An Interview With Lucius Shepard

By Spencer Cawein Pate

[Please see also my remembrance of Lucius: Goodbye Storyteller: RIP Lucius Shepard]

Lucius Shepard needs no introduction: he’s one of speculative fiction’s finest prose stylists, smartest critics, and best raconteurs, and the forthcoming publication of his collected The Dragon Griaule stories (from Subterranean Press in May 2012) will cement the status of that story cycle not only as one of the greatest achievements of fantasy fiction, but also as a true masterpiece of contemporary literature. Interested readers may also wish to check out Shepard’s account of Griaule’s genesis.

SCP: You’ve returned to the world of “The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule” more frequently than almost any of your other fictional settings. What draws you to this setting and to the conceit of Griaule itself?

LS: Some of reasons have been cynical, money and so on, but I guess the main reason is that people kept asking if there were going to be more of them. Then, too, Griuale is quite a flexible conceit, one that will support every type of story, and do so with an entertaining level of invention. Thinking about stuff like the amount of blood in the dragon’s body, the kinds of parasites that might thrive inside him, and all that is fun for me. I doubt I’ll ever finish with Griaule.  Even now that he’s dead, doubly so, I still have the authorial right to set more stories at different points during his long life.  In fact, I’m working on one now, a short novel about a doctor who discovers something miraculous about Griaule’s blood.

SCP: How much of Griaule’s world was inspired by your travels in Central and South America?

LS: Pretty much all of it. The landscapes are all modeled after places in Honduras, except for the short novel, “The Skull,” which is set in Guatemala, and the mix of expatriates in the various stories are loosely based on people I’ve known down there.

SCP: How has your conception of this story cycle (and its thematic relation to the modern world) evolved over the past twenty-five years? How does your new novel, “The Skull,” fit into the sequence?

LS: Early on, I wasn’t really thinking about the modern world, except in terms of some general human considerations–I mean I didn’t intend the stories to be allegorical, although I considered the dragon to be a sort of mirror to human need, being all things to all men. But as the stories and the years went by, I began to realize the dragon’s personality was becoming manifest, and that he was, in the end, a villain. So if one thinks of the dragon as a type of governance, a restraint upon people’s behavior, like the threat of God or some more worldly authority…well, then Griaule reflects the progression of the public’s relation to government (in the west, at any rate), at first seeing it vaguely to be a benign necessity, and finally viewing it as an enemy, recognizing that the main function of every government is to mold its citizenry into an obedient mass and kill or in some other fashion neutralize those who are disobedient. So the stories reflect that progression, at least.

SCP: There are certain philosophical and political concepts that weave throughout the series—fate vs. free will, the relationship between love and creativity / storytelling, the totalizing nature of capital, the state as non-All, etc. Does your fictional handling of these themes more or less reflect your own personal beliefs?

LS: Yeah, more or less, though I doubt that I’d ever spend much time wondering whether a dragon was to blame for my personal condition, and I’m far more of a pinko than comes across in the stories. That’s not as true in other stories, in which I’m trying to define a wider range of characters.

SCP: One of the things I admire about your prose writing is your command of rhythm. Would you attribute this quality more to your literary influences or to your background in rock music?

LS: I don’t think rock and roll was much of an influence. My childhood grounding in English lit, which was intense, likely has much more to do with it. From the age of five I was taught to have a good ear for language, and that stands me in good stead. I’ve always been conscious that readers–intelligent readers, anyway–possess an ear and are sensitive to the sonority of the words or the lack thereof, so I try and satisfy that aspect of things.

SCP: How would you characterize the current political situation in the United States? In particular, what are your thoughts on the Occupy movement?

LS: The current situation is dire. The middle class is crumbling under the onslaughts of the right and is, mostly, too anaesthetized to respond. Our freedoms are being stripped away, while the idiot groundlings of the right wave flags and celebrate our right to have these freedoms stripped. I support the Occupy movement, I support anything that disrupts the status quo, but I fear it’s too little too late. The powers that be are learning how to suppress the Occupiers and the public attention span is so short and the media’s suppressive force so potent, I doubt the movement will survive the winter in more than a skeleton form. But I’d love to be wrong about that.

SCP: Lastly, what can you tell us about your upcoming publications for 2012 and beyond?

LS: I working on a bunch of short fiction, but I’m unsure what will be out in 2012–one novella at least, “American Police Haiku,” and probably a fantasy novella set in Tibet with a very long title. Working on a couple of novels, one a big adventure book and the other a post-apocalyptic thing with an unusual twist.

SCP: Lucius, thank you for your time!

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