Talking with

By Joan Baum  

The Independent
(January 30th, 2001)

Not that Body Parts, Arthur Herzog’s latest and bizarre sortie in fiction. wouldn’t have claimed attention as a print publication, what with its provocative title and stunning cover illustration by Chris Rush showing nine body parts cleverly insinuated into letters forming the title. But as good as the cover looks in print, it looks even better online and that's good, for the fact of the matter is, Herzog is writing this collection of short stories "somewhere between science fiction and horror"

With 14 tales already up, he's five over the body-part letters of the title, but who's counting? Besides, what could be illustrated for stories called "Fat" or "The Voice"?

What new body parts is Herzog, of Wainscott, working on? He smiles, a cross between mischief and edginess. Has the interviewer noticed that the 14 stories of Body Parts go from head (“Craniums") to toe ("Feet")? Actually, it’s the area in between that seems to interest Herzog the most – “Groins," "Sperms," "Vagina Dentata"– though all the tales are intended to illustrate Herzog’s sense of having created a new genre, “near sci-fi,” he called it, a "fictional form that combines theoretical scientific phenomena with realism."

Sounds heady; he's done his homework, but the tales are far from academic. The style is direct, colloquial; the science accessible, the reading great fun. What his "near sci-fi" definition leaves out, however, is how delightfully quirky the stories are, in some cases, downright outrageous, Peck's bad boy who boasts in a bio online, of having only a Master's in English from Columbia, because he had an "aversion to both libraries and authority," is out to shock and satirize. Where else but on the Internet!

Go Electronic

So what would prompt a well-known writer of fiction and nonfiction to go electronic? Especially one who confesses that he doesn’t write on a computer (he uses an electric typewriter, "10 of them"). Herzog stared at the interviewer, a cross between amusement and deadpan. "Money." Considering that Body Parts' 14 stories can be downloaded for $5, that's about 35 cents per body part. Money?

Well, perhaps in the long run. In the short run, would hardly be unhappy to have heavy hits and maybe even host a chat group. Another time, the author of The Swarm and Orca, both of which were made into popular movies, and IQ83, "very popular in Great Britain and under development by Dreamworks." might have disdained e-book publication, but now several of his books have been converted to e-books, including the highly successful Seventeen Days: The Katie Beers Story, Vesco: From Wall Street to Castro's Cuba, and Heat.

"Stephen King did a good thing," Herzog said, speaking of the blockbuster author's recent foray online with a novel that gives two chapters away. Herzog leaned back to announce that he had just arranged a bit of beneficence of his own: a free short story.

Oddball Aspect

He seemed genuinely pleased to be creating directly for the web. but surprised to hear that his stories are a perfect fit for the medium because they arc short, full of lively dialogue, and simply written, which is not to say that they are simple. Indeed, many of the tales have a sly, oddball aspect, satiric and fantastic. The opening story, "Craniums." opens with President Janus (!) tracking down rumors of "torsectomies" in a bio lab, only to meet up with officious personnel who convince him how easy it is to live without bodily functions, or a body.

Unfortunately, the "decaps" in the lab were never told that reconstitution was not possible. Typically in a Herzog story the outlandish resonates with truth. Take a real situation, up the ante, extend the premise a decree or two, and voila!

"Loose Tongue," for example, starts with a morning-after binge, when a man discovers a human tongue on the floor but sees no body. Like Kafka, Herzog takes a preposterous circumstance and spins it into seeming normal. "The Voice" begins with an erratic radio station that suddenly comes on the air and grows increasingly menacing. Sometimes, however, the weird is slightly delayed, lulling the reader into an unwarranted sense of the familiar, as in "Operation Heart" that begins on a South Dakota prairie with generally engineered pigs. Well, okay, the familiar in Herzog is already a bit askew.

Where do the ideas come from? He works on the stories between novels he says, and free associates. Observes, also, “A Burn Ticker,” he points out, originated in overheard conversation at a Southampton health club. As for “Fat,” one of the best constructed short narratives, while the girth of the central character does not suggest Hampton’s chic, the political party cum affectation certainly resonates.

Timely events also jog Herzo's creativity. "Glands,” with its Sex Olympics, almost numbing in parodic details, seems to owe its origin to the competitive Olympic clones seen on TV; “Groins” mocks a country obsessing on game shows and affairs. Sometimes, the satire can be wickedly punny, as in Vagina Dentata,” where a scheme to bypass normal pregnancy, is said to “give the women’s movement teeth.

As for what he's working on now, all he'll say is that it’s called 911 and is about two murdered detectives who try to solve their own case. Sounds like an ideal
e-book in the making.

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