Spotlight: Michael Dutton
Author of Christmasville
(Publication Date: December 1st, 2006)
Michael Dutton was raised in Absecon, New Jersey, but currently resides with his wife and daughters in Newport, Rhode Island. He graduated from Richard Stockton State College summa cum laude, with a degree in Literature, and thereafter, participated in the graduate program in Comparative Literature at Penn State.
At Stockton College, he wrote several articles, which appeared in the college newspaper, Argo. In addition to his educational pursuits at Penn State, he was employed as an editor and a proofreader, assisting adjutant professors in their efforts to publish articles in a variety of trade journals.
Throughout his considerable tenure as a controller and a director at hotels and casinos in New Jersey and Connecticut, Mr. Dutton scripted “extensive tomes” of operational procedures, which delineated accounting and process-engineering functions in logistical environments.
“But to my knowledge,” he notes with a tight-lipped smile, “no one’s ever read them.”
Christmasville represents Mr. Dutton’s premier novel – a work of fiction deeply entrenched in magical realism. “In Christmasville,” the author reveals, “I wanted to achieve a seemingly simple, carefully tailored objective: I wanted to tell a story – as engaging for a sixteen year old as for a reader, sixty.”
Slated for publication in late 2008 is the companion novel, Finding Christmasville (Madeleine’s Tale).
Mr. Dutton is currently completing a short screenplay, Union ², and his second novel, Dexter Dexterious (Emperor of the House of Cards). The novel, he explains, “is a metaphysical comic book – a wild piece of fiction, gleaned from my numerous experiences in the hotel and casino industry.”
Lester LeMat conducted the following interview with the author in the “little writing room” of his Newport residence in the summer of 2006. Mr. LeMat was one of four applicants who interviewed for, and subsequently secured, the position of “narrator” in Mr. Dutton’s upcoming novel, Dexter Dexterious (Emperor of the House of Cards).
Lester Le Mat’s impressive credentials include a variety of accomplishments, though the accuracy of which cannot be supported because of his pathological tendency to treat truth and historical veracity with the same dexterity that he winds, stretches, knots the rubber bands that he compulsively sports on his left wrist.
According to Mr. LeMat, he recommended to James Joyce the “absolute necessity” of incorporating the techniques of stream-of-consciousness and interior monologue into the fabric of Ulysses. Purportedly, he taught Julio Cortázar the tactical elements of Hopscotch; provided Herman Hesse the cartographical blueprint for The Journey to the East; devised the subtle complexity of the Labyrinths for Julio Borges.
Again, although his self-proclaimed accolades are quite compelling, and provocative, no actual documentation of his accomplishments has ever been substantiated. In fact, there exists no single shred of evidence to support any of his lofty “ExClaims to fame!” (as he so flamboyantly declares).
Please note, however, that Lester LeMat apparently possesses several “redeeming qualities”, which the author finds indispensable in the telling of Dexter Dexterious. But Mr. Dutton was reluctant to comment on the enigmatic nature of those attributes.
LeMat: Regarding Dexter Dexterious, what was your principal purpose in selecting Lester
LeMat as your narrator extraordinaire? Can you tell us something about the three other candidates? About their shortcomings?
Dutton: I don’t think it would be pertinent. Moreover, the process in which an author selects the
agent – the narrator – in the revelation of his tale is something that I would prefer to remain confidential. In fact, at the risk of superceding your role as interviewer ...
LeMat: Yes. Yes, of course. I wholeheartedly support your caveat in revealing the underlying
dynamics and structural elements of what surely ...
Dutton: Lester? – Might we proceed according to the course that was mutually agreed upon?
LeMat: But of course – straightaway! Let’s see now, my notes ... Yes, my notes ... I understand
that you started writing when you were eleven years old. Could you tell us something about that? Was it fiction or non-fiction?
Dutton: Fiction. It was a short story, to be precise – a piece that related the hardships and
challenges of a tribe, situated in West Africa. At such a young age, however, the notion of suspension of disbelief was about as foreign to an eleven year-old as is the mandate, say ... for a certain narrator to maintain an objective, unbiased approach in conducting an interview. At any rate, the success of the piece was fatally undermined by its believability. For example, in naming the tribe, in naming the mountain range that circumvented their encampments – well, I simply made them up, convincing myself that readers would buy into the story line, regardless of whether the tribe itself or the topographical features in the piece were seated in any framework of reality.
LeMat: So you lied about it then.
Dutton: No. I didn’t lie. I simply ignored generally accepted conventions in the scripting of a piece
of fiction. As I said, I was eleven years old at the time.
LeMat: I see. And how old are you now?
Dutton: Well, this year I decided to be nine. Last year I was twelve and the year before that, ten.
LeMat: Why did you skip a year? – Between ten and twelve?
Dutton: Because I had matured so much throughout the year of being ten that I decided to skip
eleven altogether. So I became twelve. Unfortunately, it proved to be a rather testy period – with all the hormones kicking in. I needed a break from the massive chemical assault, from all the social pressures, so I regressed to nine.
In truth though, I suppose the whole pretense of regression is an exercise that allows me to maintain some semblance of sanity in this day and age. The vivification – the manifestation – of a childlike persona takes the edge off of a world that constantly asserts its empirical aspect, that continuously sabotages its imaginative, less palpable, elements. It’s become a world of iron and chromium, of silicone and titanium, the ardor of helium and phosphorus, of rhodium and xenon, relegated to the background.
LeMat: Is that the purpose of the toys scattered throughout your “little writing room”? On the
bookshelf, for example, is a metal car, placed dangerously close to the edge – precariously close, I might add – to J. G. Ballard’s novel, Crash. On the upper shelf is a pair of rubber soldiers – one guards The Castle by Kafka while the other, presumably, protects Calvino’s The Castle of Crossed Destinies. And the finger puppets? – Positioned as such, do you think they discuss Naked Masks, by Pirandello, when no one’s around?
Dutton: Absolutely. And who knows? – Perhaps the dialogue in “Six Characters in Search of an
Author”, one of the plays within Naked Masks, takes on different meanings as a result of their conversations. As for your question – the “purpose of the toys” – yes. The toys are symbols, devices, which are quite useful in launching flights of the imagination. A Night Flight, you could say, or a Flight to Arras, which may perhaps explain the position of the little metal airplane on the parcel of wooden airstrip in front of St. Exupery’s novels.
LeMat: Why don’t we move ahead now and talk about your background. It’s a rather interesting
dichotomy – your formal education, in literature – particularly when it’s placed against your record of employment. Could you elaborate?
Dutton: As I’ve noted elsewhere – I’ve never really had a career but, rather, a collection of
disparate job functions. When I was considerably younger, I was a clam digger in the back bays of South Jersey – though you would call it, a “quahog digger” in Rhode Island. Of all my jobs, certainly it was one of the most rewarding in terms of fringe benefits, providing me with romantic glimpses into worlds, which don’t exist any more. I remember a time – it was late June – and I was navigating my clamming boat across the open bay. There was the taste of salt and seaweed, the aromatic, high tide smell ... the perfume ... of the meadows. It was that time just before dawn, its “rosy fingers” (as Homer might put it), shaping the changing convolutions of clouds across the horizon. And that’s when I saw it – a bi-plane, skimming the tops of the waves, its pilot flying his fabulous machine from the outskirts of Atlantic City to the farmlands of Port Republic. I can still visualize that today – the image of the bi-plane – which conjured a disjointedness of time, as if I were transported to a period a half century away.
LeMat: That raises an interesting, albeit token, question: if you could have lived in another era,
what period would it have been?
Dutton: The beautiful age – the Belle Epoch – in Paris, between 1871 and 1914. An age of grace
and elegance, of great art and poetry. An age painted by Manet, enunciated so poetically by Mallarmé.
LeMat: I would have preferred New York myself, hobnobbing with the likes of Rockefeller and
Dutton: Why do I not find that surprising, Lester?
LeMat: Indeed ... But, to continue: what were some of your other jobs?
Dutton: Dishwasher and busboy. Concrete construction worker and home handyman. Truck
driver and warehouseman, to name a few. My younger days were certainly characterized by a surplus of physical labor – the surplus, remembered today by the joints of my shoulders, my knees, my wrists. But at least I had the foresight to migrate from jobs that required physical labor to ones of a more cerebral nature. At a hotel and casino in Atlantic City, I moved from warehouseman to Accounting Supervisor, and then later, to Food & Beverage Controller.
LeMat: How were you able to make that migration? – With a degree in literature, how were able
to meet the managerial requirements of positions that were seated in accounting and financial reporting departments?
Dutton: Platonic metaphor.
LeMat: I’m not following you.
Dutton: Accounting and financial reporting systems are, fundamentally, extensions of a Platonic
metaphor, cast in a Hegelian Dialectic. I’m simplifying, of course, but ... well, the balance sheet, for example, is an accrual of debits and credits, synthesized as equity at the end of a reporting period. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. It’s really not rocket science. It’s simply the application of one system to another, modified according to a set of functions and a pre-determined sequence of events. What helps is the capability to visualize the process, to construct mental models of the components and dynamics that are operant within the systems. That’s the key – visualization.
LeMat: But why would you do that at all? Why would you commit yourself to function in an
environment that ... Just a moment – I want to check my notes ... in an environment as “foreign as the Hebrides”, as you once put it?
Dutton: Necessity. The necessity of putting food on the table, coupled with a constant fascination
... a fascination of being “Renaissance”, you could say.
LeMat: ‘Renaissance’, as in, “The Renaissance Man”?
Dutton: Precisely. I’ve always had a penchant for learning – practical applications as well
as matters of an abstract nature. I derive almost as much satisfaction in learning, for example, the elements of tile work, carpentry, plastering, plumbing, electrical wiring, roofing – and of actually completing projects throughout the household – that I do in crafting works of fiction.
LeMat: Isn’t that intriguing!
Dutton: How’s that?
LeMat: Well, if you think about it ... The notion of “being Renaissance”, as you put it, is perhaps
the principal characteristic of Dexter in Dexter Dexterious. Not only is he motivated by an insatiable drive “to do all things” but by a compulsion to do them better than anyone else. At the risk of engaging – of momentarily engaging – in what is ... what is psychoanalytical speculation, perhaps Dexter is merely an extension ... an extension of the author ...
Dutton: In varying degrees, I would say that many of my characters – not only those who
animate Dexter Dexterious, but those who populate my other efforts as well – are extensions, manifestations, assimilations of a compound process, involving memory, imagination and, for lack of a better word, function. But to take it a step further: to what degree is that most instrumental of agents, in the unfolding of a story, vested in the purposes of his sponsor?
LeMat: I’m sorry but ... I’m not following you.
Dutton: In what manner does the narrator reflect, expedite, synthesize the vision of the author?
LeMat: Sorry but – just a moment while I check my notes ... I seem to have had a lapse ... What
were we discussing?
Dutton: Touché! At any rate, we were discussing literature.
LeMat: Yes ... Literature ... Literature and writing ... What can you tell us about Dexter
Dexterious? How did it germinate? Why do you refer to it as “a metaphysical comic book”?
Dutton: Well, it’s a fictional distillation of my experiences in the hotel and casino industry – an
industry, which is somewhat of a novelty ... perhaps an anomaly ... in terms of business environments. The casino is a larger-than-life arena – a sort of hybrid hyperbole that’s situated midway between a three-ring circus and a Medieval castle. But let me put it another way: if you wanted to design a model of a successful casino, then you might consider hiring the likes of P. T. Barnum and Niccolo Machiavelli to expedite the project, with Franz Kafka and E.M. Escher stopping by periodically to provide their peculiar input.
LeMat: You sound a bit jaded by your experiences in the casinos.
Dutton: Not at all. But it was my first exposure to business environments and I expected ...
well, I expected something else.
LeMat: Was that at Trump Plaza?
Dutton: No. Executives at Trump made me an offer while I was still employed at the Claridge
Hotel & Casino. My experiences, my flawed expectations ... well, they weren’t the result of any one casino, but of casinos as a whole. Anyway, regarding Dexter Dexterious (Emperor of the House of Cards) – the protagonist, Dexter Schreibermann, is a larger-than-life character, who possesses a generous complement of exceptional talents. In that sense, he could have easily surfaced as a kind of multi-faceted, ambi-Dexterious antihero in a DC Comics. In fact, as you might recall, the comic book is actually a device that I incorporate in the story line so as to contrast it’s more serious themes.
LeMat: Oh yes – “The Taxtion Packed Episodes of Finance Frank”.
Dutton: Indeed. But, getting back to your initial question – the “metaphysical” element – it
eventuates as the result of a rather striking transformation that occurs in the character of Dexter at the conclusion of the novel.
LeMat: Really? In what manner? Could you provide us with some of the details?
Dutton: Let’s just say that there’s a change – a significant change – in the motivational caliber,
in the mindset, of Dexter as he realizes the vast disparity between what essentially is specious, trivial, inconsequential and what’s truly important.
LeMat: But ... But then what becomes of Martine – the beautiful, incomparable paramour
of Dexter Schriebermann? How does Martine fit into this “metaphysical” transformation, as you put it? Surely, she doesn’t ...
Dutton: In due time, Lester. In due time.
LeMat: For obvious reasons, I’m beside myself with anticipation! But ... to continue since ...
since you seem resolute in your refusal to provide any more details, particularly regarding the lovely Martine ... So – to move along – ... It would seem that your novel, Dexter Dexterious is a far cry – a distant shout, you might say – from Christmasville. Could you elaborate?
Dutton: If Dexter Dexterious is seated – principally – in a sort of transformational satire, offering
what is initially a fractured vision of a universe wrought with power and wealth, greed and revenge, Christmasville depicts anything but. Situated at the tenuous crossroad of magic and miracle, Christmasville reveals the best of aspirations. The operant vehicle is faith, which certainly is one of the most revered, one of the most redeeming, ideals to which we might subscribe. As is hope ... and love, of course. But it is the vehicle of faith, coupled with the unswerving confidence and integrity in one’s own beliefs, that propels Mary Jane across unfamiliar highways, evoking images, scents, distant memories, dreams that nudge the shallow membrane of reality. If Dexter spotlights the negative qualities of the human condition, Christmasville is certainly a celebration of its positive values – as elusive as they may sometimes seem. But overall, I’m quite happy with Christmasville – its structural elements, the lacing of its multiple themes, its characters and story line. That says a lot, actually – my being ‘quite happy’ with it – because sometimes ... well, I’m sometimes an intransigent perfectionist when it comes to my writing.
LeMat: Yes. I’ve noticed.
Dutton: Have you, Mr. LeMat?
LeMat: Moving right along ... Finding Christmasville (Madeleine’s Tale) – why do you
regard it as “a companion novel” rather than simply a sequel?
Dutton: In terms of sequence, the events in Finding Christmasville do indeed occur after the
conclusion of Christmasville. However, it’s rather like another game of checkers – one in which you play from the opposite side of the checkerboard, using the black pieces rather than the red ones. Christmasville is Mary Jane’s tale. The story line is based on a circular, outward movement, and proceeds as the result of Mary Jane’s unshakable determination to discover what she believes to be “the truth”. On the other hand, Finding Christmasville is Madeleine’s tale. Madeleine appears only briefly in “The Prologue” and “The Epilogue” of Christmasville – though her appearance, of course, is instrumental in the resolution of plot, in the conclusiveness of the denouement, particularly as it pertains to the ultimate disposition of Mary Jane. The character of Madeleine is fundamentally different from that of Mary Jane. While one leans more to what might be deemed “the miracle” of the Christmasville universe, the other tilts more discernibly toward “the magic”. And although the motivational element of both Mary Jane and Madeleine may be quite similar – the embracement of faith as the spark that initiates their separate courses of action – the object at the end of the tunnel is quite dissimilar. For Mary Jane, the object is truth; for Madeleine, it’s salvation.
LeMat: With the publication of both Christmasville and Finding Christmasville, will that be the
end of “the Christmasville universe”, as you call it?
Dutton: I think not. Some of the characters in Christmasville ... well, I’m fond of them actually.
Some of them are quite intriguing. For example, Stark, the Iceman – I think he may very well insist upon revealing his tale. As may Mr. Bachmann, Mr. Mason, Emily and Esmeralda ... At any rate, who knows? – Perhaps down the road, we’ll see Tales of Christmasville, a compilation of viewpoints – a collection of short stories – that frame individual aspects of the Christmasville opus.
LeMat: OK then – now that we’ve explored some of the territories regarding your literary efforts ...
Unless, of course, you would be so gracious as to provide us with additional insights ... What kind of transformation is it, exactly, that Dexter undergoes? And Martine? – Does she remain with Dexter afterwards or does she ...
Dutton: Why don’t we move along now, Lester. As you very well know, there isn’t much time left.
We have to get back to work.
LeMat: Yes ... Yes, of course – but you really shouldn’t have baited me like that ...
Dutton: Lester? Shall we continue?
LeMat: Very well!
Dutton: Lester? ... Why you’re not ... You’re not pouting, are you?
LeMat: Don’t be absurd! “Pouting”, as you call it, is not within my realm of ... OK, here ...
here we are. I simply lost my place in my notes – that’s all. No harm done ... Now – What were your best of days?
Dutton: Excuse me?
LeMat: It’s a simple enough question: ‘What were your best of days?’
Dutton: Yes, I understand that. But the question isn’t in the script.
LeMat: Surely, if we’re to conduct this interview with any sense of propriety, then there must be
a degree of latitude, a marginal provision, which allows me to digress ...
Dutton: How many questions do you have, Lester?
LeMat: A trifling few – I assure you.
Dutton: All right then. But only if you can manage to sheath, at least temporarily, the dull knife of
LeMat: Agreed! – What were your best of days?
Dutton: In no particular order, my best days were: the day my father packed up and left home – I
was fourteen at the time; the day I married my wife, Carol; the twin joy of days when my daughters, Meg and Kate, were born.
LeMat: And your worst of days?
Dutton: The day – or night, I should say – that I lost my uncle’s white, silk scarf while driving my
motorcycle on Route 9 in Oceanville, New Jersey. He wore it when he was a bomber pilot in World War II. And of course the whole year of being nineteen – all three hundred and sixty-five days of them. I lived in the attic of my mother’s house, sleeping the days away, reading Sartre and Camus throughout the nights ... but enough said about that.
LeMat: Ah, yes – the existentialists. I remember them well ...
Dutton: Yes. I’m sure that you do.
LeMat: No – really – I do. There was Albert, of course, who always drove his motorcar much too
fast ... Jean-Paul, whispering a less than arcane tidbit of information to Simone as they exited the Cafe Select, turning ...
Dutton: ... Turning down that long alley, the aged brickwork, melting in the damp passage of
time, the sign at the end of the alley, reading: ‘No Exit’.
LeMat: Indeed. Anyway, getting back to my notes ... my agenda ... Do you have any hobbies?
Dutton: At this point in my life – and it certainly took me long enough to reach this point – my
avocation – my hobby – is identical to my profession. I’m a writer. It’s what I wanted to be as far back as I can remember.
LeMat: If you could be someone else, whom would you be? What would you change?
Dutton: I wouldn’t be anyone else. I like being Michael. Or, since I’m a Gemini – a thoroughbred
Gemini, born at the center of the sign and not on the cusp – maybe I should say: we – we both like being Michael. We wouldn’t be anyone else. But more importantly: whom would you choose to be, Lester, if given the chance?
LeMat: ... I refuse to answer that! Besides, this is my interview so I’ll be the one to conduct the
interrogation, if you don’t mind!
LeMat: I mean ... the interview, of course ... the interview ... What becomes of Martine??? – I
insist upon a response! How does the transformation of Dexter impact their amorous relationship? How does she ...
Dutton: Enough! – Certainly I had my reservations when I consented to this interview but ... not
surprisingly, Lester, and with all due respect, you’ve superseded your role. Consequently, the interview is over. It’s time to get back to work.