Yes, Virginia, I HAVE been writing a long time,” she said, with a smile..56 years, by actual count. But who’s counting, right?
I can share with you some interesting sidelights of interviewing some of those authors you mentioned. I interviewed Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., because I was in college at Iowa at the time, but I had just spent the summer on campus at Berkeley during the “Summer of Love.” [That’s 1965 for you young whippersnappers, and, yes, it was as crazy as you’ve heard! I recently saw a documentary at the Chicago Film Festival and I was the only one in the room that had an actual personal anecdote about seeing Alan Ginsburg come out onstage at Berkeley stoned and have to be carried off by the janitor,— but nevermind about that.] That merely means I was probably one of the oldest people in the room, although cinematographer Haskell Wexler was there, and he’s at least 85, so maybe not.
Anyway, I loved it at Berkeley that summer, especially the trip to the San Francisco Cow Palace, ditching class to go see the Beatles and riding up on the back of then-boyfriend (Colgate’s) Czechoslovakian motorcycle. I wasn’t that happy at Iowa at the time. I wanted to transfer from Iowa to Berkeley, but, as an English major, I usually “sandbagged” and took fewer than 15 hours (and then signed up to make up the difference in hours to bring me up to 15 per semester in summer school on campus), because there was so much reading that it was hard to keep up if you didn’t try something creative to cope. (And I read FAST and later taught Speedreading). You also had to have a “B” average for the semester. I only had 14 hours, so I needed ONE more hour, in order to flee Iowa for the west coast and warm weather. (Although Colgate, whose real name was William Hopkins, didn’t live in California, but was from Philadelphia and merely attended Colgate University).
So I approached my American Humor & Satire teacher and asked if I could be given one hour of “special project” credit for interviewing Kurt Vonnegut, who was teaching on campus at the time. My professor agreed and it was up to me to contact the Great Man and interview him, which I did with great trepidation. I had read everything he had ever written and loved Cat’s Cradle and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine.
It was the dead of winter, and the classes then met in old Army Quonset huts. [Not too glamorous and not too warm.] I schlepped down there in the dead of winter in my snow boots and parka, extremely frightened at the prospect of interviewing someone famous. I didn’t know that Vonnegut hated all little blonde people who looked like they were from Minnesota on sight (until I read about this eccentricity later.)
Vonnegut definitely did me no favors during the interview. He was tired, cranky and monosyllabic. Also chainsmoking like a chimney. I had already interviewed many subjects during my years in high school ( I began working at age 10 for our local paper doing interviews), but Vonnegut was like a bad guest on Letterman. (My first question, “How would you compare your writing to Joseph Heller’s?” Heller had Catch 22 out fairly recently at that point in time) earned a sneer and the comment that they had absolutely nothing in common. My paper—which, at that point I had written and required only that I plug in the appropriate quotes from the Great Man about how and where Mr. Vonnegut fit into the black humorists of the day that we were studying in class—-sank like a rock, taking my mandatory “B” grade and my chances to transfer to the University of California at Berkeley with them.
Perhaps it was for the best, but I’ve always wondered…”What if?” After that, I wasn’t quite as crazy about Kurt Vonnegut. In fact, I have other equally meanspirited Vonnegut stories that I’ve heard over the years, but let me just add that, when I student taught at the University of Iowa Lab Schools (which no longer exist, but, at that time, served the faculty’s children), his daughter, Edie Vonnegut was assigned to my class. (She later went on to marry Geraldo Rivera!) Talk about your moment of zen!
For instance, (skimping here) the “trapped in the life of a fictional character” one: I’m already trapped in the life of a REAL character, if you hadn’t noticed. I’m not about to put down my burdens and take up anybody else’s, because you know what they say about how, if we put our problems in a pile, we’d end up wanting to take back our own. I remember a quote: “I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” (Insert your own comment here.) Or maybe the quote was about putting your shoes in a pile and taking back your own?. Now I’m confusing myself. I remember I was always puzzled by that quote as to how the guy was getting around to be met if he didn’t have any feet, but that’s how my mind works (obviously). I’m beginning to think it’s like that old joke about “walking a mile in my shoes.” Then, you’re a mile away and you have that person’s shoes (as long as you have feet, that is.) And, as foreshadowing to the REAL quote question[ which I will answer seriously later. Ahem.], I’ve always enjoyed “Virtue is its own punishment” and “Bliss is ignorance.”
Now, on to other authors I have interviewed:David Morrell was one of the nicest, although that was a phone interview. What I remember about the phone interview is that, in the middle of it, he got a call from his agent telling him that Sylvester Stallone was going to make that last “Rambo” movie, and he had to cut it short to find out how that affected him, because he knew nothing about it. He also was chagrined that I asked him about why ALL his heroines always are described wearing tan, blue and burgundy, because apparently no one else had pointed out this small detail. (“Why didn’t someone tell me that BEFORE!?”)
Anne Perry was one of the scariest (after Vonnegut, that is), since she went to jail for murder in New Zealand when she was a teenager (Kate Winslett played her in the film “Heavenly Creatures” in Winslett’s film debut in that Peter Jackson film). I realize Ms Perry (whose real name is not Perry at all) has paid her debt to society and all that, but it was still “a bit dodgy” interviewing her alone in my hotel room on a Sunday morning.
Frederik Pohl was wonderful and his stuff is really so timely and so “today” that it is hard to believe that nobody is making movies of some of his extremely creative sci-fi story concepts. And my personal, special muse and friend is William F. (Bill) Nolan (“Logan’s Run”), who has written the Introduction(s) to two of my books and is the answer to Question #4. Here’s a guy who is in his 80s and still writing wonderful things and he’s published something like 85 novels, worked for Hallmark as an illustrator, had movies made from his stuff (including the reboot of “Logan’s Run” that’s about to come out with Ryan Gosling). But he’s such a stitch and so nice and real and supportive of newbies, whether old or young. He’s been very supportive of my writing. He thinks I have real talent and told me I’m “a born storyteller” and “The work awaits.” (Morrell, while very nice to me, not so much on the “thinks I have talent,” although he DID say, “Your stuff has fewer errors than most Boot Camp enrollees,”— but I wasn’t IN boot camp at the time, so I had no idea what he was talking about. He also suggested that, since I was stressing out about 24 people coming to my house for the 44th year in a row I might take them out to eat, and all of my St. Louis relatives showed up (the teenagers) without anything but flip-flops and blue jeans, so we couldn’t eat the country club and they ended up in some park! Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son) was an interview by computer (questions sent; questions answered), so not as much of the “getting to know you” vibe, although I did meet him again at WorldCon in Austin this past summer, but Vonnegut was definitely the worst ! John Irving and Eric Bogosian were asked the questions onstage by others at AWP things and I was fortunate enough to be in a small group hearing the answers, so I got the better end of that deal. Then, I got bored interviewing other people and decided I wanted to be the one that other people interviewed. Like now. [Thanks for that, she said with a smile.]
I have, at this point, answered Questions 4 and 5 (Who or what inspires you? If you were trapped in the life of a fictional character who would you choose?), so bear with me as I now answer 2, 3 and 6. (See? Multi-tasking: just see if George W. Bush or Rick Perry can do that!)
Come back tomorrow for the rest of the interview.