BLACK GATE Interview

The incomparable Patty Templeton has interviewed me for Black Gate, and you can read it here. That’s pretty much the news, because I can’t possibly add to the job she’s done. A thousand thank-yous, Patty!

But since you’re here . . .

I was in Giant Eagle the other day, shopping for groceries (a friend and I habitually refer to the supermarket chain as “Giant Nazgul,” and the name has become so ingrained in me that I frequently call it that in mixed company, and I get some funny looks . . .) — and the latest issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction caught my eye. Seeing Peter S. Beagle’s name on the cover, I glanced inside . . . and sure enough, the story of his that’s in there is “Olfert Dapper’s Day.” I had the unforgettable joy of hearing the author read this new story aloud at the most recent World Fantasy Convention. Mr. Beagle is a true virtuoso with words. This tale moved me more deeply than anything I’ve heard or read in many a year. Do yourself a favor: while this issue is still on magazine racks (the March/April issue), go to your local newsstand, bookstore, or Giant Nazgul, and acquire your own copy. The man is one of the very finest living fantasists, and this is a gem of a story, a pearl of great price. Its like is not often seen in the world.

In that interview, one of the questions Patty asked me was about writers’ quirks. It’s a fascinating question. Something I forgot to say was that at one time, before my former computer gave up the ghost, I had seven different keyboards for it. I made a little “apartment complex” of file boxes to store them all in, and each month, I would give my room a thorough cleaning and dusting, and I would plug in a different keyboard. It helped me start the new month with a feeling of change and renewal. Some keyboards are small; some are large. Some are conventional; some are ergonomic, shaped in interesting ways. Some have firmly resistant keys. Some have keys that make a loud, satisfying click. I had a “skeleton keyboard” that was transparent, and you could see all the inner wires and workings. I had one that the Japanese maker dubbed “Stealth Keyboard” — perhaps useful in covert ops? The sentries on the other side of the bushes don’t know you’re writing? I had one covered with a soft, rubbery, separate veneer layer that protected the keyboard if you would spill a cup of coffee or a bucket of paint on it. I think it was designed for use in garages and warehouses, where operators might have oily or dirty hands. I had one I called the “Cricket” keyboard and one I called “Blapadap,” because of its sound. I won’t even get into the fleet of mice I once had . . . Those are all long gone now, retired along with my old, dear PowerMac, my first computer that served well for seven years. For my current computer, I only have three keyboards and one external mouse. I’m a responsible adult now.

But other writers are weird, too! E.B. White seems to have been a little like Adrian Monk. Before he could write, he would straighten the pictures on the wall and the rugs on the floor. “. . . Not until everything in the world was lined up and perfectly true could anybody reasonably expect me to set a word down on paper,” he wrote. I had a calendar one year that showed a picture of the converted boathouse he wrote in: all wood, wood-colored, unadorned, with a rough table and uncomfortable-looking seat, and a sort of hatch that offered a view outward. There was nothing at all in the room to distract him.

Truman Capote, as Patty mentioned, wrote lying down. Virginia Woolf and Thomas Wolfe wrote standing up.

Faulkner claimed that the tools of his trade were “paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey.”

I read once that P.G. Wodehouse affixed a roll of paper in a bracket over his typewriter, so that he wouldn’t have to keep stopping to insert new pages. He would then cut the typed-on roll into pages and tape them to the wall in a row all around the room. He would stroll around reading over them, and if the writing seemed to sag at one point, he would physically lower that page, fastening it lower.

Schiller used rotten apples: he’d cram a stash of them under the lid of his desk, and if he got stuck trying to think of a word, he’d raise the lid and inhale.

Garrison Keillor has said that computers make things too fast and easy, that the writing suffers when it pours out too quickly; when writing with a pen or pencil, writers have a little mental space for editing before committing marks to the page. (It astounds me that Tolkien wrote all of The Lord of the Rings by hand, and then typed it all with hunt-and-peck typing because he couldn’t afford to hire a typist.)

But Flannery O’Connor had good things to say about the typewriter. It was more personal, she said, because “you use ten fingers to work a typewriter and only three to push a pen.”

(For some of these facts, I thank Helen Sheehy and Leslie Stainton for their many On Writers and Writing desk diaries over the years.)


39 Responses to BLACK GATE Interview

  1. Fred, check out my FB page or the page of Holly Beard … much discussion of you and The Star Shard taking place (thurs p.m. as I write). I see you will be in town Saturday! Damn! I was there LAST weekend! Grrrrr

    • fsdthreshold says:

      Thank you, Mr. Brown Snowflake! I will check out your FB page as soon as I can! I have a very tenuous Internet connection now, as I’m away from my desk. I can only connect at places with wi-fi, and my computer is on its very last legs.

      Wow! I can’t believe you were in town just a week ago!

  2. Daylily says:

    Terrific interview, Fred! It was a great read. Congratulations! I also enjoyed your addendum here on the blog; very interesting to learn about the quirks of writers.

  3. Hagiograph says:

    This is not in response to the current post, I just wanted to put it on here so Fred would see it:

    Finished “The Star Shard” last night. Obviously not my usual reading fare, but it was, as per usual, excellent. If children and young adults aren’t enriched by quality literature like this then there is no hope for the future. (Sorry it took me so long to get around to finishing I said I had to finish the Steve Jobs bio, this was a wonderful palette cleanser!)

    I know I was supposed to probably key on other things but the things I really liked the most were:

    1. The Thunder Rake. I loved the fact that it somehow seems much bigger on the inside than it could be on the outside…like the Tardis. And I loved the “Night Market” and the fact that it seemed to be a strange extra-dimensional space on an already extra-dimensional space.

    2. I really like Byrni. Creepy but funny and strange and absurd. And didn’t get any real explanation for what he was or why he was. He just _was_. I really liked him.

    3. Of course the subtle and sly humor that crept in every-so-often was good. I liked Cymbril’s reflection on how the Curdlebree twins could possibly be happy as princesses. And occasionally both her and Loric make some relatively smart a** comments which was fun.

    4. Great descriptions which are obviously the forte of Fred

    Now here are a few of the things I didn’t like:

    A. Dogs were poorly represented and cats were overly positively represented. This renders much of the fantasy unbelievable. It is impossible to suspend credulousness enough to imagine a world in which this is the case.

    B. “Moonpine Blue” was a terrible name for a dye. All I could think of when I read that was “Moon Pie” (living in the south for a while you see them around)

    Excellent story overall and great literature.

    • Hannah says:

      Yuck. Moon pies. They’re like rubber coated in sugar! But if you keep that out of your head, I think Moonpine is a nice name.

    • fsdthreshold says:

      Thank you, Hagiograph! It’s wonderful to read your thoughts on the book! Do you remember an old Saturday late-night show we used to avidly watch called The Acree Creature Feature? “Byrni” is a tribute to that show: on it, “Mr. Acree” was the host, who would introduce the monster movie of the week. His sidekick was a talking skull named “Bernie” who had an accent like Dracula’s. I’ve always liked the idea of talking skulls. I also thought it would be fun to have a character who knows everything there is to know in the world, but who spews it forth all the time in a ceaseless stream. The closest we get to an explanation is Cymbril’s theory that he was probably originally the ultimate information resource for the wizard who enchanted him to speak, but that at some point, he got “broken.” So your mention of the TARDIS is right in keeping with the spirit of the story.

      Yes — Cymbril and Loric both can be pretty smart-alecky!

      I totally agree: I was shocked, too, by how well cats come across in the book, and how poorly dogs come across, when my own sympathies lie almost entirely with dogs. It’s just the way the story had to be, and does not reflect my own preferences. My aunt, too, made the same comment you did: “There’s no way cats would be that helpful!” In defense of Bale: he is just doing his job. He’s a good, competent watchdog.

      “Moonpine Blue” was undoubtedly influenced by Lud-in-the-Mist with its “Moongrass cheese.”

      I’m delighted that you enjoyed the book overall!

      • hagiograph says:

        Wow…you stirred up a tiny bit of memory in my head. The “Creature Feature”. I vaguely, very, very vaguely remember the talking skull, but the only creature feature I recall was the one on ABC affiliate (WAND at the time) hosted by “Mike” something or other.

        Wow. I am reeling from this. A memory I so completely lost that I only now vaguely remember it.

  4. Hagiograph says:

    “Garrison Keillor has said that computers make things too fast and easy, that the writing suffers when it pours out too quickly; when writing with a pen or pencil,”

    This resonates with me. My “writing” such as it is, is largely in the form of “research reports” (I haven’t had a peer reviewed publication for a coupe years), but I among the few people in the sciences who actually RELISHES the “writing up” part of the process.

    I loved writing my Thesis and Dissertation which is almost unheard of among scientists.

    I’m not a great writer but a computer keyboard opens up to me and my brain pours out on the paper.

    I’ve written 20 page research reports in less than a day. It’s easier to bulk up these things with lots of graphs and illustrations so it isn’t that impressive.

    One research report I filed with my boss was over 150 pages and included appendices with raw data and e-mail exchanges. It was large enough that I required a “Table of Contents”.

    When writing research reports I don’t even bother really working to “craft” the material knowing that no one will read it anyway. I don’t bother editing myself and just “flow”.

    I also write in passive voice which is _de rigeur_ for science and it drives my wife, the grammar nazi, absolutely *&^%ing nuts!

    “A study was performed on the print samples in which…”

    Suck it Strunk and White!

    • fsdthreshold says:

      I agree with you on the passive voice. I use it whenever it is called for. (Heh, heh!) Same with ending sentences with prepositions, like the above. I split infinitives sometimes, and I start the occasional sentence with an “And” or “But.”

      If you’re not jarring the reader, not calling attention to the words or punctuation you’re using or not using, if you’re being clear and entertaining/informative, I believe you’re doing your job as a writer.

  5. Hagio: WAND TV 17 was indeed ABC at the time, and at 10:30 p.m. on Friday’s Jerry Slabe (later at WCIA, CBS 3 in Champaign) would dress up as various characters and host “Tales of Terror!” Whenever it was a Godzilla movie or some other cheesy feature Fred and I would stay at one or the others house (usually out at his place) and enjoy the best of bad Japanese movie making! I am sure our host remembers!

    • Hagiograph says:

      Ahhh, I remember Jerry Slabe before he “sold out” to WCIA. (For some reason I always preferred WAND TV17, maybe I liked ABC shows more). Strange how we no longer have a ‘relationship’ with individual tv stations like in the old days. If you were to ask me what the local San Diego stations were I’d say I had no idea.

      Many is the Friday night now when I bemoan to Mrs. Hagiograph the sad lack of a good Friday Night Horror Movie outlet. She doesn’t like horror movies in general so it doesn’t sadden her one bit.

      But sometimes I can get her to watch a Vincent Price horror movie because she like Vincent Price (he is from St Louis so he’s like Imo’s Pizza for her… a near home-town fave).

      And after the 80’s ended we no longer even had “Commander USA’s Groovy Movies” which I used to watch on Saturday afternoons in college.

      Sad, sad days these are. Must be that the end is nigh.

  6. fsdthreshold says:

    I certainly do remember that, Mr. Brown Snowflake! By far, Tales of Terror on Friday nights is the show I remember better, and we watched it more often. I remember “Dr. Terror,” the host, who (at least sometimes) had a voice as if he were batting a hand against his mouth as he spoke, Wah-wah-wah . . .

    I remember when we were really little that we thought The Gorgon must be some kind of dinosaur, like a Tyrannosaurus, and we were startlingly introduced to Medusa, who was very creepy . . .

    • Hagiograph says:

      DR. TERROR! Yes! That’s it!

      Not to drag things too far off the path related to this particular posting but I also miss the surreal commercials that ran about that same time frame from a (Decatur?) auto dealer who had his collie “_______ the WonderDog”.

      Can’t remember any names… (Getting waaaaay too old).

      But I remember one of his late night commercials when it was basically him going into some darkened building looking for _____the wonderdog and there were all sorts of flashing lights and a few brief glimpses of faces and the commercial ended.

      I don’t think there were even any cars in the commercial.

      It was so hallucinatory that even to this day I wonder if the commercial was real. But ALL of this guy’s commercials were great because they were ALL hilariously surreal.

  7. Mark Douglas Pontiac/Oldsmobile from Clinton, with Jake the Wonderdog. They did a 20-part serial of radio ads for (the then cool) WDBR 104 FM in Springfield. They produced an album, which I bought, and which, just last summer, I had burned onto CD!!! Eat your heart out! And do not forget Mr. Charisma himself, Loren Boatman, with the weather (back in the day when the weatherman used markers to draw L and H and cold fronts onto the map). Also, Perry Thomas Mercury, “at the sign of the cat … meow!”

    • Hagiograph says:

      JAKE THE WONDERDOG! Loren Boatman! Yes! My childhood is flooding in on me today!

      Thanks Brown snowflake!

  8. Hagiograph says:

    Sorry to all the non-Central Illinoisans but thanks to the names Fred and Brown have provided I’ve found this webpage which features various pictures of WAND history. INCLUDING MIKE CHEEVER who hosted the Tales of Terror (That was the “Mike” that I mentioned originally)

    Oh my, the intarwebs is wonderful.

    • O Hagio my Hagio! What a trip down nostalgia lane your last comment and link were! Wow! Yes, apologies from me, too, to the non-Central Illinoisians on the blog, but for those of us … we could not help but indulge.

  9. Hagiograph says:

    Read the interview and am now quite curious. At one point Fred, you make a comment about your unfinished “ship” novel as being as “inaccessible as Ulysses with none of the brilliance of James Joyce.”

    Now I have only attempted to read a small amount of James Joyce a bit of Finnegan’s Wake and I’ve heard that Ulysses is sometimes referred to as “unreadable”, so I’m curious how brilliance of this caliber is assessed by writers.

    One thing I absolutely detested about Burrough’s “Naked Lunch” was that it was completely and literally unreadable.

    I understand that art arises in many places that I do not “get”, but unreadable writing becomes to some extent little more than some onanistic exercise of the author.

    To place words down on a page seems more functional than, say, putting paint on a canvas. So while I can see a visual “impression” from a Pollack painting of little more than dribs and drabs of color, I fail to get that from similar “written” material.

    If I am going to read the unreadable I’d much rather it be by someone who is literally insane and at least feels that their written “glossalalia” is somehow internally sensible, if maddening to them.

    Maybe, as an author, you can help me “understand” brilliance of the unreadable.

    (Oh don’t get me wrong, I am glad that Joyce gave us the word “quark” and that Murray Gell-Mann was literarily geeky enough to latch onto it for subatomic physics, but I don’t understand the joy of “experimental literature”.)

    • jhagman says:

      Hagiograph, Finnegan’s Wake is written in dreamspeak, it is very difficult, but I would imagine (from your writer-persona) that you would enjoy Ulysses very much. my english major friends always suggested that one should read “Dubliners” first before “Ulysses”, but all of his writing (I Think) is in stream of consciousness mode. i.e: just like our thoughts, the prose dances around. “Ulysses” is earthy, transgressive, and mocks religion, and incidently I read the first part while I was reading my way through “The Star Shard”. While reading “Ulysses” keep in mind one fact; Joyce wrote in a serialized form for a magazine. I think people who read Dickens, Tolstoy and others forget that fact, and how the writer discovers what is going on with his characters, almost at the same time as the readers.

  10. Daylily says:

    I finished The Star Shard and I echo the others: “Bravo, bravo, Fred! More, more!” Whaddaya mean, we have to wait to find out what happens next? **Sigh** I am not ready to let go of Cymbril and Loric so soon . . .

    • Hagiograph says:

      I’m workin’ up some great “fan fic”. I think it will take Cymbril and Loric into uncharted terror-tory. Oh yeah. I’m going to work in some themes that are particularly important to me (rock-and-roll, wrestling, food and food-related wrestling as well as wrestling food) and I’ll completely re-arrange the dynamic.

      Unlike Fred I don’t care if I lack the genius of Joyce it is going to be purely “emetic literature” built around Cymbril, Loric and a new character; Flambor the Magnificent.

      If I get my stuff out _early enough_ then it will be like Alan Dean Foster’s “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye” originally penned as a potential sequel to Star Wars in 1978.

      And those who read my powerful derivative works will carry with them a skewed side-story as they see Fred’s possible trilogy flesh out.

      No one, and I mean this literally, will forget Flambor the Magnificent after I put him onto the page. Hard as they may try they will NOT forget Flambor. And all future generations who try to read all of Fred’s work around the Star Shard stories will carry that lodged in the folds of their brains until their dying days.


      • fsdthreshold says:

        Fan-fic, eh? This sounds interesting! So Flambor is a food-wrestling talent scout who comes aboard the Rake and attempts to recruit the Strongarms to wrestle horrendous opponents in his Food Rock-a-Drome? Hmm . . .

  11. Buurenaar says:

    Back in high school, there was a group of girls (and a few guys) that used to verbally molest me for new writings. Six months after I wrote it, I’d look back at it and ask myself, “What IS this piece of osik?” On an interrelated note, I love highly obscure fictional languages. Also, this “Watership Down” of which you speak has piqued my interest. I *need* to get back to Wordsmyth, though. (The spelling is intentional, comrades.)

    • Buurenaar says:

      Yeah, I’m kind of hesitant about going after readers that young, especially with a fictional language. Apparently, my daycare kids from the summer didn’t understand half of what I said in my explanations to them, despite the fact that I was doing everything in my power to speak simply. I used enough examples that they generally got the main idea, though. I hope. It’s not that they were too simple-minded to understand by any means…I just have a tendency to tailor my words to meaning instead of comprehension level.

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