Today I have another interview from my friend, Soraya Murillo Hernandez, from Spain. Soraya speaks Spanish, and I only speak English, so our friendship has leaned heavily on technology and Google Translate.
Soraya has so many amazing interviews that I’ve created a category for her work. This time she shares her interview with Tim Powers, an American science fiction and fantasy author. Powers has won the World Fantasy Award twice for his critically acclaimed novels Last Tim Powers Call and Declare.
His 1987 novel On Stranger Tides served as inspiration for the Monkey Island franchise of video games and was optioned for adaptation into the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film.
Soraya—In your novels, the mythology is very present. Do you think the historical element is as important as the mythology when creating a story?
Tim Powers—I think it does, yes — but in order for the mythological elements to be effective, I need the story to be solidly grounded in recognizably real history, and I try to use the particular mythology of that historical time and place. The history provides the rules of the story, as it were, and the mythology provides the strategy!
Soraya—What can you say about the Fisherman King? I have the feeling that you enjoyed creating this character very much.
Tim Powers—The interesting things about the Fisher King are that he is at once such an unknown figure and at the same time such a numinously evocative character. Why is he so often portrayed as fishing in a stream? Why does he always have an unhealing wound that renders him sterile? Why must one ask a certain question of him but on no account ask a particular different question?
All of the (few!) things we know about him from the myths imply a grand story, but we only get some unconnected fragments of that story! It’s the powerful mystery that fascinates me about him.
Soraya—You’ve used virtually almost all the mythologies of the world. Which were you wanting to know more? Which one do you think most exciting?
Tim Powers—Oh — so far I guess I find the Norse mythology the most dramatic, with the doom of Ragnarok always hanging over the heads of the gods and heroes. And I think I’d most like to know more about pre-Islamic Arab mythology — the sort of thing one gets hints of in the Thousand And One Nights– and Japanese mythology.
Soraya—What are you using to research? Are you afraid that too much research will take over the history?
Tim Powers—I use history books at first, and then for a tighter focus I read letters and diaries of the time, and travel guides, and contemporary street maps. “National Geographic” magazine is very useful for providing information about flora and fauna and tides … and then I have to resist the temptation to include every one of the details I’ve discovered, whether the story has room for them or not.
Soraya—You formed part, in your university time, of the group known as “Circle of Dick.” What memories you have of that?
Tim Powers—Philip K. Dick was a sort of fugitive when he came to live in southern California in 1972 — his house in northern California had been devastatingly robbed and vandalized, and the hostile police had told him that he would be well advised to go far away, and he had eventually agreed to move in with two girls he had never met in a city he’d never been to — and I knew the two girls, and they asked me if I’d like to come along to pick up Philip K. Dick at the airport.
I did, and got to be friends with him until his death in 1982. He soon met James Blaylock and K. W. Jeter too, and we spent a lot of hours together, talking about everything from religion to publishers’ rejection slips. (in Dick’s book, “VALIS,” the character Kevin is based on Jeter, and the David character is based on me.) Phil Dick was the most erudite, and funny, and kind person I think I’ve ever met.
Soraya—Your novel “The Anubis Gates” marked the rise of your career. As you wrote it, did you think at some point that this writing would be an essential work of steam Punk and fantasy literature?
Tim Powers—I hoped it would get published, and then stay in print for a while. I would never have expected it to stay in print for more than thirty years, as it has done, nor that it would be translated into so many other languages!
And of course Jeter and Blaylock and I had no suspicion that the “19th century London” books we were writing in the early 1980s would be followed by so many others! I don’t know that “The Anubis Gates” really counts as Steampunk, but I’m glad lots of people think it does.
Soraya—Your novel “Dinner at Deviant’s Palace” is supposed to be Sci-Fi, however the work presents a mixture of genres that make it difficult to label it as that. Would you label it of Sci-Fi?
Tim Powers—Oh — I guess I’d call it Sci-Fi, yes, though it reads like a fantasy. I didn’t include anything that was presented as overtly supernatural, and the bad guy was an alien from outer space, so — yes, I guess it counts as Sci-Fi!
Soraya—Would you say that your formula for success in your novels is choosing a time or important historical event and brush it with your touch of fantasy, adventure and action?
Tim Powers—Yes — I try to find a historical event or person that looks likely to have the sort of details I can interpret as supernatural, and then I read lots of books about it, looking for anomalies and enigmas and apparently-irrational behavior, and I try to think up a supernatural back-story against which those things all make sense.
Soraya—In “On Stranger Tides,” a novel set in 18th-Century Caribbean, readers find a little, magic, zombies, voodoo… do you love the supernatural world?
Tim Powers—I do find it fascinating, sure! And I believe even the most skeptical and materialist people have a weakness for it — I think everybody would be at least a little bit nervous about ghosts if they were in an abandoned old house at midnight and they heard something dragging downstairs! And since most everybody is susceptible to uneasiness about the supernatural, I do love to stir it up in my books.
Soraya—It is said that “The Stress of Her Regard” is your more mature work, written when already you have tasted the success of “The Anubis Gates,” “On Stranger Tides…” What do you think about it?
Tim Powers—I suppose “The Stress of Her Regard” is probably more mature than my previous books, just because I was older when I wrote it. But all those books had the same aim: to give the reader a suspenseful supernatural adventure story.
Soraya—In your novel “Declare” you return to a cold war London thereby honoring the writer John Le Carre. Is there any reason for this tribute?
Tim Powers—I always loved the devices of LeCarre-type espionage fiction — false passports, dead drops, double and triple agents … Berlin, Moscow, London! And I always wanted to write a story in which all that grittily glamorous stuff overlaid a supernatural situation. They seem strangely compatible!
Soraya—Your characters, Brendan Doyle and John Chandagnar, are ordinary people living in the novel with characters so real as Byron or Shelley. Do you search for a specific reaction in the reader or is simply given by the plot?
Tim Powers—Well, I do want specific reactions from the reader, yes — I want to make them laugh at some points, be scared at other points, and be anxious here and there. I try to set up my plots so that they’ll provide opportunities for these effects!
Soraya—Your books are collectively known as “The Worlds of Powers.” What do you think about this definition?
Tim Powers—I think it’s very nice! Certainly all any writer has, to be different from all the other writers, is his or her unique perspective on the world. So I’m glad my various perspectives on the world seem distinct!
Soraya—A critic said of you that the problem of Powers would be the same Powers, because the novels “The Anubis Gates” and “On Stranger Tides” put the bar very high difficult to overcome. What do you think about it?
Tim Powers—It’s very flattering! Though I think a lot of writers vault above that bar with no sweat.
Soraya—Where did the idea for inventing the poet William Ashbless come from?
Tim Powers—James Blaylock and I were in college together, and the college newspaper printed a lot of very bad poetry — and we decided that we could write poetry that would sound profound but would be absolutely meaningless. So we co-wrote a stack of “poems,” me writing one line and passing the paper to Blaylock, who would write the next line and pass it back, and we decided that our imaginary poet should have one of those two-word names, like Wordsworth or Longfellow, and we each thought up one syllable and combined them — Ashbless!
We sent the poems to the school paper and they printed them! And ever since then, whenever Blaylock or I have needed a name for a crazy poet in something we’re writing, we’ve used “William Ashbless.”
Soraya—What writers do you admire? What are your favorite books?
Tim Powers—Oh gee — I love Raymond Chandler and Fritz Leiber and Philip K. Dick and Heinlein and Lovecraft and Kingsley Amis and John D. MacDonald and P. G. Wodehouse — and my favorite books would include LeCarre’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” and G. K. Chesterton’s “The Everlasting Man,” and C. S. Lewis’ “That Hideous Strength” and Robert E. Howard’s “The Hour of the Dragon.”
Soraya—What do you think about the e-book? What is your opinion about Amazon?
Tim Powers—I love Amazon — I can get anything in the world from that site — books, movies, buffing wheels, reading glasses, carnauba wax, Cthulhu toys, power tools! And I’m all in favor of ebooks — when I’m traveling, I’ve got about forty books on my Kindle, and it’s great to be able to choose among them when I’m in a hotel room somewhere.
Soraya—And finally, what advice would you give to emerging writers?
Tim Powers—Read a lot, constantly, and not just stuff published since 1980; read in the category you want to write in, but read books in lots of other categories too; write a lot, and finish stories that you start; send the stories to editors, and while you’re waiting for the editors to reply, write more stories.
From Soraya Murillo Hernandez: I am an early reader, I started reading very soon and I was interested in terror, I liked to look for monsters and ghosts in the stories. Then I knew that the greatest terror came from humans. I am a book reviewer in Spain, I do it free to help its authors to know their works.
Soy una lectora precoz, comencé muy pronto a leer y me interese por el terror, me gustaba buscar monstruos y fantasmas en las historias. Luego supe que el mayor terror venia de los humanos . Soy reseñadora de libros en España, lo hago gratis para ayudar a sus autores a conocer sus obras.