The Write Stuff – Monday, April 29 – Paul Di Filippo Interview

Born in 1954 in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Paul Di Filippo has never felt the urge to leave behind his native land. He grew up mainly in two towns, North Providence and Lincoln. At the time, both afforded plenty of open land across which he could stage imaginary battles, odysseys and expeditions. He encountered “adult” science fiction in 1965, with Raymond Jones’sThe Year When Stardust Fell. Soon, he was reading a book a day—although it must be stated they were slimmer back then.

He discovered fandom in 1973 by attending his first convention, Torcon II. He went to Rhode Island College from 1974 through 1978, with a 4.0 GPA, yet dropped out short of his diploma. There in 1976 he met Deborah Newton, his life partner ever since.

He landed a job as a COBOL programmer in 1979, at which he remained until 1982, when his long-simmering desire to become a professional writer could no longer be denied. Leaving his secure income and adopting Ray Bradbury’s advice to write a story a week, he did so for a year or more without any offers. Then he began to click, landing two near-simultaneous sales: “Stone Lives” at F&SF and “Rescuing Andy” at Twilight Zone.

In the subsequent three decades he’s amassed over 200 short fiction sales, and accumulated them, plus his novels, into over forty books. His latest novel, still looking for a home, is titled The Summer Thieves, and is his tribute to Jack Vance. Meanwhile, his second crime novel, The Deadly Kiss-Off, is on the shelves of finer stores everywhere.

Today, we’ll be discussing his latest release, Infinite Fantastika, a collection of short stories that WordFire Press released on September 30th, 2018.

What do you want readers to know about your book?

I was lucky enough to have three books come out in the space of just six months. My first, Infinite Fantastika, is my latest collection of short stories, a nice variety of the myriad forms I work in. The second was Aeota, a novella that combines Philip K. Dick with Thomas Pynchon for some deep weirdness. The third is my second crime novel, The Deadly Kiss-Off, featuring my two scam-artist antiheroes. And with any luck, WordFire will release Plumage From Pegasus: The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Collection in 2019. That’s the latest round-up of my humor columns, most of which appear in F&SF.

Is there common a story behind them?

There’s no real anecdotes about the composition of any of these books, alas. Except perhaps that I always intended Aeota to be a novel, but eventually realized I could say everything I wanted to at shorter length. That’s good, because every writer only has so many years to write, and if you can accomplish your goals at shorter lengths, you can write more in your allotted days!

Why is your writing different from other authors in this genre?

I feel that my stories and novels span a much broader spectrum than those of my peers. Most of my fellow writers find a niche and stick to it. I like to bop around all over the map, mainly to keep my own curiosity alive. Also, I cannot be unrelievedly tragic. Despite the current condition of the world, I remain an optimist about the future.

What was your path to publication?

I followed what used to be the archetypical path. Start selling short stories, then move to novel-length work. Of course, nowadays, people often jump straight to book publication. But for myself, it was the classic route. After a couple of years of rejection, I sold my first two stories almost simultaneously. One to Ed Ferman at F&SF, and one to Ted Klein at Twilight Zone Magazine. That was a rush which all the subsequent sales could not equal.

What are you working on now?

I am composing my third crime novel, The Mezcal Crack-Up. The title and subject matter allow me to sample lots of booze under the guise of “research.” I don’t know if these characters have enough allure left for a fourth outing, but we’ll see when I reach the end of the third.

What else have you written?

I have over forty books available, a little of everything. And I continue to do a lot of review work. But the strangest stuff I ever did was articles on the drug industry for a magazine called Contract Pharma, when my pal Gil Roth was editor there. Despite lack of formal journalistic training, I think I did a pretty good job.

Are there any awards or honors you’d like to share?

Although often nominated, I seldom win. When I did take home a trophy from the British SF Association, they misspelled my name on the base of the award. Awards are overrated, IMHO.

What is your writing routine?

I try to get going before noon, after fooling around on the internet and doing paperwork, etc. Then I write until four or six PM, until I hit my quota of prose, from 500 to 2000 words, whatever I feel is mandated by the project at hand.

Do you create an outline before you write? 

My outlines are very sketchy at best. I believe in letting the story develop organically, and trying to surprise myself.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I used to be more of a pure idea man, with less focus on the human emotions at play. Now I think my stories are better balanced between intellectual conceits and the lives of the characters.

At this stage in your career, what is your greatest challenge?

Earning enough money not to die in the gutter!

Do you have another job outside of writing?

My last day job was about 15-20 years ago, when I was a clerk at Brown University Bookstore. If I didn’t feel a compulsion to write, working in a bookstore would be my ideal job.

Would you care to share something about your home life?

My mate Deborah and I have three “clubs.” At the breakfast table, we have a “read-aloud” club, where we work our way through a non-fiction book a few pages at a time. In the late afternoon when work is done, we have the “music club,” where we try to listen to one new CD every day. And finally, in the final hours before bedtime, we have the “movie club,” where we try to watch something of variable length, depending on how tired we are. So one night, it could be a six-minute cartoon, then sleep! Another night it could be a three-hour movie!

How do you pick yourself up in the face of adversity?

For many years Deborah and I attended weekly sitting practice at a local zen monastery. Learning the rudiments of Buddhism, how to work with your anxious “monkey mind” was invaluable in dealing with life’s tragedies and obstacles.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I am enormously indebted to all the Golden Age and Silver Age authors who formed my sensibilities, people like Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Simak, Anderson, Silverberg, Aldiss, Moorcock, Dick, Ballard, Norton—this list goes on and on. I owe them everything. Now, when I am at a convention, and someone tells me I was an influence on them, I feel a) very old and b) enormously gratified!

Paul, thank you for taking the time to share with us. Before I provide our visitors with a sample story from Infinite Fantastika, as well as book buy and social links, I’d like to conclude with a Lightning Round. In as few words as possible, please answer the following:

My best friend would tell you I’m a: complete and utter joker.

The one thing I cannot do without is: coffee!

The one thing I would change about my life: I’d cure my back problems that derive from forty years of sitting down too long each day!

My biggest peeve is: writers whose egos are more magnificent than their prose.

The thing I’m most satisfied with is: the infinite capacity of nature to astonish us.

Do you have a parting thought you would like to leave us with?

I would encourage readers and writers of SF to remember that authors are not politicians, gurus, activists or rebels, but simply entertainers and artists. The work is its own justification and reward.

 

“Domotica Berserker!”

Here’s what a Mortenson Domotica house printer looks like.

Maybe you’ve seen an hydraulic gantry crane at a shipyard? A quartet of enormous vertical wheeled legs form the corner posts of an open rectangular framework. The legs are connected at their tops by four beams at right angles to those they touch. The crane can position itself over an object, send down its grapple from its cross beams, lift any cargo that fits within its footprint, and wheel it into a new location.

Well, there’s no hook for lifting in the house printer; the four horizontal cross beams—actually there are sometimes six or more girders—contain the myriad printheads, and the beams themselves move vertically up and down the leg framework, from ground level to two or three stories high, depositing the hotmelt plastic according to the instructions in the house printer’s brain. Add in a giant hopper holding the raw materials, and you’ve got the whole mechanism. Oh, yes, the beams and printheads can also adjust their relations to each other along many axes, assuming many different configurations, coming closer together or moving further apart.

A single Morentson Domotica Model 2040-X can build a one-thousand-square foot multi-story residence with all wiring, plumbing and HVAC installed in roughly twenty-four hours. They’re like house-laying hens, dropping a building and moving on.

My name is Steve Benchman, and I was in charge, during the seven-to-three day shift, of a flock of ten of these giant machines. My co-workers on the other shifts were Gloribell Shoop and Santiago Cruz, good and competent domotica techs, if not quite as talented as yours truly. Our assignment was to construct a new residential development of five hundred homes on two hundred acres of long-fallow land within the city limits of Detroit, a development that would house some of the many climate-change refugees arriving in the USA every day. The acreage had been cleared and turned into parkland thirty years ago, in the second decade of the century. But now it was needed for habitations again.

We three were the only humans on the project. The house printers ran themselves, as did the steady stream of self-driving trucks that resupplied the hoppers with fresh hotmelt plastic. About all I had to do was to patrol the construction site, keeping any curious tresspassers at a safe remove, and admire the machines as they worked. Oh, yes, I did have to install new dyepacks when the old cartridges sent a signal that they had run out. The design for the development involved a rainbow’s worth of colors, to make each identically shaped house unique. The floorplans could have been easily made unique as well, but the politicians had decided that each refugee family should get a dwelling identical to all the rest, so as not to encourage jealousy or bickering.

Watching the ten machines move at a snail’s pace across the open tract, depositing their houses precisely atop the pre-laid slabs arrayed on the new street grid above the buried infrastructure of sewers and gas pipes and electric cables, I felt inordinately proud, like the father of an industrious brood of giant workers. Sometimes I would climb the ladder on the side of a Domotica and ride up high in the failsafe control cab, admiring the view of rising walls below me, which heightened visibly as I watched, under the deposition of the dancing printheads. At such times, I felt like Tarzan guiding a herd of very slow tame elephants across the veldt.

One morning I showed up fifteen minutes ahead of my shift to take over from Gloribell, and found her extremely agitated. She grabbed my arm and said, “Look, in the dark—the colors went crazy!”

The entire worksite is not floodlit at night, just the faroff perimeter fence. The machines didn’t need to see. So Gloribell had not noticed that the exterior walls of her ten new buildings had been mis-painted. (The dyes were actually integral with the walls, of course.) Instead of the tasteful suburban color schemes, the buildings sported camouflage and circus stripes, checks and plaids, blots and splatters in eye-wrenching combinations.

I knew instantly what the trouble was. Ten machines could not have malfunctioned simultaneously. “We’ve been hacked.”

Sure enough, we later learned, the firewalls of the Domotica brains had been breached by a virus engineered by the Anti-Tickytacky League, guerilla architects.

But the next instant rendered any of my speculations about the sabotage moot.

The Domotica units all began to print the simplified forms of mini-cathedrals at an accelerated speed that would destroy the printheads before too long. Polychromatic buttresses and gargoyles began to sprout in crazy confusion.

“Call for help!” I shouted to Gloribell, then sprang for the nearest ladder.

In the high control cab I overrode the programming and shut the machine down. I leaped off the ladder when I was ten feet above the ground and raced to the next machine.

By the time I had climbed atop the third, I could hear sirens approaching.

But in the fifth cab things took a turn for the worse.

The remaining active Domoticas suddenly raced off in every direction, their churning wheels gouging the turf. I guessed we were only going twenty miles per hour, but in a machine that gigantic it felt like one hundred.

The printheads continued to spew undifferentiated streamers of hotmelt at prodigious rates far beyond the manufacturer specs.

After picking myself up, bruised and out of breath, from where I had been thrown by the sudden acceleration, I managed to stop the one I was riding.

But the other five were causing some serious trouble. One of the newly arrived police cars was covered in bright green plastic, as were several of the cops themselves.

The rampaging house printers were only stopped by a SWAT team shooting out their wheels. But not before one had breached the perimeter fence and coated two miles of Detroit streets in pink goop.

Millions of dollars and much adverse publicity later, though, the project was back on track. But each security-reinforced Domotica was now staffed by a human round the clock.

And if any of the techs were ever tempted to add a flourish to the plans, they were prevented by a smart guard dog stationed in the cab and ready to bite at the first sign of creativity.

If you’d like to follow Paul online, you can do it here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/paul.d.filippo

You can purchase a copy of Infinite Fantastika here: https://www.amazon.com/Infinite-Fantastika-Paul-Filippo/dp/1614756945/

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