The Cosmic puppeteer

Legendary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick enjoyed perhaps his most fertile creative period in the late ’50s and early ’60s, most of which he spent in Point Reyes, California, with his third wife, Anne. During this period, PKD penned 17 novels, including several of his most celebrated works: The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Martian Time-Slip, Confessions of a Crap Artist, and Dr. Bloodmoney. Following the Point Reyes period and his divorce from Anne, his production declined dramatically. From 1964 through the end of his life in 1982, he wrote 16 novels (two of which were collaborations).

Immediately after his death, Anne R. Dick began the research for The Search for Philip K. Dick 1928-1982, the first PKD biography. Originally completed in 1984 and first published in 1995 (the manuscript was given to all PKD biographers) as a $120 hardback from Edwin Mellen Press, Dick recently revisited the work. She revised the original text and issued an affordable $17 paperback edition through her own Point Reyes Cypress Press. Dick discussed the revision in an interview with the Current.

“It was accidental that I did it at this time. I was waiting and waiting for some poetry to come back from an editor and decided to use my waiting time to go through Search and do a small edit. It turned into a major revision,” Dick said. She added new material about PKD and reorganized the text, making it more readable.

The project itself grew out of a need for answers.

“`It` was an attempt to understand what had happened to our relationship at the time of our divorce,” she said. “Actually, writing things down turned out to be therapeutic. In words I could go back and feel more in control during those chaotic times.” Dick intended from the very beginning to learn about her ex-husband’s life after he left Point Reyes. “As well as being traumatized, I was curious. Then, when I had finished that part of my research it seemed only logical to learn about his life before he met me.”

As explored in Search and later books, PKD, who was born December 16, 1928 in Chicago, famously used real aspects of his life in his surreal and often outlandish stories. “He wrote Confessions of a Crap Artist `one of PKD’s earliest and perhaps most successful autobiographical non-sci-fi mainstream works` on our honeymoon!” Dick recalled. “I was stunned and somewhat dismayed, but I didn’t say anything except that I thought it was a good book. Privately I thought to myself, ‘I guess this is what writers do.’ There were a number of other Point Reyes books in which the principal female character is more or less based on me.”

Dick found the attention flattering, even though PKD often portrayed women negatively. “I liked being Juliana Frink `from Man in the High Castle`. It was fun to watch the good-looking, bitchy French lady in Barjo `the 1992 French film adaptation of Confessions`. Phil didn’t paint positive female protagonists until he wrote The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, his last book.”

In Search, Dick revealed several arguably unflattering aspects of her ex-husband’s life, including his bouts with mental illness, infidelities, and drug use. “Many people know now how eccentric Phil’s life was. Many great writers had strange and unsettling lives,” she said. “He always tried to help people throughout his life. His books are full of light. I think most people are different and strange way down in their psyches, and in some people their unusual characteristics are closer to the surface.”

The reactions to PKD’s life vary depending on one’s perspective, she says. “I guess it depends on the way you read it. Everyone seems to read it differently. Many famous writers have darker sides than Philip K Dick. We live in a judgmental society where conformity is subliminally enforced despite our loud claims about individuality. The English, for example, love and cultivate their eccentrics.”

“Originally some of his close friends from Orange Country were dismayed when they read the manuscript,” said Dick. “Later, other biographers created a similar portrait. Everyone who knew Phil personally got used to it. They all still are very fond of Phil.

“The men involved with Phil’s career and his personal friends had an entirely different reaction to these books. Mine came out first, and no one realized how many different lives Phil had had. Actually, my book was more sympathetic to Phil.”

Dick maintains relationships with several other members of the PKD clan. “I get along fine with the ones I know — Nancy `PKD’s fourth wife` and Isa `PKD’s daughter with Nancy`. I’m not in touch with Kleo `PKD’s second wife`, although she did give me a good interview back in the early 1980s when I was writing Search. I don’t know Tessa `PKD’s fifth wife`. My daughter Laura `with PKD; Laura manages her father’s estate along with Isa` and I get along well, but when we get together we don’t talk about the Philip K. Dick estate. I only know what’s happening when I read David Gill’s blog, The Total Dickhead.”

Anne Dick never remarried (“Phil was a hard act to follow”), and she entertains her own literary aspirations. “Now that I’ve lived a long life, I have the opportunity to write about everything I’ve lived and read. I especially love editing, looking for just the right word or phrase, getting rid of everything superfluous. I love learning more about writing and about myself, how my mind works. In my personal universe, the only life worth living is one connected with the arts and literature.”

Dick says she is still amazed by her ex-husband’s rock-star literary status — “Although back when I was married to him I always thought he was going to be recognized as an important writer one day.

“`PKD` believed in his writing and wouldn’t have been all that surprised. He would have liked the recognition, but he would have liked getting back to his next novel even better. He loved writing. It was his life.” •

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