An Interview With Dan Simmons
by Michael McCarty
This is the 13th anniversary for my book GIANTS OF THE GENRE, published by Wildside Press, May 2003. I’m reprinting my interview with Dan Simmons here.
If you like the book, pick up a copy of the book GIANTS OF THE GENRE. Or my new book of interviews MODERN MYTHMAKERS (the link for that is at the bottom of this page….
Dan Simmons is one of the most versatile writers around. He jumps from genre to genre and is successful in each new venture. He published his first short story in 1982, his first novel in 1985, and has been a full-time writer since 1987. This prolific author has expanded the parameters of several genres – science-fiction, horror, mystery and espionage with such novels as SONG OF KALI, CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT, CARRION COMFORT, THE HOLLOW MAN, THE CROOK FACTORY, DARWIN’S BLADE and many more.
Simmons has also won the Hugo Award, two World Fantasy Awards, two Bram Stoker Awards, the August Derleth Fantasy Award, and others.
At the 2000 World Horror Convention in Denver – not far from his home in the Rockies – Dan gave a speech during the opening ceremonies dressed as Hannibal Lechter. A great writer and a snappy dresser, too! Between film and book projects, Dan Simmons had this to say …
(Children of the Night)
MICHAEL McCARTY: Your book CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT is going into production. This must be an exciting time for you. What can you tell us about the movie?
DAN SIMMONS: The adaptation of my Romanian orphan/vampire/medical-thriller novel CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT to film is still an open question. Principal photography was scheduled to begin this spring, but the German production company still hasn’t got all of its ducks in a row, so I’m waiting to see what happens there.
I’ve had some involvement in this project, on and off, for the past three years and have written all the drafts of the screenplay. It’s been an education … and quite enjoyable as well. I like the discipline and challenge of working in the screenplay form. And the director for CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT, German director Robert Sigl, has become a good friend. I hope the film gets made but the script is high quality and the contact with Robert has been worth the time and effort.
McCARTY: Are there any other movie projects from the Simmons’ library?
SIMMONS: There always seem to be several options and projects in some stage of activity. Currently my most recent novels, THE CROOK FACTORY and DARWIN’S BLADE are under consideration: THE CROOK FACTORY has been optioned and DARWIN’S BLADE is being looked at as a possible TV series. Other books are also under option, include SONG OF KALI, but until I’m eating popcorn in the theater watching the actual film, I’ll keep quiet about it all. Many are optioned, few are chosen.
A quite different film project that I’m contracted to be involved in doesn’t involve one of my novels. European filmmaker Andrei Ujica has invited me to do the screenplay for a film tentatively called THE END OF GRAVITY, to be shot, in part, aboard the International Space Station. When the producer first contacted me I was dubious, but Ujica has already shot one film in space – 1992 OUT OF THE PRESENT, shot aboard Mir. One of Ujica’s cosmonaut friends who shot that earlier film – Sergei Krikalev – is up on the ISS. Ujica wants THE END OF GRAVITY to be part-fiction, part-documentary, and all of it to comprise an homage to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and to the Russian classic science-fiction film SOLARIS.
McCARTY: Talking about movies, what was your reaction when you found out the movie THE HOLLOW MAN had the same name as your book? Did the studio ask you for permission? Any thoughts on the Kevin Bacon film?
SIMMONS: I could hardly cry foul about the use of “my” title of THE HOLLOW MAN since I borrowed it from T.S. Eliot as, presumably, did the movie-makers. I just wish it had been a better movie. I’ve always enjoyed invisible-man films, but that was just plain mean-spirited.
I was visiting a certain unnamed science-fiction writer once when he (or she) was working on an invisible man story. This writer had the person becoming invisible by being transparent to light. When I pointed out that the invisible man would also be blind – that the eye needs darkness for the retina to work, just as a camera does – the science-fiction writer became quite irritated (too bad – this is basic science). I mention this because the one redeeming element the film THE HOLLOW MAN showed was a new idea for creating invisibility – shifting the quantum state of all the atoms in the body ever so slightly. That might do it. The person would be slightly out of phase with the rest of this universe, but still present in a physical sense. Interesting. Too bad they wasted it in that film … and wasted any chance of my THE
HOLLOW MAN selling to the movies under its own title.
McCARTY: THE CROOK FACTORY is a detailed and historically accurate novel of espionage and suspense. How much research went into that book? Did you get any flack from the Hemingway estate or from Cuba because of the book?
SIMMONS: It took me about seven years to research the six months of Hemingway’s life in Cuba from April to September 1942 in which the action of THE CROOK FACTORY took place. It was fun to do that particular research since that weird era in Hemingway’s life – he was chasing German U-boats and running a spy group in Cuba – is left mostly blank by biographers.
No, no problems from the Hemingway estate. But I did receive quite a few positive and interesting letters from people who knew some of the real people in the story – including one Hemingway scholar who was a close friend of Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s third wife and a character in the book. Also, the curator of the Hemingway Collection at the J.F.K. Library got in touch, requesting that I donate my research since there is so little data available from that period. At least one scholar began researching that period because of my novel – an Air Force Academy cadet who received a grant from the J.F.K. Library.
McCARTY: Was HYPERION inspired by Chaucer’s THE CANTERBURY TALES?
SIMMONS: No, the themes in the Hyperion Cantos resonated to the themes in John Keat’s poetry. The nod toward Chaucer was because of the various tales being told in HYPERION as the pilgrims grew closer and closer to the Shrike and their destiny.
McCARTY: What is your favorite story or novel from your own work?
SIMMONS: I tend to like bits and pieces from different projects. No novel, with the possible exception of MADAME BOVARY, has been a total success on all levels, but the author of multiple books tends to have favorite chapters, favorite characters, favorite scenes. Some of my short fiction – the novella “Entropy’s Bed At Midnight” and “Looking For Kelly Dahl” and “The Ninth Of Av” – please me. I must like some of my characters, since they reappear across the decades of subjective time and in many of my books. The eleven-year-old characters from SUMMER OF NIGHT, for instance – Dale Stewart and Duane McBride – reappear forty years later in the novel I just finished, THE HOUNDS OF WINTER. Of course, poor Duane was murdered forty years ago, but that doesn’t keep him from appearing in this novel set in present-day Illinois.
McCARTY: You jump from genre to genre – science-fiction, horror, espionage, etc. Does this give your publishers nightmares because you’re not sticking with just one?
SIMMONS: I don’t worry about my publishers nightmares; I’m too busy analyzing my own. Besides, there are always other publishers when I wander too far afield across genres. Today, I finished proofing my next book – HARDCASE – a hardboiled mystery noir thriller in the Donald-Westlake-writing-as-Richard-Stark-Parker-the-thief mode. I had to find a new publisher who would risk publishing that one.
I’m bored by people who read only one type of book, or one type of fiction. I read widely. Why should I write narrowly? I just finished my first novel in ten years, I look forward to writing more science-fiction this year in my two-book epic ILIUM and OLYMPOS, but who knows what I’ll write after that?
McCARTY: Any advice for writers?
SIMMONS: Dr. Johnson gave the best advice for writers (and readers) more than two centuries ago: “Clear your mind of cant.” Cant consists of pious platitudes (or their cynical counterparts), the technical jargon of a group, the insider prattle of a cult, and the consensus-babble of any age. Cant is political correctness and formulaic crap churned out by Hollywood and bestsellers. Cant is Christian fiction and feminist fiction and Toni Morrison fiction and Marxist fiction and any other “ist” fiction. 99% of everything we read and hear is cant and so is most of the junk turned out by beginning writers. Clear your mind of cant.
(Giants of the Genre)
(Michael McCarty and Modern Mythmakers)