Interview with Jack Dann
The Memory Cathedral by Jack Dann
Jack Dann is an author, editor, and anthologist known for his contributions to science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. Dann has written numerous novels and short stories, exploring various themes and genres within speculative fiction. His works often incorporate elements of history, mythology, and alternate realities. Some of his notable novels include "The Memory Cathedral," "The Silent," and "The Man Who Melted."

What was the first thing you remember reading?

I don’t know if this counts, but I remember the first book that took my interest…took my interest even before I could read. My father read science fiction and kept his SF books on a bookcase in my bedroom. I remember taking a book down from a high shelf and being fascinated by the intensely bright Hans Bok cover of Festus Pragnell’s The Green Man of Graypec. The cover was classic pulp: a woman being threatened by ferocious looking green men wielding scimitars. I must admit to being unimpressed with the book when I read it years later. 

But the first book I remember actually reading (not counting picture books such as The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper), the first book to make a deep impression on me, was James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The stream of consciousness technique seemed to reflect my own thought processes.

Go figure, hey?

Was the New Wave SF influential to you?

Well, I would have to give that question an emphatic ‘yes’, especially as I was fortunate enough to be a part of the movement, although, along with writers such as Gardner Dozois, George Alec Effinger, Michael Bishop, Ed Bryant, John Shirley, A. A. Attanasio, I came in towards the end. Writers such as J. G. Ballard, Joanna Russ, Brian Aldiss, Samuel Delany, Bob Silverberg, Kate Wilhelm, Carol Emshwiller, Harlan, Tom Disch, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Michael Moorcock, to name but a few off the top of my head, influenced my writing.

I began publishing in Bob Silverberg’s New Dimensions series, Michael Mookcock’s New Worlds, and Damon Knight’s Orbit series. I sold a story to Harlan’s ill-fated Last Dangerous Visions, met other writers at Damon and Kate’s continuous New Wave literary soiree at their old mansion called The Anchorage in Milford, Pennsylvania; and remember with joy and nostalgia what it felt like to be part of a literary zeitgeist.

What book or movie did you enjoy that not many people would think you’d like?

Hmm, that’s a question that takes me off-guard. Okay, how about this: Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope. Nah, people who know me would figure I’d read just about anything except probably Mein Kampf. (Alas, I did read the disgusting volume.) 

I read omnivorously and am very catholic (in the generic term) in my tastes, both in books and movies…and television. For instance, I love Gilmore Girls. As I wrote earlier, “Go figure”.

The Man Who Melted by Jack Dann
The Dragon Book by Jack Dann

You’re not just known for your SF, but for the many Horror stories you wrote. Was either category easier or harder to write?

I’ve always written across genres, including literary fiction. (My historical and contemporary novels such as The Silent and Counting Coup, for instance.)

But to tell you the truth: I find writing anything and everything difficult!

Do you think your environment, where you live, has an effect on type of art you create?

Absolutely! All writers and artists draw upon their experiences, i.e., their environment, in some way or another, even when it doesn’t seem to be readily apparent in work. As some of you know, I’m an expat New Yorker living in Australia; and although it’s taken some twenty years to percolate, I’m now writing about—or, shall we say, my work is finally being influenced by—my experience of this beautiful country. This stuff takes time to find a permanent place in the unconscious.

Is it easier for you to create if given an assignment or does it get in the way of your creativity?

I work well when I have to push against a deadline. Fear and financial angst are powerful stimuli for creativity! Otherwise, my natural torpor rules…

However, I learned early-on to create my own deadlines, which is how I’ve managed to produce my body of work.

What are your methods creating a story or novel?

It depends on what kind of story or novel I’m working on. But for the most part, I do deep research; I research until I know my fictional world almost as well as my ‘real’ surroundings (unless, of course, I’m writing about my real surroundings!).

I research until I can hear the characters talking in my head…until they begin to ‘tell’ me where their story wants to go. Then I start; and as I write (and research), I discover plot twists and character shifts I would never have considered initially.

Somewhere, at some time, I wrote “For me, writing is exploration; and most of the time, I’m surprised where the journey takes me.” For reasons beyond my comprehension, that quote keeps appearing everywhere like a meme. Type in “For me, writing is exploration”+jack dann, and you’ll see what I mean.

Some writers outline every scene and chapter. I have a general outline in my head. I start at the beginning and try to reach the end, often reworking what has gone before to fit what I discover later. Sometimes I have a visual image of a novel, such as The Memory Cathedral; other times, I see the plot of a novel extending forward like railroad tracks.

I could go on and on about characters taking over my stories and novels, but, mercifully, I won’t.

Shadows in the Stone by Jack Dann
Jack Dann

What have you written that you are most proud of?

That would be like telling the world who your favorite child is.

Usually, it’s the novel I’ve just finished. But, okay, that’s a copout, I know.

I’d say, off the cuff, The Memory Cathedral…and, of course!, my latest novel: Shadows in the Stone: a Book of Transformations. But there’s also The Silent and…

Yeah, I know, I’ll stop.

What was the oddest thing you’ve ever been asked to do in your writing career? 

Write porn for a major circulation magazine. (No, I won’t answer any further questions on the subject <Grin>.)

What projects are you working on now?

Stories, anthologies, and, of course, novels. I’m enthusiastic about starting a novel that has been in my head for years. It’s called Being Gatsby. And like everything else in life, we’ll see how that goes.

(I should mention that I consider it bad luck to discuss projects that are out to publishers or in process; hence, the vagueness of response.)