Thursday, July 20, 2006

James Gunn and Bradley Denton interview each other

Posted by Trent Walters at 3:28 PM
James Gunn
Bradley Denton

This, too, was taped for a new archive of films on SF writers.

BD: Gunn is a legend in SF, and also one of the foremost critics, teachers, reviewers. My instructor at KU. I knew very quickly someone he could learn from. Followed around as grad student. Read “The Listeners,” before meeting.

JG: Any one thing you’ve learned.

BD: Sell it twice. [laughter] “Sergeant Chip” [winner of 2005 Sturgeon] has almost no dialogue. Finally, learned to get rid of dialogue.

JG: Many influences growing up. One thing he did was write plays. “Thy Kingdom Come”: Christ comes again, runs for office, and no one wants to live up to ideals, so they crucify Christ again. Took radio writing class. Radio dramas on KC history, but no one was interested. So he wrote 1st SF story, “Paradise” and sold it to Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1948. Wrote 10 stories for year. Sold third story in John Campbell. Eventually sold them all. Who wants to be wealthy when you can be writer?

BD: How did you learn to "sell it twice?"

JG: My second period of freelance. Dell started SF line. World SF in Chicago. Met agent, Fred Pohl, who sold 4 stories, so quit job to go back to writing. Difficult to serialize novels at this time. Three months writing novel. Decided to write novelettes first, then combine into novel. Met Jack Williamson with whom he hit it off with. Jack had hit writer’s block, with several novels half-written. Who would turn down writing a novel with Williamson [This became Starbridge]? Hartwell reprinted, but had the attributes reversed: Williamson had exuberance, Gunn experience. Fred Pohl collaborated with Williamson successfully, but JG stopped collaborating because it took just as much time as writing on own. Moved to Lawrence. Managing editor of alumni publication--took a few months off to write. A prolific period: Joymakers, The Immortals. Tired of writing for others.... I tell students now: Only write what only you can write. Then you wrote traditional. When did you begin the transformation to write only Brad Denton stories?

BD: Began by copying Galaxy and Worlds of IF. Not unusual to write those you admire. No watershed moment. Very gradual. It took 5-6 years of hanging around you [James Gunn] that I changed. Sold “Music of the Spheres” to F&SF -- part of Master’s thesis -- selling it twice in a sense. Reads JG’s definition of SF from Road to SF. How people react to change is what I tried to change in my stories. Most of my characters are not very smart--the people I grew up with. A conscious effort in Buddy Holly... The closest I’ve come to writing a real SF novel. How has your approach changed?

JG: It’s gotten a lot harder. I used to write 10 pages/day. Now 3-4/week. Raymond Chandler: The more you learn about writing, the less you have to say. Many influences--a vast variety of materials, reading broadly. Never took classes in creative writing, wished he had instead of trial-&-error (except for class with Caroline Gordon--see “Powder Keg” which she tolerated and even gave him an A). Learned that fiction rules could be applied to SF. First line implies story. Much technique to learn. My writing became more dense. Increased concern for metaphor and images and overall impression. Breaking Point: trying to apply problems of SF. Taught in London with Christopher Priest, who said, “I’m pointing behind me my childish enthusiasm.” But I wanted to do SF a lot better.

BD: Gunn was always working and door always open. Thought writers were cloistered. But JG never minded being [pestered].

JG: I always wanted somebody to come by and stop me. Writers shouldn’t demand special circumstances. If phone rings, should be able to move on from there. Otherwise, just another excuse. Writing is very solitary. What PS said isn’t true for him. Teaching is working with someone else. Also, always write something different. Wouldn’t write sequel to The Listeners though it had more influence on SETI than any other book. Nothing may come of it, but at least people were influenced.

BD: Don’t give up. If goes wrong, do again. That’s The Listeners.

JG: Published 2 books a year for several years. What kind of project could continue for 50-75 years without result? [i.e. SETI]

BD: Things are not what they seem.

JG: Very perceptive. Also not presented in the way they will be. Sagan’s favorite quote [from the book was] “Frank Drake... what an ego.”

BD: What favorite memories do you have [of being in the field]?

JG: You and John Kessel won Sturgeon and Campbell awards: [he thought] “I’ve passed the torch.” Also Desilu Playhouse put on “The Cave of Night,” also The Immortals’ TV movie and series. Name up there in bright red letters. Got more fan mail after Digest article. “You sold a story,”--that changed my life. Exploring the wat it would be-- from first novel. Same as. The Listeners: Dedication to certain goals.

BD: Always have Gunn’s definition in mind when writing SF.

JG: Disagree with Ordover (thru def) that SF has to stick with tried and true. Like George’s writing, JG's is highly controlled, perhaps too much. But we have to be who we are.

BD: As a child, he felt father, a sheet-metal worker, didn’t get him. Didn’t disapprove, but didn’t understand. Dad let him know he’d read Star Wars novelization. [some chuckles] But that meant a lot to me, that he was trying to connect with the thing I loved.

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