Montag sat down for a lengthy Q&A session yesterday where he addressed questions about himself, his work, art generally, and much more.
– Q: From your biographical blurb, it looks like you’ve been all over the place. But The Dichotomy really focuses on the Southwest. Was there any particular reason you chose that area, or was it just the one you were the most familiar with?
– A: I think that a good story can be transposed to different times or places and the core of it will remain essentially the same though the details might change. The Dichotomy is literally based on a dream I once had many years ago (well, three quarters of the first chapter are based on a dream, anyway). The rest of the book is me just taking that idea and running with it. To answer your question, the dream made very specific use of location and I didn’t see any need to change that when I put it to paper years later. I think that there are some qualities which are very specific to the Southwest and I really drew on those, but I do believe that The Dichotomy could have taken place pretty much anywhere and still remained fundamentally the same.
– Q: Your cast of characters is fairly diverse – your heroes are a white man, an Asian woman, and a black man romantically linked with a white woman. But you don’t seem to take the opportunity to explore any social issues. Why not?
– A: Social issues are obviously very important since they affect us all, but when I sat down to write The Dichotomy, I was concerned with exploring the different facets of humanity that are revealed when we come face-to-face with fantastic and horrifying adversity. I wrote a short essay recently which drew on Flannery O’Connor’s claim that we come to know who we are fundamentally only when we’re thrust into extraordinary circumstances (more specifically, violent ones); I think that what she says is largely true, though I wouldn’t agree that violence is the only sort of extraordinary circumstance that serves this function. So in a sense, I wanted to explore some more fundamental themes and issues (which are, frankly, more interesting to me).
Also, I would say that I have a real hesitance to explore social issues in any sort of obvious way; I think that the temptation to really propagandize and proselytize is too strong when one tries to use fiction as a means of making a social or philosophical point. I also wrote a short essay about this a few years ago; Sartre thought that fiction should be of service toward the end of making change in the world, of advancing particular philosophies or causes, and I think that idea gets things all wrong; as I wrote, writing in that way is inauthentic and manipulative. I don’t mean to say that authors shouldn’t explore social issues, generally, only that they need to be careful to stay true to the characters and stories they tell; they need to resist the urge to manipulate characters and events like puppets. A story, if it’s to be efficacious, needs readers to become invested in its characters; as such, an author needs to make use of real people (who just happen to inhabit a different, fictional world). If an author fails to do this, then the work is robbed of its poignancy (since the characters in this case become paper thin stand-ins); or, worse, the work lies to us by making us feel for these lifelike constructions (when they’re really artifices which exist just to make a point). Continue reading