Dylan Callens’ novel, Operation Cosmic Teapot, is a razor sharp dark comedy starring philosophical heavyweights Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche. As religious mayhem reigns supreme on earth, God himself is under scrutiny by a group of out-of-control philosophers. What will world religion look like once it’s all over?
This weekend, I sat down with Dylan to gain some behind-the-scenes insights into his daring new novel. Let’s get philosophical.
Hi, Dylan. You grew up with a rich and varied artistic life; you were an artist, a musician, a radio announcer. What made you finally decide to head the call and start writing your novel?
I actually don’t think I grew up with a rich background in arts. While it wasn’t my intention to be artsy, I started taking writing seriously six years ago. I started by writing a really bad novel while in university.
In that horrible piece of writing, though, came the concept of God giving up his duties after failing to cope with too much paperwork. This idea ended up sticking with me because about 15 years later, I transferred it into my current work. It isn’t in quite the same form, but similar elements are there. As well, I thought that the idea of Nietzsche being God’s boss was amusing, perhaps giving him a way to find revenge on God.
How has your coursework in philosophy impacted your writing?
Philosophy leaks into everything I do. It has a profound impact on my life – I think about it all the time.
However, because philosophy may not have the same impact on other people’s lives, the struggle lies in framing it in a way that everyone can understand.
How have you made philosophy digestible for the general public?
I had to take out the academic philosophical language and tell the concepts as a story instead. Philosophy is meant to explain how we live; I can demonstrate this idea through my characters, as opposed to just explaining what philosophy is. It’s useful to see examples rather than reading philosophical theories.
Operation Cosmic Teapot is a dark comedy. Who would you say are your comedic influences?
David Foster Wallace. Do you know about him?
Sadly, I haven’t heard of him.
It’s okay – he’s been dead for a long time now. When I read his novel, Infinite Jest, I found that it was a monumental work. In a way, I feel like I have to pay tribute to him because his book left such a profound impact on my life.
Otherwise, I like to create my own brand of comedy; I pick things up here and there rather than looking for specific individuals for inspiration. By nature, I’m very sarcastic.
Let’s talk about religion. Your book deals with philosophical and religious themes. When it comes to all things God-related, it can be a tough nut to crack. Have you received any negative reactions? How do you cope with negative reactions to your work?
I think I’d be disappointed if I didn’t get any negative criticism!
I haven’t received any negative feedback so far, but I expect it. When I was writing, I thought people would want to kill me after they read Operation Cosmic Teapot. I understand that the religious aspects will make some people very upset and I’m okay with that.
One of my book’s main themes is the idea of various deities working in a call center. I fiddled with the idea of putting Allah in the call center, but I decided to stay away from it because I thought including Allah’s presence would be too big of an issue. It would take away from the book. This is especially true after I considered what’s going on in the world
If featured, what kind of current events are in your book?
I ended up not including any current news events because my book took a long time to write. I’m slow and there were periods where I wasn’t into writing. To prevent irrelevancy, I felt it would be best to make references to pop culture rather than current events.
Good choice. On popular culture, what are some of your favorite pop culture themes? What pop culture reference found its way into your book?
In terms of media, I really enjoy The Blacklist. My musical guilty pleasures would have to be Eminem and the Black Eyed Peas. While writing, I found that Eminem leaked his way into my book. He has some very controversial lyrics and I think they resonate really well with what I wrote.
You posted a “What Philosopher are you” quiz on Twitter. What kind of philosopher are you?
I fluctuate between nihilism and existentialism. When I feel pessimistic, I’m a nihilist. When I feel optimistic, I’m an existentialist.
It took you six years to complete your book. Have you seen any improvements in your writing speed since then?
I don’t know if I have improved my production rate. I sped up near the end of my book because a visible finish line motivated me to complete it.
The book took a long time because when I looked back at the old parts, I thought they were awful. I kept having to rewrite them because they didn’t fit with my newer parts. It was a bit of a painful process.
Is there another book in store for us?
I’ve been flirting with a few ideas for a new novel, but I don’t think it will be a series.
With the book being released next week, promoting it is a huge task. Promotion will be a priority before I decide to start anything new.
Dylan Callens’ debut novel, Operation Cosmic Teapot, is available on Amazon.
For more information, visit his website.