Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today: J. Manfred Weichsel writes satires that fuse adventure, horror, science fiction, and fantasy into some of the most original transgressive literature being published today.
Weichsel began writing short fiction in 2016 with stories that have appeared in some of the biggest titles of the new pulp movement, such as Cirsova Magazine and the Planetary Anthology series.
When the pandemic hit, Weichsel was suddenly jobless, but—thanks to government handouts—making more than he had been when working. He decided to treat his situation as an opportunity and began writing longer works and learning how to self-publish.
Now a fiercely independent author, J. Manfred Weichsel aims to fulfill the promise of self-publishing with works ungoverned by the constraints of traditional publishing houses and the inhibitions of polite society.
Loved by some and hated by others, Weichsel’s funny, unconventional, often grotesque books inhabit a unique space in American literature and will be read, talked about, and debated for generations to come.
J. Manfred Weichsel is the author of Planet of the Wage Slaves, The Calydonian Boar Hunt, Not Far from Eden, Jungle Jitters, Five Maidens on the Pentagram, Ebu Gogo, and Tales to Make You Vomit.
Thanks so much, Manfred, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
J. Manfred Weichsel: My writing is very different from anything else out there. I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and classic pulp. In fact, I read everything I can get my hands on. But my real love is for classical satire and the experimentation that went into the birth of the novel. I’m talking about old books written hundreds, and sometimes over a thousand years ago.
The old satires are some of the craziest pieces of literature you’ll ever read. They can be completely transgressive, I mean, Gargantua and Pantegruel is filthy. They can also be wildly experimental, with the authors exercising tremendous freedom of plot, structure, character, setting, theme, and language. And best of all, all this experimentation is directed towards ridiculing human nature, customs, society, and culture.
In my own writing, I try to bring the transgressive energy of classical satire and apply it to contemporary science fiction, fantasy, horror, and adventure stories in a way that I hope will excite readers, disturb them, and make them laugh.
JSC: Do you ever base your characters on real people? If so, what are the pitfalls you’ve run into doing so?
JMW: I sometimes like to cast actors to play certain characters in my mind while I’m writing. For example, in my biblical satire Not Far from Eden, I based the character of God on Leslie Nielsen in Airplane, The Naked Gun, and his late-career comedies. I wanted to give my God the kind of spacey cluelessness Nielsen is known for, and judging from what people tell me about the book, I think it worked out.
For my mythological satire The Calydonian Boar Hunt, I based Jason, the character best known for the quest for the Golden Fleece, on a very young Andrew Dice Clay. My thinking was that since Jason was the world’s first sailor, he would talk like one. I also wanted to make the Argonauts very urban in order to create a contrast between them and the rural setting of the story. Jason was probably my favorite character to write.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for The Calydonian Boar Hunt?
JMW: I had just finished writing Not Far from Eden, which is based on an ancient Hebrew myth found in the apocryphal Books of Enoch and Jubilees about angels who rebel against God in order to have sex with human women. I was very happy with the book and how I was able to write something that was simultaneously subversive while remaining true to the source material.
After the success of that book, I wanted to retell another foundational myth, but this time I wanted it to be light and fun, and not so heavy. I had always enjoyed Greek mythology, and wanted to do a deep dive into it. I chose The Calydonian Boar Hunt specifically because it is a very central story in Greek mythology, and one that brings together heroes from all over Greece into a really fun adventure.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in The Calydonian Boar Hunt, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
JMW: With The Calydonian Boar Hunt, my goal was to retell the Greek myth in a way that is true to the story, which is set in 1,300 B.C., but that also holds a funhouse mirror up to contemporary society.
In that, I think I succeeded. My book is very accessible to modern readers, and the satire is written in a way that doesn’t pull any punches. My retelling of The Calydonian Boar Hunt is a bawdy, ribald, gory, grotesque tale that is also a lot of fun and will hopefully leave you in fits of laughter.
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
JMW: The cover is by my longtime cover artist Scott P. “Doc” Vaughn. He had already done the covers for Ebu Gogo, Five Maidens on the Pentagram, Jungle Jitters, and Not Far from Eden, and I knew I wanted to hire him for this one. Scott is just a marvelous pulp artist who really captures the spirit of my books.
As far as the process goes, sometime when I am about halfway through writing a book I start to think about what I want for the cover. Once I have a clear idea in my head, I stop working on the book for a few days in order to create a cover concept. This is usually a few thousand words long, and not only describes the scene I would like illustrate, but also the mood and tone I am looking for. I also include a lot of visual references. For example, I sent Scott links to paintings and sculptures depicting the Calydonian Boar Hunt, as well as the characters Atalanta and Meleager.
JSC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
JMW: I always knew I wanted to be a writer, and strangely enough, I always knew what kind of writer I wanted to be. When I was a kid I used to write absurd, gory, sexually explicit stories for class assignments that freaked my teachers out and constantly got me into trouble. At the time, I didn’t even know what satire was, but I still wrote exaggerated caricatures that were me holding up a funhouse mirror up to the world around me.
I thought I was completely alone in writing like this, and I was discouraged because my writing did nothing but get me punished. Then, when I was probably around fifteen or sixteen years old, a teacher gave me a copy of Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry.
Ubu Roi is a wild, bawdy parody of Shakespeare’s Macbeth that Jarry wrote when he was a teenager. After reading that play, everything suddenly clicked for me. I realized that I wasn’t the only person in all of history who ever wrote the way I did, and that my literary goals, to subvert and transgress, weren’t all that different from the goals of other authors who came before me, going back hundreds and even thousands of years.
JSC: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
Yes, and I still am. Through Alfred Jarry I was introduced to the French surrealists and avant guarde, and from there to broader 20th century literature. I know that the 20th century gets a bad wrap nowadays, but I love it! The only thing that matches the energy of deconstruction in 20th century literature is the experimentation that went into the birth of the novel.
Jarry wrote a novel called The Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician. In the book is a list of other books to read, and one of those is the 16th century novel Gargantua and Pantagruel, a bawdy satire about some very erudite, athletic, and horny giants. That book had as big an impact on me as Ubu Roi had, and from there I started reading classical satire.
I also read a lot of science fiction and fantasy as a kid. I enjoyed the escapism of it, but I have also always enjoyed the complexity of literature and the transgression of satire. If you put those three things together, escapism, complexity, and transgression, that’s pretty much what you get in my books.
JSC: What fictional speculative fiction character would you like to spend an evening with, and why?
JMW: Dejah Thoris. If I were a character in A Princess of Mars, I would totally cock block John Carter. You might be sitting there reading this and thinking, “Dude bro, JC would decapitate you with his sword.”
Actually, no. You see, I wouldn’t directly challenge him with violence, and he is too much of a gentleman to make the first blow. Every time he tries to talk to Dejah Thoris, I would slip in there and get between them. When he hurts her feelings because he doesn’t understand her culture, I would be there to consol Dejah Thoris, pat her on the back, and let her cry on my shoulder.
After she has let her guard down and trusts me, I will drop the brotherly guise, lean in, and give her a kiss. She will be caught off guard, and in a vulnerable state from being hurt by JC, and she will let me… Hey! I think I just came up with an idea for a book!!!
JSC: Which of your own characters would you Kill? Fuck? Marry? And why?
JMW: In that order? Annie from She Was Asking for It. If you want to know why, you’ll have to read the book!
JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!
JMW: Right now I am writing a satire set in the Pacific theater of World War II. I became interested in the period after learning that American soldiers in the Pacific engaged in headhunting against Japanese soldiers. They cut off the heads of the dead Japanese, removed the flesh, and kept the skulls as souvenirs. Meanwhile, Japanese soldiers decapitated prisoners of war in order to demonstrate their prowess as descendants of ancient samurai. And the fighting took place on the Solomon Islands, which are famous for ritual headhunting.
The story of three separate groups of headhunters, each one collecting heads for very different cultural reasons, seemed like the perfect setting for a misanthropic J. Manfred Weichsel story. I hope to publish the yet-to-be-titled book sometime in February 2023.
I also have a collection of short stories with my editor right now, and my artist, Scott P. “Doc” Vaughn, is busy working on the cover. This is going to be the definitive edition of all my published pulp short stories. I can’t put it out until March 16th for copyright reasons, but you can expect to see it around then.
And now for Manfred’s recent book: The Calydonian Boar Hunt:
It is Ancient Greece, when heroes were forever ‘accidentally’ killing their own fathers and marrying their own mothers. So what’s a young prince supposed to do when he falls in love with the wrong woman? Dare he trust his heart or will the Fates interfere?
King Oeneus of Calydon has just been given the secret of wine by the god Dionysus. Unable to hold his liquor, vomit-bespattered Oeneus drunkenly forgets to honor the goddess Artemis at the harvest festival. Oh dear, bad mistake. These gods are larger than life, and bigger in emotions too. In revenge for this insult, the angry, man-hating Artemis sends a gigantic and crazed wild boar to ravage the land. With its burning breath and tusks longer than a brave man’s spear, nothing can stop this monstrous beast. What can the befuddled King Oeneus do to save his kingdom? Send out a message to the greatest heroes of the age, that’s what.
Soon, a party of mighty mythical heroes, led by Oeneus’s son, Prince Meleager, is on the trail of the fearsome monster – but one of these heroes is a heroine! Atalanta the Indomitable is a huntress to match Artemis herself, and quickly wins the heart of Meleager. Will one of the men make the kill, or will they be humiliated when the prize goes to a woman? Will Prince Meleager woo and win Atalanta, or will the cruel gods intervene as usual? Who will die and who will survive in this tale of great loves and even greater lusts in the ancient world?
A rip-roaring tale of jealousy, foul play, a family at war with itself, and a battle of the sexes – all in Weichsel’s unique, no-holds-barred, ribald style.
See the preview under “Look Inside” here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B3GGW52P