Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Interview with the Admirable James P. Blaylock

James P. BlaylockJames P. Blaylock is a Philip K. Dick (Homunculus) and World Fantasy Award ("Paper Dragons") winning writer. My favorite novel of his is The Rainy Season, which is a really neat ghost story that takes place in Southern California. For more information, you can google him. Recently, I had the opportunity to conduct an interview. Here it is, folks:

1. Why write?
It seems to be the thing that I do. Some writers insist that they're "compelled" to write by some inner pressure, but I don't know that that's true for me. I'm compelled to write because that's what I do. A potential story (in the form of a concept, a character, a setting) comes into my mind. It swirls around and begins to generate interesting stuff, and sooner or later I find myself meddling with it on paper (or the machine). If the language works, it draws me into the story, and there I go. Over the past 37 years or so I've never not been writing something, just as I've never not been reading something. I've developed the habit, I guess. Some writers refer to the "burden" of the writer, but for me writing is not a burden. If it were I wouldn't do it. Also, since 1976 or so, I've been paid to write. Money is a great incentive. There's no doubt in my mind that I'll finish the novella I'm currently working on. Knowing that there's a check waiting at the end, however, means that I write first and go surfing second. If I weren't paid to write, I'd be a dabbler, and there's no doubt that I'd be at the beach right now instead of writing (which I was doing before I stopped to answer this). So that's it: I seem early-on to have been developing the habit of the writer (to paraphrase Flannery O'Connor) and in so doing became a writer. That I was paid to do it was further, and perhaps at some point necessary, incentive.

2. I hear you have a new book coming out, what's it about?
My new novel is titled Knights of the Cornerstone. It's a contemporary fantasy involving religious relics thought to have been taken out of Constantinople by the Knights Templar back in the 13th Century. It's set on the Colorado River in a made up town upriver from Needles, in unincorporated territory. My narrator innocently drives out there to visit his uncle and his dying aunt and gets whirled up in dangerous and mysterious doings. I won't say more, because it's my most competently plotted novel, and any revelations on my part now would give things away. It's also my best book to date, I think.

3. Any random advice?
Yeah, don't be a writer unless you're a writer -- unless it's the thing you do. In that case, you don't care about my answer. If you're considering doing it, or are fixing to do it, or whatever, you're already through, because you haven't got going, which means it's not the thing you do. Also, there are way better ways to earn a living. The Orange County Yellow Pages lists, literally, thousands of doctors and lawyers. We know that medical school and law school are tough to get into and to get through, and yet doctors and lawyers abound. Working creative writers do not abound. If there are more than a hundred (comparatively speaking) who have continuing careers locally, I'll eat my hat. There are a number who have published one book, say, or who write stories and sell them now and then (and good for them) but writers who earn something like a living at it are few and far between. My fifteen-plus novels and collections are published all over the world, but I pay my mortgage as a teacher. Just say "no" in other words. Unless, of course, it's the thing you do (should be a title!) and then you're indifferent to what I just said.

4. What's one of your guilty pleasures?
I've got enough guilt to satisfy me, but very little of it has to do with pleasure. Doughnuts, certainly.

5. Is there a stuffed animal past or present who had/ has a strong influence in your life?
Never had any as far as I know. Deprived in that area. I'm partial, however, to some of the stuffed animals that my sons treasured. The small, goofy looking bear, for instance, who was lost for a couple of years under my son Danny's mattress and then rediscovered and named Pancake Bear. We had a sort of Winnie the Pooh-like household in some ways.

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