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December/January


The Underground Author Series
Interview #11:
Ronald Damien Malfi

Ronald Damien Malfi is the author of the newly-released novel, The Fall of Never which is available from Amazon.com. Upcoming stories will be featured in Bare Bone #7 and Tempting Disaster. It's a little known fact that he appeared in the first issue of The Dream People.

What is it that draws you to explorations of our dark side?
 
My writing is dark? Really? To me, that's just how the world is, how the people function, how everything turns on its little track. Everyone—writerly or otherwise—views the world in their own way, tainted by past experiences, stories they've heard, people they've known, events that take place all around them every day. "Romantics" see the world in an optimistic light where good always (or usually) prevails; religious zealots belief everything has form and function as borne by their respective beliefs; for some, like me, there is always a dark corner in the room, a shadow that flits into nonexistence the second you turn to look at it. For whatever reason, I see those things and am piqued into the exploration of such. Also, my mom smoked while pregnant with me. But it was the seventies, so we'll forgive her such trespass.
 
Every one of your stories centers around a believable, compelling set of characters. How do you go about capturing these personalities on page?
 
If the characters are believable and compelling, it is because I allow them to be. I feel inclined to refuse any credit when discussing the believability of my characters. They are their own people leading their own lives and responsible for the trouble they get into as well as the struggles they endure to escape it. I have very little to do with this (and am grateful if they remember to call me on my birthday or send a card at Christmas, really). As human beings, we all know people, are familiar with many (some of us even have this things called "friends," these social animals, as odd as that may sound to some). So we know how people behave, and we understand and accept the fact that they sometimes do stupid, evil, ridiculous, self-centered, facetious things. But they also do wonderful, brave, unselfish things as well, and we cannot forget that. The trick is to create the cast of a person, stick them in the world you have created around them, and watch them live their own lives. You cannot manipulate them, cannot force an outcome or reaction from them. Sure, you can influence their thinking and surely influence their surroundings as a sort of vehicle (you are, after all, God in that respect), but you cannot consider yourself honest if you attempt to manipulate the characters' free will. Much like real people, they should be allowed to live on their own. Your job, as writer, is merely to document.
 
In your novel, The Fall of Never, we see very strong women depicted in a refreshingly honest way. Do you often set out to create strong characters of the opposite gender, or do you prefer to work with males personalities—or is gender not even a consideration?
 
Yes – more often than not, I depict women as strong, determined, and domineering in my fiction. I don't know why this is, really. Typically my male characters suffer at the whim of their female counterparts.  While this is an exaggeration, it is also an allusion to real life, where I feel women are simply smarter than men, no way around it.  For the most part, women don't linger, don't weigh themselves down with the unimportant, don't destroy their own minds. Men do this. I have never heard a woman, for example, wallow in the personal grief to the point of self degradation over, say, the number of sexual partners her significant other has known. Yet men do this all the time. Men still think about that job interview they blew ten years ago, that fight they lost and damn it if they'd just thrown a left hook instead of the goddamn jab, or that car accident that could have been avoided last May if only they'd swerved right instead of left. However, it is just this sort of subconscious self-loathing and internal conflict that make male characters, at least to me, more appealing. Women are too smart, they have too much figured out already! Throw a bumbling guy into the mix, though, and we're on to something. I hope that doesn't sound sexist, but it probably does...although, ironically, my intention is just the opposite. Anyway, while I can relate on a gender-level with male characters more so than female (although prior girlfriends may beg to differ, ha ha), I happen to feel this burden of internal conflict is the reason I find male characters more intriguing, making them a more interesting driving force in my fiction, and fiction overall. Strong women; foolish men. And is that truly fiction?
 
Often in your work we see the military as a stage for getting at the truths of humanity's existence. Does this have more to do with the regimentation and bonding that are constants in the military experience, or does the external conflict draw parallels to one's internal conflicts?
 
Yes, on all fronts! The role of the military in much of my fiction serves all those purposes. War is so easily a conduit for the alliteration of the human condition! There is a sense of camaraderie there that has always fascinated me, and this camaraderie usually prevails while in the throes of some of man's most horrific atrocities. I am intrigued by that juxtaposition alone. A platoon of soldiers is a microcosm of our world, or at least our country, and I have always been fascinated with the roles people are often forced to accept in moments or crisis. Therefore, yes, I feel the truth of humanity (and individual humanity, on a personal scale) is reflected in the study of militia and the providence of war. What, other than war, provides both the greatest truths and the ultimate lies under the same guise? It's fascinating.
 
Very often you seem to allow the reader's mind to fill in the blanks when it comes to violence, going against the current "extreme" trend in dark fiction. Yet in your novella "The Stranger"—which is, at its core, a profound study of a romance in trouble—we experience some of the most visceral, gut-wrenching passages of mutilation around. How does one decide when and where to include such details, or is it all up to the needs of the individual story?
 
For the most part, I subscribe to Hemingway's iceberg theory of fiction: show only a hint of your conflict, while the bulk of it hides beneath the surface of the water. A "less is more" sort of thing, really. No writer, no matter how great, can functionally compete with the human mind, so why bother? Establish atmosphere, draw the outline, and cast a shadow of the thing you are trying to describe, but never show it in full daylight. Like horror movie monsters: once the stage lights come up, you can see all the wires and zippers and strings. Keep the lights dim, where things look real. As for my short story, "The Stranger," however, the blatant, visual gore at the end of the story was necessary in physically illustrating the emotional crucifixion felt by David, the main character, in his relationship with Rhoda, the young, beautiful woman he is with. The story itself is not so much about a romance in trouble than it is about a man in trouble, which tends to be the essence behind much of my fiction. In a sense, it is David's internal weaknesses that slowly eat away at him, causing the slow degeneration of his soul, and the recent situation he is in with Rhoda, this seemingly carefree young spirit, only adds to that burden and self-doubt. He is, truthfully, his own worst enemy.  The conclusion of that story, with all its gore and elements of horror, is merely an allusion to the inner workings of David's mind, and the destruction caused by his own personal weaknesses. 
 
Many authors of dark fiction relate anecdotes about unusual childhood habits or experiences. Can you recall any such happenings?
 
Unusual? I used to line up action figures at the foot of our apartment's front door before going to bed when I was just a toddler, so we'd be alerted if anyone broke in during the night, stepping on the figures. But unusual?  No. Unusual? I used to be afraid of clowns, Muppets (only when projected way too big on a movie theater screen), the Planters Peanut Man, and pretty much anything else. But Unusual? I used to be certain the Weed Monster (an extraterrestrial being comprised solely of veins of ivy and browned grass clippings) lived behind our garage. But unusual? No. Nothing unusual here.
 
How did you become involved with the creative lifestyle? Why writing?
 
I suppose I've always been involved in the "creative lifestyle" in some form or another. I was (and attempt to remain) an avid musician, a painter/artist, a filmmaker, a documentarian of the human condition. Out of everything I'd ever been involved in, though, writing just happened to be the one that stuck. Out of all art forms, I feel writing has the potential to be the most personal, the most honest, the most true to itself and its creator, as well as the most brutal. That is just what works for me, and what has given me the most personal satisfaction. I can literally say the most.
 
What direction do you see your creative efforts taking? Where do you hope to be five years from now?
 
Whether unconsciously or not, I have slowly felt myself segue from supernatural horror fiction into straight literary fiction. Why did this happen? Good question. While I may not fully understand the collective synapse-firings that have switched my creative train from Track A to Track B, I can say, however, that I personally feel like I could say what it is I want to say honestly and without hindrance in literary fiction without being bogged down by the formulaic beats of genre fiction. Man, war, disease, mothers locking their children in storage sheds—these things are the true horrors in this world. As for myself, I do not feel I am a horror writer; rather, I feel I am a writer. Simple as that. 
 
What projects do you have in the works? Where can readers find your work online/in stores?
 
My latest completed manuscript, just sent to my publisher, concerns a wounded American soldier having just returned from Iraq, now on his honeymoon on Hilton Head Island. The man character finds himself slowly sinking in the personal turmoil of what he'd witnessed and participated in while overseas in Iraq while, at the same time, dealing with the repercussions of such conscious personal betrayal and the affect it is having on his new bride and their fresh marriage. It is about internal conflict and the crosses we all carry. As for previous work, my latest novel, The Fall of Never, was just published through Raw Dog Screaming Press, and can be purchased at pretty much any major bookstore or online distributor, such as amazon.com. I'm extremely proud of this novel, and from feedback I've heard thus far, it is being well-received. Which means my royalty statements should continue to perpetuate my consumption of whiskey.

Read Malfi's story: Discussions Concerning the Ingestion of Living Insects


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