The OF Blog: Interview with Paul Di Filippo

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Interview with Paul Di Filippo

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Paul Di Filippo is a science fiction writer born October 29, 1954 in Providence, Rhode Island. He is known for being a prolific, wide-ranging writer of everything from steampunk to cyberpunk, and for his gonzo writing style. He has been published in Postscripts. He is also a regular reviewer for almost all the major print magazines in the field, including Asimov's Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Science Fiction Eye, The New York Review of Science Fiction, Interzone, and Nova Express, as well as online at Science Fiction Weekly. He is a member of the Turkey City Writer's Workshop.

Dear Paul, thank you for agreeing to do this interview for us.

Could you please tell us a bit about yourself and how you started writing?

I've been an inveterate reader since age 5, starting with all the usual talismanic works: Dr. Seuss, the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and then, upon discovering hardcore SF at age 10, rapidly exploring that genre. Somewhere along the way, I got the notion that creating such works would be a fun and noble enterprise, and that I could do the same. I began my writing career by producing satirical essays for my highs school newspaper. (At this time, I was living in Lincoln, Rhode Island.) In college, I wrote a few similar pieces for THE ANCHOR, the paper of Rhode Island College. During the same period, I sold my first short story to UNEARTH MAGAZINE, and an opinion essay to THE NEW YORK TIMES. These affirmations from editors convinced me that I was not entirely deluded about my own talents, although it would take another ten years or so before the rest of the world began grudgingly to concede the same. If they even do so today at all!

What's a "typical" writing day for you?

When I first began writing, I used to dive right in around 8:30 or 9 AM every morning, finish by 1:00 PM, then go out to enjoy the real world. Nowadays, I'm at the computer at the same early hour, but spend two hours goofing around online! Then I write from about noon to 3:00 PM, whereupon I venture out into society. I used to aim to produce 1000 words a day, based on Ray Bradbury's famous manifesto, and I often still do. But I'll happily accept a 500-word day too!

I try to work on only one fiction project at a time. I find that immersion in a single imaginative world is about all I can take. But reviewing handily fills in the gaps.

You've been a writer for more than 20 years. What are some of the highlights of those years?

Well, selling that first story to UNEARTH felt splendid. The same feelings, perhaps even intensified, occurred when I almost simultaneously sold to TWILIGHT ZONE MAGAZINE and F&SF for the first time, at the true start of my career, circa 1985. Placing my first book, THE STEAMPUNK TRILOGY, with Four Walls Eight Windows was a milestone moment. And lately, seeing the Jerry Ordway art for my TOP 10 comics script for the first time was mind-boggling. My few awards nominations have generated a warm glow, tempered by the realization that my chances of winning are slim.

Generally, I try to remain unjaded, and not take any experience, positive or negative, for granted.

How would you describe your stories to a reader who is only now learning of you?

I'm all over the map. I do serious stuff, gonzo stuff, fantasy, science fiction--call me a gadfly or polymath kind of writer. If this hypothetical reader picks up my collection THE EMPEROR OF GONDWANALAND AND OTHER STORIES, he or she or it will get a sampler book designed to highlight almost all my facets.

Do you have favorites from the short stories you have written?

I'm fond of "The Mill," because it's quasi-autobiographical. It's about an alien textile mill, and my relatives (and me!) all worked in that trade. I think one of my newest pieces, "Wikiworld," is quality hardcore SF, creating a tangible world out of solid, realistic speculations. Generally, like a lot of writers, whatever I'm working on currently is my favorite.

M. John Harrison recently wrote a blog entry that generated some controversy on a few sites that said "Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over world building." What do you think Harrison meant by that and would you
agree or disagree with that statement?

That's a killer statement from MJH which I had not yet seen. Basically, I think he's amping up Chip Delany's famous notion that "style" or word choice and syntax, etc., is both a writer's only unique stock in trade, and also the necessary and inevitable lens
through which any reader perceives the narrative or story. If this is MJH's point, then I'm solidly in his camp!

How much, if any, of an effect has your personal experiences have on the tales that you have written?

A recent reviewer called my story "Wikiworld" an "economic fantasy," leading me to realize that my own struggles for an income have caused me to focus on this theme: how does one stay monetarily afloat and what are the social structures that determine wealth and poverty? If I had been independently wealthy, I'm sure none of this would matter
quite as much to me!

If you were given the One Ring, what would be the first thing you would do?

I'll have to offer multiple options here:

1) Get all the sexy elf ladies into bed
2) Cast a glamour spell that shaved fifty pounds off my appearance
3) Fill my hobbit burrow with a year's supply of delicious Shire foodstuffs
4) Enforce world peace with an iron fist.

If you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?

I would have to opt for helper monkeys, such as the one that Homer Simpson once employed. I'd take five, and name them Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Gummo!

Thank you for your time and patience, Paul. We wish you the best of luck with your work.

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