Author Monte Schulz talks about the creative process that informed the writing of his new book Metropolis.
I interviewed Monte Schulz about his life and career, what led him to start writing, and the story behind his new book Metropolis.
Tell Monte Schulz who you are:
My name is Monte Schulz and I grew up outside of a small town in rural Northern California, a county of apple and raspberry orchards, blackberries, redwood canyons, and narrow streets. When I was little, my grandmother read me fairy tales and my father used handwritten index cards to teach me to read and write.
I have read novels by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, and The Illustrated Adventures of Tintin Hergé. I discovered music when I entered college and began writing lyrics and poetry. My father’s gentle hand-produced prose and a long novel. I have been writing for fifty years, both prose and music. I have a BA in English from Sonoma State University and my M.A. in American Studies from U.C. Santa Barbara.
When did thou first want to write a book?
Although my first writings were again lyrics and later poetry, when my father sent me to John Steinbeck and Thomas Wolfe I decided that my goal would be to write a great American novel like East Of Eden or Of Time And The River to write. Back then, my ambitions far exceeded my ability to tell stories. I had an ear for poetic language, but the dialogue and long narration presented a challenge that took years to master.
Reading letters in college and my passion for popular literature taught me to plan and listen to people talk. I suppose you wanted to try and write a great American novel, but that was years ago and I knew it. So I decided to first see if I could put out a novel, a crime thriller, something that leaned heavily towards plot, plot, and character.
At the time, I was reading a lot of paperback thrillers, some monster books, and country novels about mystery and chaos. I figured it was something I could do too.
When did thou decide to start writing?
My first book, Down By The River, was inspired by my small-town background and love of the country, as well as the paperback novels I read a few years after leaving school. I’ve described this book as the graft of small-town literary fiction to the supermarket boys I’ve read.
This mix gave me commercial fiction with an elegant poetic voice that worked well enough to sell me immediately. It was a lot of fun creating the characters, the town, the forest area, and the eponymous river. I started a homeless camp, brought in some wild teens, told a homeless man a story, and created a love triangle between the homeless man, my police chief, and the lovely woman who had moved back to Rivertown after her boyfriend’s death. The book worked. Love, Action, Mystery. Easy to sell, fun to read. philosophy and chaos.
How long did it take thou to complete thine first book from the first idea to release?
Down By The River, although most of the time I was involved in other projects: my dissertation and, for several years, computer game articles and reviews. The actual writing time should have been about a year if I remember correctly. I didn’t have a set writing schedule at the time, so I guess my schedules were random and undefined. This book wasn’t a five-year-old book, or at least it shouldn’t have been.
How long did it take thou for your latest book, to from the initial idea to publication?
Metropolis was an anomaly for me. Although I wrote the first fifty pages and a few brief notes in 2003, I stayed away from the book for sixteen years. When I returned in the summer of 2019, I wrote the rest of the 600+ page novel in about nine months. Much faster than any book I’ve ever written. I was surprised to add pages every three days during this time. No blockages, no difficulties. At least one page each morning before eating or drinking, then another page or more each afternoon. The pages were added and in April 2020 the book was ready. Some kind of miracle!
Focus on the latest version. What made thou write Metropolis?
I was looking for a novel with big themes and an adventurous plot, with a unique love story, a love story set against an unimaginable tragedy. Not even the history of the war was enough. I decided to call the impulse of war a eugenics crusade, in which one side saw the other as unique in their safety and security, where the very existence and survival of an enemy was fatal to their society.
In other words, I felt the need to write a novel where the monsters of the apocalypse were sort of us, just to show that we don’t need supernatural intervention to destroy our humanity. However, I’m not by nature a brooding depressive or an advocate of uncompromising pessimism.
So my novel has enough humor and intrigue to keep us hooked, and a satisfying ending, a happy ending of sorts, and a smile on the last page for my readers because a writer friend once reminded me that happy endings are so inevitable how sad they are. We can have blue skies.
What were thine biggest challenges writing Metropolis?
I think my challenge was to write a novel after being less active for six years and to find a story that made sense and had all the elements of a great novel, a novel about ideas and emotions and adventure, a story to tell, and a book to finish. And to write this novel without a plan, you have to invent it on the side.
Luckily, these muses held my hand from beginning to end, guiding me through page after page without losing momentum, energy, or enthusiasm for the project. If my challenge was to be inspired and entertained while doing it, then writing Metropolis met that challenge much more easily than I expected.
Who or what inspired thou when developing The Protagonist?
To be honest, since I started this book in 2003, I do not recall meeting Julian Brehm, an elder in Regency College’s Thayer Hall, during the Eugenics Era. That discovery was somewhat lost in the past, but returning to the book in 2009 I could see how much I loved the idea of a character who was cultured and kind, but ordinary rather than heroic.
Some authors prefer to cast as their hero someone greater and more powerful than themselves, and I admire that, but I wanted Julian to be simpler and more humble, crouched here and there by an abyss of danger, whom only he can survive through luck and coincidence, help from others, maybe some common sense, and a great college roommate and puzzle expert, Freddy Barron. But he also has a strong moral compass that allows him to discern right from wrong and understand that loving others is the true way forward through the darkness that befalls his path.
And of course, I wanted him to fall in love with what he is doing and with a girl who is a bit different from him, whose perspective often contradicts his own but perhaps proves the adage of attraction. Julian is not Nina Rinaldi’s ideal partner, at least not at first. He considers him naive and protected. Later, the two find out how compatibility can take a detour, and the match isn’t explained that easily. So, as a writer, my likes and ideals are spread across many of my characters, which has allowed me to explore aspects of myself in ways I never could have done outside of the pages of a novel.
Who or what stimulated thou to create The Antagonist?
In Metropolis there is not a single antagonist, ideological monster, or authoritarian ruler. Instead, I have the “Imperial Charter” and the “Judicial Council” whose members appear to be intellectuals and scientists and all manner of doctors, bureaucrats whose decisions determine the life and death of millions of people. There’s no point in killing them because if one goes, another will take its place.
I find the structure of a dystopian society more terrifying than that of a monstrous autocrat because that means the entire order would have to be overthrown and dismantled for anything to change, and in Metropolis that order has endured for hundreds of years. With the pseudo-scientific social engineering of eugenics, this republic is held captive with little or no hope of salvation.
What is the Metropolis inflammatory incident?
There’s a short passage in Metropolis that describes what I call the “Great Separation,” in which the Republic chose mass separation as the solution to a society full of criminals and the crippled, the deformed, and the mentally retarded, who did have overturned well. the healthy and the noble. Eliminate them, empty the destroyed quarters of the metropolis, and send them all on the train, a million invalids and degenerates. Ultimately, that decision resulted in the deaths of tens of million people and a war that had raged on Republic land for sixty years. This is the world Julian Brehm was born into.
What is the main conflict in Metropolis?
At the heart of this narrative, there is a moral conundrum that concerns not only eugenics but how every person in the Republic should live in society and see the value of life, of every life. And see how love is the guiding principle that life is about love. In his absence, the most terrible things in my history can and will happen. Julian’s conflict lies in the knowledge that he and his men did live in a bubble, as Nina put it, “a faint, luminous sphere of intangible beauty.
His conflict is the awareness that his “soap bubble” cannot last forever in a eugenic society if he and his loved ones have the hope of a noble future without large and small wars and annihilation.
Did thou plan Metropolis or did thou fly under thine pants and type freely?
I made this story up when I wrote it. I never had a plan, sketched out a plot, or had a narrative in mind while writing. I made it up, and wrote page by page, chapter by chapter, expecting only the ending described in a short prologue. So I’ve written a straight and slightly winding path to that end, following Julian’s journey as he pursued his dream of surviving the nightmare of eugenics. Yes, I was surprised to write a 600-page novel like this, which I’ve never done before. And yes, even now it seems to me like a miracle that I have walked this path to the end.
I am amazed that it reads coherently, entertainingly, and understandably with emotional resonance. I guess sometimes things like that happen to those of us who work with the press.
Did thou get help editing and how many edits did Metropolis need?
I’ve been pretty good at editing my work for years. Probably by constantly reading and comparing my writing to these books that fascinate me. I have an idea of what sounds good and how the pacing and characters come to life. By reading many novels, past and present, as well as business novels of all kinds, from mystery and suspense to science fiction and even romance, I can get the best out of everyone and avoid the pitfalls.
I have also learned that there are many different ways of telling a story, beginning and ending like a book, capturing the reader’s interest, and playing with language in artistic ways. None of my favorite authors write in the same voice, so I can choose the one that suits me.
My publisher publishes me, he says, because of my language and loves that part of literary art. He told me he was more intrigued by the way I tell the story, and the words I choose, than my plot or my characters. He trusts me and when we talk about my books we tend to talk about why I did this or that rather than how it affects my work. I am happy with this arrangement.
What is the first piece of writing advice thou would give someone that stimulated thou to write a story?
I always say this, but I encourage every aspiring writer to read as often and as fully as possible. Reading allows us to tell stories and express ourselves, a style that becomes part of us, our distinctive trait. Also, very often reading takes us in directions that we may not have considered when we first started writing words on the page. A writer friend of mine once told me that she wanted to write fiction, but found that spy novels had provided an unexpected niche for her and had given her publishing successes that she might not otherwise have achieved. That’s why she reads many different types of books in all genres and sees where her stories can take you.
Can thou say me what other books thou want to write?
first, I’m actively writing a sequel to Metropolis called Undercity, which offers a much broader panorama of society both above and below ground in this grim age of eugenics. The structure is somewhat inspired by Roberto Bolaño’s The Wild Detectives, as much of the story is told by many different and diverse voices: gypsies, policemen, professors, booksellers, doctors, thieves, etc. – while maintaining a constant throughout the plot.
This novel is a tale of deceit and courage, magic and violence and of course love, in the caves and landscapes of the Republic we traveled through Metropolis, a world of people caught in an almost unthinkable web of moral dissolution and discovery.
And finally: Are thou proud of thine achievement? It was worth it?
My experience with Metropolis has been extremely rewarding and enjoyable in every way, both artistically and personally. Trying to finish another novel after realizing that fiction is a thing of the past came as a bit of a surprise. Of course, as I read it now, I keep reminding myself of how complex and nuanced it is and how amazing it is that I was able to write it so quickly. And I still love reading it!
Add any links to thine books, websites, and social media here so readers can search through thou:
All about my new book can be found here: metropolisthebook.com
Information about my novel of the Jazz Age, Crossing Eden, can be seen here: monteschulzauthor.com
I also write music, songs of many kinds performed by many fabulous singers, and musicians, and can be found and listened to here: seraphonium.com
I am on Facebook, as well, under my own name, and under Seraphonium!