Author Spotlight/Guest Post: Scott Hutchins

Posted July 16, 2013 by girlswit in Author Spotlight, Giveaway, guest post, Uncategorized / 3 Comments

Bio.: Scott Hutchins is a former Truman Capote fellow in the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford University, where he currently teaches. His work has appeared in Story Quarterly, Five Chapters, The Owls, The Rumpus, The New York Times, San Francisco Magazine and Esquire. It has also been–strangely–set to music. He’s the recipient of two Hopwood awards and the Andrea Beauchamp prize in short fiction. In 2006 and 2010, He was an artist-in-residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. His first novel A Working Theory of Love is forthcoming from The Penguin Press.

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Guest Post
When people ask me what A Working Theory of Love is about I say, “Love, artificial intelligence, and how to grieve what never was.”
“Plus, there’s a sex cult,” I say. “And it’s supposed to be funny.”
When it comes to books, distillations are diminishments. But the next question is often some version of how I got “the idea” for this novel. Or maybe “idea” shouldn’t be in quotes–only “the.” Ideas–and thinking–are strange things in novels. They’re essential, but they rarely come to you (or at least to me) in a straight-forward fashion. 
To demonstrate: There’s a very important, but unusual relationship in A Working Theory of Love–the relationship between Neill Bassett and the computer that thinks it’s his father. Say again? Neill, our fearless narrator (actually, he’s full of fears), is involved in an ill-advised artificial intelligence start-up, which is converting his deceased father’s incredibly complete journals into what he, and his employer, hope will be the first intelligent computer. 
Needless to say, things go awry. But Neill gets an opportunity many of us would cherish–to create his own father. To be, in some ways, the father to his father. There are many things this book is about, but this transformation is at its heart, and is, to bring us back to our discussion, one of its most original ideas.
And yet I had no clue I was heading this way when I started the book. I was writing about daily life in San Francisco. Then I started fiddling around with Silicon Valley and artificial intelligence. And then the computer started talking, but it wasn’t even Neill’s father in the beginning–it was a minor character. I wrote and wrote, and then didn’t write whenever work took over my life. And then one day when I thought I was nearly finished with the novel I was having a conversation with a friend, describing A Working Theory and he said, “And, of course, the computer is his father!”
I was back to the drawing board. And yet it turned out that the novel had wanted this to be true all along. Many aspects of the story that had resisted me clicked into place. If I’d been listening carefully enough, I would have known the father had to be there in the center, talking, ruminating, and challenging. I would have heard his voice–it was there all along. 
In other words, I don’t think writers “have” ideas. I think we discover them–or, in my case, finally accept them. It’s an odd process, but if you want your book to be full of the delight of surprise, you have to allow yourself to be surprised, I think, in the writing. 

A Working Theory of Love 

Settled back into the San Francisco singles scene following the implosion of his young marriage just months after the honeymoon, Neill Bassett is going through the motions. His carefully modulated routine, however, is soon disrupted in ways he can’t dismiss with his usual nonchalance.
When Neill’s father committed suicide ten years ago, he left behind thousands of pages of secret journals, journals that are stunning in their detail, and, it must be said, their complete banality. But their spectacularly quotidian details, were exactly what artificial intelligence company Amiante Systems was looking for, and Neill was able to parlay them into a job, despite a useless degree in business marketing and absolutely no experience in computer science. He has spent the last two years inputting the diaries into what everyone hopes will become the world’s first sentient computer. Essentially, he has been giving it language—using his father’s words. Alarming to Neill—if not to the other employees of Amiante—the experiment seems to be working. The computer actually appears to be gaining awareness and, most disconcerting of all, has started asking questions about Neill’s childhood.
Amid this psychological turmoil, Neill meets Rachel. She was meant to be a one-night stand, but Neill is unexpectedly taken with her and the possibilities she holds. At the same time, he remains preoccupied by unresolved feelings for his ex-wife, who has a talent for appearing at the most unlikely and unfortunate times. When Neill discovers a missing year in the diaries—a year that must hold some secret to his parents’ marriage and perhaps even his father’s suicide—everything Neill thought he knew about his past comes into question, and every move forward feels impossible to make.
With a lightness of touch that belies pitch-perfect emotional control, Scott Hutchins takes us on an odyssey of love, grief, and reconciliation that shows us how, once we let go of the idea that we’re trapped by our own sad histories—our childhoods, our bad decisions, our miscommunications with those we love—we have the chance to truly be free. A Working Theory of Love marks the electrifying debut of a prodigious new talent.


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