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30 September 2003




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Jonathan Carroll: Inside the Dog Museum October 2003

Jonathan Carroll, born in New York City, has lived in Vienna since 1974 except for a two-year period in Hollywood working on films. His writing can be described as literary fiction with fantastic settings, often with elements of horror or magic surrealism, and whose memorably quirky characters sometimes reappear from book to book. His first novel, The Land of Laughs, was published in 1980; among those that followed are "Rondua" books Bones of the Moon (1987), Sleeping in Flame (1988), and A Child Across the Sky (1989); British Fantasy Award winner Outside the Dog Museum (1991); and most recently The Wooden Sea (2001) and White Apples (2002). Among his many nominated stories and books are "Friend's Best Man" (1987), winner of the World Fantasy Award, and Bram Stoker Award winning collection The Panic Hand (1995).    
Photo by Beth Gwinn

Official website:

Excerpts from the interview:

“People wonder how much of a book is true and 'which character is most like you?' I can understand why they ask, but that's not interesting to me. People used to want to see my picture on book jackets -- which I fought against desperately for years. Because I don't think it's important. I really dislike those book jacket biographies that say, 'Carroll was a ship's cook and a tattoo artist and an acrobat....' It's almost as if they're trying to make you like the book by describing the author's interesting and strange life. But are you supposed to read the author or his book? When I was in college, I was the editor of the literary magazine and insisted neither the editors nor the writers be specifically identified -- only our student numbers appeared on the title page. I love that idea and still do.”


“Essentially I write about what interests me. It's very dangerous when you try to satisfy 'a reader' or an audience. More often than not, I find you write with one person in mind. Usually for me that one person is my wife, because she's my most severe critic and understands best what I'm trying to do. In Poland, my audience is all women between 18 and 30. When I do a signing there, the readers are generally university and high school students. At US conventions, you have the fantasy and science fiction crowd. At Harvard you have an entirely different audience. It's so schizophrenic, it's insane -- well, let's try to write for the Harvard crowd now, or the teenage crowd, or whatever. Just write about what bites you and damn the rest.

"There's almost always a point in a book where something happens that triggers the rest of the plot. In Bones of the Moon, there's a sequence where a woman has a number of dreams about a child she doesn't know. I swear to God, I asked my wife when I was writing the book, 'Who is this kid?' She said, without a moment's hesitation, 'It's the child she aborted.' I was stunned by what she said, but it made complete sense and that's how the story evolved. As for the magical stuff in White Apples, it came from an old romance of mine. People ask, 'Where did you get that sequence with the tattoo on the woman?' Simple -- because that happened to me once. I had a girlfriend who had many tattoos on her body. It was strange and wonderful to see. One day she pulled up her hair to show me something. On the back of her neck she'd had my name tattooed in Russian. I was so shocked I did not know how to feel. It was wonderful and awful at once. Since that time I had always wanted to use that image and I was able to in White Apples. Only at the end of writing the novel did I realize what those tattoos meant in terms of the story. Very often I'll find out at the end of a book what I put in at the beginning. A sort of process of elimination and discovery in one.”


“Writers are either putter-inners or taker-outers. I'm a taker-outer, because I can't write a book longer than 300 pages. Why? Because I don't want to be told things when I read a book; I want to decide them for myself. Too many books are wordy and pedantic: they create a system and demand we accept this as the way it is, period. As a result, the characters are often one-dimensional because they need to be in this system the author has created. It's sort of like a dictatorship. That's one of the reasons I don't read fantasy and science fiction -- so often you have flat, one-dimensional characters that don't live and breathe beyond the paragraph. They're simply not believable in the real world. He's a good guy, she's a bad guy; he rises to the occasion, she doesn't. That's all -- they've accomplished their purpose in a story of blacks and whites and very few grays. (Of course there are exceptions, but to have to wade through stuff to find it... I don't like to have to pan for gold when I read.)

"When people say to me, 'You're a fantasist,' I ask, 'Is Paul Auster a fantasist because he wrote a book about a guy who could fly? Or Kafka, because he wrote about a guy who turned into an insect? Gabriel García Márquez, Mark Helprin, Peter Handke -- the list is endless. Do you consider them fantasy writers although their work has fantasy elements in it? Though there are certainly fantastical elements, I've never seen myself as a fantasy writer -- ever.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the October 2003 issue of Locus Magazine.

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