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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author M. Laszlo shares the inspiration behind his new book, On The Threshold, and his creative writing process.

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Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed M. Laszlo about his life and career, what inspired him to start writing, and the story of his new book, On The Threshold.

M. Laszlo on The Table Read Magazine
M. Laszlo

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I’m a writer of various visionary, metaphysical works. My natural inclination or purpose is to help others learn the basic components that comprise the Socratic or eternal truths.

When did you first WANT to write a book?

Since childhood. Across the course of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, when my family spent the summers in the picturesque little town of Castine, Maine, I kept notes and fragmentary idea books. Our summer house just happened to be a historical landmark: at one time, it was Robert Lowell’s family house. What a location, too. It stood between a schoolyard and the town library (a great place to spend rainy days.) In front of the house, the village green stretched out. By night, what a great feeling it was to laze about out there beside the Union-Army monument: on a clear night, Maine can be an ideal place for stargazing.

My memories of Maine feel all so otherworldly. This is because the memories recall a specific time in my life. All those years ago, when my family summered in Castine, those years encapsulated the end of my childhood and the beginnings of preadolescence. Imagine coming to a dreamlike place in New England at the age of nine years old—an age when you’re still busy playing games of make believe.

Imagine, too, spending your very last summer in Robert Lowell’s house at the age of twelve—a time when you can almost feel your childhood insecurity slowly bleeding into teenage angst.

When did you take a step to start writing?

My first book, The Phantom Glare of Day, follows from a youthful diary that I wrote while traveling through England in the summer of 1985. It’s hard to describe the book as a typical travel diary, though. The work was more like an idea book filled with descriptions, impressions, philosophical questions, and lists of words, British colloquialisms, and a whole lot of teenage angst thrown in for good measure.

Anyway, from 2009 to 2019, I lived in absolute solitude and broke apart all the journals and idea books I had ever written. And I guess it was in 2022 that an acclaimed hybrid publisher out of Berkeley agreed to release that first one.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

I don’t know. I wrote nine disparate rough drafts simultaneously. It took a lifetime to put my journals and idea books together. And then it took years to turn them into discernible rough drafts with narrative arcs. For many writers, artists, and musicians, every instinct tells them to jot words and ideas down onto paper lest they be forgotten. Again, the process is utterly instinctive.

However, when said thinker is ready to turn the material into a book or movie or whatever else, that process can be utterly confounding. Just how is it done? The way to do it is time-consuming. One must separate ideas into categories—something like the way my mother does jigsaw puzzles. She separates the corner pieces from the rest, and then she separates categories by colour—on the off chance that like colours must go together.

Thankfully, my mother’s jigsaw puzzle obsession taught me how to make sense of my journals and idea books. Years ago, when I revisited my youthful London diary written in the summer of 1985, every instinct told me what to do. At first, the process was entirely scientific: to make sense of all that teenage angst and rambling, indulgent content, I had to take up a pair of scissors and to literally cut lines into pieces—fragments not unlike those of a jigsaw puzzle. There was no better way to isolate the variables.

How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

It took a lifetime. On the Threshold follows from an idea book written while working on an M.F.A degree in poetry at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York; c. 1990. Looking back on that era, the thought occurs that this was about the time that my preferences changed from poetry to prose. That would explain why it became necessary to translate all my weird philosophical poems into one long novelistic work that could bring everything together.

Oddly, it was not visionary, metaphysical fiction that sold me on prose. At the time, believe it or not, no kind of prose writing fascinated me quite as much as film theory—particularly phenomenological film theory. In the early nineties, my sister attended NYU film school—and she would often tell me about cutting-edge writing that followed from the theories of Walter Benjamin and Carl Jung.

Much of these theories show up in On the Threshold—especially the notion that when we watch a movie, only the conscious mind follows the plot. The unconscious mind reacts to the symbols and archetypes and interprets the movie as a reiteration of some primal association of ideas—as if the unconscious mind really does contain within it inborn knowledge, just as Plato had always believed.

Focusing on your latest release, what made you want to write On The Threshold?

So much of the inspiration for my work, On the Threshold, comes from the notorious Amityville murders of 1974. Chances are many children growing up in the 1970’s found the murders to be disturbing and unforgettable.

At any rate, so much of my work deals with the workings of the unconscious mind and the wisdom and knowledge stored there. That thematic topic runs throughout the text and is augmented by the fact that one of the protagonists just happens to be a film critic who employs phenomenological film theory as a means of understanding the workings of the unconscious mind.

The novel had to include such a character, though—and looking back at the Amityville murders, it is no mystery why. Before Butch Defeo committed the murders, he watched a movie on the late show: Castle Keep, a WW-II picture starring Burt Lancaster. Could it be that the movie appealed to something in the murderer’s drug-addled unconscious mind?

The movie tells of Hitler’s army storming a Belgian castle. Plainly, the murderer identified with those German soldiers tasked with the violent conquest. And if that’s true, the murderer’s unconscious mind could very well have equated his father with those holding authority over the castle—both the Belgian count and his friend, the American officer portrayed by Burt Lancaster.

In short, as the murderer watched the movie that fateful night, he came to equate the castle, the setting for the movie, with the family house there in Amityville. Without a doubt, the WW-II film, Castle Keep, predetermined the decision to set my tale in a castle. (In the interest of full disclosure, I named my castle after the building where the English Department meets at my alma mater, Hiram College.)

On The Threshold by M. Laszlo on The Table Read Magazine
On The Threshold by M. Laszlo

Most important of all, the idea of phenomenological film theory has always informed my thoughts on the unconscious mind. Ultimately, film theory ignited my obsession with Plato and his idea of inborn knowledge. Deep down inside, I’ve always know that the resolution to the riddle of the universe exists within us and has always been there.

What were your biggest challenges with writing On The Threshold?

Form. This work has a very tight narrative structure, but it’s a plot that includes a great deal of repetition—a scientist constantly toiling away at things in ways that only differ ever so slightly from earlier attempts. Many pan the book because they feel it has no plot or is too repetitive. Please stick with it, though. In the end, all is revealed.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

In all honesty, Star Trek inspired me to create a Scottish protagonist who could command a spectral, burning-man figure. This is because I began watching the show before I was old enough to understand anything going on—and I always loved the way Scotty worked in the transporter room: he would turn people into spectral, burning-man figures that vanished into thin air. My infantile mind was confounded by all yet intuited the significance of it all simultaneously.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

Without a doubt, the figure very much follows from the famous Burning Man Festival. And honestly, there was no avoiding it. From the fall of 1986 to the spring of 1987, I finished my senior of high school at Miramonte in Orinda, out in Contra Costa County—and back then, we knew about the bonfire rituals taking place on some beach somewhere in the Bay Area, even if none of us were quite old enough to attend.

Naturally, our youthful ignorance only made the idea of attending the ritual that much more compelling. In addition, what could be more fascinating than the idea of a burning-man figure? At once, the concept gripped me. At very nearly the same time, in Mr. Schulman’s Government and International Relations class, we discussed the monks who had immolated themselves to protest the war in Vietnam. That, too, rattled me—because until that class discussion, I had never heard of such a thing. Even then, though, the basic idea of a burning man resonated—and in the deepest way, too.

Clearly, my unconscious mind knew that there must be something of greatest meaning in the idea. And even if it took a lifetime to figure it all out, that was something worth doing. To grasp the meaning of the symbol would be on par with any of the most heartfelt epiphanies a human being might have. I just knew this!

Ultimately, On the Threshold lays the secret bare. My book explains just why the burning man resonates and must resonate so deeply in the human psyche.

What is the inciting incident of On The Threshold?

A Scotsman releases his inborn knowledge in the form of a projection, the inborn knowledge taking the spectral form of a burning man. In a sense, the very idea of this happening serves as the inciting incident. My book is a bit weird that way.

What is the main conflict of On The Threshold?

The conflict between my protagonist and his burning-man double. The problem is the double does not wish to share the inborn knowledge he represents—all of which serves as a metaphor for the way all of us struggle to interpret our dreams and to assimilate our unconscious wisdom.

Did you plot On The Threshold in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I plot very carefully, but I tweak form and do odd, experimental things. Some readers just won’t like that type of writing.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did On The Threshold need?

Yes, of course. My work required a great deal of editing to get my Scotsman talking with the proper colloquialisms and such. The freakishness of Brit-speak varies a great deal from London to Scotland.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

Do it. Everything will align. Take care. That is my advice to anyone inspired to do anything. I guess it’s my way saying: ‘Carpe diem!’

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

Hopefully in 2025 AIA will release my coming-of-age tale. It’s a story of illusory love. Of all the problems associated with youth, illusory love remains the least discussed.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

It’s neither an issue of pride nor shame. For that matter, it’s not an issue of effort. I write because I have to. Hopefully the book will connect with someone somewhere and get that person thinking in a new way.

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