The latest "Amber" book, Prince of Chaos, is Roger Zelazny's tenth. Did he ever think he'd do so many? "I considered the possibility of doing nine, initially. One of my first ideas was possibly to tell each story from a different viewpoint, using all nine princes. That was a sort of Lawrence Durrell 'Alexandria Quartet' idea I had, but l abandoned that fairly early. I was stuck with Corwin. The only thing that remained of that early idea was the automobile accident they kept redescribing in each book, revealing a little bit more about it, or changing the interpretation of what really happened. That was just a little homage to that idea.
"The 'Amber' books are a comment on the nature of reality and people's perceptions of it. I was thinking of Lawrence Durrell's 'Alexandria Quartet' when I began the first book. I liked that particular series just because of the way he retold the same story from different characters' viewpoints. His was a more general comment on the fact that you can't know everything. He could as easily have written a fifth book or sixth book and kept changing it. That spilled over into the Shadow Worlds and oceans on the different parallel worlds where things are just a little bit different and eventually you get further away and they're a lot different. That was in the background.
"I thought I finished after five books. I had used up all the material I had in the back of my mind. So I decided when I picked it up again, I'd kick it into the future and use a different viewpoint character. Again, I didn't plan on it being five books. I originally signed to do three. One of the differences between this series and the earlier one is that in the earlier one, I'd write a book and then I'd go off and do some other books and stories, then come hack and write another volume. I did a few things in between here, but this was much more compressed. I was pretty much doing one right after the other, compared to the earlier series. So as much as I enjoyed them, I'm happy now to be free to move on to some other stuff. I can take a vacation now.
"After a while, if became something of a joke, that I had these cliffhangers, so I started introducing them intentionally, just to make it a running gag. There is something close to a wrap at the end of the tenth one. I brought it to a point where it's a satisfactory place for the reader to say, 'OK, I'm gonna stop here for a while.' But I could go farther, I do have a few other things I'd like to say....
"There's a similarity, in a way, between the 'Amber' books and a book I did called Roadmarks, where I played more with time than space. I got the idea for that book during an automobile drive. I was coming up l-25, which is a nice modern highway in New Mexico, and just on a whim, I turned off at random on a turn off I'd never taken before. I drove along it for awhile, and I saw a road which was much less kept up. I turned onto that one, and later on I hit a dirt road and I tried it, and pretty soon I came to a place that wasn't on the map. It was just a little settlement. There were log cabins there, and horses pulling carts, and it looked physically as if I'd driven back into the l9th century. I started to think about the way the road kept changing, and I said, 'Gee, that would be neat, to consider time as a superhighway with different turnoffs.' I went back and started writing Roadmarks that same afternoon.
"That notion of the unexpected turn taking you into a different kind of reality than you were in right before you made it, and leading to something unexpected, is a similar thing to the shadow walks or shadow rides that I had in the 'Amber' series. The original idea of the 'Amber' books had come to me in a strange part of a strange town, where the turnings kept taking me into unexpected places, and I started thinking about shiftings of reality then. Only then I was thinking in terms of space - different alignments of familiar features, until you've got something very strange - whereas the highway business, I started thinking of time as if I were shifting backward through it as I drove along. l think the two are akin, even though the stories don't have that much in common."
After this latest extensive bout with Amber, he returned to collaboration, working with Robert Sheckley. "We both have the same agent, Kirby McCauley, and Kirby suggested out of the blue that it might be interesting if we did something together.
"I had a few ideas already which I ran by Sheckley, and we ended up choosing the one we used for the forthcoming book, "Bring Me the Head of Prince Charming". That was the only time we talked about it face-to-face. We worked it out in general then. It's a medieval fantasy, somewhat humorous in nature. Heaven and Hell have this contest, once every thousand years, at the turning of the millennium. The side that wins is given control of human destiny for the next thousand years. Our story involves the putting together of Hell's entry for the contest: the Prince Charming story, which is done in a somewhat unusual fashion. Beyond that, I don't want to spoil the plot."
He will do another collaboration with Sheckley "fairly soon. The working title for this one is The Shadow of Faust. As for my own writing right now, I'm still kicking around a couple of ideas. Simultaneous, or parallel in course, with the next book with Bob Sheckley, I'll be working on a book of my own. I just don't know which one it will be yet."
Zelazny has been involved in collaborative novels for more than 20 years, beginning with a book he did with Philip K. Dick. "Phil had done an immense amount of writing over about a three-year period, and had started this book, Deus Irae. He had a general outline, and he'd written the first 50 pages and gotten blocked. Finally it came to the point where Doubleday asked him whether he'd mind if they brought in somebody else to work on it. They showed it to Ted White, and he had it for several months and decided he couldn't do it, but he hadn't given the manuscript or the outline back yet. I happened to be in town, and had dinner over at his place. He showed the manuscript to me, and I rather liked it. So he called Phil and he called Doubleday. I was working for Doubleday anyway at the time.
"That was '68. A few months later, I came out for Baycon, and that was the first time I met Phil. We decided that I would have to continue it right from the point where he'd left it. I changed my style - I didn't want it to seem too discontinuous, so I aimed for something sort of like Phil but not quite. I sent him a chunk, and he liked them, and said he thought he might be able to continue writing himself from that point. He look it from where I'd stopped, and he wrote the next section. It just went back and forth that way, until we finished the thing. This went on for several years. There was no rush, until Doubleday finally did notice this old contract outstanding and called Phil and said, 'Hey, when are you going to give us the book?' Phil needed the money, and said we were close to the end. I finished the book in something like three days. He wanted a few changes. The last four pages were his, as a sort of wrap. Then we sent the whole thing off to Doubleday. There wasn't a complete overall rewrite.
"I still don't do that much rewriting. I do a lot of the composition in my head, and when I do it at the keys, the sentences are pretty much in the order they appear in the book. I wrote Doorways In the Sand and Jack of Shadows first draft, no rewrite."
He has also done some collaborations with Fred Saberhagen. "The first book we did together, Coils, was my idea. I did a general outline of the story, and Fred then took my outline and elaborated on it, producing a big, chapter-by-chapter breakdown. He does wonderful outlines. He can knock out an outline that runs like 60 or 70 pages - which I won't do.
"My own material, I tend to do most of my outlining in my head, and just jot a few notes. Fred is much more meticulous. But I like working with an outline like that. The more recent book, Black Throne, was his idea. Fred's a big Poe fan - gives a party on his birthday every year. For The Black Throne, first he got me to read all of Poe, and the critical biographies and so forth, so I was pretty well immersed in the material.
"Collaborations are fun. I learn a lot. I like seeing how other writers operate. That first book with Fred. I was really surprised that his approach to writing a book was what it was. I learned a lot about outlining from him. Even though I don't do it on paper, I can do it in my head, using some of the devices he has. Working with Phil Dick, I got some practice in learning to assimilate another person's style. It's nice looking at something from another writer's point of view. It's a learning experience. I've been learning things from Bob Sheckley too. Every now and then it's nice to stop and just look over what you've been writing and the way you've been writing it and sort of reassess it, and see if you've fallen into bad habits or there's something you'd like to get better at. One way of reexamining your own work is to work with somebody else. It's a learning experience. I don't want to get into a rut."