George Gordon, Gamera and The Tattooed Chicken
An interview with award-winning science fiction writer Arthur Byron Cover
compiled from my email exchanges with him during 2002


Art Cover

How did you and Gus first meet?

Art Cover:  Gus and I met at a Clarion Writers' Workshop in New Orleans in the summer of '71.  Easy to remember because I'd just graduated from college.  That summer we also met David Wise (a millionaire's son who would live with us in LA and would go on to become an animation king), Russell Bates (who went on to publish some sf), Mel Gilden, Geo. Effinger, Lisa Tuttle, David Skal, Scott Edelstein (who writes self-help books) not to mention famous wirters such as Harlan and Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm.  Every year Harlan had a tradition of picking out the single worst writer with a personal ego who could handle it, and tell him he should give it up, get out of the business.  This was Gus' year.  Gus was not deterred.  No one felt he had talent.  Not even me.  Especially me.  I on the other hand was destined for greatness.

Is it true that the two of you lived with Harlan Ellison for a time?  If so, how did that come about?

Art Cover:  After the Seattle Clarion the next year, Gus and I drove down and stayed with Harlan while we waited for David and went apartment hunting.  Harlan went nuts because his accent changed during the period and he started talking like a redneck.  Gus and I had infected him.

I read a quote from you online (in Ivan Lerner's review of Bill the Galactic Hero, available here) where you said that The Short-Timers began life as a Civil War novel titled The Tattooed Chicken.  What in the world does that title mean?  I've read before that Shorty went through several different drafts over the years, jumping from the Civil War to Vietnam and even to a post-Vietnam setting.  Can you shed any light on these various other drafts?

Art Cover:  I don't remember where the title came from, but Gus (as well as many other young writers of the time) was very infatuated with the techniques of Donald Barthelme, who often dispensed with plot and basically deconstructed the fiction form.  He also used old pictures as part of his writing, paste-ups, and Gus did that with the novel as well.  It was to be a series of surreal vignettes about the Civil War but as it evolved he planned on having three chapters set in Vietnam.  One of the chapters, the third one, he turned in at the Seattle Clarion to be workshopped, and the students hated it.  Including me.  We didn't know who the characters were, didn't know what was going on, etc.  The instructor for the week, Robert Silverberg, basically told us we were full of shit, that this was a masterpiece and we were too dim to recognize it.  Perhaps true, but we were conditioned to have a certain response from Gus' fiction, which for the most part had not improved.  Silverberg was right though, but had he seen the entire novel, he might have come to a different conclusion.  A few years later, David, Michael Reaves, and myself read the entire ms. and pointed out to Gus that he really had two different books.  The Tatooed Chicken and this Vietnam thing where the characters turned into werewolves whenever something violent happened.  Gradually the werewolves were excised (though I always liked it).  Writing all that experimental fiction was the only way Gus could back into writing directly about the war.
    Interestingly, David Wise recently reminded me that one of the big time lines from Full Metal Jacket was derived for our time living together.  Gus had put an ad in one of the weekly's looking for amateur writers who would pay him to critque their manuscripts.  Most of the personals in these were for sex and so one day the phone rings and David picks it up and a guy asks, "Do you suck dick?"  David thought it was very rude and we all laughed a lot.  The line later showed up, if I recall correctly, in the boot camp section.

What did you think of "Shorty" once it was finished?

Art Cover:  Actually, much to my surprise, I liked it.  But again, it was difficult to be objective and get the images of all the other work associated with it out of my mind.  I still like the werewolf version best.

I also read where you mentioned a story Gus was working on about a man who dressed up as Gamera and flew around St. Louis.  Was this story ever published?  Are there any other odd little Gus Hasford gems out there that I might not have come across?

Art Cover:  I would think probably not; I certainly don't know of them.  Gus worked on the Gamera story while he was at the porn house and while he was working on The Short-Timers.  Gus had no editing filter in his brain and worked on bad ideas with the same intensity he did on his good ones.  I don't think the Gamera story was ever published.

Is it true that Gus wrote for pornographic magazines under the pseudonym "George Gordon?"  Have any of these writings survived?

Art Cover:  I don't know if they survived.  George Gordon was the Christian name of Lord Byron, so that strikes me as being true.

Exactly what kind of stuff was he writing for the porn mags?

Art Cover:  The only thing I remember is a magazine he didn't work on, about men who like to wear diapers and have women change them as a means of achieving sexual excitement.  Working for porn did not help Gus psychologically.  Maybe if he had just read the stuff the way most men do....

Were you still in contact with Gus when he was working on Full Metal Jacket?

Art Cover:  No, though he was in contact with some of our mutual acquaintances who wound up not talking to him anymore either.  They thought Stanley K was wasting his time, which as it turns out, he did with a lot of people.  Though Stanley wound up disliking Gus, I believe it was because Gus was unable or unwilling tp put up with a certain amount of bs, which certainly Kurbrick's later movies show he was full of.  Full Metal Jacket is for my money the best of them but that's a left-handed compliment.
    Later, Gus and I re-established contact, and when he was being sought by the police for stealing the library books, he hid some stash in my garage for a few nights.  My wife never forgave him for writing a nasty letter to her (he never thought his nasty letters were a big deal) so staying friends was difficult.  He came by the shop one day after he got out of jail, and before he went to Greece, but I wasn't in.

What was it that Gus did to push you and some many others away?

Art Cover:  Gus got irrational after a while, and also he was very stubborn in general.  Often the events would be of the most trivial nature.  With me, I didn't want to go to the movies with him one night.

Do you have any thoughts on the whole book theft case?

Art Cover:  Just that Gus acted like an idiot.  He checked out a valuable run of 19th century Civil War magazines that a) I couldn't believe they let him check out and b) he never had any intention of returning.  They were worth enough to make it grand theft.  He got to keep nearly all of his stash (including the storiage lockers the police didn't find) because they had no procedure for returning stolen books.

Was it general knowledge among his friends that Gus did this?  Did anyone ever call him on it?

Art Cover:  Years earlier, when Gus was stealing from book clubs, David Wise told me he'd go to jail someday due to his habits.  Gus laughed.
 

  Arthur Byron Cover began his association with the science fiction field by reading the stuff.  In 1971 he attended the Clarion Writer's SF Workshop in New Orleans, where he made his first professional sale to Harlan Ellison's The Last Dangerous Visions. That story has yet to appear, but in the interim he's published several novels: Autumn Angels, The Platypus of Doom and Other Nihilists, The Sound of Winter, An East Wind Coming, Planetfall, and Stationfall.  His short stories have appeared in Infinity Five, Alternities, The Alien Condition, Weird Heroes #6, The Year's Best Horror #4 and #5, Wild Cards #5: Down & Dirty, and Pulphouse. In addition, he's written several comics -- most notably two issues of Daredevil with Harlan and Space Clusters, a graphic novel from DC illustrated by Alex Nino -- plus several animation scripts, and reviews and articles for such august publications as The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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