About Philip K. Dick: An interview

with Tessa, Chris, and Ranea Dick, by Annie Knight
Edited by John T. Cullen, with afterwords by the staff of Deep Outside SFFH

Editor's Note 2: This interview by Annie Knight, with Afterwords by the Deep Outside SFFH staff, also appears in the November 2002 edition of Deep Outside SFFH. We hope you will enjoy this bridging article from Deep Outside SFFH to its next iteration, Far Sector SFFH.

Editor's Note 1: A rare surprise for me was the submission (quicky accepted) of this little gem—an interview with Philip K. Dick's family by Annie Knight. Her contacts with Tessa, Chris, and Ranea included follow-up phone calls and a lunch at Coco's Restaurant. Annie begins by recounting how she accidentally met a young woman in a bookstore...

[Annie Knight relates:] As my copy of A Maze Of Death was lying on the table at work, a woman asked who it belonged to, and after I told her it was mine, she introduced herself to me as Ranea Dick, daughter-in-law of Philip K. Dick, the science fiction writer. After my jaw hit the floor, she told me that her husband, Chris Dick, was, naturally, the son of P.K. Dick. After my asking and hyperventilating, she kindly agreed to ask her husband, Chris, if he would be willing to do an interview.

A few weeks later, I met Ranea, Chris, and Tessa Dick (PKD's former wife) for dinner, where they graciously and openly filled me in on many aspects regarding the author and his writing as well as very intriguing tidbits about his personal life.

After visiting numerous P.K. Dick sites on the Web and reading various snippets of literary criticism regarding his works of fiction as well as the films based on them, it was an incredible opportunity to hear, first-hand, the experiences Tessa, Chris, and Ranea had to share. Thanks to them, all the P.K. Dick fans out there as well as those anticipating the film, Minority Report who may not even realize the movie is based on Dick's short story, can get the facts on the late author who dynamically ascends the mere label of "science fiction writer."

Annie: What was his writing behavior like?

Tessa: [He would spend] three days straight writing a couple hundred pages. I didn't get any sleep either because every ten minutes [he would ask] "How do you spell _____, I need some coffee, Is there any food?" …He'd lay down for about ten minutes, get up again, and write some more.

Annie: Did he have a separate room for writing?

Tessa: Well, we lived in a two bedroom apartment, so that doesn't leave a lot of room; but we had to move because the people below us had to get up early and we made all this noise at night. So we moved to a place over a garage. Then we had a little baby [Chris] that screamed constantly. He was known as "Fussy" for six months…actually, Chris became a character in one of the novels.

Annie: Which one?

Tessa: Actually, Phil's daughter, Laura, and Chris were in The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Chris was [the character] Manny…You know, Emanuel. Emanuel means something like "the lord has come" and Christopher's name means "bearer of Christ." Laura was [the character] Angel, and in the novel, Manny and Angel get together and save the world.

Annie: Anything else you remember about his writing process?

Tessa: Right after The Man In The High Castle [later in the conversation Tessa explains that this novel was written on his Hermes portable typewriter], he wrote six novels in six weeks because he knew he was going to get the Hugo award [for The Man In The High Castle], and he wanted to cash in on it real quick because he was so broke.

When he was with me, he wrote A Scanner Darkly under two weeks. But we spent three years rewriting it. I got sick of it. The last time the publisher sent out galleys for us to proof, I refused to do it. Anytime I wanted to change anything besides spelling, we had to have a big argument over it, so I just figured I was better off just leaving it alone.

Annie: So you were pretty involved in his writing process?

Tessa: Well, for A Scanner Darkly.

Annie: When you were with him, were there books he particularly cared about more than others?

Tessa: He figured The Man In the High Castle to be his masterpiece, but he was hoping to write another one.

Annie: Did his writing behaviors change any towards the end of his life?

Tessa: His writing was the one constant in his life. He wanted to be a musician when he was young, but he had more desire than talent, so he became a writer. That's where he did have talent

Annie: What did he play?

Tessa: He played a triangle with Harry Parch. He got to hit the triangle (laughing). [Parch] was an avant-garde musician up in Northern California. He made his own instruments…anyway, Phil worked at Tower Records in San Francisco for a long time, and they wanted to promote him to be a manager, but his agoraphobia was getting worse. He didn't like being around people, and here he was, a salesman in a record store. That was how he met his ex-wife, Cleo. They were both students at UC Berkeley and she would come in and buy records.

Annie: What did he study at Berkeley?

Tessa: Phil studied philosophy for one semester, and then he dropped out because, at the time, they had mandatory ROTC since Korea was going on.

Chris:: Tell her about the broom.

Tessa: For ROTC, they had to march with their M-1. But he would march with a broom because he didn't want to carry a gun and they told him he couldn't do that. Well, the following week, they were learning how to take the M-1 apart and put it back together, but somehow, accidentally, Phil dropped the firing pin into the wrong place and the gun was useless and could never be fired again. So he marched with the broken gun, but he got an F in ROTC, or they kicked him out. See, he never told the same story the same way twice, but some of the details remained the same. Anyway, he dropped out of college because he just couldn't handle the ROTC. After that, he went to sign up rather than get drafted because he no longer had his exemption for being in college. That's when he found out about his high blood pressure. They wouldn't take him [because of it]. He would go join the army and fight in the war because that was better than being drafted, but he wouldn't do ROTC and be a chicken lieutenant, hiding in the tent. He really was against the war, but if he was gonna do it, he was gonna be cannon fodder, not an officer.

After we continue eating for a while, Tessa remembers another anecdote involving Chris and Phil:

Tessa (to Chris): Do you remember flipping quarters at Jeeter's [K.W. Jeeter] house?"

Chris:: We were flipping quarters, and I won about eight or nine quarters, and for some reason my dad and me went outside. We were sitting on the stairs, and a homeless guy came up, asking us if we could spare a quarter for a cup of coffee. I reached in my pocket and gave the guy all the quarters I had won. My dad was really proud of me because he was like that-he really cared about people, and even felt sorry for some of them. I think he was really surprised that a seven-year-old kid would give up all those quarters…my favorite thing was to have him take me to buy my Star Wars toys. It was really hard to get him to go do it… we bought the "Millennium Falcon." That was a big deal for me because he never went anywhere, and never left his house. I didn't realize what a big deal it was then, but the older I get, the less I want to go anywhere. We live in the mountains, on a dirt road, in the middle of nowhere.

Ranea: Yeah, I have to beg him to take me to places like Disneyland.

Tessa: Phil took me to Disneyland once and we managed to stay for about two hours until he went out to the parking lot and sat on the hood of the car. He couldn't get in and drive home because our friends drove us there, so he just waited there until we all went home. He could not stand crowds.

Chris:: He didn't like driving either. I remember he had a car for about three or four years before he passed away and it only had about 600 miles on it.

Tessa: For several years, he didn't have a car. He just lived in places where he could walk to everything…

After a while, the conversation begins veering in the direction of the movies based on P.K. Dick's novels:

Chris:: I'm really excited about Minority Report with Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise. Spielberg hasn't released any bad movies at all. As for Total Recall and Blade Runner, both were real good. Screamers was low budget. I enjoyed the story. I thought it was really good actually, but I didn't like it being low budget because that means the movie is not as good, and I think that hurt his image. But I think Minority Report will really help to launch things and make him more popular. What I really like is that the movies reach a lot of people and get them to enjoy his books because people don't read that much anymore, as it is…

The story about the Blade Runner toys:

Tessa: Since the movie got an R rating, Mattel discontinued all the Blade Runner toys, because how do you sell toys to kids from an R rated movie? Of course today that wouldn't be a big thing, but then it was. But one day, I saw them at Mervyns's, discounted at half price, and I bought as many as I could afford.

Annie: When was this?

Tessa: Right after the movie came out, and Phil had just died.

Annie: So he was around for the making of the movie?

Tessa: He got to see the rough cut, which was no good, and then saw a rough cut of the remake, which was much better.

Annie: How did he feel about the movie overall?

Tessa: Well, he was much happier with it after David Peoples, a script doctor, fixed it. The main thing was that Peoples did put in the little origami animals, because Phil's novel was mostly about the animals and that we were going to lose them because we don't take care of them. The original script was just a bunch of robots and people shooting it out. But that's what people want to see!

Chris:: Of course, the artist is more interested in what the story is really about… I thought that was interesting how they were making robot animals because they still had a desire to have pets, even when they couldn't have the real thing. What was interesting too was that all the races were intermixed, people were speaking mixed languages, the cities were overcrowded, and crime was real bad. His science fiction is so good, I think, because it's not wild, unimaginable, fanciful thinking about things that never happen. These things really are happening or will happen. Back in the 50's, when this was written, it did seem like a fantasy when now it's a reality.

Later, through email correspondence, Tessa relayed to me in greater detail how Plato's Cave Theory and aspects of certain Native American cultures influenced Dick's writing. She explains:

"In Plato's Cave, you are seated and tied up so that you can't move. You can't even turn your head. Behind you, people are carrying objects past the opening of the cave, so that the sunlight casts the shadows of the objects onto the wall of the cave. All you ever see is the shadows, so you believe that they are real objects. If someone came into the cave, untied you and dragged you outside, at first you would be blinded by the sunlight because you grew up in the relative darkness of the cave. As your eyes got used to the sunlight, and you began to see the real world, you would believe that it was a hallucination. For you, the shadows are "real," but the real objects are "not real." In Phil's novels, often what seems to be real turns out to be an hallucination, while apparent hallucinations turn out to be real."

In regard to a Native American influence upon the author and his writing, Tessa adds:

"Phil heard many stories from his grandfather, who fought against the Native Americans in the late 1800s. Phil had great respect for Native Americans and their traditions, even though he was not even part Native American. Phil believed that he had a spirit guide, and that his spirit guide was a very old and ancient Native American shaman. I am part Cherokee and something of a throwback. People who know faces can tell that I'm Native American just by looking at my face, even though most people don't even think of it. "

I must admit that as of six months ago, I had never read anything by Philip Dick. But after reading The Crap Artist, A Maze of Death, The Man In The High Castle, and a few of his short stories including Recall Mechanism and The Minority Report, I now know the grave error I have made in not consuming Dick's writing sooner. His indulgence of character development makes me want to grab that shovel myself and dig faster and deeper into their subconscious inked out on paper. So, to meet Tessa, Chris:, and Ranae Dick and talk to them about the author was more than a dream come true for someone who while reading his books wonders what kind of a person created such monumental stories that have the ability to lead me, willingly, by such a short leash.

Eagerly awaiting (perhaps skeptically too) the film version of The Minority Report, I wonder how the film and my imagination's version of the story will match up.

Annie Knight


by John T. Cullen

It seems timely that this interview by Annie Knight has found its way to Deep Outside SFFH in the 20th year since the release of Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick's death in 1982 at the age of 53. As an editor, I was delighted when Annie's interview unexpectedly fell into my lap this (2002) summer. During the editorial process, I exchanged a few emails with Tessa Busby-Dick, a few selected snippets of which I'd like to share (edited but hopefully without losing some of the impromptu e-mail flavor) with readers. Also, this has been an opportunity for our Media Critic, John K. Muir, and our Critic at Large, A. L. Sirois, to ask a few questions of Tessa, whose answers we offer here.

John Cullen: Thanks so much, Tessa. I am very happy that [Annie's] interview came my way. It's very well done and I think it will give a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people.

Tessa: I'm glad to see that Phil is finally getting some of the attention that he deserved. Too bad he didn't get it during his lifetime.

John Cullen: Blade Runner, and the book (Do Robots Dream of Android Sheep?) it is based on, and the whole legacy of PKD, are a benchmark against which the best SF will be measured for a long time. Thanks again for your helpfulness…it is much appreciated!!...

Tessa: Thanx for getting back to me. I'm glad to see even Hollywood taking Phil seriously, for a change. Bladerunner had Phil's sense of the dark side, but it lacked depth and spirituality. Total Recall had his sense of humor, but it lacked the serious philosophical issues that Phil explored in his writing. Screamers didn't even try. I had high hopes for Impostor, but it limped along...Chris took me to see Minority Report…it was the second time that Chris saw it…and we were favorably impressed. The first time that Chris saw it, he was hung over and hadn't slept in three days, so he didn't like it, but on the second viewing, sober and having slept, he liked it more than I did. What impressed me the most was that the audience was quiet, attentive and respectful…not a common phenomenon in an American movie theater.

John Cullen: Thankx...I saw Impostor and Minority Report...I actually...can you get this?...got into a violent exchange of emails with some dingdong who grinds out review-sausage... I never really respond to reviews, but I was having one of those days. She did have the grace to write back, and soothed me a bit. Basically, these people expect a *short story* to deliver a major statement...I enjoyed Impostor as a short story...I went in with that in mind...a short story by a first rate author writing around 1951, I believe, which would put it not long after the Golden Age...and right in a wonderful period that spawned or nurtured Beaumont, Serling, Bradbury, Bloch, Del Rey, ...just a lineup too spectacular and lengthy to even try to list here...

Tessa: Yes, Total Recall…those people were dead the minute those doors opened, but they just had to go for the cool special effects with their eyeballs popping out, and then the sappy ending where they hug and kiss. And then Mars…hey, they just might be right about the volcano full of water…have you been watchigtn the NASA web site? You should have seen Bladerunner before David Peoples did his script doctor magic & they re-shot a few scenes. Ridley Scott told Phil that it would get by on special effects. NOT! It was nothing more than the Streets of San Francisco transplanted to LA…not even a good Raymond Chandler story, just a shoot 'em up. Rutger Hauer was excellent. I also liked him in Ladyhawke. Well, I do run on. Bladerunner lacked the best part of the novel, which was the Mercer boxes. Phone sex with a twist…you actually experience it, rather than talking about it…and then Mercer shows up in their visions and tells them to protect the animals and revere life. More later. Tessa

John Cullen: [I reproduce part of this email with trepidation, being a devoté of the mov(ies) Blade Runner, and yet thinking perhaps this stray late night thought about a possible new take on Do Robots Dream of Android Sheep? might have some philosophical underpinnings of its own.] ...I'd forgotten about the Mercer boxes...read the book a long long time ago...reminds me of the Feelies in Brave New World...you know, I get the sense that there might be another movie there for Tom Cruise...if someone were playing the cards right, they'd approach TC with an idea for (sacrilege!) a remake of BR using the Mercer Boxes. At the same time, I have to recall that Ridley Scott had endless troubles trying to get BR financed and completed. Whatever its flaws, it is a miracle it got made at all, and obviously it has an undying cult fandom. I have both the gushy version and the director's cut on DVD. The real thing to do would not be to challenge Ridley Scott's vision, but it is 20 years later now...I'd make a different movie, shooting for top values in atmospherics, characterization, etc...and peg it on the premise that it's absolutely faithful to the PKD vision...

Tessa: Well, a Philip K. Dick's Bladerunner might fare better than Mary Shelley's Frankenstein or Bram Stoker's Dracula (one can always hope). Coppola would be the one to do it, don't you think? PKD works are much more popular, now, since Tom Cruise did the big publicity tour…he's a big fan, you know. will read the attachment later…gotta go out and buy more bottled water…it's in the '90s today!

A. L. Sirois: Off the top of my head, I'd like to know if there are any plan to film any of Dick's NON sf work, like CONFESSIONS OF A CRAP ARTIST. Or if there are any plans to film UBIK, or THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE (both sf, and very well known).

Tessa: So far as I know, the only new movie in the works is A Scanner Darkly, Warner Bros., to be directed by George Clooney.

John K. Muir: What is it about Dick's science fiction work that makes it such fertile ground for Hollywood producers?

Tessa: The characters are well-rounded, which appeals to actors. Phil's vision of the future gives producers confidence that his works will make big films with big ideas, and not just throw-away or feel-good films.

John K. Muir: Thoughts on Minority Report?

Tessa: Minority Report draws upon ideas from Phil's entire body of work, presenting a holistic view of the paranoiac vision that haunted him. The screenwriter correctly interpreted his philosophic vision as a cautionary tale about the nightmare that lies in wait for us if we choose security over liberty.

John K. Muir: Of all the adapted works (to film)…Blade Runner, Total Recall, Imposter, Minority Report…which has been the most faithful to Dick's ethos? Least faithful?

Tessa: Minority Report has replaced Bladerunner as the film that is most faithful to Phil's writing. Screamers remains the least faithful...reminds me of an old B movie in the same genre as The Man from Planet X.

John K. Muir: Why do you think Dick's original titles are rarely used (i.e. Blade Runner vs. Do Androids... or Total Recall vs. We Can Remember It For You Wholesale...)?

Tessa: Actually, the books rarely carry Phil's original titles, as the editors usually wrote new titles after reading his manuscripts. Phil often commented that he couldn't write good titles. If he could, he would have been an advertising writer instead of a novelist.

John K. Muir: How does the current state of the art (special effects...) help or hurt in bringing out the values of the author? Which do you think would have been the author's favorite adaptation, regardless of faithfulness to his work? Why?

Tessa: [This is one question? Looks like two unrelated q's to me]. * Special effects catch the attention of the movie-going audience, bringing more young people and technical types into the theater. * Phil would have liked Minority Report more than the others, primarily because it takes place in Washington, D.C., where he spent some of the happiest years of his childhood. In addition, the hero succeeds more through intellect than by physical prowess.

John K. Muir: So much of Dick's work seems to be about the concept of identity and what identity is. Do you think the films capture this notion? Which more than the rest?

Tessa: Bladerunner and Minority Report capture Phil's concern about what makes us human, as well as what makes us moral creatures. The other films don't really try to achieve this goal. Screamers seemed to promise an exploration of these concepts, but it devolved into a B-movie clone of "creature features" like The Night of the Living Dead or The Creature from 20,000 Fathoms. I was certainly disappointed with that film.

A Few Selected Links

Article: The Orange County Weekly, June, 2002
Website: philipkdick.com
The SF Site PKD bibliography
The SF Site PKD reading list
Note: Search Google, Yahoo, and other leading resources for hundreds of sites with Philip K. Dick information.