I’m delighted to welcome author Alexander Zelenyj, whose short story collection ‘Songs For the Lost’ is published by Eibonvale Press, who published my own collection ‘A Glimpse of the Numinous’. Buy links are at the end. I’ll hand over to Alex who will tell you more about his intriguing tales…
About the Author
Alexander Zelenyj is the author of the books Songs For The Lost, Experiments At 3 Billion A.M. , Ballads To The Burning Twins: The Complete Song Lyrics Of The Deathray Bradburys, and Black Sunshine. His fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies throughout the world.
He lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and at alexanderzelenyj.com.
- What are the main ideas or themes in your new collection of stories?
Thematically, the stories of Songs For The Lost are woven together by recurring themes of loss of innocence in a difficult and uncompromising world, and the characters’ subsequent need for escape from emotional trauma. These are the collection’s central and unifying themes, and also the tenacity of the human spirit to persevere despite tremendous hardship, a spiritual need for seeking solace and redemption at the end of a difficult life, often through the embracing of a higher power. This kind of desperate spirituality permeates the stories, and lies at the heart of the book, always from the perspective of people who have no organized religious background, who sort of give themselves up to an innate belief in some higher power as a desperate final means of salvation from their tragic lives, although often this salvation comes in a very dark and destructive form.
My poetry collection, Ballads To The Burning Twins, is a companion book to Songs For The Lost, and deals more specifically with the types of sometimes dangerous fringe spirituality that lure in people in great distress. It deals with troubled people seeking escape through the promises offered by cults and other deviant sources; it looks at some people’s spiritual connection to the rural and natural world, as opposed to the decadence of the city; and the perpetual struggle of human beings to find redemption for their past sins, and their seeking of a place where they can reclaim their fractured lives and sullied moral goodness.
- What is the setting or context of the narrative? Why is it important?
Well, being that Songs For The Lost is a fiction collection, it has a wide variety of settings, running the gamut from urban environments and rural locales of modern times (often in my home city, Windsor, Ontario, Canada), to stories set in far, far distant places and periods, including ancient Rome, colonial Africa, the Old West, 1960s war-time Vietnam, and to distant future settings. There’s even a story that takes place during prehistoric times.
The eclectic settings were important to me, because I wanted to emphasize the unchanging human element across all the myriad backdrops. That’s something that remains constant no matter where my stories take the reader.
- Tell us more about some of the characters and their dilemmas.
The vast majority of the characters of Songs For The Lost are deeply troubled and in search of some type of personal redemption and escape to a better place outside of their current lives. The stories examine these damaged people, and why they embark on these redemptive quests after living lives of woe, regret, and fury. They’re about the desperate lengths some people go to in order to escape the trauma of their experiences for a better place, a Paradise of some kind.
- Why did you write this book? Any other issues or ‘big ideas’ behind it.
The book was written in the years following the publication of my previous book, Experiments At 3 Billion A.M. They were somewhat difficult years for a number of reasons, and a lot of the recurring themes reflect those experiences. I wrote a huge amount of material during that time and from that compiled the stories that worked best together, and that best expressed the themes I wanted to talk about. It happened very naturally, and at some point I realized that the stories all worked together and that the book was finished, and that it said exactly what I wanted it to say.
- How do you go about writing a collection and a novel? Is it a simple or complex process?
I find writing short fiction and compiling stories into greater collections somewhat more enjoyable than writing novels, I suppose because it’s an easy way to express a lot of the different ideas I have. Weaving it all together into a thematically concise collection is also really fun. I liken it in my mind to making a record that flows really nicely from the first song to the last.
That said, writing a novel is a very different kind of project altogether, and I really enjoy it once I’m immersed in it. At some point I find that the characters become so familiar to me that they seem to write themselves. In fact, I suppose I feel that way about my stuff generally – when I flip through one of my books I’m amazed that the stories exist, because they feel as if they wrote themselves. I have very little recollection of writing most of my stuff. It’s almost like the stories materialized out of the ether.
- What advice do you have for less experienced writers?
Write what you love, and read and write every day.
- What are you working on currently?
I recently finished work on two manuscripts – the first is a novel heavily informed by magical realism. It took quite a few years to finish, and went through a lot of changes over that time. The second manuscript is a collection much in the same vein, stories that combine the gritty and realistic with subtly surreal motifs.
Also, I’m putting together another collection that’s much more similar to the type of material of Songs For The Lost, much more slipstream in style that pulls in influences from a lot of different genres. I’m having a lot of fun with this one.
I’m also finishing up edits on a book by the late great Joel Lane – it’s an amazing collection entitled Scar City, due from Eibonvale Press later this year. I’m contributing an introduction to the book as well, along with author Nina Allan, who will be writing another introductory piece. It’s a huge huge honour to be involved with this project.
- What would your perfect day be?
A morning of writing; an afternoon spent walking in the woods with my other half, Elizabeth, followed by browsing in our favourite bookshop; dinner at home and a movie; good dreams until the following morning; and repeat.
- Name a book or a film that means a lot to you.
Film-wise, River’s Edge, Wild At Heart, and The Isle have always meant a lot to me, because their characters find themselves in situations so much out of their control that they’re forced to look for escape in deviant places. And for some reason that speaks to me, ha ha.
Book-wise, I’d say the dark fantasy stories of Robert E. Howard, because there’s no better and richer world into which I can escape whenever I need to. I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid, and the trips there only get better.
- If you could leave a message to the world, what would it be?
There is more than we know.
What reviewers are saying about Songs For The Lost:
“Every once in a while – if you’re lucky – you’ll come across a short story collection that is so unique and stunning that it’ll make you marvel at its contents. Alexander Zelenyj’s Songs For The Lost is such a collection. It’s an exceptionally good and original collection of speculative fiction stories that are marked by intelligent storytelling, supernatural elements and beautiful literary prose.”
“Songs For The Lost is that perfect, excellent blend of literary and dark that I am always looking for and in my opinion, it is an absolute must-read for anyone who loves dark fiction. Highly recommended but not just for anyone. Prepare to be gut punched, and do not read this book while you’re depressed. Once again, it’s a small press that proves that literary and dark can indeed go hand in hand.”
“Complex and visionary writing…the book touched me with its beauty, its insanity, its soul, its melancholy…Songs For The Lost was one of the best books I have read recently.”
– Porta VIII
“Zelenyj is an absolute master of emotional horror, melancholy, passion, and the delicate art of drawing on classic pop-culture and genre forms to create something highly complex, challenging, and quite visionary.”
– Windsor Life Magazine
“Dipping into the bizarro universe woven by Zelenyj’s inebriating narratives is like peering beneath the cracked and peeling veneer of reality. Zelenyj is a mad yet marvellous seeker, an eccentric impresario, a conductor of dreams as charming and hypnotic as Rod Serling himself. Follow him and you will find yourself among lost souls touring abandoned hopes and forbidden dreams at the edge of an impossible paradise. Each story concludes with a wink signalling that he knows what you have always felt, deep down – that there is more to this life than meets the eye.
And therein lies the power of Alexander Zelenyj. We fill up our lives with the familiar, with mundane routines and ridiculous consumer products, laments and trifles and limitations. Through it all there is an ache deep inside of us. It is the ache of an unspoken truth, the key to surviving the destruction wrought by reality. Stories such as these share that truth, the promise that keeps us going. Life in this universe is more strange and dangerous and wonderful than you have ever been led to believe.”
– from the Foreword, by Brian A. Dixon, Editor, Fourth Horseman Press
“As you read these stories you will find them unexpectedly profound, challenging, harsh, painful, and thought-provoking. Indeed, more than once you might find yourself shaken to the core – summoned to think and feel, or deal with events on levels that are rare for this or any kind of writing. ”
– from “Three Billion And Six: An Introduction” by David Rix, Editor, Eibonvale Press, Author of Feather and What The Giants Were Saying