My favorite author for the last fifteen (or more) years has been Jonathan Carroll, ever since Mike Sumbera had me read his short story, “Friend’s Best Man,” and then following up on that story with Jonathan’s wonderful novel, Bones of the Moon. I wrote an article about Jonathan’s novels in 1989 called, “The Importance of Detail,” and ever since I’ve always felt that he embodied what I look for in a novel: intriguing and interesting characters, weird situations, and a magical plot, always with those telling details to individualize everything.
I first got to shake the man’s hand when I was living in Colorado in 1992 and he did a book tour with a stop at Doug and Tomi Lewis’ store, The Little Bookshop of Horrors. (Doug and Tomi also were the people behind Roadkill Press, which won a World Fantasy Award in the 1990s and published a limited edition of my story, “Going Mobile,” in 1992. Unfortunately, both the Press, the Bookshop, and Tomi are gone.) I try not to play the fanboy, but for Carroll I felt tongue-tied, unable to express just how important his work had been to my changing view of fiction.
When I finally got Internet access in the mid- to late-1990s, one of the first things I did was make a Web page dedicated to Carroll and his novels. I added my article, I scanned in the artwork from all the books, typed in the publisher blurbs and the glowing comments, compiled a bibliography, and tried to do my best to make sure people could learn about his work. I maintained it for years, until Joe Del Tufo convinced Jonathan that he needed an official site, and put together the beautiful piece of work that is the place to learn about Jonathan and his work on the Web. I also started a mailing list for fans of Jonathan and work like his called the “rondua” list (named after the imaginary world in Bones of the Moon). My unofficial site is now gone, but that article I wrote fifteen years ago has found a new home on Jonathan’s official site, and you can join the rondua list by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org (I think).
So it was with great joy that I discovered he would be doing a book tour for his new novel, White Apples. (Jonathan lives in Vienna, Austria, and this was his first trip back to the states since that tour I first met him on in Colorado.) For the last three weeks, the rondua members have been tracking his progress through the country, noting what he read (he’s been alternating between reading the first chapter of White Apples and the first chapter of the book in progress, a story called “The House of Lipstick”), some of the questions asked of him, and the answers.
Tonight was my turn to hear him, and I was pleased to have the chance to listen to him read “The House of Lipstick,” a quite funny and surprising story about Hayden’s world. For the last few books, Carroll’s been playing with writing in the third-person (his other books had been written in first-person) and tonight’s reading was the first experience I had had with this change, and I think it’s wonderful–it’s really envigorated his stories, allowing him to put more of an author’s voice into the book, without that voice being the unreliable voice of his main characters. The result, I think, is to infuse the book with more authority.
After the reading, he graciously answered a bunch of questions and signed an incredible number of books (I personally had eight, but I noticed some in line with more, including one fellow with a whole box). During the question and answer session, I asked him about if and why he continued teaching. He said that he actually had quit teaching about nine years ago, but did teach one class per semester now, just to keep him humble. “You may think you’re God, but students, they don’t care. I told them I’d be gone for three weeks on this book tour, and they said, what for? To pay the bills, I said. But that’s not fair, you’re supposed to be teaching us!” I also asked him if he consciously thought about themes in his book when he was writing them, but he said no. He likened writing to taking a neurotic dog for a walk. “You open the door and, whoa!, there you go. You may walk into a few walls along the way, but you see some interesting things along the way.”
I was at the end of the line to get my books signed, and wrote my name on the little slip of paper, not sure if Jonathan would remember me. I was surprised, and admittedly, pleased, that when he saw my name, he looked up suddenly and stuck his hand out, saying, “Glen!” I’m not so much of a jaded person that I can’t say that having one’s favorite author be excited to see you doesn’t make one feel all fuzzy inside. We joked about the mailing list, expressed our mutual admiration for Joe’s work on Jonathan’s web site, and I did the normal fan thing saying that I was always thrilled to have another book from him to read.
Not much else to say, really. Just an appreciation for a wonderful fellow and a great writer.
[Finished 15 November 2002]