27th October 2018
Interview with BL Clark
Good afternoon Mr Clarke - thanks for giving up your time for an interview. Could you tell us a little about The Man in the Hall?
Ya know, every time I get asked this question I tend to freeze up. The first thing to know about MITH is that it really doesn’t have a specific genre. I’ve settled with something between “Philosophy Fiction” and “Science Fiction,” but I don’t really agree with either of the two descriptions completely. This almost immediately seems to turn people off...until I start describing the book.
In a nutshell, the book is trying to answer an age-old question: “What is Man?” What do we mean when we ask this question? Are we talking about emotions and their relation to the world around us? Are we talking about individuals? Are we talking about a tool? Different philosophers have and have had many different answers to the question, and I am no different. There is also the gripping question, “What is Reality?”
The book starts off with a kind of strange creation story; A nameless man literally appears in a room, and, as Martin Heidegger would have probably interpreted it, begins to construct his world around him as he explores the bizarre reality he wakes up in. Later on in the story the reader comes to see how the man learns from his struggles, how he reacts to existential “anxiety,” and, more or less, what it takes to “build” a human from scratch, and the consequences thereof.
Weirdly enough, this is just one story arc. The second story woven alongside the man in the room tells a bit broader story about a family of clones. This is where the “Man-as-Tool” part of the story is built. Mercury, a newborn clone, is the “protagonist” of the story. He finds out more about the powerful technology his brothers and sisters wield, and, as the story continues on, finds out about the dangers of such technology. The story is any serious conspiracy theorists worst nightmare; a creepy glance at things that could be, and a terrifying inquiry into what ought or ought not be.
The third story arc is the most relatable; it has similarities to the Greek story of Icarus and the story of Prometheus but is entirely unique. This tale is a story within a story (it’s told to Mercury as he explores his new world), and covers individuality, aesthetics, and immortality.
So, in short, The Man in the Hall is a crash-course through different philosophical ideas, ponderings on the self and its relation to reality, a Science Fiction story, a horror story, a tragic story, a romance story, and a conspiracy thriller, all rolled into one wild tale I thought of simply because I was trying to imagine what it would be like to blow up a UFO. (Not kidding.)
Despite all this, the book is not overly complicated; Anyone can read this book and enjoy it. Being versed in a little Heidegger, Plato, PKD, Hindu, Christianity, and other similar authors and disciplines will have readers enjoying Ah Ha! moments, but the story was built from ground up to be unique and fun, but still have you scratching your head a bit.
Do you feel that The Man in the Hall has an educational dimension as well?
I certainly won’t say it doesn’t. There are snippets of history, science, philosophy, and other such schools of thought scattered throughout the book. Some things are exaggerated, some things are…well…bent. Overall, I would say the biggest educational elements are found in the ethics and metaphysics. All things considered, the book is basically one 188 page long thought experiment. Secret Societies, UFO’s, Ancient Civilizations, Mind Control, Alternate Dimensions, Artificial Superintelligence, Constructed Realities…I think about these kinds of things quite a bit; are any of these “conspiracy” elements real? Likely? Could they be? Were they ever? The story draws from all of these, and is woven together by questions like “What is right?” “What is baseline real?” “What is time?” “Are the blueprints for reality an objective phenomenon,” and so on.
I suppose the nature of information is the most innovative part of the story; I grapple personally with whether time is an objective construct or some sort of anomaly of perception. I argue that it can’t be both. If it’s one or the other, which is it? How can we tell? The book, I think, becomes a serious possibility if the latter argument, that it’s all in our heads, is true. Mind you, I despise time travel in stories, and I honestly think the idea is rather silly. I am also a huge supporter of determinism, I really do think free-will is an illusion, and I’m not convinced at all that our definition of the word “real” is accurate. Information is stagnant within reality. Plato’s Theory of Forms or Ideals comes to mind. So, from whence cometh time? Why do we have one fundamental construct that appears to be immutable and another that appears to be fluctuation itself?
If a mind-bending story like that can be considered as educational, then I have to say ‘yes.’ At the very least, you’ll get a fun look at different ideas from philosophers from the past 2,000+ years.
The Man in the Hall has been highly acclaimed through Amazon and Goodreads reviews. To what would you attribute this success?
I would say a loyal fanbase. Quite a few people were highly interested in the book before it was even finished being constructed, and over a period of a few years I told anyone and everyone I could about it. The subject matter in the story is inherently interesting, I think, and it kind of naturally draws people in after a short look through. My hometown also really pulled through for me; the community in Crossett, Arkansas is fairly tight-knit, and the amount of support I was given on publication day 1 was breathtaking; I sold over 60+ books almost immediately (the numbers are probably closer to the 75-90 range, but I’m not sure). Since then, I still sell quite a few books there, and via social media, the word about The Man in the Hall is spreading at a rapid pace; much faster than I had anticipated.
How have you gone about marketing your book?
Telling anyone and everyone about it. Business cards, radio talk shows, book signings, social media…I’m trying to create the biggest ripple I can. I think the biggest thing is my reader and reviewer support. Most of the people really like the book, but I’ve got a few that are seriously obsessed with it. It was kind of strange for me at first, but the book seems to be a magnet for conspiracy nuts, people that question reality, and those interested in puzzles and riddles.
Could you tell us about your journey to get your book published?
Well, like I stated earlier, it started out as a simple idea; a UFO explodes. Came to me while drunk in a random run-down trailer I was living in. Good times. I was more focused on the environment with which the UFO existed than the actual mechanics of a UFO, but that’s a discussion for another day. This turned into a 2 week project to slam out what I believed to be a short story. Over time it began to take hold as a more complex novel. I wrote most of the novel while I was in college; I had a period where I was wondering from couch to couch, walking everywhere with only my clothes, books, and a ukulele. I also carried around a bulky laptop. (I must have been quite the sight!) I would sit at restaurants during this time and work on this novel. At the time I had no idea why I was doing this; God knows, I had enough on my plate as is. I just did it.
The book was more or less complete when I left school; there were a few holes in the story, a couple of context issues, and more grammatical errors than you would believe. Because of a few unfortunate arisings, I left Monticello and my beloved University to go try life elsewhere. I wound up in West Monroe, La of all places. A buddy of mine needed a roommate, and I certainly fit the bill. Within a few months, I met a beautiful lady with incredible “mermaid” hair.
It’s actually a kind of joke. My wife dyes her hair wild colors. While she was walking through the mall a young girl once asked her mom if she was a mermaid because of her hair. I thought that was adorable. She’s also an artist. Just kind of fits, ya know?
Anyway, she and I wound up marrying not long later. I found a respectable job working for an insurance company. Everything was going pretty well, but I still had the book to worry about. My grandmother had heard about a publishing company out of New York called Page Publishing. I got in contact with these guys, and they immediately seemed interested in the story. About 6 months later, after going through discussions, a lengthy editing process, and some back and forth about some of my oddly worded sentences and a short disagreement about a one-eyed character, my novel was published. January...something. I forget the day. But the response was incredible.
I feel like the real journey was during the days when I honestly didn’t know where I would be sleeping that night. I would just go somewhere...anywhere...and write. I never actually went a night without at least having a warm floor to lay in, but there were days where I raised an eyebrow at a park bench I used to take naps on. It was during these times, 3 hours into writing up about Tellurus and Gaia, or editing the complicated crap the Man was thinking about, or walking for 2 and a half hours and thinking intensely about how the hell the ending was going to unravel, that I would find myself most immersed; my tomorrows completely uncertain, my destiny, in all its lack of thought, just something to put off until the next day, and a tale I was obsessed with telling the entire world.
That is an incredible journey to where you are today; it’s definitely one of the more difficult ones I’ve heard in these interviews. Do you feel that the breadth of experiences you had whilst writing the book gave you a perspective that you might not have had otherwise?
My psychiatrist and I have discussed this a few times (he loved the book.) I have to say ‘yes.’ It was a difficult time period for me. The uncertainty, depression, overload from working and walking, not to mention more personal matters going on that my doctor and I are still trying to understand to this day (psychosis, disassociation; another tale for another story); all these things were funneled heavily into this tale. I won’t say what I went through during this period was anything along the lines of what, say, Tellurus went through, but it has its parallels. The human mind is absolutely extraordinary to me. My doctor was able to point out a few different things that seemed to run in tandem with what was happening in my life. Psychiatry is fascinating.
How did you feel about The Man in the Hall reaching the finals of the 2018 American Fiction Awards?
Shocked. Totally just blown away. Afterward came the nervousness. Everything became just a bit too real for a few hours, and then it all settled down.
What attracts you to philosophy?
That’s a fairly difficult question. I would like to be able to say that I enjoy it, but I don't think the answer would be honest. I find it to be more of an addiction these days. I enjoy it similarly to my smoking habit; it's just something I do, and I don't really know how to stop. I've always been imaginative and a bit of a thinker, and at some point in my early 20's I was handed a copy of Summa Theologiae by St. Thomas Aquinas. I loved it, and since then I have started taking this stuff far more seriously. I was driven by my fascination with theology to ponder in depth about God and Man, good and evil, and other such topics, and was even inspired enough to minor in philosophy alongside my studies as an English Major. Though I will always enjoy pulling the Summa out for a bit of casual reading, my new romance is with ethics, metaphysics, existentialism, language, and the other schools of thought within philosophy. Even after my undergrad was complete, I still find myself studying these disciplines in my spare time, but it has become more out of a sense of duty than anything; finding new ways to express complex thought, understanding our world-system and the appropriate ethical viewpoints, and combating an increasingly more uneducated, simple-minded society (which seems to become more difficult as I age) are hobbies of mine.
Do you subscribe to any particular school of philosophy yourself?
Not really. I haven’t mastered any single aspect, honestly, and I don’t really think I’m all that great at it. I just love it. If I am a philosopher, I am super low on the totem pole. I hope to someday be able to rival someone like Ayn Rand. I have been slowly piecing together a personal treatise that I’ve been working on since around 2014, but I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day. I may just stick to the stories.
My personal favorite schools are probably ethics, phenomenology, logic, and metaphysics. I know different ideas about each, a good bit about the philosophers that worked in those fields, and many, many thoughts and criticisms about them, but I cannot in good faith say I understand any one of them well enough to be considered a true advocate, much less a threat of any sort. It’s just a hobby. One I’m okay at, but not good enough to rival someone like Sartre, or even Rand.
In regards to the duty comment, I have great worries about the future of humanity. I argue that people seem to feel as if they "own" facts, and there is no such thing as a truly relative opinion; or if there is, it belongs to the other guy. One would think simply understanding how terrible our ability to communicate is (language limitation, psychological restraints, biases, etc.) and how horrible our brains are at actually understanding and computing the world around us would give a clue, but, if anything, most people seem to think their "reasoning" is completely infallible.
Losing sight of this will cause more problems in the long run for us all. The rejection of existence, the rejection of being responsible for our world and society, and not thinking about or even caring to think about the consequences of this mentality on a mass scale will not lead us anywhere good. The stakes are higher than ever, and we need more philosophers. Philosophy needs to become a household staple, and until that day comes, I plan to just keep doing my thing.
What authors inspire you?
Lovecraft, Sartre, Aquinas, King, Heidegger, Aristotle, George Martin, Plato, PKD, Nietzsche, Tolkien, Hawthorne, Thomas Hardy, Spinoza.
There are a few others, but these guys probably shaped my thoughts the most.
I'm personally a little weirded out by Heidegger and Lovecraft, and I'm convinced George R. R. Martin is probably the least sane of them all (how the hell does he hold all that in his head?) Sartre and Aquinas are fun to read. SK's The Dark Tower is a series I am a little too obsessed with. Plato provided the backdrop to my own metaphysical foundation. I try to emulate Spinoza somewhat (he's a big role model.) Aristotle's views on friendship are incredible. Hawthorne's writing style is just.... eugh...breathtaking. Same for Hardy. I would like to have a beer with PKD and Nietzsche in the afterlife. (Yes, I know. Don't care.) I go back and forth over whether Tolkien was the greatest author of all time. Depends on the day.
What makes you say that Tolkien may be the greatest author of all time?
When you read through the development of literature, there almost seems to be a “sweet spot” where the written work is casually comprehensible, but still complex; epic, but not overbearing; fantastical, but believable. Tolkien’s work is believable like Lovecraft and in-depth like Martin; comprehensible like Stephen King, but elegant like Hawthorne or Hardy. It’s got plenty of philosophy, but it’s not so damn dense or overbearing to cause mental breakdowns. It’s fun, exciting, suspenseful, deep...he’s got it all; a timeless tale, plenty of lore, superb writing, and languages he constructed himself. Who the hell builds a language? That’s amazing! And he made 2 or 3, if I’m not mistaken. Somehow, he managed to fit it all within his works. I don’t honestly see how he doesn’t wear the crown, but, hey, I’m just a fan.
Thank you again for your time.