Interview: John R. Fultz

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

“The Thirteen Texts of Arthyria” is about the sacred relationship between a book and its reader. It’s about shedding the illusions that surround you…finding the true reality that lies beneath the Big Lie. It’s about being an outsider, someone who doesn’t fit in, and finding out that you were never meant to fit in here at all…but are needed and essential somewhere else. It’s about one man’s journey of discovery as he unlocks a mystery that spans space, time, and the soul. It’s also about letting go of the past so you can move forward into the future. Finally, it’s about magic…the magic of reading and writing books.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

Books. The incredible magic of books. The timeless mystique of bookstores. I’m a firm believer in the mystical power of the written word. But I’m not one those guys who reads “everything.” In fact I’m very particular about what I’ll read. I can spend two hours roaming the shelves of a bookstore and find nothing that I want to buy. However, many times in my life certain books have called to me. I’m walking through a bookstore–it could be a gleaming new superchain or an old, musty den of used books–and I end up wandering directly toward a book that thrills, captivates, and amazes me. There, among thousands of possible tomes, I discover just the right book…the literary needle in the haystack. In this way I have found books that have changed my life through sheer inspiration. Portals to strange and fantastic worlds. I started thinking about how I have always done this, from the time I was old enough to read. It got me thinking that maybe we don’t find the books we’re truly meant to read, they find us. Is there a mystic link between readers and books? Are there certain books you are supposed to read? This concept was the genesis of the “Thirteen Texts of Arthyria.”

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

Actually this story flowed like…well, magic. Once I locked into the concept and decided to run with it, everything opened from there like the petals of some gorgeously weird lotus. Much like the main character, who is drawn into a quest for certain books that unlock massive secrets, I was drawn into the world (or worlds) of this story to discover the details and capture the images as I went. The parts I spent the most time on getting just right were the first couple of segments, when the modern world is slowly slipping away and something else begins to show through. I had written this bizarre scene where thousands of automobiles on the interstate were suddenly replaced by thousands of horses with modern commuters riding them as if this was totally normal. I decided to cut that scene because, although it was bizarre and ironic, it just didn’t fit the greater scheme/mood of the story. It would have been a glaring distraction from the subtle, gradual emergence of a second reality. Other than that, this story evolved without much pain. It was a smooth birth and no drugs were required.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I suppose the story reflects my own mystical/spiritual approach to choosing the books I read…as well as my love of books in general and how I venerate the books that truly made a difference in my life. Yes, I am a Book Addict. This wouldn’t be a problem if I owned a vast library somewhere, but as it turns out I leave books scattered in my wake everywhere I move…like a hurricane. Have you ever feltdrawn into a bookstore…didn’t know why but thought “I need to go in here right now.” I have…many times. On those occasions I always discover something amazing. On the other hands, many times I go into a bookstore out of boredom and leave without finding a single book that interests me. I also love finding old used book stores…they are treasure troves containing a billion gateways to alternate realities. There’s something very sacred about bookstores, and this story reflects that belief. I always tell my students that writing (and reading) is a form of magic. How else can you share the thoughts of someone who lived 500 years ago and enter his world in all its beautiful and ugly detail? So this story is sort of an exploration of my own fascination with books. It’s also an extended metaphor for discovering those amazing fantasy worlds into which only books can take you.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story? 

A lifetime of prowling through stacks of new and used books, looking for the next Great Fantasy Tale.

Full interview via Way of the Wizard (copy it and add these two questions at the end, subtracting the “appeal of wizard questions”

What is the appeal of parallel worlds stories and/or portal fantasies? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about them? Why do you think readers/viewers love it so much?

I’d say the appeal of these types of stories goes all the way back to myths and legends where the hero goes off into a some Other Place, has an adventure, and returns with boons to bestow upon his fellow man. This is one of our oldest myths, and in the ancient times an “alternate world”  could be simply an unexplored part of the earth, a distant island or continent, or even the dreamscapes or spirit-worlds of shamans. Our modern world is far less infested with mystery, but we can still dream of stepping through a portal or otherwise travelling to somewhere mysterious, strange, and fantastic. Let’s not forget the classic “fairy tale” story either, wherein mortals often wander into (or are carried into) the realm of Faerie—a mystical place inhabited by strange beings. Edgar Rice Burroughs updated that very old idea when he combined it with some (rudimentary) science and created his MARTIAN TALES—in this case John Carter’s portal leads him to Barsoom (Mars). There are scads of writers who have seized upon this notion and done their own versions of ERB’s parallel/alternate world tales, from Narnia to Gor to Stargate, and tons of others. I think writers and readers enjoy these tales so much because we all dream of being able to leave the mundane world behind and dive into a world that is full of adventure, romance, and exotic experiences. THE THIRTEEN TEXTS OF ARTHYRIA was my first attempt at writing one of these stories where a “modern” character slips into a fantasy world—usually I prefer to stick completely to secondary worlds and leave the “real world” out of it—but I wanted to do my own version of this classic story-type. I think I managed to put a unique twist on it.

What are some of your favorite examples of parallel worlds or portal fantasies (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

Some of my favorite books of this kind would be:

Shakespeare’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Lord Dunsany’s THE KING OF ELFLAND’S DAUGHTER

Edgar Rice Burroughs MARTIAN TALES

H. P. Lovecraft’s THE DREAM-QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH

Robert Silverberg’s SON OF MAN

Stephen R. Donaldson’s THE CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT THE UNBELIEVER

Richard Corben’s NEVERWHERE (The DEN Series)

Some of my favorite parallel worlds movies/shows:

LAND OF THE LOST (loved this during my 70s childhood—still love it on DVD)

TALES FROM A PARALLEL UNIVERSE (also known as LEXX)

TWIN PEAKS (especially the second season)

MIRROR MASK

PAN’S LABYRINTH