alien landscape1

I don’t think science fiction is a very good name for it (what I write), but it’s the name that we’ve got. It is different from other kinds of writing, I suppose, so it deserves a name of its own. But where I can get prickly and combative is if I’m just called a sci-fi writer. I’m not. I’m a novelist and poet. Don’t shove me into your damn pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions…

…I draw on the social sciences a great deal. I get a lot of ideas from them, particularly from anthropology. When I create another planet, another world, with a society on it, I try to hint at the complexity of the society I’m creating, instead of just referring to an empire or something like that…

…For most of my career, getting that label — sci-fi — slapped on you was, critically, a kiss of death. It meant you got reviewed in a little box with some cute title about Martians – or tentacles…

…I just knew from extremely early on – it sounds ridiculous, but five or six – that writing was something I was going to do, always. But just writing, not any mode in particular. It started as poetry. I think I was nine or ten before I really wrote a story. And it was a fantasy story, because that’s mostly what I was reading. By then, my brother and I were putting our quarters together to buy, now and then, a ten-cent magazine called something like “Fantastic Tales” – pulp magazines, you know…

…the fiction I read, because I was an early beginner, tended toward the fantastic. Realism is a very sophisticated form of literature, a very grown-up one. And that may be its weakness. But fantasy seems to be eternal and omnipresent and always attractive to kids.
But when people say, Did you always want to be a writer?, I have to say no! I always was a writer. I didn’t want to be a writer and lead the writer’s life and be glamorous and go to New York. I just wanted to do my job writing, and to do it really well…

…My first publications were all poetry, and that’s partly because of my father. He realized that sending out poetry is quite a big job. It takes method and a certain amount of diligence and a good deal of time. And he said, I could help you do that, that would be fun! He got interested in the subculture of the little magazines and realized that it is a little world, with rules all its own…

Ursula K Le Guin
Interview with John Wray for Paris Review fall 2013

Breaks the boundaries

February 6, 2018

Dear Durrell,

The Black Book came and I Have opened it and I read goggleeyed, with terror, admiration and amazement. I am still reading it—slowing up because I want to savour each morsel, each line, each word. You are the master of the English language. Stupendous reaches, too grand almost for any book. Breaks the boundaries of books, spills over and creates a deluge which is no longer a book but a river of language, the Verb broken into its component elements and running amok. You have written things in this book which nobody has dared to write. It’s brutal, obsessive, cruel, devastating, appalling. I’m bewildered still. So this is no criticism. And did you want criticism? No, this is a salute to the master! I will tell you more calmly, when I get finished, when I reread and sponge it up more thoroughly. Now it’s an onslaught.

Of course I don’t expect to see Faber and Faber publishing it. Did you? No English or American publisher would dare print it. We must find the men for it! I am pondering it over already. And right Here a problem presents itself. You say this is the only copy there is. You frighten the life out of me. I can, of course, send it on to Faber registered and all that, but even so, I wouldn’t rest easy putting it into the mails. Before I do anything, tell me if you don’t think I had better have a copy made, several, in fact? I could arrange it, if you like, with some one I know I can trust. It’s a big job – I don t know how many pages, because you didn’t number your pages. But, if you deem it advisable, I will go ahead with it and defray all expenses. You could square that off, if you so wished, against my indebtedness to you. On the other hand, you may wish to get it to Faber’s in a hurry. So let me know pronto what to do.

My dear Durrell, you’ll never do something more to their liking, as you put it in your note. You’ve crossed the equator. Your commercial career is finished. From now on you’re an outlaw, and I congratulate you with all the breath in my body. I seriously think that you truly are “the first Englishman!” This is way beyond Lawrence and the whole tribe. You are out among the asteroids – for good and all, I hope.
The whole thing is a poem, a colossal poem. Why you should ever want to write little finished poems I don’t know. Anything you write as poem can only be a whiff, after this. This is the poem. It’s like the Black Death, by Jesus. I’m stunned. My only adverse reaction is that it’s too colossally colossal. You have to be Gargantua himself to take it all in.

It seems to me, at the moment, that Kahane would be the only man to do it. Possibly Fraenkel. That’s why I’d like to have extra copies of it. No commercial, legitimate publisher can possibly bring it out. I can see them fainting as they read it. Unfortunately Kahane, my publisher, is rather set against you. Very unfortunately, and partly my fault. Seems he doesn’t like any one who admires me too much. Curious thing that, but a fact. Sort of professional jealousy. He writes too, you know, under the name Cecil Barr. Vile, vile crap, the vilest of the vile, and he admits it, but with that English insouciance that makes my blood creep. But, if you assent, I will try him. I will wheedle and cajole and jig for him, if necessary, because I believe in it wholeheartedly. And I see no one else on the horizon. Only Fraenkel. Again we will be up against the professional problem. Fraenkel, however, is more capable of being objective, capable of admiring something he could not do himself. He has the money and the press. Has he the courage, the initiative? Perhaps it could be brought out in a deluxe edition, through subscription. All this I must think about.

Anyway, now I understand the Himalayan background. You should thank your lucky stars you were born there at the gateway to Tibet. There’s a new dimension in your book which could only have come from such a place. It’s like we’re out among new constellations. How long, for Christ’s sake, did it take you to write this? I can understand that you must be exhausted. It’s a tour de force.

Well, more when I finish. And salute!


Letter from Henry Miller to Lawrence Durrell, March 8, 1937

George Grosz - Suicide

I begin with theme and character, not story. In fact very often the characters create the exact nature of the story as it goes along, and sometimes they surprise me. That’s part of the fun…

…all kinds of things trigger the urge to write. Something that pisses me off. Somebody I love. And the love of writing itself, of the process, of being allowed to live for a time inside your own imagination – and actually get paid for it! That’s pretty amazing.

Jack Ketchum
Interview with Connor Bell for Oyez Review 1st November 2016

the creative condition

February 1, 2018

a doubt of witchcraft

Being in love — “falling in love” — now I understand it — now I know what it means — what happens to me when I am writing: I am in love with the work, the subject, the characters, and while it goes on and a while after, the opus itself. — I function only by falling in love: with French and France; with the 15th Century; with microbiology, cosmology, sleep research, etc. at various times — I could not have written “A Week in the Country” without having fallen in love with current DNA research…What it is I suppose is the creative condition as expressed in human emotion and mood — So it comes out curiously the same whether sexual or spiritual or aesthetic or intellectual.

Ursula K. Le Guin

Introduction to: The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs


January 30, 2018

Why should a novel seek for a tidy closure? Novels are inherently rather messy. They use time very differently from drama. Beginning-middle-end isn’t obligatory. They can wander through a whole lifetime, or follow a great circle like Lord of the Rings, or go right on from what seemed a closure (as happened with Earthsea — my mistake!) I have nothing against endings, but I do write in a form that doesn’t take them too seriously.

Ursula K Le Guin
Interview with Lev Grossman

The hardest part with these memoirs is the effort to be honest – there is too great a divergence between my relatively unstained thinking, ideas and emotions, and my real treason, flight and the squalid, cowardly and ugly things I did to people in moments of panic or rage.

Robin Cook (Derek Raymond)
The Hidden Files

try my hand at a novel

January 30, 2018


I was always into horror when I was a kid – the old American International pictures, the big-bug movies, then the Hammer stuff. And of course the books, Dracula and Dr. Jekyll, Frankenstein, Shirley Jackson’s novels, and the great pulp writers like Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, and Richard Matheson. I even briefly liked Lovecraft, though I find him utterly unreadable now. When I decided that I wanted to get out of writing for magazines try my hand at a novel, King and Straub and a number of other really fine writers were already well into their stride and I was reading them a lot, and the movies had become a lot edgier and in-your-face, with stuff like The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the like, and I thought it was a very exciting period to be writing horror. So it was natural that I gravitate there with my first one, Off Season.

Jack Ketchum
Interview with Rob Hart for Litreactor, 27th April 2012

It’s not imagination

January 27, 2018

sun and rain

If you go and look at paintings or at master’s portraits, and you look at faces, whoever they are, there’s always something of the painter in the face. They look like the person who painted it. I think with writing, it’s exactly the same. You write the way you are, in a funny sort of way. Whatever imagination you’ve got . . . I don’t really believe in the imagination; I think it’s all a compound of everything that’s happened to you right from birth. It’s conversation, it’s bits of music that you hear, so you remember all these details. I think there’s one in Titanic somewhere, someone finds a little snow on the ground, on the ship or something. I can remember that happening to my father: finding snow along the deck of a sailboat in Liverpool. It’s not imagination; it’s something one remembers. It’s all in the unconscious, and you just dredge it up out of your memory.

Beryl Bainbridge
Interview in Writer’s Digest

good-looking men

January 25, 2018

I don’t like good-looking men – one always thinks they’ll be dumb.
I spent my 30s having love affairs to make up for lost time and writing as a sort of sideline.

Alice Adams
Interview with Nancy Faber for People 3rd April 1978

tried my hand at a novel

January 25, 2018

an eternity

I can remember bothering my father to drive me down to Coles bookstore at Yonge and Charles in downtown Toronto when I was fourteen to buy a copy of the first paperback printing of From Here of Eternity with its famous black-and-red bugle cover. I knew that they would not have sold me, over the counter, this hesitating, skinny kid with brushcut and glasses, such a sizzling work, and my father had to go in to buy it for me. I can still to this day still inhale the smell of that fresh Signet pulp paper, like the scent of oil on leather. I remember the following summer when I first tried my hand at a novel, a fifteen-year-old’s version of Jones’s epic, sitting in our backyard on Rostrevor Raod, writing in longhand on long yellow sheets an army novel called The Boovermak Episode, which ran to three hundred pathetic pages and managed to recycle every relationship, incident and tragic nuance of the original. I remember that when I first went to Paris in 1962 I would gravitate regularly to the Ile St. Louis where Jones and his family lived in a remarkable apartment at 10 Quai d’Orleans overlooking the Seine; circling the area, I would sometimes linger in the narrow rue Budé in front of the heavy entrance doors wondering if I would ever muster the courage to push the buzzer and pay my respects. I never did, though Jones was known to be a notoriously easy touch and extraordinarily generous to people like myself, aspiring young writers without credentials. I became an habituté of Shakespeare and Company, an untidy little bookstore across the river because I knew that Jones sometimes dropped around to scour the shelves or attend cocktail parties in the upstairs quarters. George Whitman, an American, who still runs it, was equally generous to young people going for broke in the land of Hemingway; there was free coffee on a hot plate upstairs, chairs and sofas for reading, corners for down-and-outers to sleep in overnight; if you re-shelved a book with your bookmark still in place George wouldn’t sell it until you had finished. The sort of place Jones would’ve liked, unpretentious, fundamental, open-ended. I met him there one afternoon, at last, as he browsed along the narrow corridors of shelves. He was square-bodied, lantern-jawed, fierce-looking; not a big man but he gave the impression of compacted power that went all the way to his eyes. I managed to push out something, half-greeting, half-tribute, and he nodded, and that was it, sadly. And I remembered an hour’s conversation with Mary McCarthy in London, Ontario, a few years after his death, when she spoke of his problems as a writer and virtues as a man. I ought to have paid him a call in Paris, she said; he was good at that sort of thing. Strangers who buzzed him up from the rue Budé often stayed for dinner.

Lawrence Garber
Looking Back at James Jones