The New Writing Series hosted author Jeffrey DeShell at the Soderberg Auditorium Oct. 18.
DeShell originally had planned to read from his most recently published work, “Arthouse,” a novel based on 14 modernist films. In writing the novel, DeShell took different elements from the films he chose — such as lighting, costumes or plot — and put them into each chapter.
When he stood in front of the podium, however, he informed his audience that he would not be reading from “Arthouse,” instead choosing to read from his current project: a series of mysteries based on musical pieces. The music that inspired this detective mystery was composed by Austrian painter and composer Arnold Schoenberg.
Unlike other writers, DeShell plays games with his writing. He claims to not be very good at coming up with plots, and he’s only recently gotten into character development, which leaves him with language.
The chapter he read to the audience was written without pronouns or conjugated verbs. He found inspiration for this game from Sigmund Freud’s famous patient Anna O., who only spoke in the infinitive. For other chapters, DeShell used different games, or “machines,” as he also called them. DeShell finds that the machines determine the plot of his novels and also keep him interested in his own writing.
The simplicity of the unconjugated verbs contrasted with the more sophisticated descriptions made for a unique listening experience. The audience agreed that it was easy to get into the different rhythm, even without these basic parts of speech.
After he read, there was time for a Q-and-A. One audience member asked DeShell if he ever “sabotages his own machine,” to which he answered that he hasn’t yet, though he “can’t be perfect.” Another asked DeShell if he thought musicians would correct him on some of the technical terms in the piece.
DeShell used to be a musician himself, but stopped pursuing that interest because, in his own words, he “wasn’t very good.” Though he knows a thing or two about music, DeShell said, “Whether I get it right or not … it’s someone else’s problem.”
Despite his claims to not being a good musician, he does admit to being “better at music than detective work.” All of his knowledge on the subject comes from detective shows.
Other previous novels DeShell has written include “Arthouse,” “S & M,” “In Heaven Everything is Fine,” “The Trouble with Being Born” and “Peter: An (A) Historical Romance.” In addition, DeShell also wrote a critical book, “The Peculiarity of Literature: An Allegorical Approach to Poe’s Fiction.”
DeShell is an associate professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the same university where he received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He went on to receive his Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Every Thursday, the New Writing Series hosts a different poet or author. The New Writing Series is co-sponsored by the English Department and the National Poetry Foundation. The next reading will be from Myung Mi Kim at 4:40 p.m. Oct. 25 at Soderberg Auditorium.