Interview: Don Webb on “Fine Green Dust”
– Tell us a bit about the story.
It blends two ideas. On one hand it is the encounter with the young woman by the middle aged man that teaches him he is middle aged and not lover material. This is Updike territory — Run, Rabbit Run, and on the other hand it is a story of ecological disaster. In Science Fiction we can deal with the theme of a human seeing/desiring an entire world that he does not have access to; it happened to the lame boy of Hamlin, who could not follow the ratcatcher. It happens to some Bradbury heroes who can’t afford passage to Mars. Despite my best efforts some Lovecraft mythology crept in — “Bokrug” is the name of the reptilian god worshipped at Ib. So my story can be read as the mail-order version of “The Doom that Came to Sarnath” — if the term “mail order” applies to stuff bought off of the Web . . .
Maybe in some way these are the same idea — male middle age angst and sense of exclusion from a fantastic realm — the first horizontal and the second vertical — examples of all fiction being part of John Campbell’s Speculative Fiction matrix.
– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?
I like stories of metamorphosis. My first book, Uncle Ovid’s Exercise Book was about stories of radical change of form. I am watching central Texas burn this summer in the worse drought in recorded history — foxes and deer are nowhere to be seen. Our beautiful bluebonnets didn’t show up, and geckos do abound. I threw a dream of hope, although a rather sad dream, at a disaster that is unfolding before my eyes.
– Most authors say their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way is “Fine Green Dust” personal?
One of my mentors Zulfikar Ghose says that all narratives are autobiographical especially those that seem to be otherwise. The story takes place in a thinly fictionalized version of my neighborhood. I even mention a fellow teacher at my school Lance Kaminsky by name. Lance is getting married in July, Congratulations Lance! I should have worked in more owls; my wife and I do owl conservation. The obsessive movie watching is one my dreadful habits. I use that theme quiet a bit – it shows up in a story “Edgar Allen Poe’s King In Yellow” about a non-existent Corman film that I am hoping Joe Pulver will buy for his King In Yellow collection. On a deep level I would like to change into whatever comes along after humans. The twin threads of Life and Mind that make us always want change. Mind desires to dream new dreams, Life desires in new forms. It is only Death in us that wants stasis, my stories are about exalting creativity and change over stasis and the familar.
– What research did you do for “Fine Green Dust?”
I am an WWW addict of the worst sort. I researched giant lizard movies and the chemicals used to make sunscreens, and the chemical effect and biological effects of salvia divinorum. I have the much-research approach of a great Austin writer Howard Waldrop. As my fellow Turkey Cicitznes point out, sometimes I put too much research into my work. My latest story that Dr. Pickover and I penned required research into isotypes of americum, Faust plays (both Marlowe and Goethe), Andy Warhol, and quantum gravity theory. I am (sadly) not unlike Stephen Keeler, who liked to take three of four weird things and make a story from them, as opposed to Stephen King who writes his rough draft first then researches. I once wrote a story with the late (and great) t.winter-damon (no capitals) that my biggest spur to writing it was the fact that frozen radon glows the same color as a dreamsickle.
– Did Neal Barret influence this story or your writing in general for you to dedicate this story to him?
Neal is truly one of the grand old men of science fiction. He has the same sort of career as I have. At times he is a great gonzo writer — he was “New Weird” thirty years too early. China Mieville has good things to say about Neal’s influence. At times Neal is a serious literary writer, look at The Hereafter Gang, and at times he’s taking what work he can get — doing journeyman stuff like writing Longarm Westerns. Neal has too little critical attention, and is too much an Austin writer not to be mentioned. If you are going to write about Austin writers creep into your mind, we are not only the Live Music Capital of the world, but ever since O. Henry a literary — a fairly eccentric literary capitol of the world. Although Neal had the bad taste to be born in Oklahoma, he made it to Texas soon enough. He and his wife Ruth are dear to Guiniviere and me.
– What’s the writing scene like in Austin, TX?
Because of the long time influences of people like Chad Oliver, Howard Waldrop and Bruce Sterling as well as institutions like the Turkey City Writers Workshop and Armadillocon, Austin is one of the best places in the world to write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Many people have put serious work into making Austin a writers’ paradise — all the folks in FACT (Fandom Association of Central Texas), book dealers like Willie Sirios and writer-critics like Lawrence Person( you should chcek out his Futuraman blog ) The FACT people have brought World Horror, World Fantasy, Readercon and other huge events here. Austin also has a huge university. I attended college later in life and I was able to take classes from luminaries like Dr. Don Graham, Zulfikar Ghose, or the great Joyce scholar Dr. Charles Rossman. In my other role, a writer of esoteric matters I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Stephen Edred Flowers through my game master Allen Varney years ago. I’ve written gaming material with Allen and of course Dr. Flowers has brought out four of my books through Runa Raven. Austin keeps making new stars as well such Jessica Reisman or Nickey Drayden — all in a great place to write. The tradition of Sicne Fiction and Fantasy is amazingly strong here.
– What are you working on now?
I just finished a hard science fiction story, “The Wave Function Doesn’t Collapse Like It Used To” with Dr. Clifford Pickover, possibly one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. I sold stories to a couple of Luis Ortiz’s anthologies, and I have a couple of Lovecraft things in the cue to be published. As usual I have 11 stories of poems at market somewhere or other as well, and I have a “Curiosities” piece in the next F&SF. I am finishing up another esoteric book for Runa Raven Press and after that I will return to a nonfiction book on the occult aspect vampires. I have a novel in progress and may work on a collaborative novel with Dr. Pickover. In the Fall I will be teaching another class in SF writing for UCLA Extension, where I have been an instructor for nine years. So all in all nothing much, just the same old, same old. Oh and two more Wildside Press Doubles are coming soon — The War with the Belatrin (my space opera stories) and A Velvet of Vampyres ( my vampire fiction)
“Fine Green Dust” appears in the May/June 2011 issue of F&SF. Below are links to an article about Don Webb written by Paul DiFilippo, Don Webb’s wikipedia page, and an experimental short film done in collaboration with his wife, Guiniviere.
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