Julius M. Henry.
Daulton Dickey is a nobody. No one’s interested in him. Yet he runs around the Internet begging for attention and whinging about how no one will publish his artsy-fartsy novels. In a blatant and unapologetic act of theft, I’ve decided to ripoff Kurt Vonnegut’s interview from the Paris Review and track down Daulton—spoiler: he wasn’t hard to find—to ask him questions about life, writing, philosophy, and whatever else popped into my head. Knowing Daulton, I expect pretentious answers. And bullshit—spoiler: he’s an asshole.
Daulton Dickey [DD]: So. Here we are.
Daulton Dickey [Dd]: Indeed.
DD: I wanted to start by filling the audience in on a few things.
Dd: What audience?
DD: The audience reading this.
Dd: Are you high? No one reads this.
DD: This blog has had over 18,000 views.
Dd: Maybe so, but no one’s going to read this twaddle.
DD: Let’s agree to disagree. [Pause.] Now why don’t we start by telling the audience a little something about you?
Dd: What’s to tell? I’m married to an amazing woman and have three sons. Other than that, there’s not much to tell. I just turned 38. I’m a failed writer. I lost the job I held for the past ten years. Now I’m working two jobs and still not making ends meet. And, oh, did I mention that I’m a failed writer?
DD: “Failed” is a a stretch.
Dd: Let’s use Frege’s predicate calculus to illustrate my point: “x is a failed writer.” If we give x the value “Stephen King,” then that statement is false. If we give x the value “Daulton Dickey,” then that statement is true. It’s logic.
DD: Define “failed writer.”
Dd: “Failed writer” means “unable to persuade any agent, publisher, or reader that either he or his books are worthwhile.”
DD: But you’ve found some readers.
DD: You sold and gave away more than 800 copies of your ebook[Editor’s note: a collection of short stories, “A Peculiar Arrangement of Atoms.”]. And, as I previously said, your blog has had more than 18,000 views.
Dd: Minuscule. Those numbers mean nothing. It’s all a bunch of bullshit, you hype-manufacturing fuck. Attempted hype-manufacturing, I should say.
DD: We’ll agree to disagree. [Silence, the kind some people refer to as uncomfortable.] So, uh, tell me about your books?
Dd: The books I’m trying to flog?
Dd: To agents? And publishers? The books that not a single person on the planet has expressed interest in so much as considering? Those books?
Dd: Why would anyone else be—
DD: Will you just answer the fucking question, man?
Dd: Fine. Okay. Christ. But don’t think that little outburst won’t come back to haunt you. So now then. There are two novels, one experimental and the other avant garde. And I’m currently working on a memoir.
DD: What’s that about?
Dd: The memoir?
Dd: It’s a non-linear memoir exploring my struggles with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder. And by “undiagnosed,” I mean “undiagnosed at the time in which this memoir is set.” I’ve since been diagnosed. After spending a couple days in the local behavioral medicine ward on suicide watch.
DD: In what ways do you explore these disorders?
Dd: My aim is to give a subjective demonstration of what it’s like to suffer from these disorders. There’s mostly showing and very little telling. I’m only trying to explain what is necessary. The idea is to attempt to convey what these disorders feel like on a purely subjective level. Also, and this may make me sound like a dick, but I’m also writing it in a way that I hope will induce an anxiety attack in the reader.
DD: Why the fuck would you want to do that?
Dd: Every writer either induces an anxiety attack or attempts to induce one. That’s the primary function of writing—and many readers, and writers, don’t realize that. That’s the name of the game. Lust is another state writers induce, or attempt to. Again, that’s the primary function of writing.
DD: I thought the primary function of writing is reading.
Dd: Reading is the primary function of the Reader. The writer is only creating instructions for a reader to use to construct mental models. The problem is that each reader probably attaches different associations to the instructions, thereby rendering models differently, or even distinctly, from the models the writer constructs in his or her head during the writing process. Unfortunately, we can’t see another person’s mental model, so we have no way of knowing to what extent these models diverge.
DD: There’s no way to see another person’s mental model? Not even through inference?
Dd: We can infer information about the model based on what that person says—or what they don’t say, and the inference we draw from that. So we attempt to construct their model to understand it, and we’re not even 100% certain that this information is reliable, or to what extent it’s reliable. Basically, the models we end up attempting to construct are models based on our inferences—that is, the inferences are purely subjective; they depend, at least to an extent, on our mental models. So when we attempt to construct other people’s mental models, we might, in fact, be in the process of constructing models corrupted by information we’ve supplied. But … Shit. This is tangential. Get us back on track.
DD: So back to inducing lust or anxiety attacks—the primary function of writing, as you put it: Why does a writer want to induce an anxiety attack?
Dd: I doubt that many writers view it in those terms. But it’s their aim whether they realize it or not. Experiencing short, controlled anxiety attacks are the reason many people—and we’re sticking to adults here—read genre and literary fiction. When a writer creates a character that makes it easy to manipulate a reader into caring for that character, and when a writer plunges that character into conflict, it induces anxiety in the reader, anxiety that that reader experiences as fear, suspense, anticipation, or trepidation. So, in my memoir, my goal is to attempt to induce an anxiety attack, hopefully similar to my experiences, in the reader. I want to sustain it, and I don’t want the reader to be aware of why they’re experiencing what they are experiencing. The point of the memoir, I should say, is to attempt to convey what it’s like to suffer from these disorders.
DD: I want to talk about the book you wrote before this, which we’ll refer to as “Flesh.” There are similarities between that book and your memoir. Will you touch on that for a moment?
Dd: Well, both books contain a character named “Daulton.” Both books deal with a miscarriage that he and his girlfriend, later wife, endured. Both books deal with the death of his father. Both books deal with suicide. Also, stylistically, both books are written using unorthodox structures, and both books are written in a variety of ways—because the chief aim of both books is to induce and sustain anxiety attacks.
DD: That leads us to technique. What techniques did you develop to attempt these experiments?
Dd: You talk as though I’m clever. I didn’t develop any techniques; instead, I’ve borrowed and modified techniques from writers I admire, and then I incorporate those techniques into the structure. One of the ways I hope to achieve my goal of inducing an anxiety attack is by throwing a reader’s equilibrium, so to speak, off kilter, and to do that I’m trying to subvert the reader’s expectations—and I do that by either playing with or attempting to rewrite the rules of structure. [Pause.] That sounds pretentious, so let me clarify: I’m attempting to rewrite the rules for my own personal use; I’m not attempting to “revolutionize literature” or some such bullshit.
DD: Now these are techniques you developed in a previous book, which we’ll call “Mad.”
Dd: To a degree. Structurally, “Mad” is more or less conventional. It follows a typical three act structure. But I modified how those stories are told with some stylistic quirks, which came to dominate the third act. That novel was influenced by the notion that a writer trains a reader how to read his or her book—I disagree with that now, by the way. To my thinking, when I wrote it I thought I’d start off with a few quirks and then increase them until the third act unraveled and took the reader, hopefully, to another plain.
DD: To what end?
Dd: I was playing with human memory. How the structure unravels is meant to mirror some findings of Hermann Ebbingnhaus, a 19th century German who did some groundbreaking research on memory. The details of the relation between some of these findings and the structure are probably boring, so I’ll shut up now.
DD: Ebbingnhaus brings up an interesting point, though: your books are inspired by cognitive science and philosophy.
Dd: My books are heavily dependent on cognitive science and philosophy. I use recent and established findings to help mold and tweak these techniques I’ve put in my literary toolbox, and to help inform the structure.
DD: So this started with “Mad”?
Dd: It started with a failed novel I attempted to write years ago. I didn’t finish it, but I thought some of the techniques I’d worked out were worth playing with, so they carried over into these three books. I should note that I consider “Mad,” “Flesh,” and my memoir a trilogy. Ideally, a reader would read all three, starting with “Mad,” and witness a progression in style and technique, and also become acquainted with my sensibilities as my books become more avant garde. That’s the hope, at any rate. But no one will publish them, so it’s a moot point.
DD: So these books become avant garde incrementally.
Dd: There’s a leap between each, yes. But the previous book anticipates the following book in a way.
DD: Tell me a little more about “Flesh,” which you consider your most avant garde book to date. At least as long as the memoir remains a work-in-progress.
Dd: “Mad” took my avant garde sensibilities to a different level, so when I wrote my next novel, “Flesh,” I wanted to dismiss the conventional three act structure. “Flesh” is, I’m assuming, a difficult book to read. Fuck; this whole thing sounds so goddamned pretentious. Why am I doing this? If only people knew how insecure and disheartened and more or less devoid of self esteem I am … But I think “Flesh” is only difficult if you approach it the way you’d approach a conventional novel. At its core, “Flesh” is a long second act with an inverted third act superimposed over the entire novel. As a result, the ending is a subtext running throughout the book, and it’s a subtext that the reader will hopefully infer or interpret. If not, the reader probably won’t even realize the book contains an ending.
DD: You adore those novels, don’t you?
Dd: More than anything else I’ve written. And because they’re not conventional, not a single literary agent—and I’ve queried literally hundreds—or publisher, for that matter, has expressed any interest in them.
DD: You could try self-publishing.
Dd: I don’t want to. Not those novels.
DD: But why not? You’ve self-published before.
Dd: It feels desperate and pathetic, even for me. I’m still old school when it comes to publishing.
DD: But your ebooks do all right.
Dd: Their numbers have redlined. They’re not doing anything now.
DD: But can’t you try to build on that success by publishing something else?
Dd: Not these novels.
DD: Okay. Fine. Now, I want to discuss your ebook for a moment.
Dd: Sure. It’s a collection of short stories. Some are experimental and some are conventional. Some are silly or irreverent and some are bleak and depressing. I’m proud of every story in there. And I can assure you that there’s at least one story in there that’s not like anything else you’ve ever read—for good or ill.
DD: Which one is that?
Dd: Mum’s the word.
DD: Tell me about the proceeds to that collection, “A Peculiar Arrangment of Atoms.”
Dd: I’ve decided recently that 50% of all proceeds from “A Peculiar Arrangement of Atoms” will go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a wonderful organization that provides a suicide hotline to people who’ve hit their emotional nadir.
DD: Okay. That’s great. Altruistic and all that. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
Dd: Are you serious? And you’re a professional interviewer?
DD: I just wondered if there were any more bases you’d like to cover.
Dd: Fuck off.
DD: Excuse me?
Dd: I’m done. [Stands up.]
DD: Why? Where are you going?
Dd: I was under the impression that I was working with a professional.
DD: But I am.
Dd: Liar. Your produce drivel that no one wants to read.
DD: But some people do read it.
Dd: Not as many as you’d like. And no one, and I mean no one, will read this twaddle.
[Daulton leaves the room. The interviewer lights a cigarette and fondles himself while viewing lewd pictures of the interviewee’s wife.]