People are constantly faced with making choices in life, little ones and big
ones. All lead them in a particular direction, depending upon the choice
made. Are there times when you squeeze your eyes shut and wish really hard
that you could have taken the other road?
Yes sure. But the person who doesn't say yes to that question is a liar.
Sometimes we regret the road we've taken, sometimes the road not taken. To
me the more important criteria is this: If I live to a ripe old age, I would
like to look back at my life and say I tried just about everything that
interested me. Some of it crushed me, some of it caressed me. But I have
blessedly few memories of thinking God, I wish I had tried that when the
chance was there. I think Oscar Wilde said the only real regret in life is
The corollary to making such choices is the mental impact of making one which leads to pain, harm or anguish,
either personal or to a loved one. Many of your characters seem to take a path which leads to something they
could have avoided and the result makes them wonder at the sheer simplicity that gets them into such a
mess. Do you know, as you write, what is going to happen to them 5, 10, 20 pages ahead via an outline? Or
do they make their own futures?
No, I never know what will happen to the characters. Right now I'm writing a
scene in which a woman and her boyfriend are eating in a diner. Suddenly the woman jumps up
and says we gotta get out of here -- something bad is coming. He follows but asks
where are we going and what's going to happen? But I don't know where they're going and I don't
know why they have to leave there. Honestly. I'll just get them walking and see where it
takes us. I like writing under that kind of pressure. If my books succeed, it's because the reader can
feel the characters' decisions result from really not knowing what to do next in life. Because
that's what happened to me when I arrived at that spot in their story. What's next? Who knows.
Without giving anything away, can you give us a teaser about what you
plan to write next?
I created a character in two earlier stories named Vincent Ettrich. He's a
cad when it comes to the ladies, but he's an interesting guy too. Someone
you'd like to have a drink with at the airport bar late at night. At the end
of one of those stories, he died. The new novel begins with him back from
the dead, not aware of the fact that yesterday he was six feet deep.
I know a writer who hates writing the last few chapters of a book. It
happens because finishing it marks the end of a beloved relationship and
all that remains is the editing, the marketing and the shilling. What part
of the process of writing a novel engages you the most?
I guess there's always a point in the writing of a book where you blink and
say to yourself this is good, I like where this story or character is going.
There's no telling where that will come about -- sometimes beginning middle or
even the end when you you've brought the chickens home to roost. When I
wrote The Wooden Sea it happened at the very beginning because the
protagonist McCabe kept making me laugh at what he was saying and thinking.
It was so much fun hanging around him that I thought this guy is good, I'm
easy telling the story through him because he's just good company.
I'd have to agree with that. He's so caught up in events that he doesn't even flinch when his younger self
shows up and leads him to events that'll shape his life. Most folks would pause and first ask about memories that
have grown dim or how such a paradox could occur. Or they'd offer advice to their younger self on what's to
come. Were you tempted to do any of this?
There's a section in The Wooden Sea where McCabe says to his younger self
I'm going to tell you in shorthand what your future will be like. But the younger Frannie
doesn't want to hear this and all but covers his ears with his hands to block the information out. If
my younger self were to reappear, the only thing I would say to him is you may not like things
now, but wait a few years because you are going to have a wonderful, romantic life. You couldn't
even dream how great it will be, so hold tight.
What do you think your younger self would say?
When I was a boy, I was generally unhappy much of the time because I never
really fit in anywhere. I constantly tried with little success to be part of
groups I neither liked nor respected. First, I was a semi-hoodlum, then when
I was shipped by my worried parents to a tight-assed boy's prep school in
Connecticut, I tried being a preppie. Which was really absurd, because from
the beginning, I loathed everything that had to do with that group and their
values. So what would my younger self say when he heard things'll get better
soon? He'd probably say tomorrow is a long time away. And he'd be right
because I didn't start being happy and comfortable in my life until I was
Getting back to the writing process, do you ever find yourself stymied by painting yourself into a corner? By
this I mean, are there points in writing a novel where you find yourself
asking, "What am I doing here? This isn't where the story should be." and pause in frustration. Do you rewrite
it until it is the way it should be or do you put it on hold and tackle some other part of the novel?
The only time that ever happened was with The Marriage Of Sticks. I wrote a
hundred pages of it but then hit a wall. I didn't know where I wanted to go with it and it wasn't
telling me. Luckily right at that time, I was invited to Los Angeles to write the screenplay to one of my novels.
That trip lasted almost two years. The only writing I did there was for films. When I returned to Vienna for
good, I considered going back to Sticks but Kissing the Beehive landed on me almost all of a piece. So I
thought I'll write that first and then Sticks. And that's how it developed. I literally finished one and
went right into writing the other.
From my reading, I get the impression that you find women intoxicating,
challenging, fascinating, enigmatic. Whenever it seems a clue surfaces as
to what they are about, they prove surprising and baffling and the struggle
to comprehend begins again. Is this the case or am I reading too much into
Nope, you're spot-on. In my experience, women are the only organic,
constantly changing labyrinths in life. You go in and after a while think
you know where you're going -- only to walk into a dead end (or a minotaur)
one turn or one hour later. At the same time, they are so utterly compelling
and interesting to be around, that I don't mind bumping into their "walls."
Because unlike other labyrinths, the views and experiences at every turn are
usually either hair-raising or magnificent and the resultant adrenaline rush
is like no other in life.
While reading your books, I've been smitten with a number of your female characters. Are they based upon
women you've met and things that they've done?
Yes certainly. The greatest women in my books have been based in large part
on the women I've known. I've been very lucky in that respect -- I've known a number of
great ones and they have been my inspiration for years.
I was a partner in an SF bookstore for many years and one of the constant demands by readers was to have more of the same type
of books but different. When we were selling your books, and now based upon emails we get about you (usually
after a review is posted), most fans don't seem to care about this. Have you ever had an inclination to write
a 5-volume epic of 600 pages each -- what we term a "fat fantasy"?
An editor in England once offered me a lot of money to write a fat horror
novel. The only requirement was that it be long and gooey. I thought about it for a while
and then realized I would have to live with that story a long time. It takes me about
a year to write a novel 300 pages long. If they wanted a 600 pager that would be at least
two years. Eyeballs on the floor and blood on the walls for two years was just something I
didn't want in my head all that time so I said no.
One of my favourite movies is A Fish Called Wanda. I've daydreamed about
being the Kevin Kline character (mostly because he had a lot of great lines
and got to hang out with Jamie Lee Curtis). I'm told that you like
movies. Is there a character that pops into your head from time to time?
Sekourah the evil magician in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. When I was a boy
that was my favourite movie for years. The actor who played him, Torin
Thatcher, was the friend of friends of my parents. He came to a party at our
house one night. When I walked into the room and saw him, Sekourah, ruler of
dragons and cyclopses, capable of turning servant women into green snakes, I
almost died and went to heaven.
Some authors impose an element of self-censorship. Many readers wish other writers would do it. The furor
about the ending of Hannibal by Thomas Harris, perhaps one of the more fiercely compelling stylists
I've read, is a recent example. Do you censor yourself? Is there any topic you wouldn't write about?
I don't write about things I find offensive or evil -- child abuse, horror,
topics like that. I'm sure some of my disgruntled readers would say well there's a
lot of horror in your novels. Which could be argued, but if I use something that is
horrible or offensive, it is always for a specific purpose. The scene in
Bones of the Moon, for example, where the narrator sees herself and her child crucified
on a door is certainly gruesome. But when I wrote the book, I tried to come
up with the most horrific image I could so as to keep the woman from opening that door
and finding out what was inside. I didn't create it just to shock the
reader. I think Harris, whose previous work I love, made a big mistake with Hannibal. The
whole book is a kind of silly grand guignol, driven right off the cliff at the end
with that absurd dinner scene. I think people love Lector because he is almost all
understatement and nuance in the previous books and Demme's film. In Hannibal, however, he's
just a sadistic nut with a flair for cooking.
Copyright © 2001 Rodger Turner
Rodger has read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in forty years. He can only shake his head
and say, "So many books, so little time."