David Gans (tnf) Tue 7 Sep 99 19:06
Inkwell.vue welcomes science fiction writer Tim Powers, who will be interviewed by his long-time friend, <castle> - Linda Castellani. The two met in college nearly 30 years ago and still find no end to things amazing and amusing to converse about. Among the things they will discuss are his short stories, including his latest, "Itinerary," his novels, his poetry and art, and the myriad influences that shaped him and his work along the way.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 7 Sep 99 19:25
Please join me in welcoming science fiction writer Tim Powers, whose infinitely inventive mind and sense of humor have fascinated and entertained me endlessly over the years. I am so pleased to introduce him to you today!
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 7 Sep 99 19:34
Since the publication of his first two novels, _The Skies Discrowned_ and _Epitaph in Rust_, in 1976, he has published eight additional novels, which have been translated into French, Italian, German, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch, Finnish, Japanese, Russian, Polish, and Portuguese. Among his awards are two Philip K. Dick Memorial Awards, the Prix Apollo, the Mythopoeic Award, and the World Fantasy Award. Powers has taught at the Clarion Science Fiction Writers' Workshop six times, and twice co-taught the Writers of the Future Workshop with Algis Budrys. He is also the author of numerous short stories, two co-written with James P. Blaylock. In addition, he has written numerous non-fiction commentaries, along with introductions and forwards to the works of other writers. Tim's most recent work is the short story "Itinerary" that appears in the anthology "999" which was released just yesterday, 9/9/99, with a simultaneous booksigning across the country by contributors to the anthology that took place at 9PM EST. "999" is an anthology of horror and suspense, with contributions from William Peter Blatty, author of _The Exorcist_ and Steven King, among many others. More about the book can be found at: http://www.999-666.com
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 7 Sep 99 19:48
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 7 Sep 99 19:50
Response 3 contains Tim Powers's detailed bibliography. Click on the hidden response link if you are using Engaged. If you are using Pico, type o 3 at the response prompt.
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 7 Sep 99 19:52
Tim, since all of your previously published work has been in the realm of fantasy and science fiction, how did your story come to be included in this work of horror and suspense?
Tim Powers (timpowers) Wed 8 Sep 99 15:07
Well, frankly -- and I wouldn't want this to go any further -- I don't believe I knew until recently it was supposed to _be_ a horror & suspense anthology. I thought it was just, you know, fantasy. Looking at my story now -- a little defensively! -- I guess it can sort of count as horror. There's a ghost in it, kind of. And though the story's not _scary,_ I like to think it's sort of psychologically uncomfortable, with a whiff of amiably-suicidal psychosis. And at least it does involve the supernatural! To me, the whole point of "this stuff" -- whether it's SF or fantasy or horror -- is that it _dislocate_ us from the present-day real world, give us vertigo in a dimension that mainstream fiction can't point to. I'm as scared as the next guy -- look at him! -- of things like urban gangs and nuclear war and psycho killers, but that's stuff I can read in the L.A. Times. What I'm interested in as a writer or reader of "this stuff" is ... that old circuitry in our heads that makes us afraid of the dark; not that there might be a Jeffrey Dahmer in the closet, but ... well, Jeffrey Dahmer _now,_ a _ghost._ It doesn't even have to be _scary,_ per se. The plain fact of the supernatural, getting that reciprocal goose-bumps dizzy feeling, is what I want. The effect that Rudolf Otto and C. S. Lewis called the numinous. And I do think it's significant that evolution has refined our teeth and pushed back our once-overhanging eyebrows and stopped us from being covered with fur & dragging our knuckles when we walk, but it has _not_ phased out that scared-of-ghosts circuitry in our heads! And I never quite _believe_ someone who tells me, "Oh, I ain't scared of all that kid stuff."
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 8 Sep 99 18:12
You are so matter-of-fact in your treatment of the supernatural! There are often ghosts stumbling down the street everywhere to the extent that after I read one of your stories, I feel surprised when I *don't* see them. Even though _Itinerary_ fits comfortably into this anthology of horror and suspense, it's really what I would call classic Powers. It contains as its primary element a shift in time, one quite clearly perceived by the people in the story, ghosts who are quite real and apparent some of the time, family members often at odds with one another, shifts in perception such as mirages, but with a twist in that what the mirages contain and where they can be found are consistent. Since it's a short story, it's not quite as jam-packed with inventive oddities as a typical Powers novel, but it's quite powerful nonetheless. Would you tell us about how you came to write about ghosts so frequently in your recent work? Have you had ghostly experiences yourself in your own life? And why are your ghosts so different from garden variety ghosts? For example, the idea of being able to trap ghosts with palindromes is not exactly traditional, nor is the idea of being able to eat them! (I should also add at this point, with a nod to one of inkwell.vue's most recent guests, that the ghost of Thomas Edison plays a large role in _Expiration Date_ and is mentioned again in _Earthquake Weather_.)
Tim Powers (timpowers) Wed 8 Sep 99 19:32
No, I've never had any ghostly experiences! -- thank God. I'm totally skeptical of ghosts & Ouija boards and all that, and at the same time I'm scared of 'em. I had to buy a deck of the Rider-Waite tarot cards for one book, just to be able to look at all the pictures, but I would never _shuffle_ them! And another time I bought some cans of High John the Conqueror and Michael the Archangel good-luck aerosol sprays at a _botanica,_ just so I could describe the labels -- but I would never _spray_ them! (The labels were great: "Spray all corners of the room. Recite the Our Father. Repeat as necessary." I love the idea of it being necessary again -- "Oh, hell, Marge, this time just spray the stuff right into the damn carburetor.") I guess I like ghosts in my fiction because, although they're agruably rational, from all reports they seem to be mentally broken, nearly imbecilic; and childishly vindictive. (I saw Marie Laveau's tomb in New Orleans a few years ago, and on a knee-high ledge around it were stacks of quarters, and cigarettes and candies; but the cigarettes had been lit and then put out, and the candies had been bitten -- as if her ghost needed you to _start_ them for her!) There's something very useful, fictionally, and fascinating, in the idea of a sentient personality-shell wandering around after the actual _person_ is gone. It's like they're mostly ROM now, having lost nearly all their RAM. (I once saw a book of sonnets written posthumously by Percy Shelley, through a medium -- and he had just lost _all_ his skill, let me tell you.) (That's a joke, by the way.)
Tim Powers (timpowers) Wed 8 Sep 99 20:06
(I mean, I don't think Shelley's ghost really wrote them. I'm not crazy.) Palindromes just seemed like something that would confound a ghost. Some of them confound _me._ They sound so authoritative, like schizophrenic word-salad! I'm flattered, Linda, that you say you expect to see ghosts blundering around the streets after you've been reading one of my books! Yeah, I'm trying to imply that the world is a spookier place than one would think, at a hasty glance. Which, for all I know, it may be. And time travel, the option of being able to have your characters meet themselves at different chronological ages -- and then talk! -- has fascinated me ever since I read Heinlein's "By His Bootstraps" as a kid. I remember I could feel my mind turning cartwheels, trying to grasp it! (I like the natural one-downness of being the younger of the pair -- "This guy thinks he's so smart, just because he's two weeks older than me.")
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 8 Sep 99 22:00
In addition to looking for ghosts, I'm paying more attention to possible mirages. In the short story that appears in _999_ one of the ghosts inhabits a house he lived in when he was alive, and just outside the door there is, sometimes, a mirage. When the mirage is active, he knows because as soon as he steps out the door, he finds himself facing the house again. Sometimes, though, when he steps into the mirage, he finds himself facing rose bushes from long ago. So he puts two cases of beer by the rosebush when it appeared one time, knowing that when the mirage came around again, he'd know where to find a cold beer. (Or cold bear, as the page proofs have it - don't know if that typo made it into the final book or not.) It's this quirky inventiveness that enchants, I think, and I definitely want to explore it further. But first, I want to say that, in spite of your inventiveness, you really had a rocky time trying to get published at first. I remember when I met you, you had quite a stack of rejection slips, and one in particular that gave you some hope. Tell us about your early efforts to get published, about that stack, and about that particular rejection slip...
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 8 Sep 99 22:03
(By the way, if you are reading this interview, but you are not a member of the WELL, you can send questions for Tim Powers via e-mail to the hosts of this conference - email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and they will post your questions for you.)
Tim Powers (timpowers) Wed 8 Sep 99 23:48
Well, I certainly did get a lot of rejection slips, starting when I was thirteen years old. (F&SF ran an editorial in '65, explaining how to submit stories, so I instantly wrote a thin retelling of a story from that issue, and sent it in; and I was very proud to get a real rejection slip for it!) But I don't recall a hopeful one, Linda! -- you'll have to remind me. I do recall getting a story rejected from _Fantastic_ in about 1970, with a gritty _footprint_ on the top page of my laboriously-typed manuscript, but it would have taken more fortitude than I have, to see that as encouraging. My first pro sales were to Laser Books, when I was 23. I did get a nice rejection slip after that, after Laser had folded up and I had had to get my pizza-making job back -- Lester del Rey sent back an early draft of _The Drawing of the Dark_ and said "This isn't an acceptance, but it's not necessarily a rejection either -- if you'll agree to re-write the daylights out of it, I might buy it." So of course I did agree, and he did eventually buy it. Every book _after_ that he hated, speaking of rejection slips. He contracted for _The Anubis Gates_ on the basis of an outline, and then rejected the finished book. In desperation I offered to write a fresh one, from the original outline, but he said, "Nah, it's so bad I don't even like the outline anymore. And you owe me the advance money back -- or else write me a good book." And then when he saw _Dinner at Deviant's Palace,_ he said, "Jeez, this makes _The Anubis Gates_ look good! What's the matter with you?" Jim Blaylock was going through the same thing with del Rey, and soon both of us were selling these rejected books to Ace. One day over drinks Lester told us, "I want to congratulate you both on having found a publisher for your second-rate works!" He had Coke-bottle glasses and a spiky beard, and he'd squint and blink sideways at you after delivering a line like that, obviously relishing the role of grumpy old curmudgeon editor; and somehow he enjoyed the role so much that you just couldn't take offense. And every time he would reject a book he would send a four-page single-spaced letter explaining all the flaws in it -- even though he didn't ever want to see it again -- and these _were_ flaws, and Blaylock and I would fix them before sending the things on to Ace. So del Rey continued to be a good editor for us long after he had despaired of ever publishing us again.
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 9 Sep 99 11:55
>"I want to congratulate you both on having found >a publisher for your second-rate works!" Oh, that's too funny! There certainly seem to be a lot of Lester del Rey stories around - maybe one of our readers can add their reminiscences to this lot, or perhaps you'd like to add more of your own! Yes, the one with the footprint is the one I'm referring to. At the time you certainly seemed to find it encouraging. "At least they took it out of the envelope!" you'd say, brightening at the thought. Moving on, for the moment, to other things. In addition to being quite a talented science fiction writer, you are also a poet. Are you still writing sonnets, and will you share some of your work with us? (One of my favorites is "The Flight of the Fulgary Bird," but I'm afraid I may have the only copy and I am unable to locate it right now.)
Tim Powers (timpowers) Thu 9 Sep 99 12:24
Well, I don't really write poetry much anymore. Here's a quote, from Walter Savage Landor -- "I would not stand upon my verses; it is a perilous boy's trick, which we ought to leave off when we put on square shoes. Let our prose show what we are, and our poetry what we have been." Huh! For me, poetry was best done late at night, half-drunk & heartbroken. I still stay up late, but drink & heartbreak are luxuries that turned out to disagree with me. (Why is that such a palpably pompous statement? It's just a simple sentence, but when I re-read it I sound like the "expert" in _Rocky Horror._ [Lugubriously:] "And, crawling on the planet's face ...") I have to admit, though, Linda -- just between you & me! -- that I do still like some of those old poems. As I recall -- and I'd better not go check, for fear of blowing the memory -- they were kind of a half-way point between Clark Ashton Smith and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Not a lot of people doing that, anymore! (_That_ old gag.) I'm glad to hear I had such a cheery attitude about the trodden-on manuscript! These days I'm afraid I'd be less pleased.
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 9 Sep 99 12:59
Tell us about your association with the poet William Ashbless. And fill us in on his background and his work. Also, over in the science fiction conference, someone mentioned something about a document called "Offering the Bicentennial Edition of The Complete Twelve Hours of the Night; Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of William Ashbless,1785-1985." What can you tell us about that??
Undo Influence (mnemonic) Thu 9 Sep 99 13:33
I remember a Del Rey book review in which he savaged John Varley's THE OPHIUCHI HOTLINE because it was premised on too many technical advances: radical body altering, cheap interplanetary travel, etc. Del Rey said that good science fiction takes just one idea and works out its logical and social consequenes. I thought this was incredibly wrongheaded, not just because I liked Varley, but also because it was already apparent to me (this was in the 1970s) that the future delivers changes by the shovelfull, and why shouldn't sf just deal with that?
Tim Powers (timpowers) Thu 9 Sep 99 14:13
By the shovelfull, Mike, exactly. Del Rey said _Anubis Gates_ was a kitchen-sink story, full of every sort of damn thing -- which it _was,_ but I like that kind of book. Ashbless! Well, you were there, Linda -- in '72, me & Blaylock got sick of the hippie poetry that was being printed in the Cal State Fullerton paper, and so we decided to write portentous-sounding nonsense to send to them; Blaylock would write a mighty line and then pass the paper to me, & I'd write another & pass it back. Some great lines, by themselves -- I've always been fond of "Heavy on my brow sits the cold dog of the snows" -- but not really coherent taken as a whole. The paper loved it, though, and printed it, and Blaylock and I would read these things at the local poetry gathering. (We explained that Ashbless himself couldn't be present to read it because he was an invalid, terribly deformed, and so all the other poets would get indignant when Blaylock or I would break out laughing while trying to read the stuff.) And as it happened, every time Blaylock or I was writing a story that involved a crazy bearded poet -- and somehow our stories always did -- each of us unthinkingly used the name William Ashbless. This was fine until Blaylock sent _The Digging Leviathan_ to Beth Meacham at Ace; she had just bought _The Anubis Gates,_ and now she had two books with this Ashbless character in 'em. Blaylock offered to use a different name, but Beth said, No, go with it, but try to make it consistently the same character. This was hard to do, since my book took place London in 1810-1847 and Blaylock's took place in Long Beach in 1959, but we stitched something together to cover it. And so now Ashbless is this grumpy immortal that keeps showing up in all our stuff. I think of him as a good-luck piece now, and wouldn't want to have a book that left him out -- though lately I've been using the Spanish version of his name, Guillermo Ceniza-Bendiga. The "12 Hours of the Night" pamphlet was a peculiar thing. The people at Cheap Street Press liked the idea of Ashbless, and they asked us if they could do a pamphlet that would appear to be an ad for a Complete Works of William Ashbless. So Blaylock and I wrote a stretch of "sample" verse -- and some scholarly comment, which the Cheap Street people added their own text to. Oh well, we figured, they're doing all the work, why not let 'em have some of the fun. But I've always wanted to explain to people that some of the commentary in there about small-press publishers was not Blaylock and I speaking. (Also, the fact that the first letter of each line of the poem spells out a sentence from Heinlein's "By His Bootstraps" was _not_ supposed to be emphasized by having those letters printed in bold-face!)
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 9 Sep 99 14:29
That's right. I was there, and even contributed a line or two. I remember walking by the student union and seeing you and Blaylock huddled over a little table working on something and you were kind enough to let me play, too. Wasn't there another work whose first word spelled out a line or a title from something else? Something to do with Thomas Disch, wasn't it? How long was this poem, exactly? Was Heinlein aware of this homage?
Tim Powers (timpowers) Thu 9 Sep 99 14:41
I remember you contributing lines to Ashbless, Linda. If I can ever find the manuscripts, we could sort us all out by the handwritings! (We shoulda got Phil Dick to help.) I don't remember a Disch thing, actually -- and I remember we did cycles on the Seasons, and the Races Of Man, and the Parts of the Body, but I don't recall another acrostic. Oh, and the Continents. All in this solemn, bombastic tone. No, we never troubled Heinlein with it. I'm sure he'd have been surprised and pleased, more surprised than pleased.
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 9 Sep 99 16:39
I think Heinlein would have been very pleased, personally. Especially if you signed it and included a sketch, because in addition to everything else, Powers, you are also an artist. Somewhere around here I have files and files of your pen and ink drawings from the olden days. They are as inventive and humorous as your other work. My favorite is called "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Octopus." When you signed my copy of _Last Call_ (upside down on the title page) you included a drawing titled "The author doing research" showing a pen-and-ink Tim Powers with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth looking fixedly at a handful of playing cards with a stack of chips in front of him and other chips scattered here and there. And I remember running into you at the old Grand Hotel in Anaheim, the music venue of choice in those days, where you and Kandy Harms were listening to a band, and in lieu of tips, you'd put little drawings of the musicians in their tip jars. Are you still drawing and tipping away in this fashion? Do you think you will ever include your drawings in one of your books?
Tim Powers (timpowers) Fri 10 Sep 99 00:44
(Not tipping certainly! I must have been a very broke young man.) I do still draw on every passing slip of paper, yeah. You should see the litter on this desk here. And in fact, I _did_ illustrate one of my books! The limited edition of _The Stress of Her Regard,_ in '89, had about ten pen-&-ink illustrations by me. The publisher (who's also the drummer for the Turtles, interestingly) asked if I would do 26 original drawings altogether, so that he could have a special limited-limited edition lettered A-Z, bound in leather, with an original drawing laid in each copy. I blithely agreed, since it was way in the future -- but it turned out to be a lot of work. (You know, you want to make it _look_ as though it was done insouciantly, but you do all this painstaking pencil-work first.) I suppose people assumed these drawings were how I pictured the characters, but actually they were just what Powers was able to draw. (I'm not being falsely modest here, several of 'em were pretty good, actually, but there's nothing like _trying it yourself_ to make you appreciate pro artists!) (I think that's related to why I've never done a "reading" at any convention or book-signing -- people would assume that's the way I imagine my characters talking, but actually it'd just be me plodding along trying to get through it -- always glancing up to make sure everybody isn't sitting a few seats closer to the door than they were the last time I looked up.) I do remember all of us just sketching away like crazy back then -- I remember Phil Dick drawing some kind of slotted WWI gunnery emplacement that he said inspired the mask of Palmer Eldritch in his novel _The Three Stigmata of_. Spooky thing, God knows where it went -- maybe it's in your files!
Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 10 Sep 99 12:13
No, that's one I don't have. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen it. We will get to Phil Dick a little later - in fact, I'm saving my Phil Dick questions for last because I anticipate there will be a lot to say about that subject! The limited edition of Stress of Her Regard sounds like a fabulous collectors item. The Turtles connection is interesting as well - how did that come about? And, as long as we are talking about bands from the 60's, would you tell us about the book in which a Beatles song played a significant role? While you're at it, could you also talk about some of your experiences trying to get the rights to use certain song lyrics in some of your books?
Tim Powers (timpowers) Fri 10 Sep 99 13:08
The Turtles played at the World Fantasy Convention in Providence in '86 -- the founders, Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, read a good deal of SF & F. And in the bar I got talking to the drummer, Joe Stefko. He asked if there was going to be a limited edition of the book I was doing, and when I said probably not he said he'd like to do it. This was a peculiar idea, since he hadn't done anything like this before, but I decided to go along with it; and he turned out to have a terrific eye for how a book is supposed to look -- title page, type face, binding, all that. His only eccentricity was wanting to bind the 300-copy edition, slipcase and all, in tie-dyed denim. It turned out to look pretty good, actually. When he was shopping for leather to bind the 26-copy special edition in, it turned out that the leather-shop had 26 colors in the sort he wanted, so he got a piece of each, and now each of the 26 copies is bound in an individual color. Stefko's done more books since -- a couple more of mine, and a couple of Dean Koontz books -- and now he's doing a book of Procol Harum lyrics.
Tim Powers (timpowers) Fri 10 Sep 99 13:27
In _The Anubis Gates_ I had our hero, marooned apparently alone in 1810 London, hear someone in another street whistling the Beatles song, "Yesterday." I wanted it to be like Robinson Crusoe coming across the footprint in the sand. Even then I knew better than to try to _quote_ the song, since it's famously difficult to get permission to quote song-lyrics. But for _Last Call_ I wanted to quote that song "Sonny Boy" (you know -- "When there are gray skies, I don't mind the gray skies ..."). I suppose I thought it was _real old,_ and out of copyright -- but it had been written by Al Jolson, and if it weren't for Stefko's help with ASCAP and things like that I wouldn't even have been able to find out who to ask for permission. It turned out to cost a lot more than permission to quote T. S. Eliot. I told the Al Jolson man, "For eleven lines of "Sonny Boy" you want that much?! I got _twice_ that number of Eliot lines for a third of the price! And I mean 'The Waste Land!'" He patiently explained, "You're confusing two things, Powers. A natural mistake, I suppose, since song lyrics and poem lyrics both _rhyme,_ but they're not the same thing." So I paid it, grumbling. It's a dirty shame, because there's a ton of Dylan and Leonard Cohen and Phil Ochs and God knows who all that I'd like to quote in books. But I just shy off from it. And translations! -- you want to quote Dante, no problem, but what's the copyright of the translation? Usually I just get two or three translations, mix 'em up and paraphrase 'em and write 'em out in my own words, and consider that I'm now quoting the Powers translation.
Martha Soukup (soukup) Fri 10 Sep 99 13:32
Binding is an excellent quality in a book. You should quote only Turtles songs in your stories. Or Flo & Eddie songs. I'll bet you could get those permissions.
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