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Darkling Plain:
Dan Simmons
interviewed by Michael McCarty
"European filmmaker Andrei Ujica has invited me to do the screenplay for a film tentatively called The End of Gravity to be shot, in part, aboard the International Space Station."
"I don't worry about my publishers' nightmares; I'm too busy analysing my own."
"Cant is Christian fiction and feminist fiction and Toni Morrison fiction and Marxist fiction and any other -ist fiction."
Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons is one of the most versatile writers around. He jumps from genre to genre and is successful in each new venture. He published his first short story in 1982, his first novel in 1985, and has been a full time writer since 1987. This prolific author has expanded the parameters of several genres - science fiction, horror, mystery, and espionage with such novels as Song Of Kali, Children Of The Night, The Hollow Man, Darwin's Blade, and many more. He has won the Hugo award, two World Fantasy awards, two Bram Stoker awards, the August Derleth Fantasy award, and others. At the 2000 World Horror convention in Denver - not far from his home in the Rockies - Dan gave a speech during the opening ceremonies dressed as Hannibal Lecter. You have to love someone who does that. Between film projects and book projects, Dan Simmons had this to say...

Your book Children of the Night is going into film production. This must be an exciting time for you. What can you tell us about the movie?

The adaptation of my Romanian orphan/vampire/medical thriller novel Children of the Night to film is still an open question. Principal photography was scheduled to begin this spring, but the German production company still hasn't got all of its ducks in a row, so I'm waiting to see what happens there.
   I've had some involvement in this project, on and off, for the past three years and have written all of the drafts of the screenplay. It's been an education... and quite enjoyable as well. I like the discipline and challenge of working in the screenplay form. And the director chosen for Children of the Night, German director Robert Sigl, has become a good friend. I hope the film gets made, but the script is high quality and the contact with Robert has been worth the time and effort.

Are there any other movie projects from the Simmons library?

There always seem to be several options and projects in some stage of activity. Currently my most recent novels - The Crook Factory and Darwin's Blade are under consideration: The Crook Factory has been optioned and Darwin's Blade is being looked at as a possible TV series. Other books are also under option, including Song of Kali, but until I'm eating popcorn in a theatre watching the actual film, I'll keep quiet about it all. Many are optioned, few are chosen.
   A quite different film project that I'm contracted to be involved in doesn't involve one of my novels. European filmmaker Andrei Ujica has invited me to do the screenplay for a film tentatively called The End of Gravity to be shot, in part, aboard the International Space Station. When the producer first contacted me I was dubious, but Ujica has already shot one film in space - 1992's Out of the Present, shot aboard Mir. One of Ujica's cosmonaut friends who shot that earlier film - Sergei Krikalev - is up on the ISS as I write this in February of 2001 and other cosmonaut/videographers are scheduled to fly during the coming year. Ujica wants The End of Gravity to be part fiction, part documentary, and all of it to comprise an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey and to the Russian classic SF film Solaris.

Talking about movies, what was your reaction when you found out there was a movie The Hollow Man with the same title as your book? Did the studio ask you for permission? Any thoughts on the Kevin Bacon film?

I could hardly cry foul about the use of 'my' title of The Hollow Man since I borrowed it from T.S. Eliot as, presumably, did the movie-makers. I just wish it had been a better movie. I've always enjoyed invisible man films, but that one was just plain mean-spirited.
   I was visiting a certain unnamed SF writer once when he (or she) was working on an invisible man story. This writer had the person becoming invisible by being transparent to light. When I pointed out that the invisible man would also be blind - that the eye needs darkness for the retina to work, just as a camera does - the SF writer became quite irritated. (Too bad - this is basic science.) I mention this because the one redeeming element the film The Hollow Man showed was a new idea for creating invisibility - shifting the quantum state of all the atoms in the body ever so slightly. That might do it. The person would be slightly out of phase with the rest of this universe, but still present in a physical sense. Interesting. Too bad they wasted it in that film... and wasted any chance of my The Hollow Man selling to the movies under its own title.

The Crook Factory is a detailed and historically accurate novel of espionage and suspense. How much research went into that book? Did you get any flack from the Hemingway estate, or from Cuba because of the book?

It took me about seven years to research the six months of Hemingway's life in Cuba, from April to September 1942, in which the action of The Crook Factory took place. It was fun to do that particular research since that weird era in Hemingway's life - he was chasing German U-boats and running a spy group in Cuba - is left mostly blank by biographers.
   No, no problems from the Hemingway estate. But I did receive quite a few positive and interesting letters from people who knew some of the real people in the story - including one Hemingway scholar who was a close friend of Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway's third wife and a character in the book. Also, the curator of the Hemingway Collection at the J.F.K. Library got in touch, requesting that I donate my research since there is so little data available about that period. At least one scholar began researching that period because of my novel - an Air Force Academy cadet who received a grant from the JFK Library.

Was Hyperion inspired by Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales?

No, the themes in the Hyperion Cantos resonated to the themes in John Keats' poetry. The nod toward Chaucer was because of the various tales being told in Hyperion as the pilgrims grew closer and closer to the Shrike and their destiny.

What is your favourite story or novel from your own work?

I tend to like bits and pieces from different projects. No novel in history - with the possible exception of Madame Bovary - has been a total success on all levels, but the author of multiple books tends to have favourite chapters, favourite characters, favourite scenes. Some of my short fiction - the novella Entropy's Bed At Midnight and Looking For Kelly Dahl and the upcoming The Ninth Of Av please me. I must like some of my characters, since they reappear across decades of subjective time and in many of my books. The 11-yr-old characters from Summer Of Night, for instance - Dale Stewart and Duane McBride - reappear 40 years later in the novel I just finished, The Hounds of Winter. Of course, poor Duane was murdered 40 years ago, but that doesn't keep him from appearing in this novel set in present day Illinois.

You jump from genre to genre - science fiction, horror, espionage, etc. Does this give your publishers nightmares because you're not sticking with just one?

I don't worry about my publishers' nightmares; I'm too busy analysing my own. Besides, there are always other publishers when I wander too far afield across genres. Today I finished proofing my next book - Hardcase - a hard-boiled mystery noir thriller in the Donald-Westlake-writing-as-Richard-Stark Parker-the-thief mode. I had to find a new publisher who would risk publishing that one.
   I'm bored by people who read only one type of book, or one type of fiction. I read widely. Why should I write narrowly? I just finished my first horror novel in ten years, I look forward to writing more SF this year in my two-book epic Ilium and Olympos, but who knows what I'll write after that?

Any advice for writers?

Dr Johnson gave the best advice for writers (and readers) more than two centuries ago - "Clear your mind of cant." Cant consists of pious platitudes (or their cynical counterparts), the technical jargon of a group, the insider prattle of a cult, and the consensus-babble of any age. Cant is political correctness and the formulaic crap churned out by Hollywood and bestsellers. Cant is Christian fiction and feminist fiction and Toni Morrison fiction and Marxist fiction and any other -ist fiction. Ninety-nine percent of everything we read and hear is cant and so is most of the junk turned out by beginning writers. Clear your mind of cant.

What can we expect from Dan Simmons in 2001 and 2002?

One book - The Hounds of Winter - is being revised now. Hardcase, the noir thriller, is in. Ilium is scheduled to be delivered to Harper-Collins this year as is the second 'Joe Kurtz novel' to St Martin's. There's at least one film script contracted and perhaps a teleplay for a new but very old TV SF series that debuts in the fall.
   Or maybe not. Who knows? I may just drop it all and go live in Hana, Hawaii, and walk the beaches for a few years.
Books by Dan Simmons:
Song of Kali (1985),  Carrion Comfort (1989),  Hyperion (1989),  Phases of Gravity (1989),  Entropy's Bed at Midnight (1990),  The Fall of Hyperion (1990),  Prayers to Broken Stones (collection - 1990),  Summer of Night(1991),  Children of the Night (1992),  The Hollow Man (1992),  LoveDeath (collection - 1993),  Fires of Eden (1994),  Endymion (1996),  The Rise of Endymion (1997),  The Crook Factory (1999),  Darwin's Blade (2000),  Hounds of Winter (2001).
   Buy books at: Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com
Dan Simmons in Seattle photo - courtesy
of Cary Thomas,
visit Cary's website
Hyperion The Crook Factory Darwin's Blade

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