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Interview with Dan Hurwitz, the author of Stelzer’s Travels

Tell us about yourself first.

 

My life, I’m afraid, has been an unglamorous one.  Both my parents immigrated to the United States from Russia to escape the pogroms being mounted against the Jews around the turn of the century.  My dad died when I was twelve and thereafter our family’s circumstances could best be described as modest.  My first summer job at the age of fourteen was a delivery boy and I continued working in a variety of part time jobs throughout my school years. Fortunately, I secured a scholarship from Washington University in St. Louis that allowed me to earn an engineering degree from that institution while continuing to live at home.

 

The Korean War was going on when I graduated, so I was faced with a military obligation of one sort or another. As it happened, the United States was taking WWII ships out of mothballs as fast as it could out of fear that another general, large-scale war was in the offing and was desperately in need of bodies to man its growing fleet.  Thanks to my educational background, I was commissioned an officer in the US Navy without ever having been on a ship or, for that matter, without ever having seen an ocean. In the navy I saw no military action but I did see a bit of the world including a number of Mediterranean and Caribbean ports. One of my collateral duties aboard the destroyer I was on was that of arranging recreational activities for our men when ashore.  As such I was obliged to work with local people everywhere we went and got a glimpse of their lives that were often difficult. And that, I believe, was the beginning of my sense that the world was not a perfectly happy place and, in fact, could stand major improvement.

 

Once discharged from the navy I pursued an engineering career.  After about ten years, the construction industry I was in began to utilize data processing and, to take advantage of that trend, my wife, who has a doctorate in chemistry, and I formed a company to design and distribute software for wood roof truss fabricators. The business was moderately successful and we were able to acquire a sprinkling of customers in Canada, Europe, and Japan as well as throughout the United States. We sold it in 1993 and, once retired, I was able to devote myself to writing on a full time basis.   

 

When did you start writing?

 

While in the navy, I wrote two eminently forgettable short stories that were never published.  Then as head of a software house my writing was confined to user manuals, promotional material, editing legal papers, business letters and the like.  I must say that during all those years I always wanted to do some sort of creative writing but never seemed to find the time. 

 

What genres have you written?

 

After retirement I tried my hand at a play that met the same fate as my short stories.  I did, however, succeed in publishing a couple of articles for national periodicals and a couple of essays that the Future Society, a nonprofit organization,  posted on their Internet site.

 

Is Stelzer’s Travels your first book?

Yes.

 

Tell us about Stelzer’s Travels.  What is it about?

 

The plot focuses on David Stelzer, the book’s middle-aged protagonist, who had been leading a staid life as a real estate broker until encountering nineteen-year-old Neuman, a radicalized, intensely religious, and slightly mad Hebrew school teacher.  Thanks to Neuman's stratagems, the two unlikely companions rendezvous with a spaceship that takes them to Luxenben, a utopian planet. Upon their arrival, Stelzer is interned in a zoological garden devoted to intelligent species acquired from all over the galaxy.  Once he accustoms himself to his fellow inmates’ varied physiologies, the adaptable man finds his circumstances surprisingly agreeable. He is comfortably quartered, well fed, befriended by the staff, allowed access to the garden’s many cultural amenities, and assigned no duty other than acting hospitably to the zoo's native visitors.  Stelzer’s only concern is that Neuman has unaccountably dropped out of sight.  When Neuman’s disappearance is eventually explained and the two humans reunited, Stelzer is confronted with a deeper mystery that is not resolved until the very end of the book.  

The plot serves as a vehicle for my views on how an idealized society might be structured.  While searching for Neuman, Stelzer has the opportunity to observe the planet’s harmonious culture and gain an understanding of the underlying philosophy that makes it work. Stelzer finds that the Luxanders, despite their being as emotionally immature as we human beings, have managed to achieve a workable, sustainable civilization thanks to their adherence to a scientifically valid system of beliefs. Upon these beliefs they have built a coherent set of institutions each of which is elaborated upon in the book. To cite a few examples: the Luxanders’ religion is based on nature’s declared truths; their economy utilizes money as a transaction catalyst rather than a store of value thus creating a radically different commercial environment than our own; they interact with their environment in an enlightened manner; and Luxanders practice democracy without the intervention of a chief executive, elected representatives, or political parties.

 

Hopefully the attentive reader will conclude that it’s not the so-called “human condition” that’s the cause of our delinquent behavior; it’s our being nurtured upon outmoded, unscientific systems of the past. 

 

What inspired you to write this book?

 

“Inspired” may be the wrong word; “exasperated” would be a better one. I don’t think there’s any question but that mankind is doing a lousy job of running things. Why this is so is no doubt open to debate. As I indicated before, my take is that mankind’s incompetence is due to the fact that the assumptions upon which our basic institutions rest are irrational. And if I’m right on that score, then any attempted solution within our irrational societal framework is bound to be invalid as well.  For example, if our underlying monetary theory is wrong, as I believe it is, no really satisfactory economic system—whether socialistic, capitalistic, or combination thereof—can be achieved.  This is not to say that all economic systems are equally bad; it does say, however, that none can be very good.  And, in my opinion, the same can be said about our religious denominations, our political organizations, and our social agencies.

 

Needless to say, anyone in a responsible position is not likely to issue such a sweeping indictment of mankind’s purported achievements. That leaves it up to someone who can afford to be “irresponsible” by virtue of having nothing to lose.  Somebody like a retired engineer.

 

Why the extra-terrestrial backdrop?

 

I want my ideas to be judged solely on the basis of whether or not the systems I proposed, absent any outside influences, could in theory produce a more workable, sustainable, and happier society.  The only way I knew how to do that was to isolate it from earth altogether.

 

Were I more presumptuous, I would analogize my work to that of theoretical mathematicians.  Their propositions are developed in the ethereal realm of pure logic without reference to other scientific fields yet are often discovered, perhaps years later, to be of practical application in the real world.

 

How long did it take you to write it?

 

It took me about four years from the time I began to focus on Stelzer’s Travels to its date of publication.  But that’s not the whole story.  Prior to that time I spent about eight years on abortive attempts to figure out what I wanted to say and put it in some sort of publishable form. Much of the material from these earlier struggles  found its way, in one form or another, into the final work.

 

Who is the publisher of your book?

 

As of the June, 2005 date of this interview I have made no attempt to contact a traditional publisher or literary agent but instead went ahead and self-published on the assumption that, if the book is any good, it will eventually be picked up by somebody in the industry.  The print-on-demand outfit I chose was Booklocker, Inc. of Bangor, Maine, USA.

 

Where is it on sale?

 

On the Internet, go to www.booklocker.com, www.amazon.com, www.bn.com, or www.stelzerstravels,com (that links to booklocker)

Otherwise, any bookstore can order the book from Ingram.

 

What are the major challenges that you have faced in your career?

 

Blessed with the time to write, an understanding wife, and trustworthy friends who were willing to critique parts of the book, I can’t say I faced any obstacles other than those self-imposed by my own limitations as an author.

 

Has the Internet helped you in your writing career?

 

There was no stage in my writing efforts in which the Internet did not play a role whether it was in gathering information, exchanging ideas with other writers, working with the artist who did the book cover, choosing a print-on-demand publisher, finding and communicating with reviewers, and promoting the book.  

 

What do you advise new writers to do?

 

I was arrogant enough to start on a book without doing any reading from the library of worthwhile books on the subject.  As a result I probably wasted a good deal of time muddling around without a good sense of direction.  My advice then is to read first and write later.

 

Thank you!

 

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