I consider A Working Theory of Love to be a love letter--not without criticism--to San Francisco

Scott Hutchins is a teacher of Creative Writing at Stanford University. A Working Theory of Love is his first novel.

You teach Creative Writing at Stanford University. Could you be part of an artificial intelligence program which would teach machines how to write a real novel?

An intriguing suggestion! Then I would just relax in the mornings, go for a jog, and come back in to see the novel finished. But would I then need an AI program to read all those novels?

There probably are some functions of novel writing that might be automatized. I certainly spell-check my novel (though I disagree with 70% of the “corrections”). But to know what appeals to the reader, what seduces her attention—this is exactly what computers at this moment can’t know.

Neill Bassett is the son of a man who killed himself. His company is called “Amiante Systems”. Where do these choices come from?

They are separate choices. Dr. Bassett’s suicide casts a pall over Neill’s life—it’s an event that unsettles him emotionally but also metaphysically. I’ve known suicide to do just that, not in my own life, but in lives I’ve observed. As for Amiante, it’s a little play on words that reveals a man (Neill’s boss, Livorno) who is not as fully in charge of the world as he thinks he is.

San Francisco is a fully-fledged character in the novel. What is your relation to this city?

It’s the scene of my adult life. I wanted to capture San Francisco very precisely at this historical moment, so the novel is filled with my day-to-day observations. I consider A Working Theory of Love to be a love letter—not without criticism—to San Francisco.

In the age of dating websites, the Beatnik era seems far away. Some people thought New Age would have disappeared as well. Why did you link Rachel to sexual meditation?

New Age is alive and well. Here, there, and everywhere. In the Gay Science, Nietzsche says that a culture that moves from religious to superstitious is a culture moving in the right direction. I don’t know if he’s correct, but that’s certainly the direction we’ve taken.

I’m not sure I would agree that the Beatnik era is so far away, too. The fact is, there was no beatnik era. They were a counter-culture. And the mainstream culture is busily producing much to be counter to. We may be living in the new beatnik era right now.

How much of your own personality is there in Neill Bassett?

Madame Bovary, c’est moi. Neill’s wandering life bears some resemblance to the type of life I was leading while writing the book, though the details themselves are not the same. His observations and way of thinking, however, are definitely a mode of my own thinking.