Friday, July 28, 2023

Q&A with Peter Maeck



Peter Maeck is the author of the new novel Zänker. His other books include the poetry collection Aperture. He is also a playwright and photographer.


Q: What inspired you to write Zänker, and how did you create your cast of characters?


A: Before Zänker was published I had written two novels that were not published. Rather than let the characters in those two unpublished books die unreported deaths, I decided to make them all suspects (and potential victims) in a murder mystery novel where they would have a chance to live (and maybe die) another day.


Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I had just a vague idea of how the novel might end, and was glad to let it remain vague as I proceeded with writing the book.


That's because it's not until I get near the end of a book that I become aware of how the book should end. Not until then have my characters and the elements of my story developed to a point where a resolution to the narrative literally suggests itself.


To begin writing with a pre-determined ending, and to aim straight for it precludes – for me, at least – spontaneous jolts of inspiration along the way that push the story toward its most fitting and satisfying conclusion.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: In the novel, a character who is German acquires the nickname "Zänker" which in German means "brawler." As the book's title, "Zänker" intimates violence, and certainly a murder mystery is keyed to the ultimate act of violence.


But, aside from its central physically violent event, the book is by no means all rowdiness and riot. It is most interested in the envies, jealousies, and resentments – of all its characters, including the narrator – that inflict wounds less on the body than on the heart and mind.


Q: The novel takes place in a college town--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: The college in Zänker is a fictionalized version of my own college.


I emphasize "fictionalized" because while the book's setting and academic milieu are true-to-life, and while any college environment rightly and necessarily churns with intellectual skirmishes, the conniving intensity of my book's characters as they pursue their goals does not reflect my experience with the brilliant and generous persons I learned from and befriended during my own college years.


As a writer of fiction, I take poetic license, trusting that mine has not expired.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A writer's personal experiences are grist for his or her literary mill. I am currently experiencing life on cruise ships as a lecturer on photography and creative writing.


As such, I am amassing vivid and fascinating details about seagoing passengers, staff, and crew, and am recording my own perceptions of life aboard ship and onshore at round-the-world ports of call. So I am not just making notes for my next novel which will be set at sea, I am living it now every day.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Zänker is my first published novel after decades of writing plays, poetry, and other people's memoirs as a ghostwriter-for-hire.


I'll take this opportunity to cite two recently published books of my poetry – Remembrance of Things Present: Making Peace with Dementia, about my journey with my father during his years with Alzheimer's Disease; and Aperture, a collection of my most recent poems.


I'll add that I have a parallel career as a photographer, being named one of the "Hot 100 Photographers of 2021" by the Duncan Miller Gallery in Los Angeles.


To pay my mortgage over the years I've written sales and management training programs which, far from draining my energy from my "creative" writing, actually provided valuable – even inspiring – insights into realms of human enterprise which I would not otherwise have had. 


At age 9 I told myself that when I grew up I would be a writer. In college I determined to be a novelist. Becoming a published novelist rather later in life than I'd anticipated, I acknowledge the benefits of spending so many years doing other things, literary and otherwise.


For fulfilling one's keenest aspirations, it's never too late, as it was not for another of my aspirations, to learn to drive a race car, which I did in racing boot camp last summer.


I'll never be Formula 1 World Champion nor win the Indy 500, nor is my Nobel Prize for Literature pending (last I checked), which is fine because the long and winding road toward the glittering prizes is where all the real fun is at.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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