Interview with Roger Zelazny biography Theordore Krulick
Ted met with Zelazny, who passed away in 1995, a number of times. His story Damnation Alley was made into a movie 1977, starring George Peppard, Jan MichaelVicent, and a young Jackie Earle Haley (of Watchmen fame).
That Zelazny (a grandmaster of science fiction) met with Ted and authorized his writing the book about Amber made me want to interview Ted. If you’ve never read Amber you must read the first five book series. I’ll leave the continuing to read the second completely up to you… but know this, it’s hard to be writer in the science fictin and fantasy genres without being well-read in the genres, plus being well-read in general.
The other thing I'd like to share before beginning the interview is the fact that The Nine Princess of Amber, the first book of this series, almost never saw the light of day. Zelazny was working on another writing project when he suddenly had an idea that wouldn't quit. He just had to write the story. He just wrote it, then once finished put the typed pages in desk, where they remained for quite some time until he pulled it out and sent it off. The Amber Series is what he's most famous for.
Q: Ted, Amber is one of my favorite series and the late Roger Zelazny, one of my favorite authors.You interviewed him for The Complete Amber Sourcebook.
Actually, when I first interviewed Roger, it was for my literary study of him, published by the Frederick Ungar Publishing Company. For that first book, Roger permitted me to come to his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico in November, 1982 to interview him. I interviewed him again in 1985 at Necronomicon in Tampa, Florida. I interviewed Roger a third time at Lunacon in 1989 before a large audience. I interviewed him for a fourth and final time at I-CON on the campus of Stony Brook University in 1992. In that last interview, I geared my questions specifically to the Amber novels -- for my work on The Complete Amber Sourcebook.
I suggested the Amber sourcebook to Roger as we concluded the interview at Necronomicon in 1985. Roger was so enthusiastic about the project that he connected me with his editor at Avon Books. That's how I began writing the sourcebook, with Roger looking over my material as I completed each entry.
Q. Can you tell me a little about him as an author?
Roger wrote for a readership that was very much like himself. He refused to be condescending and he avoided over explaining. He didn't like those things in other writers so he decided he wouldn't do them to his readers. On the other hand, he liked to take chances, even if that meant shaking the reader out of his immersion in the story. Roger did that when he placed himself into an Amber novel as a guard in Castle Amber's dungeon and met Lord Corwin. Roger (the author) wasn't afraid to momentarily interrupt the reading of his work and cause the reader to laugh out loud. It was a tribute to Roger's competence as an author, as well as to his confidence, to hold a reader's interest after such an interruption.
Q. Can you share what your learned about how he came to write The Nine Princes of Amber?
I talk in detail about Roger's developing his story of The Nine Princes of Amber in my biography Roger Zelazny. When he began the novel, he had no idea where it would lead Corwin. Just as his reader was meant to do, Roger was learning what was happening to Corwin one chapter at a time. At the point when Corwin walks through his sister Flora's house in Westchester, New York, certain things occurred to the author. Roger realized that Corwin's plight involved a very large family of siblings in a great conflict. He wanted Corwin to discover and recall these siblings in a kind of art gallery in Flora's home. Instead of Corwin's seeing portraits on the walls, Corwin discovers Tarot cards with pictures of his brothers and sisters. Going through them, Corwin provides a description of all of them in one place in the book for the reader to go back to as he/she meets them later on. It was with his introducing these specially-made Tarot cards that Roger realized that the story had to go beyond our own world. That was when he developed the idea of Shadows -- parallel worlds -- that Corwin and his kin could travel to.
Q. Your book is an extensive compendium about the Amber Series. What did you learn from Roger Zelanzy about the background of the series that surprised you?
When I conceived of my sourcebook, I saw it as a blend of illustrations (by a professional illustrator) and my text. I was calling the work The Amber Sourcebook. The editor I worked with at Avon Books, John Douglas, decided to expand the title to The Complete Amber Sourcebook. John also nixed the use of illustrations due to budget. So the only items that might be considered "artistically rendered" are my genealogy of the royal family of Amber and two songs that I paid someone to supply the musical notes for.
Roger's generosity to me as I worked on the sourcebook was incredible. He was open to all my suggestions and set limits only on certain specifications. In a three-page letter to me (in a time before e-mails) dated June 27, 1988, he made his position clear: "I have no objection whatsoever to your speculating in whatever fashion you may choose. . . with lots of qualifying phrases such as 'It is said . . . ,' 'It has been speculated . . .,' 'One version holds _____, while another . . .'"
In this same letter, Roger surprised me with some details of Amber's background that he subsequently never used in his novels. He had a character in mind that he hadn't referred to in the books. This was how he put it in that letter (referenced above): "Grayswandir had been commissioned of the Phantom Smith of Tir-na Nog'th, who would only take payment in the blood of one of the royal house, as the blood of Amber would grant him substantiality beyond that strange realm in the sky." During the years that Roger responded to my questions, he was always generous and forthcoming whether we communicated by live interview, by mail, or by telephone.
One Sunday night past 10:00 P.M. on July 1, 1990, the phone rang while I was watching something on TV. The caller was Roger, who decided to give me a call at the spur of the moment. He was responding to a brief letter I sent him full of questions about entries I was working on for the sourcebook. One question I had concerned Bleys' fall from Mt. Kolvir and Corwin's tossing him a pack of Trumps. Bleys had survived the fall somehow but I needed to know HOW he had survived. I transcribed Roger's answer as soon as I got off the phone. As near as I could recall, this was his answer: "Bleys may not have used the Trumps that Corwin threw to him. Like the characters of Merlin and Luke in the new series, Bleys, as well as the other red-headed children of Oberon, Brand and Fiona, is able to 'hang' a spell that needs only a single word or phrase to put it into operation. It is hinted that Bleys used one of his spells to save himself and then joined one of the other, little-known relatives, like Sand, in the shadow in which she dwelled." You can see how freely Roger offered such details to me. His calling me late on a Sunday night was as surprising as was the wealth of information he shared with me. I was grateful to him beyond words, then and ever.
Q. John Betancort has written a book about Amber in recent years. What do you think about that?
I was a bit bothered that John Betancourt was writing a new series of Amber novels, perhaps because I wondered 'Why him?' I had purchased the first novel in this prequel series, entitled Roger Zelazny's The Dawn of Amberand started reading it. I felt it didn't have the cleverness nor richness of description that Roger's novels always had. It seemed clear to me that this first prequel novel was a 'work-for-hire' and lacked any genuine enthusiasm. This was confirmed by Betancourt when I spoke to him at a Lunacon shortly after this novel was out. Betancourt said he had been contacted by Kirby McCauley who asked if he'd write it. It was a simple, contracted work. To date, Betancourt has written four of these prequels.
Ted, thank you for sharing this. And for those who've gathered an insight or two into Zelazny or perhaps bit of the creative process, trust in your self to share the stories you care about or like Ted, share your love with others about those stories with those who might never learn about them.
Author of Highmage's Plight and Human Mage (forthcoming)