AUTHOR: Mathias B. Freese
BOOK TITLE: I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust
GENRE:Literary fiction/ short stories
BUY LINK:Amazon, Wheatmark, author
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Please tell us about yourself.
Retired English teacher and analytic psychotherapist, I have been a writer for almost 50 years. I am self-taught, with the deficits of any autodidact. I resist being shown how to write. I prefer to reinvent the wheel – in that is a learning by itself. Suffering has taught me a great deal. Writing simply reveals that anguish. The purpose of all my written works has been to educate myself about who I am and for that no teacher can work with me except to hand me a copy of Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style, and leave me be. Consequently my writing reveals an awakening of intelligence, as Krishnamurti phrased it. I am a seeker and marketing of my books is a kind of perverse expression. I would like to be read, although I consistently refuse to shape my work for any market. That is a writer’s sellout, capitalistic perversion of the highest order. I say what I have to say whether you like it or not. The resistance to my latest effort has been strong. I Truly Lament: Working Through the Holocaust has been reviewed splendidly; however, some bloggers, some editors and some reviewers reject even reviewing it. That says more about the Holocaust than it says about me.
When I come across an individual who is empty, I will on occasion tell him or her that he or she is not a serious human being. To be serious about how one lives one’s life is essential to my make-up. I don’t suffer fools.
Please tell us your latest news.
I am glad to report that I won The Beverly Hills Book Award 2015 in the category of short stories. That was a thrill. For writers I would suggest that they submit their work to as many contests as possible, Poets & Writers lists dozens of them with deadlines and entry fees, if any. At least you have judges looking at your work, so you are being read.
When and why did you begin writing?
My first expression was a poem I wrote at 18 that was accepted by the Yearbook. As I look back it clearly references the depression I was in. To add to that, the teacher-editor threw out the original title and missed entirely the basic theme of the poem. So much for English teachers who think they are editors. It didn’t help my depression, just made me angry.
In 1968 an article, “Is content enough?” was accepted by an educational journal and was the first professionally piece accepted by a publication. It took 10 years to secrete another effort. I had no idea I was moving into writing. I can say, looking back, that early fiction and non-fiction pieces were written to work out or work through psychological and emotional feelings of long standing. Consequently I view writing as a personal therapy, a working through, to use psych-speak, of what harassed my emotional states.
For 30 years I wrote my stories and I promised myself that someday I would publish all of them, for some, indeed, had been published in little magazines. In 2008, I self-published Down to a Sunless Sea at the age of 68. It was reviewed favorably. A novel about the Holocaust, The i Tetralogy, was published in 2005, and a book of essays, This Mobius Strip of Ifs, a prize-winner as well, in 2012. So as I age the rewards come. I am the Aesopian tortoise.
What inspired you to write your first book?
The i Tetralogy took me several years and it is graphic, overwhelming and heart-rending; reviewers have said that. It is like Rashomon. I explore the mind and life of a concentration camp victim, and then I explore the mind of his perpetrator. I may not spell well, I may not be grammatically correct all the time, but what I have learned is that my imagination is first rate. But that is not enough. As a psychotherapist I learned to master to a large degree to be empathetic. Combining empathy and imagination allowed me to creep into the mind of both victim and victimizer. And so my first book revealed my feelings about what it is to be a Jew.
The Spanish Inquisition in 1492 based on racial purity led directly, indeed, was the template for the Hitlerian Holocaust. I wanted to learn how that came about. I have several reasons and understandings about all that. Chalk it up to the species being damaged; we are beyond remediation. All this is in the Tetralogy.
What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing?
I say pompously that I do a lot of reflection, but is that being pompous, or is that what this collapsed culture thinks about it. For decades I have read the works of Krishnamurti as a kind of thread as I walk through the maze. So I am a seeker, believing wholeheartedly that the observer is the observed. Read his Think on These Things (Harper) and write me a note. I am a dedicated cinephile and, of course, I recommend that you see Pandora by Pabst, and the glorious work of Louise Brooks ( her book, Lucille in Hollywood, is a hoot). I am a real lover of anything Art Nouveau, and seek out objects, whether valuable or not, that reveal that era. Gustave Klimt is a favorite. I admire the Pre-Raphaelites as well. I recently over extended myself and bought a Degas print at an auction. Since I don’t play golf or revel in sports, you will now appreciate the responses above all the better.
Did you learn anything from writing your book, and what was it?
As a former psychotherapist I see that all 27 short stories in Lament, reveal much about myself; that I have better skills now; instead of croaking my themes I sing them.
What is your marketing plan?
In Auschwitz, it was reported that an inmate asked a guard this question: “Why?’ And the guard responded, “Here there is no why.”
Consequently I used several tools to market this difficult book – this interview, per se; a book tour; entering contests, as many as I could afford; querying hundreds of reviewers, bloggers, et al. Like the guard’s answer, there is no answer to how this book has been received, too much Holocaust fear and historical ignorance among reviewers.
I accept that there is no answer. I am pleased to have made this work reveal the best of what talents and skills I have.
What do you plan for the future?
As Harold Bloom opined, we are all “near death” experiences. And so I have finished a memoir. Although professionally edited, I will work it over, for it may be my last book. I am 74. Sometimes I think the well may have run dry. I feel that all literature is worked over unconsciously and that the unconscious is a true friend if only we trust it. In short, when a story or a poem is written, it really is the second version. So we shall see.
What do you think is the difference between writing short stories and novels?
Short stories are epiphanies; short stories teach writers how to write novels. The Bible is beyond masterful in some stories, forget the religiosity and learn about the brevity from these stories. Writing short stories gives you an opportunity to see the whole, to see the arc of what it is you are saying. Short stories are the opened back of a Patek-Philippe. You can tinker or repair as long as you like. The great novel should read like an intense, passionate short story. Of course, the poem is the hardest epiphany of them all; some poems are novels.
Is there a message in your stories that you want readers to grasp?
When asked if a movie in production had a message, Sam Goldwyn reportedly replied, “If you want a message go to Western Union.” I never write with a message at hand; a feeling, yes; a mood state; yes. I like to be surprised with what I have written. Grasp this about me! I write like my hormones need to excrete. I am not into purpose. Some teachers take an idea or concept and parse it, analyze it, break it into components and then synthesize it for their students. When I taught I took an idea, turned it into fractals, sought no endgame, and let the pieces fall where they may. Consequently don’t ask me to plot out a novel; I am too intuitive to do that.
If you had to choose, which short story writer would you consider a mentor?
I have always been impressed with the humanity, the empathy and psychological understanding of Sherwood Anderson’s, Winesburg , Ohio. Hemingway admired this book but never gave Anderson his due, but that is Hemingway. Anderson could write about the neurasthenic, to use an old term, woman; Hemingway had trouble writing about women.
Do you have any advice for other short story writers?
Write dozens of stories and then keep only a few; or slave over one story interminably only to realize it doesn’t work. Notice the trick or conditioning in this question. Advice? Has the human race ever asked for advice? Essentially, find your own way, work on being inner-directed and in this way the need for advice melts away. All writing is an extension of how much you have grown into a human being. Work on yourself and what you write will reveal this. Avoid all conditioning, religion, in particular.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Contemplate my end, which we should all do on a daily basis; and we can do that without regret or remembrance of things past. In fact, cogitating over this might make life that much more dear.
I also have a grand sense of humor so that compensates for what life teaches me. Awareness is the key. Get cracking, reader!
What books have most influenced your life?
Kazantzakis’s Report to Greco and The Last Temptation of Christ; Elias Canetti’s, The Crowd;
Krishnamurti’s Think on These Things, The Flight of the Eagle, and The Awakening of Intelligence.
I Truly Lament—Working Through the Holocaust is a varied collection of stories: inmates in death camps; survivors of these camps; disenchanted Golems complaining about their designated rounds; Holocaust deniers and their ravings; collectors of Hitler curiosa (only recently a few linens from Hitler’s bedroom suite went up for sale!); an imagined interview with Eva Braun during her last days in the Berlin bunker; a Nazi camp doctor subtly denying his complicity; and the love story of a Hungarian cantor, among others.
A description meant to entice booksellers, librarians, reviewers and readers might be this: A weirdly wonderful short story collection exploring the Holocaust from diverse perspectives in literary styles ranging from gothic and romantic to phantasmagoric.