A DAY IN THE LIFE - AN INTERVIEW WITH JEAN MARIE STINE
In August 2001 Jean Marie Stine kindly agreed to give up some of her time to do an interview about the spin-off Prisoner novel she'd written, A Day In The Life. The following interview brings up not only details of the novel itself, but also how the spin-off series came about.
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First of all, I'd like to ask for a little background information on you if I may... I'm curious to know why you used the psuedonym... and does this make you the same Jean Marie Stine that wrote the fitness books?
I am the author of the following recent books (not fitness) under my legal name Double Your Brain Power, Writing Successful Self-Help & How-To Books, and co-author of Best Guide to Meditation. I have written under the nom de plumes Allan Jorgenson and Sibly Whyte. Hank Stine was a nom de guerre. My erotic science fiction novel, Season of the Witch (1968) was reprinted in 1995 when the non-erotic movie version, Synapse ("Memory Run" on Europe), was filmed. Copies of Season of the Witch (1st edition) and the British edition of my Prisoner novel have both commanded prices in excess of $100 in the rare book market! [Season of the Witch can also be ordered on-line in downloadable format by clicking HERE]
How did you come to write the book... you mentioned that you knew a little of how the novels began, and Thomas M.Disch's entry?
Ace Books, a paperback publisher, had acquired the rights to publish original novels based on the Man from UNCLE TV series, and they were selling like hotcakes for the company--especially Dave McDaniel's. Terry Carr, who was editor of the UNCLE books, had come to the West Coast for a sci-fi con. Terry, Norman Spinrad, and I and a few other stragglers were sitting on a flight of steps somewhere in or just outside the hotel gabbing. Terry suddenly opined that Ace would love to find some other hot series with a bit of a fanish, science-fictional twist they could publish successfully and asked if anyone had any ideas. Wild, Wild West, Lost in Space, and other titles were butted about. Finally, I piped up, "How about The Prisoner?" It was so obvious--and the quality so high--I am sure someone else would have come up with the idea, if I hadn't. Terry then asked for suggestions as to who should write the books. Norman mentioned Tom Disch, whose just released and award-winning sci-fi novel, Camp Concentration, was intensely Prisoneresque. Terry agreed Tom was ideal. Terry then said the second book should be by McDaniel, who was their bestselling UNCLE novelist. I then spoke up in my own behalf (having written exactly one novel, the aforemenioned SoW), and said that since the series was my idea, I should get to write the third book in the series. Terry allowed as how if the series sold well enough to justify a third book, this was only fair--and a year later, called to assign me what was book #3 on the US, but confusingly #2 in the UK (go figure).
Had you seen the series before writing the novel? Were you an admirer of the show or was writing the novel like a straightforward job?
I was a confirmed, life-long sci-fan by the time I was twelve years old, reading every book and watching every movie I could get my hands on. I went to my first science fiction convention at seventeen and never looked back to the mundane world again. I knew I was "home." My first novel was sci-fi. Dave and I saw the first--and most--episodes of UNCLE, Star Trek, and The Prisoner together. We were both captivated, bowled over, and thrilled that at last a quality, meaninful televison series had been made. (And yes, we had watched many episodes of Danger Man together!) Breathes there a fan with soul so dead she or he wouldn't cut of their right arm to get a chance to write an original Prisoner story? Just call me "Lefty." Writing Double Your Brain Power was a straightforward job. The Prisoner a labor of love.
The novel seems to deconstruct the TV village down into concentration camp and 60s psychedelia (even having Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band playing instead of the traditional Village brass band) - was there a desire on your part to reinvent the series, or bring your own spin on it? I must say for a TV tie-in then the novel is very original.
My worst problem, and to me it shows, is that the series had been off TV for six months and I coudn't watch any episodes to refresh my sense of things--in those pre-VHS pre-cable days. (Clever Dave, however, forsaw home video tape machines and inexpensive video tape coming one day. An impressive performance, considering the only kind of video tape then was one inch wide and cost $50 per half hour!) I do remember wanting to capture the sense of living in the Village day by day, and the way different Number Twos would play good cop-bad cop with Drake from episode to episode. I should note that the "It's off today, love" bit came from a recording of a British comedy record Dave had which apparently spoofed the food shortages in post-war England. As for SPLHCB, they made perfect sense to me a the kind of larger than life band those running the Village might think would make a great distraction. I quoted from the song in the book, but legal counsel at Ace cut the lines. I forget what they were, but hope to go on the web, reread the complete lyrics and post the four lines I quoted on my Prisoner website. As for letting the 60s in, I probably wouldn't do that if I were writing the book today. But the series was so much of the 60s that it seemed reasonable to me at the time that contemporary issues would spill over. I know one scene came to me while at Bill Graham's Filmore Auditorium at Jefferson Airplane/Greatful Dead concert.
How did the publishers feel about the overt drug references in the book? There's also some heavy violence towards the end, I assume you'd been briefed for an adult market...
Actually, we weren't briefed, and no one even acquired the show's "bible" for us. We were completely on our own. I felt the violence was justifiable since the only one killed was an android.
One thing that may come as a shock to readers are the suggestions that No.6 IS John Drake from Danger Man, and that No.1 was a three-man community. How far were you allowed to break the format?
Well... It was pretty clear from the opening of the TV series that is is John Drake who is resigning and that the whole Prisoner series is a direct sequel to Danger Man/Secret Agent. Remember the Secret Agent US song lyric, "They've taken away your name and given you a number." There is a direct thematic link. The only thing Dave and I were told was that McGoohan had forbidden mention in the TV series of the Drake name. (If Number Six's pre-Village name was Horace Jones, it would be in the show's bible the screenwriter's use when they write an episode, and PM would have forbidden mention of that name, not Drake. Or he would have just said something explicity about never giving Six a name to keep up the mystery. But, instead, he banned the mention of Drake. Humm... Dave decided to see if McGoohan were personally reviewing the ms. before publication (actually, with the series over, Patrick was on to new things) so he opened his book with "Drake woke..." When there was no outcry, I decided to carry it a step farther and give him a key ring with the initials "JD" on them.
Have you read any of the other novels in the series? And if so, what did you think of them? Were there plans to do any more?
I have read all of them. Tom Disch's is far and and away the best, as might be expected considering the place he would earn in American literature. Dave's was second best. It would have been far better, but for once he departed from his original outline. In the outline, he raises the boat the first time and sails off to the plot. But as Dave said later, instead the darn boat sank on me and it had to be raised a second time, becoming the plot of the novel. I think mine would have been much better if I had been able to see a few episodes of the series for inspiration and texture and not had to work from memory. Also, Tom was six months late on his book, Dave four on his, and (not knowing this, fool I) I turned mine in nearly on time. So they had more leisure to polish than I did. By the time my book came out the Prisoner had been off the air quite some time, and the sales (as might be expected of so intellectually demanding series) weren't nearly up to UNCLEs, so Ace decided to axe it after book #3.
What do you feel about organised cult followings - ie. Six of One. A good or bad thing? I see that a founder member published his own novel through the society*...
Do you mean as opposed to "disorganized" fan followings? I guess organized cult followings like ST and certain other shows have are in the same position as organized religion: The potential for both good and harm are greater. I am a great believer in disorganized religion. I was at a Furry con a few years ago, there were some people there who said they would like to live full time as their favorite furry animal, go to work dressed in the costume, etc. I want to live in Oz. In a world as crazy as ours--war, racism, small-minded cruelty--who is to say when something as relatively harmless as fan fanaticism goes too far?
Has The Prisoner influenced your writing on other stories?
Looking back, is there anything you would change about the novel? What were you most pleased with?
Everything and nothing.
Is there anything you're working on now that you'd like to share with visitors to the site?
I am selecting and writing Introductions for new e-book editions of such classic books as Dr. Syn, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Darby O'Gill, This Island Earth, as well as some great forgotten detective and occult novels. I'll try to include updates on this --as well as other Prisoner memories as they occur to me at my new Prisoner page (Now defunct link given - Jean Marie's blog can be found in 2012 at http://jeanmariestine.blogspot.com) Links to four recent mystery stories can also be found there.
Interview copyright The Anorak Zone/Jean Marie Stine, 2001. Many thanks once again to Jean Marie for giving her time for this interview. Questions set by me, with additional suggestions by Stephen Rynerson, with thanks.
* = Research reveals that two Six of One novels were printed - Think Tank and When In Rome, both by Roger Langley in 1984 and 1986 respectively.