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This interview has been read 3101 times

by Pau Martínez Medrano

John Crowley and Pau Martínez Medrano

   When I was asked to interview John Crowley, I couldn't even believe it. One of the main authors in the current fantastic literature, one of my favourite writers and I was going to speak with him! I went to the meeting, nervous, lost, expectant... I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but Crowley surprised me. Photographs can't reflect neither the kindness that came out of his face, nor the humorous way in which he considered my questions, smiling the whole time. One expect so an important author to be pedant, unbearable, full of himself. Nonetheless Crowley is humane, not only when he writes, but even in person. He was talking and talking, along an hour, and he left me a memory I will enjoy for all my lifetime.

   For all who don't know him, John Crowley has created, among others, Little, Big, Aegypt, Love and Sleep, Daemonomania, Engine Summer and two unforgetable compilations of short stories. His work is plenty of nostalgy and beauty, written in a very fluid style, but conceptually a bit dense.

   Here you have the cronicle of the interview. It take us a lot of difficulties to transcribe it, so I expect you to enjoy it at least the same as his books.

Pau Martínez Medrano

 

Considering all your works, we can say that you are more a novel writer than a short stories writer. Why haven't you writen more short stories? You attained very good results in that, too.

I can't tell you why I don't write short stories. I just don't get ideas for short stories very much. Specially in science fiction, there are a lot of really great short stories. And science fiction writers write a lot of great science fiction short stories. It is something they do. I think it is because science fiction short stories are build up into an idea, and once you've read the idea you don't need very many pages to say the idea. But I don't write like that. I don't write based on ideas at the time.

Do you know the writer that was invented by Kurt Vonnegut, Kilgore Trout? In his works, he can summarize the books of Kilgore Trout because Kilgore Trout wrote a great story in just about two paragraphs. As this story is only a concept, you get the whole story in it and you don't need any more because the story of the concept is the story itself. But I am not Kilgore Trout. My ideas aren't short, they are vague, they are long. They are usually about people. They are not just concepts.

From where does the need to introduce fantastic elements into your stories come? And why do they become the central focus of the story?

(He stops to think) I don't know! (He laughs) Those are the ideas I have. The world inside books is one world and the world we live in is another world. They have fantastic elements that make it clear that the world inside books is a different world. I think that Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina are fantasy novels too, because they have worlds that aren't in our world, really. They are not realistic worlds. But if you pull the fantasy in it makes it even clearer that inside books there's a world that is not our world.

Antigüedades

Many of your short stories, as the ones at Antiquities or The Secret History of the World, talk about missing a past that has been lost but which can be recovered through an object, a presence,... ¿Why are you so interested in the nostalgy of a world that was true or that could have been true?

I don't know the answer for this either. You are asking me why I am the way I am. Or why I am who I am. (He laughs) There are many, many characters in my books who are trying to explore a lost or hidden past and I'll think Freud would have an answer to why. (He laughs) I don't think I'll agree with that answer, but I do know that is possible that I feel, that I can imagine the sensation of discovering a lost History. To me it is just a sensation that it is very deep and profound and I would like to capture it in my characters. And it is not that I am less interested in what History it is that they discover, but certainly, I am more interested in what they feel, what it does to people. I believe there is such a past, and it comes to discover, I think they might be able to discover.

Do you feel like a new romantic?

No, I am an old romantic (he laughs). Yes, I think I try to deny it, but I am a Romantic, even bigger than that... I come out from a romantic tradition in writing, certainly. All my earliest reading was romantic; English Romantics as Shelley, Byron and so on. But I sense it in a literary way.

There are references to the memory in your books: Giordano Bruno, the short story "Snow", Falin's belief in the memorization of poems in order to enjoy them... ¿Why is so important for you the conservation of memory?

Well, I think that fiction depends on memory. So maybe once again I am talking about the world of fiction. Fiction is made of memory and words. My memories of my past, or civilization's memories of the time past, or the characters memory of what happened to that. It can't be made out of anything else. I don't know how I would made fiction out of anything but memory.

It is just as in The Secret History, where most of the people are trying actually not just to discover a secret history; they are trying to remember it. I think that Giordano Bruno in the Aegypt books and his process of using the art of memory it is analogue of the way of writing a book or writing a novel, the way of constructing a novel.

Pequeño, Grande

Many times, in your books we can find a "daily life supernatural"; instead of great meaningful events, we can find an everyday magic and mysticism. ¿Where is the origin of your interest in the occult?

Well, we are all living in an ordinary and shared reality that seems not to contain this sort of mysteries, and at the same time, as we live, we are conscious that we don't know and we can't know everything. If you use what we might call a mystery with a name in the story, a ghost, a piece of magic from the past, what you have done is trying to represent one of our real feelings out in the world, the feeling that there is something we don't know, that life contains lots of mysteries that we can never know. It is a sort of a symbol of how we are feeling all the time. Or at least at large in our lives.

In The Translator it is the most subtle part, to the extend that I would say that most readers do not think that there is something supernatural happening in the book. Some readers think that there is, but it is a question that's undecided, if there is a mysterious supernatural event that happens in the story or it is not. That's how it looks like in my book and it is also in my other series, the Aegypt series. It is constructed in a different way, but in the end, after all it has some rhythm it is impossible to decide if is something really magical what happened in the books.

Could you say in few words what's the role played by The World's Secret History in your books?

One thing that I do as a writer is to try to find in History and in the stories that I learn an analogue of how I feel about the world. I mean, that is what writers do. So when I wrote The Secret History books, it came about because I discovered all these documents, these historical documents and facts. Specially on the books of an English writer named Francis Yates, who wrote about Giordano Bruno and the art of memory. She described a renaissance world that it was so strange, that it was much stranger that most of the other planets and of the science fiction that I always have read. And I wanted to use that world for myself as a carrier for my opinions. And it gained the idea that I would write a book based on the concept that once upon a time, our world, with our people in it, was a different place. You know, it was actually different and then gradually evolved into the world we know.

So that once, alchemy actually worked. It doesn't now, but once did. And what my characters do is to try to discover in the past something that would proof that once upon a time these magic processes, and this world, actually existed. And the real trick of the book, — I like tricks, I like to fool readers—, the key, is not that once upon a time things were this way and then they changed, and now they only are different. No, more than this, it looks like as if always were not this way, even, they never were that much. Then there was magic and now, now there is no magic and now there never was. So was the magic alive ever? [he laughs]

That is why it is really a lost world.

Amor y sueño

When you started Aegypt, did you have a plan of what would happen in the following books or you just wrote the events according to the Zodiacal House to cross?

I can't remember now exactly when the idea of the twelve houses came, but it grew. It was originally one book, then it became two books and then the modern world story was kind of added things in chain which must be contained in a shorter number of books, but it got growing into four. And even when I decided on the scheme of the houses, still I was never sure that I would completed it.

There is a passage, an scene in the first book, in which the professor, –a character in the book,– says that there are many great works of art that are never completed. And there is a sort of epic story like Spencer's The Faerie Queene, or the Orlando furioso, or others that are never completed, and you describe them and you say it might well be like that at the end of the three books out of twelve, and say that's all there is.

What spurted your interest in John Dee and Giordano Bruno?

It was the other way round, my learning about them was what gave me the idea for a secret history, they appeared in two of the books of Frances Yates, the lady that I talked about. The first book that I discovered was The Art of Memory and in it there was a description of how in the Renaissance there was a kind of mnemonic art that made them supposedly able to remember huge amounts of stuff. When you read her book it sounds impossible, but, could it possibly work? Human minds don't work this way, you couldn't remember stuff till this measure. What it is going on? It was genuinely as discovering a lost world.

Which are your main literary influences?

I think that the novelist that I would appreciate most was, when I was younger, Vladimir Nabokov. But an influence, as far as it is possible in literature, was Garcia Marquez, specially in A Hundred Years of Solitude. Maybe it was because he let me realize how many possible things there are to do in fiction. Those two, particularly.

Another one influence from the same period was Joan Barth, an American writer, I don't know if you know his works. And Jorge Luis Borges, for creating thinks that only can exist in language. They sound like they can exist in our world but really, they can only exist in language.

Do you know anything of Spanish literature? Magical realism?

I know, except for the Latin-American, who I have read, Borges, Marquez, Jorge Amado. Of course, I've read Cervantes. And a Baroque poet, Gongora. The first volume of the Aegypt series actually should be called Soledades and has an epigram from him.

There are Spanish authors that I have always know I should have read. I think I have some fellow experience in Saramago, the portuguese writer who lives in Spain, which is one of the ones I should have read, but have not.

El verano del pequeño
San John

What do remain of that writer that began his career with science fiction stories like The Deep, Beasts or Engine Summer?

When I first began writing, I hadn't really read many science fiction, I didn't understand that I was trying to write science fiction. I was just thinking of stories! Writing science fiction when I did, in my first books, was at that time in the United States when science fiction was having some sort of Golden age; this was the late sixties, and early seventies. You could write anything and have it published as science fiction under very easy criteria, as long as it was set in the future or in another planet. You could really write anthing, it was liberating.

But I have never really regarded myself as a science fiction writer. You know, I haven't read much science fiction, and I write science fiction. Somebody once said about my science fiction novels that they sound as if they were written by somebody that had heard about science fiction but hadn't really read much of it. Which was really the truth at that time.

At the same time, the support and love and admiration that I receive from readers of fantasy and science fiction has been the most important thing in my literary career, because they read the books and they keep them in print and they read them again and again and they buy everyone and it is just wonderful. It's been just wonderful. It's something I've will always been grateful.

Christa Malone, the main character of The Translator, is 20 years old in her novel, the same age that you had when the missile crisis, the fear of the bomb, and Kennedy's death. Did your memory from that time influence the genesis of your character?

Yes, very definitely. Christa Malone encapsulates a lot of experiences that I myself had. It is supposed to be autobiographical, as this kind of book can be, in some ways. There is no analogue Fallin in my life, he is a creation. I was not interested in Russian literature. But I was that kind of person.

For instance, the trip that Christa Malone makes at the end of the book, to the North, from the university to a city where one of her friends is representating Camelot and they hear in the radio that Kennedy has been killed is exactly what happened to me. The friend was another man, not another woman. That is the true story. It is what happened and how I learned that he had been killed.

A friend of mine who was in the College with me at that time read my book and said that he had the sense that she was someone unbelievable, because she was so innocent. She was so innocent about sex and alcohol and politics and everything in the world and so knowledgeable about literature and so it make her someone unrealistic and he said that he knew it was true because that was exactly the case with me. I was just that innocent and just that knowledgeable.

John Crowley

At present you teach at Yale University about Utopian Fiction, Fiction Writing and Screenplay Writing. Do you like teaching? Are you some kind of Pierce Moffet to your students?

No. He has no relation with me. I teach creative writing. I don't try to teach subjects. I never had a graduate degree. I never have even done the graduate school. I only recently, in the last ten years, have become a teacher. I was never a teacher before. And I don't know that I am really a teacher now, really. And create writing is not something that can be taught. I love listening to young people and I love reading their writing. I am really privileged to be able to taught.

 

©2004 Pau Martínez Medrano para cYbErDaRk.NeT
Reproduction forbidden without authorization from the writers

    

2004-04-16 16:55   Nycteris
Nada que decir. Que felicidad poder leer a Crowley, ya sea sus libros o lo que dice.

Ademas siendo tan afable tengo la esperanza que si le envio cartas me las conteste alguna vez...

:)
2004-04-15 15:59   yarhel
Muy interesante la entrevista. Es una suerte haberlo podido entrevistar, porque parece ser un personaje de lo más singular, méritos literarios a parte. Enhorabuena.
2004-04-14 19:12   CTHULHU
Es una gozada y un privilegio el poder conocer cómo piensa y cómo escribe un autor tan peculiar como J. Crowley. Qué pena que la conversación no pudiera extenderse más. Gracias y felicidades por vuestro trabajo.
2004-04-13 22:37   Tubab
Muy buena la entrevista. Ha valido la pena esperar para leerla... aunque Aegypto se me cayera de la manos antes de llegar a la mitad.

A ver qué tal Traduciendo del cielo...
2004-04-13 02:34   GarryLanier
Simpatiquísimo el autor, apenas tenga la tetralogía completa de Aegipto me la leo...