Today I am interviewing Christopher Hinz and Etan Ilfeld, co-authors of the new fantasy novelette, Duchamp versus Einstein.
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DJ: Hi Christopher Hinz & Etan Ilfed! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourselves?
Christopher Hinz: I’m the author of seven novels as well as screenplays, graphic novels, short stories and comics for DC and Marvel. As well as Duchamp Versus Einstein co-written with Etan Ilfeld, I also have a new novel, Starship Alchemon, coming out in November.
Etan: I’m a publisher, chess player and serial entrepreneur. I studied physics at university so this book brings together many of my passions: chess, art, physics, sci-fi and history.
DJ: What is Duchamp versus Einstein about?
Christopher: An ethereal female, able to move freely through space and time, arranges for the artist Marcel Duchamp and the scientist Albert Einstein to play a surreal game of chess that could have a major impact on world history.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Duchamp versus Einstein?
Christopher: I’ve always been fascinated by Einstein, whose pivotal theories have so strongly influenced scientific and technological development. For instance, our modern-day GPS wouldn’t be accurate unless the underlying math took into account Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
Etan: I’ve always been inspired by both Duchamp and Einstein. Duchamp was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century and a master provocateur. For a decade he gave up art and became a master chess player–representing France in several chess olympiads. Both had failed first marriages and stable second marriages. Duchamp’s first wife was so jealous of his passion for chess that she glued his chess pieces to the board, which made him furious and precipitated the end of their short lived marriage.
DJ: Actually, where did the idea to co-author this book from? Have you done this before, or had you two been joking around with the idea and finally decide to give a go for real?
Christopher: Etan generated the initial idea and we went from there.
Etan: I had been in touch with Chris and had already collaborated with him on a graphic novel out of his classic Liege-Killer book. I thought it would be fun and we meshed well together in terms of bouncing ideas back and forth and writing in parallel.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Christopher: We drew from world history, using actual events in the 20th century lives of Duchamp and Einstein as jumping-off points for our story. The novelette’s third main character, referred to as “Stella,” possesses incredible mastery over the spatiotemporal, yet finds herself in a precarious situation when encountering the two men.
Etan: All three characters are fascinating. Stella views humans through the eyes of an alien anthropologist and highlights the madness of our violent nature. Duchamp and Einstein both have tremendous imaginations and creativity and were citizens of the world. Curiously, Einstein renounced his German citizenship twice. The first time was when he wanted to avoid military service. Then about a decade later he became an Austrian citizen but after Austria merged with Germany, he denounced his citizenship again before fleeing the antisemitism in Germany in the 1930s.
DJ: Aside from the main characters in the story, who is a favorite side character or a character with a smaller role for in story? Why?
Christopher: A few minor characters show up but for the most part it’s a triad — Duchamp, Einstein and Stella. But because we bounce around through various time periods, pivotal figures in history — Freud and Kafka, for example — contribute to the tale.
Etan: Having read many of Duchamp’s real letters, we decided to include some fictional letters that were written to Duchamp’s friend and art dealer Walter Arensberg. And of course, President Roosevelt is also in the periphery based on Einstein’s letter to him, which initiated the Manhattan Project. Many artists are mentioned ranging from Salvador Dali to Diego Velazquez.
DJ: What is the world and setting of Duchamp versus Einstein like?
Christopher: (see above)
Etan: (see above)
DJ: How do you outline and break up who writes what? And I’ve also read that some authors who co-write books will edit each other’s chapters, too.
Christopher: The novelette took several years to come together, so there was a tremendous amount of back and forth. We made constant editorial suggestions to one another, changing story locations, rewriting scenes, abandoning segments that we felt weren’t working — and sometimes reinstating them — before we were mutually satisfied. At that juncture, outside editorial input was solicited, resulting in even more changes.
Etan: We started writing alternate chapters, but quickly progressed into taking turns to rewrite and edit all the chapters so everything really was co-written. It was fun to collaborate because we could hold each other to deadlines and maintain discipline.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Duchamp versus Einstein?
Christopher: It was fun researching our characters. Both men enjoyed rich full lives beyond their artistic/scientific achievements, and being able to incorporate some of those aspects rendered the story more evocative.
Etan: Developing the story while maintaining verisimilitude was a fun challenge. I’m very happy that we went with Einstein and Duchamp rather than other duos.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Christopher: Good question. From past publishing experience, readers will sometimes latch onto elements of a story that in my writer’s mind didn’t seem overly important. Once a literary work goes public, it’s as it should be, in the private domain of each and every individual who peruses its pages. Will they be intrigued by Duchamp’s fascination with “readymade” art? Will Einstein’s thoughts on the “premium vibrator,” a submission he may have examined while employed at the Bern patent office, prove tantalizing? No idea, really.
Etan: Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I hope that a wide range of readers will find the story fascinating and accessible. It really does combine a lot of ideas and juxtaposes art and science.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Duchamp versus Einstein that you can share with us?
Etan: A real quote from Duchamp that we’ve included in the book is: “While all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.”
DJ: Now that Duchamp versus Einstein is released, what is next for you?
Christopher: I have a novel coming in November. “Starship Alchemon” is a futuristic thriller about the extraordinary forces unleashed during a routine exploratory expedition to a distant planet. It’s my own twisted and unique version of a familiar SFF subgenre, Peril in Deep Space!
Etan: I am writing a few sci-fi short stories. I am also excited to have just finished producing a documentary about a board game tournament called the Mind Sports Olympiad with some of the best games players in the world. The film is called Pentamind, and is currently being submitted to festivals.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Duchamp versus Einstein that we haven’t talked about yet?
Christopher: Outside of comic book writing, where you’re collaborating with artists, this is my first time working with a co-author. It was a fun and educational experience!
Etan: Truth is often stranger than fiction, and DvE is peppered with lots of incredible facts alongside its equally fantastical fictional elements.
DJ: When you lose in a boardgame, are you a sore loser?
Christopher: In general, I tend to be gracious. However, it’s easier to maintain such serenity when destructive tools — hammers, flamethrowers, potent adhesives — are kept out of arm’s reach.
Etan: I find that the secret is not to lose… Actually, I think that I’m gracious these days, but when I was younger I would absolutely hate losing and be quite hard on myself.
DJ: Thank you so much, both of you, for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Christopher: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
Etan: My pleasure.
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***Duchamp versus Einstein is published by Angry Robot and is available TODAY!!!***
Buy the Book:
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About the Book:
An engrossing science fiction novelette spanning some of the most monumental events of the 20th century, and bringing together two of the most transformative figures of the era in art and science for a contest that could reshape history.
Inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s archived letters, Duchamp versus Einstein is a science fiction novelette spanning some of the most monumental events of the 20th century, and bringing together two of the most transformative figures of the era in art and science for a surreal chess match that could reshape history.
About the Author:
Christopher Hinz is the author of five science fiction books. Liege-Killer won the Compton Crook Award for best first novel and was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. He has written screenplays and a graphic novel, scripted comics for DC and Marvel, and has worked as a newspaper reporter and technical administrator of a small TV station.
Etan Ilfeld is the author of Beyond Contemporary Art and holds a physics degree from Stanford University. He is a US chess master and the inventor of Diving Chess. He is the owner of Watkins Media.