Originally published by The Arizona Republic newspaper, Aug. 31, 2000
Reprinted in Contemporary Literary Criticism Volume 235, 2007
Copyright Jim Cherry, 2000. All rights reserved.
May not be reprinted or re-used in whole or part without written permission.
I understand you lived in Arizona as a boy.
I lived there when I was six in 1926, and for a year when I was twelve. I was a curious kid. When I was six and lived in Tucson, I was on the University grounds all the time, especially the natural science building, which was full of snakes and tarantulas and Gila monsters. They used to throw me off campus, and I would creep back and hide. Tucson is a very special place to me.
Do you think your peripatetic childhood had an impact on your becoming a writer?
I think that I was born to be a writer. It was genetic. You can’t teach that; what you can teach is good habits. When you read my books you can’t imagine anyone else writing them.
There seems to be a spiritual quality that runs through your work. Do you subscribe to the Eastern idea of an impersonal God or the Western idea of an personal one?
I have a delicatessen religious outlook. I will take some a’ deez, some a’ doze and some a’ deez. I believe in American Indian ideas, ideas of the Far East; they’re all fascinating and nothing is proved.
Do you write drunk and revise sober, so to speak, or compose everything carefully in your mind before setting it down?
It’s got to be an explosion. I get an idea and then, bang! I’m at the typewriter, and two hours later it’s done. All of my short stories have taken two or three hours. Throw up, then clean up, is my motto.
You don’t consider yourself a science fiction writer. Instead, you’re a fantasy writer, is that correct?
There’s a timelessness to your work.
It’s mythological. I write Greek myths, Roman myths, Egyptian myths. It’s metaphorical, but there’s no science in them. The only book I’ve written that’s science fiction is Fahrenheit 451. That’s political and psychological science fiction.
In that way, your book is like A Clockwork Orange.
Oh, don’t say that! That’s a sick book! I hate A Clockwork Orange. It’s so vulgar. The characters don’t lift you up in any way.
Do you have any idea of how many copies of Martian Chronicles you’ve sold?
Oh, I don’t know, it’s never been a bestseller. It only sold five thousand copies its first year. But, it’s been a cumulative bestseller. You sell fifty thousand to one hundred thousand paperbacks a year for fifty years and you have quite a few million. None of my books sell worth a damn when they first come out.
How many movies have been made from your books?
Oh, four or five. Illustrated Man, which is no good; Something Wicked This Way Comes, which was very good. Fahrenheit 451, which had things missing but was still a good job. Martian Chronicles on TV was a bore, but we’re going to do it over the next year as a theatrical movie.
Do you hand the book over to the movie studio and let them do their thing?
No, I have to be in there, or I won’t let them do it.
Did you see computers or the Internet coming?
I could see them coming, but nobody could predict some of the problems that would be connected to that.
Well, all this business with Napster, and stealing all that music, thieving millions of dollars of music away from people without paying for it. That’s ridiculous. They should be destroyed. They’re behaving like the Russians and Chinese, who’ve been stealing my books for forty years.
What do you think of alien visitors and UFOs?
No such, no way. It’s ridiculous; there’s absolutely no proof anywhere, at any time.
You’ve never driven a car?
I never learned. I was too poor. Writers can’t afford things like that. My wife and I didn’t have enough money to buy a car until we were 37 and 38, then she learned to drive. Becoming a writer is a very slow process and there’s not much money in it for a long time.
Your musical Dandelion Wine is set to play in L.A.
I did it first at Lincoln Center thirty years ago; now we’re bringing it back, at the Colony Theater in Burbank.
What are you working on now?
I have a new book of essays called A Chapbook for Burnt-Out Priests, Rabbis, and Ministers, a book of philosophic essays, a new book called One More for the Road, a novel From the Dust Returned, and a book of poetry. That’s more than enough, don’t you think?