Anne Dick, the third wife of Philip K. Dick, still lives in the house she shared with the legendary and mysterious writer. I visited her there to talk about her new memoir, The Search for Philip K. Dick.
The sleepy town of Point Reyes Station rests 90 minutes north of Oakland. There Anne still lives in the same house where her late husband wrote The Man in the High Castle. When Anne casually wandered over to the small bungalow rumored to be the home of a newly-local writer in 1959, she had no idea her visit would begin an intense and tumultuous love affair that would both inspire and haunt her for the rest of her life. As Anne and I sat in the Northern California sunshine on her back patio, overlooking the field where Dick reportedly saw a giant mask of evil in the sky, I kept remembering the line from Parsifal that Dick quotes repeatedly in VALIS, ‘You see, my son, here time changes into space,' and I was thinking about how in traveling those short 90 minutes north, I had also traveled backwards in time, closer to Phil, and closer to untangling the Gordian knot that was his life.
Anne witnessed first-hand the most prolific period in Dick's career, a five year stretch from 1958 - 1964 during which time Phil wrote many of his most celebrated novels including: The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Martian Time-Slip, Confessions of a Crap Artists, Dr Bloodmoney, We Can Build You, Now Wait For Last Year, and The Simulacra. Their marriage oscillated between pastoral scenes of the family at night beside a vernal pond on the property, eating fudge and listening to the local frogs' intricate songs, and dark struggles for power that pushed Dick to commit Anne to a psychiatric hospital (she was released two weeks later).
Anne began work on her memoir, The Search for Philip K Dick, more than two decades ago, but until recently the book was only available in an extremely rare and pricey edition costing more than a hundred dollars. Now, given the ease of self-publishing, Anne has revised the book and made it easily available for the first time ever. Anne is currently publicizing the release of her revised memoir, a book that may allow many of Phil Dick's readers to discover anew that the author's most outlandish worlds were in fact inner landscapes.
Q. Why did you write this book?
When Philip left in 1963 and filed for divorce I thought we were deeply in love and had a committed marriage and I couldn't make sense of what had happened. I was deeply emotionally involved with Phil for years although I picked up my life and went on for the sake of my four daughters and succeeded for the most part. Philip's death in 1982 was a terrible shock to me. Since nothing had ever been resolved between us I decided to try to write about what had occurred in our marriage and perhaps then I would be able to understand. Search ended up being a full biography as well as a memoir. It was the first thing I wrote aside from letters and grocery lists and I rewrote it fifty times trying to get it right. When I was l finished three years later I still didn't understand what had happened. I did figure things out to some extent when I revised the book in 2009. Even then Phil remains a mystery. Such a complicated man.
Q: Why have you chosen to revise the work and self-publish now?
A top science fiction agent, Virginia Kidd, picked Search up. She thought the book was going to be a big success and I would soon be on a lecture tour throughout the country. She sent it to Philip's editor at Doubleday, the logical place for it to be published, but because of some unfortunate literary politics it didn't happen. Virginia sent it to all the top houses but Philip wasn't that well known in the mid-1980's – we received great rejection letters but it didn't sell. I received some negative feedback from male friends of Phil's – Phil was their hero and they didn't want to read anything bad about him. It's a loving book but it is an honest book too. Phil's different personalities were too much for some of his friends to deal with and I certainly can sympathize with that.
Having written one book more or less successfully I continued to write. If I'd had the courage, I would have started writing much earlier in my life; I'd tried a few times over the years, didn't like what I had written, and gave up. After writing Search I started on a personal Memoir that I am still working on. I wrote two science fiction novels. I'm working on a literary novel. I'm hoping to publish my grandfather's letters. I've written a lot of poems. The experiences I had with agents over the years were frustrating. They would keep a book for a year or two, saying encouraging things, and then reject it – a huge waste of time. I decided to self-publish my own work starting with some poetry I had written in 2001 and 2002. I sent the poetry off to an excellent poetry teacher for feedback and he had it for so long that I started revising Search for Philip K Dick. The edited poetry came back but by then I was involved with Search and spent the next nine months on this revision. I am very satisfied with the way the self-published book looks and reads.
Q. Was this an easy book to write? Why or why not?
By now I've been writing Search off and on for 27 years! Sam Umland, a professor at the University of Nebraska went over it with me, and it was he who arranged for the 1993 Mellen publication. I had good feelings about that – contemplating a New York publication of a book about my family problems and Philip's problems was daunting as much as I would like to have been a published author back then. Now that I've revolved around the sun for eighty two years, I'm not as fearful of the truth. The truth is the truth and we're all a little weird and strange way down underneath.
Q. How do you want Philip to be remembered?
I've developed much more understanding of why Philip's work is important and of the amazing creative synthesis he achieved in his science fiction novels and stories. As far as how he is remembered, I feel Philip has gone far beyond any influence I might have on his posthumous image. He lived in his books and he's remembered by his readers. In my family my daughters and I remember him kindly despite the problems at the end of our marriage and the downward path of his next few years. As a person he was delightful to be around and live with, although I believe something dark hung around his life too.
Q. I know that in researching your memoir Search you read each of Philip's novels twice. What was that experience like for you?
I was amazed, when I read them in the order they were written, to find that they were a surreal autobiography. I loved the black sociological and political humor. I love his imagination. His novels and stories make me laugh out loud. The books deal with dark subjects but they are full of light. They prophesied the future both specifically and generally. The world has become Dickian or some say phildickian. I didn't like how he portrayed relationships between men and women. I liked the Point Reyes novels and the 1950's stories the best. I didn't like the later ones as much but I admired Scanner Darkly. I never did like Valis all that much. So much hoopla over that book and Phil's pink light experience. Philip told his longtime friend Ray Nelson that the pink beam of light occurred when two girl scouts selling cookies came to the door and a pink beam flashed from one of their glasses. I love that kind of Phildickian humor. I liked the woman in Timothy Archer, the first positive portrait of a female person.
Q. Finally, what do you think Philip would make of his current literary success?
He was such a different person later on it's hard to say. I'm sure he would be pleased. I thought it was a little sad when he received a large sum of money for his writing [in the early 80s] and all he could think of to do with it was buy a ham sandwich. It was nice he gave money away. He enjoyed seeing an early version of Bladerunner.
Q. Most of Philip's fans that have read The Man in the High Castle know that you ran a jewelry business for a time. Can you tell us about your artistic endeavors?
Phil wrote in The Man in the High Castle about the beginning of the jewelry business exactly as it happened. I started the business with Phil's help in 1960 when Laura was born and continued for 47 years until 2007 when I sold it. I'm somewhat known in the craft world. I've sold to some of the top galleries in the US, and to museum stores, and upper end gift stores. I had 13 people, some of them part time, working for me at one point. I was the largest employer in our town. (It's a very small town.)
The Search for Philip K Dick is available for order at Point Reyes Cypress Press.
David Gill is a Philip K Dick scholar who writes the Dick-centered Total Dick-Head blog, and teaches literature and writing at San Francisco State University. Excerpts from Anne's memoir are currently featured on the Total Dick-Head blog.
Photos, from top:
1. Anne and Phil at a friends house early 60s.
2. Dicks in front of Point Reyes house, most likely taken in 1963 towards the end of the marriage. In the back row Anne, Phil, and Anne's daughter Hatte, in the front row Tandy and Laura (Hatte and Tandy are Anne's daughters from her first husband Richard Rubenstein; Laura is currently helping to run the Philip K Dick Trust).
3. Anne Dick in front of one of her many sculptures. This photo was probably taken around 1970.