Anybody who "grew up online" or who is deeply into the internet will enjoy this work
Please enjoy this interview with Michael Stutz, author of the deeply poetic literary novel,Circuits of the Wind.
Your book, Circuits of the Wind, set mostly in the 80s and 90s, is the life-story of someone growing up on the early Internet. It's as much technological as it is literary. Tell us what inspired that subject.
Well, the net's everywhere now, it's big and getting bigger and there's no going back -- but I remember when there was no net, or when the net was underground, and I remember the thrill and excitement and hope when the net was coming and those people who were part of this underground, myself included, saw it all happening and were there.
It's not a short read. It's in three volumes! Isn't that unusual for a debut novel?
Yes, I know, but I've had people tell me that they really like the three volume paper thing, and look at it as a kind of collectible. But personally I understand the trepidation a new reader might have -- if you're reading it on paper, you have to make the effort of getting three books instead of one. And that's a huge thing to ask, I know. I mean, it's one book. You can't really pick up one volume and treat it like its own novel, because it just isn't. They each have their own granularity and scale, but it's not three individual novels and they're not independent of each other and I know that's a lot to commit to -- but the future's digital anyway, even for the most serious of literary fiction, so you might as well try the complete unabridged Kindle edition which has everything (including all three color covers).
And you don't even need to have a Kindle to read it, I should add -- I'm surprised at how many smart, "literary" type people have been painfully behind with all this, and still don't even know that you can read these books on your PC, or your phone, or even your web browser.
The three books really do have distinct feels: Volume 1 is almost like a childhood reminiscence for Generation X, Volume 2 is like an early 90s campus novel, and Volume 3 is like a novel of the dot-com workplace. But there's a wistful feeling that shows up as an undercurrent throughout them all. The imagery of the willow tree is the strongest, and is even reflected in the cover art. What's that about?
The dreaminess and ghostlike transience of the world, and how fast it is -- like the breeze that shakes the willow. The hero, Ray Valentine, is living in two worlds in this book: he's living his real-life, midwest suburban American existence, and he's also out there in the computer underground, the worldwide net that -- at the time -- most people in "real life" don't know anything about. To spend so much of your time in a hidden, virtual reality shared by so few (even though we'd all get on it soon enough), I think that instigates the dreaminess of his day-to-day reality. And it's all a big dream, a dream of loneliness and suffering which is truly what all of our existence will amount to in this vale of tears.
It's certainly a work of lyrical realism, somehow reading like a biography or a third-person autobiography. But I get the feeling that maybe it's not all factual?
Thank you! I hate when people assume that it's nonfiction just because the style is realistic and is leading you to believe. Of course it's all fake, but as we say ten thousand times, this job's a matter of sacrificing innumerable facts in order to achieve the truth. That was really the main objective. And I think the whole genre thing is over, anyway, at least in terms of my own work, because I don't even think about it -- fiction, nonfiction, drama, history, memoir, horror, comedy, short story, mystery, haiku, whatever. It's all just writing to me. I don't care about genres at all.
In another recent interview you talked about how the hero of the book, Ray Valentine, becomes influenced by the Beat Generation. Are they an influence on you as well?
Well yes, I mean, to me they're about the last large-scale happening in literature that was really interesting. And my generation, that gone forgotten Generation X, was about the last to have any real contact or connection with the Beats. Myself, I can relate completely with them. Thinking of it now, the window of personal connection I had in real life with some of them, including William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Hunter S. Thompson, was so brief -- but it seemed like it was everything at the time. Today I can read Burroughs' essays and letters all day, for instance, and when I do I'm in perfect company.
Who else then, besides the Beats, has influenced you as an author?
Well just about everyone in the Modern Library -- the old hardbound editions -- as that's where my tastes mostly go toward. There is surely understanding of and affinity for Jack Kerouac, and Thomas Wolfe, that strain of rich, rapturous American prosody which in turn goes back well beyond Whitman (or Sandburg) to Proust, Balzac, Celine, Goethe. And Japanese haikai, I read Issa and Buson and Basho incessantly, and Keats, Browning, Alfred Noyes. I've had my Dostoevskian periods. Big books are to my taste. Otherwise, in terms of deephearted affinity, I'd have to say it's F. Scott Fitzgerald all the way.
I want to ask you something different. Can you tell me what readers won't like your book? For example, can you give any books whose fans probably won't become fans of yours?
Yes! I'm pretty sure that if you enjoy 50 Shades of Grey, you won't get any thrills out of me. Ditto with Stephen King and anything else on the commercial genre lists. I mean, I don't want to push anyone away, but just as I can tell you that I don't read science fiction at all, I can tell you that people who do -- or who favor any kind of genre books, including thrillers, horror, erotica, romance -- would most certainly find this book not at all to their tastes.
Genre books, which are very popular now, are "page-turners" -- you read them for a different reason, for the motion and the structure of the plot. A situation is built up and you keep going forward to find out what happens next. Well as far as I'm concerned nothinghappens next -- I don't want you to turn the page. At least not right away. I want you to dwell on the page, on what's there.
If you need to "get the story" with minimal description or extras, and you need a sequence of action, then you aren't going to get it.
But if you're the kind of reader who reads for atmosphere and description and tone and for the sound and feeling of the words, well then dive on in from high and I hope you enjoy.
What are you doing now? Another book?
Yep, deep inside another book, and working on a story collection on top of that. I've also been contributing to places like Modern Matter, an exciting London-based men's magazine that is kind of like a high-culture Wired: it covers the same sort of ground but with much more fashion, art and ideas. Lately I've been finding more connections and contributions happening in the UK than right here in the US, and I don't know if that speaks to the literary tastes over there or to what's happened with literature over here or if the more international aspect is just an effect of contemporary literature in the net age, but it's definitely something I've picked up on.
About Circuits of the Wind: A sprawling, lyric tale of a young man growing up on the early Internet -- and finding a future in his offline reality -- that's saturated in rich, poetic prose. Get it from Amazon, Powells or Barnes and Noble.
About the author: Michael Stutz is the author of Circuits of the Wind. Visit Michael on hiswebsite, Facebook, and Twitter.
Great interview, Mel. Good to see a writer interested in ideas and language rather than being genre focused.
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