The Revisionaries

Interview: Moxon Merges Perception and Reality in a Complex Tale

April 1, 2020
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An exclusive Authorlink interview

The Revisionaries

Melville House

A.R. Moxon

A street priest with a neon chapel, streets filled with released “loonies”, including one who babbles about his lost boy, a flickering young man (he’s there and then he’s not), the crime boss who ran things for the absentee crime boss, his brother/sister team of sneak and fighter (or was there a brother?), the circus with the beautiful, leaping aerialist (without/with a beard), the circus owner with the ritual of bird or spade (neither a good choice). A professor finds the history of the Isaac Love party settling in frontier Tennessee and the amnesia fountain beginning the Continuance which led to Morris and to Gordy’s tunnels and the oubliette. All of which might lead to the wave which will (or won’t) wash away the universe.

AUTHORLINK: How did you ever come up with the idea for this novel?

“We wrote without much direction other than what interested us…”

MOXON: Would you believe I didn’t?

The longer answer to this is available in my newsletter, but the thing that became The Revisionaries began in the late 90s as a writing exercise with a friend (to whom the book is dedicated). We wrote without much direction other than what interested us, mostly to amuse one another, and by the end, we had a lot of wild characters and incidents, and I had this half-formed idea that perhaps our mysterious Gordy might be a prophet on the run, like Jonah.

It wasn’t quite a story yet … but it was compelling enough to me that it stayed with me.

What happened is that over the next 10 years, as my twenties bled into my thirties, rather than developing the idea for the novel, I developed a worldview, and as that worldview formed, the pieces of this writing exercise accrued to it in ways that I found fascinatingly apt. So, a lot of the weirdness is in there because … it was already there, waiting. It’s in there in the particular way it is because of the sense I made of it afterward.

“…I realized I had a story that was about many things, but primarily about the collaborative nature of reality and art…”

At some point I realized I had a story that was about many things, but primarily about the collaborative nature of reality and art, which could honor both my worldview and the story’s collaborative origins, and which could include all the bizarre incidents born of that collaboration; not by forcing them in awkwardly, but by bringing to them order and sense and a narrative drive, and a story people would find compelling. It wasn’t enough for me to create the reaction “what on earth? this is insane!” but rather “what on earth? this is insane! but I think I get it! and I can’t put it down!”

Once I thought I had enough of the story in my mind, and once I was convinced that it was a story that checked all those boxes (for me, at least), I started.

AUTHORLINK: Are you Landrude? (Or by switching places, Morris?) How did you decide on the novel idea of putting the author in the story?

MOXON: I’m no more Landrude or Morris than I am any of the other characters, I’d say. I had a roommate in grade school whose last name was “Landrud” and it always struck me as a funny first name to give somebody. It wasn’t until astonishingly late in the game that I realized that “Landrude” is an assonance with my own first name, and by then Landrude was already a usurped author / usurping character, which made it perfect, so then of course his last name had to be Markson. A double assonance for a double-usurper. So: he’s not me, but his relationship to most of the other characters is an assonance to the relationship of the author (me) to the entire world of the book including him, which naturally suggests further assonances at levels below our characters and levels above me.

As for putting the author in the story: The mysterious smoking figure who kept popping into the narrative was a puzzle I spent years trying to unlock and at some point I just realized in a flash the connection between my main villain and this central undefined figure. This epiphany unlocked a lot of other problems all at once, by the way. Because Ben (my collaborative buddy) had written in an aside that Landrude was a comic book author, and because “usurping author” is actually a fairly common comic book and genre trope, the idea really appealed to me, and hooked into ideas of authorship and audience and creators and creations that were already swirling around, and also helped make sense of some rather intense tonal shifts I was trying to negotiate, but which needed a reason to exist beyond themselves. It was an extraordinarily exciting realization, perhaps the most exciting of the process.

AUTHORLINK: Did it turn out anything like you first expected (if you were Landrude, I guess not)?

MOXON: Honestly, it came together far better than I’d hoped—perhaps the result of puzzling it over for a decade. Believe it or not, the story you read is very close to the story I had in mind when I started.

AUTHORLINK: How did you write and arrange all the pieces that leap (kind of like Jane in the circus) in time and place, and even where reality is?

“By the time I reached the end of the book I had a very good idea of where I was going…”

MOXON: I’m so glad somebody made that connection! The narrative at that point is absolutely supposed to mirror Jane at the circus—a leap without a catch—and that’s how I wrote it, straight through, trusting the next catch to materialize after each leap. By the time I reached the end of the book I had a very good idea of where I was going and where I needed it to land, and I already had the concept of books-within-books established, so I had the tools I needed in place to make the shifts happen and I kind of fell into doing it that way. I’d write in one “mode” for a character until I needed to switch POV and then I’d switch to the next “mode.”

Originally, I only used the effect at the very end of the book for the rising climactic action. I thought it was a way out there sort of thing to do and expected that if it was ever published I’d have to walk it back, but my editor, Michael Barron, actually encouraged me to lean into that structural decision as a way of underlining the fractures that were occurring in this reality, and make it the structure of the entire last quarter of the book.

Editors are pretty smart usually as it turns out.

AUTHORLINK: What kind of research did you do and how long did it take you to write it?

MOXON: Very little! I’m maybe a little embarrassed by how little? I did research Pigeon Forge a lot, but I only used the parts that served the story, and played pretty free and loose with the dates and facts. Almost everything else you find in the books were things I learned by being a curious person in the world and stirring the stewpot of my story as it developed in my mind. Whenever I heard something that was right for the story, into the pot it went.

As for duration: If you track from the moment Ben and I started the writing exercise, the whole thing took about 20 years, during which I also thought about many other stories I haven’t yet written, and many others I already have.

If that seems too daunting a timeline, the actual writing of it started in January 2012 and finished up in November 2014, and self-editing took me through to about July 2016. It sold in early 2018 and editing wrapped up in early 2019. The book landed at the very end of 2019. So, four years to make a manuscript and four more to see it in bookstores. Let’s call it a mostly delightful way to spend eight years.

AUTHORLINK: Did you see parallels with Isaac’s ability to manipulate people with his amnesia water with the way leaders can manipulate their followers even without it? (or do they have some form of it?) I’m thinking particularly about the way Frankton changed.

MOXON: The Love clan is exactly how I see the power structures of the world working in most ways, and really not even metaphorically. There was a time I used to think that Morris—the private prison profiteer and owner of his own underground network of torture-cells, who sincerely believes only he exists, who uses his inherited wealth to control others, create advantage for himself and pain for others—was too over-the-top, too cartoonishly evil, too unrealistic to be allowed to exist even in a cartoon world.

I don’t think that anymore. If anything, I think he’s too realistic. I should have made him president.

The amnesia water was my way of thinking of the ways people are offered ways to not know the things they do know, about what’s being done to others. An abusive system protects itself by never abusing everybody at once, or at least not past endurance. That’s the deal it offers: if you keep quiet, it won’t be you, not today. That’s a morally difficult thing to make your peace with, and most people (speaking for myself here) handle it simply by making themselves not know the things they don’t want to know. I’d posit that you can see that dynamic play out every single day, pretty much everywhere you look.

AUTHORLINK: Why cats?

MOXON: I mean … why not?

Truth: Ben once wrote “Boyd was a straight-shootin’ cat with a tummy fulla mice” or words to that effect. It was the first appearance of Boyd in the narrative of our writing exercise. He meant “cat” as slang. I decided he meant an actual cat. As I built the story from the grist of the exercise, cats made more and more and more sense. Eventually, it made so much sense on so many levels I couldn’t imagine the book any other way.

This is also the answer to “why” when it comes to almost any detail of the book, incidentally. It’s mysterious even to me, which is my favorite part of the whole thing.

AUTHORLINK: What do you hope the reader comes away with besides an enjoyable read, mental gymnastics and new friends that continue to live in their imagination? (Maybe especially whenever they put on sandals)

First and foremost, I want people to want to read it again.”

MOXON: First and foremost, I want people to want to read it again. That was the goal: to write a book that someone would want to return to. (It’s written to reward multiple trips through, incidentally.)

Beyond that, I’d like people to reframe their perception to encounter reality—all of reality—as if it were art. Art is something both created and observed and in that way, it is intrinsically interactive and collaborative. The creator has power to determine what is, while the observer has power to decide what it means, and both roles are very sacred and important. When you approach the art that is reality, realize the places where you have the power to determine what is, and realize the places where you don’t have that power, you still have the astonishing power to determine what it means … which can change everything.

AUTHORLINK: How did you get agents/editors to even consider a 500+ page first novel? What was your elevator pitch?

“I queried without success for about 9 months, and expected to fail, honestly.”

MOXON: The original manuscript was about 900+ pages, actually, so part of it was knowing when asked “can you cut your novel down by 33%?” the answer is “yes I can.”

I queried without success for about 9 months, and expected to fail, honestly. I knew when I began that an immense and weird densely literary novel is not what publishers are generally looking for from a debut; it’s just that this was the story I had to tell, and so I wanted to tell it regardless. I planned to write a second novel at a more reasonable length, and had in fact begun work on it when, one morning in August 2017, I wrote a Twitter thread that got a quarter of a million retweets and earned me 80,000 followers over a weekend.

My bio said that I was shopping a novel.

This sort of thing interests literary agents.

It’s not clear to me if Melville House knew about my platform or not when they asked to read my manuscript, but I wouldn’t have come on their radar if that hadn’t happened, and while I’m sure they wouldn’t have offered to publish it if the story hadn’t grabbed them, I’m also sure having a platform didn’t hurt.

The bottom line is, I got very lucky to suddenly get an unlooked-for platform, and then lucky again to find professionals who believed in a gigantic and very weird novel. And, if I do say so myself, I helped create a situation where that luck was possible by having written a gigantic and very weird novel, and by using that to teach myself to write well enough to write the sorts of twitter threads that can land you a large platform.

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?

MOXON: I’m nearly finished with a long essay that is a follow-up to a series I published to my blog in 2017, called Bubbles. This one is probably called Streets. I don’t know what I’ll do with it yet, but it will wind up on my blog if nowhere else.

I’m also working on a novel that’s about gravitational shifts and zip lines and end-of-life care and collective intelligence and the nature of time. Stuff like that.

About the author: A. R. Moxon was born in New Hampshire, raised in Zaire and lives in Michigan with his wife and children. He runs 10Ks and the twitter handle @JuliusGoat. He also writes on armoxon.com.

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This post was written by Diane Slocum

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