The Deep End interview…with Robert Frazier

  Crystal Lake Publishing   Feb 13, 2017   Blog   0 Comment
Joe Mynhardt: Tell us a bit (or a lot) more about your childhood. Primary school, high school, etc. How do you think your experiences benefited or influenced your career?

Robert Frazier: My father was a cryptographer stationed with the US contingent that joined Bletchley Park during the war and worked on the Enigma codes.  He later taught code breaking for Army Security at Fort Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, where I was born. There were yellowed binders and notebooks full of strange strings of language and blocks of lettering and numbers stored in boxes in the attic of our barn. Of course I found them fascinating. And as a teenager my mother had studied with Emile Albert Gruppé of the Rockport colony, so fine art was always a part of my life growing up. I like to say, that for me, the mystical science of deciphering gibberish into plain text meshed somehow in my youth with a penchant for impressionistic imagery. Or, simply, my parents’ passions in life rubbed off.

Joe: Can you recall a moment where you had to choose between being an author/artist and another career? A decisive moment where you decided to go all out?

RF: In the latter 1970s I was painting oils under the tutelage of Philip Burnham Hicken, a serious semi-icon of American art. And also writing a good deal. I wanted to spend more time on both pursuits, but after a long work day it’s hard to switch gears to even do one. Phil chewed on his cigar stub one day in his studio, looked me square in the eye, and said something that made obvious sense. Choose between the two, dedicate yourself, then don’t get distracted. So I quit painting and wrote for a decade. Then, I quit writing, pretty much, and relearned painting until it came easy enough that I could write again as well. So now I’m dedicated to both. But making more of a living with paints than with pixels.

Joe: How did you respond to your very first success as an author? Was it just rewarding, or did it motivate you even more? Or, did it perhaps feel underwhelmed, which motivated you to even greater heights? 

RF: I wrote a short story that ended up almost immediately in Jack Dann’s seminal fiction anthology In the Field of Fire. Kind of “Ghost Riders in The Sky” meets the Vietnam experience (which I felt only from protests at home) meets the drug-addled 60s. I was lucky to make that first pro sale. And I felt lucky.

Joe: How has your career as an author affected relationships with friends and family? 

RF: Well, I gift away my books at Christmas. So they must think I’m pretty woo-woo strange. I doubt Visions of the Mutant Rain Forest will change their view.

Joe: Which author most influenced your early career? And who still does?  

RF: I wrote bad poetry as a teen. Not drivel per se, just impossible to understand when I come across it now in a stack of old papers. But, miracle of miracles, I discovered Andrei Voznesensky and W. S. Merwin in the high school library. And Diane Wakoski’s Inside the Blood Factory. They saved me, I guess. These days I reread those early-influence poets, and adore Michael Ondaatje  (The Cinnamon Peeler and Handwriting) and Diane Ackerman (Jaguar of Sweet Laughter and I Praise My Destroyer).

Joe: Instead of just focussing on your most successful work, which story are you the proudest of, a story that managed to capture a piece of who you are?

RF: That would have to be “How I Met My First Wife, Juanita” (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Oct. 1991), the events of which, other than actually meeting my wife, I experienced on a hitchhiking road trip in the late 60s. The three-legged Doberman squatting the campsite on the Platte River in Colorado. The hunter who hobbled into the campfire at night and could only communicate in Spanish about his broken leg. The hail that came for 20 minutes every afternoon in the mountains. How that time affected me. To write about what you know is something you take as advice, but have to learn that tenet on your own. My youngish daughter and her best friend burst into my writing room when I’d nearly finished with “Juanita” (they’d read some of it off my computer, I guess), and said, “We have a title for you.” I used it.

Joe: What’s the most difficult topic for you to write?

RF: The most difficult writing for me is filling out tax forms and to-do lists. Otherwise, all topics can be important.

Joe: What do you do to distract you enough to actually relax a bit? Or do you always think about writing? 

RF: I never think about writing. I think about all those things that eventually leak into my writing. But when I’m drifting down into sleep or half awake in the middle of the night, I often start weaving the lines of a poem. If I’m lucky I’ll remember them when I awake in the morning. And if I forget them, they often reappear in something later on. Transformed. I was in a two-day fever when I wrote my first Mutant Rain Forest piece. Maybe I’m still there…

Joe: Outside of the actual craft, what is the most useful skill you learnt from being an author? 

RF: Listening and observing. If you can’t absorb the rhythms and imagery of what swirls around you day-to-day, then you have a limited vocabulary for honest expression.

Joe: How did being an author change you as a person?

RF: I guess I think before I speak rashly.

Joe: Which response/comment from a reader has touched you the most throughout your career?

RF: Unconditional support by peers in the fantastic writing community. Particularly from the fiction writers at the informal Sycamore Hill gatherings, and the poets I met through the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Like Bruce. Especially Bruce.

Joe: What is your life-long goal as an author? What legacy do you want to leave behind?

RF: He came. He saw. He concocted. (At least some decent shit worth keeping.)

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