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Original Essays | September 9, 2013 5 comments
Editor's note: Chris Bolton is not only a former Powell's employee, he was also once the primary writer for this blog. So we are particularly proud... Continue »
Samantha HuntDescribe your latest project.
The Invention of Everything Else is a fictional account of the last days of the real-life inventor Nikola Tesla. The choice to make it fiction was an easy one as the details of Tesla's life were already so odd, so magnificent and sad, that no one would believe they were true. He invented AC electricity and radio, thought he was married to a pigeon, created an engine powered by insects, and lived the last ten years of his life at the Hotel New Yorker.
The hotel still in operation today was my favorite site to conduct research, as the chief engineer there, Joe Kinney, has become the hotel's unofficial historian. He took me on tours of many of the closed parts of the hotel. Old ballrooms, bank vaults, and secret tunnels. Dusty and dark, these rooms still hold a glimmer of their 1943 grandeur.
Many of Tesla's invention are fantastic, dream-like for example, wireless. I started to wonder where all of today's artist/inventors were. I know many people who are writing books of poems, painting masterpieces, and making movies in their non-wage-earning hours, but I don't know anyone who is trying to graft human DNA with that of the great blue heron's.
The book mixes the story of Tesla's life with the fictional account of Louisa. She works as a chambermaid at the Hotel New Yorker and befriends the inventor during the last week of his life. She gets mixed up with some people who are building a time machine in Far Rockaway. This device forces a question about the singularity of the future. Is there only one future, or perhaps many? Louisa wonders if there might be "another version of our future. The one he'd [Tesla] intended for us, the path we didn't take....The future where human beings have wings and electricity is miraculous and free."
I did data entry normally a very boring job for a raptor center, which made it a lot more interesting. I had to hike up a hill to my tiny office, which seemed part tree house, part trailer. Every day people brought in injured birds they'd found. Not just raptors, but bluebirds, swallows, sparrows, chimney swifts, all manner of simple songbirds that had been hit by cars, fallen out of nests, tasted by the family pet. The center tried to heal any injured birds, particularly raptors. It was also a museum, so the public could come in and see the birds that couldn't be released back into the wild: a blind snowy owl or a hawk that had had a wing blown off by a hunter. One baby kestrel liked to perch on top of my computer. I brought her an old facecloth from home, and with it, she made a nest.
Writers are better liars than other people: true or false? Why, or not?
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
And when I knew that I had Cash, I knew that living was terrible and that this was the answer to it. That was when I learned that words are no good; that words don't ever fit even what they are trying to say at. When he was born I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the ones that had the children didn't care whether there was a word for it or not.
How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Still, I enjoy this sort of sightseeing. There is one trip I dream of making. I'd like to go to Hokkaido, Japan, to see the land where so many of Haruki Murakami's books wind up. I'm less interested in meeting authors I admire, as I would be too nervous to say much. I'd rather see the landscapes that inspired their books.
Who are your favorite characters in history? Have any of them influenced your writing?
Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
Cold places I'd like to visit:
A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
A Dream in Polar Fog by Yuri Rytkheu
The Northern Lights by Lucy Jago
In Fond Remembrance of Me by Howard Norman
We Took to the Woods by Louise Rich
Other Electricities by Ander Monson
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Samantha Hunt has spent four years researching Nikola Tesla, in the course of which she has appeared in several Tesla-related documentaries, visited Tesla fanatics across the country, and explored the five subterranean floors of the still-standing Hotel New Yorker. She is the author of the acclaimed first novel The Seas, and her short fiction has appeared in the New Yorker and McSweeneys and on This American Life. She recently received the first-ever "5 under 35" award from the National Book Foundation.
(Read Dave's 2004 interview with Samantha Hunt as part of the First Fiction Tour.)