If you haven’t heard about the After Happily Ever After anthology, this interview series is a front row seat into the creative minds of the authors who have re-envisioned the fairy tale world beyond the final credits. Our next interview presents Matthew Brockmeyer who delves into the story of a very curious nightingale.
One of the most amazing features of this anthology is that each contributor has something wildly unique to bring to the table. You seem to be living in the archetypal fairy tale setting — in an off-grid cabin with your family in the woods of North California. Could you share with us how your journey took you there, all while running a nursery and an herbal products business — and how your writing flourished from this?
I suppose I am living in a fairy tale setting, though that never really occurred to me until now. I better keep my eyes open for the big bad wolf! My journey? Well, I always wanted to be a horror writer, but I’ve also always been a bit of an anarchist and was easily sucked into weird subcultures like punk rock that distracted me from the focus and dedication writing demands. After travelling around, exploring the world and touring with the Grateful Dead, I ended up studying literature at the University of Oregon, where I was in a creative-writing fellowship with award winning novelist Chang-Rae Lee. After graduating, I planned on getting an MFA in creative writing, but, as fate would have it, got pulled into the back-to-the-land scene of permaculture design, biodynamics and organic farming. I met my wife, and we purchased forty isolated acres of heavily forested, hilly land on an old hippie commune called Shit Fuck Piss (no joke!). We were seeking an alternative lifestyle, closer to nature. We homesteaded, raising milking goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, growing our own vegetables and before I knew it we had two children and over a decade had slipped by. Then the writing bug hit again. Hard. I’d say my writing flourished because I had the time and space to read deeply and contemplate humanity’s existence. In the past three years, I have completed a novel and started another, written a collection of short stories, and been published multiple times.
You have two children. I find the raising of family is often an overlooked component of artistic life, but fairy tales have often been able to tackle family matters in both their dark and light aspects. With all your obligations, how has the rearing of children affected your writing for better or worse? What have they taught you about life?
The rearing of children has been invaluable to my writing. It has added depth and maturity to my understanding of the human condition beyond measure. Nearly all of my stories involve a family’s struggle to exist. My children have taught me so much about life I don’t know where to begin. They have taught me patience (lol), understanding, the nature of innocence, a deep and all permeating love that is hard to describe. The protectiveness of a mama bear, the need to impart wisdom like a father fox. The preciousness and fragility of life. My wife and I actually struggled for many years to have children and had many heartbreaking, failed attempts. My family is absolutely the most important thing in my life and I suppose I owe all my inspiration to them.
You chose a lesser known Hans Christian Anderson story called “The Nightingale”. I’m intrigued by the style and setting of your story, especially because it takes place in a brothel. Tell us a little more about the concept behind your take on “The Nightingale” and how you landed on this modern idea to present it.
I am a bit of a history buff, and find myself drawn to the turn of the twentieth century. It was a time when the clash of modernity with old-time ways was most prevalent. Horses and cars fighting it out in the streets, machines beginning to take over the labors of humans. In the original story of “The Nightingale” the Empress forsakes her flesh and blood bird for a mechanical creation encrusted with jewels. I found this to be the perfect metaphor for that time period, and decided to have my Empress shun her loyal pianist for a player piano. I had done a little research into how the entire Old Town of Eureka, California had been a red-light district and it just seemed the perfect setting. So full of intrigue and drama. I’ve always been a big John Steinbeck fan, and East of Eden, I suppose, had some influence on my decision to use a brothel as the setting. As for the concept, I’d never written a story in the epistolary style and thought I’d give it a try. An interview conducted by the historical society just seemed like a good fit.
Do you have a preferred genre that you normally write in, and is this story a departure from that, or how does it dovetail into your interests?
Horror is my genre of choice. Ever since I was a child I’ve been obsessed with horror. I find it a medium that is easily used to explore our existential nature, absurdity, and the human condition in general. It’s also a lot of fun. A roller coaster ride. But I try and put a literary touch to it. I actually don’t read that much horror, though I did as a kid, sticking these days mostly to literary fiction. I hope that brings a level of maturity to my writing (I can hope, lol) and keeps my work original. I’d like to think this story exemplifies that prerogative.
Even though I realize I’m supposed to be promoting After Happily Ever After, I can’t resist asking on purely selfish reasons, more about your herbal business — partly because I’m hoping there will be an opportunity to order something for a nice cup of tea or maybe for an enchantment to beautify myself for the mirror, mirror on the wall!
Ha ha. My wife is a certified herbalist. Her business is called Blainey’s Botanicals. She distills essential oils and hydrosol from lavender, lemon balm, roses, mint, plum blossoms, etc. and makes lotions, tinctures, salves, and all sorts of potions and teas. We mainly sell locally, to neighborhood health-food stores and at farmer’s markets. But if you give me your address we can send you some samples and if you’d like to order more I’m sure she can accommodate you!
Matthew Brockmeyer explores the dark caves and caverns of the human mind using words as his flashlight. His work has appeared in Cultured Vultures, Alephi, Timeless Tales Magazine, Dark Fire Fiction, Pulp Metal Magazine, and the anthology 100 Voices, among others. He resides in an off-grid cabin, deep in the hills of Humboldt County, California with his wife and two children. Find more of his work at http://www.matthewbrockmeyer.com.