On mongrels, doppelgangers, and alien mandatory reads: an interview with Willem Myra

Rome-based Willem Myra is a writer whose sporadic stories and poems have appeared online over the last couple years. He is 1/3 of formercactus, not to mention the one who came up with the name of our journal. Willem’s writing culminated in Kennel-born, a surreal collection set to be released by Thirty West Publishing on July 27. At the time I’m writing this (June 2018), we’re collaborating with Thirty West to spread some lesser-known facts about surreal art and artists on Twitter under the hashtag #KB727.

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1. Kennel-born is your first collection in English. Tell us about it — How did it come to be?

To be more precise, Kennel-born is my first collection, period. Prior to it, I had only written long-form In Italian, whereas only when I transitioned to English did the knack for short stories and flash fiction develope in my psyche. The collection came as a surprise. After dedicating some double-digit months to experimenting with both short-form and the nuances of the English language, and at the apex of weekly rejections, I was feeling burnt out and bored with my fictional limits. I started looking for something different to energize my creativity, which is when I stumbled upon a small press dedicated to chapbooks. I felt like Colombus sighting the Americas. This tightly-plotted (for my interest went immediately to fiction ones, setting aside poetry chapbooks for later), short but intense works announced themselves as being the next step on my growth path. So I jotted down a couple ideas, started messing around with them until I noticed fifteen jigsaw pieces perfectly fitting together. The fifteenth was eventually taken out because of reasons, but at the time the whole project (titled Willem Myra EP, promising to have with music more than it’d have with dogs) reflected a worldview of sorts.

2. Your story Naughty You Dot Com, published earlier this year by Bird’s Thumb and collected in Kennel-born, enjoyed quite an audience online. You’ve already discussed it in an interview over there, so what I’d like to ask you here is, How does it stack up tone-wise next to the other pieces in the collection?

Tough question. I’d say the collection offers a wide range of tones, from the more light-headed The Stage of the Spirit, about a magician having an Average Joe contact his parallel selves, to the more crude Homo Homini Lupus, where war or the lack thereof robs three sisters of their country. All in all, I’d say a suffocating atmosphere of there’s-more-to-it-and-not-in-a-good-way permeates the entire book.

3. How has your creative process changed over the years?

It’s all over the place now. When I started out (I was 17 at the time, give or take), I’d come up with an outline, a few important plot points to touch on, then in but a few days I’d get to writing. Now the incubation periods have gotten so much longer. I’m working on this… thing–collection or novel, it’s too early to say–and since November I’ve been only mulling over it, scribbling down notes in a notepad, and mulling some more. Words in the actual file? Seven. Title and byline. I have hopes (it’s all I’m left with lately) that I’d get it down by the end of summer. But who knows. On one hand, I miss the high rate with which I’d produce stories in the past, while on the other, it’s been refreshing to spend so much mind-time in the same world, to get to know its actors, its myths and inevitable undoing.

4. Do you remember what was the first fully-completed story you’ve ever written?

Boy, do I. It was horrible, in a way a fanfic about two made-up characters interacting in what was to become the origin of a certain MMO. I still have it on a hard disk somewhere — in fact, I re-read it around last year and it was eye-opening to notice how less verbose I’ve become over the years. Back then I’d use twenty words to get across what now I can do with a grunt and a sigh.

5. Let us assume there are two boxes on a table. In one box, there is a relatively normal turtle; in the other, Adolf Hitler’s skull. You have to select one of these items for your home. If you select the turtle, you can’t give it away and you have to keep it alive for two years; if either of these parameters are not met, you will be fined $999 by the state. If you select Hitler’s skull, you are required to display it in a semi-prominent location in your living room for the same amount of time, although you will be paid a stipend of $120 per month for doing so. Display of the skull must be apolitical. Which option do you select?

Money aside, who would even pass on the chance of making history?

6. Starting with the title, Kennel-born seems constructed around more or less symbolic dogs. Did this theme emerge while putting together the collection or did you start building it with mongrels in mind?

Bit of column A, bit of column B. I wanted the collection to be cohesive from the get-go which is why I started searching for a theme among the few pieces I had already completed before finishing all fifteen. Like I said, originally music was to play a more central part, though somewhere around what is now the last piece of Kennel-born, the Latin-titled Homo Homini Lupus, the idea of using a canine metaphor to describe human fate struck me as more appropriate to the type of work I was trying to achieve.

7. A saucer has descended from the skies and kidnapped a fan of yours in the middle of the night. The fan has been taken to an alien planet where a society not dissimilar from our own is in place, and has been made the Chief Commander over the whole planet. The first decree this fan of yours (who is, incidentally, also the most devoted and extreme of fans) passes, is to render mandatory to anybody, child and grownup, the reading of your magnum opus. What do you suppose would the alien dislike the most of your work?

Probably my constant use of symbols and/or surreal denouements. I have this unpublished (no surprise there) story in which a fight between a couple is interrupted when she has enough of it and simply flees the room by decapitating their dog and jumping inside the animal’s skull.

8. What’s next on your creative path?

I’m working on that aforementioned could-be novel which in a sprout of megalomania I’ve dubbed the greatest thing my mind has even come up with. In an ideal world, I’d finish (that is, start) writing it before September, edit it by Halloween, score an agent by Christmas, and do my little Nobel-acceptance speech by mid-2019. Hey, a guy can still dream, right?

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