inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #76 of 250: Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 13 Sep 99 13:25
While we're waiting for bruces to show up and accept his well-deserved
kudos, let me say thank you for that glimpse into the Clarion
workshop.  I had no idea.  

When you are writing, Powers, do you do an outline first, or do you
just let the thing flow?
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #77 of 250: P.DiLucchio (pdil) Mon 13 Sep 99 14:37
    <scribbled by pdil Thu 30 Mar 00 12:37>
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #78 of 250: Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 13 Sep 99 14:51
pdil reminds me that you don't have to have a question to participate
in this interview.  You can just drop by and say hi or whatever, just
to let us know you're out there reading.

Again, if you are not a member of the WELL, and have a question or
comment for Tim Powers, send e-mail to (that
will automatically send e-mail to *both* hosts).  They will then post
your communication here for you.
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #79 of 250: Ron Hogan (grifter) Mon 13 Sep 99 15:12

The "Last Call" to "Earthquake Weather" trilogy presented one of the
best "secret histories" of the world, in terms of internal consistency
and external compellingness, if that's a word, that I've ever seen.
Probably the best since Robert Anton Wilson's "Mask of the Illuminati,"
and way way better than Eco's "Foucault's Pendulum."
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #80 of 250: Tim Powers (timpowers) Mon 13 Sep 99 16:08
Well!  Thanks, Patrizia, and thanks, Ron!  

Linda, actually I outline like crazy -- maybe literally "crazy."  When
research has given me a couple of dozen things (events, places,
people) that are "too cool not to use," and ergo by definition are
parts of my eventual story, I try to arrange them in "order" -- and
then like connect-the-dots I try to figure out what story these are all
parts _of,_ and make up stuff to fill in the gaps.  I argue with
myself about possible characters and motivations and events, and I
often literally wind up writing every thing -- event, description, bit
of dialogue, realization -- on an index card, and I lay those out on
the floor and move 'em around.

When I've got the whole thing where I like it, and figure I can
declare it "set," I make a giant calendar, with each day-square about
six-inches-by-six inches, and I write each event &c. into one or
another of the days.  The thing by this time is incredibly thorough --
I think I always wish I could just outline so thoroughly that the
outline would magically _become finished text._  (And incidentally, by
this time, I have given the characters every opportunity to "let me
know" what they "want" to be -- from now on they'll have no free will,
no spontaneity, at all.) (-- Though I hope they'll seem to the
_readers_ to still have those things!)

And at this point I can begin to write the story (I even do this with
short stories, which is why I do so few short stories).  For one thing,
all this insane preparation is a cure for writer's block (which I have
every morning) -- any time I think, "Oh, I don't know what to write, I
just want to read old MacDonald paperbacks all day," I can just look
at the giant calendar, and there's the next bit of work clearly
indicated -- even with prepared jokes and dialogue all lined up, often
as not. 
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #81 of 250: Tim Powers (timpowers) Mon 13 Sep 99 16:13
And P., I'd love to see the Skeleton Key.
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #82 of 250: Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 13 Sep 99 17:00
I'd love to see that Skeleton Key, too!

Powers, impressive outlining process! Do you still have them from all
the books you've written using this process?

(And as an aside, I have to comment on how far you've come since
writing your first drafts longhand on the backs of used paper from your
dad's office!)
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #83 of 250: Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 13 Sep 99 17:04
>(And incidentally, by this time, I have given the characters every
>opportunity to "let me know" what they "want" to be -- from now on
>they'll have no free will, no spontaneity, at all.) 

Shall I consider this to be the answer to the next question:
Do you consider that your characters have lives of their own when
you're writing?
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #84 of 250: Tim Powers (timpowers) Mon 13 Sep 99 19:17
Right, Linda.  I never can comprehend it when writers say, "My
characters are real people, they have lives of their own!  I just watch
them go, amazed, and type down what they tell me!"  (I think of hiring
a guy to make a smoking pipe -- you go over to his house a week later
& there's a thing like a wooden squid on his table.  "Oh, that's your
pipe," he says; "the wood had a mind of its own, I just watched,
bewildered, as it took shape."  You look at it, and say, "It's got no
_hole_ in it, man."  And he says, "The wood didn't want to have a
hole.")  Once my outline's written, my characters do what I tell 'em;
if they show any spark of spontaneity, I go over with a bucket of water
and put it out.

No, I don't save all the stuff! -- index cards, calendars, drawings,
drafts, candy-bar wrappers -- only a couple of books'-worth would fill
a garage, practically! -- videocam cassettes, menus from restaurants,
street maps!  I've got a friend in L.A. who's a Powers collector, and
he winds up with all this scaffolding.
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #85 of 250: Ron Hogan (grifter) Mon 13 Sep 99 20:49

As a writer, I guess I'm in a sort of middle ground--I don't outline
every detail from start to finish, but I know roughly where I want my
characters to go, and I'm willing to see how my imagination fleshes
them out within the very broad parameters I set for myself.

But I can see how, in novels that depend on intricate worldviews like
the ones you write, that strict authorial control over the characters
is a desirable condition. Because you already know how the world is,
so you know how characters within it would behave.

And anyway, how can you not love a writer who will name a character
Neal Obstadt?
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #86 of 250: Tim Powers (timpowers) Mon 13 Sep 99 21:56
And I'm way too obsessive with the outlining, Ron, even I can see
that.  I think it's often an excuse to put off actually _writing!_

Hey, I'm glad you caught Nihil Obstat!  Now if I could just figure a
way to name a character Imprimatur ...
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #87 of 250: Undo Influence (mnemonic) Tue 14 Sep 99 07:07

Earlier you said you advised a workshopper to end a story in a way that
would make it a Tim Powers story. Could you describe what you think a Tim
Power story is like? And who besides you writes them?
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #88 of 250: Tim Powers (timpowers) Tue 14 Sep 99 09:22
I'd put it differently, Mike -- I advised her to end a story in a way
that seemed better to me, but afterward I realized (to my wry chagrin)
that all I had done was tell her how to make it more like a Powers

I can describe what I hope a Powers story may be like!  I _try_ to
make my stories be very realistic, with initial enigmatic mysteries
escalating by natural-seeming steps into a wild confusion, in which
implausibility is barely kept in check, with an ending which is both a
surprise and a logically-consistent consequence of the initial
conditions.  And I try to have my characters be intelligent but
ignorant of the problem-at-hand, so that the reader can "follow along"
as the characters discover what's going on.  _And!_ -- this is like
describing a perfectly cooked dinner -- I want the story to be at once
suspenseful, grotesque, colorful and funny.

Fortunately I don't keep up with contemporary writers, so I don't have
to risk irking someone by saying that he or she writes Powers-type
stories.  I can certainly say who wrote the stories I wish I had
written, and which I think I have ripped off with varying degrees of
success -- Thomas Pynchon, Kingsley Amis, C. S. Lewis (_That Hideous
Strength_ particularly), John Le Carre (in my recentest book), Fritz
Leiber ... but especially Pynchon.  In fact, specifically Pynchon' _The
Crying of Lot 49._  When I read that book in college, I apparently
just thought, "This here, Powers, contains the blueprint for what you
gotta do."
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #89 of 250: Tim Powers (timpowers) Tue 14 Sep 99 09:36
Incidentally, one thing I hope Powers stories never do is have
anything particular to "say about the human condition."  I never figure
it's part of my job to _teach_ readers anything, or improve their
morality, or hold up any kind of edifying or accusatory mirror.  I'm
sure that some my personal opinions do filter through in my writing,
but I hope it's never overt.

I hate it when writers _do_ appear to see fiction as a vehicle to
change my mind about politics or morality; I hate them getting between
me and their characters, like a bartender who won't back off and let us
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #90 of 250: Tim Powers (timpowers) Tue 14 Sep 99 09:40
But you like Lewis's _That Hideous Strength,_ Powers? -- and
Hemingways's _For Whom the Bell Tolls?_  Okay, there are exceptions.
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #91 of 250: Reva Basch (reva) Tue 14 Sep 99 09:55
(Just soaking this up, you two. Linda and Tim, you're doing a terrific job!)
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #92 of 250: Martha Soukup (soukup) Tue 14 Sep 99 10:01
But writing doesn't need to be didactic to reflect what the writer sees of
the human condition.  Writing that doesn't reflect a distinctive eye on the
way the world works would be pretty boring.
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #93 of 250: (apb) Tue 14 Sep 99 10:06
re: 90

Not to mention JD MacD's rants in the T. McGee series. 
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #94 of 250: Ron Hogan (grifter) Tue 14 Sep 99 10:34

I described them once as "if Robertson Davies wrote adventure stories."
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #95 of 250: Tim Powers (timpowers) Tue 14 Sep 99 10:41
Right, Alex! -- and I do enjoy McGee's rants even when I can't get
worked up about the issues myself.  I just love listening to
McGee/MacDonald talk.  Heinlein was the same way, until '62, after
which time he didn't figure he needed much of a story as an excuse.

And you're right, Martha -- but what kind of writer _doesn't_ have an
individual slant, a distinctive perspective?  Even if I try not to
comment on the Nobilities & Follies of Mankind, I'm surely giving away
my convictions simply in my choices of what characters are worth
looking at, and what issues are worth their concern.  (I realize that I
appear to be contradicting what I said above!)  

This is _theme,_ I believe!  You should hear Karen Fowler and I circle
this topic at Clarion.  I admit that themes do show up in my writing
-- but I never pre-select 'em, I let them arise from the action
accidentally; and then even after I see what they appear to be, I hope
I never go out of my way to _help 'em along,_ or supply a resolution. 
And -- to the extent that I recognize them -- they're often issues I'm
not aware of caring about, particularly!

I think this happens so naturally and so profligately that it needs no
conscious, deliberate assistance.  To advise people to write fiction
specifically about issues they care about is to hand out
fire-extinguishers in the middle of a flood.
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #96 of 250: Lee Miles (tucumcari) Tue 14 Sep 99 10:56
Keep this up y'all.  I read a pile of SF and Fantasy in about 63-75. 
Then somehow quit being able to find anything to read in my attempts to
find something in airport bookstores (yeeetch).  'Course I've been
living outside of the US for the last 20+ years, which makes it harder
still. I am clearly going to enjoy find a few books, Powers' and
others, and start up again.  Thanks.
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #97 of 250: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 14 Sep 99 15:15
I quite empathize, Lee.  Relying on airport bookstores for reading
material can often be discouraging.  Since you're in Columbia, this
won't help much, but the Southwest Airlines terminal at LAX has a great

Say, Powers, have you given any thought to writing a screenplay?  Has
anybody bought an option on any of your books for the purpose of
turning them into films?
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #98 of 250: Tim Powers (timpowers) Tue 14 Sep 99 15:49
No, actually I never have considered it.  It always strikes me that
screenwriting and prose-writing are two very different crafts, and that
competence in one is no likelier to imply competence in the other than
being good at painting means you're likely to be good at sculpture.  I
know I spent my youth reading books & trying to figure out how they
worked, and I bet screenwriters spent their youths doing the same with
movies.  And really the whole _collaborative_ nature of films would bug
me, I think; and then sometimes they get made but never distributed! 
That would be maddening.

But I'd love it if somebody made a movie from a book of mine! --
people have bought options on one or another of them, over the years,
but none of them has ever gone beyond that stage.  I always figure I'd
have three non-negotiable demands, if some producer were interested:
(A.) If they made those cool jackets for the crew -- those satin things
with elastic cuffs and the movie logo on the back -- I get six; (B.)
My wife and I get to watch filming, and have lunch from the catering
truck; and (C.) If there's a big crowd scene, we get to be in it.  

Aside from those things -- oh, and money -- I'd have no requirements. 
If they were to say, "Powers, we're gonna change your 40-year-old
protagonist to a 20-year-old woman, and instead of Las Vegas we're
gonna make it Atlantic City --" I'd just say, "Why tell me?  Tell my
cat, tell your mailman, I don't care."  It seems so hopeless when
novelists try to have any control over a movie that I wouldn't even
try, I wouldn't even scope it.  I like what James Cain said, when
someone asked him what he thought of what Hollywood had done to his
novels; he pointed at a bookshelf and said, "They haven't done anything
to them.  There they are, see?"
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #99 of 250: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 14 Sep 99 16:00
Heh!  %^)

I want to shift the focus here a bit, from Tim Powers as published
author back to the time before, when Tim Powers was a college student
with a pile of manuscripts and a bigger pile of rejection slips and
full of hopeful anticipation about the future.

Let me tell you a little about this family:  Tim is the oldest of 8
kids born to Richard and Noel Powers.  Tim's dad is an attorney; Noel
was a bright and enormously articulate homemaker, whose multi-volume
lives of the saints was matched by her collection of French literature.
(Sadly, Noel died of breast cancer several years ago, an event that
leaves a huge void and still fills me with sadness when I think about

Both of Tim's parents were well-read, and the house was always full of
books - as well as kids - and all of them read voraciously.  Tim has
said that he "liked to read French translations of Mark Twain and
Dickens, just for the kick of seeing how such idiomatic stuff worked in

I remember Tim telling me about his dad’s career.  Quoting
inaccurately from memory here:  “He used to be the attorney for Western
Airlines (“The Only Way To Fly!”) which meant that we could fly for
free anywhere from Anchorage to Mexico City.  Then he became general
counsel to the LA RTD, which means we can now travel free by bus
anywhere from Burbank to Anaheim.”  I remember Tim’s father’s sense of
humor, he was always laughing hugely and kidding around on those few
occasions I saw him.  And I remember admiring Tim’s awesome parents and
their parenting skills.

At this point, Tim, I’m going to ask you to relate my favorite Powers
family story, about the night that your sister and her friend snuck out
of bed to watch a scary movie on TV.
inkwell.vue.48 : Tim Powers
permalink #100 of 250: Tim Powers (timpowers) Tue 14 Sep 99 16:39
Okay -- but first, it was my _mom_ who read Twain & Dickens in French!
 _I_ can't read _menus_ in French!

My sister and a friend of hers, both about 12 years old, were staying
up real late to watch Seymour's Fright Night on TV -- with the sound
turned way down so that my parents wouldn't know they were still up.  I
(perhaps 18 years old) had retired hours earlier, but I'd been
reading, and it occurred to me that the girls must imagine that
everyone besides themselves was asleep; and since they were watching a
scary movie, it seemed like a good idea to give them a scare.  So I
draped toilet paper over my face and sprinkled it with water -- which
gives a nice mummy effect -- and then I put on a trench-coat and --
since it was right there, somehow -- a graduation cap, with tassel.

And I went lurching up the hall in this eccentric outfit, whispering
"Little girls, little girls!"  And when they saw me they began
screaming -- in whispers -- "Oh God, Tim, that's not funny, stop it
stop it O God" &c., and I went tottering around like a mummy, after
them.  And then one of them knocked over a TV table -- _bong!_ -- and
an instant later they had both bolted down the hall, punching the TV
off as they fled.  And I had to flee too, since I could hear my father
stirring in his room, but it was too late to try to make it back down
the hall -- so I blundered into the dark dining room and just stood
motionless between the door and the china hutch.  Soon I could hear my
father moving around in the living room, no doubt wondering why the
lights were still on and how the TV tray got knocked over.  And then he
stepped into the dining room! -- so I closed my eyes, trusting that I
was invisible in the shadows.

Then I heard a hiss of indrawn breath, and, hesitantly, _"Tim?"_  I
opened my eyes, and he was staring at me in alarm.  "Hi, Dad!" I said
brightly.  He kept staring at me.  "Don't you -- think it's time to go
to bed?" he asked after a few moments, and I said, "Right, Dad!" and
hurried away down the hall.

Only much later did I learn that he had gone back to his own bed and
told my mother, "I'm worried about Tim."

My poor father.  


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