Saturday, March 25, 2006

Richard Matheson - Part Two - The Interview

Reprinted with permission from Filmfax -- interviewer Ed Gorman

FAX: What do you consider the highlights of your career thus far?

MATHESON: I guess the highlights of my career would, of course, have to be the projects that worked out best. A few examples: Novels like I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, The Beardless Warriors, Bid Time Return (soon to be called, understandably, Somewhere in Time), Hell House, What Dreams May Come, Hunted Past Reason, Abu and the Seven Marvels, a few others. As I have said a number of times in the past, I think Somewhere in Time is the best-written novel I’ve done. I was reading some pages from it in the past week, and (immodestly noted) I thought that the writing was really lovely. Yes, that’s the adjective I came up with—really charming prose, but enough of my immodesty.

As I have also said in the past, I think What Dreams May Come is the most important (read effective) book I’ve written. It has caused a number of readers to lose their fear of death—the finest tribute any writer could receive.
Highlights of my script work: four or five of the 14 Twilight Zones; Somewhere in Time; The Morning After, Duel, and The Dreamer of Oz on television.

Hoped-for highlights with only moderate gratification: my two metaphysical books The Path and A Primer of Reality. To these two I would add Hunted Past Reason because I wrote it to state my metaphysical basic assumption, the quote up front in the novel is “To die is nothing. To live is everything.” I wanted the novel to be called To Live but, to my consternation—and for the first time in my entire book-writing career—Tor put their own title on it; a quote from “King Lear,” which was pointless to print, because it has absolutely nothing to do with the story and the point I was trying to make.

I suppose there were other highlights, but these will suffice.

Low points? Scripts re-written by producers, one novel re-written because the two women editors decided that I couldn’t write good English! Actually, most of my novels—and movies; and television scripts—were printed and/or produced word-for-word. Low points occurred in that, despite the religious adherence to my words, a number of the television shows and movies were poorly done. I won’t name them.

FAX: What do you like and dislike about the current state of movies? Television? Publishing?

MATHESON: I think the current state of movies and television is pathetic. I just read a long article this morning in the Los Angeles Times citing the creative blunders of many of the major studios in which marketing considerations blinded them to the sad fact that almost none of the films had any interest to the public. Instead of making films that were creatively exciting, they functioned as marketing ploys—“Oh, that worked before, let’s do it again. And again. And—ad boring. And if a film was creatively exciting, the “new” audiences didn’t really warm to them and they barely made their costs or actually lost money. As a member of the Academy and the Writers Guild, my vote went to Seabiscuit, a wonderful film, which had made a limited amount of money, not blockbuster caliber; with marketing costs on top of production costs, it might lose money. A pity. Which is why good films with limited box office receipts really need the Academy Award to bolster earnings.

In brief: Films today? Pathetic!

I can’t pass judgment, but I will say that I think publishers have the same “blockbuster” mentality as movie producers. King, Koontz, Crichton, Grisham, etc.—not to mention J.K. Rowling, who has created a publishing world all her own. When a writer has more money than Queen Elizabeth—Yow!

FAX: Looking back on your career, is there anything major you’d do differently?

MATHESON: Yes. I’d complete novels I didn’t finish. My self-assurance as a writer has been lamentable. Come Fygures, Come Shadowes was intended to include every aspect—good (and bad)—of spiritualism, plus an approach to modern parapsychology; shame on me for not finishing it as well as The Link, which was intended to include the entire history of mediumship, as well as a total study of modern parapsychology. Shame on me twice.

FAX: Do you have any particular favorites among your writing in various media?

MATHESON: As indicated, Somewhere In Time is my favorite novel. The Beardless Warriors is good, too.

Movies and television: I think I’ve mentioned some. I might add A Comedy of Terrors (very funny, I think).
Short stories: Too many to pick favorites. I like “The Test,” “Duel,” and “The Distributor.” This last one I probably wouldn’t write today. I hate it when something I’ve had published “inspires” some nut to imitate what I’ve written, or some teacher gets fired for having her students read one of my stories or novels.

FAX: Though you’ve always used supernatural themes in some of your work, there is a deepening spirituality in your fiction as the decades pass. Was this because of your growing personal feeling about the nature of the human soul and what lies beyond what we call life?

MATHESON: I have read countless books on parapsychology, metaphysics, etc., through the years. My special favorite is Thinking and Destiny by Harold W. Percival. It inspired my book The Path which consists mostly of quotes from Thinking and Destiny.

Anyway, I have studied these books and evolved my personal philosophy which, when all the details are considered, consists of that little quote in Hunted Past Reason—“To die is nothing. To live is everything”—with all that implies.

FAX: Were you religious as a youth?

MATHESON: Not particularly. I was raised as a Christian Scientist, which I accepted. A good religion. On the wall of the pulpits in Christian Science churches is the phrase “God is Love;” not a bad statement.

FAX: Did your experience in World War Two affect your religious views?

MATHESON: I used my Christian Science belief system when I was in infantry combat. It reassured me. At the same time, my blood pressure went sky high—so you pays your metaphysical money and you takes your choice. Later, I left the Christian Science religion and chose to evolve my own belief system, which does not adhere to what has been described as “Churchianity.” However, I still think Christian Science is an acceptable religion.

FAX: What project are you working on currently?

MATHESON: A one-man play; I won’t give you the title. I also have a suspense-comedy due to be produced in London if and when we can come up with a leading man. I would like to concentrate of theater for the next decade—whether that works out or not rests in the laps of the theater gods.

FAX: Your work grows in stature with each decade, and seems assured of enduring. Do you have any thoughts on that kind of immortality?

MATHESON: I hope people are reading my work in the future. I hope I have done more than frightened a couple of generations. I hope I’ve inspired a few people one way or another.

Actually, the highlight of my life—which, of course, had an enormous influence on my writing career—was meeting Ruth Woodson on the beach in Santa Monica in 1951, falling in love with her, marrying her, and creating with her a family of four children; two sons, two daughters. My love for them, and growth because of them, made my writing life what it was. It’s a process I advocate for any would-be writer.

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Blogger chofetzchayim said...

I read WHAT DREAMS MAY COME in the days following the death-as-transition of my wife on 24 August 2008...it literally (like Elie Wiesel's BEGGAR IN JERUSALEM) changed my life and my relationship to my be-ing...It is a pity that Mr Matheson has not published his unproduced script for WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, as the film (while visually stunning in places) was a profound disappointment in not adhering to Reb Matheson's novel, a novel which would have been a landmark film (the film unnecessarily betrayed the novel, despite the filmmakers' praise for Mr Matheson)...Mr Matheson gave me not answers, but questions for the answers in my Jewish soul...to him, I give my deepest thanks...

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