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Gene Wolfe and Neil Gaiman at the Chicago Humanities Festival

Here are my notes from the interview that Neil Gaiman did with Gene Wolfe. These are pretty much my straight notes, so don't expect something wonderfully structured.

The interview was incredibly amusing and gave me a very good feel for Wolfe as a writer, if not for his work. I will be checking some out from the Bartlett Public Library, or borrowing some from Ed if all goes well.

Nov 10, 2004 Gene Wolfe: Master of Time

The event was held at the student center at DePaul University in Lincoln Park, in Chicago. When I arrive, the place has more activity for the bookstore, coffee shop and religious group meeting than for the scheduled event. The mix in the line of about 50 people is split pretty evenly between young college students/slightly hip nerds, and an older crowd.

Gene Wolfe and Neil Gaiman were introduced by Jessa from Bookslut (which i will be checking out just for the name alone).

Wolfe has a very walrus-like mustache and a voice like that of the Sicilian from the Princess Bride. He jokes that he only writes books to justify the book purchases he makes to his wife. Research, of course.

Gaiman's voice is an interesting counterpoint to Wolfe. When he speaks, it is like a smooth wisp of smoke rolling lazily towards you. Wolfe's speech is much more animated and sharp.

Right away, Wolfe is asked what makes his work different. He replies that for his most recent work, he tried to write from the period perspective, not from the perspective of the 20th century fantasy works that depict the period (roughly 12th century).

Gaiman jokes that during a speech at MIT, when he was talking about a line from his collaboration with Wolfe, A Walking Tour of the Shambles that refers to the nonexistant www.preserveusfromthehouseofclocks.com, someone registered the domain on the auditorium's wifi connection.

Prodding Wolfe to get back to his writing history, we are told that Wolfe's first sold story was "The Dead Man," which ran in a skin magazine filled with topless showgirls.

Another early story, "Trip Trap", was written as two perspectives on the same story in two parallel columns. His editor, Damon Knight (sp?), gave it back to him with the instruction to combine it into a single story and contained suggestions on where to make the transitions. He was not keen on the advice, but could not outdo the suggested edits. Wolfe says that he learned a ton from his early experiences in being edited, both by the literary journal editor at Texas A&M and Damon Knight.

An anecdote about his correspondence with James Tiptree Jr (actually an elderly woman named Alice __?).

Neil Gaiman: "You are writing for a reader who is willing to work." Describing the novel "Peace," Gaiman said that on first read it seemed like a bucolic, pastoral sequence of memories, but that on re-reading nearly 5 years later, it was very scary, filled with murders and horrors. Gene Wolfe: "I practice the club sandwich style of writing."

Look up R.A. Lafferty.

Both writers share stories of dogmatic word replacement gone wrong. For Wolfe, who edited Plant Engineering for 11 years, they had a rule that the word "Factory" could not be used, as it was the name of their competitor's magazine. This lead to an issue being printed with the word "satisplant" instead of "satisfactory" due to an overzealous publisher. Gaiman talked about the american galleys for Neverwhere which had undergone a global search and replace to change "flat" to "apartment." This lead to characters speaking "apartmently."

Wolfe asked Gaiman to describe how he got into writing and Gaiman told us how he actually wrote 2 nonfiction books while working as a journalist. The first was a collection of quotations from scifi and fantasy works and the second was a biography on Duran Duran. The publisher (Proteus - crooks, we were assured) offered him the choice of a Def Leppard, Barry Manilow or Duran Duran bio. He chose Duran Duran, spent three months writing it and never saw a dime as the publisher went into involuntary bankruptcy.