What would happen if a child was raised solely by technology? If, from birth, that child knew no love or human nurturing, but instead lived alone in a stark basement and was only exposed to the outside world by way of the internet?
In his latest novel, The Eternal Echo, author Jeff Musillo explores these questions and, in the process, crafts a dark tale of obsession, power and the effect that technology can have on the human psyche.
The Eternal Echo is Musillo’s fourth novel, following on the heels of The Ease of Access, Can You See That Sound, and Snapshot Americana. In addition, Musillo is an accomplished painter whose work has been exhibited in the George Billis Gallery, the Cutting Room, and the Greenpoint Gallery, and he is the author of a screenplay entitled In The Ring that is currently in pre-production and will be directed by Aaron Latham, writer of Urban Cowboy and The Program.
What was your childhood like, and how did it help to shape who you are today?
In a sense, everything was normal during my childhood. And what I mean when I say that is that nothing me or my siblings did was weird. My mother was, and still is, a makeup artist, so I remember dressing up a lot and getting my face painted. I remember acting like “Macho Man” Randy Savage a lot. There was always tons of creative freedom in my house, which has definitely made me the person I am today. There were also sad times. My parents divorced when I was very young. My father passed when I was nine. My step-father passed when I was 17. These were undoubtedly gloomy moments in my life, but my mother was always there to pick us back up and exemplify the mindset of: These things happened. These things have caused sorrow. But now we carry on, we keep playing our hand, and we never forget the good moments we were fortunate enough to experience.
Who are your biggest literary influences?
My first literary influence was Hunter S. Thompson. The moment I read Hell’s Angels, I thought, “This is amazing. This guy not only writes, and writes tremendously well, but he has fun while doing so.” I didn’t know that was possible until I read Thompson. There’s also Bukowski. When I read Buk, I get the feeling that I really know this guy and, somehow, he knows me too. And he’s funny as hell. Another big influence is the Marquis De Sade. 120 Days of Sodom is a truly important work in my eyes. It does two influential things. It provides rhythmical language while also showing that it’s possible to not have any limitations in a creative piece of work. Selby Jr. showed me that as well, particularly with his novel The Room.
What do you enjoy most about the writing process? Are there any aspects that you don’t enjoy?
For me, the hardest part of the writing process is sitting down. I look at beginning like I look at working out—I really don’t want to start. But after a few minutes I get into it. But still, no matter if I’m three minutes into a session or an hour, I find it difficult to stay seated. I have a tough time staying still. To counter that, I write all of my first drafts by hand in a notebook. This way I can move around easily. I can go from my desk, to my couch, to the floor, to my kitchen counter, and I can do so while writing the entire time. I might just be tricking myself, but I feel like keeping my body in motion helps keep my mind in motion.
What initially inspired the story of The Eternal Echo? How did the story evolve from the time you started writing it until the day it was finished?
In terms of inspiration, the only thing I can remember that fired me up enough to start writing Echo was the simple idea of: A kid raised on nothing but technology. It was an idea/story that I thought Vonnegut – another one of my favorite authors – might like if he were still around. So my initial plan was to make a sci-fi story with some humor. But that drastically changed the more I worked. I believe this was all due to the protagonist—Dr. David Ravensdale. The more I worked on him, the more he worked and shaped the story itself. And I think the worst thing a writer can do is get in the way of his or her own story. So I pretty much let Ravensdale take control and guide the narrative, which ultimately led to some dark areas.
How do you know when a book is done and ready for publication?
Knowing when a story is complete is sometimes tough to tell. I always recommend sending what you feel is a completed manuscript to a couple of readers you trust. That’s what I do. And I always ask those readers to ask me questions. From their questions, I’m able to tell which parts of the story I need to cut or expand or explain better and then I carry on from that point. It’s tough for a writer to see everything in their own work. Sometimes an outside pair of eyes can really show you what you’re missing.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’re received?
The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever received came from a friend of mine. He said it years ago. I was 22 or 23, trying to write like Dostoevsky. My friend read one of my stories, shook his head, and just told me, “You’re trying way too hard.” I was upset at the time because I knew what he meant. He was saying that I was trying too hard to be someone else, and trying too hard to show people how many big words I could use. But I didn’t want to hear that. I wanted to hear that the story was great. That wasn’t the case, so I’m glad he didn’t sugarcoat it. Years later, after many many many rejections, I finally realized he had been right the whole time and decided it was time to stop being so scared and try my best to find my own voice and to never let my ego get in the way of the story.
What websites do you frequent?
Sadly, my search history would be boring to inspect. At least right now. I typically go to the same four sites. BBC for the news. Facebook. Craigslist to see about art related materials. And Wikipedia. My search history was a lot more interesting a couple of years ago when I was working on The Ease of Access since that’s a story about a male prostitute who services reality TV stars and I had to do some research online.
How did Aaron Latham become involved with bringing your screenplay, In The Ring, to life?
We’re still in the stages of pre-production with In the Ring. Inching closer and closer to production. But the story of how I got connected with Aaron is a cool one. It’s one of those scenarios where one never knows what something might lead to. Back in December of 2013, I published my first novel, The Ease of Access, and through a PR guy, that novel got into the hands of an actor—Alex Montaldo. Alex liked the story and even teamed up with a director to make a short film/teaser based on the opening pages of that book.
A bond grew because of that short and, some months later, Alex and I sat down to discuss an idea he had. He had been playing around with this idea for a while and kindly asked me to lay out his notes and write what would eventually be the script for In the Ring. Now, along with being an actor, Alex is also a boxing instructor and one of his students is Aaron. They got to talking one day after class and Alex asked Aaron if he wouldn’t mind reading the script. Alex thought that maybe Aaron might be able to give us a couple of pointers. He fortunately wanted to do more and told us that he was interested in directing the film.
I think we’re currently in a good place with the project and I’m very excited to shoot that very first scene.
How do you relax or unwind after a long day?
I sometimes find it hard to unwind. I don’t drink heavily anymore. And I stopped using drugs a few years ago. So I occasionally find myself stuck with myself at four in the morning, pacing and wondering. But where I live in Brooklyn is relatively quiet, especially at four in the morning, so I’ll take walks around the neighborhood a bit until I tire out. Netflix is also incredibly helpful.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently working on a new story. I’m not sure yet whether it’ll be a novel or a novella, but something is coming along. It’s basically about Jesus coming back today. He pops up in America, but no one knows it’s him. There was no word passed down about his resurrection, so nobody treats him like Jesus. It’s a very bizarre story. One that I’m not sure I can properly explain at this point. All I know so far is that, in this story, Jesus has caught pneumonia, caused a riot in a homeless shelter, befriended a prostitute, been the driver for an expert B&E team, and has worked in a strip club. It sounds outrageous, and it definitely is. But it’s been a lot of fun to write.