“Stories are not meant to be true”

 

An interview with the Internet author Anton Lesch

You might not have heard about Anton Lesch, many haven’t. And yet he is one of the most fascinating Internet authors who is able of writing and posting incredibly meaningful and trilling stories everyday. Mr. Lesch, or as he prefers to be called – Anton, bases his writings on true experiences in his or his friends’ lives, and even on news articles. This results in both wonderful and frightening horror stories, full of philosophy and psychology, which are able of engraving themselves into your memory with their realism and unexpected twists. In his writings Anton uncovers the true and primal human nature, which we are terrified of, and also shows in most perfect details what the hidden world has for us – dangers and inhuman deeds.
In order to find out more about the person behind the stories I send him a request to give an interview to which he was very polite to respond with a positive answer.

Mr. Lesch, as we know from your first story on r/nosleep you have lived in Belgium, is that right? But what is your birthplace?
Yes, I lived in Belgium. I am German, but I enjoy living abroad and I hope to live in many different countries in the future.
There is something that bores me about being in a place where I know everyone. I might learn more about other people, but I feel that you can’t learn anything about yourself. You can’t know yourself truly until you walk away into a world you don’t understand.
In every country that you live in you become a different person. And only once you have become many different persons can you see which parts of your self are a shell, and which parts remain – which parts are truly you.
Many may wonder, have you ever been to Bulgaria or the Balkans in general?
Sadly I haven’t been there yet. I have some friends from the Balkans, one of my best friends is actually Bulgarian. At this very moment I am wearing a Martenitsa that she gave me.
But other than that I have a basic knowledge about the politics and history, but not about the life in Bulgaria and the Balkans. I want to travel more and the Balkans fascinate me, but so far I never had the time to go.
What exactly prompted you to start sharing these stories, do you enjoy yourself while writing?
I always enjoyed writing, although I used to write mostly non-fiction. I did some political blogging, wrote philosophical essays, and wrote motivational pieces. I think writing has something magical – you set a word down on paper (or online) and hours, days, even years later other people can hear your voice in their head.
In 2011 I started to write occasional short stories, particularly horror, most of which I posted online. I enjoyed the pleasure of writing and particularly that others were passionate and enthralled by my stories; the frequency increased and by the end of 2012 I decided to challenge myself to write a story every day for exactly a year. Mostly it is a challenge, an attempt to prove to myself that I can do it. But I also know that every time I write a story and share it with the world I will learn at least one valuable thing on how to write the next story better. And as long as people are enjoying the stories I am happy. I enjoy the idea that I can make others feel deep and, hopefully, meaningful emotions.
No doubt that your stories show a most correct description of what the world hides and of the primal and almost forgotten human nature. But let us be clear to the readers of the newspaper, are your writings true?
Of the stories I shared only one is an exact copy of a memory of mine. But most of the others contain true elements, they are based on news articles or events in my own or friends’ lives.
Still, I would never say that my stories are true. No story can ever be true. Our memories fade, and our perception is always imperfect and incomplete. Stories are not meant to be true. Stories are a device that we humans use to understand the world, and in that way every writer injects his or her philosophy and understanding of the world into their writing. Stories teach us about life. Some, of course, teach us bad lessons or false ideas. Others teach us a new outlook on life, or that hope can be found in unexpected places.
Stories, even those labeled as ‘biographies’ or ‘history’ are meant to pull us into an alternate world, into a world that is unlike ours and still alike to ours. It doesn’t matter to me whether I always get ‘things right’ because in a way, stories are always lies. But at the same time stories are a reality of their own and this story-reality can reflect and influence our reality. It influences our reality because every story or word your read – or write – changes you, irrevocably. It changes your mind in its very physical state, and in one way or the other it remains with you for the rest of your life.
Have you ever had an encounter with anything inhuman?
Yes and no. While I occasionally write about ‘unexplainable’ things I myself never encountered anything paranormal and I wasn’t abducted by aliens (yet). I am a skeptic and agnostic. But, admittedly, I do believe in aliens. The universe is too large for there not to be other thinking beings out there. Billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars – no doubt, we are not the only creatures in the universe. That others visit us seems highly unlikely though.
What I have seen, and what horrifies me the most, are inhuman humans. For example, I travelled several months in India and on one occasion befriended a begging woman. She had a child, but her husband had died, and additionally took care of her dead brother’s children. I met those children, played with them several times. Shortly before I left the village one of the children came up to me and asked me for money to buy food. I gave him enough to buy breakfast for himself and his family. He hugged me and ran around the corner to go to the shop.
I walked off, but not even two minutes later the boy came back around the corner, crying. A rich village man had beaten him ‘for begging’ and took the money. The village man didn’t like that the child was begging, because he thought it made his country and people look bad. That, for me, is the horror of reality, the true inhumanity – those things like honor, ‘saving face’, and religious or social values overpower the basic human feeling of compassion.
In your stories it seems that you take the role of a detective or maybe psychiatrist, you are the listener. But what exactly is your occupation and do you like it?
I actually work at the fringes of politics. Currently my role is standard administrative work and I do not enjoy that particularly. I feel any role where who I am and how I see the world doesn’t considerably affect the results of my work is a waste of time. But I think that for everyone; everyone deserves to do something where it matters that they do it.
I hope, over time, computer science and robotics will free all of us from literally mindless work. Until then you and I and all the other humans out there will have to find a way to use our uniqueness in other ways. My day job might change sometime soon, but until then writing is my outlet, my way of doing something that matters to me. I hope you have one too!
For me it is still unbelievable to think how you manage to post a new story everyday! Where does all that genius come from, what is your inspiration?
I wouldn’t call it genius. Genius implies that there is something in me that others don’t have, and while that might apply to a few great authors out there I don’t think it applies to me.
There are two elements to answer your question: First, the inspiration for my stories, what I would call the ‘seed’. The seeds are ideas and thoughts that I pick up during the day. Sometimes people send me their personal stories and I transform those into a narrative, at other times fans ask me to write about particular theme or idea. So far most of my stories are derived from random thoughts I had during the day. I carry a notebook with me to catch all those ideas – and if you start doing that too you will find how incredibly many ideas you yourself have during the day.
Secondly, the detailed implementation, the narrative of the story, comes to me while writing. I pick a name – usually from fans that posted their name on my Facebook page – and start to describe the character or think of a way that that particular individual would act or speak. It sounds harder than it is, in effect I just write down whatever image pops into my head.
The moment I start writing the seed and current flow of the story moves me forward. It takes practice to express the images that only you can see in your own head, and sometimes I need to go back to change or delete large parts. The more you write the easier it becomes and the more you can imagine what the audience will think and feel.
In short, practice is everything. If you want to become a writer don’t wait for genius to strike. Don’t take expensive courses or buy too many books – except, maybe, grammar books. Write, read your own writing a few days later and improve it, and then share your work with the world and listen to what others feel and think about it.
As every great writer you must have a role model. So who are these authors that you admire and why?
Ha, I sadly don’t have an answer to this question. Firstly, I don’t consider myself a great writer. If I work enough I might become one someday – like Stephen King said, the first 1,000,000 words are just practice.
Secondly, I don’t really have writer role models. There are some whose work I admire, but I don’t want to be like somebody else. I want to be myself and do my own thing. Successes like Stephen King’s are inspiring, but his path surely was different than mine.
However, I have heroes. I admire those that were able to change the world by sheer force of will, such as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. I admire those that tried to make the world a better place.
If you really want to press me on what books I admire – I have three favorites: “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (“Thus Spoke Zarathustra”) by Friedrich Nietzsche, and the two ancient Chinese works “Daodejing” and “Zhuangzi”. I read the Daodejing and Thus Spoke Zarathustra when I was young and they changed my life. Another favorite is Albert Camus’ “Myth of Sisyphus”, however I think it is a dangerous book. It shattered much of my idealistic world view.
Your readers’ lives, thoughts and outlook on the world have changed for them to become wiser and aware of the society we live in. Have you expected that you might affect so many people with your talent for writing?
I dream of making others’ lives better and happier. Currently I write mostly horror short stories, I don’t expect those to change many lives for the better. I just hope I am at least entertaining some people, and maybe make a few understand the world and other humans better. A few people wrote me that I inspired or affected them in one way or the other, and I cherish those messages.
I do hope that someday I can have an effect in the world that changes people’s lives for the better. And, as mentioned above, I find words like ‘talent’ and ‘genius’ dangerous. They suggest that there is something in one person that others don’t have. I don’t think that’s true. If there is one thing I would like you to understand it is that you yourself, with practice and devotion, can become a great person and do great things.
On your Facebook page you have asked the readers for their opinion on which type of horror stories they prefer. But what is your favorite type?
I like anything that involves the human mind. Strange creatures in the shadows might scare me, but they don’t interest me much. I like to read how other humans, whether fictional or real, are affected and react to events. I like to be in somebody’s head, or watch over their shoulders, while they face struggles and difficulties. I want to see the main character change and I want to understand why and how they changed.
Do you mind telling us what age you think your stories are suitable for?
I never consciously thought of that. I suppose as a non-native English speaker my language is not always highly advanced and thus the works are accessible to younger readers. But at the same time my themes are frequently rather philosophical and at other times rather violent. I suppose readers from 15 to 35 could enjoy and take something away from my stories. Some of my frequent readers are older than that, but I think they are rather the exception.
Is there anything you would like to say in order to advise the students of “Ivan Vazov” Secondary School?
I am not some wise old sage that is able to tell you how to live your life. But I can tell you how I live mine.
When I was young my father gave me a Chinese wall scroll with a phrase in nice calligraphy. It was an old Chinese saying that has been a part of my mind ever since:
“Always go for the moon, even if you miss, you will land in the stars.”
For me this means to dream big. Don’t let your parents, teachers, judges, assessors, bosses, or anyone else tell you what you can or cannot do. With persistence and passion you can become anyone and anything you want to be.
The only thing you should always keep in mind are other people, those around you as well as the rest of humanity. Being cruel or selfish might pay in the short term, but in the long term selfishness will hurt you. Other people never forget selfish acts, which should be reason enough to be careful. But for me more important is that being selfish means that someday you will feel the worst pain of all: You will regret who you once were.
Lastly, don’t forget that even the most amazing people in this world are human. I am a human, exactly like you. And so are all your heroes, all, the powerful and mighty people in the world. Don’t be scared of talking to that author or politician or manager or whatever other person makes you look up in awe. Just talk like with friends. He or she is exactly like you.
In short, I think the only wisdom I have is this: Go for the moon and enjoy travelling between the stars, but with your hands hold onto other humans. Dream big and be bold. Don’t let parents, bosses, or society discourage you from dreaming and acting on your dreams. Just, whatever you do, remember the other 7 billion thinking, breathing, loving and laughing beings on this planet.
Then, I am sure, you can love yourself and your place in the world, and others will like you for who you are. And you will find the only thing that all humans, no matters if they strive for money, power, or love, really want: Happiness.
Mr. Lesch, thank you very much for agreeing to give this interview. It was an honor to me to get to know more about such an inspiring person as you.
Thanks Ekaterina. It was an honor for me too. It is always an honor to have somebody else’s time. And I want to thank all of you for reading. Tonight look at the sky and find the moon you want to dream of.

I hope that this interview has made you curious to read his works. I promise you will not be disappointed if you do go check them out – Anton Lesch hosts his stories on r/nosleep where he is known by the usernames Al_365 and AntonLesch. However, you have to be very good at English to understand his works, and remember that he writes horror stories and some of them are quite violent and scary on a mental level, so if you are easily frightened I recommend not reading them.

 

Екатерина Ватева 7а

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