About Stona Fitch
Stona Fitch’s novels have been widely published in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, and beyond—and have been widely praised by critics and readers or their originality, intensity, and prescience. He also writes literary and historical fiction under the pen name Robert Hendricks.
His 2001 novel, Senseless, has been cited for anticipating violent anti-globalization protests, online hostage-taking, and other political developments. Reviewers have called it one of the most disturbing novels ever written. Senseless is now an independent feature film from director Simon Hynd and Shoreline Entertainment, a graphic novel, and a cult classic.
In 2008, Stona founded the Concord Free Press, a revolutionary publishing house that publishes and distributes original novels throughout the world, asking only that readers make a voluntary donation to a charity or person in need. His novel, Give + Take, the first Concord Free Press novel, will be published commercially by Two Ravens Press in the UK in April 2010, and by St Martins Press in the US.
Stona lives with his family in Concord, Massachusetts, where he is also a committed community activist. He and his family work with Gaining Ground, a non-profit farm that grows 30,000 pounds of organic produce each growing season and distributes it for free to Boston-area homeless shelters, food pantries, and meal programs.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1961, Stona Fitch grew up in the midwest and south. While an undergraduate at Princeton, he studied fiction with Russell Banks and Joyce Carol Oates, and received the Creative Writing Program's Lannan Award for Fiction. He also served as chairman of The Daily Princetonian, and wrote for The Anchorage Daily News. After graduation, Stona reported briefly for The Miami Herald before moving to Boston and joining its burgeoning underground rock subculture. In 1984, he joined the seminal Boston—based pop group Scruffy The Cat, playing electric banjo, mandolin, accordion, and organ-as well as writing songs. He recorded two albums-High-Octane Revival (a NY Times top release of 1986) and the highly regarded (and rare) Tiny Days—before leaving the band in 1987. During this time, he worked as a dishwasher and cook at the Hoodoo Barbeque, a notorious punk-rock hangout/crime scene in Kenmore Square.
See the author's website at www.stonafitch.com
An interview with Stona Fitch
When did you first begin writing, and what inspired you to do so? Have any specific books/authors served as inspiration for you?
I’ve been writing since I was young, inspired in many ways by my grandfather (whose name I share)—a farmer, politician, auctioneer, and natural storyteller. At university, I studied fiction with Russell Banks, who taught me to focus on the economic underpinnings of any story. I also studied with Joyce Carol Oates, who taught me to look for the sinister and strange beneath the ordinary. I feel extremely fortunate to have been shaped by strong writers willing to venture far from realism and regionalism.
Can you tell us something about the inspiration behind Senseless in particular? And about what you were trying to achieve; what ideas you were trying to convey?
I wrote Senseless in a month-long fever dream one hot, windless summer during the last century. I built Senseless like a dirty bomb or IED, with the intention of leaving readers permanently changed, either enlightened or damaged. Both, ideally.
The writing left me thoroughly exhausted and drained. And it made my friends and family worry about me, since it triggered weeks of auditory and visual hallucinations.
Its inspiration? While working as a technical writer, I had been working and travelling in industrial Europe extensively. I sensed a growing resentment of the overreaching arrogance and soul-numbing consumerism that infected so many aspects of America and beyond. I wanted to write a novel that carried both the symptoms of the disease and the cure within it.
The monetizing of experience is always a preoccupation for me, as is the dehumanizing potential of technology—so those themes emerged from the story at some point. Knowing that no reader could take episode after episode of torture with household implements (a lesson from the CIA in Chile), I balanced them with redolent memories lifted from someone else’s life, not mine. I have never eaten an ortolan, by the way.
How do you describe Printer’s Devil?
Printer’s Devil is about two warring tribes of printers fighting for power across (and beneath) a bleak, post-apocalyptic urban landscape. It describes a precarious time when life is reduced to a struggle for survival. In the midst of this inhospitable world, Ian Greenwald, a young printer, searches for the rare qualities of hope and love—and plots his escape from the dying city.
Why did you choose to set the novel in the future?
Setting Printer’s Devil in the future relieved me from the burden of being true to reality — while allowing me to create a resonant city and its underlying history. As writer steeped in realism, I found this freedom particularly exciting.
The world of Printer’s Devil is idiosyncratic, with its own values, history, and dialect. But it mirrors current events. In Printer’s Devil, tribes fight over relatively minor differences while the supply of air dwindles catastrophically. Consider our own recent history. The last decade has seen a resurgence of conflict and wars over religion, national origin, tribal affinity, and historical slights. From waterboarding to suicide bombers, we’ve seen a return to primitive, tribal behaviours. Meanwhile, sweeping changes in the environment and global economy pose threats that dwarf all conflicts.
What were your influences when writing this novel?
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (George V. Higgins), Waiting for the Barbarians (J. M. Coetzee), Under the Skin (Michel Faber), and typography manuals.
How does this novel relate to Senseless, your last novel for Two Ravens Press?
Both are short, intense, disturbing novels set in claustrophobic rooms where plans go awry and violence escalates. Both novels put demands on the reader to weather through hyper-realistic (but perhaps metaphorical) violence. And both leave the reader slightly bruised.
How do they differ?
Senseless explores technology-enabled extremism while Printer’s Devil traces the limits of tribalism, inherently more primal terrain. Senseless is probably the more disturbing of the two, but that’s debatable.
Are all your novels dark?
No. My last novel, Give + Take, is actually funny. I have a hard time remaining true to any doctrinaire approach to writing. Each book evolves its own tone, style, and sensibility.
Has becoming a publisher (Concord Free Press) affected your writing?
I’m less patient with careless writing, in my own work and in manuscripts from others. And I’ve become even more aware that we live in an era when writers have to consider new, creative channels for getting their work to readers—whether via smaller/smarter publishers of traditional books, online, or on the iPhone. The old way of publishing books is dead—long live publishing.
How do you go about creating your voice on the page?
Most of my novels are in the first person, which lets narrators do the talking. So I don’t have a voice; I try to help give them theirs. In general, I try to keep it short—nothing worse than a writer going on and on.
How and when do you write?
I write at night when everyone is asleep or during the day when I’m supposed to be doing other things. My office is in an old warehouse, over a bakery and facing a narrow river. I balance bouts of staring at the river with periods of drinking tea from the bakery. Somewhere between these two critical activities, novels emerge.
What do you enjoy reading? What are you reading that you can recommend at the moment?
I read almost anything except mysteries involving cats or misery memoirs. I enjoy reading the local crime section of the newspaper, lost notes people drop in the street, and the inscriptions inside rings. For novels, I tend to read and re-read Eastern European writers—Franz Kafka and Bohumil Hrabal foremost among them. Beyond the former Czechoslavia, there’s Bruno Schulz, Jurek Becker, Arnost Lustig, Georges Perec, Robert Walser, and Robert Musil. Among current writers, I recommend Megan Abbott, John Berger, Allan Guthrie, Michel Houellebecq, Hilary Mantel, Magnus Mills, Walter Mosley, Gaétan Soucy, Jess Walter, and Charlie Williams, among many others.
Read an interview with Stona by Scott Pack of The Friday Project on the Me and My Big Mouth blog: http://meandmybigmouth.typepad.com/scottpack/2009/06/interview-stona-fitch.html
Read an interview with Stona Fitch by Megan Abbott at http://www.allanguthrie.co.uk/ pages/noir_zine/profiles/stona_fitch.php
For a feature article about Stona and his work in The Independent on Sunday, see: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/free-spirit-stona-finchs-bold-scheme-to-give-away-books-1607019.html
See another interview with Stona at Books from Scotland.