Marilyn Macron is a practicing attorney and promoter of reading under The Literary Chick™. Here, she talks with Stefan Kiesbye about his latest book, Berlingeles. Berlingeles is a move towards cyberpunk, a genre that is new to Kiesbye, who has worked mostly in the German Gothic vein. In Berlingeles, Kiesbye gives us a Los Angeles on the precipice of a civil war, superimposing the upheaval of Germany and its resulting Wall on the City of Angels through a cyberpunk lens. Kiesbye was the recipient of the Low Fidelity Press Novella Award and teaches creative writing at Sonoma State University. He and his wife Sanaz live with their two dogs near Santa Rosa, California.
MARILYN MACRON: Berlingeles is quite a different ride than your German Gothic tales. Cyberpunk, apocalyptic, dystopian, social commentary, political, what would you categorize it as?
What inspired you to write this?
What comparable trauma do you see with the culture or populace of Berlin and Los Angeles that would give you the idea to create a story about a civil war and a Wall in Los Angeles?
Berlin and LA, to me, display lifestyles atypical to the rest of the country. The sensation of living on an island is mostly cultural. In West Berlin from 1961-89, there was, of course, a physical barrier, but the main difference was not the Wall, it was the way Berliners felt excused from Nazi atrocities. It was about showcasing Western democracy in the middle of East Germany. West Berlin created its own myth and lifestyle — David Bowie resided in the Dschungel, Peter Gabriel and U2 and Depeche Mode recorded in the city. Berlin was a feeling, a statement, a terminally ill patient everybody wanted to hold hands with.
Los Angeles is not enclosed by a wall, but by the desert. It’s a city that shouldn’t “be there.” It’s the capital of gated communities, of people moving behind walls to feel safe. It’s money that buys you a spot in a small enclave of people with similar incomes. The better the money, the higher the wall. Then there’s the odd phenomenon of people not leaving their neighborhoods. When we moved from Koreatown to Long Beach, we lost all our friends, as though there really was a wall around the neighborhoods.
Berlin was too important to be abandoned by the West. Similarly, if America were to be divided geographically, I don’t think either side would willingly surrender Los Angeles. As K. writes to B., “LA was the center of dreams, making up the narratives for the whole nation. A body needs to rest and dream, and how could America ever rest again without Los Angeles providing its dreams?”
In some of your other works such as Knives, Forks, Scissors, Flames and Your House Is On Fire Your Children All Gone, there is a tension in the villages that appears it could ignite into Elias Canetti’s worst mob mentality scenarios in Crowds and Power. Is it the urban nature of cities as opposed to villages that brought that latent threat in your previous books to this cataclysmic point?
In cities, violence and power are fractured and can cause the system to fracture. Nothing can be concluded quickly. Violence can spread and set other communities ablaze. Violence in cities is less personal and not easily quelled. It’s also more destructive. Villagers own their village and want to preserve it, but nobody owns large cities.