The following text is Robert Stark’s transcript of an interview with Andy Nowicki for The Stark Truth. Unfortunately, the audio quality of the original interview turned out to be unfit for podcasting.
Robert: I’m joined here with Andy Nowicki, and we’re going to be discussing his latest work Beauty and the Least. It’s published by Ann Sterzinger’s Hopeless Books.
Andy: Thank you Robert for having me on your show again. It’s very good to be with you, and as you say, my latest work is entitled Beauty and the Least, and I’m very excited to have it out and to have it published by my good friend Ann Sterzinger, and her fledgling company, her feisty little company Hopeless Books, which can be reached at hopelessbooks.blogspot.com. There’s one of her own works The Talkative Corpse, and she’s done a couple of other things with some other authors, but I’m very happy to have my seventh work be published through Hopeless Books.
Robert: I guess where we can start off is she wrote the introduction to your book, and the introduction is not necessarily about the story itself, but she talks a little bit about the philosophical debates that you and Ann have had.
Andy: Well yes, Ann wrote the introduction, and she talks a little bit about how she and I first met, and it’s a very witty and complimentary intro. But as she points out, we kind of approach the subject the same way but from very different points of view. She is someone who takes intellectual pessimism to I guess its logical extreme. She has a rather tragic view of life, and she’s a very fun and funny person, so I don’t want anyone to think this carries over into her personality. She’s a likable girl but has a very dark pessimistic view of things.
And I think that I have a similar point of view in some ways, but, as she mentions, I approach the subject matter a little differently in that I am a Catholic, and so I believe that even though life is difficult and sometimes unbearably difficult that there has to be meaning to it, and even if the meaning is sometimes difficult to decipher and sometimes is an unhappy meaning, there is still a sacredness to life that I kind of take as a given.
So again, the intro is a very well written, and I was very charmed and pleased by it. It points out more or less how we found each other. We both published through Chip Smith’s Nine-Banded Books. She has a book called NVSQVAM which is translated as “nowhere,” which is published by Nine-Banded Books. And my first novel, Considering Suicide, is also published by Nine-Banded Books. And that’s how we got to know each other, and things have gone on from there.
Robert: Yeah, well you had a debate with her over the issue of abortion, and you were saying it was probably the most civil debates about abortion that’s ever taken place.
Andy: Well, yeah that’s something she points out, the extreme contentious, beyond contentious issue of abortion on which I guess we differ, since for Ann, since life is bad, or earth is tragedy, and I guess as someone who has pledged never to have children herself so for her anything that prevents birth is good.
Robert: Well she views it as an act of mercy.
Andy: Yeah I think so.
Robert: And you don’t agree with that?
Andy: No I don’t, but I think she sees it, she sees abortion as a tragedy in itself, but that it’s a tragedy that from her point of view that prevents a larger tragedy, which is life. Again this is one prong of Ann’s philosophy which is something that we differ fundamentally on. But I think we can have a civil conversation about it because we really have a similar point of view in many ways, and of course we both have a similar feeling detestation for predominant the Zeitgeist of our time. When you’re together in that bunker that forges a bond.
Robert: I think there is an inherent philosophical difference. While Ann’s view is that human existence is tragic in its own right, a lot of traditionalist and alternative right types take a view that its modern culture and society lacks value as opposed to life itself.
Andy: Yes, I think it’s possible to have a tragic view of life without having a nihilistic view of life. Obviously life is not all fun and laughs, and there is some majorly terrible things that we have to deal with in our lives. But I think the important thing is to find meaning in it, and once you believe you’re here for a reason, that ennobles everything that you might face or might have to go through.
Robert: You’re coming from a religious and spiritual point of view, but if one doesn’t believe in a higher power then what is there of value in human existence?
Andy: It’s not like I don’t have any secular friends. But I can’t fathom going through life with their perspective, with that point of view. I need something greater to get me through, to again help me put the things that I have to deal with—the tragedies, the burdens—to help put those things in a particular perspective that helps me again to go beyond the tragedy and the tumult.
Robert: And then there are those who are secular and take pleasure in hedonism.
Andy: Well again, I guess it’s totally unfathomable thing for me. I mean I get pleasure, and believe me I understand I like to feel good more than I like to feel bad. I don’t understand nihilistic hedonism. I don’t understand how people who eat, drink, and be merry, because tomorrow we’ll die. That whole, “and that’s all there is.” I have to say that doesn’t work for me.
Robert: With your book, you have the main character. Start off by describing him. I guess he doesn’t have a name.
Andy: Once again I have nameless first-person narrator. I guess that’s a gimmick I’ve used a couple times before. And I find that namelessness in itself can be compelling and can reveal things about the character in a way that a name would somehow be limiting. That makes any sense at all? So yeah you’re right, and if it doesn’t scream out, and if the story doesn’t scream out his name, his name is X, then I don’t want to have him assigned an arbitrary name. So yeah the main character in my novella Beauty and the Least is nameless, or at least we never know what his name is. And over the course of the story he becomes smitten with a young girl. He’s a middle-aged man who feels a great deal of emptiness in his life, and in much of the book is speaking of things that give our lives meaning. He’s of course smitten, he’s taken with this young girl in a way that somewhat recalls Dante’s obsession with his muse Beatrice, and a real influence on Dante’s book A New Life which was kind of his prequel to The Divine Comedy. It was a big influence here. Except in the case of this story this character’s muse becomes an obsession and an unhealthy obsession.
Robert: About the concept of beauty, let’s face it most people are not beautiful, so there is something almost otherworldly about beauty.
Andy: Yeah there is, there’s something. I’m an aesthete in some ways, because I find beauty brightens my day. I guess that’s a corny way to say it. But I don’t just mean the beauty of a woman; I mean the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals, like Hamlet says. There is something to beauty that calls attention to itself and makes you stand up and notice, and you feel that you are part of something that’s bigger than yourself, become taken with beauty. The thing is when you try to isolate it in a way that’s not proper, which is what the character of the story ends up doing, than you’re in for a rough time.
Robert: And would you say there is a spiritual component to beauty?
Andy: I would say there is a spiritual component. I’m sure Heaven is beautiful, and I have no conception of what it might look like. I’m sure that if God came and appeared to you or me, it would be a beautiful sight. Or one of the angels. I’ve never seen an angel in my life, but I would imagine that an angel would be beautiful. So yeah, there definitely is a spiritual component. It’s not just a physical thing. It’s not just an issue of lust, although that affects the protagonist and eventually leads to his downfall. So beauty is multidimensional. It’s physical, and it’s spiritual.
Robert: The main character wrote a book a while back similar to The Columbine Pilgrim. So again it’s semi-autobiographical.
Andy: Yeah, I’m glad that you caught that. It was just a sly little self-referential thing that I threw in there. Yeah the character in the book is this kind of washed-up middle-aged man who’s working this dead end cubicle job but who’s also a writer and whose career showed some promise a few years back when he wrote this stunningly violent and perverse novel about a man who goes back to his high school reunion and murders all his enemies in a shooting spree. I never used the title The Columbine Pilgrim, but I kind of have a twinkle in my eye.
Robert: And you never wrote a sequel to that. I think when I interviewed you a while back I asked you if you were going to write a sequel about what happened to Tony Meander’s baby.
Andy: That’s right, and you weren’t the only one who asked me that, and I can take that as a compliment, people being interesting in seeing more. I see that story as basically being over for now. Maybe inspiration will strike in the future. But I put that detail in, and a couple other details, that are autobiographical.
Robert: Yeah, like you said he is a bald guy in his early forties.
Andy: Well there’s that too.
Robert: Yeah, when I read the book I can’t help but picture you in the church.
Andy: Yeah well, I hope that doesn’t ruin things too much for you to imagine me as the main character. I should hasten to say that it’s not meant to be. The event in this story is not autobiographical. There are some details that are on me in certain ways. It goes in a supernatural direction, kind of like in Heart Killer, which you’ve interviewed me about as well. Again I don’t want to give it away, but there is a way in which seduction plays a role in this story, not a typical kind of seduction. It’s not an everyday kind of seduction.
Robert: You don’t want to say exactly what it is. You want to keep it semi-mysterious.
Andy: Well semi-mysterious just to bait the audience. I will say the character discovers that maybe, possibly he has ability to communicate telepathically, and to move outside of his body. And he uses this power to seduce and corrupt this young girl.
Robert: OK, so you basically gave it away, so I’ll just say it. He has sex with her telepathically.
Andy: Well yes. But it’s not clear. It’s never totally clear. You never as a reader know what happens. Whether it’s in his mind. I kind of like playing with that.
Robert: So maybe it does happen, or maybe he’s just a crazy guy with a vivid imagination.
Andy: Yeah right, but either way I think what takes place is meaningful in that we’re seeing into his mind. He both feels lustful urges towards her but at the same time he has this weirdly protective fatherly.
Robert: Yeah, he sees her as pure, and there is a scene, were she’s with her boyfriend, and he worries about her going off to college and being defiled.
Andy: Yes, all things. So the point is love can be strange and contradictory, as I’m sure anyone who’s been in love knows. You want this person for yourself, yet you want this person to be happy. You want to defile and corrupt this person, but you also want this person to be good and to remain undefiled, and so you struggle the mutually contradictory psychological urges and that’s just how it is sometimes
Robert: So what is this vivid image he has of her being defiled in the future?
Andy: When the book is set, this is a girl who is either a junior or senior in high school, and she’s very devout, and she goes to mass regularly, and she has a boyfriend, but they seem to be devout. So the main character in the book doesn’t get the impression that they are having sex, that they haven’t been corrupted or fornicating or anything like that. But what he fears is that he gets the impression that he’s a lot more into her, that her boyfriend is more into her than vice versa. And so he feels that she’s going to break up with him, and then go off to college and do the all-too-typical thing where during the freshman experience as it’s called, by some campus Lothario. And he’s horrified to think of these things happening to her. And not just out of desire but out of a desire to arrest this fall to stop her from going down this trajectory. So again he has very complicated feelings. Of course once he taps into his power, things go down a certain path. He wants to undo what he’s done, but by that time maybe it’s too late. Or maybe it’s all in his head. We just don’t know.
Robert: Does the story take place in a specific location, and how relevant is that? I know there is a scene where he breaks into her house, and it’s in an exclusive gated community that’s set on a bay. And since you’re in Savannah, Georgia, I kind of picture it taking place somewhere like that.
Andy: Well yeah, I’m not specific about any geographic details, because I think if I said this story is Savannah or this story is set where ever, or in Maine, whatever, that would have distracted from the plot. But it is set near a bay, and he doesn’t break into her house. What he does is he breaks into her neighborhood, which is a gated community that’s very nice, and for him has this feeling of like an Eden. It’s like this perfect unspoiled place, and he sneaks in, and it looks like he belongs there, so nothing happens. They just let him in to where her house his. And it’s in a gated community with nice homes, a sheltered area. I wanted to just underline the point that the main character is a guy who lives in this grungy, dingy apartment with his family, with his wife and two kids.
Robert: And his life is very empty, he has a shitty job, and he has a wife that he no longer loves or feels any passion for, and he is searching for something deeper, and then she comes along and fills in that void. And then there is a conflict between his religious convictions and his lust for her.
Andy: Yeah, it almost sounds just like one of those annoying stories about a middle-aged man’s midlife crisis.
Robert: Yeah, like the movie American Beauty.
Andy: Yeah, a little bit, the Kevin Spacey character. When did that movie come out? What was it ’98 or ’99? But yeah, there’s something of that same vibe. There’s not a lot of love between the man and his wife. After starting writing this book, that was a semi-success, but didn’t really go anywhere, and they had to sell their house, and move into this apartment. So where he lives is a very different kind of place.
Robert: And he says that he was once beautiful himself, but now he sees himself as ugly or at the very least average.
Andy: Yes he remembers seeing pictures of himself when he was a boy, and that he was taken aback by what a beautiful boy he was. And somehow this is sort of his muse. He pounders to himself the fact that he was once beautiful, but now he’s not. Is that part of the thing that led him to this beautiful girl? And it’s all in the context of this larger sort of meditation on beauty, which is really an interesting thing to me.
Robert: What are some of the responses you have gotten from the book?
Andy: I published it and showed it to some people, and some of them really liked it, thought it was the best thing I have ever written. Others wondered this or that. Matt Forney has written a review. He’s the one guy on the internet who’s reviewed it. He seems to like the themes but points out it’s a little short.
Robert: Yeah, when I read the book I noticed that it ends abruptly.
Andy: Well I would say to that. People are going to feel the way they feel, but I don’t think there is any reason to make something longer than it needs to be, and I don’t ever feel the need to add filler. It’s lean and mean; every sentence has to be there for a reason. Beauty and the Least was originally something that I had conceived of being part of this larger collection of short stories, which is something that I haven’t published yet. That is something that I am under contract for with ER Books the same company that did Heart Killer. I’ve got a collection of short stories with them coming up, and this was originally going to be one of them. But it works best as a standalone. It’s as you say on the shorter side. It’s around eleven thousand words, but it’s also cheap. You can get it for just three dollars on Kindle
Robert: So is there a paperback version, or is it just Kindle?
Andy: There is a paperback version as well. It’s not any longer than it needs to be. We definitely know when it’s over. We don’t exactly know what has happened. We know that if things literally happened, that this man is in for some terrible spiritual and worldly hurt. Or maybe it’s all in his head. And I end it there at that point, just because some ambiguity is a satisfying way to end the story.
Robert: There are some graphic erotic parts of the book. There’s one scene where she’s lying in bed in her panties, and he imagines her having golden pubes.
Andy: She has golden hair on her head so the drapes would match. What’s that expression?
Robert: Yeah, do the carpets match the drapes?
Andy: Well, I guess it’s somewhat explicit. I don’t think it’s as explicit as explicit gets, but it’s the usual. Yeah there are some erotic scenes.
Robert: And you’re kind of shocked because you don’t expect her to want to be with him.
Andy: Yeah well, I guess it’s described in the book as surprising. And there’s a form that he takes that’s a much more powerful and potent form. Which again is a parallel to those who have read by book Heart Killer.
Robert: Yeah he goes back in time.
Andy: Right. In that case he is there bodily, but he has the experience of someone who has lived forty something years of life in a teenage body.
Robert: Maybe for your next book you can write about telepathic seduction and how you can be successful at it.
Andy: I’ll tell you how you can do it to and buy my book and be a telepathic seducer. It’s a good idea.
Robert: Is there anything else you would like to add about this book?
Andy: Well like I said you can find it on Amazon. There’s a Kindle version, and there’s a paperback version. Its short, but it packs a punch. It’s both a meditation on the concept of beauty, and a fraught relationship between beauty and the least. The main character obviously. That’s a play on Beauty and the Beast.
Robert: So is he kind of supposed to be like the Beast?
Andy: He is kind of like the Beast; again I suggest that subtly through the title. And yes, as Matt says in his review it’s not a violent story. There’s some sex, some eroticism, if that’s what piques your interest. It’s a kind of story that is a psychological horror, in that what happens, what plays out has consequences. So it’s not an irresponsible story; it’s not like a . . .
Robert: A Penthouse novel.
Andy: It’s not a Penthouse novel. Those are the two sides of the coin. It’s a story that wants to show eroticism in a way that is erotic. But I’m writing from a place that is moral, that hopes for a moral backbone, a moral compass. I want to show the consequences of those things. So, ultimately, it’s the consequences of all of this that gives it a powerful punch, that the ending delivers, and as a horror novel. There’s a horrific aspect, and maybe again to call it a psychological thriller with certain supernatural elements would be appropriate.
But as I said, you can find it on Amazon.com, and you can also at Hopeless Books, Ann’s company which published this novel. Ann wrote the introduction and it can be found at hopelessbooks.blogspot.com.
Robert: Andy thanks for being on the show.