Question : May I ask you to present yourself for our readers? Anne Mini : My name is Anne Mini, and I am the daughter of Philip K. Dick's second wife, Kleo Apostolides Dick Mini. Philip and my mother remained very close friends after their divorce: in fact, Philip was the person who introduced Kleo to my father, Norman Mini; they used to work together at University Radio and Art Music.
When I was growing up, Philip was my first serious writing teacher; as far as I know, I was the only student he ever attempted to mold. There's a certain symmetry to that, because my father was the first serious writer to give Philip feedback, and my mother was his editor for years. Also, my maternal uncle, Alex Apostolides, was a fairly well-known SF writer in the 1950s, so writing is very much the family business.
In keeping with family tradition, I am a writer and freelance editor. I also publish a blog for writers hoping to break into the American literary market. I mostly write dark comedy, but I wrote a memoir, A FAMILY DARKLY: LOVE, LOSS, AND THE FINAL PASSIONS OF PHILIP K. DICK, that was originally going to be published in 2006. It has been blocked due to legal threats from the Dick estate.
Essentially, it is a dark comedy, too: when I was in elementary school, my father was dying, and Philip was my only adult confidant. He was going through a hard time as well, with the break-up of his last marriage and the agoraphobia that often made it impossible for him to leave his condo. So we developed a habit of speaking frequently on the phone, often indulging in a little game: could we make up stories about his life so outrageous that the reporters who came to interview him would not believe them?
It never occurred to me at first that any of these stories would be believed. Yet as your readers already familiar with some of the wild tale that have turned up in biographies and articles are probably aware, most of those stories were not only accepted by reporters, but have continued to turn up, increasingly embellished, in the years since Philip's death.
He would have found this hilarious.
I thought it was time to reveal this genuinely amusing story to Philip's fan base. It was certainly always his intention to share the joke someday. He was a very funny man, you know; I think he is hugely underrated as a comedy writer.
Question : Could you tell us a little about your mother? Anne Mini : Kleo is a pretty astounding woman. She was only 17 when she first met Philip -- he was her first serious boyfriend, in fact. They were together for ten years, the period when he first began writing with an eye to selling his work. She is quite the best copyeditor I have ever seen -- that's both a professional and a personal opinion, by the way -- and because her older brother was a writer and editor, too, she knew precisely what she needed to do to help Philip's work get published.
He was too reclusive to join a critique group, so she routinely took his early short stories (and hers) to a well-known writers' group in Berkeley, jotted down the feedback, and carried it back to Philip, so he could revise. She was actually the one who handled the sale of his first short story; kind of astonishing, given that she was both going to college and working to support them both at the time.
It's hard now, I think, for writers used to computers to comprehend just how much work it was to submit stories to magazines in the 50s. Philip and Kleo stuffed each of his short stories into a gray Manila envelope with a stamped, self-addressed second envelope folded up inside and sent them off to any magazine that had evinced even the remotest interest in SF or fantasy.
When a short story was rejected -- as, in the beginning, all of Philip’s and Kleo’s were -- and landed once again in their mailbox with the accuracy of a well-flung boomerang, they acted as professional writers should act: they submitted the rejected story to another magazine immediately. To minimize retyping, they would iron any pages that had gotten bent in the mail, slip the manuscript into a fresh envelope, and send it to the next prospective publisher.
Since there were not very many magazines that accepted SF or fantasy back then, they had to keep impeccable records, to avoid sending a rejected story back to a magazine that had already refused it. But Philip kept typing away, and kept as many stories in circulation at once as possible.
How many? Well, no one knows for sure anymore (since occasionally the only copy of a story got sent by mistake, some inevitably got lost), but one day, the young couple opened their front door to find 17 rejected manuscripts spread all over their miniscule front porch. Their tiny mailbox apparently hadn’t been able to hold that many emphatic expressions of “No!”
I have it on pretty good authority that one of those stories was THE MINORITY REPORT.
When Philip's work began to sell better in the late 50s, he and Kleo moved out of bohemian Berkeley and into tiny Point Reyes Station. Philip stayed home to write, and Kleo kept commuting to work in Berkeley. He met their neighbor, Anne Williams Rubenstein (after whom I am named, incidentally), and the marriage broke up.
Since Philip, Anne, and Kleo have all written about this event, as have many biographers, I shall not go into it here. But suffice it to say, occasionally I see accounts in biographies that are so far from what either Philip or my mother have told me privately that they seem to me to be entirely fictional.
Question : What is your first memory about Philip K. Dick? Anne Mini : Ooh, that's a tough question, as I do not remember a time when I did not know him. My first concrete memory probably dates from sometime in 1968, as I was about two. I remember dancing in his yard with his fourth wife, Nancy, and their toddler daughter while Philip and my parents were watching us and laughing. The sun was very golden-bright that day, and Nancy's long, dark hair was flying across the sky over my head. She was so beautiful then; I remember very distinctly the expression in Philip's eyes as he looked at her.
I know -- it's a pretty ordinary childhood memory. But one of the things that I realized while I was writing my memoir is that the day-to-day Philip I knew is precisely what has been missing from almost everything that has been written about his life.
Question : How would you define your relationship with him? Complex. Warm. Hilarious. Heartbreaking. Sometimes all at the same time.
That may seem contradictory, but in recent years, I've noticed that the prevailing images of Philip K. Dick have become increasingly simplified, to the point that I often do not recognize any similarity to the man I knew at all. I find this strange, since to talk to any five people who knew him is to get five completely different perspectives upon what he was like. Particularly if the five people in question are his ex-wives.
I hear all the time from biographers and reporters who find this frustrating, in fact. So where does the idea that he was X or Y 100% of the time come from?
I didn't really answer your question, though, did I? Well, to me, Philip filled a number of roles in my life. As a child, I definitely thought of him as a member of my family; it was not at all unusual in beatnik circles for ex-spouses to remain friends of the family, after all. I liked and trusted him.
After my father got sick, Philip was actually the person who told me he was dying -- but as I was not supposed to know (back in those days, the children were not informed of the imminence of a parent's death until just before it was going to happen; doctors' orders), it was our secret for 3 1/2 years. So he was the only person I could talk to about it.
That sounds a great deal sadder than it actually was, of course, because our conversations were primarily about him -- what he was writing, what he was reading, his latest crush. (He fell in love as frequently as some people buy new shoes.)
He was a tremendous storyteller. And I never had the sense that he was talking down to me: he had the great good sense to treat me for the most part like an adult. Which, considering that we began talking seriously when I was 8, strikes me as quite unusual.
But he was also the person who gave me advice on very practical things, like how to handle myself in a very small town when my father died, or how to research a term paper, or what to do when someone offered me a joint in high school. (All of his advice to me was very anti-drug, by the way.) He was constantly giving me lists of books to read, for which I am forever grateful.
I did not truly understand until I was an adult what a great thing he had done, taking me under his wing when my world became so confusing. Not very many men would have done that for their ex-wife's child. Yet at the time, he never gave me the sense that he was fulfilling an obligation; I thought we were just good friends.
Question : How did you became a writer? Anne Mini : This question made me laugh, because I do not recall being given any choice in the matter! My father used to tell the story of the day of my birth, when he demanded that the obstetric nurse take him to the nearest typewriter in the hospital, to check how the name he and Kleo had picked for me would look in print.
Everyone in my family writes; most of my parents' old friends were artists and intellectuals of one stripe or another. While I was growing up, more graduate students and biographers showed up on our doorstep looking for clues to the private life of Henry Miller, or even my father, than of Philip. Seems strange now, but it's true.
So I was brought up to regard writers' habits as completely normal; I was the baby who would go to sleep to the sound of a typewriter, not be awakened by it. (I still find the sound very soothing.) Beginning when I was ten, my parents insisted that I type all of my term papers, unheard-of in my school. I was looking back over some of those reports recently, and I was struck by how, even in the fifth grade, I was formatting my writing as though I were planning to submit it to a publishing house.
Philip read quite a bit of my early writing -- which is to say, what I wrote before his death when I was 15. He would give me what I now recognize as professional-level feedback, a pretty incredible gift that I am not sure I truly appreciated at the time: when a ten-page story that got an A in creative writing class comes back from a friend with the margins completely filled with commentary, and then an extra typed page containing more revision suggestions, I think the average 11-year-old would be a tad nonplused.
When I went to Harvard, though, I put my writing on the back burner. I was very interested in politics then, and if one was not an English major, one was not very welcome at the campus literary magazines, I found. I ended up concentrating in Social Studies, a triple major in government, economics, and history, partially because it was the only department on campus where one could study labor relations. I went on to get a master's degree and a doctorate in political science, fully intending to become a professor.
For some odd reason, I thought that I would have an easier time making a living as a professor than a writer -- which is rather funny, as my first job after college was writing for the Let's Go travel guides, and my third was writing advertising copy for the back labels of wine bottles.
By the end of graduate school, however, my tastes had become much more literary: I wrote my dissertation on the political aspects of Mme. de Staël's writings, and I agitated (unsuccessfully) to teach a course on political fiction at my university. Naturally, a novel of Philip's was on my syllabus.
There is a great freedom in admitting that as major a life choice as earning a Ph.D. was a mistake; I was fortunate to realize early that what I really wanted to be doing was writing. I started editing manuscripts and writing political platforms -- and from there, it was an easy step to articles, nonfiction books, and novels.
Incidentally, Philip was the one who talked me out of being a science fiction writer, my original ambition. He said that there was no money in it. Ironic, no?
Question : When did you realise that the PKD you knew was becoming something like an icon, or may I say, a myth? Anne Mini : Wow, that's a great question. I saw some pictures of the Philip android the other day -- I try to avoid such images, as they're creepy, and I'm quite positive that Philip would have found the notion of being made into a robot terrifying -- and I thought, "You know, I really do have an odd family background. Not everyone's dead loved ones are brought back to life as androids."
I should start earlier than that, though. I grew up in a very small town -- 5,000 people, one bookstore -- so I think that I was shielded from his fame longer than I might have been had we lived someplace larger. My mother lived in that tiny place until just a couple of years ago, and I know that it has been something of a shock to her to keep encountering Philip's fans everywhere she goes. A pleasant shock, naturally, but I think that until that point, she had still been thinking of him as having only a small-but-devoted cult following.
I remember being a bit startled when he announced in 1974 that Rolling Stone was going to do a feature on him -- as a kid, that really seemed like the big time. But for me, I was more impressed to see stories I had helped him construct actually appear in print than I was with his increasing celebrity status. Admittedly, though, my main experience of his growing fame was through his tales of being accosted at SF conventions (not always in non-threatening ways) and biographer wannabes showing up to interview my mother.
It didn't really hit me that I would have to deal with being accosted constantly by his public image until after his death. As I said, Philip had always told me that he intended to reveal our game to his fans -- in fact, he was writing about it when he died, in Radio Free Albemuth. (Which, like parts of VALIS, reads to me like journals of his relationship with my family and me.)
It was a great joke, one he felt his fans would love. But those stories, he also believed, were helping to sell his books. When is the right time to pull the plug on a brilliant PR campaign?
So I can tell you the precise moment when I realized that the person I loved had passed from the human realm and into the mythic: when Kleo and I went to see Blade Runner for the first time, shortly after its San Francisco opening. I was fifteen.
It was a matinee in one of those old theatres built in the days when promoters called them movie palaces -- huge, high ceilings decorated in Art Nouveau swirls, lush velvet curtains flanking the screen, a lobby that could house the cast of Gandhi. We watched, faintly puzzled, as the movie unfolded. It was not the film that Philip had described; he had told both of us about the rough cut, which had stunned him with its beauty. This film, though beautiful in its own way, was noisy, a voice-over rattling in the viewer’s cranium in a way he would have found intolerable.
At the end of the film, the screen announced, in letters taller than my entire body:
This film is dedicated to the memory of Philip K. Dick
My mother burst into tears, the noisy kind accompanied by great whoops of breath; it was the first time she had seen the news in print, and no one affiliated with the movie or the estate had bothered to warn her about the tribute. We hadn't even been invited to his funeral.
Frozen, unsure what to do, I sat there, rubbing little concentric circles on her back. All of a sudden, we had no more inside knowledge of the progress of Philip’s career than any of his fans -- less, even, since in the years to come, fans often knew about movies being made of his work long before we did. In that single instant, Philip became to us what he was to the rest of the world, a name on a marquee, just another writer whose work graced the screen from time to time, an anonymous cover among the pulp science fiction in a used bookstore. He might as well have been Julius Caesar, or Napolèon Bonaparte, or Catherine the Great, for all the access we had to the remnants of his life.
With a small but salient difference: movie stars seldom turn up on my television screen talking about Julius Caesar. Napolèon Bonaparte was not a person I loved. And the popular press does not rip a scab off my heart each time they talk about Catherine the Great. Yet every time I see Philip’s name in the newspaper, every time I hear an actor tout one of his movies, every time I read someone who didn't know him summarize his life, I think: hey, they’ve raided my memories. Compared to that moment, seeing Philip's public image mutate into something less and less human has been less jarring than astonishing. I often wonder what he would make of it all.
Question : What led to this autobiographical project ? Anne Mini : Actually, it was the book I had always sworn that I would never write -- at least not in my mother's lifetime. After all, I did keep quiet about my part in game for a good 22 years. It was the secret I shared with my old friend, and I wanted to keep it private.
I wish I could say that reading some fresh embellishment upon his reputation spurred me toward my computer, but actually, it was a strange accident that started it all: a friend of mine came across a paperback edition of VALIS whose cover was illustrated with a picture of a toddler who looked exactly like a baby picture she'd seen of me.
I hadn't known about it; the book in question was released years after Philip's death. But the resemblance was startling enough that anyone who knew me at two or so would instantly have been able to identify it. But how did it end up there?
I've never been able to find out. I'm told that it's not the only time one of Philip's loved ones ended up as an illustration of his work, but how that came about, I cannot say.
I had known that he had written about me -- and my family, of course -- a certain amount, naturally; the old Berkeley beatnik crowd wanders through quite a lot of his writing. Part of growing up in a writing family involves the expectation that anything you say or do might end up in a novel. We'd even talked through dialogue for Radio Free Albemuth.
But, let's face it, finding what is apparently a baby picture of oneself on the cover of an old book is something straight out of a Philip K. Dick story. Who was I to resist an invitation like that?
Question : When did the trouble start with the PKD estate? Anne Mini : I have to be a trifle careful here, as the trouble has not yet ended. Nor am I the only one who has experienced such troubles -- there's an excellent Argentine film company, for instance, that spent a couple of years pulling together a documentary, The Penultimate Truth about Philip K. Dick, that I very much hope will be able to release their film someday.
At first, I was under the impression that Philip's daughters, who run the estate, were quite supportive of my book. Certainly, the initial feedback I received when they first read a draft did not strike me as hostile at all: they asked for a short list of minor changes, which I was happy to make. Other than that initial, rather polite set of observations, they've never provided either me or my publisher with a set of specific change requests, so as far as I know, there is no way that I could change the book to make it acceptable to the estate.
To tell you the truth, I have never really understood their subsequent objections to it. In fact, when my agent called to tell me that they had threatened to sue my publisher, I initially thought he was joking, because my impression was that my last e-mail exchange with one of the complainants had been, while not precisely friendly about the book, at least cordial. From my perspective, the situation changed from apparently negotiable to apparently no such thing literally overnight.
Question : I don't understand why would they wish to sue about the book. It's an autobiography, am I right? Anne Mini : I don't, either!
Yes, my book is primarily an autobiography that deals directly with my relationship with Philip, although for obvious reasons, there are chapters about the 1950s. I feel very strongly that the biographies so far hadn't really captured the personalities involved, particularly my mother's. It was a very engaging group of people, that Berkeley crowd.
that since I was in the unique position of having heard so many tales from Philip's early writing days from the primary players themselves -- Philip, my mother, my father, my godparents, other friends of the family -- my perspective might prove interesting as a counterpoint to some of the more second-hand accounts. People tell stories very differently to a child they have known all of her life than they do to a biographer, after all, and I was able to go back and speak with people who had been avoiding giving interviews about Philip for years.
One of the things that became very clear to me as I was writing the book was that my mother, my father, and I had all known very different sides of Philip -- and that he had over time shown each of us a multitude of personae. It was part of his complicated charm. I tried to play with that tension in the book, presenting various tellers' versions of events side-by-side, so the reader could ultimately decide for himself what was most likely to be true.
As I said, this book is a dark comedy.
I don't understand the objection to that -- or why my story would be more threatening than that of anyone else who knew Philip. One of the recurring themes of my book, in fact, is the thesis that no single account of anyone's life is worth believing 100%. Perspectives change from person to person, time to time -- and, in the beatnik circles where I grew up, often from telling to telling.
This IS a fiction writer we're talking about, after all.
I honestly believe that the picture I paint of him is substantially nicer, not to say more accurate, than the prevailing myth. What about that is objectionable?
Question : Do you have any idea how this 'problem' may evolve? Anne Mini : I don't know, but I keep brainstorming and seeking out Philip's readers' ideas on the subject. I do think that the fans deserve to hear the story I have to tell. If the individual reader decides that the book is worthwhile, that's great, but even if she doesn't like it, I would rather see the memoir be judged on its actual merits, rather than what people think it might say.
Maybe we'll have a better idea after The Owl in Daylight comes out what story the estate folks would like to tell about their father. Back when I was writing my book, I kept encouraging them to share their side of the story in their own right; theirs are interesting perspectives. But, honestly, I do not see why we cannot all give our impressions.
I'm also very encouraged by the recent increase in academic interest in Philip's work in the U.S. -- when I spoke at Harvard recently, I learned that his books were being taught in two different courses! That's wonderful. Scholarly publications tend to take more risks than more mainstream work, so perhaps there is an avenue for getting the story out that way.
I am firmly convinced that the book will come out eventually, but whether that will require another publisher's stepping up, my publishing it myself, or specifying in my will that the book should be distributed free after all of the participants are dead, I have no idea. I think that the infighting has been pretty unpleasant for everyone concerned, so if there were a reasonable compromise possible, I would be happy about that.
This interview was conducted by mail in February 2008.
We wish to thank Anne Mini for her kindness and generosity.