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An Interview With Philip K. Dick
Excerpts from "Philip K. Dick: The Dream Connection"
by D.S.Apel & K. Briggs.
This interview was conducted on June 20 and July 23, 1977 in Sonoma, California. Thanks to D.S.Apel for letting us excerpt it here.
[DSA]: What are your working habits? Are there definite guidelines you've given yourself as a writer for getting a book produced?
[PKD]: My working habits fall into two distinct groups. The first group was when if I didn't write three or four novels a year I'd starve to death, and so I wrote three or four novels a year. Mark Hurst, my Bantam editor, says I wrote something like 16 novels in five years. I don't know if that's true.
[DSA]: You didn't keep count?
[PKD]: Well, I just wrote all the time. I remember typing the words "The End," pulling that page out, and putting in another page which said "Chapter One." I calculated I had typed... well, two drafts on a book would be 600 pages -- and I do two drafts minimum -- thats 1200 pages in three weeks. I was beginning to show real signs of wear. I had an electric typewriter, of course, everything to facilitate a large output.
Then there came a point where there were two factors involved that changed. One, the simple factor of fatigue. You just cannot go on forever doing that much, even if you have the ideas. The physical condition that you find yourself in prohibits it. This was all around 1964, after I won the Hugo for THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. I said to myself, "Strike while the iron is hot," and I wrote. I was a writing fool. 16 novels in five years. Now how long a life span would you want to give a person that tried to make that a professional working schedule? I didn't run out of ideas, I just ran out of energy. I was depleting myself.
Then another thing happened. Terry Carr said to me, "All your novels are exactly the same." Boy, do I remember this; this really got put in my long-term memory banks. He said, "Whenever you pick up a Poul Anderson novel, its completely different from all other Poul Anderson novels." (I'm not willing to concede that that's correct, but that's what he said.) "Whenever you pick up a Bob Silverberg novel, its different from all other Bob Silverberg novels. But pick up one of your novels, and they're all the same. And the fans are grumbling," he says. "Why don't you stop trying to figure out what reality is, as you continually do, and say what it is." And I thought, Golly! That is profound! I have written that theme perpetually: What is reality? And now They -- and by "They," you know who I mean... those giant figures that surround you all the time...
[PKD]: Them. Yes. They say I have to say what reality is, and I never had any intention of doing that. And the reason I never had any intention of doing that is that I don't know -- I have no knowledge of what reality is. All I can do is plaintively inquire "Hey, gang, what is really real?" And then here is Terry Carr -- the great anthologizer -- and a major figure in the field -- and he says "All right! Time to write about what reality is!"
[DSA]: What was it?
[PKD] Damned if I know! [...] But I thought: I'll fake it. So in 1970 I started working on FLOW MY TEARS, THE POLICEMAN SAID. And it was my intention to resolve the problem by the discovery of what reality really was. So that meant there was a three year ellipsis in my writing...
[DSA]: When you had to go out and find out what it was?
[PKD]: Yeah. Well, I just sort of sat there at the typewriter. I did eleven drafts of that novel. I mean literally; I'm not using that as hyperbole. I had a complicated code system worked out so I wouldn't start feeding the old drafts back in, in which case I guess I'd still be there today.
I decided that the thing that was really real was love. Then I thought, Y'know, somebody else said this; now who the hell was it that said this? Well, actually, a lot of people have said it. My revelation which I'm about to lay on the world is not going to come as a complete surprise.
[DSA]: St. Paul said it, and Aleister Crowley.
[PKD]: St. Paul said, "If I have not love then I am jack shit"... or something like that. So anyway, I worked for three years on FLOW MY TEARS, then when Terry Carr wasn't looking, I began to go back to the question of what is real.
But another thing happened then -- because your question had to do with working habits. Working all those years on FLOW MY TEARS, doing all those drafts, changed my working habits. I'd never done more than a rough draft and a final on a novel before. And there were eleven drafts. God -- I was reshaping it word by word. Once in, never out; I couldn't go back to doing a rough draft and a final draft, just like that. So the next novel was A SCANNER DARKLY and it took years to write SCANNER; it just took years. The idea came to me in the early part of 1972, and it wasn't until '76 that I sent the manuscript off to Doubleday. And I wasn't trying to say what was real; I was just no longer able to dash stuff off at the rate I had done before. [...]
More from "PKD: The Dream Connection" next time.