STIM: Where did Geek Love come from?
KATHERINE DUNN: Well, it arose out of two long-term concernsthe first being the possibility of genetic manipulation, nature versus nurture, what constitutes how people get to be how they are. I think genetic research is a fascinating and fertile area. I first heard about it in the early 1970s. The second is the structure and source of cults. They have always haunted me, and I wanted to explore the fundamental notion of giving up responsibility to an outside power.
STIM: How do you respond to the fact that the book itself has become sort of a cult piece, that people feel that strongly about it? Does that upset you?
KD: I don't think that's the case, and when I use the word cult... I don't mean the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW at midnight; I'm using a different definition. Growing up, I saw situations that had tiny parallels, like how people love each other. And then I joined a magazine crew. The magazine crew was very, very ritualistic. They had these selling techniques, and it was startling when I realized that I was seeing it, but I could still get sucked in. That was very, very scary...
STIM: Was it getting arrested that enabled you to break away from that, or was that fiction?
KD: It was actually getting arrested and getting thrown in jail. I was in Leavenworth, Kansas, when it all broke down. I was irritated and appalled, and my enthusiasm had waned. If you did well, you were rewarded with middle-class neighborhoods, and I was given a neighborhood with tar-paper shacks, and the people were painfully poor.
STIM: And you were so disgusted you decided you just couldn't do it anymore.
KD: Well, I went out on the day Kennedy was shot. I told the crew chief no one's going to buy a magazine, the President's been shot. He said sell them a newsmagazine. Sell them Time or Newsweek.
STIM: So when did you actually start writing? When you were six or seven you decided you wanted to be a writer?
KD: I come from a family of great readers and storytellers.
STIM: So was it family folklore, or neighborhood, community?
KD: Well it was about adventures. Let's just say, the American school of suburban angst is not my cup of tea.
STIM: So you never felt any lack of confidence at all?
KD: Oh, of course, I always feel unconfident. But I think everybody should write. I think those people with stories who don't write should be stomped on.
STIM: So you didn't always live in Portland?
KD: No. I was born in Kansas. But I went to high school in a Portland suburb and went to college here. I left for a decade and then came back. I think that it's really important to go away and come back.
STIM: How did Portland affect your writing?
KD: Well, Portland is home. I think it has just enough mystic ambiance. There's a fundamental smallness to it but it's big enough to have a sense of extended possibilities. I think that can happen anywhereanyplace human has a sense of story about it. And if you're familiar enough with the terrain...you have a sense that anything can happen. Every doorway, every intersection has a story. You remember the coffee shop that used to be there. Heartbreak is evident. It's like living in a Victorian novel.
STIM: Do you ever get the sense that it's growing too much, getting too big?
KD: No not really, that's not been my experience. You know, it's an easy place to live, and there's a respect for writers in the community (although too much respect can be bad for us). We're also far enough from the publishing power that we have no access to the politics of publishing, although there are interpersonal politics, of course.
STIM: What do you mean interpersonal? Because you've all known each other for so long?
KD: That, and we've thrown up on each other in bars.
STIM: Is Geek Love going to be made into a film?
KD: Harry Anderson bought the option for it and wrote a screenplay. Tim Burton has had the option now for three years.
STIM: Are they working on scripts?
KD: No, I don't know. I don't care really.
STIM: You don't care one way or another? How do you think it would translate onto film?
KD: Well, since the developmentsadvancements in computer animationthere's a much, much better possibility of having more fun with it.
STIM: Oh good. They can do it now!
KD: Well, casting would be a big problem. But the animation has become very good, and I think that a movie is not a book, and a book is not a movie.
STIM: Well it's like interviewing an author about a work. The author's the author, and the work's the work, and you know.
KD: You know I don't believe in worrying about it. What I think happens, and that you have to acknowledge though, is that a director uses a book as a launching pad for his own work and that's always very flattering. I enjoyed Harry Anderson. But it's like trying to cut a man's coat from a child's cloth. There are just easier ways of doing things. I'm sure there are plenty of wonderful movie scripts as scripts, and I don't see why they have to buy up all the book rights. But I'm quite willing to take advantage of their foolishness. I'll take their money.
STIM: What films do you enjoy? Anything in particular?
KD: BLADE RUNNER!
STIM: Interesting. Did you read the book as well?
KD: Oh sure.
STIM: Do you watch the "X-Files?"
KD: I'm a big "X-Files" fan.
STIM: I thought you would be. It seems like they may have been influenced by Geek Love.
KD: I think they tapped into a pulse of the population in general, a consciousness, a sort of luscious paranoiathe half-mystic, half-paranoid lunatic. They're reporting on conspiracy theories, various kinds of interpretations of events that have been embraced by radical fringesacknowledging that people are curious. They are giving voice to these theories and suspicions that are so imaginativeand they could be true, who knows?
STIM: What are you working on now?
KD: I'm working on a new novel. (Pause.) Well, do you want to talk about Death Scenes?
STIM: Yes, absolutely. So how did you get involved with that?
KD: Well, Adam Parfrey of Feral House is a friend of Nick Bogus, the artist who owns "Death Scenes," the scrapbook. So Adam got permission and took custody of the scrapbook. He actually wanted a different writer to do the intro (I won't name him), but he, for whatever reason, decided against it, and I, by that time, had fallen in love with it. The scrapbook is hundreds of pages, with thousands of photos. I felt that I it was important to find out about the collector. But I failed in my efforts to locate Frank Huddleston's records. I was unable to get data regarding his employment. I talked to the Santa Monica Police Department, police historians, and lowly researchers at the L.A.P.D. to no avail, so I used information that was generally applicable and tentatively attached it. I think the first and last message is that this is nothing new. These were not the "good old days." I'm responding to the hysterical propaganda coming from the government. This is not a new trend. This behavior is human behaviorit's not caused by TV or movies or rap music. This is something endemic to the human animal. We are trying to grapple with the dimensionality of this incredibly complex animal. Also, the scrapbook is this direct, slap-in-the-face confrontation with death, violencequite horrendous death.
STIM: Do you think that after the wars and concentration camps, people didn't want to see it anymore?
KD: Well, society has become "upholstered." It's that people don't die at nine years old of whooping cough. Kids die now by either murder or accidentno disease on any scale except rare diseases and they're an anomaly. Prior to penicillin and medical research, death was an everyday occurrence. It was intimate. Now society is insulated from that reality. We have been permitted to turn our back on the frailty of life. I mean we live so much longer, and the constant presence of death is part of life.
STIM: And we have few satisfactory rituals for it.
KD: Well, that's why I think there has been this resurgence of interest in death. I mean, Kevorkian, the Hemlock Society, the Death with Dignity Act, Timothy Leary. I mean, the baby boomers, God bless us, have finally realized.
STIM: (Laughs). Yeah, now that the baby boomers are aging, everyone else has to pay attention.
KD: I know if I were in your generation I would be really tired of seeing Sophia Loren as a sex object.
STIM: And Brigitte Bardot...
KD: ...Smelling of dogs. </end>