2007 Snapshot Archive: Jack Dann

Interviewed by Alisa Krasnostein

First published at ASiF!

Jack Dann is a multiple-award winning author who has written or edited over seventy books, including the international bestseller The Memory Cathedral; The Man Who Melted; The Silent, a novel of the Civil War; The Rebel: An Imagined Life of James Dean; and a number of short story collections: Timetipping, Jubilee, Visitations, The Fiction Factory, and Promised Land, a companion volume to The Rebel. Dann lives in Australia on a farm overlooking the sea and “commutes” back and forth to Los Angeles and New York.

Q1.You’re currently working on Dreaming Down Under 2 which is a sequel to a previous anthology of the same title. In what way will this second volume be similar to the first and in what ways will it differ? Will we see many of the same names in the ToC?

Almost ready to put DREAMING AGAIN to bed. The original Dreaming Down-Under was meant to be a flagship anthology showcasing the terrific talent of Australian genre writers. Janeen Webb and I had hoped that the volume would help bring Australian genre writing into the ‘international radar’, and, indeed, I think in our small way we succeeded.

People queried me every year about a sequel to Dreaming Down-Under, and I kept replying “When the time is right.” We wanted to wait until the climate had changed…until new authors started writing the stories that would shock, astound, and delight us; and we wanted to give the established and up-and-coming authors showcased in the original volume time to develop new styles, themes, and audiences. Ten years after the original volume…and times have indeed changed. Some astonishing new writers have surfaced, and I find myself once again squinting into the bright reflections of another gold-tinged time: a continuation and consequence of Australia’s golden age of genre. You’ll find quite a few writers who I think will become the new hot new writers, along with the hot new writers who have been winning awards and making their marks. And you’ll also find stories by the generation of writers who have been around for a while and are forging new paths; some of these writers appeared in Dreaming Down-Under, some didn’t. Obviously, I’m really excited about DREAMING AGAIN. It’s not a shadowy duplication of the first volume, as sequels often are. DREAMING AGAIN feels as hot to me as DREAMING DOWN-UNDER did when I was editing it.

Q2. I’m currently reading (still) the anthology Dark Alchemy which you coedited. Do you enjoy editing? How do you see the process complements your writing? Are you working on any other projects at the moment or have any you are planning to develop?

How can you =not= enjoy editing? You’re being paid to read in the genre and choose the stuff that knocks you out. I see editing in some sense as ‘building a novel,’ in that the stories have to fit the theme, fit the other stories (as one chapter following another), have the right ‘feel’ and combine into a sort of architectural entity. It’s sort of like having fun shaping material, but not having to sit at the laptop until you sweat beads of blood to create the material. And it always puts me in the right frame of mind to write my own stuff…and it keeps me in the loop regarding what other writers are doing. Yes, projects always in the works. I’m writing the sequel to HIGH STEEL with Jack Haldeman’s widow Barbara Delaplace. The novel is called GHOST DANCE, and I’m having a grand time writing it. It’s a sort of Heinleinian adventure, and I’ve been reading Heinlein’s oeuvre to put me in the mood. Finished a short novel called THE ECONOMY OF LIGHT, which will be published in hard covers by PS Publishing, who have just published the companion volume to THE REBEL, the short story collection PROMISED LAND. I’m editing DREAMING AGAIN, of course, and have another project going with Gardner Dozois in the same bandwith as DARK ALCHEMY. But it’s a secret until we sell it! Much else happening, but until contracts are signed, I don’t want to jinx anything. THE REBEL just sold to Romania, and I’m writing short stories, as usual. Forthcoming are “Under the Shadow of Jonah” (PS Magazine), “The Art of Memory” with Barry N. Malzberg (Jim Baen’s Universe), and “The Transformation of Targ” with Paul Brandon (Eclipse 1: New Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Jonathan Strahan). And more…but, mercifully, I’ll stop.

Q3. I’ve become really intrigued by your Hollywood icons set of stories. Is there a metanarrative across these? Is there any particular order newcomers to the series should read them in? Do you have any more currently in the works? And finally, do you have any direction you are planning to take them in?

Boy, that’s something to chew on! Yes, there is a meta-narrative, and Kim Stanley Robinson, who did the introduction to the companion volume of short stories, PROMISED LAND, really delineates what I’ve been doing. He states it thematically better than I ever could. I don’t think Stan would mind my extraction of a paragraph or two from his fine essay…

“Dann presents his fictional world through the lens of the celebrities with whom James Dean was associating at the time of his death, augmented by some of those he might have met if he had lived. The cast of characters is therefore eye-popping: the Kennedys and their crowd, Elvis Presley and his crowd, Marilyn Monroe and her crowd. This is a good part of the pantheon of mid-Twentieth century American culture gods, and so one of the things going on in this collection is a different kind of “what if” than that presented in the usual alternative history: not only “what if James Dean had lived?” but also, and perhaps more importantly for this particular collection: “what if most of the myths we tell about that generation of celebrities were based on truths?” This is another kind of fictional idea generator, a kind of archeology of narrative, which says: If the myths and rumors about these people were based on real events, refracted through the lens of retellings, what would have had to have happened, back at the beginning, in order to create the material for us to spin out those myths and rumors? Regarding only the various clouds and columns of smoke, can one then present to the reader the fire itself?

“This is the challenge Dann sets himself, or the opportunity he takes, and it is indeed a zone where memory meets history, as Dann says in his introduction to this collection. The memories are myriad; beyond Dann’s own experiences from that time, there is a huge body of memoirs about this crowd of celebrities, and over time a kind of master narrative or coalescing of myths has accreted around them all, a loose and unlikely assemblage of conspiracies, a kind of new Matter of Camelot. All of us must wonder when we hear the tales, half-believing , half-skeptical—could it be true that this or that couple were secretly connected, that one or more virtuous politician had mob connections? Is there any way to tell for sure?”

Of course, you’d have to read the entire introduction…

Regarding what order to read this work in: I would read the novel first, then read the companion collection. It all fits together into a diorama of sorts. No, I haven’t been writing more ‘Dean’ stories. However, the story “The Nerve Garden” in PROMISED LAND is original to the collection. Q4 Do you read much of the Aus spec fic scene? What’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

Truth be told, most of my reading of Australian speculative fiction has been for DREAMING AGAIN. This will sound like a tremendous cop-out, but if you want to know what I think is the best stuff around…you’ll have to wait for the publication of DREAMING AGAIN. Sorry…

Q5 – And finally, if you had the chance to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most, who would it be?

Actually, no one character really comes to mind, although I must confess I had the hots for Ginevra de Benci when I was writing her character into THE MEMORY CATHEDRAL. However, she was a real person, albeit dead for some five hundred years. So that really doesn’t count. However, if you want to see =why=, take a look at Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrait of her.

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