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Howard Waldrop: Fly Fishing for Stories November 2003

Howard Waldrop was born in Mississippi and has lived most of his life in Texas except for 1995-2002 when he lived along the Stillaguamish River in Oso, Washington. An eclectic writer with an affinity for alternate history, most of Waldrop's work has a distinctively Southern setting or feel, and consists almost entirely of short fiction. He began earning award nominations with "Custer's Last Jump" (written with Steven Utley) and "Mary Margaret Road-Grader" (both 1976) before winning both the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards for    
Photo by Jenni Hall

Howard Waldrop Homepage
"The Ugly Chickens" (1980). Notable stories since then include "God's Hooks!" (1982), "Flying Saucer Rock & Roll" (1985), "Do Ya, Do Ya, Wanna Dance?" (1988), novella A Dozen Tough Jobs (1989), and many others. Waldrop's short fiction has been collected in Howard, Who? (1986) and several other books, most recently Custer's Last Jump and Other Collaborations (2003). He's published just two novels, including Them Bones (1984), a Philip K. Dick Award finalist. A new collection, Heart of Whitenesse, and a third novel, The Search for Tom Purdue, are forthcoming from Subterranean Press.

Excerpts from the interview:


“Fishing is one of the main things in my life. Writing and fishing -- that's about it. Explaining the attraction of fishing is like trying to explain the attraction of SF to somebody who has never read it. My family moved to Texas when I was four years old, but I went back to Mississippi every summer for six weeks or the whole summer, to stay with one or the other set of grandparents, and that's what I did -- fish from the time the sun came up to when it went down. I had to teach myself out of books, because nobody fly fished in Texas in the '50s and there were no trout within 600 miles of where I was back then. One of the reasons I moved back from Washington State after living there seven years was because they started closing the river down from March through June. I lived 100 feet from the river and I had to drive 20 miles to a lake to fish. I had enough of that after three years.”


“I write about stuff I love -- dodos, the 1939 World's Fair, fishing.... I knew from age 18 or so I was going to write a story about the '39 World's Fair. That ended up being 'Heirs of the Perisphere'. Mound builders went into Them Bones. I can almost get fascinated by anything. I can whip myself into a frenzy after I come across some fact, and then another and another. Eventually it all surfaces, but I have to convince myself that other people should be fascinated too. When I wrote 'Man-Mountain Gentian' about sumo wrestling, most people had maybe seen one picture of a sumo wrestler and that was it. I got fascinated by the ritual -- like most things Japanese, it's got a ritual behind it a thousand years old, and if somebody comes along and messes with it, it's like the world has ended. (Nobody had ever applied telekinesis to sumo wrestling before, as far as I knew.) When I do all the research on a story, even after I finish I'm still reading in that area for another year or two, because I'm still fascinated by it. Then slowly I'll get myself away from that, onto something else. It's a lot of work, is all I can say.”


“Someone said all alternate history used to be about the big events that change things -- the battle of the Alamo, or the Civil War (like Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee [1953]), or Lincoln not dying. I mostly write about small events where things led up to some different world. I don't think it all has to be about the big changes. Of course, it's a lot more work when you're talking about little changes. People have to figure out what happened from what you give them, instead of you just telling them what's changed, so I've made more work for myself than talking about some big deal. The closest to a big-deal alternate-history story I've written is 'Custer's Last Jump', but you've got to read the bibliography to see that the internal combustion engine was invented 100 years early to figure out what's going on.

“Somebody asked, 'Why do you write so much alternate history?' I said, 'Because there's got to be a better world than this one.' Look at it! I wouldn't be writing about an alternate world if I liked the one I was in -- I'd be writing stories set in the wonderful here and now.”

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

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