INTERVIEW: Dale Bailey, Author of “City So Bright”

Dale Bailey lives in North Carolina with his family, and has published three novels,The FallenHouse of Bones, and Sleeping Policemen (with Jack Slay, Jr.). His short fiction, collected in The Resurrection Man’s Legacy and Other Stories, has won the International Horror Guild Award and has been twice nominated for the Nebula Award.

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

The story takes up after the end of the film version of The Wizard of Oz, following Dorothy’s departure from Oz–and assumes the Wizard didn’t depart in his balloon.  It follows on the books, as well, and assumes Dorothy’s return to Oz.

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

The story grew out of my sense that in fantasy-lands of all sorts, you rarely see the working class.  It’s all the aristocracy–the knights, the kings, the ladies.  Yet someone must do the scut work, and in that quasi-medieval setting where most secondary-world fantasies take place, that scut work must be undertaken under deeply unpleasant circumstances.  I think this would be true even of the lighter fantasies such as The Wizard of Oz.  In the movie, the few workers we do see–who polish up Dorothy and friends before their audience with the Great and Powerful Himself–sing as they go about their labors.  This strikes me as deeply unlikely.  So I wanted to examine fantasy’s underbelly, and union organizing seemed one way to go about it.

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

This story came very easily, actually.  It was a matter of finding the narrator’s voice, and once I nailed that down it kind of wrote itself.

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

Most of my stories are personal in way or another, but usually I can’t see how until I’m fairly far removed from the story.  With this particular piece, I’m not there yet.

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

Very little, actually.  I mostly worked from memory, mixing and matching the film and the books without any real concern for keeping to one or the other of the visions of Oz.

What is the appeal of Oz? Why do you think readers/viewers love it so much?

It’s an escape of course, but especially for children, who want to go to these wonderful exotic worlds removed from the mundane existence of their everyday lives.  As a kid, I remember actively searching for portals to Narnia and Oz.  I never found one, alas–though the books are kind of portals, aren’t they?  I am anyway still searching.

What are some of your favorite Oz memories (whether from the books or the various movies, or other “reimaginings”), and what makes them your favorites?

I remember when Del Rey re-released the Oz books.  I was just a kid and I asked for them for Christmas.  But I didn’t have anything to read over the holiday, so my mother doled them out, reluctantly, one by one, and I had finished all of them I was able to lay hands on–six or seven of them, I think–before Christmas day.  By the time I found the others, I had outgrown them.  But those early ones made a real impression.

What do you think about the new Oz movie coming out in March, Oz: The Great and Powerful? Excited? Dubious? Some combination of both?

Well, I’m apprehensive about it.  The first film is such a classic and holds such a grip on my imagination that I can’t see them doing anything better (or even different that would move me in the same way).  I remember as a kid, the movie would air annually, and I would wait all year with anticipation for the night when it came on.  We only had a black-and-white television then, so when I finally saw it on a color television, the shift to technicolor when Dorothy reaches Oz was a revelation to me, and one of the most brilliant ways of handling such a transition I have ever seen.