Anel Viz, born and raised in New York City, currently resides in the Midwest, where he has taught at the same small liberal arts college for over thirty years. He has lived about one-quarter of his life in French-speaking countries. He returned to his childhood passion of writing at age sixty, and ever since he has churned out works in a variety of M/M genres: poetry, short and novel-length fiction, humor, essays, etc. He likes to experiment. Though most of his stories are romances, few of them would be called traditional romance. His work appears regularly in Wilde Oats and GayFlashFiction online magazines.
How did you get started in writing? What made you decide to submit your first story and what was your experience with that? Who was the first person you told when you got your first contract? What was their reaction?
I’ve wanted to write since before I can remember. Not to be a writer – I just wanted to write. Then one day, I did. I posted some pieces on various Internet sites, and people wrote to say they liked them. I was asked to submit my first two publications, by a graduate student who was looking for material to use in a project for her degree in bookbinding and an online friend who was putting together a gay vampire anthology. (A revised version of “Val” recently became available in my Dark Horror anthology from Silver Publishing.) The first person to learn about my was a distribution list of friends because my boyfriend wasn’t at home when I got the news. I wasn’t there to see their reactions, but they all emailed me their congratulations.
Where does your inspiration come from for your books?
Damned if I know. Thin air? Hey, I just realized my talent for pulling hot air out of thin air turned me into an author! (Crap. Now I feel responsible for global warming.)
How do you make the important choices when it comes to writing your stories? Point of View? Voice? Theme? Title?
I seem to know all that instinctively when I start to write. I don’t really, of course, but I almost always continue in the same vein once I’ve typed a few sentences. As I’ve said elsewhere, I take a situation as my point of departure and build out from there in both directions, but never in a straight line. Eventually the bits and pieces come together. Often enough, I don’t know which of the people in my let’s-take-it-from-here sketch will become the main characters. Sometimes the main characters don’t show up until later. The theme, which I suspect was always there without my knowing it, becomes clear as the story develops, and the title comes to me once I know the theme. Very rarely do change the narrative voice I began with. I remember only one occasion when I decided to switch from first to third person narration. Also, when I’d written about a sixth of The City of Lovely Brothers, I got the idea of giving the third person narrator a concrete presence novel and devised a framework in which he speaks in the first person. It made the story seem so real that my editor asked for some major changes so the characters’ descendants wouldn’t sue for writing a biography without permission or defamation of character or invasion of privacy or whatever, but every word of it was a fiction. As for point of view, I consider POV purism a hang-up of amateurs, and I don’t hesitate to switch as long as it’s clear whose eye we’re seeing through. First person narration is the obvious exception.
Are your characters purely fictional, or do you sample from people you’ve met in real life? Which one of your characters is most like you? How so?
None of my characters is modeled on any particular individual, but I do incorporate real life anecdotes I’ve hears into my stories and some aspects the personalities of the people I know – myself included – inevitably work their way into my characters. It wouldn’t surprise me is all my characters, even the stinkers, contain a smidgen of Anel. There’s a lot of me in both Ben and Jean-Yves (P’tit Cadeau) although at the beginning the two men are very different from each other. When you come across a character in one of my books who’s gay, intelligent, witty, compassionate, and on the surface inaccessible, you can be sure Anel Viz has made an appearance. <wink wink>
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment as a writer?
Letting go. Were it not for deadlines and sheer force of will, I’d go on tweaking my work forever.
If you could co-author a book with any other writer, who would it be?
I couldn’t possibly co-author a book. If my jump-all-around-the-place method of writing didn’t drive my poor collaborator insane, my compulsive revise-every-two-minutes perfectionism would send any author screaming from his or her workstation.
What is the one book that you think that very few people have read but everyone should read? What are you reading right now?
Wow, that’s a hard question. Even if I limit myself to modern authors, I can’t decide if I should go with Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer, Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Per Petterson’s I Curse the River of Time, Ismail Kadare’s Chronicle in Stone, or Independent People by Halldór Laxness (a somewhat older book). Patrick Chamoiseau’s Texaco is an all but unknown modern masterpiece. I’m guessing some people will have read at least one of them, but they aren’t romances and they’re not gay, though much of Independent People deals with a non-sexual father-daughter romance, so perhaps they’ll be new to most who read this interview. (Didn’t I mention I read relatively few romances?) What am I reading right now? M/M.
What do you find the most difficult part of the writing process?
Focusing on one scene at a time. Hell, I have trouble focusing on one book at a time!
What is a typical working day like for you? Where do you write? Do you wait for inspiration? Do you set certain writing goals? Are there any specific tools you use to help you write?
It happens that days go by and I don’t write a word, and sometimes I do nothing but write for days at a time, stopping only when I’m ready to pass out from hunger or my eyes and head ache. Both count as working days. I write at my laptop, in the southeast corner of my living room. I always feel inspired, but that’s no help if my thoughts are all muddled or how I want to say something just won’t fall into place. I’m constantly setting goals I hardly ever meet. When I’m stuck for a word, I turn to the thesaurus or a bilingual dictionary if I can think of the French word but not the English. (A word of warning: A thesaurus helps you spit out a word that’s at the tip of your tongue. Never use a word you find there unless you’re familiar with the full range of its nuances.) I research my historical novels on line or at the library. I also pick my friends’ brains. Does that make them tools?
What is your greatest guilty pleasure (literary or otherwise)?
I assure you I indulge in many pleasures and they’re all great. Why would you think any of them are guilty?
And…last but not least: What are you working on now and what can we expect to see from you in the coming year?
I recently returned to work on the monster novel I started and then set aside about two years ago. No, it isn’t about monsters. I call it a monster novel because it will long, so long it will probably have to come out in two or three volumes, but it is most definitely a single novel, not a series you can pick up in the middle and still know what’s going on, although each of its six or seven parts will be self-contained novella. I’m not sure how many since I’ve written on a fraction of it, bits and pieces from different parts, which is how I work.
When I finish it (that is, if I ever do), The Pyramid of Nepensiret will be a vast historical spread over more than three millennia. It will tell the stories of the professional and amateur Egyptologists who, in different countries and different historical periods – Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, the Prussian occupation of Paris, the London blitz, etc. – seek to unravel the mystery of Queen Nepensiret through research and exploration, some of it illegal.
The excerpt below acts as an introduction to the entire work. To read it, one wouldn’t suspect that the novel is about gay men, but it is, and most of the novellas are romances, though not always in the traditional sense.
The Pyramid of Nepensiret
Since the construction of the High Dam at Aswan, the Pyramid of Nepensiret has lain submerged beneath the waters of Lake Nasser.
Other, more important monuments of Egypt’s glorious past met the same fate, notably the Buhen fortress on the west back of the Nile, which guarded the area surrounding the second cataract, and of course we shall never know what the sands had covered over the centuries. Others were preserved. The Great Temple of Abu Simbel, a vast complex of some twenty-two monuments, was moved to higher ground under a UNESCO rescue project, block by massive block, at a cost of some forty million American dollars, and a few smaller monuments were presented to other nations, such as the Temple of Dendur in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Debod Temple, now in the Parque del Oeste near the Palacio Real in Madrid.
Nepensiret’s pyramid, however, was not considered worth the expense, although a handful of Egyptologists lobbied valiantly for its preservation. For one, centuries of weathering had left it in very poor condition. It was topless, having crumbled fifteen meters below the apex, and the encroaching desert sands had all but buried it on two sides. Moreover, nobody knows who Nepensiret was. Her name does not appear on any of the lists of rulers of Ancient Egypt, nor do any papyri or inscriptions mention her, so the pyramid cannot be dated. All we have are the hieroglyphics written on her sarcophagus that give her name and identify her as the bride and sister of pharaoh. Which pharaoh is a mystery. Moreover, everything in the pyramid was looted shortly after its discovery and the wall paintings of the burial chamber, if there were any (scholars disagree on that point, since it had been sealed for over a century and a half), had reputedly been completely defaced by graffiti and could not be restored.
The contradictory statements of the Egyptian authorities, who surely must know the truth – that there were no wall paintings and that graffiti had rendered them worthless – has given rise to a variety of rumors, for example, that they are obscene, if not pornographic, and unusually well preserved. Most experts dismiss such speculations as wishful thinking inspired by the fact that the artifacts from her tomb in the British Museum include a surprising number of phalluses, and also by the exceptional beauty of the woman depicted on the lid of her sarcophagus, one of the star exhibits of the Louvre’s Egyptian collection. Historians, art historians and archeologists the world over have been clamoring to x-ray and do a DNA analysis of the mummy inside, but Egypt stubbornly refuses to grant permission.
Ancient monuments were not the dam’s only victims. The reservoir, which extends nearly three hundred fifty miles with a maximum depth of six hundred feet and whose fifty thousand cubic miles of water cover an area of about two thousand square miles, displaced some eighty thousand people – some say hundreds of thousands – in southern Egypt and northern Sudan. And like all dams, the one at Aswan has had major ecological repercussions. It has for the most part brought under control the sometimes disastrous floods to which Egypt was subject, but it has spilled over into the western Sahara, and while it provides hydroelectric power and water for irrigation, little of the fertile Nile mud on which the ancient civilization was built now reaches the delta. In time the entrance to Nepensiret’s pyramid, the monument closest to the dam, will be buried under a thick layer of silt, and what lies hidden inside will be inaccessible even to divers.
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