J.P. Donleavy, The Ginger Man
















"The Ginger Man" cover art © Atlantic Monthly

This is a telephone interview with J.P. Donleavy at his home in Ireland on June, 2006 and was originally posted in June of 2006.





Photo of JPD and his cattle!
© Bill Dunn @ The J.P. Donleavy Compendium









I was so thrilled as I had been waiting for this day to come. I had my desk set up and ready to go. I had the questions printed out and in front of me, I had stacks and stacks of 8 X 11 lined tablets and a new box of pens and I had the comp up and running with book marked reference works minimized on the bottom of the page. I had been told to have plenty on pens and paper and I took that advice seriously. OK...I was ready. I rang Mr. Donleavy at our scheduled time, after several rings, the voice mail picked up and I left a message saying I would phone back.. Hmmm I knew I had the right time and the right day and the right number. So I waited a while and rang back. This time he answered, it was about 6:35 pm his time in Ireland. He wanted to tell me where he'd been and why he was not at the phone. It seems that a mother cow was separated from her calf and he was driving (on foot) the cow back to her calf. He said he has a rather tame herd...and they answer him when he calls, he was concerned that the calf would not be able to find it's mother and he suspected she had been searching for it earlier in the day, which lead us to a conversation about the ways the older animals teach the young how to behave.We chatted quite easily about ourselves and got to know each other a bit as you do when first meeting someone. I told him how honored we were to have him take such a personal interest in us and in our questions and thanked him most humbly. He speaks with a combination of accents, he has a lovely British sound to his voice, with the occasional Irish inflection and then BOOM....his American roots pop out. His speech pattern is quite like his writing style and it comes in bits and snags and thoughts lead to others and to others often without completing sentences. He does NOT sound like anyone 80 years old. He sounds much younger and very robust. He is thoughtful of what he says and listens with great interest and laughs often. He shares thoughts and ideas and information in a very kind and caring way and is a lot of fun to get to know. I was told I would have a blast talking with him, and I did! We spent close to two hours together on the phone and when the time came for us to hang up, we had agreed we would speak again and meet!

This conversation could not have taken place without the assistance of Mr. Donleavy's business partner and I thank him most sincerely! OK..now for my conversation with Mr. J.P. Donleavy. I have added some things in parenthesis to clarify something now and then.



 I asked him how he became a writer, as we knew he had started out as an artist.

JPD I wrote at Trinity College, inspired by Jack Yates....friends of his (Yates) were painters who belonged to a group called the White Stag group..and was encouraged... continued painting and had some exhibitions and then gravitated back into writing and TGM because painting seemed to localize me too much --that you didn't reach too many people that might want to know about you. Couldn't get anywhere as a painter unless you first got famous. So I had to get out and get famous, certainly one or two people have heard the name. (meaning his own)

You have been quoted as saying "once you lose your nerve, you lose your abilities to be a good writer." Does this apply to your art as well?

JPD Yes it does and you are right to think that, you can't be cautious at all, if you notice young people that draw a picture you don't know that they have nerve..but they have, they don't have an influence controlling them and it's actually very much, as you get older, you've got to be able to buck things...forge on...do what you want to you.

 About your art and your paintings, may I ask what medium you like to use?

JPD It's tough to get ..use an original technique..that I invented to accommodate me.....trying to get a new studio set up. I do watercolors mostly and with this technique that I have I like to work quickly with the (oil) paints. And my technique absolutely lasts. All these years.no colors fading...mostly the paint is locked in with linseed oil.... Paint on a masonite board.

When did you start your art work, your painting?

JPD Young.... young... 21 -22 right after the Navy.

 You wrote TGM at 25...where did you get the wisdom to write such a character as Sebastian Balfe Dangerfield at that young age?

JPD I am not so sure that I have always thought that if you reach the age of 14 - 15 in America.. where children grow up very quickly.. there's not many insights that I've had since I was that age where it's changed my thinking. At the age of 18 I don't think that I thought very differently than I did at the age of 25. I think we instinctively have the knowledge and adapt the knowledge we need.

The Ginger Man was published in 1955, how does this book fit in with, or "feed" the culture of the 21st century? Or how do you explain TGM's longevity?

JPD I'm not absolutely sure...it might have something to do with it's based on people who did live, Gainor Stephen Crist ( for example) who hailed from and lived in Ohio... and I think that the reality of Dublin and in Ireland in those days... somehow was unique in the sense that it was a country that was isolated, wasn't in the second world war and even to this day it's only now joining the general world as a country joining the EEC. Now Ireland is being totally transformed, it's no longer Ireland or Irish, its full of immigrants, Poles, Lithuanian, etc......the Irish are getting a bit alarmed that they don't exist anymore.

This brings us round to something that I have read. Ten years ago in an interview with Thomas E. Kennedy, you spoke about the Darcy Dancer books: "…they are totally Irish, set in Irish houses, about the things that happened to the Anglo-Irish. This thing is disappearing in Ireland now. In another ten years, the term Anglo-Irish won't mean anything in contemporary usage." Ten years later, how do you see the term "Anglo- Irish"? Do you think you were correct?

JPD Yes indeed, they have actually vanished, yes they have vanished from anyone's consciousness in general terms, they are never brought up in newspapers or related to in any way, they've totally vanished, their manners their sort of general elegance. I still know a handful of them who are advanced in age now, but they are sort of dying out totally and their generation of growing up... say children 15 to 18 years of age -- they are totally different and they have to adapt to another world, they are still growing up with that sort of Anglo Irish sort of pattern, I guess that's a better word to use. That disappears from them now. What they have now is times where people are affluent. they let you know what they possess. It's a change...Ireland Isn't as attractive as it used to be. There is a lady physician here and she did say something, she treats people who come here now, like the Lithuanians, Poles and so on and she sees a lot of them as patients...she says that they are like the Irish used to be 30 years ago. They are thoughtful they are polite and so on and charming where as the Irish have lost that now.

As we continued to talk we visited about our grandparents and forefathers and

JPD says that "it dawns on me that TGM is pirated in Russia and probably many translations may exist and circulate, the curious thing...the only formalized thing is that some years ago one of my books called the Unexpurgated Code..that's the only thing of mine that the Russians have published and they published it in the Moscow Literary Gazette. It's a kind of a curious thing about behavior somehow that struck their interest. There's the case of this book and a lady who took the book on some sort of aircraft ..was reading it and fell into the aisle of the aircraft laughing out of control and the people on the aircraft knew that she was making a connecting flight to another flight and so when she was making the connection and came to make the flight, they took the book away from her and wouldn't let her board. (I asked if they wanted it for themselves) and he said "No, they thought she was a danger to other passengers she was laughing so much and so uncontrollable. So it's my only book that's still rather banned. In fact it's locked up in all Britain...you can't get it in a British library...it's prescribed and under lock and key.


I had to ask him what it felt like to have his books banned?

JPD Well it's not too much of a problem now...and helps authors because their books generally get better known but it was quite a serious thing in those days with TGM because there was a point where I could have been prosecuted ...and the book was sort of prosecuted in a couple of places in early days.

JDR: Many of our readers are women and some of them had problems with Dangerfield's neglect of his daughter and the way he treated the women in general in his life. He always stayed true to himself, but not was not always true to everyone else.
JPD I've always thought of it in terms of the fact that he's referred to as this sort of maverick husband and so on and reading between the lines that sometimes in the behavior in marriages in so on and so forth you find that these things in outbursts and so on...I suppose it's very graphic in Dangerfield's case but it could be a sort of normal sort of marriage kind of problem that crops up from time to time.... and see, the gentleman that he's based on Mr. Stephen Gainor Crist..he always absolutely a gentleman in every way ...never struck a woman and never misbehaved basically he was someone also that when a lady entered a room would always jump to his feet and even click his heels in the southern manner and so on and so it was always difficult to say "well this awful person you wrote about but to point out that this awful person wasn't quite so awful.

What did you hope that your readers would take from this story?

JPD That's interesting...I don't know that as a writer you think in those terms you think... sometimes you write and you find yourself almost wondering how it will turn out.

 So does that mean that as a writer, you sometimes let the characters take you where you are going?

JPD I'm wondering as to how premeditated writers allow themselves to get... in that way that there is a point where they really don't sometimes know..I don't think every writer sort of almost admits that at some stage his books can take on their own kind of life it selves and simply lead away into directions that they're not kind of prepared for.

 Has that happened to you...that a story took you somewhere you didn't know you were going?

JPD Maybe that is the case yes...I mean I'm writing a thing now which is sort of highly complicated but set in New York city and so on... I find you know .. I'm surprised that the work will take itself off on various tangents that I hadn't firstly anticipated.

 So it develops a life of it's own?

JPD I don't know whether you ...happen to know the book "The Lady Who Liked Clean Restrooms"? It's the only book I've ever written which has one particular distinction about it ..no one to date (he chuckles) has ever, ever said a bad word about it or criticized it or received at bad review ... or a critical review. It's the only thing I've ever written which has totally ....I remember when it did get reviewed in America it received rave reviews coast to coast ...every single periodical .. and the New York Times sometimes used to wait to sort of trounce anything.. I think I had a lot of enemies sort of hidden on the New York Times without knowing it and I waited til the end I said it was the most extraordinary ...I had this book that's about these very attractive and they used the term rave reviews and I said this is the ideal time for the Irish, for rather the NY Times to finally ...absolutely crucify this work and suddenly there on the fax machine came this review with an accompanying letter isn't this fantastic? Read this! So I... got never....a discouraging word.








How long ago did you write "The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms"?

JPD Well it's a fairly recent one along with another book called "Wrong Information Is Being Given Out at Princeton" ...it's another book that's rarely got a discouraging word

  We talked about other books of his and he added ...

 
JPD .."The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms" isn't too long you see...it's purely about a woman from start to finish and it's.. it's quite...I was surprised that it was received in the way it was.

  I asked if he like the character ?

JPD Oh well yes, it was someone that I sort of knew with stories that had happened to the person ...it was just an incident. And then the three books that I'm writing now about NYC, I've written two of them already.

 
  I commented that he was certainly a busy gentleman and thanked him for taking the time to visit with me. 

 
JPD Well it's a nice contrast to have because life where I live here is so isolated that sometimes of you don't make a point to getting out..if you don't get outside the gates for a couple of weeks you don't see another human being.

 
You grew up not far from Woodlawn Cemetery and you have had a cemetery and remains of a mausoleum on land that you own. I've read that you paint cemeteries and include them in your books...death is a focal point for you in many books. What is there about them that engages you?

JPD Yes I have a few paintings of cemeteries and indeed most gallery owners don't want to hang them for good reason I suppose. I did have a couple once turn up asking could they buy one because they couldn't ever find one. And they did buy one but they had to come here to get it. One of my gallery owners wouldn't want people to have any pictures like that.

  And you included a mausoleum in The Singular Man, is that correct?

JPD Yes indeed that's one of the big things about the book, I remember that's the thing that..you've heard of Mr Redford? Robert Redford... and at one stage Sam Speigel was thinking of making a picture of it and many years..well Sam's dead now he died a few years back and at some place where Redford , whom I know a little bit over the period of years...after Speigel died I wrote him a note and said to him "How would you like to give 'A Singular Man' a try again and his letter back was fascinating because "I'm getting to close now to having to build my own mausoleum"...and the reality of playing a role had got too .  

 
  Since we are talking about death...death is a reoccurring theme through some of your books.

JPD Yes indeed because the only job I ever had in my life was to...on a summer vacation from school was to go and work in the cemetery cutting grass so that must have been a big influence and I lived ...where I grew up in a community called Woodlawn there's a cemetery, Woodlawn Cemetery and it's one of the world's famous cemeteries because it's so beautiful...rather like a great park and it'd full of mausoleums and so on. And so this must have had a long kind of influence, and I house I owned previously to the one I'm in, that had a cemetery, an ancient cemetery on the land and indeed today some lady friend was bringing it up that she wants to be buried in this cemetery and I'm actually putting a cemetery into this place I live at. (he chuckles, I reply, you might as well LOL) he says " it's not cheap to buy a plot now...I have the land here...thought maybe I'll put together a small cemetery. 

 
  May we talk about the TGM being made into a film with Johnny Depp, who could introduce Sebastian to a whole new audience of people. How does it feel to have a character, who's been a part of your life for fifty years now become hugely popular character on film?  

 
JPD Well I guess it's come up..you know a few actors have played the role ..Richard Harris played the role of TGM and one or two other people Nicol Williamson, some people know of his name...he's a brilliant actor and played this role tremendously well, a very eccentric gentleman...and it was always a worrying thing because some other people I saw attempt the role just simply couldn't play it ..where as the one thing one seems to find with Mr. Depp that he's a great perfectionist and anything I've seen of his being quite unbelievable and so I'm fascinated by the fact that he would tackle this. It's very hard for an actor to know just how they.....I always worry about the fact that authors, you know, kind of don't know what to say and in fact, the fact that they can deal with an actor to whom they don't have to say anything is tremendous because you know that he's going to think this out and play it and so it's a big lucky break as it were, because in some ways one always was worried about you know, who might tackle this.

Sebastian Dangerfield will find new life today and a new audience after fifty years, what's it like to have your work as an author continue to find new audience?



JPD Yes, and indeed I've been a playwright and you know my plays would turn up in various places and be performed and I guess this would be the first film, actual film..a full length feature film to come out of one of my pieces of work. One of the problems has always been the fact that controlling my work and owning the rights and so on I've always been in a position to say "no" to something. So in the Hollywood tradition usually is most authors find their work is taken over and a lot of them regret that happening. In effect where I've come across it the author who is in the process of selling a film right have always advised to stick with his property and even tho must insist upon writing the screenplay himself and where this has happened the films have always to turned out to be fantastically good and so here is a case where it's almost ideal where you have this player whose one of the most brilliant actors of all time probably and it's just a lucky break for me and if things go wrong as things can..well then that's that, but on the other hand you are in sort of a position to have confidence in what you are doing. The lucky thing with someone like Mr. Depp is the fact that his power that he has just as a player allows you to actually go and make the picture as say the way that the director wants to make it and Mr. Depp wants to play it. They've got this freedom, that's the thing because of his box office power.






















Photo © 2005 Maike Schulz





 Isn't it wonderful that it will stay true to your work?


JPD Yes that is the biggest and best characteristic you can come up with, because you just know that these people who are making the thing, the actors and players are the people I've always had great faith in actors and people and in fact always am there to listen to anything they want to say and have always admired the way they can take words where they can turn something into a living thing.


 I comment that it's magical, the way two people, the actor and the writer, come together to make a character come to life on stage or screen.. 


JPD Yes and a actor does that and it's tremendous how the time they spend and devote ..it makes you realize that this is one of the great art forms, being an actor.


 When I was reading the last chapter of TGM it brought back memories to me of a childrens story that my Mom used to read to me and that was The Gingerbread Man...and the last bit of the story goes "run run as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread man" and it seemed to me that that was what Sebastian had done..run! Run from one situation into another. Was that something that you alluded to or was it just a coincidence?


JPD No curiously enough somewhere the very words that you've just recited..somewhere and it would have been some strange little strange kind of over tone and I'm sure that must has crossed my mind because when I named the book TGM we were looking for a title ...it was originally called just "SD" ..the initials and the publisher, which was Maurice Girodius of the Olympia Press wanted another title because he really wanted to go out and sell it as a pornographic book or any title that could be more of less cover that kind of quality that he thought his readers or his buyers required. And so I just simply suggested the title be The Ginger Man.


In TGM, other than death, sex is a really strong theme..Sebastian gets plenty and poor O'Keefe can't get any at all from anyone. Surface was prudish yet under neath...



JPD I'm dealing with my archive at the moment so someone has actually gone through manuscripts and things and we have his letters and it's based on a actual character...... his letters actually were laid out sort of showing this archival matter along with the fact of people know what The Ginger Man is all about. And there are these letters actually practically laying our Kenneth O'Keefe's life....from the actual man himself.. so it was very kind of , I suppose factually reported..his life. He didn't marry, is retired and still lives in Ireland.  


 I read that in the writing of the script for TGM that you are including Brendan Behan.  


JPD Yes this is quite true because he's not.. he ...just makes an appearance in the book in the catacombs as Barney Berry, and when Shane McGowan got interested in this role in part, I realized that one had to actually write! So TGM will be one of the few films where a character is expanded upon in the film, where he doesn't exist in the book. If Shane McGowan is anything like you know he can play a brilliant Brendan Behan, so we are looking forward to seeing..they are pals together I think - Mr. McGowan and Mr. Depp. One of my books which isn't a novel, it's called "The History of the Ginger Man", in it there's a great deal about Brendan Behan, some of his conversation and behavior and everything else. So I have a book already that can be used as some base for him drawing his character. Things he would say and how he behaved so he was quite a character.
Photo © 2005 Maike Schulz





















 Sebastian and the guys were all running amuck in the city, in the catacombs ..that was run by a gay man and we wondered what the view towards gay people was at the time?


JPD In Ireland, curiously, a very repressed country, so repressed that if you were gay in Ireland in those days it just simply didn't matter. It was quite the opposite thing...you know they were just strange people and were accepted as just strange (different) Curiously Ireland as permissive in the sense that gay people became quite a society in Dublin, because a lot of..um..during the war Ireland was the only place left in Europe which had food after the war (no rationing) so people could come to it (Ireland) and enjoy life. Dublin actually became a sort of homosexual meeting ground. People would come from long distances and visit in Dublin...it had two or three pubs which were gay pubs and things. (Because there was no rationing after the war) Dublin had everything then.


 In TGM you sent O'Keefe off to Paris and that city was also a part of "The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B." Was Paris "the" place to be then - just like it was in the 1920s?


JPD Yes a lot of people gravitated to Paris after the war and it had the sort of quality about it. 


 Did you and your friends go there?


JPD Yes I would go there and spend time in Paris and one or two friends at Trinity, in fact the model for Balthazar is in fact a Frenchman as is described of course and he was a friend of mine at Trinity and I knew him very well, in fact I had to go, I was invited to Paris to attend this enormous dinner of 400 -500 people and I was up on the stage and my friend was .... on stage to introduce me and he said "that I just want you to know that Mr. Donleavy is an author who has written a book called "The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B" and I'd like everyone here to understand that my Nanny never did all those things to me that he said that she did.And there was a scene which you couldn't believe would ever happen that a character in a book....(and the inspiration ) was up on stage coming out with this surprising remark. I nearly fell through the floor.






We soon after concluded our discussion with promises to be kept and with his best wishes to us and his thanks for our interest in his book.I visited with Mr. Donleavy for close to two hours and the time sped past with much laughter, many stories and a shared love of the written word and respect for a man named Mr. Johnny Depp. I am profoundly grateful to Mr. Donleavy and his business partner Bob Mitchell for his constant support and encouragement in making this interview become a conversational dream come true. I hope we will be blessed with more from Mr. Donleavy as time goes by.

2007 post script. I was invited to attend an exhibit of JPD's artwork in New York in May of 2007. I did attend and was also invited to the private dinner afterward. JPD is a fascinatingly brilliant wordsmith and artist. He was most gracious and very entertaining to be around. His business partners were very inclusive and a blast to party with! I am forever in their debt.  Thank you Bob Mitchell!

Arvid Nelson, Rex Mundi

 Mr. Nelson was a real treat to work with!! He was gracious about my time situation and allowed me access and use of anything on his website.  Arvid got our Q&A done in record time even though he was working on deadline. And those who are hooked on his series know how much we want the next installment!! So please enjoy his answers, he was very candid and very gracious and complimentary! And we thank him sincerely for being so accessable to us! Here is what "Rex Mundi" author Arvid Nelson had to say.

Originally posted on  March 7 2007.




These books were a nice surprise for me. At some points I felt like I was watching a movie rather than reading a story. It was incredible. How does the combination of the text and illustrations come together for a comic book? If you have the idea for the text of the storyline, how do you partner with the illustrator so that you are able to provide the work for your vision?

AN: Thanks for the kind words regarding my little story!
You know, everyone works differently, but this is how most people, including me, do it. First, I write a detailed script that breaks down each page panel-by-panel, along with accompanying dialog. Then Juan, the artist, sends me back a rough sketch of each page, along with suggestions -- adding a panel, removing a panel, changing dialog, that kind of thing. Once we reach consensus, Juan draws the page. Then I letter it!

If you’re interested in seeing the process graphically, Dark Horse, my publisher, put together two “Making of Rex Mundi” features online:
Issue 2: http://www.darkhorse.com/downloads.php?did=556
Issue 4: http://www.darkhorse.com/downloads.php?did=611[/b][/color]


 I've read that your mother is a witch doctor and your father is a professor and an investment banker. It must have been a very interesting family to be a part of growing up. How do you think they influenced you into becoming the person that you are?

AN:My family is very interesting indeed! My father taught me to be intellectually rigorous. He’s an intense person, and he always made sure my brothers and I gave our best, whatever we did. My mother is very loving, caring and spiritual. I only that hope some of her gentleness and kindness rubbed off on me.

How did you find yourself writing graphic novels to tell your stories?

AN:Almost by accident! I’m really interested in film -- in college I did a few internships in the film industry. One was at Scott Rudin productions, who produced Sleepy Hollow. In fact, it was in production while I was there. My first summer following college I landed a job as a production assistant on a Woody Allen movie, Small Time Crooks. Both the internships and the stint as a PA were pretty grueling. A lot of fetching coffee and a lot of photocopying. It occurred to me no one would ever ask me to write or direct a movie because I was good at either of those things.

That same summer I worked on the Woody Allen film I visited Paris, and there I had the idea for Rex Mundi. I had some leads in the film industry, but I made the decision to drop out and start writing. Comics seemed like a good way of telling epic, filmic stories on a modest budget.


 I found it interesting that you would use a woman as a personal doctor to the Duke and to be very involved in politics. Any particular reason for that?

AN:Most of the time, women are portrayed very ineptly in comics, so I wanted a female character that was realistic and three-dimensional. In some ways, Genevieve is the classic femme fatale. But her motives aren't purely selfish or diabolical either. She’s more complicated than that.

 I loved the use of art work in your book as a form of clues, do you have a background in art?

AN:  Thanks again! I’ve always admired and appreciated art, and I’ve taken a few courses here and there. I constantly drew as a child and in high school. That’s about all!

 I think Julien is really in an 'I have to know but don't really want to know' situation. Do you think his own personal beliefs have something to do with this?

AN: Yes, they certainly do. Julien is a complex person, he’s not the sort who’ll believe something just because he hears it repeated over and over again. There is also lot of conflict in his past -- he’s really in conflict with himself. So his quest to discover the Holy Grail is also his quest of self-discovery.

Will viewers compare Rex Mundi as a 'copy cat' to "The Da Vinci Code" movie since the movie deal for the "Rex Mundi movie" was made public afterward the release of the DVC? Are you getting weary of the comparisons?

AN: They might! I should let it be known I first published Rex Mundi three years before The Da Vinci Code. I’m just happy to know a story similar to mine found such a wide audience. I take that as a good sign I’ve got my finger pressed firmly to the pulse of the zeitgeist. It’s also extremely gratifying to have elicited Johnny Depp’s interest. I truly believe Rex Mundi is deeper, more exciting and more engaging than The Da Vinci Code. If I didn't feel that way, I would have abandoned it long ago.

 You've hooked us! When will we have the last of the books for "Rex Mundi" in our greedy little hands?

AN: Hah, I’m very flattered! The next book, “Crown and Sword,” will be in print by this summer. You can see a preliminary version of the front cover on the Rex Mundi website. The site is a good place to go for all the latest and greatest news.

 Have you stayed with your planned original storyline or have you made some changes along the way? If you have, why the changes?

AN: I always knew the ultimate course Rex Mundi would take, but I’m constantly revising, deleting and adding things. I think I’m finally at the point where everything is locked down, but it’s taken me seven years to get here! It’s a constant work in progress. They say paintings are never finished, only abandoned. That’s absolutely true of Rex Mundi.

What are you reading now?

AN: I’m reading “The Book of Wonder,” by Lord Dunsany, considered to be one of the fathers of modern fantasy writing. I’m also reading the stories of Clark Ashton Smith, another of my favorite writers. Smith lived in California and was active in the 20s and 30s. He wrote the most darkly beautiful and elaborate fantasy stories. His vocabulary is awe-inspiring. I learn so much about the English language by reading his stories.

I've read that Jim Uhls, of "Fight Club" fame is penning the RM screenplay. WOW! He did a great job with that screenplay. Will you have any input in what shape the film takes? Any idea when production will begin?

AN: You know, Johnny Depp and the rest of the producers are expending a lot of effort and money to get the film made, and they need me to give them complete creative control. It’s really my job to support them. I’m always happy when they call me for advice, but it’s really incumbent on me to stay out of their way. I just try to be as helpful to them as I can. And I’m incredibly excited and honored to have Jim Uhls writing the screenplay.

As to production, no specific information yet! If all goes well, it could be in a year or two. But it could be longer. I’ve been working on the film adaptation of Rex Mundi for about five years now, and I’ve learned the virtue of patience!

What do you think there was about the "Rex Mundi" series and Julien that attracted a film production company to option it?

AN: I can only stab blindly! But Depp's one of my favorite actors, and a person I’d like to think I have some things in common with. To know he’s interested in something I’ve written is absolutely surreal to me. I believe he’s interested because he sees some potential for it as a “thinking man’s action film”. And it’s funny, because that’s exactly how I conceived of Rex Mundi.


 Is there any chance that there will be another murder or mystery for Julien to solve? A sequel perhaps?

AN: Honestly, no. Rex Mundi is a finite story, I’ve always imagined it that way. It ends up in a very different place from where it starts. I’d rather it end in a burst of glory than have it outlive its purpose.

 Without giving away the secrets, what was the most difficult part of the storyline for you to write?

AN: Well, Rex Mundi is a murder mystery and a historical mystery all rolled into one. That translates into a lot of people, places and dates! The hardest part is trying to cram it all into the story and not make it ponderous. Admittedly, a few issues near the beginning are a little overbearing, but I’m much better now at communicating the vast amount of information. Every issue is a learning experience.

Thank you very much Arvid!

Mark Salisbury, SWEENEY TODD

I've had so many great opportunities lately and was given the chance to ask SWEENEY TODD author Mark Salisbury a few questions. Many thanks to author Mark Salisbury and to Titan books for so kindly arranging this wonderful opportunity for us!

Originally posted on Jan 14 2008.

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 You have quite a long working history with Tim Burton and his projects, I think starting with the original "Burton on Burton" and with the "Planet of the Apes" and also "The Corpse Bride" books. How did your relationship with him come about?

MS: I first met Tim back in 1988 at a Beetlejuice/Warner Brothers Christmas party while he was shooting Batman in London and interviewed him for the first time shortly after. I met him again a couple of years later when he was promoting Edward Scissorhands in Rome. Then in 1994 I pitched the idea of doing Burton On Burton to Faber, approached Tim, and he agreed.

 Since your books have been non fictional works, including books on comics and comic screenplay writing, would you ever consider writing a screenplay?

MS: I finished a script at the end of last year with a friend of mine who writes comic books. We got a lot of positive feedback on it, which has encouraged us to write another one.

 What has been your favorite book project? Can you envision yourself doing more books like this about any of Tim's future projects?

MS: Burton on Burton was and continues to be the most fun because I get to hang out on Tim’s sets.


Is there a more memorable part about the making of ST and writing this book?

MS: My first day on set was when they were shooting part of The Contest between Sacha Baron Cohen’s Pirelli and Sweeney and I broke into a huge grin just watching it on the monitor and hearing the musical playback, and that smile didn’t leave my face throughout the rest of the shoot. You could tell, even then, that Sweeney was going to be something special.


 Since you were on set during filming, do you enjoy that part of your research process? How did you decide what ended up in the final book version?

MS: I love spending time on film sets, seeing a movie being shot, watching the creation of moments big and small. Martin Amis once called being on a movie set (and I hope I’m remembering this correctly): repetition followed by boredom followed by more repetition. And in a way he’s right, but I still love it. And despite many years of visiting film sets I’m still amazed that a movie ever gets made, such is the small amount of footage shot each day.


How long were you on set? Filming happened earlier this year, ended sometime in May and your book was published a short seven months later. That sounds like a pretty short time frame. Is this the norm for you?

MS: I probably spent around two weeks on set in total, maybe more, spread across the shoot. “Making of” books tend to be very last minute, and while there was talk of a book throughout shooting, I didn’t get the go ahead till sometime in August and the book needed to be finished by September in order to meet the printer’s deadline to be in the shops before Christmas.

What was the first step in making this book happen? Did the book turn out as you'd envisioned it when you began it, or did it evolve into something different as you went along?

MS: Because of the fast turnaround (see answer above) there’s not much time for the book to evolve as such. You find the spine of the story first, then fill in the body of the book as it were. As someone who buys a lot of “making of” books, as well as having written a few myself, it’s fair to say these books tend to follow a certain structure but each film is different and each book must reflect those differences. In Sweeney’s case, the musical aspect was hugely important, so it became the thread for this story…


 Do you have any idea what prep work Johnny did for the slashing scenes? Practices on dummies...that sort of thing?

MS:I have no idea. But I would think not.


 I know that you've written a few books on comics, movie monsters, comic script writing... did you know that Johnny's production company owns the rights to Arvid Nelson's "Rex Mundi" graphic novel series? Any chance that you might be involved in that project?

MS: Funnily enough, I’d forgotten they’d bought that. And seeing as I’ve never read it, I’ve just ordered myself a copy from amazon.

 What's up next for you?

MS: I’m currently in the midst of another script with my friend and there’s the possibility of a book project that I refuse to divulge any details about it in case I jinx it.

And my final question to Mark was: Who is the one person you would like to interview or write a book about?

MS: I’d have loved to have interviewed Billy Wilder, but sadly didn’t get the chance.

Our sincere thanks to Mark Salisbury for his wonderful answers and his time during such a busy period for him!

Gordon Dahlquist, The The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

I spoke with "The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters" author Gordon Dahlquist for a long time about this book, it's part fantasy, part romance, part adventure, all mystery.  This interview was originally publised on December 18, 2008.

Mr. Dahlquist was very easy to talk to and had a lot of amazing things to say to us.

I hope you enjoy reading what he had to share with us as much as I enjoyed visiting with him about "The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters."





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Cover images copyright Bantambooks.com



Thanks so much for speaking with me about your book, "The Glass Books
of the Dream Eaters!" I want to thank you for this book, but I also want to
beat you up about it because I've carried this book with me everywhere I've
been just so I could read the next page or two when I had a spare minute! (We
laughed)

GD: Thank you, it's that kind of book! It's not a book for everybody, but
it's a book that if you want to, it asks you to sink into it, it's that kind of
experience.

  I did a little Googling on you and found an interview you had done,
where you said that you wanted to write a book that would give you a kick in the
pants.

GD: Yeah, I think everyone writes on some level to please them selves or
write the kind of book they would like to read. I read lots of different kinds of things, I've always read a lot of science fiction, when I was younger I read all of the Tolkien books several times, I read mystery stories, all kinds
of things like that, and I read comic books and all of those things I enjoy
but so frequently it's all about turning them out so quickly. I just wanted to try to write something that took a little longer that could afford to be a
little more detailed, a little more luxurious, the kind of things that I take
more pleasure from in the stories.

I didn't have any kind of publishing deal when it happened so it was very much written to entertain me. Because I like those stories I wanted to try to do five of them at once.


What gave you the kick? Was there a particular storyline that grabbed
you?

GD: In a way what gave me the kick was being able to combine them to
actually realize that you can make it kind of complicated, that you could actually
spend time in the details. An enormous amount happens in the book, but it
really only covers about two and half days. For me, my pleasure is actually
imagining the situation, what would you do? What would you think? And some of that is also about imagining a different time and there are different pressures
and different societal assumptions but also it's just the ability to lace one
little plot thread clue and not really come back to it for about fifty pages
and then...oh there's a little bit more and oh there's a bit more...and by the
end you've got this really dense weave of things going back and forth. For
years and years I wrote plays and the American theater is such that the money
situation is such that people generally write four to six character plays and
that's all anyone can afford, if that. That last act of the book is
essentially a fourteen character play set on a dirigible. I've counted them, and there  are something like ten or twelve people with speaking parts and it's a long
scene. If you were to speak it out it's at least a half an hour or forty five
minutes. So in a way there's also the pleasure in actually writing a one act
play, a one act climax in a way that you can't do anymore in the theater.
The thing that really hooked me was the complexity, being able to do that kind
of detail and that kind of psychological detail, hopefully going deep into
people's psyche, but not through like ' Oh I have this memory about my kitten,'
in a way you never find out, like what in the world happened with
Chang,.he's blinded and getting in the nose and who was that guy. In another kind onovel, the person who did that to him would show up. And I don't really so
much care about that, I'm more about trying to find his psychology just by what he does and how he chooses, so it's all through the details of every day
life, actually reveal that. Which to me, that's interesting because that's
actually how you get to know most people.

The whole time, as I was reading the book, I kept thinking what a
marvelous play this would be!

GD: Right, you know I have nothing to do with the whole idea of it being a
movie, which I'm really happy about. I'm still writing...a sequel is out
already in England and then here in March, and I'm about halfway through a third.


But, I'm still writing them. Any conventional screenplay has to chunk it down
to about a third the size and you have to cut characters and combine things
and I don't want to do that, I don't want to say that I'm cutting this
character while I'm still writing that character. (laughs) So I can't have anything
to do with that and I'm totally supportive of what they're doing but you know
a film production is in many ways its own kind of theater board
meeting....you know 'who can we get" -."who can't we get?"..."how much time can it be?".."where can we film and depending on that, how much can we spend?"

So you've turned it over to somebody else?

GD: Yeah but on the other hand, I think it's the kind of thing that you read
and you can't help but imagine ...like "oh that would look so great."

  I kept imagining Depp as one character since his company has optioned it, but I'm interested in what character you think he'd play.

GD: Many, many people, who would know nothing about the filming, from the
beginning would say "oh he's Cardinal Chang and I think he would be great as
Cardinal Chang, I don't think there's any question about it. I also think he
would actually be, when thinking about "Sleepy Hollow" and any number of kinds of roles he's played I think he would be also superb as the doctor. And in a
way, I think that's a more natural fit but it's not up to me. (laughs again)
I think he could do either of them, he could do anybody.

  Talking about something being a kick in the pants, you've written
several plays, won awards....what kind of kick in the pants was it to sell your
first book?

GD: Well it was really insane! The whole circumstance was really crazy. I
basically knew nobody in the publishing industry. A friend of mine who was also
a playwright was also an audio book editor at a big press. And I knew her
and said can you read the first three chapters and let me know what you think?
And typical of any kind of editor, they walk around with these satchels of
twelve manuscripts at all times. And they're always saying I'll read it, I'll
read it. You know they are reading things constantly and so that was in March
of 2005 and I was doing a play in New York that summer and she had gone to
the west coast, I think, for the Fourth of July and came back and was jet
lagged and up and she read it. She started reading it and burned through the
first few chapters in a night and I didn't have a cell phone then but she knew my
director and she left this message on his machine saying
"havehimcallmehavehimcallme" and of course my director, being a director, let me know after midnight that she'd called. By the time I got back to her, it was the next work day and she was kind of worked up and hadn't heard from me and had kind of marched into her boss's office and whopped down the first three chapters and said that my friend's working on this thing and it's great. I want you to lookat it. 

And so it went into the pipe at that press, that was in July and then
by August I had met with the editor there who was really enthusiastic about
it and the expectation was, crazily that they were going to bid. I didn't know
what that was, I didn't know anything. But then August in the publishing
world is all about vacations so there was a week when the editor was on vacation
and then when the Editor in Chief was, then another when the publisher was.
I was told at the beginning of August that I'd know something any day
now....and then it really dragged until Labor Day (Sept)..and then after Labor Day
they came back and said well, the editor's point of view was that it's a
mystery, it's a thriller, it's sexy, it's romantic, it's exciting, it's all these
things and it's the publisher's view as well, it's a thriller, it's
historical, it's romantic, what is it? We don't know how to market it. So they kind
of disagreed, so they made an offer and it was really pretty low and at any
other time in my life I would have jumped at it. But I had an agent but that
time and he was like really, I think we can do better than this. We should at
least talk to other people. So I left my office, took a walk around the
block...and then my agent, who at the time was in California was partnering with
this agent who was primarily a foreign rights agent put together an auction.
And I really knew nothing about it. So literally on Friday we say no to the one
press and then over that weekend, this other agent who I'd not met, faxes the
book, which is not short, to thirteen presses. And then over the weekend
there's this kind of frenzy and I hear about it on Monday and get a sort of
update on Tuesday. The New York agent's office is up in Westchester and so he
comes in to the Algonquin Hotel, it's a huge meeting place for publishers, so I
went there on Wednesday and met the editor and we had this crazy meeting
where I walked out at the end of an hour having a hand shake deal. I didn't get
a check for another two and a half months. It was this crazy hallucinogenic
thing. It was about the publishing market then and international momentum and
all of these things. It was very strange. I've had friends ask me how do I
get my book published and literally, I have no idea. It just happened. I have a
lot more experience now...I know a lot more about the publishing industry. It
came totally out of the blue.

  WOW! And then the rights were sold when?

GD: That took a long time, right when the whole deal was happening there was
a sort of feeding frenzy...everyone wants to buy it! And also every Hollywood film agencies were saying let us represent your book. So first I met with
all of these agencies - tried to decide which was the right one. Then, the
one I signed with, which was UTA ...their advice was you can sell it now for a
lot of money but you really are just selling it and you don't know who you are selling it to.
But our advice is to wait for the book to settle down, let
the mania pass and you'll see who really cares about it and see who really
wants it. The risk being, after the mania passes, no one will want it. But that
was their sense and it made perfect sense to me because I care about the book
and I didn't want to sell it to anyone who I thought was crap and then they
contacted me and I heard from Sam Sarkar, he's a great guy. We met for
breakfast…totally no pressure, not about the book, talked about everything in
the world...everything. We had a perfectly lovely talk, he's a great guy and
then I didn't hear anything and then they wanted to buy it. I believed they
were the right place, certainly everything that Johnny Depp does has a real
clear sense of integrity with regard to Hollywood. They cared about the details
and that's why they wanted to do it, which is again, for me all the more
important to know that any attempts to make the book into a movie means turning it
into something entirely different. You want people who are going to really
care about what they are doing, it may look like something entirely different
but it's going to have its own integrity that's going to pay attention to what the book's all about. So in that sense I feel really comfortable.


Did you start to write this book with the idea that it might be more
than a single title?

GD: Not immediately, I originally wrote it knowing that the story wasn't finished, but really feeling like it could end...that it's only two and half days
and that in some sense, you've come full circle. So it was really fine to me.
Again, totally unbeknownst to me the New York agent negotiated a two book
deal. Then when an adventure starts up again, do you look at it differently? And
are you changed? Are your reasons for doing it different? So that seemed
like a book about transition so it seems pretty natural that the book would
have its own, that there would be a third one. So I didn't write the first one
knowing that there would be a sequel, I was perfectly happy with the end.

You've got three really, really fascinating characters with Cardinal
Chang, Miss Temple and Doctor Svenson. By the way, I love that you call her
Miss Temple through the book, I kept wondering when we'd find out her first
name.

GD: Lots of people call her Celeste, but I don't, really. That's been a
funny thing, as the books have gone on, the degree to which Svenson and Chang can
actually call her Celeste. But no one else does...well or the Contessa.

These three characters, Miss Temple, Chang and Doctor Svenson together
make a whole, was that your goal, to kind of bring pieces to the table with
them?

GD: Definitely, and on different levels, one of the things that's sort of
fun, like a big fake 19th century novel so much seems like the project of a
19th century novel is about it's being a portrait of society. There's this
huge wide canvas and so to one degree it's certainly about showing different
levels of class and really different levels of this kind of experience,
different kinds of education, different genders, different class, different nations.
So there's that, and trying to have each of them have a different
biographical, biological background. But then also, that each one offers immediately a
different kind of fictional genre. In Miss Temple you have a sense of mystery
and intrigue but it's much more kind of lurid and romantic, because she's so
much more steeped in innocence and foreignness. It's so much more full of
wonder, I think and with Chang there's so much more immediately about adventure
and about another kind of intrigue and with Svenson there's immediately a
deductive mystery...all the stuff at the very beginning about where's the
cigarette butt and where's the ladder and who could have done this? And that he's
more rational, more educated so there's bringing those different kinds of
stories. For me some of the pleasure is watching it overlap in the last couple of
chapters, Chang is behaving much more like Svenson and Svenson is careening through the mansion killing everybody. For me the fun is that that can only
happen if you've already set up somebody else being that, if you notice the
switch, and it also kind of overlaps them with each other. So definitely, to
have each one of them bring things and definitely create a whole. But the other
thing that's kind of funny to me is that they don't really spend so much time
together and yet they really become attached to each other. Which is one of
the interesting things about it, the second book is out in the UK...a little
bit of a spoiler here, but a lot of the second book is spent with them apart.
And the third book, they're very much together. So what's curious about the
third book is actually having the three of them have a ten page conversation
which has never happened before after 3,000 pages. For me it's a real
interesting kind of challenge, everyone knows each other really well except
actually, they don't. So it keeps it hopefully fresh and it's also exciting to read.

  And you've set them in the make believe place...that you just created.

GD: Yeah, pretty much. You know, I don't presume to know any European city
well enough, nor do I really care to do the research because the book isn't
really about that. But I don't want to set it in London or Amsterdam or
Budapest and pretend that's where it is. But at the same time, I think there's
something really deliberate about that fact that it's fake or made up allows you
to both, put your own stamp on it as a reader. I've had people say ...oh it's
just like London and others say oh it's just like Paris. And I recently went
to Budapest and I thought oh it's just like Budapest. LOL Part of it's just
fun and also because it is a really a historical story, it's really a 21st
century narrative in fiction. You read it and it's clearly also about other
things like computers, and it's about things like imperialism and it's about
things like sexuality that you view as a 21st century person when you are reading
it. I did very little research for this book, I'm a real fan of George
Macdonald Fraser who wrote Flashman, he was so scrupulously researched, at one point she has the big scene of having tea in the hotel and she has been given
slices of mango and my editor was is mango a European fruit? And she notes that her father had a mango tree on the island and so I had to go to my computer
and found that the Portugese brought the mango from Brazil in 1500-something
and figured it could get up to Antigua by 1800-something, so I figure I am
fine.

  Glass books. That's an interesting concept.

GD: I spent a lot of time working at Columbia University doing digital
publishing, working with computers I was the Columbia webmaster for a few years so a lot of it comes from hanging around computers and computer people. It'snot so much about computers, as it is how we use technology, particularly
technology that holds information, whether it's a photograph or whether it's a
computer or a television, it really changes how we think about ourselves. If you
think about it, right now we can have just about any piece of music pretty
much anywhere and you think a hundred years ago the circumstances under whichyou would hear a symphony were really specific and they weren't portable and only so many people had ever heard one. Speaking of Johnny Depp, I saw an
interview with Jack Nicholson once and he was saying, in the nicest possible
way, you know "you've got to understand that I meet more people in a year than
most people meet in their entire life". And not be a colossal ass when you
literally can't take it in, but you think about just from photography, how many
people's faces and bodies do we just take for granted that we've seen
relative to someone say a hundred years ago who lived in a village? Things are
happening so quickly, just with the jumps with cell phones, you have cell phones
with pictures and cell phones with texts. I'm old enough to remember VCRs and
I remember the first Apple computers coming out, and I remember the first
i-pods and people saying that it's just like people walking down the street in
a movie. And now that is totally invisible. So some of that for me about the
glass books is to get that kind of technology that radically changes the way
you think about yourself, the idea that you could either lose yourself in or
swamp yourself with all these other experiences as if they're real. I'm not
a technophobe, I mean I love my computer and I love the internet but it's
clearly a tool. People now define themselves by how many friends they have on
Facebook. If you were to tell someone fifteen years ago that a really
important part of your life was connecting to a hundred people that you've never met they would find that strange, they might not find it bad but it would
certainly be different.

The story you've told highlighted the idea of men wanting to control
women. Big sexual control issues.

GD: I think that's the narrative, I think the degree to which western
history is about triumph or insecurity, the chicken and the egg. I was upstate in
NY with a bunch of friends and we were on this lake and the lake had these
tiny little islands, little bits of land. ..and we had three canoes and we
decided to just race to the island and one of my friends got there first and we
had decided, in the imperialist tradition that who ever got to the island
first, got to name the island. So my friend got to the island and proudly
For pronounced it "My Triumph Island" and it was like, that was western history. so many people, women are part of that "my triumph island" and whether it'scontrol of their workplace, controlling their body, controlling their
education, it's still really active territory. And you look at what was going on in
the 19th century and it's even more so which is one of the reasons to talk
about the 19th century, for writing purposes all these genres are out, you're
getting Sherlock Holmes all kinds of big novels and you're getting Victorian
pornography all kinds of undercurrents of genres, you're getting Bram Stoker..
so there's that and you've got the society that views itself as intensely
moralistic and kind of superior and all about kind of reaching down from a
height to elevate people and yet what's going on in this sort of imperialist
mission, what's actually going on in Africa or the Indies or anywhere, it's
insanely immoral in regards to what's going on in England in regards to women,
in regard to children working, it's heinous. But the people in charge, the
people writing the history of the country aren't aware of it and it's this kind
of cognitive dissonance, two trains running at the same time. You can be a
liberated woman if you are someone like the Contessa or if you're someone like
Miss Temple who's rich and if you're not it's really tough and no one's
interested in that toughness.


Do you have any idea when the movie will start filming?

GD: My understanding is that they've just hired a writer, so I don't know. I
don't know if he, Johnny Depp, is interested in being in it, or if they just
want to produce it. Who in the world knows? I mean a film is so difficult
to make and there's so many different people involved in it, so many different
steps of real active creativity.

I have a couple of other things I wanted to hit on, and you've been so
generous with your time, if you are OK time wise?

GD: Sure

  Dirigibles, pan opticons...did you know about these?

GD: Pan opticons are something...I went to grad school in the 80s and I
think pan opticons were definitely in the air during a certain part of academia,
that I kind of knew and that's also very interesting to me in terms of
theater. And the dirigible is just really crazily...I can tell you the origin of
the dirigible which is the thing that I do for exercise is fence, and a bunch
of guys that I fence with for now almost twenty years and one guy that I've
been fencing with since junior high and we've gone through training programs
and we've learned at various places but we fence in this old dilapidated park
that's surrounded by trees and malfunctioning lamp posts and in the middle
of it ages ago as some community project they had painted this kind of strange
circle probably about eight yards across and the circle was almost a kind of
game board only this strangely almost demonic, one would have a big eye, one
had an almost female centaur with horns, almost wicked kind of thing ..so it
was almost like this weird kind of sacrifice circle but one of the guys I
fence with had created, kind of out of whole cloth, this kind of 19th century
idea of people fighting in the hot air balloon. So we're going to fence on
this circle, to go out of the circle is to fall out of the balloon and to fall
into the circle is to fall into the flame that elevates the balloon. So you're
fencing and leaping around over the middle and backing off and we did that
for several years and it became its own sort of game really but that put in my
head the whole balloons...dirigibles, and there's no fencing outside the
dirigible, but the whole notion of balloons in general was totally in my head
because of that. So that was a very long answer. Not that I hold myself up
to be any kind of fencing expert but a lot of the stuff that happens,
particularly with Chang is stuff that I've done in one way or another.

You even managed to have Miss Temple use a weapon, she was so amazed at
the heft of weapon and that was so believable!! Then this little Victorian
woman would be fencing and stabbing people and her reaction is perfect!

GD: I'm so glad, I mean that's also that kind of thing if you feel like this
is actually happening what it would be like for someone else to really do it
then that's the measure of success.
 


May I share that there is a number three coming out?

GD: Sure, sure.

Are you going to do a book tour with number two?

GD: I have no idea. I did a small one with book number one, just going to a
few cities really. I don't know, that would be March, April...so I'm not
really sure.

If there is one, I'll rally the troops in support.

GD: Oh well, if there is one, I'll let you know. Absolutely.

I'm going to throw a word at you...steam punk.

GD: Oh sure, totally....yeah yeah yeah there's William Gibson, Bruce
Sterling books, "the Difference Engine." There was a big animated movie years
ago...what was the name? Steam boy! This wasn't written with any sense of that but  certainly I am aware of it. I'm a big fan of Neal Stephenson and I really
like the "Baroque" trilogy books and the "Cryptonomicon" book.

You have been so kind and generous with your time today!

GD: It's been totally my pleasure!

Thanks so much!


Copyright © 2004-2010

Tim Powers, On Stranger Tides







So let’s start at the beginning with the award winning author Tim Powers.


Tim, what was your inspiration spark for this fantastic story?



-TP: “ I had just finished a novel set in the future, and I wanted to do another historical novel next, just as a change-of-gears -- and I've always loved Stevenson's Treasure Island and Sabatini's books Captain Blood and The Black Swan, so it occurred to me that the Caribbean pirates in the 18th century could probably be a good basis for the sort of book I like to write -- that is, supernatural adventure.”

 

 And it sure is a supernatural adventure, skeletal pirates and voodoo! My parents took us kids down to Disneyland every summer when I was growing up and my favorite thing at DL was a sign that said "Future home of Pirates of the Caribbean."  I was in love with pirates at a very young age.   Did you have a love of pirates also?   I read the Sandy Auden interview on the SFsite where the "stream of consciousness jazz notation" idea of your writing of this book is thrown into the discussion - can you elaborate or explain how that method worked with this story?





  -TP: “Yes, I grew up reading Stevenson and Sabatini, so I've always loved pirate stories! They've got such fine ingredients: sea battles, cutlass fights on tropical beaches, desperate men with renounced pasts in the Old World, British accents and manners in savage jungles, eyepatches and parrots and peg-legs! Great stuff.   The stream-of-consciousness thing is how I put stories together, before I start to actually write them -- I talk to myself into the keyboard, asking questions, proposing lots of possible plot elements, speculating about characters and events, considering what sort of locales and scenes and conflicts might be fun to include ... it's all very random at that stage, like an architect taking his first look at a blank patch of land and imagining every sort of bridge and balcony and turret. Eventually I have to start being specific, but in this initial stage I just throw every sort of idea up in the air -- so it's not terribly coherent, except to me!”




You have a wonderful way of mixing details of history with historic figures and then giving them a twist. On Stranger Tides was released in 1987, I'm betting that "google"  type searches weren't as easy or plentiful  then as they are now. What kind of research did you do and about how long did it take for you to get your historical background work together?



- TP: “True, I don't know that the Internet even existed when I was writing that book! Certainly I didn't have a computer yet, and so I did all my novels in longhand.



It probably took me about a year to do the research and plotting. I read every book I could get my hands on about pirates, and the Caribbean and its history, and the politics of the time, and -- and sailing and boat handling! For a while I probably knew more about sailing than anybody on earth who had never actually set foot in a sailboat. And the research not only prevents me from making too many historical and technical errors, but also gives me tons of wonderful story elements -- I can't begin to put a story together until I've done the research that shows me what the story elements will be.



For instance, I read about all of Blackbeard's extravagant and plain-crazy behavior -- and then I asked myself, In what supernatural situation would this behavior not be crazy, but instead be very shrewd? And that led me to some handy ideas about how the magic worked.”





 OK, now about that magic, one of the things that caught my attention early on (and believe me, it was VERY hard for me NOT to skip ahead) was the importance of iron. At first I thought their mentions were random, then as the story continued to build, they became more and more frequent and important.  Can you tell us how this part of the story came about?



-TP:” I was trying to figure out how magic would work in the story -- of course, given the locale, it had to be more-or-less based on voodoo, but in a lot of Old World superstitions cold iron is supposed to be a counter to magic ... so arguably hot iron, such as the iron in blood, would promote magic. And that provided a lot of nice details, like anemia in people who practiced magic a lot!”





What a great detail tie in!  Anemia and magic!  Now this is a question that I ask all of the authors that I've been blessed to visit with about their Depp related books. So without getting into any area that might be difficult, can you give us an idea of what you felt when your book was optioned by Disney? 



-TP: ”Well, I was delighted! It was before Dead Man's Chest had come out, so I wasn't sure there would be a fourth movie, but I certainly hoped it would happen. Of course the characters in the movies don't much overlap with the characters in my book, so I never expected the movie to follow my book particularly -- but it'll be intriguing to see what elements from my book do show up.”



 Are you able to add anything else for us about your book and the upcoming film?



-TP:” I'm now free to talk about anything having to do with the Pirates movie -- but all I've ever known is that they optioned On Stranger Tides! (For several years I wasn't allowed to reveal that.) They've now actually exercised the option and bought the rights, which is good of them, since technically they didn't have to do that until the day they start filming -- which, according to the L.A. Times, is to be June 14.”



 Yup, that’s the new start date as Depp current filming schedule (The Tourist) ran longer than expected. Do you keep up with what I call the internet “chatter” about the filming?

-TP: “ Everything I know about it I've got from feverishly reading Google News over the years! Sometimes the news was, "Oh, we're gonna do The Lone Ranger instead of the Pirates thing," and -- since actual purchase of the rights is one of the last steps they take -- I'd go crazy, shouting at the computer, "No, nobody wants the damn Lone Ranger!" Other times they'd say, Yes, we're definitely gonna do the Pirates movie, and I'd relax -- and then next day there'd be a report that Johnny Depp had died in a car crash in France! I'd really have been better off ignoring all the blogs -- it just gave me more white hairs.

I haven't had any contact with screenwriters, but (from the blogs!) I gather that Blackbeard is going to be in it, and the Fountain of Youth, and, somehow, a mermaid ... and maybe a young missionary ... and the L.A. Times said that budget constraints have forced them to ditch a proposed sequence on the frozen Thames (!) ... Actually I'd be surprised if the movie follows the book at all closely.”



I for one hope that they do use some of the great elements from OST, it’s such a well crafted storyline!

In the past, most all of the books that have been turned into films starring Johnny Depp have had reprintings with his photo on the cover as a film tie in. Is this something that you think we might expect?



-TP “ I really have no idea! It would be very nice!”



 I particularly liked the talking fungus heads along the river that spoke to Jack. The character of John Chandagnac /Jack Shandy is haunted by his deceased father, why or how did you use this as a part of the story?



-TP “ I wanted to give Shandy a strong revenge motive, and at the same time I wanted it to be conflicted -- so it seemed like a good idea to have him blaming his treacherous uncle for his father's death, largely in order to avoid blaming himself. It's always nice to have a character who's got an old unresolved guilt in his past!”





The relationship between Hurwood and Leo Friend is a strange one, can you enlighten us a bit about it and why you included the character of Friend in the story?



-TP “Hurwood was a bit stuffy and formal and distracted -- dignified! -- and so I wanted a co-villain who could be gross and vain and pretentious; a better target for contempt and scorn! And I made him competent at magic so that he'd be a plausible accomplice of Hurwood's, but ultimately not a reliable one. If Hurwood had been paying closer attention, he'd have seen that Friend was treacherous!”





And then we have poor Elizabeth Hurwood, she spends most of the time either fainting or unconscious. Is there any chance that you might write a sequel that would follow Jack and Elizabeth?



-TP “Well, it's conceivable! But right now it looks as if the most dramatic episode in their lives is over. I kind of hope they settle down and have nice times now, and that wouldn't make much of a book!





OK now have a sort of "what came first, the chicken or the egg?" question for you. Did you make Jack a puppeteer so he could fool his uncle Chandagnac by making Hurwood a puppet?  Or was that a plot device that came about because you had made Jack a puppeteer and it was one of his talents?





-TP ”It came about because I had decided he was a puppeteer -- and I think that came about because I happened to have an old book on puppets and marionettes! But once I had decided to make him a puppeteer, I immediately told myself, Okay, and that skill has to come in crucially handy at some pivotal point. And there's something striking about a puppeteer concealed up in the rigging, working a marionette that's down on the deck -- a nice scene!”





 Regarding the "resurrection magic" using blood into water as a method of rebirth reminds me a lot of my Catholic faith and that Baptism uses water as a means of bringing eternal life to our souls.  Can you please comment about that for us?



-TP “ I'm Catholic too! (And a practicing one, not a "recovering" one.) And I think there's something intrinsically convincing in the idea of "rebirth from water." It appeals to our pre-logical minds before our logical minds can step in with scepticism, even without the precedent of baptism. It's one of those things about which Chesterton said, "We do not know why the imagination has accepted that image before the reason can reject it."



Now, about Mr. Bird. He  has a catch phrase throughout the book, "I am not a dog." Is there a hidden meaning or an inside joke there?



-TP “I meant it to be a random complaint that a half-crazy person would fix on, but in fact Mr. Bird is based on a homeless guy who was always around our apartment in Santa Ana when I was writing the book -- any time he was frustrated or annoyed by anything, he invariably expressed it by insisting that he was not a dog.”





  On Stranger Tides is a book where many of the characters have aliases, was that common for the time period or a method to add to the storyline?



-TP “It was common to the time period, in that a lot of the European people in the Caribbean had pasts that they wanted to disown, for one reason or another -- and that's a handy device for the storyline too. “



  It sure was a handy storyline device!  If you look at Jack Shandy as the hero, who do you see as the "anti-hero”?



-TP  “I guess that would have to be Phil Davies! I meant him to be a genuinely bad guy who had once been a good guy, and who sometimes reverted back to it. That's a fun sort of character to write about -- a bit like Long John Silver!”




 Very Much like Long John Silver!   I've been through the book a couple of times now, looking for a scene when Elizabeth's blood went into the sand at the Fountain. All I could find was that her blood dripped in the wooden box that held her Mother's head. Does this mean that she is not affected by the magic of the Fountain, that she is "safe"? Or did I miss something?



  -TP “You're right, neither she nor Shandy got the morbid immortality of the Fountain. Her terrible father put her blood into that box hoping that it would cause her mother's ghost to assume Elizabeth's body, thus resurrecting the mother at the expense of Elizabeth's soul.”



 Speaking of Shandy, why did you have Jack see things as the fifteen year old "Johnny Con" aka Ed Thatch/Blackbeard?



-TP Well, in Chapter Thirteen there, as they're walking from the boats to the boundary of the Fountain, the memories of everyone present seem to sort of overflow from their heads; when Shandy looks at Hurwood, he gets a distorted glimpse of Hurwood's wedding, and when he looks at Friend he gets a quick flash of Friend's nasty fantasies, and when he looks at Davies he sees an important moment in Davies's past. Blackbeard is probably the strongest personality present, and so when Shandy looks at him, he vicariously experiences a fairly lengthy episode from Blackbeard's youth.  And then of course he finds himself re-experiencing his own most troubling memory!



 Thanks for that explanation Tim, sometimes I miss THE most obvious things! I did notice however some pretty well scripted sword moves and your fights are choreographed so well, do you have a background in fencing?



-TP Yes, I took fencing for several years in college, and then my wife and I took classes at a local junior college for sixteen years! It was all standard Western fencing, foil and epee and saber. Now that we've moved away from that area, we really do need to find classes here.



 Can you tell us what's up next for you?



-TP “Well, my last two books took place in 1963 and 1987, so I'm jumping back to the 19th century, for variety. This one I'm working on takes place from 1862 to about 1880, in London, and involves vampires. A different sort of vampires, though, from the ones in movies and TV lately!”



Well sign me up on the wait list for that one!  I’m a pirate lover and also a vampire fan! We wish you the very best of luck Tim with not only On Stranger Tides but also with your future plans. We thank you for giving us to much of your time, it was great to be able to chat with you!


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