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Q&A with Ken Wisman

by Ros Freese

Opening comments

I worked with Ken Wisman on the last two drafts of his novel, Eden, taking him through the rewrites of the novel's first chapter, the softening of some of the science in later chapters, and a concentration on mechanics including grammar/punctuation/point of view. In the course of our writer/editor relationship we had occasion to exchange a lot of email, not all of which involved the polishing of his writing or the perfection of his craft. Ken and I decided to revisit some of those exchanges and, with some editing and additions, turn my queries into a formal interview .

-- Ros Freese


Freese: At the beginning of Eden, you explain your use of a hallucinogen as an inspirational source. Why the Eden by Ken Wismanconfession?

Wisman: My hope is that the message will get out there to someone able to do something positive and constructive with the information.

Freese: The message being?

Wisman: Psychedelics and hallucinogens can have a positive effect on creativity.

Freese: What was the direct result of the hallucinogen in relation to the novel?

Wisman: Well, let's start with some of the images. In the contest between Eden's two artistic groups, one group bioengineers the delicatons out of the genome for jellyfish. One night I had a vision of these delicate creatures floating with tendrils flowing down and with human faces. An inner voice even named them for me -- the delicatons, all of which I used in Eden.

Besides images and visions, the hallucinogen took me deep down into places we normally don't visit, except possibly in dreams. There's a scene in Eden where Alepha and her lover Gammeo make love and are taken on a journey to the source of life and existence. It's a place found at the bottom of the unconscious where no opposites exist -- no good and evil, no life and death, no male and female.

The hallucinogen also took me to a place of complete emptiness and void. I could've stayed trapped there but chose to go on until something filled the void. From a deep experience that no god existed to run the universe, I came to the realization that humanity -- that all conscious creatures -- were an awakening of the universe to itself, the birth in the aggregate of god. I also came to believe that a universal force that I call an impetus-to-life exists and that it impels matter into life wherever conditions are viable. I also came to believe that one of the primary purposes and outcomes of our science and technology will be to spread life to places life would not be able to form on its own, or places where life was destroyed. This is the source of the philosophy of Ankh that Calif, the creator of Project Eden, practices; the idea that humanity is soon to turn from destroyer to caretaker of life.

Freese: What else inspired Eden?

Wisman: Jung, Beethoven, and Bosch.

Freese: That's an impressive trio. How did they inspire you?

Wisman: I've been a student of Jung ever since I began reading him in my 20's in my travels through Europe. With his theories of the archetype, I believe he puts the source of our gods back where they belong -- proceeding outward from humanity's psyche, not inward from the world surrounding.

Eden is arranged loosely on Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, his Pastorale. Eden begins with a lyrical lilt, an innocent melody, a tribute to nature just like the Pastorale. The symphony builds to a storm, with lightning flashes and thunder, as does Eden, reflected in Iamoendi's insanity and wrath and the three battles fought with the gigantic, bioengineered insects. At the end of the Pastorale there are flashes of transcendence. You hear it three times in the rise of the violins. The melody is both sweet and sad, and that's what I tried to capture in Eden's ending.

Freese: What about Bosch?

Wisman: Bosch painted 500 years ago, and his work is very strange. My attraction to his work is much like Alepha's (Eden's main character) attraction to Iamoendi's (Eden's villain) work -- a mixture of fascination and repulsion. The painting of Bosch's monsters and chimeras and hybrids are what most attract and repel me. They look like they were put together by a madman. Maybe Bosch had a glimpse of the future and what our science could bring. Anyhow, I wanted the towering fountain in the left portal of his triptych painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights, for the cover of Eden. I use a description of the fountain for Thera's bioengineered creation of her coral fountain. I also describe one of the weird constructions in the background of the central panel -- a bluish egg-shaped construction with spikes protruding -- when describing Iamoendi's bioengineered creation, the poisonous egg.

The other thing about Bosch is I'm half convinced he used hallucinogens to intensify his own vision, which he translated to his paintings. If you examine the middle portal of the Garden of Earthly Delights, in the upper left portion of the painting is a pink structure that looks like the viscera torn from some dinosaur-sized creature. On top of this structure is a mushroom with one man squatting on the top and another man balanced and upside down. Psilocybin perhaps, and the results of ingesting it -- turning one's world upside down and inside out.

Freese: Do you know of any other artists that may have used such unconventional methods?

Wisman: There were the French artists -- like Lautrec -- who used absinthe from wormwood, which is known to have mind-altering qualities. Probably the most famous is Coleridge, the Romantic poet, who prefaced his poem "Kubla Kahn" with a note describing how the words and images came to him while under the influence of opium. There is some evidence that Poe may have also taken laudanum, a tincture of opium.

Freese: Your author's notes say that you experimented with hallucinogens for three years. No return?

Wisman: No. And let me just say this about it. There's a Norse legend about Odin who goes to Mimir's well, which lies under the roots of the world tree, Ygdrassil. Odin wants to drink the water from the well so that he can gain wisdom. Mimir says the price of a drink is Odin's right eye. After much agonizing Odin agrees, painfully plucks out his eye, drinks, and is enlightened. The point being that there is always a price to pay when plumbing your inner self.

Freese: What price did you pay?

Wisman: No comment. Besides I have images and ideas enough to write a sequel to Eden (working title Eros), and have no need to return to my inner well for any further inspiration, at least not at the present.

© Ros Freese 2004.

Eden by Ken Wisman
Eden is published by Authorhouse (May 2004, ISBN: 1418427411); an extract is available elsewhere on this site.

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