Today in the Madhouse, I'm happy to host my lovely friend, Erik Hofstatter, and chat about his latest book release, The Crabian Heart. Erik and I, despite the ocean between us, have become fast, dear friends over the past two years, and it brings me great pleasure to host him here today, because this book (along with his next release, Toroa, which I penned the introduction for) is a real treat, albeit a heartbreakingly beautiful one. Filled with sea metaphors and delicious bouts of body horror, this is a story that questions as much as it answers.
I do hope you'll give it a try, but until then, let's get talk writing.
With seashells and pincers,
Stephanie M. Wytovich
Tell us about your book. What gave you the idea to create this world, and in your opinion, what does it represent at its most literal and figurative heights?
The story was inspired by a brutal heartache and takes place in Dover, England. It documents the arrival of two refugees. A mother and her teenage son. Both are trapped in a political limbo for the duration of their asylum claim. The boy spends most of his time on a local beach, where he befriends a destitute girl called Enola (alone) and gradually falls in love with her.
I think in its literal sense, the piece explores conflicting views on immigration in the age of Trump and Brexit, but also deeper, more primal instincts such as the mechanics of love. Figuratively, it represents our fear of loneliness and the ultimate quest for acceptance.
What was your favorite part of the story to create and explore, and then to play devil’s advocate, what was the hardest for you? Did you find any of it cathartic to write about, and if so, in what way?
The entire process was cathartic, yes. A form of self-therapy. When I began to outline the story, I wanted to explore the psychological impact immigration has on a child (based on my own experiences) so I designed a plot where Aleš finds a crab on the beach and decides to keep it as a pet. Each morning, the boy discovers small incisions in his forearm. The mother suspects self-harming due to isolation and laments for his detained father, but in fact, the incisions are created by the knife-wielding crab while he sleeps. That was the original outline, or part of it. But then I was plunged into emotional maelstrom by the sudden departure of my fiancée. After five years together, she decided that we were no longer right for each other.
I’ve always been a naïve romantic, a prisoner of my own heart. She was my true love and I literally went from getting married in couple of weeks to being all alone again. I was devastated. I lost seven kilos, my hair started thinning, and I’m still reading self-help books six months later. To preserve my sanity, I immersed myself in writing.
As I wrote, my feelings drifted further and further from the outline. I surrendered to the pain in my heart and allowed it to produce an entirely different interpretation. It was astonishing. A tsunami of words from an uncharted ocean. I think I reached my creative peak with The Crabian Heart.
My favorite part to explore was the dysfunctional relationship between Enola and Aleš. To expose the ugly side of love and shatter his childish naivety. As for the hardest, the story is semi-autobiographical. The arrival in Dover, the hotel, detainment of my father─all true. And there is of course my own heartbreak. Some of those memories were difficult to excavate.
Alright, let’s talk crabs (ha). What made you pick this crustacean (or creature) to write about?
I think the idea was first conceived when a friend of mine showed me a viral video of a crab, wielding a knife in its pincer, and advancing at the camera holder as if threatening to stab him. The clip had a somewhat comical effect on my pal, but I was fascinated. There was a story, begging to be told.
There is a heavy influence of body horror in this book, so I’m wondering who your influences are in that respect, and most importantly, what your favorite body horror example is in horror. For me, most of my favorites exist in Cronenberg land.
Agreed. Cronenberg is a legend. I was brought up on films like Scanners and The Fly. As for the transformation in the book, it just flowed─there was no particular inspiration. But some of my recent favorites and fine examples of body horror include American Mary, Tusk, Spring, and The Skin I Live In.
I really enjoyed the sea metaphors in your book. What draws you to the ocean and what does it represent to you in this piece specifically?
The deep sea is rich with mysteries. Majority of people have a fascination with the unknown. I don’t have a logical explanation for the metaphors. Escapism, I think. That’s why I’m so proud of this story, from a creative perspective. The changing colors of the ocean and how they respond to one’s heart, women with pincers, the sacrifices made in pursuit of eternal love─all dictated by my fractured heart instead of brain. Most of my stories involve excessive plotting, so this was a refreshing (but equally distressing) change.
But as for the representation, we live in a damaged world. Existence is pain. I aimed to tell a tale where the ocean represented a gateway into another realm. An idyllic realm where pure, eternal love existed, and was rewarded. An Atlantis for the broken hearted. A place I long to see.
How would you describe your writing style to those who are new to your work? Do you find yourself evolving as a writer? And if so, in what ways?
A friend and fellow author described me as a “schlock” horror writer (she made comparisons to Brian Keene), but I haven’t read any of his books yet so can’t say if that label is accurate or not. I tend to write about urban horror and the human experience. As for evolving, yes, absolutely. I think my skill as a storyteller constantly grows and I strive for my book to be of higher quality than the last.
Usually when I write, I drink coffee, sometimes wine if I’m feeling crazy, and on occasion, I’ll reward myself with M&Ms after a certain word count. Do you prefer coffee, tea, or booze when you write? Are there any rewards you give yourself as your move along in the drafting stage?
I tend to drink black coffee when I write, but it depends on my mood, as I often switch to green or rooibos tea. Booze restricts my writing. It limits my concentration and I end up staring at a wall, questioning my life choices, rather than spitting out words on the page. I postpone the alcoholic reward until I have the final product in my hands. Then it’s time to surf giant whisky waves.
What books are sitting in your TBR pile?
Master of the Moors & Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke, Let the Old Dreams Die by John Ajvide Lindqvist, A Kiss of Thorns by Tim Waggoner, Furnace by Livia Llewellyn.
What is next in store for your readers?
I intend to go on a hiatus for the remainder of the year, so I can emotionally recuperate, but a short novel (Toroa) will be published in spring 2018 via Sinister Grin Press.
Bio: Erik Hofstatter is a dark fiction writer and a member of the Horror Writers Association. Born in the wild lands of the Czech Republic, he roamed Europe before subsequently settling on English shores, studying creative writing at the London School of Journalism. He now dwells in Kent, where he can be encountered consuming copious amounts of mead and tyrannizing local peasantry. His work appeared in various magazines and podcasts around the world such as Morpheus Tales, Crystal Lake Publishing, The Literary Hatchet, Sanitarium Magazine, Wicked Library, Tales to Terrify and Manor House Show. Other works include The Pariahs, Amaranthine and Other Stories, Katerina, Moribund Tales and Rare Breeds.
"...the emotional tug that The Crabian Heart exerts on the reader is palpable. The Crabian Heart is also a coming-of-age tale, one that resonates with the pangs of unrequited love. And as such, it concludes, like all great coming-of-age stories, with a very difficult and painful realisation for the love-struck main character. By the end of its 100 pages you will find yourself both haunted and moved by Hofstatter's evocative writing." - Starburst Magazine
"I like this little collection a lot. Definitely a case of bigger not always being better. Hofstatter could have watered this down with more words, but that would have taken the impact out of the stories. I also like how he slips a lot of important messages into his work. For example "people are scared of what they don't know...or understand," says Enola, as she and Ales walk along the beach. Zsofia tells him that life is a gamble and his mother points out that the powers that be make the rules that govern us and we have to go where they tell us to. Ultimately, the decisions of what we do are ours." - Hellnotes
Find him at:
Facebook: Erik Hofstatter