The Burning Chrome EXCLUSIVE "Gibson/Barker" interview
Recorded December 13, 1997 at 3:30 pm (PST)
A FOUR PART SERIES
PART FOUR of this interview is here at last. As we wrap up this amazing interview, the authors discuss their latest projects and share their thoughts on the painful process of completing a novel.
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Clive = Clive Barker
Bill = William Gibson
Charlie = Charlie Athanas
- PART FOUR -
Clive: Well, I guess we should wrap up. Charlie, do you want to charge in with a couple of theatrical anecdotes?
Charlie: Well, what I'd really like to do before we leave ... I want to make sure we talk about what the two of you are doing now. So who wants to go first?
Charlie: Alright, Bill. What are you working on now?
Bill: Well, I just finished an X-Files which is my first and could easily be my last stab at episodic television. (Laughter all around) I wanted to have a go.
Charlie: Was it pleasurable this time?
Bill: Yeah, it's kind of a neat process. You just do it and they shoot it. Pretty much.
Clive: Remember Bill, we were at a convention together and we were on a panel?
Bill: Yes, you were smoking a large cigar.
Clive: Which I am now actually. I think it may even be the same cigar. (Laughter all around) And I want to say that you had just had a crack at ... I want to say Alien III ...
Bill: Yes, yes. It was Alien III. I wrote the first of some thirty versions. Nothing of mine remained except a bar code tattoo.
Clive: (Laughter) I said to you, "How was it?" You said, "It was like working for a fucking chicken franchise." (Laughter all around)
Clive: Which I quoted so many times and I always put, "That's a Bill Gibson line, it's not mine." It's so smart and so true. But what's next on the book front?
Bill: Well, I'm hoping the third and final volume of whatever it is I've been doing for the past two books and it may be my last word on cyberspace and what not. I'd really like to hit a different note next time around. Although, I'm actually enjoying this one quite alot. There's so much material to work with right now. Because there's the real thing in front of me and it changes every day and characters like Ana turn up. (Laughter)
Charlie: Well, how frightening is it to write something like Idoru and have, within an instant of the book coming out, several virtual reality characters come to life in Japan? I mean, how frightening is that?
Bill: Well, it really didn't surprise me. I was surprised that they didn't surface before I could get the book out. I knew they were coming because I knew of dry runs in that direction. What I'm really trying to do now ... I've got the futurity horizon cranked in so that it's only a few inches from the windshield. (Laughter all around) I've only got about six inches of play there between contemporary CNN and Gibsonland.
Clive: The good thing about that is it means they edit really fast. Right? (Laughter)
Clive: They want to get the book out. Now how long does a book take you?
Bill: Well, I've never been able to separate the, well, you know, the walking along staring moodily at shop windows from the physically sitting down and writing it bit. It runs usually longer than about eight months and not quite a year. But there's usually another, at least an equivalent time, of being very disagreeable (laughter all around) thinking about it all the time.
Bill: And hating having to do it.
Clive: And do you? Do you actually get to the point where, you know ... I'm sitting around by my own stuff having a real funk about it. I know there are times when I get up in the morning, and this morning is certainly one, where I think, "Shit." (Laughter) I know what I have to write today or, in this case, what I have to polish and I really don't like it and I have to start all over and all that nonsense. I mean, do you have days when the prospect is just vile?
Bill: Oh, absolutely! Absolutely. I mean, I would be very, very envious of anyone who didn't. I mean, that's just a prejudice of mine. Anyone who's happy with their own work ... anyone who's entirely happy with the job of writing novels is strange. They're either strange or they haven't done it sufficiently. (Laughter all around)
Clive: Good. Good. Yeah, I know I think that's completely true. That's completely true ... shall I chime in?
Charlie: Sure. One quick thing. Is there a working title for this new book or are you still in that vague area?
Bill: No, still bouncing them. Actually I was going to call it "All Tomorrow's Parties" which is a title of an old Velvet Underground song, but Billy Name, the Factory photographer brought out a big coffee table book with that title last year and somehow that took the magic away. I thought it would have been a great name for a sort of closing book in a science fiction trilogy. I'll come up with something and I'll make sure that it's in English this time.
Charlie: (Laughter) Yeah, that's always been fun explaining how to pronounce that particular word ("Idoru"). Well, Clive, what are you working on?
Clive: I am three weeks ... I've delivered half of and I'm three weeks from delivering the second half of a book called Galilee which is an 800, 900 page ... I don't know what it is. (Laughter) It's a novel. It's actually a kind of big romance in a way, set contemporarily. It's about two families, two vast dynasties. One of which is very human, one of which is slightly not. I've always wanted to do a family saga. There's something intrigued me about the idea of doing a book with complex, multi-generational stuff where I could track how psychologies changed. And I'm dealing with a family, a human family which comes to power during the Civil War and how they come to power. Being a visitor to this country, I wasn't taught the Civil War at all in school. Actually I was taught very little American history. So discovering the Civil War and finding it fascinated me has been one of the great revelations of this book. Finding all that neat stuff and going to the battlefields.
Charlie: So you've been visiting the Deep South?
Clive: Yes. I find historical sites, places where stuff happened. Actually that's pretty much around the world now isn't it, because stuff happened everywhere, but you know, notable stuff. I went to Bentonville, which is in North Carolina. Which is where really the last hurrah of the South happens in the very end of the Civil War in March and I guess the war ends in April. It was amazing. I'd been writing about it in a first draft and went to the site and sort of lay in the dugouts which are still there in the field. And the house which I had been writing about, turned into a field hospital, still stands. I find that stuff immensely moving. It just catches me up.
Bill: You know, I grew up with that. That was like a kind of secret ... it's like growing up with a sort of secret history that people from other different parts of the country didn't have. It was almost covert, because I grew up in southwestern Virginia and my mother did not fully think of herself as American and my grandmother definitely didn't. My grandmother referred to it as the "War of the Northern Invasion". (Laughter) And would correct me if I said, "Civil War", just in the way she'd correct me if I said, "Colored lady". Which she thought was an oxymoron.
Clive: The idea that all the statues of (General Ulysses S.) Grant that were put up after the war all faced north.
Bill: Hm hmm.
Clive: Just in case those bastards try it again! (Laughter all around) It fascinates me.
Bill: Well we use to find, you know, people in my hometown would find the odd Union soldier in the back garden.
Clive: Sort of sitting there befuddled, but angry.
Bill: Mmmm ... well, in a shallow grave ...
Clive: Ooh, my god!
Bill: ... where he had been tucked under the privet hedge. (Laughter all around)
Clive: Ooh, my god.
Bill: And you know he was a Union soldier because there'd be the buckle and the buttons and these got knocked off during bivouac. Or went to bed with the wrong southern belle ...
Clive: And just quietly offed in the night ...
Bill: Yeah. And they'd turn up in the back garden. I grew up in a neighborhood of mostly pre-Civil War houses, so those were the original gardens.
Clive: What's uncanny about that is there's this scene in this book, which I literally just delivered to my typist. A scene in which one the captains goes back to Charleston. One of the characters of the book, a captain of the South, deserts and goes back to Charleston just before the end of the war and finds his back garden has been turned into a makeshift graveyard.
Bill: Eeuuw ...
Clive: So that goes straight to the heart of what I'm writing about which is uncanny and cool. He actually finds that the dogs have gone in and dug up the pieces. What used to be this kind of pristine garden before the war. And he remembers it as being the place where he proposed to his wife and his kids played and now he goes back and ...
Bill: Well, you know you've gone straight to the motherlode of gothicism on this continent.
Clive: You should see the big, shit-eating smile I've got on my face right now. (Laughter all around) Damn right, I know! You know what I did not know? What is interesting is I did not know. It sort of crept up on me.
Bill: Yeah! It's sort of natural. I can't see you not being attracted to it. (Laughter all around)
Charlie: Kind of like, "What took so long?"
Clive: Well, it was realizing and having a friend in North Carolina and going out there and just sort of sensing it. And going to Charleston. Went out to Fort Sumtner together and he sort of looked at all of that neat stuff. So I have three more weeks and then I deliver this manuscript and then I guess it comes out in May. My editors in England called me this morning and said ... or my editor called me and said, "I really love this book." And god, that's such a relief because ... you know what this feels like Bill.
Bill: Hm hmm. Yes.
Clive: Nobody sees it.
Bill: I know. It's very important. That initial phone call or two.
Clive: It really is. And, you know, I cry. Tears always spring to my eyes. Like this time I'm sure I've written it in Sanskrit and don't realize. (Laughter)
Bill: Well, I know when I finish a book I know that it's not only the worst book I've written (laughter all around), but that it's worst book that's been written. (Laughter all around) I always tell my wife that. Actually there's always a point where I go upstairs and go, "Oh, god, it's the worst book ever written." And she says, "Oh that's good dear, it means you're almost through." (Laughter all around)
Charlie: Well, it's nice to have people who can understand the process.
Clive: Oh, god. Suffer the process.
Charlie: Well, I'd like to thank you both. This is amazing.
Bill: It's been a pleasure.
Clive: Real fun. Thank you so much for this.
Bill: Well, thank you.
Clive: My pleasure.
END OF PART FOUR (and the interview)