[Issue 10 / August 2014]
LONELINESS, WRITING WORKSHOPS AND WRITING AS A TOOL TO STIMULATE FURTHER THOUGHT: AND INTERVIEW WITH RAYMOND HUTSON
By Kulpreet Yadav.
Topeka, ma ‘Shuge’ (Gilliss Books, 2014) is the first novel by Open Road Review contributor Raymond Hutson who is a practicing doctor at Spokane, WA. This interview was conducted over e mail.
Kulpreet Yadav: ‘Topeka, ma ‘Shuge’, that’s an unusual title for a novel in English. How and why did you choose this?
Raymond Hutson: The original title for the work was simply, ‘Topeka.’ The goal of the journey, and the place where reclamation occurs. I wanted to be a bit cryptic, invite the reader to pick it up, but decided later that Topeka, being a large Midwestern town with a lot of early American history, might mislead someone. Some hard-boiled historian might order it online, expecting to learn something about the American frontier, and be very, very disappointed to find it was a novel about a teenage girl. I added the word “ma’shuge” later; the Farsi word meaning ‘Lover’ or ‘my love.’ As if Majij had thought of it, looked at Erika, and said, “Topeka, my love.”
KY: Majij Aziz, an immigrant doctor from the Middle East who is practicing in the US, becomes a refuge for Erika, the alienated and troubled teenager. Do you think, really, the loneliness and lack of freedom that the teenagers feel are common with those experienced by the immigrants?
RH: I think that loneliness is a universal emotion. The need to be held, needed, wanted, is part of the human fabric. I don’t think we really experience loneliness until we come of age (children have that magic ability to live so much in the moment), and so the loneliness experienced by Erika, heightened by her growing sexual awareness and the perception that she is not really attractive, (and who hasn’t experienced that as we’ve grown up?), is very much like the loneliness that Majij feels, isolated from our culture. Majij differs only in that he has never seen a good model for love, and so he seeks to control. Partially because of the dictates of the fundamentalism that he’s trying to conform to, and partially because he has never been trusted, and does not know how to trust. Essential to mature love is the ability, willingness, to relinquish control.
KY: How much time you took to write the novel and who are your literary influences?
RH: I started dabbling with the novel in 1999 or so, but did not really commit to the notion of being a novelist until 2003, when I attended the Iowa Summer Workshops. That experience gave me the confidence that I could finish a major work, make myself heard. I finished the rough draft at the end of 2006, and have been revising it since. I have a day job, I’m a physician, so I’ve never been able to dedicate as much time to writing as I’d like. I think at the time I started writing the novel I was reading a lot of Paul Bowles, Vladimir Nabokov, as well as Graham Greene. I remember reading a novel by Joyce Carol Oates at the time, one of her less remembered works, ‘You Must Remember This.’ That book had an influence as well.
I loved the sentence structure of Hemingway, and his stories are still engaging today, while Fitzgerald, his contemporary, is beginning to sound a bit dated. In a perfect world, I would want to write like Michael Ondaatje.
KY: Open Road Review published one of your short fiction pieces in 2013. Do you think, if at all, writing and reading short fiction makes one a better writer of a full-length novel?
RH: Absolutely. I think that reading short fiction helps keep one ‘thinking outside the box,’ looking at fresh new ways to tell a story. As well as the pure enjoyment of suspending my own ‘willing sense of disbelief,’ for a while. Writing short stories is a good alternative when one has come to a temporary slowdown on one’s larger work. It never hurts to go down a different path, always keep writing, keep the machinery of creativity running. The smaller canvas of the short story keeps our thoughts succinct, forces us to choose the best word or phrase. Short stories also have the practical benefit of bringing your work to a larger audience, people that might buy your book, once they’ve heard your name. I’m very grateful to ORR for considering my short, ‘Perfume.’
KY: What are your literary ambitions?
RH: As you might expect. To be remembered for my writing. To write something that somehow improves the human condition or leaves people a little happier. Medicine can be exhausting, and while I may not be able to wander the halls of a hospital another ten or twenty years, I think I’ll still have something to say, and hope I have the faculties to write it down in a way that entertains. I find the idea of teaching Creative Writing, perhaps at the college level, particularly attractive. Writing should stimulate further thought, resonate is the word some academics use; perhaps make people question their own life’s purpose by bring them briefly into the life of the character. I want to do that.
Founder-editor of Open Road Review, Kulpreet Yadav’s latest novel Catching the Departed, shortlisted by Hachette-DNA in a contest called ‘Hunt for the Next Bestseller’, was launched at The Arts House, Singapore on 18 July 2014. He lives in New Delhi. More atwww.kulpreetyadav.in