Guest post: “A Conversation with Fred Patten” by Phil Geusz

A Conversation with Fred Patten

by Phil Geusz

Tomorrow, December 11, 2015, Fred Patten will celebrate his 75th birthday. If you don’t already know who Fred is and why it’s important that the fandom (and especially the FWG!) should honor him, well… Perhaps the best way to learn more about who Fred is and what he’s done for us both as furries and as authors would be to read on.

 

1) You’re often credited as being among the handful of founders of the furry fandom. Can you give us an idea of what it was like, who else you personally knew that was involved, and generally tell us how it all came together?

I remember attending the 1980 Worldcon as a regular s-f fan, one of several from the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. I was particularly close with Mark Merlino at the time; we had recently created the C/FO and “invented anime fandom”. One of the favorites of both Merlino & I was Kimba the White Lion, though most of the other early anime fans preferred the giant robot cartoons. At the 1980 Worldcon, Merlino & I and Nicolai Shapero were intrigued by a painting in the Art Show of a cat-woman in a military flight suit standing next to a realistic futuristic fighter plane. The artist was nearby and introduced himself as Steve Gallacci, a USAF technical illustrator. The painting was a standalone illustration from a series that he’d had in mind for years, about a star system of artificially-evolved animal peoples who had forgotten their past and rediscovered it during a space war between the cat and rabbit nations. He had a manila folder full of rough notes in cartoon form that he offered to show us. We didn’t just glance at it; we studied it in detail. At the convention’s Art Auction all three of us got into a bidding war for that painting. None of us got it; I don’t know who did.

I don’t know who else joined the “Gallacci group” to look at his notes at the 1980 Worldcon, but Tim Fay and John Cawley were early members. Gallacci was just getting out of the USAF; he settled in Seattle, and came to most of the s-f and comics conventions on the West Coast during the 1980s. We used to gather around Gallacci at these conventions to see his latest addition to his notes, and the group gradually grew. Many of us were cartoonists, and traded sketches in the ever-present Black Sketchbooks. During conversations with each other, we discovered that we all particularly liked the stories that featured intelligent animals and animal-like aliens; Watership Down and Animal Farm, Kimba the White Lion and Bambi, and so on. During 1982 Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH came out and was a big topic of discussion.

As a separate matter, Vootie, the fanzine of the Funny Animal Liberation Front started in 1977. I had tried to join, but was turned down because I wasn’t a cartoonist. It was an APA for comic-book fans who didn’t like costumed superheroes and could draw. One of its members was Marc Schirmeister in L.A. During 1981 and 1982 it became obvious that Vootie was dying because of apathy among its organizers. Schirm tried to keep it going but he failed; the last Vootie was in February 1983. Schirm then organized Rowrbrazzle as its replacement, but he made an interest in funny animals rather than an ability to draw cartoons as the criterion for membership. I could write about them so I was accepted, as were several members of the Gallacci group, ex-Vootie members, and others who could draw funny animals; some friends of members. Schirm went on a recruiting drive among the 1983-84 Cal Arts students and made several of them Rowrbrazzle members whether they wanted to be or not. Most of them never contributed; Bruce Timm provided a “Duck Savage” drawing that he’d already done.

Rowrbrazzle #1 appeared in February 1984. By that time, early furry fandom was dividing between those who were in Rowrbrazzle and contributing to its quarterly issues, and those who gathered at conventions who were organized more by Mark Merlino & Rod O’Riley. Gallacci was concentrating on finalizing his story into publishable form as the comic book Albedo. The members of Rowrbrazzle #1 were Marc Schirmeister the Official Editor, Greg Bear, Jerry Beck, John Cawley, Dave Bennett, Jerry Collins, Tim Fay, Jim Groat, Richard Konkle, Brett Koth, Steve Martin, Bruce Timm, Ken Sample, Taral Wayne, Deal Whitley, Colleen Winters, and me. Some like Bruce Timm weren’t interested in furry fandom and dropped out right away. Jerry Beck got interested in animation. Deal Whitley was as active in furry fandom as his health would permit, until he became the first furry fan who died. John Cawley shifted over to Merlino’s group which evolved to putting on parties at conventions. Merlino’s Furry Parties, advertised on flyers throughout the convention, were responsible for the fandom coming to be called furry fandom. Other early furry fans were Roz Gibson, Mike Kazaleh, Stan Sakai, Tracy Horton who married Mike Kazaleh, Edd Vick, Diana Vick (no relation), Monika Livingston, and Kjartan Arnorsson. Merlino & O’Riley expanded the Furry Parties at s-f & comics conventions into the first furry conventions, the ConFurences, in 1989.

One of the early discussion topics in Rowrbrazzle was what was happening in the fandom. This is why I say that Rowrbrazzle wasn’t responsible for furry fandom, but it does prove that furry fandom existed by 1984. It was more than the Vootie membership and the Gallacci groups at conventions.

 

2) You’re also credited in a similar way with the founding of the anime and My Little Pony” fandoms. Have you any comments on how they came to be and your role in the matter? And… Just how did it come to pass that you’ve been at center of so many important cultural movements?

I may have co-founded furry fandom and anime fandom, but I’ve never watched My Little Pony. You can’t blame that on me.

I joined the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society in 1960, which meets every Thursday evening, and I was an active s-f fan from 1960 until I had my stroke in 2005. I credit many of the LASFS members of the 1960s through the 2000s with helping me get established as an active fan who was on s-f convention committees, helped organize s-f theater parties, etc. I attended some of the first meetings of mystery fandom and Oz fandom, but I never became a leader in those. I was active early in comics fandom — I had an article on Mexican comic book superheroes in Alter Ego, one of the first comics fanzines, in 1965 — but I was not very interested in the costumed superheroes that most comics fans concentrated on. That’s why my interest ran more to the funny animals, the French bandes dessinées, and later the Japanese manga. I’ve always had a habit of volunteering, usually as a Secretary. When anime fandom and later furry fandom began to coalesce, I used my experience from the LASFS in organizing anime and furry clubs that wouldn’t fall apart in a few months.

 

3) All of the fandoms you’re involved in can in at least some fairness be described as a bit geeky”. (Keep in mind that I’m saying this as a proud, card-carrying geek myself.) Do you consider yourself a bit of a geek? Do you have any observations or comments on geekdom in general?

Yes, I’m a geek and proud of it. I was never interested in the social life of high school or college. I’m a lifelong bachelor. My mother wanted me to become a doctor or lawyer or something prestigious, but I’ve always liked books and became a librarian. I became nervous about what would happen to me when I graduated from college, and I joined a fraternity to force myself into a social life, but I hated it. When I discovered s-f fandom, they were my kind of people.

 

4) You’re a bibliophile and book-reviewer of note. About how many reviews do you suppose you’ve written over the years? Care to share some happy memories of the very finest or otherwise outstanding works you’ve read or reviewed?

I’ve probably written over a thousand reviews of furry books alone. Probably over 2,000 all told. My earliest review was of an arguably furry book; H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy, in a 1962 fanzine. I’m depressed to read today a list in ISFDB of the reviews that I wrote in the 1970s; I don’t remember many of the books at all, much less what I said about them. From 1975 to 1977, I was the publisher, co-editor, and a major reviewer for Delap’s F&SF Review, a monthly s-f reviewzine; about 28 regular issues. Richard Delap & I argued about the direction that it should take, and he “fired” me to edit & publish it himself. It only lasted two more issues.

The review that I remember best was of Stephen King’s The Shining. I said that it was a very suspenseful horror novel, but there were several of what seemed like buildups to horror subclimaxes that were aborted and didn’t go anywhere. I got a letter from King saying that was all his editor’s fault. His original manuscript had been twice as long, and all those buildups had led to horror scenes that the editor had edited out; like the ominous firehose on a wall of the hotel that had attacked the boy before the scene had been cut.

Another is of Forest Wars by Graham Diamond; a truly awful novel that I had fun tearing apart. It had a vast empire that it took a man on horseback three whole days to gallop across. Since a galloping horse can only cover about 20 miles a day, that’s about 60 or 70 miles across. Some vast empire. Retreating farmers cut down their fields of grain rather than leaving it for slavering hordes of wild dogs to eat. Were the dogs expected to harvest the grain and bake it into bread for themselves?

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Member Spotlight: Phil Geusz

1. Tell us about your most recent project (written or published). What inspired it?

Early Byrd coverI completed the final edits on The Byrd books– Early Byrd, Nestling Byrd, Jail Byrd, War Byrd and Angry Byrd— probably sometime late last August; they took me about eighteen to twenty-four months (interrupted by two bouts in the hospital with heart issues) to write and edit. Four of the five have now been published, with the last one due out any day now.

The Byrd series, though set sometime in the near future, is based on history that dates back to and just before the reign of Augustus Caesar. During this period the Romans were suffering from interminable and expensive border raids undertaken by the tribes of what is now Germany. While the Romans during this era were invariably able to beat back the raiders after the fact and even undertake powerful punitive invasions, their political and military system wasn’t up to the challenge of taking and holding the (to them) cold, alien forests. So, in an attempt to bring about a better cultural understanding and relationship that might lead to the development of Germany as a sort of self-ruled Roman client state and better neighbor, after one of their more successful punitive raids the Romans demanded that the tribal “kings” of Germany turn over their sons to be raised by high-ranking nobles back in Italy essentially as Romans themselves, with the intention that they eventually be restored to their German thrones as “uplifted” barbarians worthy of trust and properly appreciative of all the good things that Roman civilization had to offer.

Things of course didn’t turn out at all as planned, either in my books (where aliens play the part of the Romans) or in actual history…

I’m very proud of the Byrd books; though they’re only marginally furry. (The aliens, who play major roles throughout, are best visualized as anthro wolf-bears both physically and mentally.) While the Byrd books are essentially ‘escapist’ or ‘fun’ stories and never aspired to be Great Literature, they mark a major turning point for me as an author in that despite many failed efforts I was never been able to write convincing aliens before. This time I think I succeeded at long last, and have the skills I learned writing furry stories to thank for it.

2. What’s your writing process like? Are you a “pantser,” an outliner, or something in between?

Somewhere in between is the best answer, though no truly sane person would ever approach writing the way I do.

I began writing in a serious way on the Transformation Story Archive Mailing List (TSA), and I owe all of what success I’ve had as an author– and many other Good Things in my life– to my fellow members there. This background deeply shaped my techniques. There, I gradually developed the habit of writing a story-part (usually 1-2k words) pretty much every day in a disciplined manner. I soon learned that the best way to attract and hold readers– and receive highly-prized feedback– on the TSA is not only to post near-daily, but also to make sure that each and every story part leaves the readers eagerly awaiting more. This is a very high– sometimes impossible– standard to meet in Real Life, and particularly so in longer works. Yet, it’s clearly what’s not only what’s called for in order to succeed in a mailing-list environment, it happily also results in a finished book with that “impossible to put down” quality that suits the action-adventure genre so well. Therefore, in pursuit of these goals I developed a sort of hybrid ‘in-between’ approach to story planning that still serves me well. On the one hand, it’s absolutely impossible to plan ahead a hundred or so “mini-cliffhangers” to hold a reader’s interest during a book’s multi-month writing process. If anyone were to attempt plotting out or outlining a story in such detail, well… I think it’d be easier to just write the thing and be done with it. On the other, you can’t do proper justice to things like plot arc and theme without at least the broad strokes of a master plan. So, I spend weeks and months and sometimes even years thinking about a book– usually while simultaneously writing one or more others– thinking about not plot details but rather the grand sweep of things. For example, before writing Freedom City I spent weeks thinking about and mentally probing the limits of all the major aspects of human freedom I could think of– political, economic, social, sexual, scientific, and (being at heart a transhumanist) physical form. Then I thought some more and came up with a plot and setting where I could explore them in depth. In the end, the exploration of each of these forms of freedom became its own subplot, parts of a greater whole all “singing together” as part of the larger theme.Freedom City cover

(By the way, I’d like to note here that though many interpret Freedom City as a political novel, it was never for a moment intended to be anything of the sort. I created the setting solely because it was the best place I could come up with to explore to the limit all the freedoms listed above. Am I a Libertarian? Yes, in many though not all ways. And this certainly colors what the final novel became. But Freedom City never was– and isn’t now– a personal political statement. I meant to create art, not an Atlas Shrugged-style rant. One of my greatest regrets as a writer is that it’s so often taken as such.)

3. What’s your favorite kind of story to write?

The quick, easy kind that makes lots of money!

In all seriousness…

The vast bulk of my work was written solely to divert the reader’s tedium and entertain, because that’s mostly what I personally seek as a reader. It features lots of action, potent imagery and outright violence in world-shaking quantities, all structured over what I hope is a thought-provoking exploration of provocative concepts and irresolvable moral dilemmas. I happen to like to think and to confront new ideas, you see, and assume my readers feel the same way. But what gives me the greatest satisfaction of all is to attempt a genuine piece of literary art, a story that stands more on craftsmanship and symbolism than big ideas and ray guns. I’ve written only a handful of these, and less than half of this handful are furry. When the attempt is successful– and it isn’t always– the resulting stories actually give me a sort of “artistic high” for days and even weeks afterwards.

“Cheetah’s Win”, which is both furry and an attempt at “high art”, was perhaps the most satisfying writing experience of my life to date. Certainly, in literary terms it’s the most “perfect”.

4. Which character from your work do you most identify with, and why?

Birkenhead omni coverThat’s tough, for several reasons. I write mostly in first person, which I suspect means I “live in the heads” of my protagonists more completely than most. Plus I’ve been writing in a serious way for almost twenty years, having finished over twenty-five books and god only knows how many novellas and short stories along the way. I’m very much not the person who wrote Transmutation Now! (my first novel) circa 1997 anymore, but at least in certain respects I certainly was then. Each and every protagonist I’ve ever written— and most of the supporting characters as well— contains an element of me, from the washed-up action-adventure actor Jack Strafford (who, like me, was confronting middle-age and then found new meaning in a new life– his physical transformation into an anthro-rabbit was a metaphor for my own discovery of the furry fandom) to David Birkenhead (whose struggle against evil and prejudice was fought as much against his “friends” as his putative enemies, and which reflects my own hugely-frustrating career working for a Big Three automaker and experiences in UAW politics) to Lawrence Hightower, a homicide detective who loses his soul in a society where it’s absolutely unavoidable that absolute evil be employed to fight absolute evil. (He also reflects my experiences in UAW politics– this was not a fun time in my life.)

Identity being such a mutable thing– and as a transformation fan I’m of course obsessed with hacking the concept of self-identity— the correct answer to your question has to be “Whatever protagonist I’m writing on any particular day.”

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Book of the Month: The Book of Lapism, Deluxe Edition by Phil Geusz

June’s Book of the Month, The Book of Lapism, Deluxe Edition is by member Phil Geusz.

lapism cover“If biotech can sculpt the body, can it also shape the mind. . . and soul?

That was the challenge laid before Dr. Aaron Thomas by his latest client, to shape him into a gentler, more loving being, inside and out. But the world is not a kind and gentle place, and as one man’s search for truth inspires a movement, will a kinder, gentler people be able to survive and face the legal, spiritual, and ethical challenges that await them?

The New Book of Lapism contains all of the original short stories, presented in their original order of publication, as well as the new stories ‘Prodigal Son’ and ‘Chosen People.'”

Published by Legion Printing. Available from Amazon.