I was 23 when I wrote both of them (his first two novels). Back in about ’74 or ‘5, Roger Elwood, who had been doing millions of anthologies in the field, convinced the Harlequin Romance people in Canada that they should branch out into science fiction, and so for a couple of years they did. And K.W. Jeter, a friend of mine I had met in college, had sold a couple of books to them, and he told me and Jim Blaylock, “You should write for these people. They pay virtually nothing, they’re brand new, they have horrible restrictions on length and bad language, and so there’s no competition. Just write three chapters and an outline, and you’ll get a contract. I did it.” And so both Blaylock and I did do that. Blaylock’s was not bought. Elwood said that Blaylock was making fun of him with his outline. But I figured, “Okay, I can do this.” Because throughout my high school and college career, I’d always been writing on the top of a page, “Book One. Chapter One.” And then I’d write a page and a half, and get sick of it, and put it in the drawer. And then the next night I’d write, “Book One. Chapter One,” and start another story, and get sick of it. Sometimes I could finish short stories. And so I thought, well, gee, three chapters and an outline, what’s that, seventy pages maybe. I can do that. And then if I get a contract I’ll have the threat of a deadline, the hope of on-completion money, and so forth, to nudge me along and get it done…

…But I was real scared of the idea of a novel. I thought, “This is sixty thousand words! That’s a lot of words! You’d better start really slow.” So I wrote about ten thousand words of my characters just making lunch and talking and trying to get their cars started and doing nothing, having dinner, as I recall. And I brought this to Jeter and said, “Look! I’ve got ten thousand words!” And he read it and said, “Throw this in the trash. This is no good. You have to start where the action starts.” I thought, Okay, though that seems awfully profligate. I’ll use up the action way too quick.

But I did throw away that ten thousand words, and started within a few minutes of when the action started, and sent the three chapters and outline to Laser Books, and they said, “Well, do us a fourth chapter, ’cause we’ve never heard of you.” So I did a fourth chapter real quick, and then they said, “Okay, you have a contract; go.” So I started writing like crazy. I did get the contract before it was published, finally, but I kept not having the contract when I was writing it. I thought, God damn it, they’re not gonna like the finished book, and then they’ll say, “Don’t even write a contract for this thing.” Which was just paranoia; they did eventually buy it. Of course, it was like twelve hundred dollars. And as soon as I sold it, and actually got the twelve hundred dollars, or half of it, or whatever, I quit school and quit work because I was just going to be a writer from here on out. I think I was making through Laser Books around maybe twenty-five hundred dollars a year. And I can’t imagine how I lived on that, but I did. I’m sure it went a little further then than it does now, but I didn’t have a phone, I remember that. Then I was 24 when they were published. The first one was not bad. The second one, though, was extensively rewritten by a copy editor, and though I had tried to change it back in the galleys, they ignored the galley corrections and published it as it was.

Tim Powers
Interviewed by Fiona Kelleghan, 25th June 1997

face writing

Reading novels seems to me such a normal activity, while writing them is such an odd thing to do. . . . At least so I think until I remind myself how firmly the two are related. (No armoured generalities here. Just a few remarks.)

First, because to write is to practice, with particular intensity and attentiveness, the art of reading. You write in order to read what you’ve written and see if it’s O.K. and, since of course it never is, to rewrite it – once, twice, as many times as it takes to get it to be something you can bear to reread. You are your own first, maybe severest, reader. ”To write is to sit in judgment on oneself,” Ibsen inscribed on the flyleaf of one of his books. Hard to imagine writing without rereading.

But is what you’ve written straight off never all right? Yes, sometimes even better than all right. And that only suggests, to this novelist at any rate, that with a closer look, or voicing aloud – that is, another reading – it might be better still. I’m not saying that the writer has to fret and sweat to produce something good.

”What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure,” said Dr. Johnson, and the maxim seems as remote from contemporary taste as its author. Surely, much that is written without effort gives a great deal of pleasure.

No, the question is not the judgment of readers – who may well prefer a writer’s more spontaneous, less elaborated work – but a sentiment of writers, those professionals of dissatisfaction. You think, ”If I can get it to this point the first go around, without too much struggle, couldn’t it be better still?”

And though the rewriting – and the rereading – sound like effort, they are actually the most pleasurable parts of writing. Sometimes the only pleasurable parts. Setting out to write, if you have the idea of ”literature” in your head, is formidable, intimidating. A plunge in an icy lake. Then comes the warm part: when you already have something to work with, upgrade, edit.

Susan Sontag
Directions: Write, Read, Rewrite. Repeat Steps 2 and 3 as Needed.
New York Times, 18th December 2000