INTERVIEW: Tessa Dick

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

Republibot 3.0:
Our guest today is Tessa Dick, the author of Origins, Part One: Thor‘s Hammer; Quachi and other Stories and Poems, and a whole bunch of other stuff as well. Thank you, Tessa, for speaking with us today.

Tessa Dick:
Thank you for inviting me. I enjoy the opportunity to talk about my work.

3.0:
Thanks you for saying 'Yes'! You’ve had a whole spate of books published in the last year or two, but a lot of people probably don’t realize that you’ve had a pretty long career as an author. As I understand it, your first story was published in 1969? I’ve hunted around trying to find a copy of it, but no luck. Can you tell us what it was called, and what it was about?

Tessa:
My first sale was an article about photography, and they also bought three of my photographs. It was published in Alive! magazine, a Sunday school publication with national circulation. Originally, I was planning to make a living by writing articles about science and technology, but people really liked the stories that I used to make up to entertain my baby sister and her friends.

Since then, I have published a number of poems and even made as much as $100 for some of them. My biggest payment for a short story was $200, which I got for "The Dodi Doll", a story targeted to high school students. These were all small press publications.

I have also received enough rejection slips to wallpaper my entire house -- twice. When I began writing fiction, I first tried writing mysteries for Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock magazines. Later I submitted stories to Asimov's and Fantasy and Science Fiction. Unfortunately, I still haven't cracked any of those markets, but their rejection slips are getting more encouraging.

Republibot:
How does the writing game and the publishing industry differ today from forty years ago?

TessaL
Forty years? Has it really been forty years? (Please excuse me while I go and dye my hair again.)

Marketing has become easier for me, in some respects, because editors know my name. On the other hand, the recent shrinkage in the number of book publishers and magazines that publish speculative fiction has resulted in fierce competition for the few available slots.

One very positive change is the ability to submit manuscripts by email and on web sites. I remember times when I couldn't afford a ream of paper. In fact, one time Donald A. Wolheim (DAW Books editor and publisher) sent me a packet of postage stamps so that I could mail him my manuscript. Unfortunately, he didn't buy my novel.

Republibot:
I thought the odd perspective you used in “Morgana” was really inspired, a very clever variation on Arthurian myth, with Arthur as a somewhat clueless pawn and Guinevere as “The Other Woman” who stole him away from his true love. I really liked that the one of the traditional villainess of the myth was portrayed as pretty much a victim done wrong by everyone, and left to pick up the pieces. Where did that story come from?

Tessa:
Thank you for asking. "Morgana" is very special to me.

I first fell in love with Arthurian myth when I saw a live performance of Camelot when I was in high school.

I've done quite a bit of research into Arthurian myth, and some of the old stories say that Morgana was his first wife. They also say that Arthur was half "fey" (fairy). In addition, many of the old stories have no Lancelot, since he was added later by a French bard. (Sir Gawain usually had the affair with Guenevere.) I hope to expand "Morgana" into a novel some day.

Republibot:
That sounds cool. Another story I liked - which had some similar elements in places, but was very different overall - was “Howler.” It reads pretty much like straight fiction until the last third or so when it kind of goes unexpectedly off the rails in to fantasy. I came out of that wondering if the cat had been protecting the protagonist all along, and if the cat had willingly sacrificed itself to the demon at the end, in order to get her a better life. Did I take the right impression from that? Tell us a bit about the story.

Tessa:
"Howler" came from my own experience, including some nightmares. I used to rent a cheap apartment back in the 1970s, and a stray cat kept coming to my door and howling, until I finally took him in. The rest of the story is just a fantasy.

Republibot:
You’ve got kind of a wry wit in some of your work. Is it a different process for you writing a punch line story like “Choices” or a funny story like “The Dragon Wife” rather than writing your more serious stuff?

Tessa:
I try to have fun with everything that I write. Tragedy can purge my negative feelings and those of my readers, while comedy gives me the opportunity to share a good laugh with my readers.

I have to thank one of my professors, the late Ron Thronson (Department Chair and Professor of Communications at Chapman University) for pointing out that many of the things that I wrote were funny. In fact, when I wrote a dramatic screenplay as my senior project, he produced it as a comedy. That experience helped me to find my sense of humor.

All of my stories come from an overwhelming compulsion to impose some order onto a chaotic world. Whatever talent I possess comes from God, so I try to honor that great gift with every story that I tell. The stories need to ferment and mature in my mind before I set them down on paper.

"Choices" developed from my experience with a house guest who turned out to be an irredeemable heroin addict. I put all of my anger and despair into it, but I did have "The Twilight Zone" in mind when I introduced the genie. Rod Serling was the master of the ironic twist, and I hope that my little twist does justice to his legacy.

Republibot:
There's definitely some of that flavor in there. I love that the bottle the genie comes out of is a hypodermic syringe. I also loved that he was very distracted and wanted to get this whole 'wish' thing over with quickly so he could get back to a cribbage game. That felt very Rod Serling.

Tessa:
"The Dragon Wife" began with an assignment in an advanced college course in German. We were told to write a story, and I had been reading about Siegfried, the hero who killed a dragon. I thought that giving the dragon a nagging wife would make it more like a James Thurber story than a German opera.

Republibot:
Changing the subject slightly, I was just curious to get your opinion on a couple interesting developments in the SF community recently. Are you aware of the “Steampunk” movement? If so, what are your thoughts on it?

Tessa:
I've heard of "Steampunk", but I think that it's a big mistake to break down speculative fiction into numerous subgenres, such as Time Travel, Space Opera, Sword and Sorcery, Cyberpunk and so forth. This long series of subdivisions tends to trap each individual writer in a tiny niche. Just imagine what would happen, for example, if Stephen King were told that he couldn't publish The Stand because it didn't fit into the same spot on the bookstore shelf as his novel Christine.

Or suppose that readers rejected my "Quachi" collection because the stories belong to so many different genres (not to mention a few poems)?

Republibot:
That's a good point about splitting the hair too many times, though Steampunk is as much an aesthetic style as it is a literary genre. Another thing we’re sort of interested in the whole “Fan Film” subculture that’s grown up in the last few years. Do you have any interest in that? What do you like or dislike about it? Any Fanfilms that you’d recommend?

Tessa:
I must confess ignorance about the "Fan Film" subculture, but if it means that people can produce their own films without having to beg for millions from big studio producers, then I think that it is a positive trend. Ultimately, it is the readers who determine the success of books and stories, and the viewers who determine the success of films. Corporate executives tend to get in the way of creativity and talent.

Republibot:
So what’s your favorite Science Fiction show on TV right now, assuming of course you like any of ‘em. Not everyone does. I was sort of surprised when I interviewed John Varley to find out that he’s pretty much completely disconnected with SF TV.

Tessa:
Actually, I haven't had any TV for more than two years. We have no reception up here on the mountain, and the cable and satellite companies charge way too much for service. I used to like X-Files, except for the last season and the first movie. I also liked Millennium. I usually listen to the radio, especially late at night. "Coast to Coast AM" often interests me.

Republibot:
Hm. That's interesting. It's unquestionably too early to claim a 'trend' based on just two items of data, but it's interesting that both of the SF authors we've interviewed for the site really don't watch TV. So are there Any genre authors you really like these days?

Tessa:
Tim Powers is an exceptional (and underrated) talent. I can't remember the title, offhand, but his novel about Caribbean pirates and vampires is exceptionally well written and well researched.

Most of my reading is non-fiction. I get many of my ideas from the science news.

Republibot:
Getting back to your own work, I recently finished “Thor’s Hammer,” and I was sort of intrigued by the notion that it was an alternate history, as a sort of ‘secret origins of the human race’ buried in a big sprawling space-opera framework. The whole series is supposed to be a trilogy, right?

Tessa:
Yes, I'm currently at work on Origins Part Two, and I do have a sort of outline for Part Three. I usually don't outline anything, but this trilogy is a huge project that has to hang together. I also have quite a few notes to maintain continuity.

I used ancient names for the planets in our own solar system, thinking that readers would catch on that I was talking about our own origins. I thought that "Gaea" would be an obvious name for Earth. "Luna" is the Moon, "Ares" is Mars, and so forth. The two that might be difficult are "Tara" which became the asteroid belt, and "Thor" which is Jupiter.

Republibot:
I didn't see that coming at all. I’d just assumed it was some other solar system colonized by humans in the distant future since the…uhm…the whole layout of space was different from our own neck of the woods What threw me off was that the number of planets in the solar system was all wrong, and Tara clearly wasn't earth. I just assumed the names of the planets had been hauled out of the colonists' own mythology, you know? If that was the kind of misdirection you were going for prior to 'the big reveal' it worked pretty well.

Tessa:
I got the idea, in part, from Velikovsky's book When Worlds Collide. I have also read some of Sitchen's work, but I disagree with his ideas. More recently, I've read and reread Richard C. Hoagland's book The Monuments of Mars. Hoagland's web site, enterprise mission dot com, provides a continuing source of information and amazement.

Origins is supposed to look like some other solar system because it is based on an alternate model of our own corner of the galaxy. Readers will not recognize it at first, but it should become clear in the course of the story. Part Two involves a search for the First Man, who was kicked out of the Garden.

Republibot:
Yeah, The afterword in the book mentions that it’s inspired by Immanuel Velikovsky’s “Worlds in Collision,” which sort of took me aback. I hadn’t suspected that at all. Looking back on it, though, I can see how it all ties in with his theories, though I admit I didn’t catch that the first time through. Are you a believer in Velikovsky’s theories, or are you just using them as a jumping-off point for a good yarn, or what?

Tessa:
I believe that Velikovsky had a few things right. After all, he was not an astronomer or a physicist. He was simply translating ancient writing. So, in order to accept his theory in whole, you would have to believe two things: first, that Velikovsky's translation is accurate, and second that the ancient writers had their facts right (or that they were not simply writing fiction to entertain the masses).

Overall, I'm trying to incorporate traditional stories that supplement Genesis. No matter where our origins lie, I still believe that God created us. After all, if aliens created us, then who created the aliens? And if we simply evolved, who created the world in which we could evolve?

Republibot:
That's an interesting perspective, and pretty admirable. I've never quite understood the antipathy between traditional Christianity and Science. If God created the world in seven days like the Bible says, that's undeniably impressive and cool. If He created the world via a twenty-billion-year process involving the big bang and gradual evolution, that's undeniably pretty cool, too. Either way, the bottom line is that God created the world. All Science and The Church are arguing about is what kind of tool box He used. To me, that's kind of a silly waste of time akin to saying "Earl painted his house using a paint sprayer!" "No he didn't! Earl did it using only a spackling brush" or whatever.

Tessa:
I believe in the seven days of creation, but what was a day? I mean, how could a day be 24 hours before God put the sun in the sky?

Republibot:
I noticed that there are multiple versions of the book out there. I read the Revised and Expanded version myself. What are the differences between them?

Tessa:
There are two editions of Origins. The first edition had some typographical errors, which I have tried to track down and correct. Also, the second edition has a total of six pages added. I found some things that I thought required a little explanation or expansion. The first edition has become a rare collector's item, since only 50 copies are in existence.

Republibot:
Any idea when the next book in the series is coming out?

Tessa:
I had planned to release Origins Part Two six months ago, but I got stuck. And then some readers started begging me to write The Owl in Daylight, so I got sidetracked. Writer's block continued to plague me, and the only cure for writer's block is to write something, anything, so I polished two old manuscripts. First I finished a murder mystery, The Man Without A Past, and then I rewrote my memoir, Philip K. Dick: Remembering Firebright. Now I am focusing entirely on the Origins series. Origins, Part Two: Gaea's Wrath should come out this June.

Republibot:
You've also got a Star Trek book in the works, right? A book about the original Trek?

Tessa:
I just reprinted some Star Trek reviews in book form. I write reviews of products and services for a web site called Epinions, and they pay me pocket money. I withdrew the book because Trekkers complained that it added nothing new to Star Trek lore, so I thought that I should add more to it and release an expanded version. However, I intend to finish part two of Origins first.

Republibot:
Without letting too much out of the bag, can you give us an idea what we can expect in the next book in the "Origins" trilogy?

Tessa:
Part Two involves a religious cult, as well as natural disasters. There will be less space travel and more Earth-bound stories.

Republibot:
Finally, you said you have a murder mystery in the pipeline? Is it straight fiction, or SF? What can you tell us about it?

Tessa:
My murder mystery, The Man Without A Past, has no elements of speculative fiction. It belongs to the noir genre. That is, the heroine is morally flawed, although not as badly flawed as the other characters. Her journey through the world of lying, cheating and murder teaches her a lesson.

Republibot:
I'm looking forward to reading it. Well I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but again: Thank you for speaking with us today, and we hope to hear more from you in the future!

Tessa:
Thank you. I hope that readers enjoy all of my work, and that I never get trapped in any one genre.

Republibot:
I don't think you need to have any fear of that, your talents are clearly pretty broad. Anyone interested in more information about Tessa Dick and her writing can check out her blog at http://tessadick.blogspot.com/

Interview Copyright 2009 Republibot 3.0

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