UNCOV/rd : Alex Pruteanu
In this new Interview Series, Susan Tepper talks with authors about their books and lives, hopes and dreams.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Let's start with the literal: like many "normal" people, people who I consider the true heroes in our celebrity-obsessed, narcissistic culture, the beckoning, ever-present call of The Machine is what makes me move my arse. I am usually up a little before 5 a.m. in order to properly caffeine-ate myself, so that I may drag my bag of atrophying bones into the office for my day job and usual duties. Another half a pot of coffee later, and I'm able to function like a proper cog, standing at perpetual attention, ready to be eviscerated by the blades of The Machine; saluting, even. I've been conditioned for that by 30 years of work.
Writing well for me has never come easy; I've always started writing a project kicking and screaming, although once immersed in the piece, things go much smoother and the revolt dies down. I am by no means a procrastinator when it comes to writing, it's just a difficult process to begin. I often feel I am ill-prepared for the writing session, despite the sometimes months of planning; I have doubts as to what kind of output I'll have (not the quality, but the quantity) at the end of the writing session; I am often impatient with the amount of time it takes me to mold and shape something good and dynamic— mainly because my writing time is very limited.
So you are The Machine? Or, deus ex machina?
Neither. The Machine, as I refer to it, is the system we've devised for ourselves in order to keep us occupied and dreaming of freedom. It's a strange circular way of thought, isn't it? That which anchors us, also creates and aids in our dreams of escaping from it. The Machine is work in all its glorious, eviscerating, enslaving incarnations— whether an actual instrument of disseminating labor (like a corporation), or some la-la dreamworld put together by savage geniuses (banking/finance system).
I am by no means a stellar writer, but I will tell you that I certainly don't paint myself...rather, write myself into corners, so there's no use for me to appeal to deus ex machina. I'm with my good man Horace who, as you know, instructs poets to never resort to a god from the machine to resolve their plots. Or, as I like to think in more modern parlance: you better figure out this situation, dear sir, 'cause ain't no god gonna help you step out of the massive pool of shit you've managed to fill up all on your own.
GEARS, as a collection, operates as I believe you intended: by propelling the structure and infrastructure forward, gear by gear, seamlessly. Was this book painful to write?
Originally I was very much against putting together a collection of all my short stories and flash fiction. It was something I mistakenly thought would be a "cop out" of sorts. Something like "filler" until I wrote the "proper novel" whatever the hell that may mean.
GEARS is a massive omnibus of 70 stories. It's the culmination of nearly 7 years of writing and 2 years of publishing. I began to change my mind about the importance of a collection when I realized that there was a whole lot of logic and a common direction in which my short fiction writing was headed, and by collecting it all under one roof, there was a theme that was being explored: that of movement, both physical and metaphorical. I thought that was an important subject to be explored, coming from an immigrant writer. The idea of movement (being displaced, uprooted, exile, and dissidence) holds much gravity and import in immigrant communities; it's a traumatic experience leaving all that you know behind, often times for good, and in some way or another— whether on the surface or buried beneath the lines— that experience is ever-present in almost all of my stories.
To answer your question directly, none of the stories in GEARS was painful to write, despite some of the subjects and despite drawing on certain personal experiences to explore those subjects. But neither were they easy. Strike that, that isn't entirely true. Some came quite easily…strangely enough, the stories that probably have the most buried underneath the surface were the ones that I wrote quickly and with very few edits.
There are a couple of pieces that I think are quite funny, but there's always that weird tension just sort of hanging there, lurking in the background…the possibility of everything going wrong all of a sudden and having some massive hunk of shit hit the fan. A good example that comes to mind is the short piece "My Agent," as well as the longer "Man Goes Again." They're both quite funny stories, but there's also a flammable element there; a component that can at any time ignite. I like that in stories or novels. I like to write situations that create instability and put both the characters and the reader in a state of disequilibrium. Writing, for me, is never painful, but it's always difficult.
There are many stories in GEARS that I could focus on, but let's talk about one micro in particular titled A Well-Trained Horse Can Sometimes Say I Love You. It was extremely difficult reading (for me), yet I was mesmerized by the content and construct. I would describe this piece as spare brilliance. Is the immigrant experience crucial to the writing of this story?
Thank you for your kind words. This is one of my favourite pieces, as well. It's so short and has so much more to it, but we're only allowed to see literally a minute into this particular scene or situation. It was originally and appropriately published in "Subtle Fiction."
I drew on some of my experiences having lived as a young boy in my grandfather's and grandmother's village house in Romania for this particular piece. I witnessed twice in a couple of years the ritualistic and necessary slaughter of the pig for Christmas feast (as well as many other subsequent meals, naturally), and the slaughter of scores and scores of chickens, as well as a few rabbits for winter meals, stews, etc. There is brutality in the slaughtering of animals, even if it's for pure necessity like it was for my grandparents, and there's a permeating air of that brutality in this story.
We are catching these particular men in a weird, disorienting situation: they are about to slaughter a fallen animal; we don't know what happened just before we arrived at this scene; we don't know if this situation is happening within the context of a battle or war, a military exercise, or what. We don't know if the horse was initially wounded…we come to this scene at the point at which the animal had been literally and physically taken down by the group of men and is about to be slaughtered with a fucking STRAIGHT RAZOR. The slicing of the horse's eye is weird and brutal; it introduces that disequilibrium I spoke about. The reader is left to fend for herself, to figure out what in hell is happening. This scene is so bizarre and so metaphorical,
I have to say here that the eye-slashing detail is my humble homage to Luis Buñuel's and Salvador Dali's film "Un Chien Andalou." It's one of my all time favourite works of surrealism, and ever since I first saw it in film school at age 19, I've been haunted by the famous scene. The film is cut so that it appears a woman's eye is slashed. In reality, Buñuel used a dead cow's eye for the gruesome shot. It's brilliant; it's surrealist cinema at its best. This was my humble attempt to recreate it in writing.
In "your movie," how do you picture your life ten years from now?
A wide shot of a large, nearly empty room; high ceiling, stucco walls, Mexican tile floor. A man in his mid-50s is sitting at a simple, wooden table, working on an old Underwood. Next to that there is a closed laptop. Beyond the man, outside of the large window, we see an olive grove basking in the golden sun. From offscreen, a female voice: "There's Bulgarian feta, black olives, and fresh bread. And Gillian has brought a gallon of red wine. Come eat with us."
Alex M. Pruteanu emigrated to the United States from Romania in 1980. He has worked as a journalist, a television news director, freelance writer, and editor. He is the author of novella "Short Lean Cuts" (Amazon Publishing) and "Gears: A Collection" (Independent Talent Group, Inc.).
His writing has appeared in NY Arts Magazine, Guernica, PANK, Connotation Press, FRIGG, The Atticus Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, and many others. His short story "The Barber" has been nominated for a 2013 Micro Award by A-Minor Magazine. Alex lives with his family near Raleigh, North Carolina.