Former gambler JIM DODGE would not have betted on his fable about an overweight duck becoming an American best-seller. Now the odds are on for Fup becoming
aUKMt Words: Kathleen Morgan
American writer Jim Dodge had been a lousy shepherd. a competent gambler. a committed environmentalist and a poet before becoming an overnight success as a novelist.
What cracked it for him was l’up. his tale of a fat. magical duck. which was published by a small Californian company in 1983 against his advice. The fable was soon discovered by a bigger publisher and quickly transformed into a best-seller.
The book mesmerised [Edinburgh writer and editor Kevin Williamson. who discovered it two years ago. His publishing imprint Rebel Inc is about to bring Fup to the L'K for the first time. in an edition illustrated by British artist llarry llorse.
Sitting in his home in the remote Klamath Mountains of north California. 52-year-old Dodge explains how [5in tapped into America‘s preoccupation with going ‘back to the land‘. The story of an old man who lives with his grandson Tiny and a large duck called litip in America‘s backwoods. is peppered with the themes of environmentalism. morality and immortality.
An environmental consultant at the time. ‘ Dodge was inspired to write [5in while digging post holes for a fence near his ('alifornian woodland studio. ‘lt started to rain and I knew these holes would fill up.‘ he says. ‘I was feeling sorry for myself. I thought. one day I‘m going to find something interesting in a post hole. like a duck.‘
In Dodge's book. Tiny discovers a half-drowned duckling in a post hole near his grandfather‘s ranch. The bird. named liup. is saved when (iranddaddy Jake gives it a dose of his home-made brew Death Whisper. liup duck — be careful how you say it »— grows and grows. taking on mythical proportions. The three become inseparable. spending their days drinking and playing poker together.
Although Dodge never discovered a duck in his flooded post holes. he had spent time as a professional gambler and working as a shepherd on a ranch. Roth experiences provide the backdrop for l'Jl/J.
’I made a living gambling for five years. It’s the only job where you can work your butt off and lose ITTDITC‘YI Jim Dodge
Harry Horses's illustrations bring Jim Dodge’s Fup to life
‘I made a living gambling for five years.’ he says. ‘.\ly brother opened a card room 3()() miles from where I live. When he needed a break I would come up and run the game for him. It‘s the only job where you can work your butt off and lose money.‘
liarlier. his experience as a shepherd shattered his poetic illusions of rural life. ‘I don‘t like sheep or any other domestic animals.‘ he says. ‘I was 22 and had this . sion of writing pastoral poems. but I became disenchanted with that.’
.\'ow a creative writing teacher at a ('alifornian university. Dodge lives with his wife and adopted child in a remote mountain house with no electricity. He calls his lifestyle "close to the ground". and rejects the label of recluse that the media has given him. ‘I would prefer "carcful".‘ he says.
Dodge laughs at rumours that he is cult American author Thomas Pynchon. who wrote l’. The elusive Pynchon penned the introduction to Dodge‘s last novel Sin/iv .lllllt'lfUII. also being published by Rebel Inc.
‘I absolutely deny that I’m Thomas l’ynclion.' he says. adding: ‘()nly in my wildest dreams.‘ Mind you. this man has a vivid imagination . . .
Fup is published by Rebel Inc at £7.99. Jim Dodge and Harry Horse are at James Thin, South Bridge, Edinburgh, Fri 7 Nov, 7pm. See book events.
I The write stuff
Science correspondent for the New York Times and four times Pulitzer Prize nominee, Gina Kolata is no
; NAME: Gina Kolata.
3 AGE: 49.
PREVIOUS JOBS: I started when I
was 24 as a reporter for Science
Magazine. I wrote about
developments in science and, at the
same time, did lots of freelance
work. So I had a lot of experience of
different writing before I came to
The Times in 1987.
ROUTE TO BECOMING A WRITER: I
was going to be a scientist, but I
discovered I didn't like the
i laboratory. I started a Ph.D. programme in molecular biology but left and tried to become a writer. I had trouble finding a job, so I went back to school in a field where there is no lab - mathematics - and got a Masters Degree. DAILY ROUTINE: There is no routine. Today I am working on a long-term story which is fascinating, very
, complicated and important. But, if there is a news event, I will have to drop everything instantly and do that. It is fun. I like having deadlines, I like working fast, I like feeling that you do something, it is in the paper, it makes a difference - or it doesn't — and you are on to something else. INFLUENCES: Science writing is much more of a narrative, much more of a dramatic storytelling than people appreciate. There is one writer who has such a gift for this that I cannot believe it: John Updike. I am just a huge fan. AMBITIONS: I love what I am doing and my ambitions are just to keep doing it and do it as well as I can. FEARS: I think the world is fascinating and, apart from the normal catastrophes that overtake normal people, I don't worry about the future. I see it as just open and probably very exiting. INCOME: In America, asking about somebody's income is even more unheard of than asking about their sex life. (Thom Dibdin)
I Clo/w The Road To Dol/y And The
Path Ahead by Gl/ld Kolata IS published 3
by Pt‘litﬂ/lll Press at [IS 99 Kolata is at the Fruit/narth Ga/lory; Edinburgh on Thu 13 Nova! 7pm
/ llov ~20 llov IQ‘J/ THE llST105