An Interview with Trevor Alderson: A Budding Novelist

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Andy: Welcome to "a virginia blog." I'm here with Trevor Alderson, a fiction writer hailing from California, who went to undergrad in Fairfax, VA, and who is now studying creative writing for his MFA at New York University. Trevor, how's it going? What kind of writing are you working on right now?

Trevor: Hi! I'm doing great man, thanks for asking. Right now, I'm working on a novel about a high school chess prodigy, her grandmaster father, and the battle they have over control of her future, chess, and finances.

Andy: Chess can be a really intense game, but also enjoyable as hell. How long have you been working on this novel for?

Trevor: I've had the idea since December, but it's been through a lot of stages since then.

Andy: What inspired your idea? And it looks like you've been editing this novel for a long time. How did you go about your editing process for this particular project, and for your past projects?

Trevor: That's a surprisingly difficult question. I wanted to write about somebody trapped by their own talent, someone young and going through growing pains. Then I had a sort of spiritual experience. A friend of mine took me through a guided meditation which was meant to put me in touch with a spirit guide. I saw a monkey and a snake and they showed me this girl trying to escape from her father, so that's the novel I'm writing. Since then the research has really shaped the plot.

Andy: I like asking difficult questions haha. During your guided meditation with the spirit guide, what did the monkey and snake signify for you? 

Trevor: I don't know that I could put into words what they signified to me. They never said anything, just a flow of images and sensations. It was a very tactile experience. But, my best guess was that they were either facets of my personality, or just something my imagination conjured when pressed. Nevertheless, I experienced intense emotions of acceptance and encouragement, and I felt empowered to keep writing. 

Andy: What kind of research have you been doing for your novel?

Trevor: The novel research has gone in several directions, but mainly I've been reading into the last 100 years of chess history, it's players, and the politics. I've been watching chess lectures and reading manuals, and I've been looking deeply into computer chess. More recently I've been quizzing my lawyer friends about emancipation of minors and conservatorship.

Andy: It seems these images and sensations spoke to you, even more so than words can convey. How often do you mine your imagination, or do you delve more into your life experience to be used in your creative writing? Though, it also appears you've been doing copious amounts of research, which is awesome. 

Trevor: In answer to your question, I favor my imagination over lived experience. My experience, and that of others, serves as parameters for what I think is possible in ordinary life. I was an imaginative kid, and all my playtime took place in my head in worlds I would make up. Even if I was with other people I still had that running in the background. So, when my writing is going well it's because in my head I've convinced myself I'm someone else and I have the ability to just look around and say what's there. I've noticed when I stray too close to my own experience I start getting bogged down in tangents and insecurities. 

Andy: When you speak of the politics of Chess, I'm wondering if you have ever seen the ESPN segment on Vladimir Putin? There's a small part where Garry Kimovich Kasparov is being interviewed. Kasparov went to the states and is a huge critic of Putin (rightfully so). What intrigued me was Kasparov became immersed in the politics of chess, and furthermore, by extension, in international affairs it seems like. 

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Trevor: I haven't seen that interview, but I'm aware of their conflict. Kasparov is the greatest player of all time, at least on paper. He is in many ways a relic of the Soviet era and he sees Putin's Russia as a mere continuation of that regime with the "trappings of democracy." Armenia, his home country, was a Soviet state, so Kasparov earned his world championship title under a regime he hated. So he played ball until he had enough clout, and then he refused to play under a Soviet flag. He wore a Tsarist flag in protest instead, which resulted in a huge squabble and eventually they decided no flags for anybody. This is especially important in Russia because chess players were major celebrities. It was the national sport for years and years, and Soviet chess players enjoyed incredible privileges that ordinary soviets didn't. So, the world champion taking a stand like that was a massive blow to their propaganda machine. He gave up chess in 2005 in order to dedicate himself to combating Putin's regime.

Andy: What intrigues you about computer chess? 

Trevor: Computer chess fascinates me because computers don't "think" in the sense that you and I mean it. They can only follow instructions and are limited by what those instructions know how to tell them to do. So, it seems like you should be able to just calculate the best moves mathematically since that is what computers are good at. Stockfish 8, the champion chess engine, calculates 70,000,000 positions a second. But, as it turns out, that's a drop in the bucket. There are more possible chess games than there are atoms in the universe, and keep in mind that repeating a position three times ends the game. Computers can't brute force their way to victory and they don't have intuition. Nevertheless, they are the most powerful chess entities in existence. They are relevant to my book because grandmasters, and really anyone serious about chess, is heavily reliant on computers to help them analyze games and gain an advantage. Actually, the only way to cheat at chess is to somehow receive surreptitious instructions from a powerful chess engine, but avoid moves that look too much like computer moves. People can tell. 

Andy: What have you been discovering about the emancipation of minors and conservatorship?

Trevor: I've learned minors have essentially no rights or control of their finances, and that becoming emancipated is nearly impossible without parental consent. It can be done, but the standard is so high and the costs so prohibitive that a minor has little realistic chance of success unless they’re a millionaire. If they can prove serious abuse, then maybe. Conservatorship is when your decision-making rights over your estate are transferred to someone else. That happens when the conservatoree is found to be incompetent by the court. In theory, there are lots of protections against wrongful conservatorship, but in practice many people have their rights taken away without ever seeing a judge.

Andy: Celebrities are valued so highly in America (as well as all over the world, however, celebrity worship seems to be especially prevalent here), do you admire any celebrities here in America, as in do you look up to any celebrities? I ask that question because you are very knowledgeable about Kasparov, so I wonder if any American or any other international celebrities have impacted your life. 

Trevor: Sure, there are plenty of celebrities who have inspired me. Jim Carrey has been on my radar since the Andy Kaufman documentary came out. I loved when the interviewer asked him where he thought his philosophy would take him, and he said, "Nowhere. I don't have to go anywhere." He makes me more comfortable being my most bizarre self in writing, and far less afraid of failure.

Andy: In this current day, people are attached to their phones, as though their hands are glued to their devices. Do you find it difficult sometimes to be in your head and do an inner monologue/writing for your novel, while with other people, or even while alone, due to the fact that there are so many more distractions now, such as the internet and social media? 

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Trevor: Phones are a double-edged sword. It makes research more expedient, I can access my Google Docs from the app, and I can use my text to speech app to hear my writing read back to me. The distractions are problematic though. I’ll take a brief break from writing, open Imgur or something, and then a couple hours go by. On net, I'd say it adds to my writing though. 

Andy: How often do you find yourself thinking about the universe and the things that constitute it? 

Trevor: Thinking about the universe was my favorite hobby in college, but since then I've come to believe that one cannot deduce abstract truths about the universe and then return anything useful from them. Abstraction is unequal to the task of describing reality. 

Andy: Have you read Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch?" It's an amazing book and you should definitely pick it up if you haven't already. In her "The Goldfinch" the protagonist Theodore Decker's mom gets killed in an explosion at an art museum in New York City. Afterwards, he's sent to live with his dad in Las Vegas. 

The reason I mention the novel is because Theodore later tries to become emancipated from his dad, though it's rather arduous for him to do so, when his dad is preventing him from going off on his own. Later on, Theodore goes to live with his friend's family and conservatorship happens with his new caretakers. He's a kid from New York and in the novel, he is looking for his own agency. 

Trevor: I have not read “The Goldfinch”, but this is at least the fourth time it's been recommended to me. I'd be very curious to read how the legal battle is rendered in the novel. 

Andy: Speaking of New York City, you go to NYU's MFA Program. Are you looking forward to your second year? And what is it like learning from your Professors and fellow cohort?

Trevor: I'm absolutely looking forward to my second year. I think joining this program is one of the best decisions I've ever made. I'm constantly in a creative, supportive, and motivating environment, and the city is amazing. The professors have so much first-hand experience with success that it's hard not to take what they say as utter gospel. I would definitely encourage anyone considering an MFA.

Andy: What has been some of your favorite moments/experiences in New York, so far?

Trevor: That's a good question. I think the day I arrived and hauled all my stuff up three flights of stairs at midnight, sweating and panting, and then I went up, and sat on the roof and looked at Brooklyn for the first time since driving in. It felt like a pivotal moment into the rest of my life. Another is when I discovered E.A.K. Ramen. It's on 6th Ave and 10th. 

Andy: Don’t even talk about Ramen right now! You’re going to make me hungry haha. Last question, what are some of your favorite venues to go to, in terms of music/clubbing/reading events?

Trevor: You know the answer to that one, Andy. House of Yes! Best club in the world, and some of the wildest nights I've ever had. One of the few places that truly feels like everyone is welcome. KGB Bar in Manhattan also features some amazing readers in a series organized by my colleagues at NYU, and I definitely recommend it. Get there early though, every time it's packed to the gills.

Andy: Hey Trevor, I appreciate your time and your words. It has been a pleasure to interview you! Do you have any closing remarks?

Trevor: I think I said most of what I had to say. Stay tuned for my novel, How to Defeat Anybody which I hope to complete this year. Thanks for having me, and I look forward to seeing the future of this site!