Monday, June 22, 2009

Daryl Gregory (Inteview by Charles Tan)

Daryl Gregory - Pandemonium

You're highly-praised for your short fiction. Was it a difficult transition, progressing from writing short stories to a novel? What was the most challenging aspect?

I don't think I've "progressed" from one form to the next, because I'm still trying to figure out how to write short stories, and I'm certainly still struggling with novels! Also, my messy chronology doesn't follow an ascent-to-novels arc. I first published a few short stories in the early 90's, disappeared for ten years while I worked full time, helped raise babies, and slowly pecked out a sprawling, unsellable SF novel. Then I went back to short stories, and realized that the novel-writing process -- and ten years of life, I suppose -- had helped me figure out some things about how to write short fiction. Only then did I start on Pandemonium.

One of the things I had to learn about novels was that even though they gave me so many more pages to play with, they still had to be focused, and I was going to have to leave out much more than I put in. I know that sounds dead obvious, but I went into my first novel with the naive idea that I'd have room to dump every interesting thought I'd have during the course of the writing. That went about as well as you'd expect it to.

I can be a little looser than I am in a short story -- there's room, for example, to tell several characters' stories and show how they intersect -- but everything has to serve the aims of the book. Still, at the end of a first draft of a book, I'm always disappointed by how many ideas didn't make it from my notebooks to the final page.

What is it about the novel format that you couldn't accomplish with the short story, especially in light of the "dark fantastic"?

Even though I learned that I couldn't put everything into a novel, I did enjoy the broader range of effects that are possible. One of the things I particularly enjoyed was being able to shift tone and voice over the course of the work. In the limited space of a short story, I usually take a very Poe-ish policy about unity of effect. I can shift mood at the end if I bring the readers with me, but that's about it.

In Pandemonium, however, I could skate back and forth across that line between light and dark, especially in regard to the horror elements. My first person narrator helped me out here. His first response to terrible events is irony, banter, emotional distance -- but then the irony becomes untenable, banter fails, and he can't keep his distance. I wanted to have that same effect on the readers. My, isn't this amusing! Then hit them with a blind-side tackle.

In your novel, you draw inspiration from various sources. What is it about mash-ups that appeal to you as a writer and as a reader?

Mash-ups are a form of play. When they're done well, by writers such as Kim Newman and Philip José Farmer, and Alan Moore, they're just fun in a way that's hard to define. Maybe it's because mash-ups are an expression of how our minds work. Each of us has a personal collection of pop-cultural fragments floating loose in the brain, and when they slam together in the right way, old familiar things seem fresh and strange. So, one way to consider this book is as a graph of Daryl's Head. Captain America occupies a point just north of Casey Jones, and Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick are next door neighbors. I gave myself permission to include all these references because the idea of the mash-up is one of the themes of the book -- Pandemonium is about a man literally constructing an identity out of all the stories he's read and heard from his family.

That said, pop cultural references or literary allusions are no substitute for character, or story. My rule was that the book had to pass the Thelma test, named after my mom, who's never read a superhero comic or an SF book (except mine, of course). If the reader catches the allusion, then that's a nice Easter egg, but the story has to make sense, and be engaging, on its own terms.

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