1. What inspired you to write The Measurements of Decay?
The novel draws from many inspirations. Too many, perhaps. I began writing it when I was 20 years old and steeped in the classics of philosophy. I recall that the main themes arose out of a series of thoughts I had at the time in response to Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. Part of Descartes’ work seemed to imply to me, at the time, that absolute certainty about something can only be achieved in virtue of being that thing. Obviously the only thing one can be is oneself. With this as the criteria for knowledge-at-its-best, the implication, therefore, is that anything other than oneself is subject to doubt. But what would it take for that certainty and those conditions to extend to other things and people, and even form the foundation of science? What political and moral implications would this have? The logical thread quickly ended up somewhere between absurdity and nightmare. In other words, perfectly suitable for the crucible of science fiction. My study of philosophy continued to inform the novel, especially as many problems related to the tension between objectivity and subjectivity became apparent. It is one of the key conflicts of philosophy: How can the individual make sense of being in the world, which is shared by others? How does our limited and unique perspective impact our moral considerations, our ability to be scientific, or our understanding of consciousness and being? Moreover, how can we make sense of duty, freedom and knowledge in the shadow of this subjective-objective tension? These are the themes I wanted to address, but I wanted to address them in grand, Melvillian style. I wanted to combine the speculative power of science fiction, the psychological investigation that authors like Dostoevsky or Hamsun perform, and those problems of philosophy that occurred to me while I was a student. And I wanted to create a beautiful, if dark and risky, work of it.
2. What advice would you give readers interested in reading The Measurements of Decay? How should they approach the novel?
The reader should approach The Measurements of Decay with a degree of patience. I have written the novel in an ornate style that bucks the minimalist trend. That alone means paying more attention to the language and not racing through the plot, which is itself somewhat complicated and tangled in other aspects of the writing. The reason for this is that the language is itself a key part of the story, for philosophical, thematic and character reasons. The overarching plot, meanwhile, unravels quite slowly. Many readers have expressed that they found themselves having to accept a degree of ambiguity through the first half or so, but being enthralled by the plot thereafter and appreciating the upward climb retroactively. In addition, the philosophical content of the book can be quite intense, especially for someone without a background in the subject, though not, I think, impossible. Lastly, I would say that the reader should treat the Narrator as a character with his own idiosyncratic worldview, use of language and will. Much of the novel is an exploration of his psyche and his philosophical troubles. To understand the novel is to attempt to understand the Narrator.
3. Who are your favorite authors you like to read and/or follow?
Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Cormac McCarthy, Thomas de Quincy, Dan Simmons, Alfred Bester, Ursula K. LeGuin, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Gene Wolfe, Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, J. R. R. Tolkien (particularly The Silmarillion).
4. When do you find the time to write?
Usually late at night, but not necessarily. I tend to write whenever I have at least a solid hour in the day, and all other tasks have been completed.
5. Who and/or what has influenced your writing style?
I am attracted to beautiful and daring language, intellectual ideas and poignant characterization. The novels that I enjoy the most tend to be ornately written, poetic and philosophical in some degree. In terms of fiction, I draw from the psychological investigations of Dostoevsky, Knut Hamsun and Thomas de Quincy, the immortal masterpiece that is Moby Dick, the speculative powers of science fiction from Alfred Bester and Ursula K. LeGuin, and the magnificent prose of Cormac McCarthy. Most of the ideas I like to base my themes on are drawn from the history of philosophy, though not always.
6. What are you working on now?
I have ideas for three more novels, each very different from the other, and different to
The Measurements of Decay. I am also focusing very much on my professional career
and my personal life, with much less time for writing, at the moment.
7. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Decide from the beginning if you want to write mainly for artistic or entertainment or
commercial reasons. If you decide to write for mainly artistic reasons, your standard
should be nothing short of an absolute masterpiece. You will in all likelihood fail, but it
will probably force you to increase the quality of your work. Aim for the stars, as they
say. In terms of writing itself, I like to think of the first draft as a process of excavating marble from a quarry. After the marble is prepared, you can begin sculpting. I also do not believe in inspiration as a necessary requirement to writing. I have found that inspiration only makes starting easier, or helps in generating ideas. It provides no noticeable increase in quality. If you are writing for purely artistic reasons I would also avoid any business related information about the world of publishing until you are finished with at least the second draft. The knowledge may poison your vision. On the other hand, if you are writing mainly to entertain or for commercial reasons, make sure to read up as much as possible about the publishing world, and, in particular, about the constrictions of your respective genre.