Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 9 Jan 02 18:41
Best known as the author of the Turner Award-winning classic _Ishmael_, Daniel Quinn has staked out a thematic territory uniquely his own, pushing its boundaries outward with each new book. In Daniel's latest, the graphic novel _The Man Who Grew Young_, the universe, like a cosmic yo-yo, has reached the end of its string and is now climbing back UP the string toward the Big Bang. But it's not a DIFFERENT universe, it's OUR universe--running in reverse, with each of our lives in place, lived not from womb to tomb but from tomb to womb. The problem for the book's hero, Adam Taylor, is that his mother (and therefore the end of his life) is inexplicably missing. To find her, he must travel back in time into the very heart of the human mystery. Leading the discussion is Jay Kinney, a member of the first generation of underground cartoonists, whose comics first appeared in Bijou Funnies. He edited several comix, including Occult Laff-Parade, Young Lust, and Anarchy Comics. He was editor of CoEvolution Quarterly during 1983-84, and publisher and editor in chief of Gnosis Magazine from 1985-1999. He co-authored "Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions" (Penguin/Arkana, 1999) and is presently editing "The Inner West," an anthology for J.P. Tarcher, to appear in late 2002. Please join me in welcoming Daniel and Jay to inkwell.vue!
Jay Kinney (jay) Wed 9 Jan 02 21:05
"The Man Who Grew Young" is an engrossing graphic novel. I recently read it and recommend it to anyone checking in to this discussion. Daniel Quinn managed to bridge the gap between the novels and graphic novels, which is not an easy transition to make. The intriguing premise of "The Man Who Grew Young" is that time is now running backwards and we follow Adam, the protaganist, as he searches for his mother, who the backwards logic dictates, he must return to. As a long-time fan of the science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick, I can't help but be reminded of Dick's novel, "Counter-clock World," which proceeds from a similar premise: time starts running backwards and people start growing younger, the digestive process reverses, and the dead begin to come alive in their graves. Daniel, were you aware of Dick's novel at any point during your writing of "The Man Who Grew Young"?
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Thu 10 Jan 02 07:16
No, Jay, I wasn't aware of "Counter-clock World," (though I've read several of Dick's novels). As I noted in my introduction to TMWGY, I first tried writing the story as a straight novel but found I couldn't make living-backwards-in-time work to my satisfaction in prose. Irrelevant details (like the digestive process) took over the foreground; when the story is told graphically, however, these details recede into the background. One detail brought to the foreground in TMWGY is the fact that people living-backwards-in-time have no experience of death; they don't die, they're simply reunited with their mothers.
Jay Kinney (jay) Thu 10 Jan 02 10:29
One of the things that struck me about the graphic novel was the vast sweep of time. The reader retraces human history....backwards. In a compact form, of course. Did you agonize over what parts of the world and history to have Adam Taylor witness and what parts to leave out? At one point you have Adam think of turning towards India and China on his journey, but he decides not to.
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Thu 10 Jan 02 13:52
The "vast sweep of time" is almost a signature feature of my work, which attempts to place "us" in the whole context of human history, extending back three million years. In TMWGY I couldn't carry Adam Taylor back THAT far, of course. I don't remember doing any agonizing about what parts of the world and history to have him witness and what parts to leave out. Basically, I went to the spots and periods that I find most intriguing and am most comfortable in (and that would produce as many different sorts of adventures for Adam as possible). Though he considers journeying to China or India, there was never any chance of that happening; I had to bring the book to its conclusion before the concept wore out its welcome.
Jay Kinney (jay) Thu 10 Jan 02 15:28
Okay. Well let's back up a minute before we discuss the book any further. For anyone reading this who isn't familiar with your books and hasn't been to your website, how about filling us in on what makes Daniel Quinn tick. As a writer, why do you write?
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Thu 10 Jan 02 16:22
Wow, that's a large, interesting question. The simple answer is that I write for the same reason that Michael Jordan plays basketball -- because there's nothing in the world I do better. I wanted to be a writer from my middle teens, but not one sixteen-year-old in a million knows what this really means -- certainly I didn't. When the time came, I applied to the Writers Institute of St. Louis University, part of the honors program there at the time, sent some samples, and was awarded a full scholarship. Naturally I thought this was pretty terrific. But in those days (nearly half a century ago), folks didn't realize that writers know something about writing that English teachers don't -- and there wasn't a single writer on the staff of the Writers Institute. The result was that, instead of learning anything about writing, I learned about literature. I didn't complain. What did I know? I figured they knew what they were doing. Later, having learned absolutely nothing I didn't already know about writing, I transferred to Loyola University of Chicago, where I got my degree in English and graduated cum laude, still having learned absolutely nothing I didn't already know about writing (which was basically nothing). Oh, I routinely got glowing praise for whatever I did happen to write, but I was no closer to my goal than when I was sixteen. Luckily, however, I got an entry-level job writing for an encyclopedia, and there I began my real education. There I learned more about writing in six months than I had in the previous six years. After working for a dozen years as a writer and editor in Chicago-area publishing, I knew I'd penetrated the "secret" and could write anything I wanted to -- fiction, nonfiction, for children, for young readers, for adults -- and I proceeded to do so for another dozen years as a freelancer and materials-developer. But eventually I realized I couldn't reach my goals in that setting and abandoned that career. Within a couple of years I was working on the book that would ultimately (after twelve years of struggle) become Ishmael. Since 1992 (when Ishmael came out) I've published four more novels and three works of nonfiction, and currently have another novel and a children's book in the publishing pipeline. I love to write, and when I don't have something to write I go nuts. The French novelist Flaubert called writing "a dog's life, but the only life worth living." That's what it is for me -- the only life worth living (and you're not washed up when you turn forty!).
Jay Kinney (jay) Thu 10 Jan 02 17:03
It sounds like you don't suffer from Writer's Block! What's your secret? Adair Lara (columnist in the SF Chronicle) remarked the other day that the biggest struggle for a writer was just forcing yourself to sit down. Since the Internet, I've found it to be the world's most fascinating distraction. It is *always* easier to web surf and check one's email every half hour than concentrate on writing! <g>
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Fri 11 Jan 02 10:54
I once got into a debate with a woman, who, when she heard I was a writer, said, "That must take a lot of discipline." I said, "No, not really. If you really love doing something, why should it take discipline to do it?" She was very indignant to have one of her settled beliefs challenged and insisted it MUST take discipline! Actually, when I'm really going, it's harder to force myself to get up than it is to sit down. I will literally write myself stupid and have to be led around by the hand until I get my senses back. I can believe that it's very different for a columnist, however, who knows she has to come up with SOMETHING no matter what. I once wrote a little fable about writer's block. Two guys go into a department store and look around. One of them doesn't see anything he wants, the other sees lots of things he wants but is dead broke. As they're leaving the store, the manager asks them why they didn't buy anything. They say, "We're both suffering from buyer's block." I'm convinced that when people say they've got writer's block, they really mean they've got nothing to say, no story to tell. Some writers are never in that condition (like Stephen King, I'd guess). Some writers are often in that condition (like Joseph Heller, according to him). It happens to me, too, whenever I finish a book. But it's not a medical condition--nothing is "blocking" me. I just haven't come up with my next idea . . . yet.
Jay Kinney (jay) Fri 11 Jan 02 11:09
"I'm convinced that when people say they've got writer's block, they really mean they've got nothing to say, no story to tell." Maybe. Then again, I'm one of those writers who *discovers* what he really thinks about something *in the process of writing.* I rarely have a perspective or story all worked out in advance. So, writing for me is an exertion of will of sit down and concentrate long enough to start the discovery process. But enough about writer's block. I'm curious about your working relationship with Tim Eldred, the artist for "The Man Who Grew Young." Did you fully script the book with scenes described and all dialog solidified or was there more of an interactive approach?
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Fri 11 Jan 02 12:33
I know when I have something to say or a story to tell, but this doesn't mean I have it all worked out. Hardly. I can't get going till I know I've got somewhere to go -- but having somewhere to go and getting there are two different matters. (I knew I had somewhere to go with the book that ultimately became Ishmael -- but getting there took me eight different versions and twelve years!) After trying and failing to write TMWGY as a straight prose novel, I wrote it as a screenplay, and that's what Tim Eldred worked with. He was basically storyboarding it as if it were a movie. His contribution was enormous; to put it in movie terms, he was location scout, prop-master, casting agent, and director of photography all rolled up into one. The script was mine, but its graphic realization was all his.
Jay Kinney (jay) Fri 11 Jan 02 13:46
On a lighter note, I noticed one of the entries in TMWGY's dedication page was to someone who made you see "that, except with evening wear, black shoes must be shunned." Okay, I'll bite. Why must they be shunned?
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Fri 11 Jan 02 15:04
Damned if I know. According the RVP (Richard V. Perry), black shoes, except with evening wear, are not "shoe," this being, I assume, an archaic eastern preppy term, roughly equivalent to "hip" or "cool." He would know, bless him. (I put this dedication in to tease a very dear old friend, now unfortunately severely disabled.)
Jay Kinney (jay) Fri 11 Jan 02 15:27
Ah. Perhaps his concept of "shoe" is older still than Frank Zappa's song, "Brown Shoes Don't Make It," which I took as the final word on footwear.
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Fri 11 Jan 02 16:10
Hi all. I haven't read the book, but now I'm interested. >The script was mine, but its graphic realization was all his. It strikes me that this collaboration may be the key to "bridging the gap" between novel and graphic novel. The other day I saw a bit of a biography about Elton John, in which it was mentioned that Bernie Taupin wrote ALL the words, Elton John ALL the music, and each recognized they possessed half the skills they needed to create what they wanted to create. So would that be a good analogy for you, Daniel?
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Fri 11 Jan 02 17:03
It certainly would be a good analogy, Rip. No way in the world could I have created the gorgeous graphics that Tim did. On the other hand, Tim has illustrated comic books of his own writing, and I've illustrated a children's book of my own writing (though it won't be out for a year or so).
Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 11 Jan 02 19:10
I, too, was quite intrigued by the dedication (which is quite long, for those of you without the book), but I can't quote from it now because I've put it upstairs in the living room for the WELLers who arrive for the Sing Thing to see...
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Sat 12 Jan 02 05:41
The "dedication" page came about by a happy accident. When the book was laid out, the publisher had a blank page that he asked me to fill, so I took the opportunity to mention all the folks who played a part in my education as a person and a writer. I think of dedicating a book to someone as a rare sort of gift--one that costs absolutely nothing and never wears out!
Jay Kinney (jay) Sat 12 Jan 02 10:04
Daniel, you seem to be a "message" writer, in that your books have a message beyond just entertaining the reader. Do you conceive of a message first and then a story to portray that? Or do you conceive of the stories first and then see what message emerges?
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Sat 12 Jan 02 16:29
Roland Barthes wrote in S/Z: "A classic narrative always gives this impression: the author first conceives the signified (or the generality) and then finds for it, according to the chance of his imagination, 'good' signifiers, probative examples; the classic author is like an artisan bent over the workbench of meaning and selecting the best expressions for the concept he has already formed." Of course the key phrase in this statement is "gives this impression." I don't start with a message and then go looking for a story to convey it, and any writer who does that is probably going to end up with a very bad book. I'm sure, for example, that Chuck Palahniuk didn't start with a message and then cobble together Fight Club to convey it. Palahniuk has a distinctive vision, and anything he writes will incorporate it--can't HELP but incorporate it--and the same is true of me. I recently finished a children's book called Work, Work, Work; my only thought was to create something that would delight kids; all the same, if you look beneath the surface, you'll find a very Quinnian sort of message, which got there just because it's impossible for me to write a story that doesn't somehow reflect my vision of the world. I suspect it's impossible for ANYONE to write a story that doesn't somehow reflect his or her vision of the world.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 15 Jan 02 09:46
Was it different writing for kids? Did you test-drive the story with live kids first, for example?
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Tue 15 Jan 02 11:28
After you address Gail's question, I'm wondering if you could talk about your work with the Stateville Penitentiary Writers' Workshop. What got you interested in working with convicts? Were you at all nervous about it? Did you find any talented writers among the inmates? Is the program still ongoing?
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Tue 15 Jan 02 12:05
When you ask if it was "different writing for kids," I assume you're referring to Work, Work, Work rather than The Man Who Grew Young (which isn't written for kids). It was certainly different from the books for which I'm best known, but it wasn't different for me as a writer, since I spent most of the sixties and seventies writing for kids. A reader recent found on eBay a copy of one of my favorites from this period called The Boy Who Ate the Bus (which is scheduled to be reissued in expanded form). I doubt that any experienced children's writer "test-drives" his/her stories to see if they work; either you know what turns kids on or you don't (and if you're not sure whether you know it or not, then chances are you don't). It's really no different from other kinds of writing in this respect. For example, I have no idea what turns on modern science fiction readers, so it would be silly for me to write a SF novel and then test-drive it with SF readers to see if it works; the likelihood of its working would be vanishingly small.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 15 Jan 02 12:51
Ah, I missed that you had prior experience writing for kids. I was thinking reading aloud might be part of that process, but it woudl not help if you already know what you're doing. The Man Who Grew Young is gorgeous, but it doesn't look like a work for children. Well, maybe the cave painting pictures. Any kid or adult would find those engrossing.
Daniel Quinn (danielquinn) Tue 15 Jan 02 13:15
Jay, this is really a continuation of the account I was giving in #6, where I said that "After working for a dozen years as a writer and editor in Chicago-area publishing, I knew I'd penetrated the 'secret' and could write anything I wanted to -- fiction, nonfiction, for children, for young readers, for adults." I was curious to know if what I'd learned could be TAUGHT, and I began to think of where I could try teaching it. Of course I couldn't teach it at a university. The mere fact that you KNOW something hardly qualifies you to teach it at a university. So I went for a captive audience -- literally. I wrote to the warden of the state's most famous maximum security prison and offered to establish a writers workshop there. My letter must have caught him in a distracted moment, because he wrote back and said, "Well, sure, I guess so, why not?" So began the Stateville Penitentiary Writers Workshop, which met for two or three hours a week over the next two years. The members of the group were assorted murderers, thieves, armed robbers, drug dealers, con men, street hustlers, and racketeers. Was I nervous? Initially, I suppose, but it soon became clear that the men were more nervous than I was--nervous about being taken in by yet another white man's scam (the class was 80% black). For something like six weeks they mainly just sat there giving me a steely glare while they tried to figure out what the scam was. (One theory was that I was there to steal their ideas for my own use.) Somehow I eventually persuaded them that I was as innocent as I must have looked to them. As the men discussed their ideas about writing, it became clear that they figured that writing itself is a scam, and they wanted the secret of how it's worked. They wanted the "formula" you could follow to effortlessly churn out bestsellers. After I'd spent about a year assuring them that there really is no such formula, one of the men said, "Mr. Quinn, are you trying to tell us that writing is just WORK???" When I said, "That's it! You've got it!" the entire class groaned (because "just work" is the last thing they wanted to hear -- all except the guy who asked the question. He said, "Hell, if it's just work, then I can DO it -- and it beats armed robbery!" In fact, he COULD do it. Even though he'd never written anything in his life but school papers, he wrote and (when he was out of prison) published two novels. He was offered a contract for something like eight more by Doubleday, but (to my amazement) he turned it down, preferring to go into publishing as an editor. After about two years prison officials began to imagine (on no basis whatever) that I was taking politically "dangerous" manuscripts out with me. They didn't ask or lock me out or tell me it was over, of course; they just made things so difficult for me that I finally had to quit. The men themselves advised me to quit, explaining quite calmly some of the things that the masters of the system could arrange to happen to me if I proved stubborn. (Drugs planted in my apartment, for example--something that seemed incredible thirty years ago but now would seem very obvious.) The workshop ended (and I'm sure the prison officials will never want to make THAT mistake again). Out of a class of twenty men with, on the average, a tenth-grade education (and little genuine interest in writing), I had helped one to a writing career that he almost certainly would not have found on his own. I considered this a resounding affirmation -- not of my ability as a teacher but of the value of what I'd learned in the dozen years I'd spend in publishing since leaving college.
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Tue 15 Jan 02 14:42
>"Mr. Quinn, are you trying to tell us that writing is just WORK???" Daniel, that is the most fabulous story. And it's not just cons who go around figuring that there's some sort of secret to life that no one has clued them in to, and that's why they are (or aren't) (fill in the blank).
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