Chris Eaton, author of Chris Eaton, a Biography: A Novel and a participant in this year’s International Festival of Authors, answered our five questions.
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IFOA: What prompted you to write Chris Eaton, a Biography?
Chris Eaton: After the publication of my first novel in 2003, I was being confused by Amazon for another Chris Eaton who wrote books on how to do short-term missionary work. In researching everything I could find on him, I was drawn into the world of every Chris Eaton on the Internet. The coincidences between them were uncanny, and I began to piece their stories together like I was crafting a conspiracy theory, that somehow they were all the same person and it was my job to get the truth out.
IFOA: You’ve attempted to connect to other Chris Eatons via Facebook and Twitter. What has been their response to your novel?
Eaton: In the beginning, I was actually pretty averse to this. The last thing I wanted was to know one of them better and ruin the illusion my mind was pulling on me. Only after I had finished did I start to follow some of them on Twitter (which thankfully didn’t exist when I started this project, or else the research level might have been insurmountable). I also attempted to invite every Chris Eaton to be my friend on Facebook, but my account got shut down for approaching people I didn’t know personally.
The only one I know who has read the book isn’t on social media, and interestingly, he came upon the novel because one of his friends is also releasing a book with my publisher next year. Despite the fact that his “contributions” don’t portray him in the best light, he really loved the book, felt that it was accurate to who he was at that time, and we’ve become friends. We even recently interviewed each other for The Believer.
IFOA: Do you think that the internet encourages or hinders creativity?
Eaton: Clearly in the case of this novel it encouraged it. But even without this book’s conceit, I don’t think I could write the books I write without it. I probably spend two or three hours a day (depending on how much I’m up at night with my newborn) doing research. And I think it also helps me make sense of the way my mind works, which seems unable to go in a straight line.
Social media is another story, of course. I established Facebook and Twitter accounts originally to promote the music I was making with Rock Plaza Central, and resisted using it for my own life for at least a year or so. Now I’m drawn to it out of habit, like a smoker to a cigarette, and as cliché as that simile was, I find the whole thing a drag on creativity (though my friends will mock me for the fact that I often use them, through Facebook, as one of my primary research tools).
IFOA: What’s the best book you’ve read in the past few months?
Eaton: I quite loved Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban. The New York Review of Books has been re-releasing a lot of books that have gone out of print and never really got the recognition they deserved at the time. Two other recent re-issues that are absolute masterpieces are Stoner by John Williams (not the one who did the music for Star Wars) and John Carpenter’s (not the space scientist) Hard Rain Falling. Both of them are perfect in every way.
IFOA: If you were to choose a pseudonym for yourself, what would it be?
Eaton: When I was 15 and only had aspirations to write fantasy novels, I recall landing on the name A.J. Robertson, which I thought was a clever play on my mother’s initials, my father’s first name and me being their son. Then, while completing my MA in the 90s, I was fascinated with a group of Canadian artists who met under the name The John Dowd Fanny Club, and because I’m fairly certain, despite being listed in the meeting minutes, that there was no real John Dowd, I began to imagine a son for him (named Ian Dowd because I can’t resist a good pun), and that I would create some projects under that name. Instead, Ian Dowd has appeared in all my books to some degree, and I can only assume will become the main character some day.
Chris Eaton is a songwriter, musician and the author of the novels the inactivist and The Grammar Architect, along with a book of short fiction, Letters to Thomas Pynchon. He will be reading from his most recent novel alongside authors Krista Bridge, Mathew Henderson and Chad Pelley on November 3, as part of our Brave New Word programming.