The Whisperer in Dimness: A Tim Powers Book Signing


Originally for Raw, New Things #3, 4/1/2001

On January 29, appropriately the Feast Eve of St. Francis de Sales, a patron of writers, Tim Powers once again came to the Dark Carnival bookstore in Berkeley, on a book tour for his new novel Declare. I absolutely couldn’t pass up the chance to speak with him again. I had met Mr. Powers previously, when he had just completed Earthquake Weather, and found him a wonderful conversationalist, which I managed to find out because his appearance was criminally underattended. I brought my tape recorder in hopes of scoring an interview with him in case this one was, too. Tim Powers books are very good latter day weird tales. His books (after Drawing of the Dark, at least) tend to involve rather ordinary people coming into sudden contact with primordial powers beyond the ken of normal humans. Powers has a consistent and good sense of the awe that an encounter with inhuman and magical entities would likely produce. His magical creatures are inhuman, difficult to understand, and simultaneously awesomely powerful and stunningly vulnerable.

As I said earlier, I had hoped to get a quick interview with him this time around, but it wasn’t to be. After five stops on his book tour, Mr. Powers had come down with a very bad case of laryngitis. My first glimpse of him this time was at a small table that the store always sets up for their author-guests, through a crowd of fans, whispering very loudly. So much for the tape recorder.

Tim Powers gives me the impression of being compact and neat, almost to the point feeling like a Kabuki mask. He is well-dressed, and smiled to the crowd and nodded while accepting advice on how to give his voice a good rest, then proceeding not to follow it. He spoke with everyone who came to have their book signed, listening intently as we asked questions, then giving us direct but obviously well thought out answers.

The white streak in his hair is less pronounced as it was--owing to the greying of his hair. But his face was as bright and animated as I remembered, even though he was stage- whispering his conversation. With his left hand, he was patting a small pile of books--Lord of a Visible World, and the Penguin edition of Lovecraft, which I believe he had bought for himself. "Classics," he said to the woman he had just finished signing Declare for, "you really should read these."

Next to them was a videocassette, some little film called Hell is Texas. On the back is a promotional blurb by William Ashbless--the fictional poet created by Powers and his friend James Blaylock. "I’m going to sue their asses, if they have any money," he whispered, with a gleam in his eye. He sweeps on to other topics, such as where he blurs the line between reality and fiction is Declare, the real Kim Philby, and a fair number of personal conversations that seem to pick up right where they had left off--sometimes three or four months ago.

Once again my impression is that Powers is a wonderful man to hold a conversation with. He is easygoing but extremely knowledgeable, and a very agreeable speaker. His manner is attentive and polite, and although he is always full of interesting information viewed from the unique perspective of an extremely intelligent and widely read mind. I tend to picture Powers when I am reading my copy of Lovecraft Remembered, that warmth of speech and the practiced mastery of words that comes from extreme intelligence and impressive social skill.

Aside from his loss of voice, Tim is also suffering the degeneration in the sight in one of his. This is particularly sad because Powers is an artist in addition to being a writer. The special edition--far out of my price range--of Declare comes with a leather slipcase, and the lettered versions come with an original piece of art--Tim Powers having drawn Kim Philby as looking suspiciously like himself.

Although the crowd did thin out, Tim managed to maintain spirited, whispered conversations for virtually the entire two hours he was there. He would not speak of his next book, byt the last time I spoke with him, he had expressed a desire to write a cold war thriller, and also of a book involving the Brontė sisters and werewolves. Delcare has materialized as the espionage book, so I wait, patiently, as Mr. Powers writes his next book.