An Interview with Vincent Czyz

The novelist talks hero journeys, Hopi myth, and ayahuasca’s role in self-discovery.

An Interview with Vincent Czyz

Set in the 1980s, Vincent Czyz’s newest novel, Sun Eye Moon Eye, takes us on an epic quest of self-discovery with Logan Blackfeather, a young musician of Hopi descent. Scarred by loss and prone to visionary flights of imagination — as well as violence — he wanders America while wrestling with the contradictory aspects of his rich inner life. After a deadly confrontation in a roadhouse parking lot leads to a stint in a psychiatric ward, Logan winds up in New York City, landing a gig as a keyboardist in a West Village dive. In this gritty new world, he falls into a turbulent relationship with Shawna, a striking ad executive with psychological wounds of her own.

You had quite a publishing journey before Sun Eye Moon Eye found a home with Spuyten Duyvil. Could you elaborate on that?

Shortly after my agent started sending the manuscript out in 1991, the fax machine started spitting out declines. The editors weren’t questioning the quality of the novel; they worried it wouldn’t sell. Some of the rejections, in fact, read more like blurbs. I pulled it from circulation and cut words, pages, chapters. Then we began another round. I might have abandoned the project, but excerpts from the novel brought in a total of $89,000 in fellowships, and nine excerpts were published in literary magazines.

Logan’s father, a Hopi, was killed in a car accident when Logan was 6. Although Logan grows up far from the reservation, Hopi myths play a major role in his inner universe. What inspired you to center the novel around a Hopi character?

I made numerous trips to the Southwest, where I was entranced by its Indigenous cultures, especially the Hopi. Two aspects of their complex cosmology in particular lent themselves to Sun Eye Moon Eye: The idea of “emergence” — from a previous world into another — and that of apocalypse. This is the fourth world by Hopi reckoning, the other three having been destroyed. The novel translates these concepts as descent into the unconscious (followed by emergence) and personal apocalypse — characters who are forced to throw everything away and start again. This is where Logan is as the novel opens — one world has ended; another is waiting to begin.

Logan’s friend Jim Lee, an eccentric autodidact, is based on your friend Stevie Pallucca, whom you wrote about in The Secret Adventures of Order. Despite lacking formal education, Logan’s pursuits are intellectual, and I wonder whether we should attribute that to the hours he spent in Jim Lee’s book-strewn farmhouse.

Jim Lee, Stevie’s alter ego, steered Logan toward various writers and thinkers, but I took Logan’s intelligence and bookishness from my father, who had an IQ of 140 and read voraciously but never graduated from high school. (The novel is dedicated to him.) Dad was also a street tough, something else I grafted onto Logan. Logan’s love of books begins as a child, so Jim Lee is a later influence, but this is why they bond.

The novel abounds with proxy father figures. There’s Cal, Logan’s abusive uncle and stepfather; Sonny, a young Navajo; Aristotle, Logan’s therapist; and of course, Jim Lee. And there are subtle allusions to Hamlet scattered throughout the book. Do these father figures address different aspects of Logan’s grief for his actual father?

Cal is an amalgam of my father’s worst qualities — his violence, his tyrannical behavior, his temper. Sonny is more an older brother whom Logan, an only child, never had. Aris and Jim Lee are positive father figures, but it’s not grief that draws Logan to them. There’s a classic psychological dynamic going on here: Having lost his father at a young age, he’s seeking a spiritual, rather than a biological, replacement. Jim Lee comes the closest. In fact, Logan’s real father, an uneducated mason, would have accepted Logan, but he wouldn’t have been able to relate to him. Jimmy can — and does.

The author Daniel C. Geraci, a lightly disguised version of Samuel R. Delany, makes mysterious cameos throughout the novel. Why is he so important to Logan?

You caught that, huh? Well, Logan’s need for someone who can relate to him at the deepest levels, someone to be a sort of guide, is nearly bottomless. When he reads Geraci’s novel, he’s a little weirded out because Geraci’s protagonist is also half Indian, is a poet with an ear for music, and did time in a psychiatric hospital. He seems a kind of doppelganger. Which, Logan thinks, makes Geraci his stepfather.

Hallucinogens play an important role in Logan’s story. You wrote about your own experience with ayahuasca in The Secret Adventures. What’s the connection between hallucinogens and for lack of a better term spiritual self-discovery?

Frankly, I’m not sure of everything I’m expressing in this narrative, which is characteristic of what’s loosely termed the “visionary” novel — it’s an attempt to communicate something surpassing the author’s own understanding, to see beyond surfaces, to punch through the pasteboard mask, as Ahab put it (Moby-Dick, incidentally, is the quintessential visionary novel). Hallucinogens are one way of doing that. The problem is that Logan has neither a shaman to guide him nor the guardrails of a ceremony. Aris takes on the shaman’s role, but too late — Logan has already weathered his personal apocalypse. So, yes, hallucinogens may open a path to spiritual self-discovery and show you your place in the cosmos, but there are sanity-threatening risks involved.

Logan and Shawna are helplessly attracted to each other in spite of what could easily be deal-breaking differences. Each also tries to sabotage the relationship — only to regret it. Why are they so attracted to one another?

Love is the central mystery in the human universe, isn’t it? As Pascal put it, “Love has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” We often fall for bad people or people who are bad for us — if not both. And it really is falling; we don’t have conscious control over it. Playing the list game — enumerating the things you like about this man or that woman — rarely adds up to love because the part of us that composes lists isn’t the part that falls in love. That said, there are things in Logan and Shawna that hum at a Siren’s pitch to each other’s ears. They’re both psychologically damaged, have deep discontents with society and where they are in life, which manifests as a kind of spiritual restlessness, and look to art as a balm…He admires her maturity, stability, and the ease with which she navigates social situations. Despite the depth of their feelings for one another, they have very different reactions to their emotions: she knows what she wants; he’s fallen so hard it scares him. What could go wrong?

Tyler C. Gore is the author of the award-winning collection of personal essays My Life of Crime: Essays and Other Entertainments (Sagging Meniscus, 2022). He has been listed as a “Notable Essayist” by The Best American Essays several times and is the recipient of a Fulbright grant. He was the art director of Literal Latte for several years and currently serves on the editorial boards of Exacting Clam and StatORec. Tyler lives in Brooklyn with his wife, his cat, and the occasional rat.

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