Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A Conversation With Richard Godwin

Christopher Grant: My first question is, when you sit down to create, do you have more than just a blank screen or page in front of you? Is it different with short stories than with a novel?

Richard Godwin: When I sit down to write a story I do not plan, sometimes it can start with a voice, a character talking, or an image, a variety of forms that seem to be demanding growth. Sometimes a story takes shape immediately and others need pruning. I write from all sorts of places. I also write every day unless it is impossible to do so. It is about practice and I like what Pablo Picasso said when he was asked why he worked so hard, he said because 'I want to be at work when inspiration strikes'. A novel is different. Apart from two novels I have written, I plan and edit. The edit is a critical part of the process and I make copious notes.

CG: What was the process for Apostle Rising like? How long did you spend researching? And how much of what you wanted to write wound up in the novel versus how much wound up on the cutting room floor?
RG: Writing Apostle Rising was non-linear with a linear plan. The truth is if you plan you need at some stage to let go of it. I researched certain parts heavily, certain parts I already knew. I wanted the characters to live and breathe. I wrote the first draft flat out in six weeks and then engaged in a heavy editing process. That involved layers of discovery. It is like an archaeological dig in which you find out truths about your own characters. A lot of passages I liked ended up on the cutting room floor. I think John D. MacDonald said sometimes you have to kill your darlings. If the passage has no relevance to the plot get rid of it. I can see now there is scope for more ruthlessness within that. The edit is revealing. It is a key part of the process.

CG: Do you prefer writing or re-writing? Do you consider yourself a better writer or re-writer? Or does it vary from story to story or story to novel?

RG: I love writing and all parts of that. Writing a story is quicker and in some ways more immediately satisfying than a novel, which requires careful editing. That can be a laborious process. When the breakthroughs come they are more satisfying with a novel.

CG: Let's talk about Apostle Rising now. I have said that I think it reads like a true mystery. By which I mean that in stories that are lumped as mystery stories or novels, you usually get the crime happening and the writer tries to set the stage for your eventual discovery of who the criminal is but, for some reason, they can't help themselves and, by the third chapter, either the writer has revealed who the criminal is or the reader has been given enough clues to make that discovery for themselves. Whereas, with Apostle Rising, it seems that you played your cards very close to the vest.
Did you deliberately set out to do so or did the novel just start to come together like that as you were writing it?

RG: I set out to keep the killer's identity hidden. I wanted the reader to experience the mystery a cop finds himself in when he is tracking an extreme psychopath, as well as the effect of dealing with evil. Within that process the novel assumed an organic life of its own. I kept the revelation about who is doing the killings back and the discovery is a surprise. No one has said they guessed who the killer was. That involves careful structuring, peppering the story with clues and involving the sub plot, in which there is also a guessing game about the killer's identity. Apostle Rising is as much about psychopaths who want to destroy and leave scars as it is about the resilience necessary for a cop to survive the investigative process that catching a psychopath involves, and as you know, the story is far from over.

CG: Without ruining the ending for those that haven't yet picked up Apostle Rising (and those who have already know the ending so the question will not be lost on them), is there a sequel to Apostle Rising in the offing?

RG: Yes there is a sequel. I am writing it now. My second novel, Mr. Glamour, was released in paperback by Black Jackal Books in April of this year, and the sequel to Apostle Rising will be released next year. It has just sold foreign rights to the largest publisher in Hungary, Alexandra, and there are other offers tabled. Suffice to say the sequel will explore the key characters in more detail and contain some fireworks.

CG: The violence in Apostle Rising and in many of your stories is over the top and very surreal. I believe that it's justified in all cases, but especially in a novel like Apostle Rising where the story is that of the police, and in particular two partners, dealing with extreme psychopaths, as you put it. The violence in Apostle Rising must be what homicide detectives in particular, worldwide, deal with on a daily basis and not the sanitized for your protection crap that they show us on police procedurals such as Law And Order and the like.
That said, have you ever had complaints about the level of violence that are contained in your stories or in Apostle Rising?

RG: No I have never had any complaints about it. If you really want some hard core violence try the Bible. The truth is I have read of worse things in the papers. People are encouraged to avoid the stark reality of the predatory universe we live in, F Scott Fitzgerald referred to it as crooning there are no wolves outside the cabin door. It is also a beautiful universe. If you study what serial killers do or what the Nazis did to their victims it makes Apostle Rising look like a vicar's tea party. Men and women were held in concentration camps where women were systematically raped and healthy men were castrated in the name of medical science. You see a nation in psychosis. I am writing about one or two individuals in psychosis. The surreal aspect may be to do with the fact that if you slow the camera down to ensure all aspects are visible the reader's brain goes into a self defence mechanism. If we ignore the lessons of history, if we conveniently brush away the less savoury aspects of human experience then we are doomed to repeat them. Crime cannot be sanitised and wrapped up at the check out in a department store. I have tried to be realistic about the fact that sometimes there is no moral redemption for those who have crossed the line and those who, badge bearing law enforcers they may be, have followed. We live in a culture full of myths. I am interested in opening them up and seeing what purpose they serve.

CG: What do purpose do you think these myths serve?

One of the myths in America (at least) is that pornography and sex should be swept under the carpet, that it's worse than violence. People with brain cells believe that wholesale slaughter, such as the massacre of people in Iraq or Afghanistan, is more pornographic than two people with their genitalia showing or touching someone else's genitalia, but these people are generally few and far between.
Why do you think it is that violence is more acceptable than sex? Do you think Hollywood has something to do with that?

RG: If you look at the mythologies of Ancient Greece as described in Ovid, they serve many purposes. They explain the world the Greeks inhabited and also their religious system. Some of the myths are interpretations of nature. Sex features heavily in them also, they use symbolic language to create meaning. Modern mythologies have become less complex and more part of a propaganda machine. I think Hollywood is responsible for the sex phobia that is appeased by images of violence. The Hollywood machine wants to sanitise sex and relationships to the point where it is actually peddle lies. There is no realism in Hollywood and if you look at the sexual habits of the key players you have to wonder. People fuck. They always have and always will. It is part of the human condition, and a valid subject. I think the fact that so many Hollywood films stick to a formula may be one reason the industry fears sex. It doesn't want to make a porn flick, which is probably all it would come up with. But erotic films never come from Hollywood. People are fed violence every day. That appeals to a certain machismo and head set about defence when defence may not be necessary. Lenny Bruce once said it is interesting that they describe sexual content as obscene and it is not obscene to show someone's guts hanging out. Perhaps because Hollywood caters to fantasies it is nervous to cater to sexual fantasies, it might be tantamount to admitting it is a massive whore. At the end of the day it seems mythology has come to mean lies. Lies about sex, lies about the economy, about the need for violence, about the lifestyles people enjoy and others aspire to. It is also connected to the rise of the theocratic right. Young men and women are meant to go to church and think pure thoughts, as Zappa paraphrased their saccharine values in Joe's Garage. The reason for this has to lie in the fact that if you shackle them into marriage and let them breed it's good for business, more punters for church. I think Hollywood is brainwashed. It is also in the pay of the plastic surgery industry, itself another mythologiser. Never age, never wrinkle. Some doctor somewhere has a drawer full of noses and they all look the same. Many of the shrieking crusaders bearing placards denouncing sexual acts are themselves so diseased their prurience is all they have to hold onto. They are frightened of their own desires which is why the seek out the thing that offends them. Politics is also a source of mythology. The need for war is surrounded by propaganda and myth. If you ask what a myth is doing in the modern world it will usually serve the economy or a belief system that is intent on denying some value that the ruling class finds threatening. The ruling class may be Hollywood or the pharmaceutical industry.
CG: How much of what we see in the news is actual news and how much of what is actual news is kept from us?
RG: I think most of all the real news is kept from us. There is a line in a William Burroughs novel in which a journalist says we make the news quite literally. I think it is fiction. Badly written fiction aimed at as Zappa said keeping you docile and ignorant. Propped up by the companies that commit serial rape on a daily basis. While they pursue all the bad guys. You know the most wanted ones. They bury the news beneath a massive plot. A newspaper is a narrative structure. If you study the juxtapositions of stories you are aware you have been placed in  a plot structure that is supporting the men who own the newspapers. Now some serious facts. Let's talk about Halliburton and Bechtel. Who pays them? The US taxpayer. The same taxpayers fund the military-corporate system of weapons manufacturers. Bomb and rebuild, same old army game as William Burroughs says in From Here To Eternity. Now for the Marshall Pan, the act of benevolence. Whose benevolence? Of the $13 billion of the Marshall Plan, as cited by Noam Chomsky in Imperial Ambitions, about $2 billion went to the US oil companies. If you look at the rest of the aid, it moved from one pocket to another. Go do the maths. The Financial Times is the best newspaper in the world because it contains detailed economic analysis that businessmen need. If you read between the lines you can figure a lot out. The truth is we depend on newspapers that are in the pay of their shareholders. The truth is in their pockets.
CG: I've been on your end of your question about parallel universes. So here's me returning the favor.
What are your thoughts on both parallel universes and doppelgangers? Have you had any experiences with doppelgangers?
RG: I believe there are multiple universes and we inhabit one. I think the powers that wish to capitalise out of us want to convince us of the universe. Henry Adams spoke of the multiverse. It is also a discontinuous one. Fragmented by the belief structures that aim for monopolisation.
The worm hole theory is a possible. Also the implosion of a supernova as one example of an event horizon being created. I have no experiences of doppelgangers. Although you have to ask yourself are you the ideal or the failed version. Poe wrote William Wilson. Edward Thomas wrote The Other in which a failed man pursues his alter ego through a rural landscape to be met with disappointment. Parallels are not about narcissism. Remember Echo imitated Narcissus.
CG: Taking off on that, do you think that the doppelganger is a manifestation of the ideal self or the manifestation of evil? And if the former or the latter, what does that say about ourselves?
RG: It depends which position you occupy.You have to remember most of the morality we are taught is riddled with guilt and religion. Now take Catholicism. We had a Pope banning the use of condoms in Africa when they may have halted the spread of AIDS. He was a good man. Or was he evil? What he did is certainly open to moral questioning. In whose eyes? In certain communities burying your parents in boxes is considered evil. Who's right? It's about moral relativism. Nietzsche said there are no moral phenomena, only moral interpretations of phenomena. Hamlet said there is no right or wrong but thinking makes it so. Now you have to draw the line somewhere. Most of us know where that is. An enlightened society would protect the vulnerable, the young and old, without propagandising and protecting the abusers of power while using the newspapers to point the finger at irrelevant statistics that amount to nothing. It all depends on the mirror. Maybe your double is yourself or your devil. What does that mean to you? Many people spend every other second hiding something, some sick little secret. William Blake frequently conversed with the devil. But you have to know what he meant by that. Gide wrote The Immoralist. Are your morals holding you back? Does the glue on the world seem to be holding fast? Maybe the devil is your shadow, all those things you brush under the carpet. See what you find out.

CG: We've talked about perception and about myths in society.
What, in your opinion, is the greatest lie of our time?
RG: That all parents love their children.
Many hate them because they fail, and that is a by product of the conditioning we were talking about earlier.
CG: Since we were talking about the pope just a moment ago, first, I suppose I should ask, are you religious? And, whether you are or not, what are your thoughts about organized religion?
Just for the record, I'm not religious in the least. I think there is a big difference between being spiritual and being religious. When I'm asked about whether I believe there's a god or not, I say, "I don't care one way or another. I'm not living my life so that I can get into a concept like heaven or hell. I don't treat someone differently just so I can get through the gates." And you'll notice that I don't capitalize the word god.
RG: No I am not religious. I have thought and read a lot about religion and while I believe there are spiritual truths within the texts of religions I believe institutionalising spirituality corrupts it. Then you have the organisers of the religion. History is packed with examples of the corruption of the ideals represented by religion. Let's turn our attention to war. So many fought on the back of religion. So it seems a good tool of propaganda. It often appeals to the uneducated and exploits them. I think it is an extension of politics. I also think if you get enough followers and enough money as L. Ron Hubbard did you can start a new religion.
CG: Burroughs wrote many, many times that we must evolve as a species and travel into space.
Do you think we will ever, as a species, evolve to this point?
Do you think that we have been deliberately kept from evolving to that point which we would be able to travel into space by the powers that be?
Have they kept us on this planet to milk every last resource off of it and only then, when that time comes, will they abandon the planet?
Or do you think that it is a fear of the unknown that has kept us grounded? The unknown represented by outer space itself.
There was a time on this planet (and it ended about the time the west was finally stolen from the Native Americans) when you would grow up to about the age of fifteen or sixteen and you would get yourself a mode of transportation (usually a horse) and you would set off over that hill and see what was beyond that hill.
When we, as a species, started into space, we set a goal of getting there, then going to the moon and then there was a goal of going to Mars (and I can still remember the Time Magazine cover talking about how, by 1986, we would have a colony on Mars; still waiting).
We don't have goals like that anymore, unless they come out of a windbag like Newt Gingrich, who would have a colony on the moon but it would be a US colony (no Russkies and darkies allowed, I'm sure the sign would say) and that when there were 13,000 people on the moon, they could become a state. Don't ask me how he arrived at 13,000.
And, even if you want that colony on the moon, you don't want this dickhead running anything, especially not supposedly running the United States.
RG: Many of Burroughs's observations about space travel are based on mutation theory. We have mutated as a species if you consider Darwin's theory of evolution which is an adaptive one. If we travelled to space it would present a different environment and therefore mutation would be involved. He posited various scenarios. One likely one would be politicians colonising outer space while the rest of us were left below. Burroughs thought the future of mankind may depend on outer space since we are messing up this planet.
If it is already happening it would be hidden from us. Programmes like the X Files put forward various theories to that effect. The military may have invented forms of space travel. However evolution doesn't always look pretty. Brion Gysin, who Burroughs credited with the cut-up technique, saw artists as explorers of space. Burroughs said writers are cosmonauts of inner space.
You may ally physics with Art. Take the latest theories from physics about event horizons and worm holes and see how these ideas are already present in Art in all its forms.
The two biggest economic forces on the planet are war and pharmaceuticals. So it may be likely that war and medicating the population is preventing them from understanding what is going on with space travel. A revolution may be a non violent one. If everyone threw all their medication away consider the outcome. Einstein talked about the space time continuum. Kurosawa said if all clocks were stopped worldwide there would be havoc. Space is in time, and outer space is in time. A medicated population digests what it is given and doesn't know what time it is. You have to consider to whose advantage that is. People treat newspapers as factual yet they are a narrative and contain fictions. Or maybe the earth is being replaced as a big theme park with one benevolent president and endless shopping malls. The West talks a lot about propaganda in other nations. Yet at the same time the propaganda machine of the West is subtle and more evolved and works through the channels on which its population has become dependent. The medical industry has an investment in people being ill, despite its claims to the opposite. The consumer society is based on acquisition and status as bases of identity but in fact they do not give identity, and the consumers are being consumed by a series of financial commands that ensure they are trapped in debt and imaginary need for things which they are told will improve their lives.
CG: In the grand scheme of things, was Orwell more correct or was Huxley?
In Orwell's 1984, the state is totalitarian and there are punishments for those that do not conform. The general populace is basically cut off from reality.
When I read 1984 for the first time, I thought of the populace being underground and, when they were above the earth, behind walls, much like a concentration camp.
Whereas, when I first read Huxley's Brave New World, I never got that sense. I always got the sense that here are people living lives that are not their own. They are us. They are medicated off their asses and just pop another pill to feel good and everyone has become homogenized.
This is what frustrates the fuck out of me when people, especially so-called liberals, talk about how we should all be one race and no one should have different cultural identities.
Are we all one human race? Yes. Should we treat each other as such? Yes. But should we give up our cultural identities? Should I stop being proud of my German and Russian and Irish and English and Italian and Polish ancestry? Should Barack Obama, for example, stop being proud of the fact that his father was from Kenya? I don't think so but you'll notice that the media and the right-wing have attempted to make him ashamed of this, going so far as to suggest that the president was not born in Hawaii but in Kenya.
RG: I think it is a mix of both visions and I use the word visionary. I believe we inhabit a pharmaceutical totalitarian state in the West. People are medicated off their asses and do not know who they are. They are cut off from the Naked Lunch as Burroughs put it, by which he meant that naked moment when you see exactly what is on the end of your fork. The homogenisation of man starts at school and continues through the one dimensional careers pursued by some in corporations which want to clone their workers. This may take the form of family roles. The word family derives from the Latin word familia meaning family, servants and domestics. Society is structured on that unit as a way of engineering human response to a set of stimuli which are political agendas aimed to benefit the interests of the ruling party. Being cut off from reality may take the form of extreme totalitarian propaganda or the medicated man we see now as the product of a society with certain economically based views about health.
CG: Do you think it's possible for dreams to predict future events?
RG: I think it is more than likely that dreams predict future events, since they scramble time lines. Grammar is a language and dreams communicate through an alternative means, they are more allied to a hieroglyphic sign system. If you consider the signifier and signified and you randomise the sequence then you have it. The subconscious rearranges events to suit our particular mode of reference and we need to interpret that, to understand it you have to go beyond causality.
CG: Tell us about your new novel, Mr, Glamour.
RG: Mr. Glamour is Hannibal Lecter in Gucci. Something dark is preying on the glitz of the glamour set. DCI Jackson Flare and Inspector Mandy Steele investigate a series of bizarre killings targeting the wealthy and glamorous. Cameras, designer labels, beautiful women and wealthy men fill the pages. The killer in Mr. Glamour knows all about design, he knows what brands mean to his victims. He is branding their skins. He is invading and destroying at will. And he has the police stumped.
Detective Inspector Flare and Inspector Steele try to catch a killer who has climbed inside their heads. As they investigate they step into a hall of mirrors and find themselves up against a wall of secrecy. The investigation drives Flare and Steele—who are themselves harbouring secrets—to acts of darkness. And the killer is watching everyone. In it I explore some of the areas we have been talking about, particularly narcissism and designer labels. Paul Brazill's called it a great London novel. It's receiving excellent reviews and is available here, among other places.


Charles Gramlich said...

Great interview. Always nice to find out more about how Richard Godwin ticks. I particularly liked the comments about writing and rewriting.

Unknown said...

CG - What splendid questions!

RG - Always a pleasure to read your printed thoughts.

One of the best interviews with RG I've read. Tip-bloody-top.

JD Mader said...

Very interesting interview! Apostle Rising is an excellent novel and I look forward to reading Mr. Glamour.

JD Mader - www.jdmader.com

Paul D Brazill said...

Great stuff. This is the best interview that I've read with Richard. Always good to learn more about him.

R.S. Bohn said...

Trust Christopher to ask the most intriguing questions, and for Richard not to hold back when answering.

The entire dialogue on evolution/space travel was fascinating, and nothing I'd heard before.

Thank you both for a fascination interview.

Anonymous said...

This is the interview I've been a long time waiting for and it did not disappoint one bit.
A couple of points I might add would be that since the recent demise of newspapers in general and the rise of the internet as a source for "truth," the secret, inside hands that have been historically played very, very slowly will pick up momentum more quickly, thanks to the unending river of misinformation that is the www (and of course late night radio's political crazies of all stripes).
There is one real hope to my mind and it occurred only last week when the Dragon capsule from SpaceX connected to the space station. This happened not because of any idealisticly motivated political dream, but from the purer motives of capitalism. Yep, the good old human desire to make a buck. Crass? Sure. Effective? You bet. As a resource to let the human race do what it does best, which is move on West to a better -- though not as safe -- future? Damn straight. Boys, we might get to see that man standing on Mars way quicker than we thought just last month.
Aw shit, running on at the mouth, as usual.
Thanks again for the interview, my friends. It shot out the lights.

Nigel Bird said...

'Mr. Glamour is Hannibal Lecter in Gucci' has to be one of the finest tag lines around. A huge amount in this interview to think about. Thanks.

Kate Pilarcik ~ absolutely said...

You gents had me on "forms that seem to be demanding growth" -- How very Godwinesque is growth which moves minds -- over there, back here, erratically and smoothly all in tempo to jab and swish.

Then Picasso coloured the point of being there for Inspiration's heady arrival, my hero F. Scott sized up where the real predators crouch, and all along Zappa kept tinkering down at Joe's Garage. That's no supernova, that's Einstein knowing the merits of a mind with time continuum on the expound is Godwin by God and by golly ...

As the boys I admire up there extolled, Christopher and Richard ~ What an aces high interview to get to both gut and gusto of this novelist, story-meteor, and jazzy philosopher who sees when emperors, nations and even popes have no clothes.

Damn. I'm glad I finally got here. Back to Godwin books -- I'm clearing shelfspace and hope they'll ship from Hungary.

~ Absolutely*Kate,
Listener as well as reader when you guys speak -- catchin' the nuance behind the glimmer overlaying the rat-a-tat-tat.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for your wonderful comments. And thank you Christopher for asking me great questions.

Christopher Grant said...


I echo your comments about everyone and their comments. And thank you for not only granting me the interview, but providing as good as you got.

This was extremely insightful, not to mention fun.