Some Thoughts with … E. Rathke
E. Rathke is the author of Glossolalia and several more forthcoming novellas. He writes about games and books at radicaledward.substack.com.
Welcome to my favourite section of the blog. Today we have the presence of E. Rathke, author of the unconventional novella Glossolalia.
Let’s dive in!
1.- What made you decide for self-publishing?
Books of this length are difficult to go the traditional route with. There are very few genre publications that publish novellas (under 50,000 words) for little-known/unknown authors but most places want something between 80,000 words and 120,000 words. Glossolalia is also a bit unusual both in structure and its relationship to the fantasy genre, so I actually sat on the novel for several years (wrote it in 2016). After conversations with some friends of mine, they convinced me to throw it out there and see what happens.
Well, 2022 came around and it seemed as good a time as any. I submitted it to a few of the novella publishers but they all thought it was a bit stranger than what they typically publish. Thus and so, I figured I may as well do it myself. I’d never tried self-publishing but I’d been interested in the potential. It does create a few more difficulties, but these difficulties can be assets as well. I got the exact cover I wanted for the book, which I imagine is something a more traditional publisher would have shied away from.
2.- Glossolalia has a really interesting way of narrating, could you explain a little bit more about why you decided to use that kind of narrator?
The narration came quite naturally and by accident. I’m not a planner or outliner. For me, nothing exists beyond the sentence I’m writing, except vague notions or hints of scenes in the future. I wrote that first sentence and liked the feel of it, so I kept going. But it also just felt like the right way to tell the story of a place, a way of life. The collective first person isn’t often used and it’s easy to read this as a third person novel, excepting a few sentences spread throughout that make the first person plural clear, but I liked the tension that created. The way the reader can forget that this is told from a collective voice because it largely reads as any standard third person perspective.
In some ways, possibly unintentionally, the style of narration mimicked the transmission of knowledge of the society. What I mean is that these people in Glossolalia share their history and their culture orally. I think the narration leans in that same direction, as if the story is being told to the reader by a handful of people.
3.- What inspired you into making your setting on Prehistory and if I’m not wrong, near Greenland?
Greenland was a big inspiration for the novella. Since having children, I have had this desire to see the glaciers before they melt. I want to bring my kids to the glaciers, since they may not be there when they’re old enough to decide to go themselves. Doing some research about how to accomplish this led me to pictures of Greenland. I was stunned by the landscapes and especially the colors. In some way, it feels almost alien. Or at least so different from the world I know here in Minnesota.
Imagining people who would populate such a place led me to various other places, but I kept coming back to the Tao Te Ching. There are very specific ideas in the Tao Te Ching about leadership and organizing society and I thought this would be the perfect place to explore those ideas. Not to use this as a thought experiment wherein I lay out my ideal society, but rather to be brutal with these ideas that I’ve been attached to for much of my life. And so while the society in Glossolalia is built on a Taoist foundation, it’s also full of complex people with realistic goals that may not understand or be in perfect conformance with the ideals of their society.
4.- What challenges would you say you got into due to your stylistic choices?
It sort of spilled out of me pretty naturally so I didn’t really have stylistic challenges. I really put very little thought into style while I’m writing.
However, I used to. I used to agonize over sentences and even where to put a comma and things like that. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words and a dozen novels where the style was very much constructed and held together by a great deal of effort. At a certain point, though, I just stopped. In my view, writing should be fun yet I was meticulously making writing less fun on purpose. And so I started to teach myself how to write again. Part of that was to just let the narration flow naturally and follow where it led me. Not to get worked up over specific phrases and not to spend hours grooming my sentences.
Whether this is good or bad is maybe a good question for readers. But it resparked the joy I found in writing. And though it’s true that I put little thought or effort into the style here, it’s also built on the foundation and experience of writing many other books where I cared a whole lot (probably too much!) about style.
5.- Why did you decide to write such short chapters and divide the story in five parts?
This is a good question. Unfortunately, I don’t have a very good answer. Much of what I do as a writer is instinctual.
I’ve always loved negative space, though, and so I’ve always loved the way a page looks when there’s a lot of emptiness there. I also liked the feeling of turning a page, finding one sentence, and then turning to the next page. Of course, I also mess with this a bit later in the novel, which creates a tension within the reader as a reader. Because the chapters are quite short, the physical feeling of reading the book is one where you’re turning pages often. So when the reader gets to Part IV and runs into a chapter that comprises about 15% of the words in the novel, there’s an immediate tension, physically, because you’re no longer turning pages rapidly or meeting pages with a lot of open space.
My goal there was to have the tension in the scene accentuated by that tension I hoped to create in the reader through the physical process of reading the book.I have always enjoyed playing with structure. Contrast, I think, gives a lot of texture to the reading experience as well.
6.- When did you start writing?
Like many sad kids, I started writing a long time ago. Terrible poetry and terrible short stories that I rarely finished. I didn’t really begin taking writing seriously until I wrote my first novel back in 2010. So I’d say I started writing seriously in 2010, but I also started writing, like, twenty years ago.
I wrote Glossolalia in January of 2016.
7.- What can we expect from E. Rathke in the future?
With my good friend Kyle Muntz under the pseudonym KE Wolfe, I wrote the collaborative novel Sing, Behemoth, Sing, which is probably best described as a mix of Deadwood and Neon Genesis Evangelion. A kaiju western, basically. This was sort of an odd experiment that came together very rapidly and we had a whole lot of fun doing it. We’ve since written a Star Trek-esque space opera, which we’ll be publishing episodically in 2023 and beyond.
I’ll also have a few more collaborative novels coming out with other writers on Broken River Books in 2023 under the name Coyote Black.
As for my solo work, I have a cyberpunk vampire novel called Howl coming out December 1st from Broken River Books. Next year, I’ll have several more linked books coming out. Mostly fantasy. Outside of my fiction, I publish one to three essays per week in my newsletter. If my fiction isn’t your thing, you may enjoy what I’m doing over at my newsletter still. It’s quite a bit different. I’ll also begin serializing a novel over there next year, so follow along for updates.