Philip José Farmer was your great-uncle—what is your first memory of meeting him?
There isn’t much of one—I was five years old, and traveled to Peoria, Illinois with my family because my great-grandmother (his mother-in-law) had just died. I’m sorry to say that, being five, my primary memory of him then was that he kept fudgesicles in his freezer.
The next time I went to Peoria I was twelve, thus with a vastly better capacity at retaining memories, and I have a lot of great memories of that two week trip, which was essentially pure magic (and included a riverboat ride).
Did you know he was a writer then, and if not, how did you make that discovery?
I did, having discovered it the year before. We had a bookshelf in our living room that included several of my mother’s copies of his books, and somehow I only just at age eleven recognized his name on the covers, so I dove into perusing To Your Scattered Bodies Go. I was fascinated by the idea of real historical people being used in fiction, something I’d never encountered before. A few weeks later I overheard my mother talking to my Aunt Bette, so asked her if I could ask Uncle Phil some questions about Riverworld. He was tickled that I was so interested, and shortly afterward sent me come of his books, including the Riverworld series. The one I jumped into first, though, was Time’s Last Gift, because I was already a big time travel geek.
When did you first become interested in writing? Did Phil Farmer play any part in that?
He played the biggest part of it—and it was during that summer Peoria trip when I was twelve, which was part of what made it seem magical even at the time.
I’d dabbled in writing before. I wrote my first “book” (really just me pasting pictures of dinosaurs into folded pages and calling it A Trip to the Museum) at age five and short stories at eight, but mainly I was interested in cartooning. But despite the fact that I cartooned on a regular basis, I never really thought of writing as a disciplined, focused process until that trip.
Did you get to see any of his process firsthand?
I did from around a corner—literally. Uncle Phil couldn’t just stop writing despite the fact that he had family visiting—he was working on a book at the time, I think a World of Tiers novel, and we were going to be visiting for two weeks, a significant chunk of time when he could turn out a novel in two or three months. So for the most part he kept his writing schedule: write through morning to lunch, eat, resume writing until mid-afternoon.
Exactly like a day job.
Which it indeed was for him. The whole business fascinated me, and when I asked him if I could listen to him type, he took the whole request with good humor and gave me permission as long as I kept quiet. So I would sit on the stairs next to his basement writing room for as much as an hour at a time just listening—and wondering what he was typing, and how it seemed to be coming to him so smoothly. (I learned later that like me, he did most of his writing in his head before ever sitting down at the typewriter.)
I let the whole process sink in while I sprawled on those stairs. Disciplined, almost daily writing, treated like a job, but where your work still read like it came directly from a Muse of inspiration. Magic that could be practiced and refined, then summoned at need and cast into all different sorts of wonderful spells. Doing it every day not only didn’t mean that it wasn’t inspired, but could make it feel even more inspired both to author and reader.
So once you got home...?
By the time I got home my cartooning days were numbered. I started work on my own first novel a few weeks later: a time travel book, 120 notebook pages written by hand. Then another novel the next year, another the year after that . . .
How did Phil inspire you over the years?
Distance aside (we always lived seven hundred miles apart, and mostly those were the days of no Internet and long-distance phone calls), the access to him was there except for when he was buried in the middle of a novel. I could write him a letter and get advice, or pass messages back and forth for when my aunt and grandmother would chat over the phone. But the most important thing was that I knew someone who was making a living as a writer.
That is, when people would say “You’ll never make it as a writer,” I could respond, “Why not? I know someone who’s done it.” If they would tell me I didn’t know what I was facing, I could contradict them, because I knew the years of struggle he had—and continued to have even after publishing multiple books. And his advice was always welcome, but he was always encouraging and reassuring when I needed it, which in the long run was more important and lasting.
You collaborated with him once before, with the novella THE CITY BEYOND PLAY, which was published in 2007…
Collaborating with him was far and away the #1 item on my writing bucket list. It was the one thing I wanted most, frankly, from the time 12-year-old me started writing that first novel.
When did you start writing City? How long did it take and what was its path to publication?
“How long did it take” depends on what you mean. I first discovered the unfinished novella via Mike Croteau in 2002, and I got permission from Phil to finish it shortly afterward by using a science fiction novel I was writing at the time as an “audition”. Plus on the condition that I finish my own novel first. But finishing said book dragged on till 2004, and then it was another year before I worked up the courage to try a Farmer collaboration.
But by then I’d had the book bumping around in my head for three years, so between that and his notes and outline, writing the remainder of the novella only took 2 ½ weeks. Once done it was bid on my two publishers thanks to Phil’s agent, who asked them to try figuring out where Farmer ended and Adams began (and they guessed wrong, well into where I started). And then it was another two years for City to see the light of day—where it remains as an ebook. All in all a good lesson of how books are rarely what you might call direct-to-market.
Since then you've been very busy writing in a variety of formats and genres: short stories, poems, essays, reviews, and even a novel. Can you tell us about some of your favorite pieces?
My so-far lone solo-authored novel was a historical called Lest Camelot Fall, which picks up the story of the surviving Knights of the Round Table after Arthur’s death. It centers on their quest, as it were, to protect their British-Roman civilization against native-born tyrants and encroaching Saxon invaders. The book is out of print now because the original publisher went under last year, but it was a great deal of fun to write—especially because I decided to base most of the story on the earliest Arthurian tales, the Welsh ones—and I’m likely to reprint it as a self-published novel.
Beyond the books, my poems are my favorites of what else I write. For some reason they are where my native mischief (which Phil Farmer also contributed to) comes out to play the most - even ones like my most recent poem in Asimov’s Science Fiction, “Picnic at the Trinity Test Site”, a depressing piece about an estranged couple having their final date at the iconic site. It’s like the characters are winking at the readers and saying “Hey, this is all going to end badly, but at least we can have some fun first, can’t we?”
And of course, I miss writing for Farmerphile quite a lot!
Now you have recently completed a novel set in Philip José Farmer's "Dayworld."
Yes, Mike Croteau asked me if I would be interested in writing it, I said yes without any hesitation before even finding out exactly what the book would be about. Once we’d secured the rights for it, I sat down with Phil Farmer’s original work, and insights from Mike and Paul Spiteri, to fill in the missing portions.
For those not familiar with it, what can you tell us about his Dayworld series?
By the late 21st century, the world was so ravaged by overpopulation, war, and pollution, that humanity was forced into the cities and “stoners”, machines that freeze people in suspended animation six days out of every seven. You are only allowed to be awake on your Day; the rest of the week, other people share your apartment, work your job, live in your city. You don’t age those six days, but each season goes by in a matter of weeks, and decades pass like ordinary years. Humanity as a whole has likewise become locked in a kind of suspended animation, freezing progress of all kinds. But those who want to change things have to become what the Dayworld’s society considers the worst kind of criminal: a daybreaker, someone who lives across all seven days of the week.
And how does this new novel, DAYWORLD: A HOLE IN WEDNESDAY, fit in with the existing short story and novels?
The Dayworld and the New Era already exist by the time Wednesday starts, though the old stoner-less world is still in living memory, just a couple of generations back. Wednesday dovetails the first threat to the New Era - a tenacious and well-connected villain who wants to overthrow what he considers to be one extreme with another apocalyptic extreme, and who has trained and advanced a familiar character from the original novels—into the race to create the life-extending elixir that will allow people to live all seven days without appearing to age. The immortality elixir was the critical discovery that allowed the “Immers,” the subtle anti-government daybreakers, to daybreak generation after generation while slowly working to take control of the New Era in the original novels.
What were the challenges of playing in his established world, and how did you deal with them?
I was deeply afraid that I would end up writing things in Hole that contradicted anything from the original novels in any way, so first I obsessively reread the original short story and books. The next layer was making sure that the Dayworld of my main character, Jerry Carson, was a believable precursor of Jeff Caird’s world in the original trilogy. But that turned out to be less difficult than I expected—a main theme of both the trilogy and Hole is that the stoners have stultified the world so that there is little progress of any kind, so even though the stories are set generations apart, the beginning of the trilogy’s stultification is plain in Wednesday.
What turned out to be the hardest thing of all, though, was where Phil Farmer’s own work contradicted the original trilogy. Changing his words was painful, but necessary in that case. I just told myself each time that he would have done it himself if he had finished the book on his own.
How was completing Wednesday different from City?
The biggest difference was that Phil Farmer was still alive while I was writing City. Though he was eighty-seven at the time and his health was poor, he was still able at that point to look over what I’d written. I missed being able to do that while writing Hole, but on the other hand, writing Hole was like being able to spend time with him again.
What are your future plans?
Good question. I’ve got a few things on my mental Lazy Susan that I’ve been poking at: a young adult science fiction novel, a big multi-generational historical novel, or the second fantasy novel in a series I’ve just started shopping around. At the moment I’ll admit I’m paralyzed with indecision, but I figure that’s a good problem to have.
On the other hand, if I get the opportunity to finish another Farmer novel, then of course that will jump to the front of the line.
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