" I became obsessed. I wanted to be the best. I wanted more than anything…”
Your protagonist states this quote with such conscious certainty. It speaks from the heart of all scientists, artists, authors. YOU?
I suppose when I was younger I had aspirations of being the best. Winning a Pulitzer. The Nobel. Oftentimes daydreaming about what it would be like to be a famous author. But now, not so much. I’m happy with being able to carve out an hour a day to write, another hour to read. I try to write the best book or story that I can, obviously, and I hope others enjoy my work as well, but I don’t think I obsess, especially to the point Coulter did in An Elegant Theory. He was driven mad by his obsession, causing him mental health issues and for him to act out violently. I don’t think obsession constitutes a conducive environment for production, whatever the field. Persistence is good, but so is balance.
What gave you the idea for this novel?
I’ve always had a fascination with physics, especially quantum mechanics and string theory, and I wanted to explore these themes in my work. Most of all, I wanted to embed them into the novel’s structure, hence the multiple points of view and non-linear narrative arc. The double slit light experiment and complementary pairs really create the structure for An Elegant Theory, and that’s the genesis. I wrote little vignettes, just short scenes that at the time were disparate, with no thought really to plot. It took several years for it to take shape in fact, to know exactly what story was being told.
There is always a little bit of truth in all fiction. Where are you in this story?
When I first started writing this book in 2011, my wife was pregnant with our first child. I suppose the moments that are most true for me would be the worry and angst of being a new parent. There is excitement, and love, but there’s also fear. Fear that I wouldn’t be a good father. Fear that something bad may happen to my child. Fear that she would be unhappy. Fear that something may be wrong. Even now I still struggle with doubt and fear, but I think that just comes with being a parent. But there’s also an immense amount of joy and pride. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, but being a father is the greatest thing to happen to me, too.
Where are you hoping this work will take you?
Oh, I don’t know. I just hope people read it and like it. And I hope it affords me an audience that will allow me to continue to publish.
Next book? What and when?
My next book is a short story collection called Five Hundred Poor. It will be released June 1st, 2018, by Central Avenue Publishing, and it has 10 stories in it, 8 of which have been previously published in places like Rathalla Review, MAKE Literary Magazine, Storyscape Literary Journal, and Cowboy Jamboree. The title comes from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, and it explores themes of poverty, economic inequality, colonialism, envy, and disillusionment. I’m also working on a new novel called Into Captivity They Will Go about a kid whose mother convinces him he is the second coming of Christ. I think I might be wrapping that one up soon, but you never know sometimes how these things will go.
Want to share your writing process.
I don’t know if I have much of a process. If I do, it includes copious amounts of coffee. It’s just not something I really think about. I sit down at the computer, and I start to write. Most of the time, it’s crap, and I have to revise and revise and revise until I have something that I’m not too embarrassed to send out into the world. Probably the most important part is reading. I try to read everything I can. Novels, short stories, poems, articles, essays, and on and on and on. To be a writer, I strongly believe you have to be a good reader, and not just for entertainment value. Every piece I read, I try to deconstruct it as best I can to figure out exactly what makes that piece work, or if it doesn’t, why. I think that has much more bearing on my writing process than the physical act of hitting the keys on the keyboard.
What element of craft is your weakest?
At times, I’ve gotten trapped in longwinded expository passages. For instance, I’ve had criticisms on An Elegant Theory for the lengthy passages explaining the scientific theories, stalling plot and character development for a dry, textbook-like feel. It’s something I work very hard at, and luckily, I have an excellent editor in Michelle Halket who helped me pare down a lot of that to what I hope was just enough to make the book make sense, but not enough to where people got bored with it.
Which is your strongest?
I’ve been told I write dialogue well, but I don’t know. A lot of times I think it is dependent on the story. I was proudest of the structure in An Elegant Theory, but I’m not sure if many people would agree that it was the strongest part of it. In other stories, for instance “Life Expectancy” in my upcoming collection, I think the imagery and sense of place really stands out as the best element of craft. So, I think it is an ever-evolving thing for me. I get better as I write and read more, and with some works a certain element of craft will really stand out as strong, and in others it will be something completely different. That’s one of the great joys of writing, I think, surprising yourself.
“The fundamental nature of reality is so much stranger than we ever thought it would be.”
Quantum Physics is an undertone in this book throughout—along with Quantum Consciousness.
Is it a major subject of interest for you?
Will it play a major theme in other works?
I’ve always been fascinated with physics. I’ve read Brian Greene, Michio Kaku, Stephen Hawking, and Richard Feynman. Also, iTunesU is a wonderful resource, offering free lectures on various topics such as electromagnetism or heterophenomenology, and I think certain concepts will probably come up again in different pieces, whether that be short fiction or a new novel, but I don’t think it will again play such a central role in the story. I want to move on to new themes and concepts and research other subjects, so you might see a metaphor or something come up, but nothing that really drives the narrative.
As we approach the frantic season known as "The Holidays," I always ask myself, "Why do we do it?"
Why do I make fake snowdrifts around a dying tree in my sunny California living room and put inflatable snow persons in my beachy drought-tolerant yard?
Finally it came to me. It's all the fault of Charles Dickens.
Mr. Dickens has a lot to answer for.
With the publication of his Christmas Carol in 1843, Charles single-handedly made Christmas our biggest cultural holiday. Before the debut of his (self-published) little novella, celebration of the holiday had all but died out in Anglo-Saxon Christendom. The pen is powerful indeed.
A Christmas Carol revived the custom of taking the day off work, gathering for big family feasts and getting generous with gifts—remnants of an ancient pagan Solstice celebration which had been meshed with the Nativity story by some very clever early Christian marketers.
It was a great idea in Dickens day. People were stuck in their houses and villages and a big feast day gave everybody a chance to gather for some convivial cheer at the darkest time of year.
But I think Mr. Dickens and those early Christians would be appalled to see what the holiday has become. Every year it gets worse: travelers are stranded at airports for days...buried in snowdrifts while trying to buy last minute gifts…or imprisoned in grounded airplanes with nothing to eat but rationed packets of Cheez-Its.
All in the middle of flu season. (…she writes after taking another swig of DayQuill.)
OK, Aussies, Kiwis, Africans, and other inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere: you can ignore this rant or read on and chortle.
But seriously, Northern Hemispherians, what’s up with setting our biggest travel-holiday at the time of year when we can count on the worst travel conditions?
It’s not really about the Christian faith, is it? There’s nothing in the Bible about Jesus making his fleshly debut in December. And we know for sure this event did not happen in a place with a lot of snow. Or holly, mistletoe, reindeer, or bearded white guys in furry outfits.
The bearded white guy who was first reputed to reward good children and admonish the bad ones at the winter solstice was a Norse deity called Odin (or Woden or Wotan—whatever you want to call the Wednesday god-guy.) And the rituals involving holly and mistletoe and pointy evergreen trees? Kind of more Druidish than Judeo-Christian.
So do we really need to go through all this suffering to honor a Teutonic war god who slithered down chimneys to put anthracite in the footwear of bad little Vikings?
Not that the Christmas/Druid holiday hasn’t had a good run. But now we’ve got wildly scattered families. And climate change.
Not to mention sadistically dysfunctional air travel.
So I’m going to suggest a change of authors. Boot Charles Dickens in favor of William Shakespeare. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have our big yearly celebration at the SUMMER SOLSTICE—Midsummer’s Night?
OK, A Midsummer Night’s Dream isn’t as heartwarming as the Scrooge tale, but who needs warming in the middle of June?
Wouldn’t it be more fun to go home and visit Mom and Dad in the summertime? To barbeque that turkey on a backyard grill? Inspired by the Bard, you could decorate the front yard with inflatable Rude Mechanicals and any number of sparkly fairies.
Maybe Puck could pop down our chimneys and leave gifts under the potted palm, which could be adorned with little surfboards and beach balls and those lights shaped like chili peppers.
We could still conduct the same kind of retail frenzy, since that seems to be necessary to the well-being of our economic system, but we could shop on safe, sunshiny streets, with evening light to choose them by.
Or maybe we need another story altogether. What about it, writers out there? Anybody up for writing some Summer Solstice tales and carols? About Rudolf the Red-Nosed Surfer, maybe? Or Frosty the Slushy Man? Hark the Herald Fairies Sing?
If Dickens could write a novel that created our biggest holiday, maybe some 21st century scribe can write the book that will give us a new celebration that will fit better with our times.
An awful lot of cranky travelers and flu-sufferers would be grateful.
Anne R. Allen is a popular blogger and the author of 12 books, including the hilarious Camilla Randall Mysteries. Her most recent release is: The Queen of Staves: The Camilla Randall Mysteries #6. She blogs with NYT million-seller Ruth Harris at Anne R. Allen's Blog.