Shapechangers with McCammon and Roberson

Continuity 1990, February 10, 1990


Featuring Robert R. McCammon and Jennifer Roberson; transcribed by Richard Alan Kaapke

Jennifer Roberson's website

Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of a panel discussion at the Continuity 1990 convention in Birmingham, Alabama. This panel was held on Saturday, February 10, 11 AM, in the Atlanta room of the Parliament House hotel. The panelists were Robert R. McCammon and Jennifer Roberson. The title of the panel was "Shapechangers," and both panelists had much to say about the subject—McCammon because of his recent work, The Wolf's Hour, and Roberson because of her fantasy series, Chronicles of the Cheysuli.

The reporter, Richard Alan Kaapke, was late to the conference. We begin with McCammon commenting on the main character from The Wolf's Hour.

McCammon: ... In my case, my character would rather be a wolf than a human being, because he saw more nobility in being an animal than being human. Jennifer?

Roberson: My characters can change into more than just wolf-shape. Not wanting to go into a lot of detail here, they bond with an animal, like a killer mammal, in a way—they have an ability to assume a like shape. They don't become that animal, but they assume a like shape. I deal with wolves, falcons, hawks, eagles, and bears. I've had some people try to psychoanalyze me. You know—why is it that I'm dealing with predatory animals? It's like, well, I'm basing this on a warrior race, and I just have a lot of trouble with werebunnies.

But there is, I think, a certain nobility about these animals. They're beautiful, they're magnificent; they're very powerful, and very elegant at the same time.

McCammon: How do you deal with the physicality of that change? I mean, it's like an instantaneous change—how does somebody change from being a human to being a bear, for instance?

Roberson: Well, I don't believe in explaining in great detail, mostly because I think movies have more to do with blow-by-blow descriptions. I don't know how many of you saw An American Werewolf in London, which was really the first—that and The Howling—the first two movies that really went into all the details. And it was tremendous at first, because I hadn't seen that before. But after awhile, anytime I see a wolf transformation, it's like, "It's been done; I'm tired, let's see something new." And consequently, I don't get into it as much.

McCammon: Mine's really kind of blow-by-blow. It's difficult to do something like that when there is a standard of the American Werewolf in Paris—I mean London—and The Howling. I think that's the standard in special effects. So when you're dealing with a change like that, you've got to think of those things because they were so well done. I try to get more into the character of what the guy was feeling as he changed, and also the fact that he didn't really have a handle on changing all at once. The first time, it kind of came upon him without his willing it to come upon him. Half of him changed, and half of him didn't. So he just flopped around a little bit, until he got himself under control. It seemed like something you would have to learn. He got a lot of false starts. And when he finally did become a whole wolf, he didn't know how to run. He had to learn how to run. [My character] could change into a werewolf without benefit of the full moon or even without dark. He could change back and forth almost at will. But he really loved being a wolf so much that if he was a wolf for three or four days, when he turned back into a human, he couldn't walk! He had to kind of learn how to walk again. You see, he was so immersed in being a wolf; he really enjoyed it.

Roberson: What he just explained is a great example of an author always saying "What if?" He followed it through. I think there's a lot of overlap with fantasy novels, because [the characters] are changing into all kinds of different animals. I don't dwell on a lot of them, but what he's done is he's gone straight through—I mean, how many people would think about it? The guy forgets how to walk if he's been a wolf for four days. That's the sort of thing for anybody who's tried to be a writer, or just getting started or whatever; constantly ask yourself, "What if?" "What's it like?" Try to put yourself into the individual's place. Thank you for sharing that.

McCammon: I had a sexual scene where the hero, this young boy, is seduced by a girl who's a werewolf. He lives with his family of wolves that live in that area—the woods of Russia, right after the Czar's fallen. So she seduces him, and as they're making love, they turn into wolves. Which is sort of a demonstration of their joy. [It was a difficult] scene to write, because the mechanics of this and the mechanics of that as they're embracing nude, [growing] claws and other changes.

Roberson: There seems to be, I think, probably some form of underlying sexual tone of changing shape, in regard to the animals. Some people explore it more fully, but I think, subtly you may not even be aware of it.

McCammon: An admission of the animal element. The bestial element. Which can be noble—and gentle. It can really be a gentle feeling. As I said, my guy really enjoyed being a wolf—much more than being human. The book's wolves view humans as being wasteful. One thing I realized in my research about wolves, wolves are not wasteful. They're just not wasteful. They just attack and kill [in order to feed the pack]. So they're very beneficial animals, very noble animals. And that's what I tried to make my character.

Roberson: I was talking to a friend of mine about what it is about shapechanging that appeals to me. Where did the legend really start? And his explanation was that in the dark ages or in prehistoric times, you'd have an enemy who's sneaking up on an enemy camp, and he kept a wolf pelt, or bear pelt, or something like that—something that belonged—and he kind of hunches down and peeks up. When the tribal member who survived the attack is going to explain what happened, he's not going to say, "Some guy wearing a bear suit snuck up on me." He's going to say "A bear snuck up on me, and attacked and stole the horses," or "stole what they were after." It's really a simplistic explanation, but it makes all the sense in the world! That's where the legend really started.

McCammon: There's one book I did called Mystery Walk in which I have an evil shapechanger. He's called a shapechanger from Indian mythos. This creature doesn't necessarily change into an animal; he changes shapes, he changes into different people. Ever dealt with that kind of shapechanging?

Roberson: I never had changing into people's shapes because I just felt that's the be-all, do-all-powerful if you could do that. It's a real good, fundamental thing to use in a lot of different books. But I didn't want to get into that. I already had some powerful guys running around. Think about it; if somebody assumes a human form, they can do anything they want to....

McCammon: It's scary when you create a villain like that that's almost all-powerful. Then you can't get rid of him. I mean, how do you get rid of a villain that does all this stuff? Sometimes you can write yourself into a corner. You have to always find some sort of weakness. The villain has to have some sort of weakness, even though he may appear to be all-powerful.

But I enjoyed that idea of a shape-shifter. This thing, whatever it is—it's not an animal, it's not a human, it's some kind of entity—whatever it is, it can take different forms and turn into people. It can tap into your life and pinpoint a face that's of importance to you, and it can assume that face. That was kind of different.

Roberson: I know the kind of animal commonly used is the wolf. Whether it's a werewolf or just another wolf-sort of creature. And I wonder if perhaps that has to do with the fact that they're often perceived more dog-like than anything else. They seem to be easiest for humans to understand. They're somewhat dog-like human forms. I mean, after all, the paws have more connection with a wolf than with a bear, or perhaps a bird or something like that. If any of you have had any contacts with wolves at all, you'd see that they're really not like dogs. They have certain dog-like traits, but they're a very different animal.

Q: It seems that the most dangerous creature in an area usually ends up as a were-creature—were-tigers, were-bears, were-wolves....

McCammon: I think there's a were-tiger in India, also. I think that has a lot to do with the fear of what's out there, the unknown—what's there between towns. It used to be—at least in Europe—that people had to travel between towns by carriage. The wolves were predatory out in the mountains, and people were terrified of being caught by wolves. So they gave wolves an extra strength, to justify such horror and fear about being attacked by wolves. Actually, I can't recall a case of people being attacked by wolves. It might have happened in dire circumstances where the wolves are driven to a frenzy, and they couldn't get any other food, but it's extremely rare.

Q: The wolf has a lot in common with man: they mate for life, their social structure is similar....

McCammon: The wolf's social structure that you mentioned—I think that's what drew me to the werewolf idea. [The fact] that wolves do have a strict social structure.

Roberson: They are again more dog-like, more human-like, in many of their behavior systems. The dominance issue is very important to wolves, more so than it seems to be to humans. Their structure is extremely limited. They do have their Alpha leader, and that's it.

Q: How did you decide to write the transformations? How much artistic license was involved?

McCammon: It's like what we were talking about in those transformation scenes in these films. You can't help but be influenced by what's gone before. I think you really have to get down and try to put your own stamp—your personality—on what's happening. But you can't help but be influenced by what's gone before.

We were talking last night about being a method actor—a male writer putting himself in the place of a female character, or vice-versa. This is another example of method acting: to put yourself in the position of transformation and get into the character as deeply as you possibly can. Feel what that must feel like. You know, the changing of the bone structure. The pain that you've got to feel as that tail sprouts. The lengthening of the jaw. The whole idea of how you see things differently now. Things that you've never noticed before. You see things clearly. Much more clearly....

Roberson: Yeah, that's something you have to do, and any writer really has to work at his or her practice. That's what you have to do, and the shallowness comes through when you can't put yourself into the other person's mind. And even when you're dealing with animals, you're doing the same thing. Of course, they think differently—there's no way a human being can feel exactly what an animal's feeling, what they're thinking. But there have been studies done as far as vision—you know, they've dissected the eyes, trying to figure out exactly how an animal can see, whether they can see color or not. I happen to disagree; I think they do see color....

McCammon: Somebody pointed that out to me quite vocally in a letter: "The wolves don't see color; now they don't see color."

Roberson: There's quite a controversy about that. I have dogs—I've dealt with dogs, spent a long time in training—and I think they respond. I really think they differentiate. And it may just be the value of the colors—the red, blue, green, yellow and so on. But I think they see something. If you're living in the wild—for those of you who've done any studies in biology at all—there's the moth, and some of the animals that know what the landscape is around them. Why would they do that if color didn't matter? If pattern didn't matter? I think that a lot of scientific studies are just too scientific.

McCammon: In part of Wolf's Hour, my hero's head is creased by a bullet and he has amnesia for a short time. He forgets he was human. So then I had to—from that point on—really focus on what an animal's viewpoint would be like. He has a feeling that he knows something is going on inside, but he's not sure what he is. A plane passes by and he sees this big crow—this big silver crow goes across—and so he knows that something is wrong, and he's supposed to do [something]. But he's forgotten that he's human.

I was going to ask you, you said you deal with other types of animals other than wolves. Have you ever had a character turn into a bird, or anything like that?

Roberson: I've had a hawk and a falcon, that sort of thing. And what I emphasize there is the freedom of flight. I don't fly myself, other than in an airplane. I'm not a pilot. And I can't physically fly, but I just think it would be such wonderful freedom to be able to go and just float around, and hit the thermals and stuff like that, soaring around. And it's wonderful. It's a method I use when writing such feelings. I write about emotions more than a lot of physicalities.

McCammon: I wonder what the physicality of that would be? Somebody turning into a bird would be a pretty good special effect, I'd say!

Roberson: One thing I did, because a lot of people do change into animal shape; I felt that if the human form had lost a limb or part of a limb, it would affect your bird-shape as well. I had one character lose a hand, and I thought if you took the same amount of mass off a bird, the bird's wing, it would affect the bird's ability to fly. So he could do short hops like a chicken. But when you've been a hawk, up in the sky, you don't really want to be a chicken, so he no longer would [change into a hawk].

I think you'll find that writers look for things that seem to be hard to do. It's a way of mental exercise. You get to stretch yourself. It's very easy to fall into a rut; you develop certain catch phrases, certain ways of saying things. It's very easy to keep repeating them. Consequently, through this sort of mental exercise—stretching our wings, so to speak—we try things that might be difficult on the surface, but are great fun. That's how we work. But I think the idea behind trying to write—the feeling, both physical and emotional—the feeling of an animal is one way of dealing with it.

McCammon: I think it's a challenge to see the world through different eyes. And I think that's what writing, in a way, is all about. It's seeing life in the world in a different perspective. I think that's fun; that's the most fun about writing, to me. To view the world through different eyes, different perspectives.

Roberson: Yeah, I don't know how many of you out there are either trying to get published, or are writing now, or have thought about it but have never done it. We can turn this into Writing 101, too, if you want to, because these are all good exercises. But everything kind of affects everything else. And I think if you practice in one particular field, you can sort of flop over into another one. For instance, my characters maintain their human awareness when they're in animal form. So I don't have to deal with "what is the animal thinking?" all the time. Although I do have them walk a fine line, where if they lose their balance—they have this thing called balance—and step over the line too far, they can forget their humanity. And they're stuck in animal form, or something in-between. So there has to be an edge built into it.

McCammon: You know, that's good. I think there should be an in-between. You know, something where you're neither human or animal. You're kind of struggling; you don't know what's going on—physically, what's that like?

Any comments or questions?

Q: What are your favorite shape-shifting motion pictures? Wolfen? The Howling? The Wolf Man?

McCammon: Now, that Larry Talbot thing that is so dated, you know; those were great movies in just terms of [storytelling]. You mentioned a neat movie called Wolfen. I didn't really like the movie, but they did something interesting there about the wolf's vision. The scenes they did with the different effects—you don't see that very often. It pictures an animal seeing things that humans can't. That's something I try to get across in The Wolf's Hour. Have you ever dealt with an enhanced sense of perception?

Roberson: Yes, I dealt with that, particularly in the first book, because it was an introduction to the whole idea of shapechanging. But my personal favorite movie that comes the closest to something that I like about the shapechanging theme is Ladyhawke. It's similar in tone to what I write, and I just like the romance of it. You know, they didn't go into a lot of detail of the change—you just saw her in the one scene where she's falling from the tower, the sun comes up, and she changes. You don't see, like, wings sprouting, and talons coming out of toes and fingers, and things like that. First time I saw An American Werewolf in London, I thought it was tremendous. I also saw The Howling when it first came out. You got an idea of the pain. The transformation is not a nice thing, and it's very painful, like you were saying earlier. You know, the sprouting of the tail, the racking of the bones....

McCammon: But I think it's got to be wet, and sloppy, and slobbery. Just know, it's got to be tough!

Q: Do you think Jekyll and Hyde is shape-shifting?

Roberson: Certainly, as far as emotions and personality go. I think it deals with the theme. But physically, he didn't change very much—he was still identifiably human, even if a little bit warped. But I think it could be [shapechanging] because it was a massive change.

McCammon: Yeah, I say it could be also, because it unleashed that animal—the animal part of a human being. I think a lot of the literature of shape-shifting concerns releasing that animalish part of a human being. So I definitely think so.

Roberson: I think we all sort of relish—maybe one of the reasons we like books about shapechangers and things—I think we relish the idea of turning ourselves totally loose, and not having to take responsibility for our actions. You know, it's the baser side of man, if you will. And I think that's why, for so many years, shapechangers have represented evil—because they go out and rend throats, and do this horrible, messy stuff. They are just about unstoppable. They are very difficult to deal with. You have to get all these little rituals—your silver bullets and stakes, and all that sort of thing.

Q: What are your favorite shape-changing books?

Roberson: Which ones would I recommend? Andre Norton did a couple—something about the unicorn rider, something like that. Something with unicorns. Tapestry? That may be; I'm not sure. But off the top of my head, I can't think of anything right now. I'll think of it as soon as I get out of the room.

McCammon: Oh, I can't think of anything, either. And that's because I'm not just going to go and buy a book if it's a shapechanger book. I mean, that's just not necessarily what appeals to me. The story appeals to me; I'm not going to go read a book just because it is about shapechangers—the plot either appeals to me or it doesn't. And I think that's another thing to remember: when we wrote these books, it wasn't because we wanted to write a shapechanger novel. It wasn't because "now, I need to write a werewolf novel," or "we need to write our shapechanger novel." It's because we had the plot, we had the character, and this fit right with what we wanted to do. So, that's a long way of saying I can't think of any books that I can recommend....

Q: Do you prefer real world settings over made-up ones?

McCammon: Yeah, I think that's pretty fair to say.

Roberson: I deal more with fantasy worlds...something that doesn't really exist. But I would say that [Rick] deals with an identifiable world much more than I do.

McCammon: Yeah, but I think it's much harder to create a fantasy world.

Q: The werewolf in Steve Vance's 1986 novel, The Hyde Effect, changed minds rather than form. Is that still shape-shifting?

Roberson: He's asking if we'd consider changing—shifting of minds—is that shape-shifting, [since it's not] physical? I think that goes back to the Jekyll-and-Hyde thing. It's not shape-shifting maybe, in the pure sense of the word, because physically you still are the same, but what we are is determined by what's up here [tapping skull], basically. So I would say that it plays a big part of it.

McCammon: Yes, shifting perspective is shifting of the viewpoint. But I guess, per s\'e, it's not shape-shifting, but kind of like perspective-shifting. Anyone else?

Q: You mentioned point of view. How would a wolf's point of view differ—or be the same as—a human's? Wolves do seem to see themselves as responsible....

Roberson: Well...humans have something called a conscience. And it seems like we have to make a definite determination. We decide what we're going to do; we're going to go out and kill somebody. It may be on the spur of the moment, but nonetheless that's your decision, whereas an animal—they say that animals do not kill for sport; I think there actually are a couple that will—but primarily, animals are killing for defense, or food, protection, that sort of thing. I think it's a cleaner way of thinking; it's like you said, it's a matter of perception. It may be wreaking havoc, but within their own mind it's something that needed to be done.

Q: It's easier to identify with characters when they retain their willpower after changing.

McCammon: Yeah, [in The Wolf's Hour, Michael Gallatin] is in control of what he's doing, and he does feel a sense of responsibility, too. There's a certain point where he's atop the opera house, where he could've killed somebody, and then he held himself back from killing, because he realized this person is really not necessarily evil. They're in an evil circumstance, but he's selective about who he kills. It's like I think real wolves are selective. I didn't want this character just to be a kind of a whirlwind of destruction, evil destruction—it's not like a wolf.

Q: Is there an internal conflict between instinct and conscience?

McCammon: Yes, because when he does kill, it's almost a religious experience, I think. It feels good to do this. The blood, the smell of the blood—he loves it. And that's almost religious. But he's responsible, also.

Q: How do your shapechangers eat while in a different form?

Roberson: If my character is in the guise of a wolf, that's how he eats. If he's in his wolf shape for any set length of time, he will physically eat and kill just as the wolf does. For me, personally, that's role-playing. You have a good time imagining things, like I said earlier, as a sort of exercise. I'll make believe I'm a wolf, and yet it's not real.

McCammon: You kind of put yourself in the place of the character, and you're ripping his face off? Or if you were to take a bite out of somebody's leg, and pull the flesh out?

Roberson: I like my meat very rare, anyway.

McCammon: I like mine raw.

Roberson: People who deal with shape-shifting, maybe we like our meat raw. Or rare.

McCammon: Raw fish, raw meat, and bloody.

Q: Disney's Never Cry Wolf featured a man eating like a wolf.

McCammon: Well, they think you'll eat anything if you're hungry enough. There's a scene in The Wolf's Hour where a guy's sick—one of the werewolves is sick—and he's dying and begins to throw up, and he throws up worms. Because his wolf disease has affected his human form. So he's got these worms in his stomach, and he's just full—full of worms. So I thought that would be really, really visceral.

Roberson: It is!

McCammon: I wanted it to be really visceral, and brutal in a way. Bloody and violent. That's not necessarily the way I write, but that's what the story called for. That's what the character called for.

Roberson: Again, back to Writing 101 here. There are a lot of things that we're required to do in our real life that we don't necessarily like thinking about. But you really do put on your little hats as God. You can do anything you want to. And it's here that the creative muse really takes over. When you do a lot of these things, it has to be done for the sake of the story. You can be a butcher, if you have to be—it's for the sake of the story. That's what it's like to be a writer.

I guess writers are basically schizo. You pull out the emotion—you really reach a reader—or you create a button and you push them to get these visceral responses. We're schizo, I guess. But it's necessary, I think, in any case.

Q: How do you get into your characters?

Roberson: When I write a male's point of view, I sort of steep myself in that individual. Whenever I write a female point of view, I actually have a harder time. And I don't know why—maybe because I don't think about things. When I write from a male point of view, I'm working very hard, because now I'm thinking like a man. You know, how to capture his image to get it down in print. And it's hard for me to do with the female because these things are automatic. But as far as the animal parts go, I don't know. I don't think there's really an explanation for it. I think it's just wishful [thinking] in a way. Yes, I would think it'd be fun! I'm serious. Although I've had a father of a friend of mine, when the first book [Shapechangers] was published, say "Oh, you've written a diet book!" Swear to God!

McCammon: The raw meat and blood diet.

Roberson: We have about twenty minutes left; if you have questions on other topics or other themes, feel free....

Q: Do you have any new books coming out?

McCammon: Yeah, I have a new book called Blue World; it's a book of short stories that'll be out in April. And my next novel, called MINE, will be out in May.

Roberson: I have the fifth book in the Shapechanger series, Flight of the Raven, coming out in June. And then, I'm doing the fourth Sword Dancer, which is called Sword Breaker; it's been scheduled for next summer, even though I haven't written it yet.

McCammon: One thing I'd like to add is that it's a lot of fun to do this. I think it's a lot of fun to put yourself in the form of an animal. And one thing that I've learned, talking to other writers, is that most writers are really children at heart. I think we are really kids at heart, and this is fun for us. You know, it's a lot of fun, and we get to play-act, and just play!

Roberson: Especially if you're growing up. I started writing very young. We all do "What I Did On My Summer Vacation," and that sort of thing. But I really was writing real neat little stories and I was fourteen when I wrote my first novel! And somehow, when you're sneaking in your bedroom, or whatever room you have—a corner of the living room or something—and you're typing away on your typewriter or longhand, or laboriously writing this out on your yellow legal pads—however you do it—somehow it doesn't have legitimacy. Because you say, "Well, I'm a writer." "Oh, are you published?" "Well, no." The first question is "Are you published?" then you get the "Oh, well." Therefore, you are not a good writer. You are not dedicated to your craft. And yet, it's amazing the sort of thing that everyone, after your first book is sold—your family, you know, friends, other people—all of a sudden, you've gained legitimacy in the world.

McCammon: Yeah, another question is, "What do you do?" and then you say, "Well, I'm a writer." And they pause for a second. "Yeah, what's your real job?" That's when you wish you had the ability to turn into a wolf!

Roberson: I think you can manage, because the sort of literature [you write] is a little more identifiable. Most of the time I have to say "science fiction," because if you say "fantasy" you can tell—unless they're into science fiction and fantasy, and understand the distinction—there's this kind of glazed, bewildered look in other people's eyes. And I know what they're thinking is, "Fantasy? What's this? Some sort of adult, erotic entertainment?" So I say science fiction, and if I get feedback like, "Oh, well yeah, but I like fantasy," then I'll go, "Great!" And I'll push them into a corner, "Let me tell you what I really do."

Q: Can you name any movies that scared you?

McCammon: Well, I have two answers for that, okay? The first answer to your question is The Haunting of Hill House. That's one that really scared me. Also, the one where the people got sucked into the sand on the beach, remember that? Invaders from Mars—the original; that was scary.

The second answer to that is, I don't go to horror films. I don't like them. 'Cause what interests me about this is characters—characters are interesting. Horror movies by and large don't do any characterization; I just don't like that. Unfortunately, in our business, we're judged not by the best artwork, but the worst. The number of people who go to see horror movies are a thousandfold greater than the number of people who read. So you do horror novels, and they say, "Oh, like Friday the 13th?" And I say, "No." So I don't really like horror films—personally, I think they're cheap.

Roberson: For me, I don't like watching films. I don't like horror movies. I don't like gore with an "E" on the end—or Gor with no "E" on the end! For those of you who read Gor novels, sorry about that. But for me, the psychological thrillers—psychological horror, if you like—is much more frightening than buckets of blood and guts falling out. And Hitchcock did some wonderful, wonderful movies. The tension is so incredible! The movie Alien, the first one? I preferred the second one, but the first one was a movie I tend to leave, because the tension was drawn so taughtly that I was just—ooh, I was just crawling and itching. I was so uncomfortable, I couldn't stand it!

That's what good psychological horror does. Terror, whatever label you want to put on it, makes you dither and go, "I can't watch this anymore," but it's so good and so compelling that you can't leave. You can't stop reading the book, or you can't stop watching the movie. You know Wait Until Dark? A tremendous psychological thriller, horror, whatever you want to call it—a blind woman trapped in her apartment in New York City, and the bad guys come to get her. And you are put in her place. You experience that attack of the movie through her eyes, and she's blind! So, you have to use all the other senses. I'm not a screamer, but boy, I did a job on my mother and my aunt—they were on either side of me. One particular scene, everybody in the audience screamed. And that, I think, is a lot more effective than when blood gets poured all over the screen.

McCammon: It's kind of redundant when you do that scene after scene; it shouldn't support the film. But evidently, that satisfies some sort of need. They've done great. They've made a lot of money. Anyone else?

Q: Do you have any stories optioned for the movies?

McCammon: Yeah, and I dread to go see what's going to happen. I probably won't go to see the films, actually. Because I did something called "Makeup" that was out on ABC's Darkroom series a long time back. And they just totally changed everything. They changed the names of the main characters, secondary characters—they changed everything! Because they have a big table full of people who make those decisions. All these people have to justify their existence, so they make all the changes. But I really enjoy writing; that's my child. My books are my children, because I'm in sole control. I write in what I call "splendid isolation," and sometimes isolation can be pretty tough. Because nobody can help you write when you're in isolation. You may have a problem, and you say, "I wish somebody could help me do this scene," but you can't. It's just you and the paper. But that's the way I prefer it. And I think writing a screenplay would be hell. You do write, and somebody who doesn't know jack crap would say, "I want you to change this guy to have red hair, not brown hair," and "I want this guy to wear a green tie," crap like that. So that's just not my thing. If it happens, that's somebody else's baby—my children are books.

Q: Which ones have been optioned?

McCammon: They Thirst has been optioned. And a kind of tentative Swan Song miniseries. Maybe. So, we'll see. But it's an option. Stuff is optioned all the time. It's very rare that anything gets made, so we'll see. Actually, the Twilight Zone version of "Nightcrawlers" I was really happy with. And I think I lucked out. I really got lucky, because most things adapted from books or short stories don't turn out very well. ["Nightcrawlers"] turned out pretty well.

Roberson: Do we have any other questions?

Q: Do you envy any other writer's craft?

McCammon: Yeah, good question. Yeah, actually, the writer I grew up on is Ray Bradbury. We were talking yesterday at our other session about worldbuilding, about labels. Ray Bradbury's a writer you cannot label. He's neither horror, fantasy, or science fiction. He's just an excellent writer. One of the first stories I ever read by Ray Bradbury was "The Lake," which I think is a marvelous story. Is it a ghost story? Is it—? What is it? I don't know! And I'm not going to say what kind of story it is—it's a wonderful story. That's what I'm trying to do now. I try to do the best I can do with my voice. And make my voice geared toward more horror fiction, or whatever you want to call it. But I'd like to be kind of free of labels, if that's possible. Like Ray Bradbury.

Roberson: It's really difficult when you're first getting started, because most people who want to write read a lot. At least, you read a lot before you become a writer, because then you don't have any time anymore. The thing I found myself doing is, I had particular writers that I envied, or I just admired, or I just plain enjoyed when I read their work. And I found it cropping up in my own stuff. It wasn't anything I did consciously, but because I liked the way somebody did this, or somebody did that, it would come up in my own work. I received influence into my early stuff, and then later, somewhere down the road, I quit trying so hard. And just sort of let it come naturally. And I discovered my own voice, which I can't tell you what it is. But I don't think any writer really knows. It's try your hardest, and then you work for a certain effect, and then you have to let it go. But I admire greatly Tanith Lee, who's a tremendous writer. She's not incredibly popular—she doesn't do series fiction—but she's a tremendous writer if you want very good, provocative imagery and color. I think C.J. Cherryh is the best practitioner of both genres: fantasy and science fiction. Usually, you're good at one and passable at another. I think she's equally good at both. And Patricia McKillip, I think, is very good, also. I wish she wrote more.

McCammon: I think ability and style is interesting, because it's hard to do. People by and large think it's easy to do. They discuss natural ability, but it's hard to do. And I think that's touchy. Most times you can't identify your own style. You wouldn't know it if you read it backwards. But it's hard to develop your own style. It's tough. It's taken me a lot of years to develop my own style.

Roberson: "Style" is one of those buzzwords that a lot of people really don't understand what it has to do with anything, but to me, a definition of style is when you're writing, achieve a certain image, if you will, to where, even without your name attached to it, it's an identifiable woman. A particular writer. Now, we don't all write the same every time. We don't try to regurgitate what we wrote before. But there are certain things that just come out—certain themes that appeal to us, and they keep coming out in the writing. Certain kinds of phrase, certain things like that. But style is one of those really fuzzy, fuzzy things.

McCammon: Rhythm, too. You've got your own personal rhythm. And I think it's hard to explain—unless you're a writer—what rhythm is. What your phraseology is. What your timing and pacing is. It's all very important.

I guess we should be winding this up....

Roberson: Thank you all for coming. I'm going to give a blatant plug here: It's not scheduled in the book, but Sunday, in the morning, at 10 AM, in this room, I'm going to be doing a reading if anyone is interested.

McCammon: Thank you very much.

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