Writer Barry Wightman is a rock and roller at heart. His debut novel, Pepperland deals with the connection between music and technology. After years spent in Chicago, Wightman spoke to Our Town from Milwaukee, his new home base.
Our Town Who are your influences?
Barry Wightman This may sound crazy, maybe a bit pretentious, but a few of my major literary influences are Thomas Pynchon, David Foster Wallace and Jack Kerouac. Also Albert Murray, a venerable jazz journalist and novelist, John LeCarre and Vladimir Nabokov. Pynchon and DFW, both “postmodernists” (whatever that really means) of different generations, gave me permission to try new things, new structures (e.g. Pepperland’s footnotes or other contrary-to-fact devices). Kerouac and Murray’s jazz-inflected writing led directly to Pepperland’s humble attempt at a musical or rock ‘n roll rhythmic prose. Music on the page. Nabokov’s wondrous way with words is something I can only dream of. And LeCarre’s beautifully written tales of betrayal are books that I go back to time and again.
OT What’s your writing process like?
BW Read. Read more sources. Think about it. Think some more. Read. Scribble in notebooks. Write a bit. Try it out. Go back and work on the words, try for great sentences. Fail. Try again. Fail better. Thanks to Samuel Beckett for that. Then work with great readers and editors. I’ve been very lucky to work with real pros. I wish I could write 1,000 words a day or more…writers who can do that have my undying admiration. Another thing—I can’t write while listening to music. Just doesn’t work. I find that I end up thinking too much about the music. Bummer.
OT What’s interesting to you about the connection between rock ‘n roll and technology?
BW The revolutionary times of the ‘60s faded away in the early ‘70s and many were wondering—what’s the next big thing, who will be the next Dylan or Beatles? Where’s the next revolution that will change the world? Turns out that by about 1974, the next revolution was beginning to occur in high technology and it truly would change the world. Like Pepperland’s Sooz says, “high technology is at its best when it’s indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke said that. And many of those early pioneers were longhaired hippie freaks. Pretty cool.