here at MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD, all you have to do for your shot at it is to correctly identify the name of the film from the photo below. On Friday, September 21, 2012, I will randomly pick one name from the people who sent in the correct answer. That person will win the free copy of YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE, YOUR CHILDREN ALL GONE.

What is the title of the movie that this picture is from? Send in your answer
and win a free book!

So, what are you waiting for? Get to it! Email your answer HERE.

[IMPORTANT NOTICE: This contest is open from 12:00 AM Saturday, September 15, 2012 to Friday, September 21, at 12:00 PM. Only U.S. and Canada residents are eligible to play. Only one (1) winner will be randomly selected from the correct answers that are delivered by email during the contest period. Contestants must have a valid postal address to have the book sent to them.]

1 comment:

Doug B. said...

John, this is a great interview and I am looking forward to your book review. I couldn't for the life of me identify the photo however. Damn!


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