Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An Interview with Allan Richard Shickman

As I mentioned yesterday, I was privileged enough to be asked to read the Zan-Gah books for Allan Richard Shickman, and they were very good!

Today he has agreed to stop by for an interview! Enjoy!

1.  Where did the idea for a Prehistoric Fiction series come from?  

Sometimes it is hard to know where ideas are born, but it seems to me the Zan-Gah books began with geography.  A change in geography is good for an artist or author because he sees things with "fresh eyes," and what might be ignored by a long-time resident can be dramatically new to a visitor.  That's the way it was with me when I left the city of St. Louis to travel across the American West to California by automobile.  Much of the territory I crossed is relatively arid and largely unoccupied.  It raised in my mind the question: how did people survive here before air-conditioned cars and water faucets?  It was over a year before I started typing Zan-Gah, but that is how the idea came about.  The first book is largely a tale of survival in a bleak and arid land.  I placed it in the Paleolithic period to emphasize the difficulty of survival.

2.  What challenges were presented to you while writing these books?  

Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure was my first novel.  As a professor of art history I had written scholarly stuff, but I had never attempted fiction.  When I was writing the first chapter, I was by no means certain that I would ever get to the last—especially because my outline of the plot was far from clear in my mind.  Lots of my most important ideas came to me when the book was in progress.  The hardest thing about writing is placing yourself in a chair in front of a word processor.  It doesn't hurt to do some research, not only for accuracy, but because it helps engender ideas.

3.  Do you have a favorite character in the Zan-Gah stories?  

A good parent does not want to show favoritism, even if he secretly has a favorite child.  How would you feel if your mom told you she liked your brother better than you?  But, yes, I do; my favorite character is Rydl.  I was pleased with the way he developed in the two stories, from a frightened kid to a mature friend, and to a distinct, ingenious personality.

4.  What books have influenced you most in your writing career?  

I'll tell you a secret:  I am not so broadly read as I might be, but I am deeply read.  When I find a book I like, I read it over and over again (every so often) until it is quite digested.  What's the good of making a friend if you don't revisit him/her once in a while?  Any book worth reading is worth reading at least twice.  Consequently, with repetition I drink in vocabulary, phraseology, imagery, and ideas.  I prefer the great classics, and have especially been influenced by the novels of Dostoyevsky and Hardy.  The Brothers Karamazov by the first, and The Mayor of Casterbridge by the second are books that have shaped my personality and contributed to my tragic vision of life.  I like funny books too.  Tom Jones by Fielding and Thackeray's Vanity Fair made me laugh and laugh.  Scott's Ivanhoe influenced the Zan-Gah books a lot, and I was not untouched by Bronte's Jane Eyre, and Austen too.  I almost forgot to mention Shakespeare and Milton—major influences.

5.  What book are you reading now? 

 I'm glad you asked.  I am reading The Mysterious William Shakespeare by Charlton Ogburn. The author demolishes the idea that the man from Stratford, Shakspere, wrote the great plays of Shakespeare; and goes on to virtually prove, with powerful and copious circumstantial evidence, that they were written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (1550-1604).  This belief puts me in a very poor light with orthodox Shakespeare scholars, who no doubt think that Ogburn and his supporters have "eaten of the insane root that takes the reason prisoner."

6.  Do you have a place you go when you need inspiration?  

No.  I get inspirations, large and small, all the time—walking, eating, reading, meditating, watching TV.  The trick is to write down all these ideas, the moment I get them, on a 3 x 5 card.  After a while I have a thick stack of ideas that came to me at random; and because they are on cards, I can sort them into chapters and put them in order.  Then my book practically writes itself (heh heh!).  No writer's block for me.

7.  What was your proudest moment while writing the Zan-Gah stories?  

That's hard to say.  I was very proud of the way I brought the first book to a climax, with danger everywhere and Dael, Zan's twin brother, indifferent to any of it.  Who would have thought that he would refuse to be rescued?

8.  Are there any plans for a third Zan-Gah book?  

My experience is that if you talk too much about a projected book, you are much less likely to actually write it.  Still, I will tell you this much:  I am working on a third Zan-Gah book.  It is in the dreaming stage right now, and I have a thick stack of note cards with little ideas on them.  As I see it, the story will continue with Dael's self-imposed exile, as he seeks some sort of redemption or resolution of his life. He will go to live with the crimson people (introduced already in Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country).  I think I will call it Dael and the Painted People.  But first I have to write it.

Thank you so much Allan for stopping by! 

Readers stop by tomorrow for the first review, and Friday for the second review. I'll also likely be giving these books away in my birthday bash next month so keep an eye out for that as well!


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