Tomorrow, Terror House Press will release its 40th book: Love Cycles by Ewa Mazierska, a collection of 14 short stories examining relationships in the modern era. A film and popular music historian, prolific short story author, and long-time contributor to Terror House Magazine, Love Cycles is Mazierska’s second short story collection, following her 2019 release Neighbours and Tourists. Katherine Emily of Input/Output Enterprises describes Love Cycles “as rich in details as in its array of characters experiencing the ups and downs of love.” I recently sat down for an interview with Mazierska to discuss her book, modern relationships, the fall of communism in Poland and its effects on the people there, and other topics.
Matt Forney: You’ve been writing short stories for several years and also have a previously published anthology, Neighbours and Tourists. What inspired you to write Love Cycles?
Ewa Mazierska: In part it is my own experience of falling in and out of love, from my teenage years to the present day, and in part retelling stories of other people. I’m a keen listener of all stories, and often, even during ephemeral encounters, people tell me about their loves and lovers. On other occasions, I meet somebody and wonder what is his or her love life. I also like the idea of writing about cycles. I was told many times that short stories are not like novels. They shouldn’t cover the whole life, but only a specific short episode, but my short stories are often like mini-novels: they cover a large part of somebody’s life or at least try to get insight into it.
MF: What writers would you cite as the biggest influences on your own work?
EM: I don’t know, because I find it difficult to follow somebody’s example, but my favourite writers are those who follow the lives of families: Marcel Proust and Thomas Mann. I’ve read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time 2.5 times and plan to read it again when I retire. I also like very much the works—especially the short stories—of Russian writers: Vladimir Nabokov, Anton Chekhov, and Ivan Bunin. For sure, they are an important source of inspiration. I’m also an avid reader of SF and fantasy authors such as Poe and Lovecraft. I also try to read the work of new authors, short stories published in magazines, including those published by your publishing house.
MF: Your background is as a film and music historian, and while I’m not acquainted with your academic work on these subjects, I’ve often noted references to both in your work. Several stories in Love Cycles incorporate film and music as part of the plot, most notably “Sunset Boulevards, Budapest, AD 2018,” whose protagonist is a journalist assigned to interview a pop star. How much has your academic background influenced your literary writing, if at all?
EM: I hope I’m not too academic in my writing. In fact, one reason that I started writing fiction was the limitation of academic writing. But given that I watched many films and met many filmmakers and musicians, I drew from this experience. Most of my characters have features of people whom I met in reality, even if the stories themselves are fictitious.
MF: A common theme uniting the stories in Love Cycles, as reflected by the title, is that its characters experience doomed relationships, often driven by their own dysfunctional choices. For example, “A Blonde in Love” and “Beautiful Couples” both concern older women who have been unlucky in love, while “Down in the Cellars” and “Drawing Board” tackle marriages that are slowly unraveling. What motivated you to take this approach and what commentary, if any, were you intending to present on relationships in the modern era?
EM: Unhappy relationships are more interesting and easier to describe than happy ones. In happiness we are similar; in misery we are different. Secondly, it somehow happened that friends told me these stories, even if not exactly how I retold them. I came myself from a family where love didn’t last, either due to death (both my grandmothers lost their husbands during the Second World War), differences in character and so on. Most of my friends are divorced or single and the more fit this pattern the older I get. Hence I’m accustomed the idea that finding happiness in love is very difficult. Yet because of biology and culture, most people seek it often till the end of their lives.
MF: The stories in Love Cycles are set in various countries across Europe, and while many are set in the present day, several take place across decades. For instance, “Drawing Board” traces the history of an English couple starting from their first meeting in the 1950’s, while “Generally Perfect” begins in communist Poland in the 1970’s. How has your background influenced the settings of your stories and the development of your characters?
EM: Very much. I have lived half of my life in Poland and half in Britain, so I know best Poles and Brits. I also travel often, both due to work and in search for characters of my stories, and these stories reflect this search.
MF: Your last book, Neighbours and Tourists, was inspired by your upbringing in Poland and your travels abroad. How has your writing and style evolved or changed since that book was published, if at all?
EM: After Neighbours and Tourists, I’ve published a number of fantasy and science fiction stories. Increasingly, I’m writing stories in these genres and they are getting longer.
MF: One of the themes in many of the stories in both Neighbours and Tourists and Love Cycles is the cultural and economic changes that Poland and other Eastern Bloc countries experienced with the end of communism and their effects on your characters and their relationships. The protagonist of “Loves of Her Life” sees her marriage collapse after her husband spends a period doing construction work in the U.S., while “Down in the Cellars” is set in the 1990’s and alludes to Poland’s transition to a free-market economy, with the protagonist stressing out over her job and noting “rumours” that she and her co-workers might be replaced by “enthusiastic Ukrainian gastarbeiters.” As someone who lived in Hungary and a number of other former communist states, this is one aspect of your work I’ve always found interesting. As someone who experienced this period of history first-hand, what are your personal observations on how it has affected Poland, and how has it shaped your writing in particular?
EM: To a large extent. I’m interested in how economy affects human life, including love life. Moreover, moving from a village to a city and then abroad made me particularly sensitive to cultural differences. While in my youth I rejected cultural stereotypes, in my middle age—often to my dismay—I find them often accurate, even in relation to myself.
MF: Finally, do you have any future books or other projects on the horizon?
EM: Yes, several. I hope one of them will include longer horror and SF pieces.
MF: Thank you for your time.