INTERVIEW: Our Second Interview With Tessa Dick

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

Yesterday we reviewed “The Owl in Daylight,“ the new novel by Tessa Dick. With us today, we’ve got the author herself to discuss the book with us. Tessa, thank you very much for agreeing to come back and visit us again! Some of our newer readers might not have realized this, but you’re actually the first person to be interviewed *twice* by Republibot.

Tessa Dick:
Thank you. It's a pleasure and an honor to come back for another round of questions.

Republibot 3.0:
Before we begin, I have to say I really enjoyed the book. I’ve liked everything I’ve read by you, of course, but this one was a real treat. It’s got a very different feel and tone from “Origins” and your short stories, and yet it never actually seems to be imitating your late husband’s style. You sort of found your own place there that didn’t ‘sound’ like him, but it was substantially different from your own ’sound’ as well. Was that hard to do? To get in a place where you can write, you know, *differently* than you normally do?

Tessa Dick:
I can't honestly say that it was very difficult, but I had to do a lot of preparation for writing the Owl. I had to imagine myself as Phil living through the experiences which inspired the Owl, and then I had to imagine the story that he wanted to tell.

Republibot 3.0:
In researching for my review and this interview, I found a couple interesting things: Firstly, that you more-or-less deliberately avoided using most of the plot outline Phil sent to his publisher in 1982. Am I correct in understanding that you went with your own original story that homaged the ‘spirit’ of his ideas for the book,” rather than take a more nuts-and-bolts attempt to reconstruct it? How did you arrive at that decision?

Tessa Dick:
The few ideas which have been circulating on the Internet simply would not work. Phil's letter to his agent and editor (Russ Galen and David Hartwell) was obviously quite rough and subject to major changes. Aside from positing an unnamed scientist who creates a computer system, Phil proposed to follow the story of Dante's Inferno. While that tale does offer some thrills, it lacks suspense. Besides, it would take a team of at least six experts to build a computer system, and if they did, it would not be to manage an amusement park.

Republibot 3.0:
Even so, There’s a whole lot of Dante’s Inferno and Purgatorio worked in to the story, but none of the Paradiso. How come?

Tessa Dick:
Tony and Art both fail to achieve Paradise because we are all unworthy. We live in a fallen world, and we caused it to fall. However, we might achieve Paradise in part two, The Owl in Twilight. (Yes, I am planning a sequel.)

Republibot 3.0:
Reeeeealy….? Can you tell us a little bit about it? No spoilers, of course, but can you whet our appetites?

Tessa Dick:
Tony must continue his journey in part two, and Art must find the right audience for his revelation.

Republibot 3.0:
Thanks! So, I was also a little surprised to learn that you’d never read “What if Our World is Their Heaven” by Gwen Lee and Doris Elaine Sauter, which outlined his ideas for the novel. Was that a conscious decision on your part, or had you not heard of their book at the time?

Tessa Dick:
I had been told that Doris Sauter proposed an alternate plot, but I did not read her book and did not use her ideas.

The Owl needed to follow the course of Phil's own life, not his body of fictional works. In short, it was to be his fictional autobiography.

This novel needed to offer some answers to the moral and ethical questions that Phil was raising, while revealing that this world is not quite real, but without offering a solid explanation of what IS real. Phil always allowed his readers to decide what is real for themselves.

Republibot 3.0:
Have you read it since?

Tessa Dick:
No, I have not read that book.

Republibot 3.0:
Did you have any other resources you called on to write it? Memories of Mr. Dick talking about the story to you, or notes or what have you?

Tessa Dick:
The Owl is primarily the result of my observations of Phil and his experiences during the ten years that we spent together, plus my own education. I hold a master's degree in English literature from Chapman University. My professors introduced me to many ideas from literature, film, music and philosophy, as well as psychology.

Republibot 3.0:
I was very impressed with how the book ties together a grab bag of well known incidents from Phil’s life - the 1974 visions, the safe robbery, working in the record store, and a whole bunch of other stuff - in the life of your protagonist, Art Grimley, and made it sort of a cohesive narrative as opposed to a bunch of random elements. It was sort of playful and fun, like an in-joke in places. How much of Grimley was a typical PhilDickian leading man, and how much of him was Phil himself?

Tessa Dick:
Arthur Grimley is Babbit, the Sinclair Lewis character who inspired Phil's protagonists. An ordinary man thrust into extraordinary circumstances, he struggles to survive and thrive in a world that seems to attack him at every opportunity.

Republibot 3.0:
[Stunned] I never got that before - the Babbit thing - but now that you mention it [Smacks self in forehead] There’s an interestingly skewed sense of time in the book, since it involves middle-aged folks in the present day, but most of the main characters have memories of being teenagers in the 1950s. That would seem to make them in their seventies at least. Was that to get across the illusory nature of the real world? Just to kind of subtly let us know the parts don’t add up to the whole?

Tessa Dick:
I wanted to make it clear that the characters are separate people, while allowing readers to suspect that this world (now, the first decade of the 21st century) might be just as illusory as the dream world in which Tony finds himself. The protagonist has split into two separate people, and Tony (the persona in his dream world) considers himself just as real as Art in his waking world.

Republibot 3.0:
So you’ve got this big novel dealing with all the massively serious stuff about the nature of reality and the conflict between good and evil on the supernatural plan, and then right in the middle of it, you’ve got all these hilariously mundane concerns - the Archons who basically act like petty Feds, or the Aliens who decide to abandon their mission and make a movie instead, since that’s more lucrative. Tell us a little about the inspiration for that.

Tessa Dick:
Phil always suspected that our world might have no purpose beyond the entertainment of some transcendent being -- that some demiurge, or little god, was playing with us as a little child plays with human "toys" in a well-known episode of The Twilight Zone. In other words, the human drama is unimportant to this being, and this being has a short attention span.

Republibot 3.0:
Ultimately I took the theme to be one of redemption, Grimley’s redemption, the redemption of his marriage, the redemption of Humanity. I’m curious is the redemption presented in the book in any way similar to your own views on such things, or is that kind of a tribute to Phil's well-known fascination with Gnosticism?

Tessa Dick:
The theme of redemption is what I hoped that Phil would have achieved, if he had lived a little longer. He hoped for redemption though marriage to the right woman. I wanted to show that it is the relationship, rather than the person, that has to be right.

Republibot 3.0:
Forgive me for this, but one aspect I didn’t quite understand was Art’s brother-in-law. I wasn’t quite sure what he was doing with the Archons there towards the end. Had he been spying on Grimley all along, or was he just trying to make the best of a bad situation, or what?

Tessa Dick:
I thought about expanding the brother-in-law character, but I wanted him to be ambiguous. He is basically a foil for Art. The wealthy composer works long hours to build a home, while the lazy brother-in-law sits around enjoying the fruits of Art's labor. In a sense, the brother-in-law chooses a wiser course. Art certainly would be happier if he took some time off and just sat around the house. On the other hand, he wouldn't have the house without working for it.

Republibot 3.0:
Much as I liked the book, the only part of it I *didn’t* like was the ‘incest’ theme that kept cropping up. It wasn’t enough to make me stop reading, , and in the end it turns out to be something completely different, but I was wondering what you were going for there.

Tessa Dick:
Some of Phil's biographers (and others, who shall remain anonymous) have raised the incest question. In fact, some have insisted upon it. So I felt obligated to include it, but even more obligated to refute it.

Republibot 3.0:
So the book is written and done and published. How has public reaction been to it?

Tessa Dick:
Most of the public reaction has been positive. A few people have posted negative comments on message boards, but they were not reacting to my novel. They were reacting to the idea of completing a work after the author's death -- they complain that it is disrespectful. Apparently, they have no idea how many well-known authors have more posthumous works than they actually wrote during their lifetimes. Besides, I have the greatest respect for Philip K. Dick and his work. I could not have written the Owl without that sense of respect.

Republibot 3.0:
Yeah, there’s an unfortunate subset of fans that seem to believe their favorite author is *their* property, and anyone nibbling on the fringes of their body of work is an infidel, no matter the reason or the relation. Sad. I’ve had run ins with a lot of those.

And finally, I guess: what did you learn from the experience of doing something so markedly different from the things you’ve written before? Do you think this novel will affect your subsequent work? Is this the beginning of a new phase in your literary career?

Tessa Dick:
I have a habit of doing new and different things, whether it involves trying sushi, changing my college major from pre-medicine to English literature, or writing a different style or genre. Most of my early work was romantic poetry. My most recent novel, The Man Without a Past, is a murder mystery. It was the most difficult story that I have ever written, and I am quite proud of how it turned out. I do wish that the fans of my science fiction would read it. Readers, like writers, should always be willing to try something different.

Republibot 3.0:
Well, Tessa, again, thank you very much for your time, and thank you very much for the book! I can’t wait to read whatever you come out with next!

Tessa Dick:
Thank you so much for the opportunity to communicate with youi and your readers!

Tags: