Hi Sherv, which book are we talking about?
Sherv Jamali: By Vardo, Mostly, written by Bradley Ernst.
What’s the synopsis?
Cleveland’s got diversity and missionaries and sewage-surfing and bookstores and autistics: I’m one of them—Belle. Come have coffee with me and I’ll tell you about myself. Wait … I’m mute, so I can’t.
I’ve got a cat aptly named Queequeg, a Tourette’s-afflicted Myna bird named Epiphany, a mother who suffers from RBF (resting bitch face), a father who performs acrobatics on a ladder, and a beautiful sister who doesn’t, in fact, have chlamydia.
Don’t pity me, I won’t have it. Things could be worse: I’m neither a cutter nor a stabber nor a public masturbator, and I’m loved. Are you?
Beneath the awkward mask fate painted on me, I do have a voice. Try having complicated opinions whilst unable to communicate them—the awareness of great words you’ll never say aloud.
If you stop dwelling on masturbation, I’ll point out that despite the hassles I create for my loved ones, I deal with my autism more than anyone else.
When I think of autism in fiction I think Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. How does Ernst write Belle? Is it a book about her autism, or is it a characteristic?
Her autism is not central to the tale, rather an impediment. Ernst makes Belle explain it initially and then it’s only mentioned again when it causes Belle frustration. She is well-read, a voracious reader in fact, and incredibly intelligent, but lacks the ability to communicate her thoughts. She is also outraged by social injustice. Much of the story is her inner monologue on display. This plucky young protagonist will steal the reader’s heart.
Belle is mute. Does Ernst convey her thought processes through action as well as internal monologue? Can you give an example?
Yes, definitely. Some of her interactions are with her father, a wonderful character in his own right, who adores his daughter. He used to have breakfast with her sitting on his lap and read her the comics from the newspaper. One particular one elicits laughter from him. Here’s what follows:
Caught up in that moment with my father’s belly shaking, I’d wanted to share a joke too. Since Dad focused harder than anyone to decipher my squawks into understandable messages, I took a chance. One of my triangles of bacon had curled into the shape of a little duck. I bounced it along on the newspaper to make it walk. What I said to Dad was, “Look at my little bacon-duck, Daddy.” And laughed. But what Dad heard, because it was the nonsensical sound I’d made, was “Eeeallabeee?” Dad either thought I was scared, upset, or overwhelmed…something more or less terrible rather than elated, which was the emotion I’d attempted to convey. We never shared bacon again…or even the comics.
One review, in regard to one of Ernst’s thrillers, said the work is a genre in itself because it felt like nothing he’d read before.
Does By Vardo, Mostly fit into a category?
In my review of the book, I specifically mention that I would have trouble defining its genre. Ernst himself calls it a tragicomedy and chose to categorize it as dark humor and satire. I might go so far as to call it metaphysical/visionary.
That can sound quite cold. Is the novel a mental exercise or does warmth run through it?
I can’t say for certain, as I’m not inside Ernst’s head, but wish I could be for a day (haha)! I suppose it was a mental exercise for him to write, striving to create unique fiction. Oh yes, there is plenty of warmth throughout the bugger, that’s for certain. All the way to the wonderful climax, which I can’t reveal, but there may be some sort of parade involved.
What’s Belle’s motivation in life. What’s she aiming for?
Ultimately, to be heard, I think, rather than pitied. To find her voice and the confidence to use it. To make a difference. To crawl out of her own skin where she’s been held prisoner. It’s a wonderful journey of self-realization and finally actualization.
Does she have an antagonist?
You have to remember it’s been near two years since I read it last and probably over a hundred books since. I don’t recall a clear cut antagonist. Perhaps she’s her own antagonist. She has to overcome herself, her limitations. Or her antagonist might be conditions: fear, awkwardness, silence, etc.
How did you discover Ernst’s work?
We met on Goodreads. I sent him a message inquiring about his debut novel, Inhumanum, offering to read/review it, and perhaps he’d be interested in The Devil’s Lieutenant. Quid pro quo. To which he responded, quid pro sure. We gifted one another copies. Mine being a novella, he got through it before I finished his, but I remember saying to my wife halfway through the read, “This is brilliant. I’ll never be able to write like this.” Anyway, that’s how we became friends.
By Vardo, Mostly is more a coming-of-age tale. Does Ernst slide across genres with ease? Which do you prefer?
I can’t say I have a preference. His writing chops are also on full display in his other books, both thrillers. Having read all three of his books, I think Made Men is my favorite since the characters are so memorable. I think the best way to describe Ernst’s writing is that it’s not just good, it’s also got a lot of soul. There are a lot of good writers out there, but maybe only a handful where, after reading one of their books, you wish you could meet them for a beer.
Ernst said he laughed and cried as he wrote By Vardo, Mostly. Did he push your tears out in floods?
That doesn’t surprise me one bit. I recently experienced that with my own writings. He’s the type who gets a lot of AHA moments whilst writing, immerses himself in his characters completely. As to my tears, maybe a dripping faucet, not a flood.
You said you wouldn’t be able to write like Ernst. We all have our styles – do you think you have reached a style now that is up there with Ernst?
Yes, we all have our styles, but we’re also constantly evolving, aren’t we? Having written three books now, it’s probably safe to say that I’ve developed a style of my own. Whether it’s on par with Ernst, I don’t know. That’s for others to decide. I think we’re both good at telling stories. Mine tend to be crazy and out there, maybe even campy. His are more down to earth and thought-provoking. I think I excel at dialogue whereas his strength lies in prose. We each have strengths and weaknesses, don’t we? Then again, maybe Ernst is a rare breed of author. With no weaknesses. Two out of the three books he’s written are probably in my top five all-time favorites list. That’s quite an accomplishment, wouldn’t you say?
That’s some praise. Which 3 other books make up your top 5?
Way to put me on the spot (haha). Definitely The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is another potential candidate. The last spot is a toss-up between The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen, and just about anything by Alexander Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers. What about your top five, Jason?
In no particular order, I’d go with American Tabloid by James Ellroy. That thing scared me under the nearest pillow.
The Crow Road by Iain Banks. It has a great meandering quality to it which you can live in, though it ends in a murder uncovered.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock. I’m not a man for fantasy novels, but if they were all like this I’d read them all day.
And Matador by Ray Banks. Bleak, cruel, and has a drive which forces the pages to turn.
Is By Vardo, Mostly film-able?
I loved The Shadow of the Wind also. I’ve heard good things about Iain Banks but have yet to dabble. I’ve pushed away from mainstream reading. Those authors don’t need my readership or reviews and they charge an arm and a leg for their Kindle editions. For the past two years I’ve been focused on finding Indie authors, like yourself for example, and certainly Ernst, building relationships and friendships in the process, a support community if you will. But I digress…
Definitely film-able. If one could make the argument that The Book Thief and The Reader had movie chops, then I would put Vardo in that vein also.
Who would play Belle in the movie?
Oooh, I don’t know. Dakota Fanning maybe, made up to look less cute? Or is she too old? Perhaps some unknown young newcomer.
You’re about to release your new book, Remember. Who would star in that?
If you’d finish reading the bugger, you’d know the answer to that question. Haha. Maybe Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone for the younger version of the couple. I recently watched La La Land for the third time. Love that film and their chemistry. As for the older version of the couple, Streep and Redford, although the latter might be looking too old for the part. As for Michael, Tom Hardy or Brad Pitt.
Sherv, you’ve been great. I’m looking forward to reading Bradley Ernst. You’ve got the third part of your Hell series on the way. When’s it out, and what comes after?
Thanks for having me, pal. The next book in the series is titled The Unholy Trinity. I don’t know when it will be out but I have 8K words penned toward the bugger. I’ve also written the ending already, which means there will be a fourth book, likely to be titled The End of Days. Also working on an unnamed project based on a strange dream I had. You’ll enjoy Ernst. Start with Inhumanum. That’s what got me on board.
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