Exclusive Author Interview #1
#1 Family Background and a Move Out West
JB: We're here in Anaheim and I am with Tim and Serena Powers. Tim, I just want to talk to begin with about a little bit of family background. We get the blurbs in the books but they are notoriously brief.
TP: Well, I was born in Buffalo, New York in 1952. In fact on leap year day, which means that I've only had I think, eleven birthdays – which makes me a prodigy! And I come from a big Irish Catholic family. My Dad was an attorney before he retired and eventually he got an offer for a job out in California and asked us Kids – would this would be alright with all of you? And we just instantly leaped on it and said "Yes! Of course. Let's do it instantly," because already we had got horrified of snow!
JB: It's a very different climate there?
TP: Very cold. Very Cold. We as kids would always have to wear like three pairs of pants, three jackets and these sort of toggle switch attachments and even though we had not ever known anything else we knew that there was something better somewhere. I think we must have seen pictures of palm trees and stuff. And so we just instantly jumped on that and in fact ever since I've tried to avoid physical contact with snow. I don't mind it in movies and things but I don't want to actually be where it physically is.
But yeah, big Irish family and my parents were both very literate. Lots of books around the house and my mom would read to us kids when we were too young to read ourselves. She read us things like the Narnia books – the C.S. Lewis ones and The Hobbit and I remember I knew most of Chesterton's Lepanto before I started school. And so all of us did sort of land literate and at the time it seemed very routine but now I appreciate in fact that was a kind of special privilege we got there.
JB: And how many of you were there?
TP: I'm the oldest of eight!
JB: And the family were first generation, second generation…?
TP: Second generation Irish really. I think it was my grandfather that put the "S" on Powers. It had been John Power and in fact there is of course a "John Power" distillery in Ireland and it's in the same corner of Ireland, County Wexford where all us Powerses came from. So I'm sure if I went back to the Powers distillery I could claim to be the long lost heir!
JB: Are you ever interested in going over and doing the American thing of tracing one's roots?
TP: We would love to, yes. My wife really passionately wants us to buy a house in Dublin before we're too much older.
JB: So, you had this literary grounding through your parents? It's the old question really of "So you knew early on that you wanted to be a writer…?"
TP: Yes. Very early on. I remember specifically there was a book I had called Timothy Turtle in which this turtle winds up on a mud-bank, upside down and all his friends have to figure out how to get him back on his feet again. It's not a significant thing. I just happen to remember it. But I remember deciding then that being a writer was the coolest thing a person could do.
TP: Well that would be hard to figure out exactly. I don't suppose I could come up with an actual rational explanation. It was just sort of a spinal reflex, just a kind of subconscious recognition – Oh, this is the best thing one could do! I guess just 'cause I got such a kick out of reading books, I thought the greatest thing a person could be was one of the people who makes this thing. And then I read Albert Payson Terhume and God knows what — Dumas, Stevenson, Mark Twain…
JB: …anything that was available?
TP: Right. And then when I was eleven my Mom got me Red Planet by Robert Heinlein and there I went off on the science fiction tangent. I suppose I would have eventually anyway, but it was Red Planet that did it.
JB: So when did you start "writing" as such? Not seriously, but jotting. I read somewhere that you had a novel rejected when you were ten or twelve! Is that true?
TP: Ha! Well, no. I got my first rejection slip when I was thirteen. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in '65 ran an editorial saying how to submit stories and I thought "Golly! I'll do that!" So I wrote a sort of close re-telling of a story that had appeared in the previous issue and sent that in and, of course, they bounced it. But I was very pleased to have a real rejection slip. I thought look at that! Just like Hemingway! I'm one of the boys! I think I've still got that rejection slip. And so from then on I would, once or twice a year, type up a story and put it in the mail and get another rejection slip. I think it's pretty impressive, a thirteen year old!
JB: So the family moved to California when you were how old?
TP: Seven. In 1959.
JB: And what was your father going to be doing over here?
TP: Attorney. He was with an aviation underwriting company and so he was handling plane crashes and things like that. He had been a pilot in the marines in World War II and Korea and so he just loved aeroplanes and the insurance job gave him the chance to continue to have to do with aeroplanes.
JB: And it wasn't a kind of upheaval? You all just jumped at the chance?
TP: We just loved it. The only culture shock was that I arrived in the middle of first grade and so the week before I had been going to Catholic grade schools in New York and suddenly I was going to public grade school in California and so I dressed the way one did in New York which is tie, jacket, and in California what you wear is jeans and a T-shirt. And I remember the students said "Who's the king?" and I came home that day and told my Mom "These aren't the clothes you wear in California. Get me jeans and a white T-shirt." And so after that there was, I think, no further culture shock.
JB: You'd still have been a writer though, if you'd stayed up in Buffalo?
TP: Oh yeah.
JB: What kind of writer to do you think you'd have been?
TP: I suspect I would have found science fiction again eventually. In any case. And at whatever time I found science fiction and fantasy I think I would have clicked on it.
JB: But you're identified now as a Californian writer. There seems to be a very definite stable of writers in this part of the world. It seems to be a very creative area.
TP: That's true. In fact I do think there's something to it. I think there is something about the freeways, the beaches, the palm trees, LA, Hollywood. Raymond Chandler, John Steinbeck. I think there's sort of a point of view you get from this climate that I would not have got if we'd stayed in New York.
JB: Is there a magic in this part of the world? One gets the impression reading your work, and certainly reading Blaylock's work that there is something that drives your work, that feeds your writing, that is magical and inspiring about this part of the world.
TP: I do think I would not happily live anywhere else. I think there is something about the Los Angeles area. And the whole California area up to the Bay area – the whole coast. I think it's a milder version of Kipling's overlap of the British Raj on India. There's sort of the attenuated furthest reaching western influence which kind of meets itself again coming up from the south through the Spanish missions and all that. And it's sort of lost most of its momentum. By the time the westward momentum had got to the ocean they had sort of begun to relax and so everybody just sort of decided to make brick patios and plant shade trees and have drinks with lime in them!