inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #0 of 40: Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 25 Jul 01 20:06
I'm always intrigued by what a Google search reveals about our inkwell.vue
guests.  In addition to sites in French, Swedish, Spanish, Norwegian, and
Italian and the multitudes in English raving excitedly about Jack Womack's
work, I also ran across photos from his wedding last year, at
<> titled "Womack
Weds."  It contains the intriguing paragraph: "SF Master Jack Womack looks
smugly into the camera moments before saying his vows at the NYC Municipal
Chapel with fiancee Valeria Susanina. Will marriage ruin Manhattan's
archivist of apocrypha? Will Jack share the fate of re-gooded NYC,
prophesied chillingly in his novel of New York...Elvissey. Stay tuned,
Womack Watchers." 

Clearly we will have to ask him about this.

Jack Womack has worked in bookstores in New York, edited a labor union
newspaper, and currently is a publicist at Harper Collins US/William
Morrow/Eos, where he is responsible for all SF and Fantasy titles
published by them, including those authored by our two most recent notable
guests Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  He is also the author of numerous
stories and short pieces, and novels including _Ambient_, _Terraplane_,
_Heathern_, _Elvissey_ (for which he was the co-winner of the Philip K.
Dick award), _Random Acts of Senseless Violence_, and _Let's Put the
Future Behind Us_.

_Going, Going, Gone_ -- the sixth and final novel in Womack's Dryco series
- is set in an alternate-universe 1968. Henry Cabot Lodge is the lame duck
president. Richard Nixon, not John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in
1963. And Walter Bullitt is a willing pharmaceutical guinea pig for the
U.S. government.

Jack will be interviewed by Cory Doctorow, a science fiction writer and
technocrat. He is the author of "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom," a
novel forthcoming from Tor books in 2002, and "The Complete Idiot's Guide
to Publishing Science Fiction" (co-written with Karl Schroeder) published
by MacMillan USA in 2000. He won the John W. Campbell Award for best new
writer at the 2000 Hugo Awards. He co-edits the weblog, and
has a horribly out of date vanity site at

He is also the co-founder of OpenCola, Inc., a software company that's
making stupendously weird distributed search tools ( He
serves as the company's Chief Evangelist, a combination of spokesmodel and
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #1 of 40: Life in the big (doctorow) Fri 27 Jul 01 10:12
Hey, Jack! It's great to get the chance to talk to you here. I've been
reading your stuff for, oh, years, and I've just finished re-reading just
about everything I could lay hands on, in one massive draught.

I did an interview with Gibson a couple years ago, and he immediately
mentioned you and your theory about growing up in the South: " friend
Jack Womack has a thesis that he and I write the way we do because we're
southern and we experienced the very tail end of the premediated south. In
effect, we grew up in a sort of timewarp, a place where times are scrambled
up. There are elements of my childhood that look to me now, in memory more
like the 1940s or the 1950s than the 1960s. Jack says that that made us
science fiction writers, because we grew up experiencing a kind of time
travel. A part of that for me was growing up in a culture that violence had
always been a part of. It wasn't an aberration, though I realise that in
retrospect. I grew up in the part of the U.S. where all of Cormac McCarthy's
novels are set and that's a pretty violent place. There's violence in my
culture. It's an American thing, but it's particularly a southern thing, and
its romanticization is hyper-Southern. And it's still irresistible to me,
even in middle age. There's something that pulls me to that, but at the same
time, I have this increasing awareness of how banal it really is -- that
evil is inherently banal."

Your work revolves around violence: sometimes comedic, sometimes horrifying,
sometimes exhilerating. Can you elaborate on the connection between
southerness and violence?
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #2 of 40: Jack Womack (jack-womack) Fri 27 Jul 01 16:42
Hi Cory,

And at last I'm finally here. Many thanks for the copies of the
IDIOT'S GUIDE TO SCIENCE FICTION you were good enough to contribute (or
have contributed) to my students, who like me are presently recovering
from a busy week. 

The connection between southerness, and violence, has always seemed
pretty clear to me for a variety of reasons, most I suspect historical.

A) The South was where, prior to the American Revolution, England
tended to send quite a number of transportees, convicts, etc. many of
whom would possess the essential skills for committing violence &
carnage on both the personal & institutional levels. (After the US
secured its independence Australia became the lucky dumping-ground).
B) Slavery. Inherently violent in every possible way -- emotionally,
psychologically, sociologically, physically. After emancipation,
targeted violence was used to keep African-Americans in place,
especially post-Plessy v.Ferguson. Societal sadism in a very distinct
and very real form developed among those who took it upon themselves to
defend what they convinced themselves most needed defending.  
C) The Civil War, and the fact that the South lost. Lots of guns left
around to be used by a lot of essentially disestablished characters.
D) The tendency of Southerners to overdo anything they set their minds
to, whether it be writing, cooking, or violence (notably, referring to
point B, lynching).
E. Drinking. There is, or has been, lots of it down South. Drunks are
more liable to get into arguments, pick fights, lob vicious punches,
bite off noses & ears, kill strangers, kill their friends, kill their
families, kill themselves.
F. The aformentioned romanticization. Southern gallants, defending the
homestead, getting into duels, dying, or killing, admirably. Imbeciles
every one but so be it, the tradition takes shape. From this springs
the basic American notion, live fast, die young, leave a beautiful

For a much deeper delve into why, precisely, the South & violence go
hand in hand, I'd recommend the books ALBION'S CHILDREN and
REGENERATION THROUGH VIOLENCE. I am not working from home, presently,
and I forget the names of the respective authors, but both are serious
historical works written, blessedly, with a minimum of jargon and a
maximum of information.

Both Bill & I had our first pocket knives, I believe, by age six.
Never know when they might come in handy, I suspect the thinking went. 

Violence in literature is of course where I should prefer to keep it,
in real life. Violence in real life happens much, much faster, and no
one talks while it's happening; and it takes a long time to come down,
after the fact. None of this is particularly workable, in lit. A
certain level of mental activity on the part of either participant or
onlooker must take place, in writing, which ordinarily would not be
occuring. Those in its midst would either not be aware of anything else
in the first place, or else would have better things to be thinking

One of my personal favorite depictions of violence in lit is the first
hallucinatory attack of the (North American) Indians in the first part
of McCarthy's BLOOD MERIDIAN, which Bill gave to me the first time I
met him, noting that it would be sort of thing he figured I'd like. He
was right.

And (a potentially useful note here), in rereading my books (or at
this point reading them) in one massive draught, read them in this
order if you want them to make the most (or any) sense:  RANDOM ACTS OF
can be read whenever you want to read it independent of anything else.
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #3 of 40: Life in the big (doctorow) Sat 28 Jul 01 14:27
Good answer, Jack! Thanks for the pointer to Albion's Children and
Regeneration Through Violence -- I'll keep an eye out for 'em.

Your novels have two things that unite them overall: violence and idiom. I
want to get back to violence, soon, but let's talk about idiom now.

Idiom's hard. It's hard to do "street" idiom when you're not on the street
-- you risk coming off stilted in the fashion of an LDS morality-
play/commercial ("Gee, Tommy! You think I can still be hep even if I don't
puff reefer?"). It's hard to use invented idiom without losing your readers
in the density of the prose ("I shoulda flippered the muzz-buzzer, but I
dasn't for fear that his gum-buggers would look askance and invite me to
the pheasant's grotto for light conversation and hot lashings of well-all-
reet"). It's hard to do historical idiom without drowning your readers in
the accuracy of your historicity or coming off as facile and glib.

And all of them are risky because it's hard to tell if the thing that's
making the story interesting is the *story* or the wordplay, hard to tell if
you're drawing characters or using funny vocabulary.

Yet, you manage it. You use invented idiom, street idiom and -- in Going,
Going, Gone -- historical idiom, blended throughout your work. In Random
Acts, the POV-character's idiom works like a scorecard, letting us know how
far she's slid into barbarism as the novel progresses.

What do you find so fascinating about idiom? Is it another Southern thing? A
New York thing? More importantly, how do you know when your ear for idiom is
true, when your words go from illuminating to obscuring?
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #4 of 40: Jack Womack (jack-womack) Sat 28 Jul 01 20:39
Idiom's easy, comedy's hard. 

The main reason I throttled English into so many different variations
is simply because it seemed to me the easiest way to both provide the
implication that the characters think in the same way they speak (I was
once told that my people sounded believable as future-speakers in that
they all spoke "as if they were binary." I have absolutely no idea
what he meant) and, at the same time, a method through which I can
employ any number of otherwise unobtainable literary effects.

RANDOM ACTS is the first title, chronologically, in the series and
through the voice of the narrator Lola the reader becomes gradually
able to follow the language shift, and should thereafter shouldn't have
trouble (or as much trouble) understanding the narrators in AMBIENT
and TERRAPLANE. (HEATHERN is told entirely in English, although the
conversational shift is underway, in places) ELVISSEY is the language
at its deepest development, and will probably always be the most
challenging. Sometimes even I have to look twice to see what I meant.

The only guideline I can give as to how do I know when the thing
sounds right is that when it does, it does. It's like jazz, if you
can't hear it the way you should, then you won't. 

Accounts for quite a number of tone-deaf writers past and present.
Accounts for a lot of dialogue in the old TV show DRAGNET along the
lines of "Acid is groovy,kill the pigs." Accounts for a lot of would-be
Raymond Chandlers who wind up more like would-be Harry Stephen Keelers
(with as much success). Accounts for why Republicans who try to sound
like Democrats, and vice versa, never quite do. 

Although my love of fiddling probably originated with my fondness for
Joyce, the ultimate source of my love of idiom, argot, jargon, nonce
words, slang, etc. arises from George Herriman's KRAZY KAT and Walt
Kelly's POGO.
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #5 of 40: John M. Ford (johnmford) Sat 28 Jul 01 22:49
   Hello, Jack.  Been a while.

   'Scuse me for nodding in, but I think the first book you mentioned
is the first volume of a trilogy by Richard Slotkin, on the Myth of the
Frontier.  The later volumes are THE FATAL ENVIRONMENT and GUNFIGHTER
NATION.  All the books mentioned are excellent reads, and I think
Slotkin is extremely important with a President who thinks he's the Man
With No Name ("My mistake.  -Four- billion coffins"), though he
sometimes makes his case at great length.
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #6 of 40: Life in the big (doctorow) Sun 29 Jul 01 12:46
Comedy's hard! It sure is.

The Ambient books are alternately funny and deadly serious. Comic premises
(like Elvis being worshipped as a saviour who will return some day) are
turned into springboards for serious drama about faith, love and redemption.
Does the comedy get away from you? That is, do you set out with an idea that
sounds like good yucks, but find yourself caught up in the lives of your

And on that note: what's the difference between writing a violent scene for
comedic effect, for catharsis, for plot development and for horror?

I'm asking you a lot of technique questions here because you just got back
from teaching Clarion. Can you tell us a little about your week there? How
did you prepare, and how did those preparations pay off? What were your
objectives going into the week, and did you meet them? I've been a Clarion
student, but I've yet to go and teach a week there; I know what it feels
like to be under the gun as a student, but I'm only coming to appreciate how
scary and exhilerating it must be to teach.

Did you have a mentor who taught you? Did that mentor come back to you as
you tortured^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H taught your own students last week? What was
the substance of your instruction and advice? What did you learn in the
process of teaching?
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #7 of 40: Jack Womack (jack-womack) Sun 29 Jul 01 17:03
Just got back to NY and am in the midst of getting things back in
order; and will reply at full length to all yr questions first thing
tomorrow. Wanted to make sure all involved knew I hadn't disappeared,
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #8 of 40: Jack Womack (jack-womack) Mon 30 Jul 01 09:59
I don't think the comedy ever gets away from me, as in most cases I
try to have it arising naturally from the situation(s). If I didn't get
caught up in the lives of my characters from the start I don't believe
they would ever come across as more than simple templates. 

Writing violent scenes:

1) For catharsis:  violence should be extreme. 

In GOING, GOING, GONE I deliberately contained the urge until the
midway point of the book, save for quick flashes at the end of chapter
one, and again equally briefly in later chapters -- three and four, I
think, although I'm working from memory on that. 

I needed to obtain in fact such a level of violence in this particular
instance that the only way I thought I could make it believable was to
have my narrator, who is watching the proceedings, be experiencing the
effect of an extremely powerful hallucinogen at the time. Hard to pull
off otherwise and keep, barely, believable.

2. For plot development:  see aforementioned brief scenes, especially
in chapter one. I would however in most cases think of these scenes as
primarily developing character, in more ways than one. These occur in
all my books.

3. For horror: my most disturbing scenes, I think, are among the
quietest in each book. The racist toys eyed in passing in both ELVISSEY
and GOING, GOING, GONE. The ad for Kure-A-Kid in RANDOM ACTS. I've
never actually written a scene specifically for the gross-out factor.

4. For comedy:  there are comedic aspects to some of my violent
scenes, again arising from the situations themselves, but the laughter
inspired by these scenes is very dark laughter indeed. I suppose the
best example of this would be in TERRAPLANE, where my character Jake,
immediately following his dismemberment of two detectives, follows with
the line, "modern times, postmodern reaction."

My week at Clarion West was very good. The students were very tired,
as it was the sixth and final week, but all were extremely capable in
both their writing and in their criticism, and I expect a number of
them will go on further with their work, to considerable critical
success (financial? who knows--?)It's not scary to teach, at all,
especially to a class whose members specifically want to be there; in
terms of preparation, I read all available work done by the students
prior to my meeting with them and then try to focus on what they want
to find out. Most things have been gone over by the sixth week, so it's
a question of discovering what's been missed. 

I inevitably focus on the creation of characters, how to do so, and
specifically how to make them believable -- context, dialogue, etc. 

I had no mentors, as such. After a certain point, writing can't be
taught. It didn't take me long to reach that point, I guess.

In the process of teaching I always remember, or re-remember, that
there's always room for error.
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #9 of 40: Life in the big (doctorow) Mon 30 Jul 01 10:32
So, give us a freebie, or a refresher course: What's the Jack Womack spiel
on character-creation?

On another note, tell us about your day-job. You're a publicist for
HarperCollins, which must mean that you're immersed in publishing bizlore,
and probably cherish fewer illusions about the noble craft of bookmaking
than many writers. What are the misconceptions that the writers you work
with/know espouse most frequently, and what hard truths are you most
frequently exposed to?

Also, for me the standout horrorific violence scene from your work will
always be


Lola's revenge against her father's boss in RANDOM ACTS. I know, it's
cathartic, too, but it was such a point-of-no-return for what was really a
very sweet and empathic character that it churns my guts up every time I
think of it. The horror wasn't so much in the depiction of the violence
(which, as I recall, was quite delicately handled), but in the knowledge of
what it must mean to Lola.
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #10 of 40: Berliner (captward) Mon 30 Jul 01 11:21
And Jack, fess up: didn't you coin the phrase "to go postal" in Random
Acts? I'd never seen it before then, and then about a year later
everyone was using the term. But it just seemed at the time I read the
book like it was consistent with the way the character talked.
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #11 of 40: Jack Womack (jack-womack) Mon 30 Jul 01 11:54
First of all, for Berliner: I'm happy to confess. Yes, I used it
first, although my version was "going post office." RANDOM was
published in the fall of 1994 in the UK, but didn't come out in the US
until fall 1995; by which point somebody else had come up with "going
postal." I have no idea what the OED states, etymologically speaking.

As for publicity in general, almost all of the authors with whom I
worked have expressed pleasure that a)they have a publicist in an
unexpectedly advanced demographic group; b)said publicist knows what
it's like from their point of view. 

As a rule I think most authors become very realistic about their
expectations as soon as their first books are published.

All of my life I've worked in book-related jobs, beginning at the
public library back in Lexington, Ky.; then at various bookstores, one
in Louisville, three in NY (as well as at one book wholesaler here in
NY). For six years I was the editor of a labor union newspaper
(Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union), and prior to this job
was the assistant project director for the German Book Office, which is
part of the Frankfurt Book Fair, and which basically tries to get more
German books published in English translation.

1) Start with yourself. All of my characters are ultimately
autobiographical, unlikely as it may seem. Each of us has many parts.
Sometimes the parts to which you don't admit (or are in fact
unconscious of)are the most useful.
2) Continue with your friends. The bits and pieces of behavior that
can be taken off and reapplied to your character(s).
3) Continue with people whom you know, or of whom you've read. 
4) Take all the aforementioned, put into Internal Character Blender,
hit Liquefy.
5) Let it settle. See who's there once the dust clears. 
6) Copy him or her (or them) down on the page, put them through their
paces and then let them go. Make sure you know where they're supposed
to wind up, at the end.

In a nutshell:  put yourself as deeply inside the character as you
possibly can. I always find first person narration to be the best way
to go about doing this although some are able to do it with third
person. But *consciously be your characters while you are writing
them,* as ultimately they are you, anyway.
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #12 of 40: Tara Gillet-Liloia (taragl) Tue 31 Jul 01 12:49
First, thanks for the suggestion about the order in which to read your
books. I was warned not to start with GOING, GOING, GONE, but it was
sitting in front of me and I couldn't resist the allure of a fresh
novel. Coming at this as someone unfamiliar with the Dryco books, I'll
admit that I was thrown by Walter's alternate-dimension jive. But I
liked it and I look forward to starting the series from the beginning.

Second, I have learned of writers who do years of research and have
tomes of cross-referenced material for each novel they create while
others just wing it. Where are you on the scale of pre-novel
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #13 of 40: Jack Womack (jack-womack) Tue 31 Jul 01 13:39
Hi Tara,

I'm glad you enjoyed GOING; certainly the very last pages will make
the most sense, once you've read the rest. 

In terms of research, I usually do that as I'm going along. The most
research I've ever done for my books was for LET'S PUT THE FUTURE
BEHIND US, where I read a fair amount of contemporary news etc. about
Russia (I'd only visited there for one week, prior to my writing that
book -- my longer trip in 1996 occured after the book came out.

While writing the other, interrelated novels, I would check the ones
earlier written as I needed to, for continuity's sake as regards the
bigger storyline.

As far as writing the books goes, I usually come up with the beginning
and then the ending and then fill it in. If I know where the narrative
should start, and should end, then I find that enables the storyline
to go where it needs to go as it gets there, while allowing me at all
times to remember where it all eventually needs to lead. 

I realize this is not a method that will work for everyone. 
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #14 of 40: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 31 Jul 01 17:32

Hi Jack -

I'm must curious about whether your interest in Russia came about before
or after you met your wife?  And I hope that at some point you will
respond to the question I implied in the intro to this topic.  If you want
to, of course.
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #15 of 40: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 31 Jul 01 17:33
E-mail from Keith Schuerholz:

Your writing so often deals with racism and its effects. What attracted you
to this theme and why is it important to you?

"Terraplane" really made me sit down and confront slavery the same way
"Amuse" made me look at the Holocaust. Why does this subject speak to you as
much as it seems to?
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #16 of 40: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 31 Jul 01 17:51
    <scribbled by castle Tue 31 Jul 01 18:21>
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #17 of 40: Jack Womack (jack-womack) Wed 1 Aug 01 09:40
First of all, for Linda:  in response to your earlier question, I have
been considerably regooded by my wife Valeria Susanina; and am told my
apartment is now barely recognizable (save for the books) now that it
has been color-coordinated and otherwise domesticated. As it was during
bachelorhood, I remain on trash and garbage detail.

My interest in Russia was actually initiated by my *first* wife, who
was from New Jersey but who had been a Russian major, and had been
twice in the late 70s. Her accent, I now know, wasn't very good. 

In 1990 I was approached by a representative for a Kazakh director,
Rachid Nugmanov, whose first film The Needle (about drug addicts and
their lives in what was then still called Alma-Ata)had come out to
considerable acclaim in the perestroika-era Soviet Union. He wanted to
do an SF film set in near-future Leningrad and had already been in
touch with William Gibson, who'd recommended that I also be brought in
on it.

(Though Bill had written blurbs et. al. for me earlier, this caused me
to first get in direct touch with him; and we've gotten along fine,
ever since.)

Somehow we managed finally to convince a producer to send me to Moscow
to hang out with Rachid for a week soaking up atmosphere and writing
up a treatment, which happened in late March 1992, immediately after
the collapse of the Soviet Union, which of course was about as
science-fictional an event as has happened in the past fifty years. I
immediately realized that Russia was, indeed, the Parallel World par

While nothing ever happened with the treatment we wrote (the main
thing I remember now is the Little Tsar Ice Maker going berserk and
firing off cubes at such a rate as to cause some sort of hideous
industrial accident leading to, well, you get the idea) and Rachid has
moved on to work, I gather, with the Kazakh political opposition:

a)Bill & I stayed good friends, b)I got enough material and enough
interest was piqued that I was led to write LET'S PUT THE FUTURE BEHIHD
US, c)Spin magazine thought it was a good idea thereby to send me back
to Russia for three weeks in June 1996 to cover that year's election,
during which time I discovered Moscow had changed to such a degree that
the only society with which I could compare it, in many ways, was the
one I'd created for my Dryco novels, d)I realized I actually felt
comfortable being there, as if I fit in, a fairly unnerving reaction
under the circumstances, e)my interest in Russia remained so elevated
that I was more than open to meeting Russians here, one of whom was
f)my wife. 

That's what I call the kind of extrapolation science-fiction writers
just can't pull off.

Keith, I'm going to answer your email in my next post, as I've got to
run now, and this is a question I want to answer at length.

Jon, did you actually leave a message???
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #18 of 40: Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 1 Aug 01 10:18
My family still lives all over the former Soviet Union -- my great uncle
Beryl (who looks like a barrel, as do all of my grandfather's brothers, who
you could stack like nesting matrioshke in polyster pants pulled up to their
nipples with 8" suspenders) in Alma Ata, a bunch in Belarus, Poland, and the
former Leningrad, where my great aunt and great uncle were recently
expropriated from the dry-cleaning shop they ran by the mafiyeh, with an
abrupt phone call that went, essentially, "Hi, this is the mob. Your dry-
cleaners is in a great location. It's ours now. If you ever go back again,
we'll shoot you."

LET'S PUT THE FUTURE BEHIND US was a pretty personal book for me.
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #19 of 40: Jack Womack (jack-womack) Wed 1 Aug 01 11:51
Cory, hadn't realized that you had so many family members still in the
former SU. A friend of mine in Moscow, a former raver who became the
editor of Russian Playboy last year, was shot three times in the back
this past spring when he refused to put a gangster's moll on the cover.
He's since gone back to work, I've heard. 

Russia's state structure and urban society (specifically Moscow &
Petersburg) is presently, I think, about as inherently gangsterish, in
every conceivable manifestation, from top to bottom, as any organized
society has ever been. 

Keith, to get back to your question. I'm just old enough to remember
separate restrooms, and separate water fountains, and even (I believe)
separate reading rooms in the public library. These are memories that

Lexington, KY, where I grew up is actually in the middle, and not the
Deep South, but prior to 1864 the town was one of several centers of
the Southern slave trade, and tradition dies as hard as its victims. In
a very real way I've always felt my hometown to be cursed, and I think
that arises from the mile-long chains its ghosts drag behind them. 

My family, on my mother's side (the side with whom I grew up) believed
and spoke in accordance with those traditions, although my mother's
point of view has shifted considerably over the years. My father and
stepmother, on the other hand, were deeply involved in the Civil Rights
movement in Louisville from the late 1950s on. 

Intuitively, I suppose, I knew from a very young age that my father
was the one who was right. 

This of course would have been in the early sixties, when TV actually
became a presence in our house, thereby letting the world in where it
had never been let in before, certainly not down in those parts. 
As noted earlier in this conversation, Bill Gibson and I have often
discussed how in so many ways both of us feel as if we grew up in the
1930s and 40s, for that was the existing mindset in the societies in
which we lived. TV, and the dying off of what Bob Dylan once called the
traditional people -- our generation's grandparents, and
great-grandparents, all of whom had been born in the 19th century --
changed that. 

When the levee breaks, as it were.

Some have commented that to some degree in the Dryco world, for all
its horror, at base everyone realizes they're in the same boat (but
only to some degree, as Isabelle comes to understand in ELVISSEY)and
this is true -- as awful as the Dryco world is, I wanted to show a
society where the only color that ultimately, and *really,* did matter
is green. 

One of the things I wanted to show, in the Parallel world, was not
that slavery, and segregation, and their ultimate ends, were worse in
that world; in that world, they simply continued, and came to fruition.
(I wanted to keep things as close to the bone as I could: the racist
commercial imagery -- the awful toys, the ads, etc. I use in
TERRAPLANE, ELVISSEY, and GOING, GOING, GONE is taken directly in
nearly every instance from actuality, as any collector of
African-American memorabilia could tell -- and show -- you.) 

Something I wanted to demonstrate in the course of these novels in
which the parallel world is foremostly featured, employing
African-American narrators in all three, was the way history could very
well have gone; and show what the emotions of these characters would
be, exposed to or living within such a society. (So far as I was able
to imagine; but for me the ultimate point in writing, after all, is to
climb into another skin, and see through another's eyes -- thereby see
what I might otherwise be missing.)And considering U.S. history as it
actually occurred, it wasn't so much of an extrapolation to imagine how
things might have turned out. 

With Walter, in GOING, I wanted to show what the ultimate result would
have been -- scattered individuals forced into a forever undercover
existence, required by necessity to make themselves as soulless as the
America in which they live if they are to be allowed to live. 

Walter is a black man pretending to be white, pretending to be black).
There is much missing in his America and in him, and he knows it;
there's simply no longer any point in asking why. There'll always be
the records, or so he thinks. That way, at least, he always remembers.

Memory is a curse, but can also be a blessing, if you don't forget
what should be remembered.

(My record collecting pal Johan Kugelberg has insisted I note this,
somewhere:  Yes, in the *final* world, which is to say our world,
Walter is still a record collector. At least once a month he takes the
ferry over from Vachon and goes to Fillipi, on Olive Way, and spends
hours going through the 78s.)
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #20 of 40: Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 1 Aug 01 12:17
Wow. What a post!

The Dryco world really fascinates me. I'm traditionally interested in sfnal
worlds that attend to some kind of plausibility, even if it means a great
deal of hand-waving to get there. At first, the Dryco world didn't seem to
be pl;ausible to me -- I just couldn't believe in a world where life was
*so* cheap. Reading the scenes where salaryman commuters were falling off
the sides of busses and being killed in traffic without attracting notice or
comment made me wonder what their offices did in the morning when key
personnell didn't show up because they were killed on the way home the night

The more I read, though, the more plausible it all became, especially when
listening to family stories from Russia and friends' tales from Africa. To
what extent is Dryco modelled on the former SU? If not there, then where? Do
societies really function when life is so very, very cheap?

(As a sidebar, I was in Munich last month, and at the Deutschemuseum they
had a display on the slave labor camps where the Nazis were doiong their
rocketry R&D, and it was pretty clear from the exhibits that it's pretty
damned hard to do science when your lab assistants are all three quarters
starved, subject to summary execution by the camp-guards, and actively
opposed to your goals. All moral questions aside, it seems like running an
effective concern is best served when your skilled and semi-skilled
workforce has some chance of showing up at work in the morning.)
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #21 of 40: Jack Womack (jack-womack) Wed 1 Aug 01 14:05
No, it wouldn't be the wisest way of running a business, or country,
or world. And the average person in control is smart?

When a business (or country) controls (in fact, is) the world in which
its employees live, a certain unavoidable lack of concern on the part
of the head office naturally arises. 

None of the people falling off the buses in my books are key personnel
in the first place, however important they may be to their families
and co-workers. There are always new kittens to drown, as Conrad Black
might put it.

In my books, Dryco quite literally is the world, in all its
unfairness. And let's remember in most of the world, today, life is
pretty cheap.

In the broadest sense Dryco is every job you've ever had that you've
hated. (In this regard it functions predominantly as I intended, as a

In more specific senses, Dryco (in Ambient) is every incorporated
entity that kills, however quickly, its employees (uranium, asbestos,
coal)or customers (tobacco) or bystanders (chemicals, automobiles)or
populations in toto (Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Khyber Rouge
Cambodia, etc. etc. etc.)

In the most specific sense, Dryco is the corporation where the
seventeen right hands have never seen the seventeen left hands in
twenty years, and neither have seen the right and left feet, and the
heads are inevitably looking to the stars, or to entrails, hoping
therein to divine a future that can only be positive, except when it
isn't. It does what it does because it knows no better and the
machinery, once in motion, won't shut off.

Dryco, post-regooding (see ELVISSEY), is the corporation that
conceives of itself as green, humancentric, enlightened, so on, so
forth, yet manages to be as bad and in many ways worse than the places
that simply send the workers out to the killing floor. (Fill in your
own blanks, here, but most of these places have come into existence
within the past twenty-five years.)

John Clute (my favorite critic, and a longtime friend) has said more
than once to me, in person and in print, that I seem to imagine that
Dryco functions without an infrastructure. 

And I have said to him multiple times, *of course* it has an
infrastructure, but were I to describe it I'd be commiting that most
egregrious of SF sins, pointing to a refrigerator and then describing,
in lengthy multi-sentence dialogue, how nifty the freon tubes were,
adding a jargon-laden explanation of what freon is and how, precisely,
the tubes work in order, eventually, to shoot out those Little Tsar ice
cubes and accidentally bean an old lady walking by in the temple,
killing her.

(From the aforementioned extrapolation you'll gather that another
comic strip that played a key role in the development of my
weltanschaung was Chester Gould's DICK TRACY, during the truly
delirious early to mid '60s period).

On a more realistic level, speaking of corporations, I work as a
publicist for HarperCollins/William Morrow/Eos, which is part of
HarperCollinsPublishers, which is part of NewsCorp. I have no idea what
is going on at Harper San Francisco or at HC Australia or, save for
the fact that my books have long been published by HC UK, at HC UK. Not
the foggiest idea. 

And there'd be no reason, on a day-to-day basis (or within a certain
period of plot-time), for me to know what was going on there, or to
point it out, or to note it somewhere. 

Working from the point of view of any of my characters, who speak
always in first person, they see exactly where their jobs take them
within the company, and no further. 

Not that they don't want to see -- sometimes they do. But they
couldn't if they tried. 

In the sense that Dryco is the final commodification of the world and
all within it, with past, present and future all equally adaptable to
the needs of the moment, Dryco is growing into adolescence even as we
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #22 of 40: Patrick Nielsen Hayden (pnh) Wed 1 Aug 01 18:34

Sounds weirdly like the spooky last chapter of THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE.  "All
that is solid melts into air."

Jack, you leave most SF writers in the dust when it comes to rubbing our
noses in the weirdness of what is to come, possibly because you have such a
well-cultivated sense of the weirdness of what already is.  Certainly it's
hard to spend more than five minutes in your apartment without noticing that
you have a gourmet's taste in crank literature.  How long have you been
collecting books like that, what got you started, and what do you get out of
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #23 of 40: Jack Womack (jack-womack) Wed 1 Aug 01 20:58
Hi Patrick,

First though I want to thank Mike Ford (and say hello Mike as well),
for his correction of a couple days ago re: ALBION'S SEED. This being
an eminently sensible book, I naturally forgot the title.

However, I'm infallible with titles such as WALLED UP NUNS AND NUNS
WALLED IN and RUBBER BIZARRE LIFE. This leads me, naturally, to
Patrick's delightful question.

The first book in the Womack Collection of the Human Mind at Work and
Play that I picked up was the Ace paperback edition of Frank Edwards'
STRANGE WORLD, in 1964, after I saw the two hosts on a local TV morning
show talking about it (and clearly, I'm now sure, not because a
publicist such as myself had sent them a copy with press release, but
because one of them had spotted it on the rack at Rexall's and picked
it up -- the Gone World, indeed). Sure enough next time I went with my
grandmother around the corner to Rexall's on East High St. (Gone now,
like everything else in Lexington that was there when I was too)and it
was there. 

I still have it, of course, although I have obtained a first edition
since. Not difficult to do, in the case of Frank Edwards' works; he
sold hundreds of thousands of books, most notably the major popular
book on UFOs that appeared in the 1960s, FLYING SAUCERS -- SERIOUS
BUSINESS. I have no idea how many millions of copies sold of this title
(this was in the day when VALLEY OF THE DOLLS sold *20 million* in
mass market pb)but it would have made any publisher, these days, grin. 

STRANGE WORLD, like STRANGER THAN SCIENCE et. al., was a compilation
of short pieces -- originally done for radio, I suspect, he'd had a
show sponsored by the AFL/CIO of all things -- retelling the classic
weird tales:  the Barbados coffins, the purple blob found in the
streets of Cincinnati by two policemen, the legend REMEMBER PEARL
HARBOR written on the sidewalk in front of a Texas school in 1939, and
the appearance of the station call letters KLEE-TV on the screen a
television set in a faraway city, three years after the station's call
letters had been changed. 

I found his other paperbacks and highly enjoyed them, and then found
on the racks a new Ace book, a republication of an older book. On the
back I found a listing within the blurb of what I would find therein,
and midway down I saw something that immediately caught my attention:
The Cow That Gave Birth to Two Lambs. I bought it. Fifty cents well
spent, I thought.

The book, of course, was Charles Fort's LO! His best, I've always
believed, certainly from the literary viewpoint. But if Frank Edwards
was Kentucky field-grown marijuana from the pre-hybridization days,
Charles Fort was (and is) pure Owsley blue.

I've talked to David Hartwell and others about the sense of wonder so
often inspired by the reading of science fiction at a young age; but my
sense of wonder was stirred by Charles Fort, who to this day I will
happily admit to as an influence, a very real one. 

LO! terrified me, really. Fort pulled the rug out from underneath
everything, or appeared to, and did it so extremely well. I hid it at
the bottom of the drawer, as if it were pornography. Pulling it out
occasionally, drawn time and time again to the lovely notion of
steam-engine time, and such lines as "All of us are skating over thin
existence," and "I shut the front door upon Christ and Einstein, and 
at the back door extend a welcoming hand to little frogs and

The latter line is the guiding motto of the Womack Collection, which
will be further described in a latter post.

(I no longer have my original copy of LO! Last year I bought from
Lloyd Currey an absolutely lovely first edition, with dust jacket, in
near perfect condition, from the collection of the late magician Joseph
Dunninger. It is autographed by Fort, I suspect on the evening the
Fortean Society was founded, in NY, at the now-razed Savoy-Plaza. If I
could take only one book with me, in one of those unfortunately
conclusive situations, this would be the book.)
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #24 of 40: Patrick Nielsen Hayden (pnh) Wed 1 Aug 01 21:46

Science fiction insiders are, of course, habitually sniffy about this
stuff.  I am; and I remember being a kid in the 1960s with my own copy
of FLYING SAUCERS: SERIOUS BUSINESS.  Probably that's why.

But Tom Disch writes (in THE DREAMS OUR STUFF IS MADE OF, his annoying
and wonderful overview of the field) about how one of SF's dirty
little secrets is the extent to which the people reading Asimov and
Clarke, Le Guin and Delany, are also the people reading Edgar Cayce.
And the paperback of LO! that you bought was probably the edition
published by Don Wollheim and Terry Carr.

Do not delay further description of the Womack Collection.  No one but its
curator could possibly do it justice.
inkwell.vue.118 : Jack Womack: Going, Going, Gone
permalink #25 of 40: John M. Ford (johnmford) Thu 2 Aug 01 00:33
>> Do not delay further description of the Womack Collection.  No one
but its curator could possibly do it justice.

     Indubitably true, since Jorge Luis Borges is dead (alas).

     I vividly recall reading Edwards, but after I'd read several of
what we'd call "debunking" books these days -- including, of course, de
Camp and Silverberg.  Edwards's account of John Keely, read after
Bob's, probably turned me into a skeptic.  (Ten years later I gave
Keely his own religion, but that's for another time.)


Members: Enter the conference to participate. All posts made in this conference are world-readable.

Subscribe to an RSS 2.0 feed of new responses in this topic RSS feed of new responses

   Join Us
Home | Learn About | Conferences | Member Pages | Mail | Store | Services & Help | Password | Join Us

Twitter G+ Facebook