The ninth of our Q&A features directs the conversation to M.C. Schmidt, a baker, writer and lover of music and horror cinema. Hell is Empty and All the Devils are Here is a short fiction piece included in The Needle Drops... Volume One, which we discuss alongside modern society, horror films and bread to name a few. Not all artisanal baked goods make it out alive.
M.C. Schmidt is a baker of artisanal breads, fanatical consumer of music and horror films, and best friend to a cat who barely tolerates him. His recent short fiction has appeared in New World Writing, BULL, Spectrum Literary Journal, Litro Online, Abstract Magazine, and Every Day Fiction among other publications. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing. His novel, The Decadents, is forthcoming from Library Tales Publishing.
So, MCS - you mentioned that Hell is Empty and All the Devils are Here’s premise is “the (Charles Caleb) Colton quote that idleness is the most active cause of evil.” For yourself, what led to your desire to express this in the form of fiction, if anything? Was there a particular final provocation that comes to mind?
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for the Colton quote. Anecdotally, I’ve seen that idleness creep into lives on the back of good fortune and success, as well as (and more often) in the opposite circumstance where hardships have broken the wills of people I’d known to be idealistic youths. This story was starting to take shape in the summer of 2020 at the height of the BLM marches and when various other political protests were making news, so that cultural climate certainly influenced the direction of the storytelling. Ultimately, though, I wrote this story as a cautionary tale as much for myself as for any sort of social commentary. The main character in this story is demographically similar to me, but very much the man I don’t want to become. It seems to me that idleness and complacency are the ways in which that could happen.
Whilst Hell is Empty… expresses a bleak vignette of modern society, you tackle such dark subject matter with some satirical levity -- does this come from your love of horror media directly?
Probably so. I love well done horror, but I’ll just as readily sit through a horror movie that’s laughably bad. I don’t have the perspective to know whether those films appeal to me because I have a dark sense of humour, or if I have a dark sense of humour because I've spent my life watching cringe-worthy horror films that inadvertently bring levity to dark subject matter. I’m sure it’s all related though.
Keeping in mind your childhood favourites, what dream horror filmmaking project are you desperate to see come into fruition?
I’d be excited to see some modern adaptations of Richard Matheson’s work. There have been plenty of attempts over the years, but most of them have been underwhelming in my opinion. With streaming services now offering opportunities for high quality, episodic storytelling, I see the possibility for adaptations that finally do justice to the source material.
"I love well done horror, but I’ll just as readily sit through a horror movie that’s laughably bad."
Returning to the critical depth of your fiction feature, the vivid prose divulges such a characterful and conversational perspective that is darkly humorous. Is this a core tenet of your writing style, and something you’ll explore in your upcoming novel, The Decadents?
Thank you. Yes, I think it’s fair to say that dark humour is at the core of my writing style. From my perspective, it’s a subtle element of this featured story, but much more prominent in The Decadents, which is a dark satire about the misguided pursuit of power and social clout through the prisms of the fast food industry and American politics.
You also achieve rich character development in such a limited word count - what do you prioritise when tackling short form fiction?
Short form fiction is notoriously difficult to write, and I’ll probably never feel like I have a proper hold on it. But I tend to write long first drafts then go through multiple, aggressive edits. My priority during that process is really just to pare down the story to its essential elements, which is the expectation of short fiction. As the shape of the story changes in those later drafts, themes tend to reveal themselves, as well as opportunities for richer character development. At that point, I just try to identify those opportunities and look for ways to draw them out to make them clearer in the text.
Looking beyond your successful ventures into the realms of fiction, if you had to choose one to eliminate - ciabatta or focaccia?
Ooh, that’s tough. I’d happily accept whichever you offered me. Gun to my head, I suppose I’d have to go with focaccia based purely on the grounds that it doesn’t seem to have a clear conception of itself—“Am I a pizza? Am I a sandwich bread? How much glory do I really deserve when my defining feature is spreading out flat to take the shape of a sheet tray?”
"As the shape of the story changes in those later drafts, themes tend to reveal themselves, as well as opportunities for richer character development."
In regards to your love for music -- has there been a particularly memorable release for you this year thus far? Perhaps an album from last year that you’ve still got on repeat?
I think the new St. Vincent may be her best so far. Wolf Alice’s new one was worth the wait also. I’m pretty excited for the remixed 50th anniversary edition of All Things Must Pass. Pricey though...
In three words or less - what can our readers expect from Hell is Empty and All the Devils are Here?
A cautionary tale.
Thank you for your time and insight, MCS. It’s been great. We’re ecstatic to include Hell is Empty and All the Devils are Here in The Needle Drops… Volume One later this year.
Within the realms of social media, you can find MCS on Twitter: @MCSchmidt12.