2017 – 2018 has been a busy season for Ann Sterzinger. In just a few short months, the prolific writer/critic has released a fitness guide, the first novel of a dystopian sci-fi trilogy and a series of well-received articles lampooning everything from Roseanne-haters to Millennial-centric culture to ammosexuals. She also traveled to Europe twice this year to give talks on her French translation work and be harassed in cafes by Albanians. On April 18th she is set to continue this whirlwind of activity with release of The Seine Vendetta, the first in her series of Lisa LaRoche military-espionage thrillers from Storm Rhino Press. Even a week before publication, The Seine Vendetta is already receiving critical acclaim. Storm Rhino Embedded catches up with Sterzinger in the basement of a bombed-out school in Algeria, where she is playing poker with a misfit crew of mercs and military contractors in-country to battle the local ISIS loons. Our interview, conducted between the comings and goings of a sultry Algerian waitress and punctuated by howls of mortar fire, is as wide-ranging as it is revealing. Sterzinger isn’t afraid to speak her mind – or drop a hand to the butt of the Sig-Sauer P226 on her hip when she senses a shady deal. It is no surprise that the biggest pile of chips is hers. In a winner-take-all world, the lady likes to win.
Who or what inspired you to write?
I barely recall. I taught myself to read before kindergarten by reading the comics in the local newspaper, and I didn’t know at that age where books or comics came from. I vaguely figured it was the gods, I suppose. The moment I found out that people made them, I wanted to be those people.
You’ve written mystery, sci-fi, gallows humor, social commentary – lots of stuff – but action fiction is new for Ann Sterzinger. How did you feel making the jump into a new genre? How was the experience of writing a revenge thriller?
After giving it a shot, I can’t believe I haven’t tried this genre before. It’s tailor made for me. After finishing it, I realized my science fiction series (Elektras Revenge; the first book, Lyfe, is already out) was also kind of a revenge thriller. You want an angry bitch who’s out for blood, you want one of my characters.
Given your intelligence and education, why have you opted for a life of working-class misery and unremitting artistic toil? What keeps you from selling out like everyone else?
Everyone has sold out? Tell that to the thousands of novelists that nobody reads because no one reads novels. Well, that and because most of them suck. Particularly the ones who write “novels” (or so they call them) but don’t read. (They’re ruining the market with noise and should be killed, by the way.) I don’t suck, but I have made the incredibly stupid mistake of being born at the wrong time and choosing the wrong parents, silly me.
In all seriousness, my mistakes are even stupider than that. I’m not a social creature, I don’t toe the hard-left political line that is mandatory for all “arteests” these days, and I prefer to spend my precious time learning to write fiction than learning to write blog posts for SEO. I would certainly do both if I had the time, but as I have had to work a day job my entire life I had to pick one, and quality it is.
You would think that the Internet would let the cream rise to the top, but in the immortal words of Jarvis Cocker, shit floats. The old system of gatekeeping was deeply flawed, but at least publishers gave a boost to writers whose work they believed in and let them write, and their support gave those authors credence and prestige. (Credence and prestige are important because most people are too stupid and lazy to try new things without being told that everyone else is doing it.) Now literary prestige comes in the form of Twitter followers and social networks. Which is funny, because the best writers of fiction are solitary, and have better things to do than to spend all day harassing celebrities and bullshitting about their political obsessions on Twitter in hopes of getting a jump in followers.
The writers who are getting ahead now are deeply mediocre: good enough to not completely suck, but too busy preening for their social media audience and “crafting” clickbait blog posts and other disposable “content” (god, do I hate that word) to concentrate on writing a meaningful, timeless, or even well-thought-out narrative arc. You can only do so much in a day, and the shallowest shit is what gets you attention. The market is fucked.
It’s even more fucked by the fact that ideologues clog the few literary institutions that still have any power. If you don’t have a huge Twitter account and you want to try to get a review to help you out instead, God help you if you aren’t a hard leftist. They systematically exclude everyone who doesn’t think exactly like them, and then they wonder why the general public doesn’t read their awful, preachy books. The only alternative is a small camp of equally ideologically sclerotic right-wing counter-counter-culturalists. Never mind the fact that any art that’s ideological isn’t art, it’s propaganda. Anyone who wants art to be a morality play is terrible and should be shot in the face along with the novelists who don’t read. You’re only making life worse for everyone else with your garbage.
Wait, wait, no… the real reason I’m living a life of toil is because I truly believe in the words of the prophet Karl Marx (“Your money or your life!”, I believe it was) and I wish to exist in sinless poverty so that I might become the true savior of the big rock candy guillotine mountain. Aren’t you envious?
Okay, quick! Star Trek or Star Wars?
In a movie of your life, who would you pick to play you? What would you choose to be the theme song?
I would pick Reese Witherspoon to play me, as punishment for what she did to Becky Sharpe’s character in Vanity Fair. Read it; Becky Sharp was a wonderful piece of satire, a thoroughly unlikeable character that you somehow loved nonetheless, and old Reese’s Piece tried to turn Becky into the same sappy, cheesecake version of herself that she always plays. So I would force her to play me to atone for her sins, and I would force her to play me right. No simpering, you puke. She doesn’t look anything like me, but we would do what we could.
The theme song? Hmm … probably “Common People” by Pulp. Or Mozart’s Requiem. Maybe both. But definitely Dead Kennedys. “Holiday in Cambodia.”
We couldn’t agree more …
[death-chopper graphic by Kody Boye]