Cool Summer Reading: The Metropolis Case

The Metropolis Case in paperback

For all of you looking for literary summer reading cool enough for the beach, how about the critically-acclaimed novel, The Metropolis CaseWe are delighted to have had the opportunity to talk with its author, Matthew Gallaway (for his website click here ), who kind enough to answer a few questions — enjoy:

 1)     Matt, what was the initial inspiration for The Metropolis CaseTristan and Isolde was one of the first operas I saw, and because my partner (who’s a stage director) was working on it, I was lucky enough to see it more than once. Tristan is considered by many to be the first “modern” piece of music because of its atonal elements, and as I listened, I fell in love with it and at times was reminded of some of my favorite bands — the Velvet Underground, My Bloody Valentine — who also combined dissonance and melody in such awesome ways (at least to me). The other noteworthy thing about Tristan is that it was written for a 100-plus piece orchestra, which at the time was unprecedented, and so between the atonal qualities and the sheer “wall of sound,” it was like nothing anybody had heard at the time. I read somewhere that following the world premiere of Tristan — Munich in 1865 — people were diagnosed with a kind of insanity called “Tristania.” In terms of the story, Wagner wrote Tristan as an homage to the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, a fellow German whose most famous work is The World as Will and Representation.  According to Schopenhauer (a disciple of Immanuel Kant), everyone — and really everything — in the world is driven (often for reasons we don’t understand) by an unknowable force called “the will,” which can be understood as a predecessor to the Freud’s notion of the unconscious. The will as such basically fills us with constant longing for what we don’t have, and with a few exceptions is generally relieved only at rare moments as a result of love, artistic transcendence, or (finally) death. For The Metropolis Case, I tried to develop a structure that would allow me (and readers) to draw parallels between Tristan (with regard both to the music and the underlying philosophy) and contemporary society, which is why the book jumps around between the 1800s and the present. Like many operas, the book uses any number of plot devices are not meant to be realistic (to say the least), so that ideally readers can get more involved in the emotional journeys of the characters. When I first discovered opera — relatively late, I was already 30 — it reignited my love of music. I knew I would never have it in me to compose an actual opera, so I wanted to do something that to me was the next best thing, or to write an “opera with words,” which (i.e., prose) can be understood as a kind of music.  

Author Matthew Gallaway

2)      Did the eventual novel end up significantly different from your initial plans in ways you hadn’t anticipated and, if so, what most surprised you?  I went through a number of revisions with my agent and editor, but nothing changed the overall vision of the book, which I’m sure is why I loved working with both of them.

3)      What considerations that went into the title of the book?  The Metropolis Case (as a title) is an homage to The Makropolus Case, an opera by the Czech composer Leos Janacek. The opera is more satirical, whereas the book focuses on the city, so “metropolis” seemed like a perfect word.

4)      Can you (without cursing) describe the process of narrowing the book from 1,000 pages to its final length?  In terms of trimming the manuscript, I trusted my agent when he offered his opinion that there was a more efficient way to get from point A to point B, and ultimately I think the book is much better for it. Again, none of the cuts compromised the overall vision of the book, and ultimately made it into something that I’m sure was more widely appreciated than it would have been in its longer, draft form.

5)      Is there anything you felt you took away from the process of writing this book that you think will help the next one?  I think the key to writing is consistency and an ability to plow ahead in the drafting stages without spending three hours on every sentence, with the understanding that you’re going to revise the work any number of times down the road before publication. (This opinion is totally subjective, of course.) That said, I also agree with some advice I once read by Margaret Atwood (I think!), who said that writing a novel is like trying to find a path through a thick forest, and if you find that you’re lost, you sometimes have to retrace your steps in order to get reoriented.

6)      Is there anything you’d love to answer that I should have asked?  The most important thing in writing a novel, I think, is to follow your instincts and not to worry about what “the market” may or may not want. In short, write the novel that you would like to read, and let the business side take care of itself. 

Thanks Matt!

 The book is available in paperback and for Kindle.  Click Here. 

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