INTERVIEW WITH PJF EDITOR/PROMOTER/WEBSITE GURU MIKE CROTEAU!
AP: Mike, thanks for sitting down with ALL PULP today and especially for taking part in Wold Newton Days! Before we get started, how about telling us about yourself?
|Mike Croteau (left) at the Wold Newton Memorial|
MC: Let’s see if I can sketch a quick picture. I was raised by a single mom who loved to read, and luckily for me she loved science fiction. Sadly I didn’t take advantage of this as much as I could have. I mostly read her Doonesbury books unless I had to do a book report. I read a few Farmer’s in high school but it wasn’t until college, in the late 1980s, that I really got into him. After I moved out, she got a smaller place and didn’t have room for all her books, so I ended up with all of her science fiction; hundreds of paperbacks and book club editions, but more Farmer than any other author.
I never collected anything as a kid, so it’s my wife’s fault I became a book collector. She had just finished reading a Marion Zimmer Bradley Darkover novel, and said she wouldn’t mind having the whole series. I went on AOL (this was the early 1990s) found a list of the titles in the series, and then started hitting all the local bookstores trying to complete the collection in time for her birthday. By the time if was over, going to the bookstores had become such a habit that I didn’t want to stop. So I shifted my focus to Farmer and hunted for any books of his I didn’t have. Things just sort of snowballed from there.
AP: What about the work of Philip Jose Farmer appeals to you so much that you invest your life into it? What did he bring to literature and to the world that made him and his work stand out?
MC: The first thing that struck me about Phil was his imagination. Again, I wasn’t all that well read back then, but he was first author to really blow me away. When reading most books I would either think: “that’s been done before,” or “why didn’t I think of that?” With Farmer, my response was often, “I would have never thought of that in a million years.” The second thing that struck me was that he seemed to know about so many different things, especially in literature; how he would take all these different things and mix them into his stories.
But what really got me so invested in him, was meeting him in person. I went to one book signing of his, in Louisville in 1995. Then I started doing a website about him, mostly because there wasn’t one out there. At the time I really didn’t know that much about him, there were even novels he had written I had never heard of, not to mention all the short stories, articles, interviews, etc. I didn’t learn about those until I bought the
bibliography by Phil Stephensen-Payne and Gordon Benson Jr. Armed with that information the website grew quickly, although for years many entries just listed a title of a story or article because I didn’t know anything else about it. It took years to track it all down.
Then I decided to interview him for this fledgling website. Another fan, Craig Kimber, and I drove to Peoria and interviewed him in his home. I never looked back from that moment. He was very friendly and gracious and only became more so on subsequent visits to Peoria. In fact the following year he and his wife Bette invited me to stay at their house. In 2001 Phil won the Nebula Grand Master Award and the Peoria Public Library had a celebration in honor of it. Bette especially, enjoyed it so much she wanted to come up with a reason to do it again the following year. We used the 50th Anniversary of “The Lovers” as an excuse to have another event, and that eventually led us to hosting FarmerCons in Peoria every summer.
AP: You are a key player in the furtherance of the works of Philip Jose Farmer, including all the work related to Wold Newton. Can you share what your various roles are in these efforts?
MC: Apparently my fannish enthusiasm struck something with Phil and he was willing to let me go through his files looking at material he had never published! As much as I loved to read these stories, I knew other fans would too, so we started selling photocopies of these unpublished stories for pretty steep prices. When I found another batch of stories, I suggested publishing them in a fanzine all about Phil. He and I both enjoyed this outlet much more than selling photocopies and even though we didn’t print more than a few hundred copies of each issue, I still feel that Farmerphile was a huge success, I’m very proud of it. Farmerphile ran out of steam in 2009, but shortly after, due to both Phil and Bette passing away, I became the temporary custodian of Phil’s “Magic Filing Cabinet.” So called because every time we go through the files, we find something we somehow missed the last dozen times we went through them. This naturally led to the anthology The Worlds of Philip Jose Farmer 1: Protean Dimension, the first in a hopefully annual series. Each volume will contain material written by Phil that has never been published before as well as speeches,
interviews and other material that may or may not have been published. We’re also looking to reprint articles about Phil to help preserve his history. Finally we’re also looking for new stories based on his characters and worlds by writers that he has influenced. I wish I could mention some names that are lined up for volume 2, but it’s a little early for that.
Outside of my own Farmerian projects, in running Phil’s website I do act as somewhat of a gateway to his agent. I’ve also had dealings in one capacity or another with most of the small presses that have published Phil in the last decade. A few novels Phil started years ago have been completed recently by other writers, I like to think I’ve helped each of them a little bit. Hopefully I’m seen as someone who is knowledgeable about Phil and willing to help with any projects his work might be involved in.
AP: Let’s talk about Wold Newton a bit. How would you describe the Wold Newton concept and why is it important that people be aware of this grand idea that Farmer developed and you and others are working to popularize and continue?
MC: Of course I think Phil’s idea of taking an historical event and creating a vast “family” surrounding it was brilliant. And it is exciting to see it’s lasting impact as more and more writers play with the concept each year. But I haven’t been as involved in Wold Newton specifically, as many others have.
The two main reasons for this are that I don’t seem to have the attention to detail and memory that Win, Dennis, Art, John, Frank, and so many others have. Also, I am no where near the writer they are. I struggled with subjects like spelling, English and grammar in high school and I squandered my late teens and early twenties getting an engineering degree. So writing doesn’t come easy to me. I have been chided by many that this is no excuse, that I could write Wold Newtonian articles and stories if I put my mind to it. But I prefer to stay in the background, let others do the writing, while I perhaps do the publishing and promoting.
AP: You are the guru behind the PJF website and newsletter. What is yourgoal with these projects?
MC: For years the website was a mirror of my collection. For example, if I purchased a British paperback edition of Two Hawks from Earth, a scan of it went on the website and it’s addition was “news.” Finally acquiring a rare fanzine with an essay by Phil was always fun, and finding one that I had not known even existed, was Big News. Of course the site also talked about any real news, such as books being reprinted, Phil doing a book signing, the pilot for the Riverworld series finally being aired, etc., but adding to my
collection, or at least my knowledge, was the main function of the site. These days the news is mostly promoting new Farmer books, or even just books that I think Farmer fans might be interested in.
AP: What is coming in the future from you and your various endeavors concerning PJF and Wold Newton? Any publications, stories, projects you want to plug and discuss?
MC: As I’ve mentioned briefly already, we’re working on Worlds of Philip Jose Farmer 2. We have some great new stories by some excellent writers, an unpublished short story by Phil, a speech or two, possibly an interview, and more material by him. I think we have more non-fiction than in volume 1, with several really interesting articles by widely varied contributors. That is the big project right now. I’m also selling off many of the books from Phil’s estate. This is a bittersweet job for me, I wish I could buy them all for myself. Now that they are on sale for as much as 50% off, I’m tempted to try…
AP: If you had to pick out one reason..just one sentence as to why writers and artists of pulp today need to be aware of and maybe involved in Wold Newton, what would that be?
MC: Philip Jose Farmer was the smartest person in the room, everything he wrote had many levels to it; Tarzan Alive, and the Wold Newton Family are an intriguing example of this.
AP: Thanks for your time, Mike!
MC: Thank you for the Wold Newton Days, it’s been a blast!