Interview with Richard Monaco

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Interview with Richard Monaco

from: The Camelot Project  1999

SCARSDALE, NY
29 JUNE 1989

   Since I had difficulty tracking down the address of Richard Monaco, it was not until my second trip to New York that I interviewed him in his home on the outskirts of the city.
   Monaco is the author of not one but two Arthurian fantasy series. The first starts with Parsival or a Knight's Tale (New York: Macmillan, 1977), and continues with The Grail War (New York: Pocket Books, 1979), The Final Quest (New York: Putnam's, 1980), and Blood and Dreams (New York: Berkley, 1985). This account of Parsival's quest for the Holy Grail is loosely based upon the Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach, and the use of such devices as narrative interlacing reveals the influence of Monaco's wide reading in medieval literature. Even the physical violence has its roots in Old French epic. The second series, consisting of Runes (New York: Ace, 1984) and Broken Stone (New York: Ace, 1985), is set in the strife-torn years before Augustus established imperial rule in Rome, and it deals with the adventures of the young Arthur and his parents. Monaco's account of how both series developed, how they are related, and why the former is continuing into a fifth book while the latter has been abandoned, provides a valuable insight into the forces at work upon the series of books that are so much a part of Arthurian legend today--as they were, one might argue, in the Middle Ages too.


RT: What attracted you to Arthurian legend as the subject for a novel?

RM: I read Arthurian material in a comparative literature course and liked it, but it was the Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach that really fascinated me. I thought, wouldn't it be great to do a book on this some day? After university I wrote for Hollywood for a few years to make a living, and I was asked for a western about a young gunslinger. I decided to base the story on the Parsival legend: the kid would be raised by his mother out of touch with the rest of the world. I called it Val Parse, which is Parsival backwards.
   Then, about two years later, I had finished a book that no one would publish then and never did to this day, and I was working on another book that no one was going to publish for a long time either. So I said, whoa! What do I really want to do? I'd love to write another version of Val Parse! I'll write an historical novel. I didn't really want to write an historical novel, but I did want to use the story in a historical context.
   This, I felt, would allow me to gain distance from the subject, which was to be growing up, forming relationships, losing one's innocence, and going through an initiation into some of the mysteries of life. When writers are too close to their subject, either the book is full of their own opinions, or it lacks depth and perspective. When they write at some distance, like a good actor attempting to bring a character to life they fill the book with energy and individuality. If it's done properly, the characters then take over. They speak in some ways for you. I call this the process of learning from what you write. That is, you create something which has its own energy, and from this you seem to discover things you never thought of before. I thought that dealing with this very attractive, metaphorical, visionary legend would enable me to create something unique, and that's really why I did it.
   I found the process of writing this book quite an experience. It made me see things altogether a different way. I read the background, but I also realized that authors in the Middle Ages weren't writing historical novels the way they attempted to do later. They weren't trying to be historically accurate. Rather, they would say that the events happened in the past, and then create a world that was nothing like the earlier one. I thought this was a great idea and used it myself.
   As the series came out, it was criticized by people who felt I was not showing enough respect for the original story, particularly because there was so much violence. When you read the medieval sources, however, and I read enormous numbers of them, you find incredible violence. I remember Raoul of Cambrai, one of the heroes from the epics, cutting off an opponent's head, and everybody begs him to do it. Another hero cuts someone's heart out, throws it down, and says, salt this and roast it! There is a tremendous amount of violence in the early material, but some people mistook it in my books as pure modernism. I don't think it was that at all.

RT: It was based upon what you found in early French epic, then?

RM: Exactly. It was a bit of the old and a bit of what's always been true about people. It's nice to have an ideal, but an ideal creates an intrinsic conflict because you're not living up to it. Thus you have the basis of drama. Without a struggle, where are you? Although Galahad is more successful than his father, because he's not really tempted by sin he is a much less interesting character. Drama comes out of conflict. Where everybody agrees to be nice, we're not going to write King Lear.

RT: What happened to Val Parse?

RM: It was turned into an execrable western rock musical which I'll say no more about. I had nothing to do with the final version. When you write for Hollywood you give up control. It was a horrible movie.

RT: What was it called?

RM: I don't want to say because someone might see it: it was on television about a year ago. Last night I saw another movie that I wrote the original screenplay for, and I recognized only about 25% of my material. I would write original scripts; sometimes they liked them and sometimes they hated them, but they always changed them. I have no interest in Hollywood, except that it offered me the opportunity to support myself for awhile. I never went to see the movies I wrote for.

RT: What sources did you use apart from Wolfram's Parzival?

RM: I had read Wolfram and the Vulgate Quest for the Holy Grail in that same famous comparative lit course at Columbia University, but I didn't reread them. Once I started I just kept writing, drawing upon whatever I had absorbed along the way. I hadn't read any Welsh material, which predates what was covered in the course.

RT: What about English chronicles and romances?

RM: I read Geoffrey of Monmouth and Malory, though not from cover to cover; and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which was great.

RT: I suspected you had because your treatment of Gawain is, on the whole, more favorable than that of most knights.

RM: He lived on through many of the books--right into the fifth one which I haven't finished yet.

RT: How about modern versions? Have you read Tennyson or T. H. White?

RM: Sure, but as is typical of somebody who has to read professionally, I read bursts of things and can't always claim, yes, I read that completely; I understand it; I could do a paper on it. No, I couldn't.

RT: Did you read Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee?

RM: Sure. There's a touch of Mark Twain in my approach to writing, because we both see the humor in the material.

RT: Did you read about the history of the period as a preparation for writing the books, or did you rely upon the background you had already acquired?

RM: Since I'm one of those omnivorous readers, it's very hard to say what I've read for a purpose and what I've read for pleasure. When I was going to Columbia one of my favorite books was about the life of a typical noble family in the Middle Ages: it was a first-rate evocation of how people lived, what they ate, and such practical matters.

RT: Were any films influential?

RM: The movie Becket had a tremendous effect on me, particularly the way the personalities were presented. Certain images stick with you, and they have this tremendous evocative power which has nothing necessarily to do with the quality of the piece as a whole, although Becket is an excellent movie.

RT: One powerful element in your books that is missing from Arthurian romance is the interaction between the aristocracy and other social orders, isn't it?

RM: The romances ignore the interaction between the classes totally. I took it from the history of the period, rather than the literature. Since we live in an environment where this interaction remains an issue, I decided to include it. The book isn't an attempt to redo what others have already done beautifully--that's such a stale procedure--but rather to take from them something that's terrific and to see if I can make something new out of it.

RT: How conscious are you of working within a tradition when you're writing a book?

RM: It's hard to say. When you're actually writing it's like acting or driving your car at high speed. You're not thinking and that's the whole secret. The conscious mind is quiet for a brief space. Unfortunately it quickly gets noisy again, and you discover relationships which I think you can only elucidate linearly, as you do when you write a critical paper. While you are actually creating you're not really thinking in that critical mode. I suspect that artists have this ego problem with falling in love with themselves because they fall in love with the great creative moment that came about with their cooperation, but wasn't really their possession.

RT: How free do you feel to adapt traditional material when you're planning the novel ahead of time, as opposed to actually writing it which is a less conscious activity?

RM: If your heart is pure, then you may adapt the material freely because you're not hurting anybody. If you do a bad job it probably won't be published. What are important are your intentions. I don't mean intentions to write something better or worse than someone else did. I mean that if the work is rich and alive for me and I can do something fresh with it, then it belongs to me. I would never keep knowledge back from anybody, or demand a price for it, and I don't respect people who do. Plagiarism is something else: that's when you take a thing literally and you don't add anything to it. You just use what someone else did. That's not acceptable. But if anybody took my books and played around with them and created something new from them, I'd be the first to enjoy it. Because that's what they're for. They are part of the tradition because, let's face it, all literature is a tradition. Much of what you do depends upon what other men and women did.

RT: Why did you choose to write fantasy rather than some other literary form, such as the historical novel?

RM: I don't like to call the books fantasy since they are really about life. Many people write fantasy to escape into a dream world, to recapture something that has been lost. My object, however, is to hold a lens to the present, to one's own life, to other people's lives, to the times one lives in and what they mean to one. The element of the marvelous is meant metaphorically as opposed to mere wish fulfilment. In fact I handled the fantasy elements a little covertly in the first book because I didn't want to focus too much on the magic, but rather on what it means.

RT: Could you give an illustration from your books of how you use fantasy as a lens to focus on the modern world?

RM: In the modern world we have Stone Age savages as well as technological science. A major discovery in my life was one's capacity for violence. Similarly, Parsival discovers that when he is pushed to fight he can be very effective. At one point he falls into a fit of fury when he takes part in an attack upon a band of peasants. That's a perfect example of a response in the book that comes out of my own encounters with gangs in high school. I found that when you get into a fight something can take you over, and you'll have this perverse urge to strike others down. At the time I was probably also recalling the Milai incident during the Vietnam War. Every war brings similar insights, but that particular one was the focus. It leads you to wonder what would make you gun down babies and children.
   Thus, Parsival's response reflects my modern world. I have my character. He's alive. He's partly me, partly myth, and partly whatever, and there he is. He's going to kill helpless people because he's furious that they're bothering him. In a certain way I understand that response. Understanding doesn't mean wanting to do it or to encourage it. If it isn't in you, then it isn't real; but if it is in you, by God, it's going to be in others somewhere. So that's a modern element in my books, or rather a universal element that is seen today as well as in the past.
   What is it that makes you take the sword and cut the guy down? Screw you; I don't care about you; you're not human for a second. You cut yourself off. All those books I wrote were about the machinery of cutting oneself off from life, cutting oneself off from innocence. Innocence not as not knowing about things that have been invented, but innocence rather as not understanding fundamentally the way of things that God made, and trying to fit human behavior into a chivalric context.
   I also had contradictory characters in my books, which is a modern touch. Authors wouldn't have done that in the Middle Ages. The characters were either doing the angels' or the devils' work; they couldn't be part of both.
   To return to your initial question, my books were sold as fantasy novels because Macmillan, the first publisher of Parsival, told me, we think this could be a very successful book and everybody's excited about it, but the salesmen say they don't know what name to put on it. Is it an historical novel, or adventure, or fantasy? Because I had no real answer, I said, well let me ask you a question. What would they feel most comfortable with in order to sell this kind of a story? They said, probably fantasy right now, because the Tolkien books had just gone into their nine billionth printing or something, and somebody else had done some piece of junk, which I won't mention by name, that had tremendous sales, basically ripping off Tolkien. That was a case of what I don't respect, which is stealing someone else's basic material to WRITE A BEST SELLER. You're not adding anything.
   In any event, the publisher decided to market it as fantasy and yes, it contains many elements of fantasy. If one pushes the definition far enough, most historical novel writing is to some degree fantasy, because you're making a lot up. I recognize that it depends upon what sort of things you're making up and what the rules are, however. Fantasy, like science fiction, has a lot of rules that aren't written down in a constitution, but that the people who read it are very affected by. They tend to jump all over somebody who doesn't fulfil their expectations. My own books may run into that problem a little, though I was a science fiction fan as a child and so probably know enough to get away with it. I knew there were elements of the marvelous in this book that were meant to be metaphorical, but would be perceived as fantastic. That's okay, however.

RT: One important feature of your books is their ironic vision, isn't it?

RM: It's the result of seeing the way life is. An example is the account of the scholar who is killed in the second book, The Grail War. That was humorous on purpose. The men-at-arms place him on a dunghill and threaten to kill him if he doesn't eat a mouthful of dung. He eats it, but is killed anyway. "You'd done as well, fellow," his slayer comments, "never to have ate no shit at all" (86). It is an important lesson for Lohengrin, the son of Parsival, who is developing his own cynicisms. He never forgets that. You might as well die with self-respect because they can kill you anyway. That's typical of the irony in the books.

RT: Does any of this irony come from your Arthurian sources?

RM: It comes mainly from contemporary experience. I think it has to haunt your life if you watch the evening news. It's always there. The guy who was calling for the death penalty last year is arrested this year for murdering his wife. It's all around you.
   The irony wasn't a conscious choice, however. It was an inevitable result of the kinds of people who appear in the story. I could write a paper on my own books, showing that the characters who are the least ironical in their view of life are also the least perceptive about the reality of their world. They're the ones who are most likely to be fanatics. Fanatics like John of Bligh always turn up in my books for some reason, caught up in a vision which can become quite terrible. Clinschor is modelled on Hitler and people like that who have a vision and who think that imposing this vision is going to produce some wonderful abstract effect. Such people lack irony since they don't see what they're doing or objectify themselves.
   At the other extreme are cynics like Broaditch. Irony is all he sees, to the point that nothing's real unless he can touch it. In the beginning Parsival lacks irony. He is an innocent. He is Wordsworth. The whole story of Parsival after the first book is that "nothing can bring back the hour / Of splendor in the grass" ("Ode: Intimations of Immortality"). And that's the truth. I'm writing the fifth book right now and that's still what it's about: Parsival trying to figure out, what did I do? Where did I go wrong? How can I get it back? In this book he's going back to retrace the route he took in the first book to see if something happens to him again. He's that desperate.

RT: There is a stark contrast between the idealism found in the dreams and tales and aspirations of the characters on the one hand, and the reality that is often very brutal on the other. Do you see this as implicit in the legend, or is it part of your perception of modern life that is mirrored in the story?

RM: Well, I'd say that it's partly a perception of modern life, and partly a perception of history, of the people who wrote these legends. I don't think I was reacting so much to the stories themselves, though I recognize that this contrast is in some of them.

RT: Now brutality is a trademark of many sword and sorcery novels. Do you consider your novels to fall in this category in any way, or do you feel they're different?

RM: I consider that there are differences. There certainly is an overlap because my books share with sword and sorcery such elements as adventure and graphic violence. Remember, however, that the Arthurian legends contain all of this violence, but it is selectively detailed: he smote him with his spear; he fell and brake his back. Wolfram sometimes describes the action ironically, saying for example, where he lay down was not a comfortable place to lie; he would have been better off in his bed. Basically when I see that I translate it as follows: he would be more comfortable lying in his bed because his head is split, his eye is missing, his arm is shattered. It's just a matter of filling in details the medieval authors didn't bother to fill in, maybe because they saw them all the time.

RT: You certainly weren't writing specifically for the sword and sorcery market, were you?

RM: No. Remember I wrote these books without any idea of what category they'd fit into. It was the publisher who decided I was writing fantasy and that the books should be marketed as that. I agreed since I wanted my books to sell. I did read Howard's Conan books when I was young, and I can still enjoy some of them. There's nothing wrong with that; you can learn from anybody.

RT: Your vision in these books seems basically pessimistic. On the one hand you have people who seek to escape brutality by dreaming of a better world, yet that act is often destructive because it results in the neglect of social responsibility. Layla turns to drink and is unfaithful to her husband largely because he is absent. Other people turn to brutality and fanaticism. So what are the alternatives? Must you either dream and neglect your responsibilities, or ignore dreams and kill people?

RM: Well, remember poetry cannot draw conclusions. Thinkers can draw conclusions. Non-thinkers like myself, when they're engaged in non-thinking creativity, obviously aren't really drawing conclusions. They're attempting to make something come to life and the result can always be debated.
   I think of the vision, however, not as pessimistic, but as a truthful reflection of how difficult life is. At the end of all these events I hope to lead myself and the reader to see the mess that is created by ideals. They cause conflict in us because we can't live up to them. Since my books can help people to recognize this and to escape from the trap, my own view is that they are absolutely not pessimistic. They just show the failure of the conventional ways that men invent to escape from the mess they've created. They have to take a new direction altogether to break the pattern. That's what Parsival is about.
   Parsival breaks through for a split second at the end of the first book, when he sees that he's a part of everything and that everything is a part of him. He recognizes that there's a unifying energy that is not purely intellectual, nor purely egotistical. It seems real enough, however, and it seems to offer the opportunity to get back to splendor in the grass and glory in the flower. If you close all the doors and all the windows on people--through sickness and old age, for example--if you take everything away from them, metaphorically and actually, is there any place to go?
   The Holy Grail is what my books are really about, to be honest with you. It offers a place to go. What is the Holy Grail? I'm not going to say it's Christian. I'm not going to say it's pagan. I'm not going to say it's a thing. I'm not going to say it's not a thing. It's real. It stands for something real just as everything else I wrote stands for something real, whether it's war, whether it's romance, whether it's sex, etc. The things in the book have real correlatives. The Holy Grail has a real correlative.

RT: It's a mystical experience, essentially?

RM: I don't know. Most of the correlatives are easily accessible to all of us: for being stupid, for being angry, for being vain, for being fanatical. But what is the correlative for the Holy Grail? As a thinking, deciding, semi-overintellectualized person, which I am in some ways, I don't know at all; but I do know in that other, more mysterious way, which we love to call mystical because that seems to put it into a category and put a cover on it. So let's just say I don't know what the correlative is for the Holy Grail, but my book is all about how to discover it.
   Even when all the doors and windows are closed you can still get somewhere: that's what the real hope is. You could say, the Grail is a sun whose light almost no one in the books is able to see, though they're all disturbed by it. Gawain wants it; even Clinschor wants it. They all want perfect peace. Then the guru spings up and says, if you do what I tell you, you'll find it. Well the guru is not going to get you there.
   Parsival was there once and he remembers. I never said this before, but that's actually the truth of it. I think I probably followed Wolfram without even knowing it, as if he were my brother. You can see what the books are about: initiation and discovery. What the Grail stands for is what holds people together. No, the books are anti-pessimistic. If anything I consider them optimistic, but you've got to follow the quest and you've got to care enough about why the world is so ugly and horrible. It doesn't have to be.

RT: Would you say that you adopt the perspective of a satirist who points out the mistakes that are made, with the implication that there is a better way?

RM: That's exactly right. The struggle in the book is to eliminate all the human folly. If you can remove all the junk, there's a flower under it. Of course if you show the flower, it dies. If you try to explain creativity, it's not creative anymore. It's just a bunch of words.

RT: Is that why you offer such a brief glimpse of happiness?

RM: Yes. To make you feel what you are missing. That was the idea.

RT: Another important element in your books is the inevitability of fate, especially in The Grail War. Is this something that you found in the Grail material, or is it something that you have a strong feeling for yourself, or perhaps both?

RM: Both. The workings of fate are strongly present in the Vulgate Quest for the Holy Grail. Since Gawain touched the sword destined for Galahad, he had to get his head cracked. Definitely it's there, but definitely I like it; I'm for it; I think it's right; I think it works.

RT: In your novels the characters are always searching for one another, meeting, and separating again. Although this is frequently condemned in the modern novel as the overworking of coincidence, it is a recognized feature of medieval romance called "entrelacement." Was this your source?

RM: Yes. Because I set the books in a medieval world when this was an acceptable literary convention, I felt free to use it and I rather enjoyed it. If I were writing a novel set in the twentieth century, I wouldn't do it that way, to avoid overworking coincidence.

RT: Now I'd like to ask you about some of your characters. Parsival is totally innocent at the outset, but in the later books he becomes a sardonic and disillusioned figure, which is very untraditional. Did you find hints for this in any source?

RM: No, there's nothing in any of them like that.

RT: Why did you portray him in that way?

RM: That was because of the overwhelming pressure of having to write the story as I saw it. For it to be artistically true, the character had to be allowed to develop, since I wanted the story to be about what happens to a person, from when he's a kid to when he either dies or achieves enlightenment so that life really makes sense. This is an experience which we only touch slightly now and then. I've touched it enough to know it's real, but not enough to change my life--not in the total sense.
   Parsival had to become almost a twentieth-century person with problems. That's another ironic aspect of the book, but it also helps to keep it fresh and alive for me and I hope for some of the readers. It's funny to see Parsival cursing his wife, and being miserable about his kids, and having a headache, and getting drunk, then making love to some strange woman.
   At the end of the first book he finally falls from innocence because he's intent only upon his own desires. Then he's grabbed by Gawain, John of Bligh, and the others who threaten to kill him unless he tells them where to find the Holy Grail--which, of course, he's no longer in a spiritual condition to find. At that point, however, he has a vision that briefly frees him, because at the moment of death you give it all back. He has, in fact, a near death experience in which everything finally makes sense. For me, the important element in the Parsival story is that he finds the Grail once, then loses it, after which he has to go through everything to find it again. So the basic pattern is traditional, but what Parsival has to go through in my story to find the Grail is the agony of being a regular person. That was the equivalent of the Wolfram version where he has to go through all these perils and difficulties in order to get back to where he started.
   I'm just turning that Grail quest metaphor into one that works for modern times. The hero has to get over being a bad husband, a sex freak, a person with a wife who drinks. In the fifth book he still hasn't worked it all out, but the events in that book take place after those of the first book, so it goes back in time.

RT: How about Gawain?

RM: He was a great character. I was totally surprised by what happened as I wrote about him. I thought he was just going to be a stock figure, but he turned out to have a great fascination for me. I deformed him, leaving him with half a face, half a head, and so forth. He then seeks to get himself made intact again, because like everybody else in Parsival he wants to get something back that he lost. He pursues Parsival in the hope that he can find a cure for himself. He was the biggest cynic of all in the middle of the book, but such people are usually the ones who convert.

RT: He is also very sardonic, isn't he?

RM: Exactly. Because he's one of the more intelligent characters, he adopts irony as a means of survival.

RT: Did you find that in tradition?

RM: I think I did a little, though it also developed as I wrote.

RT: Why was Lancelot so dimwitted?

RM: Now that I don't understand myself. There's really no reason. If I were writing the book now I would give Lancelot much more energy and a bigger role. In Parsival, however, I just pushed him into the background as an incredibly dangerous character who isn't that bright. I may have decided that it wasn't very bright to fall so low when you are as gifted as he was in tradition, but I think I was guilty of not having the time and the energy to deal with him more fully. I had too much to do, and Gawain took over, pushing some other characters into the background.

RT: Might Gawain's insulting comments on Lancelot's intelligence have shaped your attitude?

RM: Well, they did.

RT: Why did you choose to make such idealized figures as Galahad and Bors so disreputable in your fourth book, Blood and Dreams?

RM: Yes, I received some nasty comments in a couple of papers from critics who objected to my dragging down these noble figures. I wasn't trying to drag anything down. I thought that using characters who are regarded as holy and pure would suit the point I was trying to make about the squalidness of life at that time. That's another reason why I include peasants who hardly ever appear in romances.

RT: Most of your women appear as victims, abused or abandoned by men. Why is that?

RM: That certainly does apply to many of them, yes, but not all. Layla gets even with men by torturing her husband. She reminds me of a couple of people I know. You think you've got her, but what have you got? You've closed your hand around something that stings. Layla's going to sting you, and so I don't think of her as a victim. No, I think of her as someone who feels that she's been let down by life. The people she put her trust in are no good, and she's going to make them pay for it. Nor do I see Alienor as a victim--except of Fate, but then they're all equally victims of fate.

RT: The children are victims of fate too, suffering from the neglect of their fathers and the helplessness of their mothers, aren't they?

RM: Yes. Part of the theme of the book is that people are often too busy to take the time to find out where the Grail really is. The Grail is everywhere, and so the Grail for parents is to pay attention to their children, not to take the client to play golf, nor to work nights. They didn't have to, but they did. What does this mean to the children? You're never around. You're not there when they really need you. Parsival means well. He means to enlighten everybody, but instead he screws up.

RT: You make extensive use of shifting point of view, particularly in your third and fourth books. Where does this come from?

RM: I've always been able to read four books at once, enjoy them, drop them anywhere, and always remember where I am when I pick them up again. I enjoy Wagner's operas because they shift the same way from motif to motif. It's the same with writing.

RT: Did you ever find all these shifts difficult to keep track of?

RM: I used to worry sometimes that the audience might have a problem with them, but I certainly didn't. What I wanted to do was stretch out the conclusion, stretch out the drama. I'm very big on endings as you've probably noticed. I believe everything should build to the ending, and that was one way to sustain the tension.

RT: Did you plan to write a series of books from the outset?

RM: I thought I was writing just the one book. I wanted to get it out of my system. Once I had written it, however, I felt that I really could write another book, to find out what happened to the characters. And then people said, why don't you write another book? And then Pocket Books said, we'll give you the money to write another book. So I said, good idea! Since the second book proved inconclusive, a third was the inevitable result. All these books will be inconclusive. My old agent used to say, you'll probably be writing them when you're ninety years old if you live that long: Parsival in a medieval rest home mumbling, I almost found it! I remember back then when I could see . . . It's not funny, but it's funny.

RT: Has your vision changed as the series progressed? Do you still feel you are searching for the Grail?

RM: Oh yes, I didn't find anything. I didn't expect to though. I wrote mostly poetry when I was younger and that taught me not to expect to find anything, just to keep looking. Looking is beautiful. Once you've found something it's over. It's like talking about yesterday's orgasm. You certainly had it; but you're not having it now and talking about it doesn't make it happen again. In that sense you don't find it: there's no conclusion to the search. If you could find it every two seconds I think you'd be a transformed human being, but if you find it only every now and then, it keeps alive the need to keep looking, to hope that the experience happens to you again.

RT: Did the fact that your story of the quest for the Grail grew into a series create problems for you in developing plot and character?

RM: A little bit because of the amount of time that is covered. I've noticed it most in this fifth book that I'm working on now, which has to fit between the first book and the second. It started as a short story, the only one I had written since I was twenty-two years old. I should have probably never turned it into a book. I did my best with it, but it has its problems. I wanted Lohengrin to be older than he should have been if you look at his age in the other books. So I've written on the first page of the latest book that the author, in transcribing the records, made a mistake in the earlier book. What else could I do? Since somebody's always going to notice any change, I might as well acknowledge it right off.
   It would have been easier to write the later books if I'd done things a little differently, to tell you the truth, but what can you do? It's like thinking back and saying, what should I have done in my first marriage now that I've learned so much from a later one? It's foolish. You've got to continue on.

RT: Do you have to reread your books occasionally to avoid inconsistencies?

RM: Yes, but I enjoy rereading. I'm one of those authors who enjoys his own work because I'm always suprised by it. I'm always amazed that I did things as well as I did sometimes, and as I'm reading I even tend to forget that I wrote the book! I did have to reread extensively for this fifth book. I needed to tie down the types of events that closed the first book and began the second, so that I could fit it between the two.

RT: Would you like to revise the whole series?

RM: Oh no. Nothing like that.

RT: Runes and Broken Stone begin another series that includes figures from Arthurian legend.

RM: Yes, but I broke those off. Broken Stone didn't sell very well, and then I got annoyed with the publisher. I meant to write just the one book, Runes, but people asked me to do a second one. I probably shouldn't have listened, but I was always so willing to do stuff.

RT: Why did you bring the Arthurian legend into that? It's such a different historical setting from the Grail books, isn't it?

RM: I just wanted to. In the back of my mind all these things connect. In my work as a whole there's a reincarnation theme that exists outside of any one book. I started another book for Bantam that is quite ambitious, spanning about three thousand years, and in it I develop the idea that some people were meant to reflect other people. Clinschor, for example, appears under another name as a despot. That's why the Arthurian legend came into Runes. It was part of this plan I had, which I have yet to realize fully, of bringing all these people into one immense context. Actually the book that I was working on for Bantam goes from the twenty- first century back to prehistory with that technique that I developed of flashing, and cutting, and jumping back and forth. It's the most overtly fantastic thing I ever did, but it follows the theme of all my other books. It would be a wonderful story if I could finish it. I've done about 600 pages out of a projected 800. I put it aside and agreed to do a fifth Parsival book instead and to reissue all the earlier books.

RT: So the two worlds aren't meant to inhabit the same universe, but they do reflect patterns found in each?

RM: Right. Identifiable patterns. Unto the Beast, which came out two years ago, is supposedly stories about Hitler from his youth to when he dies, but at the same time he's experiencing strange visions and memories. If you were to look at that book you would say, well that's not Arthurian. You would find, however, many of the elements from the other books I did in it. It's like it's all one book with different faces and different clothes and different times. It doesn't matter what century it's in--but maybe that's me.
   With Runes I was trying to make universal some of the themes I was exploring, to see them in different times and places under another light. If I finish Shadow Gold, the massive epic that I laid aside until I'm more mature, I hope to bring together all these various elements, from Parsival to the twenty-first century.

RT: This second series abandons the emphasis upon irony that is so pervasive in the Grail books. Why this change?

RM: In some ways they were more akin to historical novels than the Parsival books were, and that may be the reason. I was more concerned with day-to-day detail, even though there are many fantastic elements.

RT: What part of the Arthurian legend did you feel was most important to include in your story?

RM: In the Parsival story, the encounter of innocence with the harsh realities of life is central to the irony of the story for me. It is this innocence, nonetheless, not his strength, that enables Parsival to achieve the Grail vision where others fail.

RT: Thank you.