Roger Zelazny: Forever Amber
The latest "Amber" book, Prince of Chaos, is Roger Zclazny's tenth.
Did he ever think he'd do so many? "I considered the possibitity of doing
nine, initially. One of my first ideas was possibly tell the same story
from a different viewpoint, using all nine princes.That was a sort of
Lawrence Durrell 'Alcxandria Quartet' idea I had, but l abandoned thaf
fairly early. I was stuck with Corwin.The only thing that remained of that
early idea was the automobile accident they kept redescribing in each
book, revealing a little bit more about it, or changing the interpretation
of what really happened. That was just a little hommage to that idea.
"The 'Amber' books are a comment on the nature of reality and
people's perceptions of it. I was thinking of Lawrence Durrell's
'Alexandria Quartet' when I began the first book. I liked that particular
series just because of the way he retold the same story from different
characters' viewpoints. His was a more general comment on the fact that
you can't know everything. He could as easily have written a fifth book or
sixth book and kept changing it. That spilled over into the Shadow Worlds
and oceans on the different parallel worlds where things are just a little
bit different and eventually you get further away and they're a lot
different. That was in the background.
'I thought I finished after five books. I had used up all the
material I had in the back of my mind. So I decided when I picked it up
again, I'd kick it into the future and use a different viewpoint
character. Again, I didn't plan on it being five books. I originally
signed to do three. One of the differences between this series and the
earlier one is that in the earlier one, I'd write a book and then I'd go
off and do some other books and stories, then come hack and write another
volume. I did a few things in between here, but this was much more
compressed. I was pretty much doing one right after the other, compared to
the earlier series. So as much as I enjoyed them, I'm happy now to be free
to move on to some other stuff. I can take a vacation now.
"After a while, if became something of a joke, that I had these
cliffhangers, so I started introducing them intentionally, just to make it
a running gag. Thcrc is something close to a wrap at the end of the tenth
one. I brought it to a point where it's a satisfactory place for the
reader to say, 'OK, I'm gonna stop here for a while.' But I could go
farther, I do have a few other things I'd like to say....
"There's a similarity, in a way, between the 'Amber' books and a book
I did called Roadmarks, where I played more with time than space. I got
the idea for that book during an automobile drive. I was coming up l-25,
which is a nice modern highway in New Mexico, and just on a whim, I turned
off at random on a turn off I'd never taken before. I drove along it for
awhile, and I saw a road which was much less kept up. I turned onto that
one, and later on I hit a dirt road and I tried it, and pretty soon I came
to a place that wasn't on the map. It was just a little settlement. There
were log cabins there, and horses pulling carts, and it looked physically
as if I'd driven back into the l9th century. I started to think about the
way the road kept changing, and I said, 'Gee, that would be neat, to
consider time as a superhighway with different turnoffs.' I went back and
started writing Roadmarks that same afternoon.
"That notion of the unexpected turn taking you into a different kind
of reality than you were in right beforc you made it, and leading to
something unexpected, is a similar thing to the shadow walks or shadow
rides that I had in the 'Amber' series. The original idea of the 'Amber'
books had come to me in a strange part of a strange town, where the
turnings kept taking me into unexpected places, and I started thinking
about shiftings of reality then. Only then I was thinking in terms of
space - different alignments of familiar features, until you've got
something very strange - whereas the highway business, I started thinking
of time as if I were shifting backward through it as I drove along. l
think the two are akin, even though the stories don't have that much in
After this latest extensive boul with Amber, he returned to
collaboration, working with Robert Sheckley. "We both have the same agent,
Kirby McCauley, and Kirby suggested our of the blue that it might be
interesting if we did something together.
I had a few ideas already which I ran by Sheckley, and we ended up
choosing the one we used for the forthcoming book, "Bring Me the Head of
Prince Charming". That was the only time we talked about it face-to-face.
We worked it our in general then. It's a medieval fantasy, somewhat
humorous in nature. Heaven and Hell have this contest, once every thousand
years, at the turning of the millennium. The side that wins is given
control of human destiny for the next thousand years. Our story involves
the putting together of Hell's entry for the contest: the Prince Charming
story, which is done in a somewhat unusual fashion. Beyond that, I don't
want to spoil the plot."
He will do another collaboration with Sheckly "fairly soon. The
working title for this one is The Shadow of Faust. As for my own writing
right now, I'm still kicking around a couple of ideas. Simultaneous, or
parallel in course, with the next book with Bob Sheckley, l'll be working
on a book of my own. I just don't know which one it will be yet."
Zelazny has hecn involved in collaborative novels for more than 20
years, bcginning with a book he did with Philip K. Dick. "Phil had done an
immense amount of writing over about a three-year period, and had started
this book, Deus Irae. He had a general outline, and he'd written the first
50 pages and gotten blocked. Finally it came to the point where Doubleday
asked him whether he'd mind if they brought in somebody else to work on
it. They showed it to Ted White, and he had it for several months and
decided he couldn't do it, but he hadn't given the manuscript or the
outline back yet. I happened to be in town, and had dinner over at his
place. He showed the manuscript to me, and I rather liked it. So he called
Phil and he called Doubleday. I was working for Doubleday anyway at the
"That was '68. A few months later, I came out for Baycon, and that
was the first time I met Phil. We decided that I would have to continue it
right from the point where he'd left it. I changed my style - I didn't
want it to seem too discontinuous, so I aimed for something sort of like
Phil but not quite. I sent him a chunk, and he liked them, and said he
thought he might be able to continue writing himself from that point. He
look it from where I'd stopped, and he wrote the next section. It just
went back and forth that way, until we finished the thing. This went on
for several years. There was no rush, until Doubleday finally did notice
this old contract outstanding and called Phil and said, 'Hey, when are you
going to give us the book?' Phil needed the money, and said we were close
to the end. I finished the book in something like three days. He wanted a
few changes. The last four pages were his, as a sort of wrap. Then we sent
the whole thing off to Doubleday. There wasn't a complete overall rewrite.
"I still don't do that much rewriting. I do a lot of the composition
in my head, and when I do it at the keys, the sentences are pretty much in
the order they appear in the book. I wrote "Doorways In the Sand" and
"Jack of Shadows" first draft, no rewrite."
He has also done some collaborations vnth Fred Saberhagen. "The first
book we did together, "Coils", was my idea. I did a general outline of the
story, and Fred then took my outline and elaborated on it, producing a
big, chapter-by-chapter breakdown. He does wonderful outlines. He can
knock out an outline that runs like 60 or 70 pages - which I won't do.
My own material, I tend to do most of my outlining in my head, and
just jot a few notes. Fred is much more meticulous. But I like working
with an outline like that. The more recent book, "Black Throne", was his
idea. Fred's a big Poe fan - gives a party on his birthday every year. For
"The Black Throne", first he got me to read all of Poe, and the critical
biographies and so forth, so I was pretty well immersed in the material.
"Collaborations are fun. I learn a lot. I like seeing how other
writers operate. That first book with Fred. I was really surprised that
his approach to writing a book was what it was. I learned a lot about
outlining from him. Even though I don't do it on paper, I can do it in my
head, using some of the devices he has. Working with Phil Dick, I got some
practice in learning to assimilate another person's style. It's nice
looking at something from another writer's point of view. It's a learning
experience. I've been learning things from Bob Sheckley too. Fvery now and
then it's nice to stop and just look over what you've been writing and the
way you've been writing it and sort of reassess it, and see if you've
fallen into bad habits or there's something you'd like to get better at.
One way of reexamining your own work is to work with somebody else. It's a
learning experience. I don't want to get into a rul."
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