Farmerphile Interviews Danny Adams & Philip José Farmer
You have just read, no doubt with much excitement, the excerpt from The City Beyond Play, a short novel by Philip José Farmer and Danny Adams, forthcoming this year from PS Publishing. The novel was long in the making, having been first conceived and outlined by Phil as far back as 1970, if not earlier. A letter by Phil accompanying his original manuscript to The City Beyond Play states that when he visited with Randall Garrett and his wife in San Francisco in the spring of 1970 Phil learned a great deal about the Society for Creative Anachronism, and shortly thereafter "got the idea of extrapolating on it for a science fiction story." Phil now clarifies that he knows he did not get the information about the SGA from Randall Garrett, but rather he may have gotten the information at some other point along the Farmers' trip that spring. Although he cannot recall the exact time or place he first learned of the SGA, he speculates it may have been at an earlier sf convention. Phil's 1970 letter does make clear that he did have substantial first hand dealings with SGA members at some point and had witnessed enough of their "colorful and lively and authentic tourneys and recreations of medieval weddings...to know that many [SGA members] actually live in the Middle Ages." That Phil conducted accurate and extensive research is borne out in the course of The City Beyond Play.
Danny Adams, Phil's grand nephew and regular Farmerphile contributor, has done an admirable job utilizing Phil's original outline and notes, along with his own research, to complete the novel many years after Phil conceived it. When Chris Lotts, Phil's agent, initially read the completed manuscript, he was so impressed with it that he immediately called Mike Croteau, who had been acting as a liaison to sell photocopies of the partial manuscript and outline for Phil on The Official Philip José Farmer Home Page. Chris told Mike to stop selling the manuscript and outline at once, so that potential publishers could not see the details. Having read the manuscript without reference to the original material, Chris himself found he could not distinguish a break in the narrative flow. So when he sent out the manuscript to publishers he challenged them to try to determine where Phil's chapters ended and Danny's began. This instantly grabbed the attention of two well-respected small presses, and a mini bidding war ensued.
Now Farmerphile sits down with Danny Adams and Phil Farmer to discuss what is sure to be hailed as a most unique and authentically Farmerian novel.
FARMERPHILE: Your uncle, Phil Farmer, was initially critical in your desire to become a writer. Had you ever actually dreamed of collaborating with him?
DANNY: Good heavens, yes. I'd puttered around with writing a little bit before - on and off since I was five years old. But he was the one who got me seriously interested in writing...when I was the tender age of 12...and my irrevocably deciding that it was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. So from the age of 12 on I dreamed about collaborating with him. I never thought it would actually happen - shows how much I know!
FARMERPHILE: How did you come to get permission to finish The City Beyond Play?
DANNY: I "auditioned." In 2002 I was working on a science fiction alternate history novel, and had finished eight chapters by the time I came to Peoria that August for the 50th anniversary celebration of "The Lovers." I'd already talked with Uncle Phil about my desire to finish the book, but I also brought my opening chapters of the novel to show that I actually did have some chops as a writer.
FARMERPHILE: Why did you wait so long between getting permission and actually writing it?
DANNY: Two reasons. One, that was one of Uncle Phil's conditions in finishing The City Beyond Play: that I finish my own solo project first. At the time, though, I had little idea of what a massive undertaking I'd gotten myself into. I didn't actually finish the first draft until New Year's Day of 2004, and then I spent another two months doing revisions. But by then, I also realized I had a verbosity problem. And, honestly, I still didn't think I was good enough to follow in Phil Farmer's Brobdingnagian footsteps. So I decided to start writing short stories both to practice brevity and build other skills in general. I sold my first stories not long after that, and over the next year sold still more (along with poems) and - I would like to think - honed my writing abilities as well. In the meantime, The City Beyond Play was still in the back of my mind, never far away from my thoughts. There was very much a part of me that was writing deliberately towards The City Beyond Play, if that makes any sense. Then in June 2005 - while working on another novel! - I was suddenly slammed with the thought that wouldn't leave my head: that it was now or never for The City Beyond Play. I don't know why my brain thought that, but I started work on the book and worked on it every day for the next 2 1/2 weeks.
FARMERPHILE: Did you do a lot of collaborating?
DANNY: On the small details of the book, no - if for no other reason than the fact that he'd originally worked on the book 35 years before and didn't remember small details aside from what he'd written in his notes. The collaboration was more like one of spirit than detail; I wanted to make sure that the book was going where he'd wanted it to, that it was the kind of book he'd intended, and that the characters and settings and stories were true to what he had envisioned. That's where we spent the most time collaborating.
PHIL: Danny never asked any questions. He didn't need to. lt rather reminds me of the Kilgore Trout novel. I loved the author's work and the character and just "became" the author for a time. I think Danny did the same thing with this novel.
FARMERPHILE: What was it like to work within the construct of another author? Were there any fundamentals that you would have liked to change?
DANNY: You would think that working in another author's universe might be constricting, but once you know the simple ground rules you realize that you have a great deal more freedom than you thought. Phil Farmer's style is very different from my normal style, and yet taking off the hat of Danny Adams and working as someone else, after a fashion, was exhilarating. He took risks in his writing that I didn't have the nerve to take yet, for instance...but working within his constructs I took them without a second thought. I threw away all of my expectations for myself (whether or not I realized I'd had them) and just ran away with it, and had the time of my life in doing so - even when I was watching from those sidelines! I can't think of any fundamentals I would have changed, per se. In fact, where I changed his original story or outline I made them more "Farmerian." For example, the lady that Wilson Gore meets at the end of the story was, in the original version, someone Gore had never met before that moment. But as I wrote the book it occurred to me that this woman would indeed be not only one he'd met before, but had made both a personal and mythological connection with...then that cascaded into a large new significance when they find Prester John at the end. That happened frequently, as a matter of fact - this tying of things together in the book so that every element touched on every other element. Seeing that happen even as I wrote was a revelation each time.
PHIL: I feel that Danny stayed within the boundaries I had set, and as a matter of fact it is difficult to see where one author stopped and the other started. Caterpillar's Question and Naked Came the Farmer were different. There were many writers in the latter, which made it difficult. In Caterpillar, though there were just two, we wrote a chapter at a time and each time we got it back we were faced with something new. Danny knew what he had to deal with and that didn't change from the beginning.
FARMERPHILE: What goes through your head when you're finishing the work of a master? (This applies to before writing the book, during the writing, the editing, waiting to hear back from Chris Lotts, etc...)
DANNY: There are two parts to my answer here: when I was writing the book, and when I was doing anything else related that wasn't directly new writing (including editing). Not-writing: I've come to believe that 90% of being an author is persistence, and the remaining 10% is probably all indirectly related to persistence somehow. I was a bundle of nerves through much of the before and after process, chock full of inferiority complexes...but persistence got me through. I believed in the book and I was determined that it would be finished - and good. My objective sense about my own work is poorly developed, I'm afraid, and when the final draft was done I still wasn't certain it was any good...so I was surprised, but deliriously happily so, to hear that Chris Lotts wanted to take it on. As for the writing itself...I'm not certain if I can explain this in any way that will sound logical (or believable). But though the book had been simmering and building in my head for nearly three years, every day when I would sit down to work on the book it was as if my own mind stepped aside and something else took over. As if the book had become sentient and was writing itself! That's the only way I can think to describe it. At best I felt as if I was watching from the sidelines - and from around a corner - and the next thing I knew it would be an hour or two later. "I" would only start coming back as the writing day was winding down - in fact my "coming back" was my signal that I was almost done for the day. I don't mean for that to sound mystical, sorry. But that sort of experience had never happened before, nor has it since.
FARMERPHILE: What about the book appealed to you so much? That is, why The City Beyond Play and not another unfinished Farmer novel?
DANNY: Mike Croteau once said of the several unfinished novel manuscripts for sale on PJFarmer.com that this was the Farmer book he most wished had been finished, and I agreed with him. Based on the existing chapters and the outlines it sounded like it would be a book that was both a sharp-pointed satire and a rollicking good adventure. The kind of book that's always, unfailingly fun to read for me. And I liked the premise of the 24/7/365 mock-medieval society; I've known folks who would probably have been happy to join Scadia, for all that. And the idea of someone hiding out in a land where everyone's true identities were consumed by their roles put it over the top.
FARMERPHILE: Tell us a bit about the background process of writing an unfinished novel. Did you have any input or assistance from others?
DANNY: Along with Phil and Bette Farmer, Mike was incredibly helpful with putting The City Beyond Play together. He knows PJF's books inside and out and was able to help me pinpoint spots where the book didn't quite match up to the Farmer style, as well as the inevitable gaps and logic holes that most first drafts possess. He was a Farmer expert who got me talking about the book and in my talking, I worked out several aspects of the plot and characters that were either "lagging" somehow, or simply inferior in their original form. And my wife Laurie. Not only was she the one who lit a fire under me to get me started writing again in 2002 after a depressing years-long hiatus, but she never once doubted that I could write The City Beyond Play! During my most pessimistic moments - and there were quite a few of those - her encourage-ment kept me going, and that made all the difference.
FARMERPHILE: Phil, how did it come that the British publisher PS Publishing got the first rights to publish The City Beyond Play? Most of your books were originally published in the United States and only later were the foreign rights sold.
PHIL: I always sold most of them here first because the US paid more. In this case it was just because the UK outbid the US.
FARMERPHILE: Danny, what was it like as a newer author to have two well respected small press publishers bidding against each other to get the right to print this book?
DANNY: That still boggles my mind. As I said, inferiority complex! I've heard other authors in similar situations say "It was like I was watching it happen to someone else" - and now I know exactly what they're talking about.
FARMERPHILE: What aspirations do you have for your writing career?
DANNY: In terms of sheer enjoyment - even on the worst days - nothing has ever come close to writing for me. Even when there's a rainstorm pouring on the sandbox it's still like playing - intellectual play. Constant exploration of new settings (or worlds), constantly asking "What If?" and using writing to find out an answer. No other field has ever given me those kind of opportunities, and no job I've ever done has given me the satisfaction inherent in the final draft of a well-told story. I have this sneaking suspicion, really, that I want to write full time so that I can spend my days entertaining myself. But I'm OK with that.