William Gibson talks writing with Nick Vlcek

William Gibson talks writing with Nick Vlcek
Photo by Michael O'Shea
William Gibson comes to Minneapolis today in promotion of his latest novel, Zero History, a tale of intrigue from the fringes of the military fashion complex that involves negative branding, GPS tracking, and the urban nomads who orbit around the magnetic leader of the world's most cutting edge ad agency.

City Pages Art Director Nick Vlcek took a moment to talk about the creative process with the author before his visit to the Twin Cities.

Nick Vlcek:

What are your impressions of Minneapolis/St. Paul?

William Gibson: It's kind of a mystery to me because it feels Midwestern, and at the same time, it feels liberal. [laughs] But I actually know the Midwestern United States less than I know the rest of it, and that's just an accident of history. For whatever reason, I never get to spend much time on the ground there. I guess I know Chicago best, and then Minneapolis/St. Paul, and that through book tours.

NV: When you start a new book, does it feel like you are peeling back the layers of something that already exists, or are you planting seeds, nurturing things that will grow, depending on how you handle them?

WG: More the nurturing. The part of me that writes these books is a part of me I don't have everyday access to. I have to wait for it to arrive, see what it has brought me, and then work with whatever it is--whatever the imagination turns up becomes my assignment. I've learned to listen to that part of my imagination that I don't ordinarily have that much contact with.

It's not like I consciously have an idea for a book, or for the plot of a book, and sit down and proceed to flesh it out. I sort of get FedEx packages from my subconscious. Eventually these take a shape and momentum of their own. If I turn up every day and do my work, it eventually completes itself. It requires faith in a process that I've gotten used to but I still can't say I really understand.

NV: The William Gibson we've met on Twitter seems to be different than the one we've met previously through your novels and blogging.

WG: The interesting thing about Twitter as a form of expression is that because the units are so small, what you get is pretty much who they are if you sit down and have lunch with them. Whereas when I was blogging, the writing module turned on. It wasn't that spontaneous. With Twitter, you get basically what you'd get if you met me and had a cup of coffee.

I think of it as sort of like the anti-Pynchon machine. Thomas Pynchon is famous for his reclusive habits. Over the years, whenever he has appeared in various media, he's seemed like this perfectly amiable, very average, amazing kind of guy. When I discovered Twitter I thought, well, if I stay here it will at least disabuse people of any idea that I am other than what they are.

NV: How much do you see yourself in the characters you create?

WG: They're all made to a greater or lesser extent out of my life experience. That can be my own, or my experience of observing others. So I know that they don't arrive from outside of me, but very seldom are they directly autobiographical in any way. The reason for that is not that it would be too revealing, [but that] they seem to require a degree of autonomy, they ideally start doing things I hadn't planned on. That's when you know you're really being a novelist--you do things sometimes that are counter to your wishes.

NV: Have you ever had the desire to step over to the other side, to trade on your fame and expertise in a business enterprise--or is objectivity a necessary part of what you do?

WG: The latter, more. Novelist-slash-something has tended not to be so good. There's some part of me that doesn't want to be any sort of pundit figure, that's not a good way to go. It's good to be a novelist, and it's good to be a private citizen.

William Gibson discusses Zero History tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Minneapolis Central Library (300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis). Tickets are $5. For more information, call Magers & Quinn at 612.822.4611.

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