Part II: L. D. Gussin, author of “The Seeker Academy” on his heroine, the novel of ideas, and the holistic movement

Today we continue our conversation with L. D. Gussin, author of The Seeker Academy.

JGR: I am impressed that a male author wrote such a believable heroine in Grace Hudson. She’s my favorite thing about the book. How did you create her? Is she based on someone you know? Did she just come into your mindstream?

L. D. Gussin: I learned through direct observation and then research that women make up about two thirds of the holistic milieu—at retreats, in east-west bookstores, in local yoga and meditation studios and esoteric classes. I also learned that guru figures are prominent, and that they are usually male and often competitive. My instincts told me I needed a good observer for my central character, and that women are usually better observers.

Once I knew I needed an impulsive, heroic middle-aged woman, I borrowed the shadow of an old friend. Again, I didn’t trust myself to build a central character from scratch. I took a few personal traits and many more character traits from my friend, who has never been involved with holistic matters. Then, when I had to, I asked myself how my friend would react. By the third draft, though, Grace was, I think, seeing things and making choices like a separate individual. I believe my old friend, who was a reader, felt very relieved.

I am also a pretty good listener and observer, in a sense that includes the emotions as much as the intellect. The explanation, I think Jungian, that would say I have a strong feminine side may make some sense here.

JGR: It’s a novel of ideas. What does that mean to you? What writers were your role models? Why did you want to write a novel of ideas rather than another form?

L. D. Gussin: As I sought my point of view, I found that I do not think personal social relationships define the entire field of being. There is the larger society, interior life, the need for a world view, and the need to know how to act. Yet so much of the fiction that is published is about personal relationships.

What I mean, I think, by a novel of ideas is a story that digs beneath or around these personal relationships, and puts its excavations somewhat on the surface.

Richard Powers, who won the National Book Award this year, does this in his novels, but while I read him I was more influenced by The Magic Mountain, and by similar novels written by Aldous Huxley—who, late in life, coincidentially turned to mysticism, inspiring part of the movement I’ve written about and coining its first name, the human potential movement.

At a level of direct observation, I saw at Omega that the functional or not-so-functional routines that can colonize personal relationships were undermined by all the subsurface digging. It is a highly-charged place both emotionally and intellectually. Like Grace at Seeker, I felt fascinated, repelled, aware and a bit in love.

JGR: Were you wanting to give a balanced look at the holistic movement, or show it from a particular slant?

L. D. Gussin: I do have a slant: it is that I think a Western counterculture, a counter to the mainstream culture that is so much shaped in our time by science and business, is important.

This counterculture dates back some three centuries, in its guise as the romantic movement, and in that time it has both shone a light and been a bad actor; fascism had strong romantic influences. Yet to me the counterculture is where we can moderate the weird circumstances that Western society, in some perhaps fated, tragic way, has been creating for itself.

With that perspective, my novel is an effort to explore, criticize and celebrate the holistic movement, today’s strongest counterculture force, from within. As to the movement’s influencing currents such as Buddhism, Sufism, Integral theory, and human potential theory—the novel, while making its introductions, picks no favorite.


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