This month, The Independent Gay Writer concludes Jak Klinikowski three part interview with novelist and publisher Warren Ockrassa. In this installment, Warren discusses his novels and how they relate to our world, as well as the religious themes in his work.
Visit Warren Ockrassa's publishing website Nightwares Books
Jak Klinikowski is a long-term reviewer for IGW as well as a contributor of the serial "The Adventures of Ineeda Willingbottom." Please contact him here.

JK: Are you making comparisons between your fictional worlds and the one we live in, and if so, what images and ideas are you hoping readers come away with upon completion of the novels?

To some extent, as I mentioned before, that's inevitable. Current events and current social situations will leak in to any fiction; or to put it another way, to really understand a society, what it idealizes, what it fears, what it loathes, one need only analyze the entertainments it produces.

Before you look at "reality TV" and decide to stick your head in the oven, consider that just one hundred years ago either title we're discussing here would probably be banned throughout the US on the grounds that it's obscene, and certainly there are passages that are meant to be very erotic. (Much more than "and yes I said yes I will Yes", and Ulysses was forbidden fruit in this nation for quite a while.)

Even if my characters were all other-gendered when they were coupling, I don't use enough obscure language to keep a reader from having a very clear image what's happening. And since the genders are by and large the same, well … let's just say the merkins would be well-steamed after certain rather indigo passages. (I'm not the first to notice that a hell of a lot of women really like reading about man-on-man action.)

The point is that it says something about the health of US society that such materials can be published and not subjected to banning by court order. We've progressed in the last century, despite best efforts to the contrary by the "moral majority", which for the record is neither.

I think what I'd like readers to understand from BofD is that no matter how oppressive your society might feel or seem, there is always reason to hope for improvement, that even the most poorly-used can look to a better future. But I think that message must also be taken with the clear understanding that all change means sacrifice. In order for flowers to grow tomorrow, there has to be abundant shit today. And, of course, effecting change means getting out and doing something.

A.N. might be used, in a way, as a window into how a rigorous religion could be changed to make it more compatible with a wider range of human reality; and how it's possible for a theocracy to more or less function without becoming intolerant of its own denizens. That's what really crushes monarchies, I think, particularly those adhered to religion: They oppress too many of their own citizens. That way lieth revolution.

I'm a fairly strong believer in individual rights to live more or less in total freedom. As long as what I'm doing in my own skin doesn't hurt others, to a large extent I should be allowed to do it. Of course this attitude absolutely must be accompanied with a very broad definition of "hurt" and a high awareness of the impact one has on others; selfishness is in many ways synonymous with shortsightedness.

So one should strive for a kind of enlightened self-interest, and that of course also means defending others' rights to do things, even if we don't personally approve. Though I don't know that's something which surfaces in my writing, it absolutely is an underpinning of my personal weltanschauung, so I wouldn't be surprised to be told it's prevalent in my fiction too. I think I'm a little too close to that one to say for certain.

A constant theme you will find in both books is that there is no censure whatsoever placed on same-gender relationships. On Delphos that's almost required; on Allahu'akhbar it's more likely a recognition of the variegated human palate. (A practitioner of the way of submission on Allahu'akhbar would probably argue that since God put the urges there, they are a natural extension of the impulses that drive men and women to engage one another and are therefore legitimate expressions of God's will for humankind.)

I think you'll find that like democracy, trends against homosexual behavior are social fads. The vast bulk of history is not comprised of hypersuppressive homophobic societies, and our intellectual heraldry has a massive cataract of liberalism running through it. Renaissance Italy was (if the statues are any way to judge) overrun with homosexuals. Probably the Islamic caliphates that kept knowledge alive during the European dark age had similar trends, and without doubt the Romans and Greeks were extremely lax.

One could argue that a measure of enlightenment in society is how the nonconventional modes of sexuality are dealt with. The more free a man is to covet his neighbor's husband, as it were, the more likely it is that he and his neighbors are educated and reasonably peaceful, well-cultured and well-rounded people.

Homophobia, in that light, is a symptom of a pervasive social disease, one that, if it's not checked, will lead to the destruction of the society that harbors it. Of the major world powers that played roles in the twentieth century, the ones that vanished (Nazi Germany and Communist Russia) were among the most virulently homophobic. The UK became more accepting. Japan more or less always was anyway. America's sliding by fits and starts back into intolerance; that's something to consider.

JK: Please discuss what the actual "beast" in BofD represents. Could it be a metaphor for contemporary drug abuse?

At first the beast is, of course, literally a beast. As the story progresses we see the beasts becoming more abstract until, at the end, they turn out to be planetwide social ills, not lurking dangers that eat you when you're least resistant.

The physical beast, though, is something that requires a sort of complicity or collaboration with it. You really do have to be able and willing to fall prey to its thrall, and in a way if you're greedy or selfish in the right way you're pretty much doomed the moment you feel its influence.

I think the later beasts might be seen as parallels to that. Slavery, for instance, is made up entirely of greed. The only way for humans to be less human to each other is to murder their fellowmen for their meat, and sell it in shops. (And I won't bet it hasn't happened right here on Earth, though I don't know that it's ever been confirmed.)

BofD is not about beasts so much as it is about the development of one character. We follow him from the end of his childhood into early manhood, and see how he changes through those stages in life. As such the beasts are both literal and metaphorical, and since they are really obstacles that he needs to overcome in order to proceed to the next stage of his life, they can be taken as signifying anything.

While I didn't write BofD with drug usage in mind, you could look at it, without stretching, as describing addiction and how vicious it is. It's seductive, it's powerful, and it's damned hard to escape. I had the most insane byatch of a time just getting loose of nicotine. I don't even want to hazard a guess at how tough it is to get off the really hard stuff.

A constant theme in a lot of my fiction is self-improvement, a moving away from selfish and ignorant motives to other-driven, intellectually supportable actions. Education is the only thing that prevents our species from vanishing. If we let ourselves become ignorant we are guaranteeing our own annihilation.

In that way you could look at the beasts as representing, in larger and larger forums, the forces of ignorance, superstition, selfishness and greed; they must be overcome before anyone's chances of living a decent life are improved.

JK: Would you please discuss the religious themes of both books, but especially A.N.?

Ahh, religion. No need for delicacy here!

On the literal level, Delphans are officially atheists (as am I), which means either they're hopelessly arrogant or infuriatingly right. However, there's an animist cult of sorts organized around the beast. The beast is more or less the embodiment of death, and it's a very, very deep impulse in human nature to venerate the things that give and the things that take life.

It's not unusual to put the give-take on one deity (a la Shiva, or the ancient Greek belief that Earth will eventually perish by being scorched by the sun, which as it happens is more or less correct). So for an uneducated populace that's kept in one location for the durations of its members' lives, it made sense that the beast would be an icon and that superstitions would evolve surrounding it.

Metaphorically in that sense the beast isn't intended to represent any one religion in particular. I think most, if not all, of them could be traced to the same response to the world, a desire to make sense of life.

Religion itself is a metaphor, really, a way for us to have symbols of the world, a way for us to symbolically deal with the world. So rather than using the beast's cult as a metaphor for a religion — which would be a metaphor for a metaphor — I decided to just make it represent itself. In that respect the cult of the beast is like every religion that has, does or ever will exist.

(Have I pissed everyone off yet? How about you in the back? Okay, I'll keep trying.)

I do use a few Christian metaphors elsewhere in BofD that might or might not be obvious. As an example one chapter is titled "The Chalice" and that is meant to be a reference to the cup that Iasus reportedly used at his farewell dinner. There's also the oblique reference in one of the characters lying as though dead for three days, then rising, and a forty-day time of tribulation he undergoes. (All right, he's unable to have sex. For forty days. Misery!)

Those were deliberate manipulations of the Christian mythos and I think they're legitimate in that they help tie in elements of the story to tales with which most Western readers will be at least marginally familiar, but there are some other symbols that are older than the Christian ethic which also surface in BofD.

One is the jungle itself, which is representative in its way of the established, chaotic and uncontrollable freedom of life. (In many Western novels the untamed wild is a feminine symbol as well.) It's something that has to be held back for the slaves' mine to operate and the untutored slaves fear it, yet later on it proves to be significant to others because of the very wildness it contains; it literally holds threats to slavery. Life is fecund by nature and its most basic state is a kind of structured anarchy. I think that's beautiful. Deadly as hell, but beautiful.

There's also a bit of human worship through body veneration. What we might almost call hedonism, but what is really (I think) a deeper thing than enjoying pleasure for the sake of pleasure; it's a way to celebrate the simple fact of being human. Self-awareness is not something to be arrogant about, but it's also not something to hold in contempt. It's not every set of atoms, after all, that gets to get laid. Most of the matter in the universe will never know … well, anything.

A.N., contrarily, is consciously religious, necessarily so, and part of the point of that book is that religion is tolerable only to the extent that it is tolerant. (The corollary is that religion should be tolerated only to the extent that it is tolerant.)

We see two immediate cultural contrasts, that of the Delphan atheistic view compared to the way of submission found on Allahu'akhbar; and we also see the different local views, with the more strict traditionalism contrasted to the liberal ways in Ma-kah. The strict area is also where injustices — some of them quite savage — take place, and while in A.N. it's a modified Islam that rules, history has shown us clearly that any religion can be shockingly inhuman to those that fall under its thrall.

I wanted to try to illustrate the contrasts, highlight them by showing that people are fundamentally the same and as long as we put forth an effort to simply show good manners to one another it's possible for almost anyone to get along. Unfortunately invasive faiths that try to control the actions of others don't allow private things to remain private, and that's basically behaving very rudely, isn't it?

I'm inclined to champion the atheist cause because it's my own view, but I'm also quite willing to concede that for many faith is a major and useful aspect of life. At the very least it lets them carry on in moments of despair, and that's surely a positive thing. But there's a really big difference between a faith that sustains you, and you attempting to compel others to follow the same rules. Then you don't have faith; mildly you have religion. On bad days you have a political movement, and on really bad days you have Mormons knocking at your door.

So in A.N. Islam adapted. It had to. It went back, in a way, to its high water mark in the days before the Crusades and once more began its noble pursuit of truth and understanding by reason, and the only way that Islam will ever be (in my eyes) even remotely acceptable is if its laity begin demanding, now, that its reform take place. This means kicking out the extremists (and, in some cases, reporting them to Federal authorities) and becoming internally intolerant of the intolerant.

I presented, on Allahu'akhbar, a sort of elysian ideal for Islam. It would be nice to see it go that direction. Unfortunately I don't imagine that happening without a hell of a lot more people getting dead first. I'm pretty sure now that the first nuclear exchange of the 21st century will be due to a religious war, not a secular one, and I'm pretty sure who the players on the stage will be, or at least what religions they'll claim to follow.

The Independent Gay Writer would, once again, like to thank Warren Ockrassa for participating in this extraordinary interview.

—Jak Klinikowski

Home • Newsletter Front Page • Newsletter Archives • Article Archives