By Sally Conor
American writer Stefan Merrill Block believes that technology and the internet are completely changing the way young novelists are writing and structuring their work.
Block, 26, who made a flying visit to Auckland this week, says a whole generation of writers have been influenced by the development of word processing and this has led to a watershed moment in the history of literature.
“When we look back at this time of writing in like, 50 years, I think it’s going to seem like a time of really immense structural experimentation.
“With word processing… we can continuously reshape our work so we can arrange for juxtapositions and parallels in a way that novelists of forty years ago simply couldn’t because they were technologically limited.”
A self-confessed science nerd, Block has represented the United States at international science fairs, and admits that the internet is something that has shaped his experience significantly.
“It’s a generational thing and a contemporary thing in that I have always had the internet in my life, and as a science nerd I latched on to it at a young age.
“I’ve always had word processing, so my experience of story and reality has always been one that draws from many different sources.”
Along with writers like Junot Diaz and Charles Bock, Block has been heralded as the latest in a stream of literary ‘wunderkind’ who are defining the concept of the twenty first century novel.
However, Block is a little perplexed by the media’s obsession with the idea of the young writer.
“In America, I’ve always thought that there was a particularly American preoccupation with precociousness.
“I think part of it is a belief that, even for people who aren’t young, who haven’t written yet or published yet that young writers represent the possibility that you don’t need to come from a lot of experience to write a book.
“My friend Charles [Bock] wrote his first novel called Beautiful Children, and he worked on it alone for like, 10 years. I think he was like, 38 when it came out and that became a story and it was a story about the actual work that can be required in producing quality fiction.”
Block himself took five years to write his first novel The Story of Forgetting, a family saga about the legacy of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which was published this month.
But he feels like he’s still learning how to go about writing a novel, despite being showered with praise for his debut.
“There are some writers that consider how things are going to work symbolically or structurally in a certain way when they sit down to write a book.
“Maybe as I become a more experienced writer I’ll learn to have more control over those things, but in this book at least, those are just the characters that came out of me.
“At some point I had to tie it all together into what became a novel but there are so many questions people have asked me about the choices I’ve made, and a lot of it was just what happened.”
Stefan Merrill Block’s homepage.
Sally Conor is a student on AUT’s Diploma of Journalism Programme