Conversations and interviews with Paul

An Interview by J.G. Stinson

This interview was originally published in the SpecFicMe! Market Newsletter, Issue 14, March/April 2003, and is re-used here with the permission of the editor/publisher, Doyle Wilmoth. A minor update to the last question has been added. SpecFicMe! can be found on the Web at

Since the mid-1980s, science-fiction writer Paul DiFilippo has been piling up an impressive list of published fiction, both short stories and novels. He’s most noted for detailing the daily grind of working-class folks and the decidedly extraordinary intrusions of odd things into their lives. His works have been short-listed for the Nebula Award at least nine times (and finalist stories appeared in at least two Nebula anthologies), and won the 1994 British SF Association’s award for best short story with “The Double Felix” (Interzone, Sept. 1994). He lives in Rhode Island.

Q: Who are your fictional writing influences?

A: As an inveterate reader from childhood, I fixated on a number of writers who imbued me with various instincts and dreams and preoccupations, in regard to my own later writing. Brian Aldiss, A. E. van Vogt, Philip K. Dick, H.P. Lovecraft, Samuel Delany, Robert Heinlein, and a host of others. Wider exposure to “literature” in college brought me into contact with others just as important: William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Wolfe (the elder) and, most crucially, Thomas Pynchon.

Q: Why Pynchon?

A: He is central, both to me and to SF in general, because he has proven conclusively that any book which embodies SF themes in the sophisticated, artful fashion which he employed, can be both good SF and also a masterpiece of literature.

Q: Who was the first person to call your stories “trailer park SF”?

A: The coiner of this wonderful term is my mate, Deborah Newton. She’s my first reader on everything I write, and a sharp critic.

Q: Have you had the seemingly usual laundry list of “regular” jobs while you got your writing career started?

A: I’ve been lucky enough to go without a day job for about the past four or five years, although my finances are always shaky. If it weren’t for Deborah’s support in all ways, emotional and monetary, my job would be impossible. Before that my career of mundane jobs was not too wildly varied. Clerking in donut shops, 7-11s, and, best of all, a bookstore. I did the refreshment stand at an X-rated drive-in, but that doesn’t count, since I wasn’t a writer then, just 17 years old!

Q: Did you ever attend any of the “major” SF writing workshops (Clarion, Odyssey, etc.) or take any other creative writing courses?

A: Nope, never did any of the usual workshops, and just a single creative writing course in college. I’m a self-taught loner by nature!

Q: Is there a specific aspect of writing that is more difficult for you than other aspects?

A: Actually, it’s all equally hard or equally easy for me. I think I have a pretty good grasp of all the techniques and components of fiction writing, but any individual story may of course present unique difficulties during its creation. The hardest thing for any writer, I think, is not to repeat yourself when you find a groove, to force yourself to try something different, in terms of characterization, plotting, etc.

Q: How long have you been writing science fiction?

A: Although I sold my first story in 1975, I did not seriously sit my butt down in front of the typewriter (and it *was* a typewriter at this primitive date!) until 1982, when I decided to quit my day job and attempt to follow the Ray Bradbury method of writing one thousand words a day until I taught myself something. About 350,000 words later, I sold my second story.

Q: What’s the name of your latest book and who published it?

A: Two new titles are just out. A Year in the Linear City, from PS Publishing, and A Mouthful of Tongues, from Cosmos Books. The first one is SF about a strange artificial world, kind of like Ringworld snipped and unrolled. The second is an erotic dark fantasy set in an imaginary South American land.

Q: Who is Philip Lawson?

A: Good ol’ Phil is a schizophrenic kind of guy, half Southerner, half Yankee. Naturally so, being a combination of me and Michael Bishop. Mike’s middle name is Lawson, and we turned Di Filippo into Philip. We thought the resulting name sounded a bit like Philip Marlowe as well, a good move for a mystery writer. If we’re together at a book signing for our two mysteries — Would It Kill You to Smile? and Muskrat Courage — I sign “Philip” and he signs “Lawson” in addition to our real names.

Q: What kinds of nonfiction writing have you done?

A: The bulk of my nonfiction consists of hundreds of book reviews for various outlets, such as Asimov’s SF, Realms of Fantasy and Science Fiction Age. I’ve done one substantial piece of journalism for Wired magazine, but it was chopped up so brutally during the editorial process that I have more or less disowned it, and in fact could never stomach the thought of reading the published version.

Q: Where can a reader find a bibliography of your published fiction? Do you have a personal Web site?

A: It’s all available at .

Can you remember what originally got you interested in alternative fiction?

Having spent my (mis)formative years in SF fandom, the grandaddy of the small press scene, I was keenly aware of the Do-It-Yourself tradition in publishing. I always had the sense that there were plenty of outlets other than big New York publishers — and that if you didn’t like even the small ones that existed, you could start your own! When Factsheet Five first appeared, I got excited all over again at the potential of the small press/alternative media scene. Mike Gunderloy deserves to have a monument erected to him — or a small shrine in every home.

In what ways has it been helpful for you to be as richly familiar with the alternative and canonical traditions as you are?

I’m a big believer in lineage and history: as someone or other said, “It’s not cool to be ignorant of your own culture.” If you want to participate in something, it behooves you to immerse yourself deeply and get up to speed as fast as possible. Although everyone’s learning curve will have a different degree of slope, there’s no excuse for reinventing the wheel. Unless of course you can improve on it!

What three or four alternative texts would you suggest to a writer just coming to that neighborhood for the first time?

I would recommend any of Don Webb’s short-story collections as an example of what can be done fiction-wise in the small press venue. The Loompanics catalog might be a good place for browsers interested in the range of philosophies present in the underground, as would the huge compilation issued not too long ago by Amok Books. ReSearch books remain monumental testaments to ingenuity and accomplishment.