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3am Interview





RECALL MECHANISMS - AN INTERVIEW WITH TESSA, CHRIS, AND RANEA DICK



"For ROTC, they had to march with their M-1. But he would march with a broom because he didn't want to carry a gun and they told him he couldn't do that. Well, the following week, they were learning how to take the M-1 apart and put it back together, but somehow, accidentally, Phil dropped the firing pin into the wrong place and the gun was useless and could never be fired again. So he marched with the broken gun, but he got an F in ROTC, or they kicked him out. See, he never told the same story the same way twice, but some of the details remained the same. Anyway, he dropped out of college because he just couldn't handle the ROTC. After that, he went to sign up rather than get drafted because he no longer had his exemption for being in college. That's when he found out about his high blood pressure. They wouldn't take him [because of it]. He would go join the army and fight in the war because that was better than being drafted, but he wouldn't do ROTC and be a chicken lieutenant, hiding in the tent. He really was against the war, but if he was gonna do it, he was gonna be cannon fodder, not an officer."

By Annie Knight

COPYRIGHT © 2002, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

As my copy of A Maze Of Death was lying on the table at work, a woman asked who it belonged to, and after telling her it was mine, she introduced herself to me as Ranea Dick, daughter-in-law of Philip K. Dick, the science fiction writer. After my jaw hit the floor, she told me that her husband, Chris Dick, was, naturally, the son of P.K. Dick. After my asking and hyperventilating, she kindly agreed to ask her husband, Chris, if he would be willing to do an interview. A few weeks later, I met Ranea, Chris, and Tessa Dick (former wife of the author) for dinner, where they graciously and openly filled me in on many aspects regarding the author and his writing as well as very intriguing tidbits about his personal life. After visiting numerous P.K. Dick sites on the net and reading various snippets of literary criticism regarding his works of fiction as well as the films based on them, it was an incredible opportunity to hear, first-hand, the experiences Tessa, Chris, and Ranea had to share. Thanks to them, all the P.K. Dick fans out there as well as fans of the film, Minority Report who may not even realise the movie is based on Dick's short story, can get the facts on the late author who dynamically ascends the mere label of 'science fiction writer'.

I must admit that as of six months ago, I had never read anything by Philip Dick. But after reading The Crap Artist, A Maze of Death, The Man In The High Castle, and a few of his short stories including Recall Mechanism and The Minority Report, I now know the grave error I have made in not consuming Dick's writing sooner. His indulgence of character development makes me want to grab that shovel myself and dig faster and deeper into their subconscious inked out on paper. So, to meet Tessa, Chris, and Ranae Dick and talk to them

ABOUT THE AUTHOR was more than a dream come true for someone who while reading his books wonders what kind of a person created such monumental stories that have the ability to lead me, willingly, by such a short leash.

3AM: What was his writing behaviour like?

TD: [He would spend] three days straight writing a couple hundred pages. I didn't get any sleep either because every ten minutes [he would ask] "How do you spell X?", "I need some coffee", "Is there any food?"… He'd lay down for about ten minutes, get up again, and write some more.

3AM: Did he have a separate room for writing?

TD: Well, we lived in a two bedroom apartment, so that doesn't leave a lot of room; but we had to move because the people below us had to get up early and we made all this noise at night. So we moved to a place over a garage. Then we had a little baby [Chris] that screamed constantly. He was known as "Fussy" for six months… Actually, Chris became a character in one of the novels.

3AM: Which one?

TD: Actually, Phil's daughter, Laura, and Chris were in The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Chris was [the character] Manny - You know, Emanuel. Emanuel means something like "the lord has come" and Christopher's name means "bearer of Christ." Laura was [the character] Angel, and in the novel, Manny and Angel get together and save the world.

3AM: Anything else you remember about his writing process?

TD: Right after The Man In The High Castle [later in the conversation Tessa explains that this novel was written on his Hermes portable typewriter], he wrote six novels in six weeks because he knew he was going to get the Hugo award [for The Man In The High Castle], and he wanted to cash in on it real quick because he was so broke. When he was with me, he wrote A Scanner Darkly in under two weeks. But we spent three years rewriting it. I got sick of it. The last time the publisher sent out galleys for us to proof, I refused to do it. Anytime I wanted to change anything besides spelling, we had to have a big argument over it, so I just figured I was better off just leaving it alone.

3AM: So you were pretty involved in his writing process?

TD: Well, for A Scanner Darkly.

3AM: When you were with him, were there books he particularly cared about more than others?

TD: He figured The Man In the High Castle to be his masterpiece, but he was hoping to write another one.

3AM: Did his writing behaviors change any towards the end of his life?

TD: His writing was the one constant in his life. He wanted to be a musician when he was young, but he had more desire than talent, so he became a writer. That's where he did have talent.

3AM: What did he play?

TD: He played a triangle with Harry Parch. He got to hit the triangle (laughing). [Parch] was an avant-garde musician up in Northern California. He made his own instruments… Anyway, Phil worked at Tower Records in San Francisco for a long time, and they wanted to promote him to be a manager, but his agoraphobia was getting worse. He didn't like being around people, and here he was, a salesman in a record store. That was how he met his ex-wife, Cleo. They were both students at UC Berkeley and she would come in and buy records.

3AM: What did he study at Berkeley?

TD: Phil studied philosophy for one semester, and then he dropped out because, at the time, they had mandatory ROTC since Korea was going on.

CD: Tell her about the broom.

3AM: For ROTC, they had to march with their M-1. But he would march with a broom because he didn't want to carry a gun and they told him he couldn't do that. Well, the following week, they were learning how to take the M-1 apart and put it back together, but somehow, accidentally, Phil dropped the firing pin into the wrong place and the gun was useless and could never be fired again. So he marched with the broken gun, but he got an F in ROTC, or they kicked him out. See, he never told the same story the same way twice, but some of the details remained the same. Anyway, he dropped out of college because he just couldn't handle the ROTC. After that, he went to sign up rather than get drafted because he no longer had his exemption for being in college. That's when he found out about his high blood pressure. They wouldn't take him [because of it]. He would go join the army and fight in the war because that was better than being drafted, but he wouldn't do ROTC and be a chicken lieutenant, hiding in the tent. He really was against the war, but if he was gonna do it, he was gonna be cannon fodder, not an officer.

After eating for a while, Tessa remembers another anecdote involving Chris and Phil:

TD: (to Chris) Do you remember flipping quarters at Jeeter's [K.W. Jeeter] house?"

CD: We were flipping quarters, and I won about eight or nine quarters, and for some reason my dad and me went outside. We were sitting on the stairs, and a homeless guy came up, asking us if we could spare a quarter for a cup of coffee. I reached in my pocket and gave the guy all the quarters I had won. My dad was really proud of me because he was like that-he really cared about people, and even felt sorry for some of them. I think he was really surprised that a seven-year-old kid would give up all those quarters…

My favorite thing was to have him take me to buy my Star Wars toys. It was really hard to get him to go do it… we bought the "Millennium Falcon." That was a big deal for me because he never went anywhere, and never left his house. I didn't realize what a big deal it was then, but the older I get, the less I want to go anywhere. We live in the mountains, on a dirt road, in the middle of nowhere.

RD: Yeah, I have to beg him to take me to places like Disneyland.

TD: Phil took me to Disneyland once and we managed to stay for about two hours until he went out to the parking lot and sat on the hood of the car. He couldn't get in and drive home because our friends drove us there, so he just waited there until we all went home. He could not stand crowds.

CD: He didn't like driving either. I remember he had a car for about three or four years before he passed away and it only had about 600 miles on it.

TD: For several years, he didn't have a car. He just lived in places where he could walk to everything…

After a while, the conversation begins veering in the direction of the movies based on P.K. Dick's novels:

CD: I'm really excited about Minority Report with Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise. Spielberg hasn't released any bad movies at all. As for Total Recall and Blade Runner, both were real good. Screamers was low budget. I enjoyed the story. I thought it was really good actually, but I didn't like it being low budget because that means the movie is not as good, and I think that hurt his image. But I think Minority Report will really help to launch things and make him more popular. What I really like is that the movies reach a lot of people and get them to enjoy his books because people don't read that much anymore, as it is…

The Story about the Blade Runner toys

TD: Since the movie got an R-rating, Mattel discontinued all the Blade Runner toys, because how do you sell toys to kids from an R-rated movie? Of course today that wouldn't be a big thing, but then it was. But one day, I saw them at Mervyns's, discounted at half price, and I bought as many as I could afford.

3AM: When was this?

TD: Right after the movie came out, and Phil had just died.

3AM: So he was around for the making of the movie?

TD: He got to see the rough cut, which was no good, and then saw a rough cut of the remake, which was much better.

3AM: How did he feel about the movie overall?

TD: Well, he was much happier with it after David Peoples, a script doctor, fixed it. The main thing was that Peoples did put in the little origami animals, because Phil's novel was mostly about the animals and that we were going to lose them because we don't take care of them. The original script was just a bunch of robots and people shooting it out. But that's what people want to see!

CD: Of course, the artist is more interested in what the story is really about… I thought that was interesting how they were making robot animals because they still had a desire to have pets, even when they couldn't have the real thing. What was interesting too was that all the races were intermixed, people were speaking mixed languages, the cities were overcrowded, and crime was real bad. His science fiction is so good, I think, because it's not wild, unimaginable, fanciful thinking about things that never happen. These things really are happening or will happen. Back in the 50's, when this was written, it did seem like a fantasy when now it's a reality.

3AM: Later, through email correspondence, Tessa relayed to me in greater detail how Plato's Cave Theory and aspects of certain Native American cultures influenced Dick's writing. She explains:

TD: "In Plato's Cave, you are seated and tied up so that you can't move. You can't even turn your head. Behind you, people are carrying objects past the opening of the cave, so that the sunlight casts the shadows of the objects onto the wall of the cave. All you ever see is the shadows, so you believe that they are real objects. If someone came into the cave, untied you and dragged you outside, at first you would be blinded by the sunlight because you grew up in the relative darkness of the cave. As your eyes got used to the sunlight, and you began to see the real world, you would believe that it was a hallucination. For you, the shadows are "real", but the real objects are "not real." In Phil's novels, often what seems to be real turns out to be an hallucination, while apparent hallucinations turn out to be real."

3AM: In regard to a Native American influence upon the author and his writing, Tessa adds:

TD: "Phil heard many stories from his grandfather, who fought against the Native Americans in the late 1800s. Phil had great respect for Native Americans and their traditions, even though he was not even part Native American. Phil believed that he had a spirit guide, and that his spirit guide was a very old and ancient Native American shaman. I am part Cherokee and something of a throwback. People who know faces can tell that I'm Native American just by looking at my face, even though most people don't even think of it."








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