The conclusion of “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation,” recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
Alfred Bester, 1979 (Photo by Frank Olynyk).
Audience: What’s it like to start writing the next book after you have written, say, The Demolished Man?
Bester: I’ve just finished a book about a month ago and I’m absolutely pooped — there’s nothing left. It happens with me when I’ve finished something big like a novel. Not a script — with a script or a short story, next week you write another one. But with a book, I’m exhausted.
Now at my advanced age I know better — I leave it alone and the next thing I know, a few weeks, a couple of months maybe, an idea begins to niggle me and the next thing I know I’m beginning to dream and think about it. Who’s as surprised as me when there’s something in my head and there’s my legal pad, and a book is formed? You just have to wait for the battery to recharge. I just wait patiently and it starts all over again. There are so many ideas that one has.
I may think, “Ah yes, there’s that play that I’ve been meaning to write for a long time and I’m going to start on that play,” and the next thing I know it’s going to turn into a novel. You don’t know what will happen — you’re constantly surprised.
Pohl: You’re a much more organized person than I am. I don’t work on one thing at a time. I usually have eight or 10 projects going at one time. I work on one until I’m bored, and don’t know what to do next. Then I put it away and work on another. So the point never really comes where I have to say this day I start from scratch with something new, but each day, to the extent possible with the vicissitudes of travel or something, I do some writing!
Every day. I find that sometimes it gets a little treacherous though because I want to write the same scene in three different novels. There are two novels that I’m working on now and I’ve got a great scene and I want it in both of them.
Bester: I’ve stolen scenes from myself many a time and been ashamed.
Audience: Do you consider the increasing commercialism of science fiction will have a detrimental effect on the future?
Pohl: The increasing commercialism of science fiction has worried me sometimes because it seems to me that the prices have got pretty high and it’s a sort of South Sea Bubble thing that is going to bust before long. But I don’t think it’ll affect any writer seriously. Writers that are good enough to command the sky-high prices that are going on, especially science-fiction writers, are generally also so damn stubborn that they’re going to do what they want to do anyhow. And not too many of the first-rank writers that I know are going to worry about commercialism. They will do their thing.
From time to time I’ve flirted with things like television where you can’t really do your thing unless you have a commanding position and have spent 20 years earning it, but I don’t want to do that, even though I could make much more money and reach a wider audience. It’s not my thing. And most of the writers I know will not do what they don’t want to do, no matter what sort of money is about.
Bester: I agree completely. I do an occasional science-fiction special, but I can’t write for any of the standard shows. The coast — Hollywood — is impossible.
There’s a little gag: What is a camel? A camel is a horse designed by a committee. Out on the coast, it is all committee work.
Pohl: Yes, all these people have to justify their salaries by having an opinion! If they don’t have an opinion, they’re fired.
Bester: Which they impose on you. I’m all kinds of author, but I’ve never yet written anything in which I’ve not been in complete control. And I just will not put up with committee work.
Audience: Another person who comes to mind as somebody who has tried very hard to do his own thing within the framework of media work is Harlan Ellison!
Pohl: Harlan does his own thing. Harlan chooses for reasons not known to me to flagellate himself by going back and writing episodes of The Flying Nun from time to time. Why he does this I don’t really know; he doesn’t need the money.
Bester: Harlan did a Star Trek script and it was the one good script that they had. Harlan’s a marvelous writer, there’s no doubt about it.
Pohl: The reason I don’t get involved in film and top TV, is neither that I’m allergic to money nor above that sort of thing. It’s just that I don’t want to deal with all those people. One maniac editor is all that I can handle at one time; 27 lunatic network executives would just drive me insane.
AD: But Fred, now you’ve achieved enough clout to get away with it.
Pohl: I can get away with it until they come back and say, “NBC loves your idea but they won’t allow you to do what you said you want to do.” And then I walk away.
A couple of years ago, I was coming to Los Angeles and my Hollywood agent called me up and said: “When you come, I’ve got somebody for you to meet. He’s a producer and he wants you to write a script for him.”
And I said: “What kind of script?”
“It’s a Japanese monster movie!”
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