By Ian Cory
I graduated college in May, and almost immediately afterwards read The Zeroes by Patrick Roesle. I still can’t decide if this was the best or worst decision I could have made at the time. The Zeroes is an unrelenting and punishing novel, detailing the lives of a group of struggling artists in suburban New Jersey. The characters are rarely likable, constantly make the worst possible decisions, and are ultimately fucked from the start by circumstances out of their control. It is not a feel good read, but it is deftly written and an incredibly detailed look at the uncomfortable truths of trying to achieve your dreams in 2000’s America. I’ve thought a great deal about the book since finishing it, and decided to reach out to Roesle and discuss The Zeroes with him, among other things. Read the interview below:
Wine & Pop: The Zeroes is filled with lots of minutia about comic books, video games, and punk music of the early 2000’s. Did you have to do research in order to get your facts straight or was it drawn from personal experience? Did you worry that this level of detail might alienate readers unaccustomed to those worlds?
Patrick Roesele: The only research I really had to do was make sure none of the characters were shown mentioning or listening to an album that hadn't come out yet. Truth be told, I worked at Hot Topic for a few years at the beginning of the decade and have a pretty good recollection of the pop cultural continuity. From the beginning I imagined the story as a period piece, which meant it had to be rich with particulars and minutia of the period, however transient they end up being in the long run. If you're an adolescent, if you're working in a mall, or if you're in a music scene -- and especially if all three apply -- the passing fads of subculture and pop culture become a major presence in your life. I never really worried about alienating readers with obscure references; to have excluded the particulars would have been to weaken it as a period piece, and we're living in the information age. I figured and hoped anyone who wanted to know what Justice Yeldham or Catch 22 sound like could just look them up with Google.
W&P: The novel can be seen as a summary of the decline of the country as a whole over the course of the 2000’s. Where do you see the next 10 years taking us culturally?
PR: Nowhere great. I get the sense that the Internet is exacerbating the "vast wasteland" effect, and that's the least of our worries. Our culture is the outgrowth of a society that's basically untenable. I think culture will continue to stagnate until it's rocked about by some kind of game-changing social shift or upheaval. It's anyone's guess when it will happen or what will cause it, but it's on its way.
W&P: When did you start working on The Zeroes, and what planted the seeds for the novel?
PR: A panic attack. I graduated from college in 2007. I got a job at an office in Manhattan, then quit after a couple of months to work at Borders and write a book. By then most of the people I grew up with had left town for good -- but there was a still a disconnected crew of broke musicians and artists living with their parents, working in or around the mall, and I spent a lot of time with them. I kept thinking it might be fun to write a short story about them, but never sat down to try until 2009. That was when the book I'd been working on for two years wasn't coming together and I didn't know how to fix it. That was when I pulled the plug on the webcomic I'd been writing for six years because I no longer enjoyed or related to it, and banging out updates was making me miserable. That was when I lost a fairly lucrative second job because I was an idiot. That was when a romance with a woman I'd met in Colorado the year before went down in flames.
So I was on pretty shaky ground for a couple of months early in the year. In April, I linked up with some friends in Manhattan. They had a plan: we were going to go to a place at the McKibbin Lofts in Brooklyn, where there was going to be a meditation party. We were going to drop acid, do guided yoga a meditation, and think grand thoughts and be at peace with the universe. We got there, we dropped the acid, we dimmed the lights -- but the instructor never showed up. Our buddy's roommates turned on the lights, cranked up the music, busted out the booze and cocaine. And there I was, already in a tenuous psychological state, tripping face, surrounded by a chattering bacchanalia of hip Brooklynites who were all happier, younger, smarter, cooler, better looking, better dressed, and more successful than me, whose world was a romantic adolescent dream, while my lot was Jersey, retail, and a pile of failed experiments.
I went home and had a panic attack. The next day, after piecing myself together, I decided to go ahead and write the story about the kids in the mall. I wanted to create something that would make people feel as awful as I did.
W&P: What new projects are you currently working on? Do you plan on dealing with similar themes as the last novel?
PR: I've been working on a lot of short stories lately; one is appearing in a Toronto lit journal called The Puritan. I've also got a short novel that's about finished with its first round of major revisions. It's not like The Zeroes at all. It's actually got a plot, for one thing.
W&P: You spend a lot of time on your blog writing about astronomy and mathematics. Does your interest in these subjects influence your work in any way?
PR: Not ostensibly for the most part -- although they do factor heavily into the short novel I just mentioned. The creative part of writing comes from the right brain, but the process is left brain. I'd like to hope that my banging my head against a calculus textbook makes me better at the process, or will eventually result in more streamlined and parsimonious prose.
W&P: You also write and draw a webcomic. While comics and novels are obviously very different mediums, is there any thematic overlap with Comics Over Easy and your more serious work?
PR: Here and there. But it's like you said -- I do think of my fiction as being more thematically "serious," and sometimes I just want to make stuff that's cute, funny, and self-deprecating. I'm pretty sure my cynicism usually comes through, though. And I think there's an unavoidable -- and absolutely unsurprising -- sense of an existential struggle in the "Sisyphus" strips. Man, I need to draw more of those.
W&P: You decided to self-publish The Zeroes. Is the DIY route a path you plan on taking for your future projects?
PR: Christ, not if I can help it. I only decided to self-publish after realizing there was no other alternative, and by then I was desperate to get the damn thing out of my hands. Even when you've accepted that your novel isn't going to make you rich and famous, you still want to get as many readers as possible, and that's hard to do with a self-published book. It's more than just making people aware that the book exists -- which is basically a full-time job in itself, and you'd hope for the help of a publisher's resources, especially when you have no great talent for relentless and shameless self-promotion. But telling somebody that they should buy and read your book is asking them to take on a commitment. A publisher's imprint tells the reader the book has already been screened by people in the business of books, and that they think it's a commitment worth making. Despite what the press sometimes suggests, the stigma of self-publishing is by no means extinct. But, hell. A self-published book is preferable to an unpublished manuscript. If DIY's how it's gotta be, then I'll do it DIY.
Roesle’s blog, Beyond Easy, can be found here.
His book, The Zeroes, can be purchased here.