Luke Rhinehart interview

You wrote The Dice Man in the 70’s and  it was re-published in Italy in 2004. It seems the book is as relevant today as it was almost forty years ago. Can you explain this?

The Dice Man was published in seven or eight European countries in the seventies, but then took a long twenty-five year snooze, remaining in print in only three of those countries. Then, beginning at the start of the new century, something strange happened.  Without any publicity or any effort by me or my agent to promote it, the book began to be rediscovered. Since then the book has been published for the first time, as in Spain, all the Eastern European countries, Russia, China, Turkey, and Thailand, or republished, as in all the European countries that published it first in the seventies. It is now in print in more countries and selling more copies throughout the world than at any time in the book’s long history. And the mystery deepens when we realize that this resurgence has been led not by older people who remember the book from long ago but by a new generation of young people. More than eighty per cent of my “fan” mail comes from readers younger than 24 or so. I have no explanation for this. The new success of the book probably arose from the rise of the internet. The Dice Man has always been a “cult” book, one whose readers find the book through the enthusiasm of friends. With the internet, people who find the book exciting can now tell ten twenty thirty friends about the book, whereas before the internet such spreading was very slow. By why the book has today become so popular with young people remains for me a mystery.

Reading about you, I notice that you’ve lived in two communes and there are “hippies” in at least two of your books. Would you like to tell us about your experience among hippies?

Actually, I tell the story of my most important year among “hippies” in my novel Naked Before the World. In 1969-1970 I lived with my family in Deya, Majorca, and those years were perhaps the height of the hippy movement throughout the world, and Deya and Ibiza were two capitals of that movement.  The novel is a comic look at the battle between the establishment types and the rebellious hippies. Since I was the Associate Director of the Mediterranean Institute in Deya that year, I was theoretically part of the establishment. But my personal tastes and behaviour tended to put me in the other camp. The Director and I didn’t see eye-to-eye about pot-smoking and other outrageous tendencies in our young students,  so we resolved the conflict by my taking a sabbatical that spring, staying in Deya but “retiring” from the Institute. It was that spring of 1970 on Majorca that I wrote most of The Dice Man and most of the material that a few years ago became Naked Before the World. Incidentally, it looks like within the next several months we will be making a film of Naked – a musical of all things. It will be filmed partly in Deya, or Cyprus, or a small coastal village in Italy – wherever we can do it most cheaply and perhaps get some local funding.

You recently published your new book Jesus invades George, in which G.W. Bush is being possessed by Jesus. How did Bush change the United States?  And what do you expect from Obama?

I wrote Jesus Invades George: An Alternative History in order show the un-Christlike nature of American foreign policy in Iraq.  The United States, as most Europeans know, began under Bush to act unilaterally to do whatever it wanted militarily any place in the world, manufacturing excuses to do so and not caring what most of the world thought.  And in domestic policy Bush created or maintained policies that greatly increased the wealth of the rich while decreasing that of the rest of the American people. The novel shows the humorous consequences that might occur if Bush had been taken over by the spirit of Christ—against his own will—and began in 2008 to withdraw all troops  from both Iraq and Afghanistan, to propose a universal health care bill that would totally eliminate all profits for health insurance companies and hospitals, and would double the taxes on the rich to pay for it. Naturally, the rest of the political establishment is appalled and moves to stop him, ultimately having him assassinated. I published the novel in the summer of 2008 before either Obama or McCain had been nominated. In the last part of the novel I describe what happens in the last part of 2008 and in 2009. I predict that Obama is nominated and wins the election because of  economic issues. But I also predict in that novel that Obama would not reduce the defense budget, would not go for single-payer universal healthcare, would not do anything that might go against the Israeli lobby to try to reduce the suffering of the Palestinians or further Middle East peace, and, in general, would be overwhelmed by the American political system and establishment and continue the corporate policies of previous administrations. I am depressed to see that my predictions of Obama being unable to change things in any significant way seems to be coming true.

Who are your favourite authors?

My favourite authors vary from decade to decade and year to year.  Most all of the novelists that I loved as a young man (all of them European) seem irrelevant to me now, not because they are irrelevant to this age in general but because I am now an old man and a different man, and the books no longer speak to my personal strivings or interests. I still consider them great novels, but I know they are no longer my “favourites”. And I think it is important to realize that almost every reader goes through an evolution of books he or she likes. The Dice Man is a young person’s book, and I imagine it is extremely rare that someone over the age of forty discovers the book and thinks it is exciting and provocative. My guess is that if someone who loved the book back in the ‘seventies tried to read it again now he wouldn’t be able to finish it. We change, our tastes change, our favourite books change.

Have you any advice for someone who would like to write fiction?

Write fiction because you enjoy writing fiction. If you don’t enjoy it, do something else. And show your work to as many different people as you can. Everyone will lie to you about what they think, telling you how great everything is, but if you listen to enough liars you will begin to get a sense of when a piece of writing  is really working, rather than when your readers are just being nice.

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