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December, 1995

"Behind the Scenes "


Theo, The Autobiography of Theodore Bikel by Theodore Bikel (Harper Collins, hardcover, 1994).

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—"The Visitor"

As readers of this column for the last three years know, it is time for my annual rampage against The System. I don't generally review books for the December issue because I might contribute to the commercialization of a sacred occasion. The realities of life in the USA today include the desperate dependence of merchants on the Christmas Buying Season for about a third of their annual revenues. As a result, all the applied psychology skills available to Madison Avenue advertising are aimed at the buying public.

Dion Fortune (a writer every student of the occult must be familiar with) calls Magick "nothing more than applied psychology" — and I can accept that definition. Therefore, "Madison Avenue" is using Magick to energize motivations such as pride and greed and the fear of being thought ungenerous or unsociable in order to coerce people into spending money they can't afford on items they don't need.

Personally, I don't want to get anywhere near that stream of energy, so I won't even recommend books to buy during this season.

Therefore, the book I'm going to discuss this month is out of print and being remaindered in hardcover. Shortly, though, it will become available in paperback, at which point I do strongly recommend you pick up a copy.

This one is not, on the surface of things, a science fiction or fantasy novel. But one of the questions that sf writers are often asked is, "But where do you get your ideas?" or put less tactfully, "Where do you get those crazy ideas?"

I was forcefully reminded of this question by a recent episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. "The Visitor" was, I believe, the title. This was the episode where Benjamin Cisco, the commander of the station, Deep Space Nine, was dragged into a time-limbo by an accident, and his son Jake Cisco, grew up to be a famous fiction writer who abandons that career to learn enough science to rescue his father from limbo. Ultimately, he rescues his father by committing suicide, and restores the timeline where he is Benjamin's young son, and Benjamin is alive and well.

The episode starts with a woman coming to the elderly Jake Cisco's door and announcing that she is a fan of his writing and wants to be a writer too — but she doesn't know what she wants to write about.

At least she doesn't ask where he gets his crazy ideas! But she is an Expository Lump. All she does is drag the story out of Jake.

Those of you who have been reading this column all this year have been following my discussion of the technical craft behind the fiction I recommend to you. "The Expository Lump" is one of the greatest craftsmanship flaws, but it is generally perpetrated by writers who have too much to say, not too little. In many ways, "not knowing what to write" or having no idea where ideas originate, is the exact opposite of the expository lump.

Most working writers have little respect for people who come up to us and say they want to be a writer but they just haven't come up with an idea yet. Most often, such a person wants to "be a writer" (i.e., revel in the glory of public attention) not "to write" (i.e., sweat bullets over every deadline, and sit in a dark hole facing a blank screen with a blinking cursor and cudgel their heads or plumb the depths of their personal angst in public).

In general, at least in the science fiction/fantasy field, working writers are open and available, cheerfully forthcoming and helpful to new writers who are writing but just haven't sold anything yet. There is a comraderie and deep recognition among us. Regardless of where our careers might be at the moment, we all have one thing in common that sets us far, far, far apart from everyone else. It makes us a persecuted minority, and we must stick together or perish.

That one thing that all writers have in common is that we write. Day and night, on the street, driving, shopping, reading, working a bread-and-butter job, whatever we're doing, we're writing. And given a moment's free time, we scribble down what we've written in our heads. Given our druthers, we'd spend all our time typing stories.

Friends and family beg for our attention to no avail. Our financial dependents or supporters groan, "Why don't you get a real job!" And our housemates fly into rages because we sit doing "nothing" when there are leaves to be raked or snow to be shoveled or other chores waiting.

Marion Zimmer Bradley taught me that if you can be anything else, don't be a writer. Plumbers don't work as hard, and they make a lot more money. Get more respect, too.

Alma Hill, the professional writer who ran the National Fantasy Fan Federation's writer's workshop, taught me, long before I made my first sale, that writing is a performing art.

In the course of nearly thirty years as a professional fiction writer, I have discovered the truth of these two axioms for myself, and I have discovered that those who want to "be a writer" but "don't know what to write" — are never going to produce anything worth reading.

The other category of the lost and hopeless is those who have "a dynamite idea" but "need a collaborator" because they don't know how to write. They don't realize that the reason we work with such maniacal desperation to develop the craft skills is that we have too many ideas to get written down in an entire lifetime of nothing but typing. They don't realize that dynamite ideas are commercially usable only when they come up through the trained subconscious. No one can take another person's idea and make it explode like dynamite.

So, I've learned not to waste my time on would-be writers who fall into those two categories.

However, in this season of gift-giving, I am moved to give a gift. I will tell you where the ideas that drive a person to gain the necessary writing skills to sell those "dynamite ideas" come from.

If it should happen that you are in one of these two categories of hopeless would-be writers, and if it should happen that you actually absorb the following clue and it leads you to become a writer — just don't blame me. I did warn you.

Like any good performing artist, we steal our material.

It's that simple. Theft.

The impetus that forces a writer to write is the need to give back what has been stolen. To rebalance the scales of justice. To make it right again.

It is the subconscious that does the stealing, and it does it on the astral plane — from the subconscious of the ambient group mind.

The neat thing about stealing ideas is that the victim never notices because the idea is still there after it's been stolen. The nonwriter who happens to acquire an idea in this fashion becomes irrationally convinced that the idea is his and that the idea is original, unique, unduplicatable.

The writer who acquires ideas (plural) in this fashion knows that every living being who has ever slept has had access to that idea, and that most of them contributed to making the idea. However, consciously, the general public does not have any direct access to that idea.

The element that makes the idea commercially viable is that the general public will recognize it, find it familiar, because they've encountered it on the astral. The element that drives the writer to write down the idea, make the idea into a story and deliver it to the public, is the clear perception that the public doesn't know this idea consciously and genuinely needs to know.

That is the feeling of "having something to say". The assumption is that the person who hears you say it will experience pleasure, or at least an emotional payoff.

So the writer becomes a conduit between the general public's subconscious group mind and conscious daily experience. Having taken the idea, it is necessary to give it back.

The motivation that works, that makes an idea come out with a dynamite explosion of psychic energy, is the driving need to "tell you a story" — to give the idea back to you — to tell you something you don't know but need to know, don't feel but need to feel.

The primary motivation of the performing artist in any field, especially in the beginning stages of a career, is not to make money but to perform. The only reason you have to make money at it is so that you won't have to do anything but perform.

Most of those who find they want to "be a writer" are fixed on the concept of "making money" and not driven "to perform." Most of those who "have an idea" and "need a collaborator" are fixed on the money their idea can make. They don't want to give their idea away for free because they are convinced it's worth a lot of money. The one who will succeed in making a lot of money is the one who is utterly driven to perform, to give back what he has subconsciously taken, and doesn't care all that much about the money.

When that give-back works, when the scales of justice balance, the very structure of the universe will operate to support the artist on the well known magickal Law of Abundance. But often the give-back process just doesn't work. Everyone knows all the stories of artists dying in poverty despite the value of their work. So don't say I didn't warn you. Steal from the group mind's subconscious only with great trepidation. The stealing part's easy — it's the give-back part that's hard.

Which brings us to Theo. This column is about science fiction and fantasy, so how come an autobiography of an actor? Because Theodore Bikel portrays the human father of Worf, the Star Trek: The Next Generation character who has just this last October been re-introduced to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He also portrayed Ivanova's Rabbi Uncle on Babylon Five. The former role is described in this book, and the latter one not.

But mostly, this book belongs in this column because acting is a performing art, too, and this year's subject has been the nuts-'n'-bolts of the performing art of writing. Also, this column is about the training of a magician in the occult arts, and acting is definitely in the category of ceremonial magick.

The actor, especially the stage actor such as Theo Bikel, works with the substance of group mind. "Stage presence" and "star quality" are references to the ability to reach out to an audience and form them into a group mind, to raise a cone of power, and then ground it again leaving everyone in that audience relaxed but energized.

A good performer will often thank an audience for being a good audience. A good audience is one that willingly participates in the group mind experience, feeding the actor the energy and inspiration to perform well — the actor's equivalent of the writer's "idea".

I have been a devoted fan of Theodore Bikel since the sixties (as I've mentioned in a previous column), when I first saw him perform on a stage — a folksong concert in San Francisco. He is a performer of international folk songs in more languages than I can count. I have a book he wrote (and he's always been a fabulously good writer!) containing songs from many countries. It's autographed. (I'm talking serious fan here, people!)

I was recently most delighted when he wrote me that four of his seventeen or so record albums have been released on re-mastered Compact Disc (and tapes, too, I think). This was done by Bainbridge Records (11300 West Olympic Blvd. Suite 840, Los Angeles CA 90064. Tel: 800-621-8705.)

When he wrote me about the record release, he mentioned that he would be touring again in Fiddler On the Roof (he's Tevye of course). I wrote back and asked about the tour schedule. Eventually, he wrote again from Manhattan where the company was finishing rehearsal before hitting the road, and sent me a quick Xerox of the bare bones of the tour schedule as it then stood. In that letter, he referred to his autobiography, which I hadn't heard about. I quickly faxed the publisher and they quickly sent me a review copy.

I quickly read the book.

Wow. Just wow.

Not only can the man write, he's got something to say. You must understand that English is not his native language, though he went to school in England for a few years. In England, they don't speak American. I have some Star Trek fanzines written and published in England. They're in English — which makes Kirk and Spock sound really odd. Theo Bikel speaks and writes flawless American. This is an easy book for any American-speaking reader to read.

Theo draws us a vivid picture of what it means to be possessed by a need to perform. It is such a clear and vivid picture that you can use it to measure yourself — to decide whether you are a performing artist or not.

Would-be writers who might be worried that they fall into the two "hopeless" categories I mentioned above can read this autobiography to find out whether they are, in fact, hopeless wannabees or if they have the makings of a real performer.

This book explains why so many stage performers have been compelled to become political activists — rebalancing the scales of justice by giving back.

This book explains how the most powerful acting talent, the most intense creativity, can be expressed through someone who has no conscious access to the astral plane or formal training in ceremonial magick — and how that lack intensifies the talent. It also explains the place of craftsmanship in the performing artist's life.

Theo is not unique in any of these explanations. I've read many other biographies and autobiographies that illuminate these deep mysteries. I've read some that are more clear on the subject. I've never read one that touched me personally so very, very deeply.

As I read Theo, it became very clear to me that I would never need to write my own autobiography — which is a very good thing, because I don't have an interesting or colorful life to relate as this book does. Theo makes for me all the points that I might want to make in my own autobiography.

Here's an odd karmic point: Theo was born May 2, 1924 in Vienna. Now I've known that for around thirty years. But in the first couple of weeks after I read this autobiography, I ran into references to Vienna two to three times a day without fail.

For example, the other day I was in a Waldenbooks looking for new vampire novels (found a couple of good ones for you, too) and I noticed a new hardcover by a friend of mine. I picked it up and scanned the blurb. It's set in Vienna. My husband comes home from work and tells me about someone he met — who is from Vienna. Later that night, I'm channel surfing and there's a movie set in Vienna. The news has a reporter signing off from Vienna.

This is not the effect of simply noticing Vienna more sharply even though it's not any more prevelent in my life than ever. I've always associated Vienna with Theo Bikel, and noticed it for that. For a time after I read that autobiography, there actually was more Vienna in my life. Someday, I'm going to go there and look the place over. Who knows, I might find a story idea; not that I need any more than I've already got!

Here, then, is the tour schedule for Theodore Bikel in Fiddler On the Roof, which started in Omaha, Nebraska in September.

11/28-12/3, 1 week

Orlando, FL Tupperware

12/5-10, 1 week

Providence, RI PAC

12/12-13, 2 days

Erie, PA Warner

12/15-17, 3 days

Toledo, OH Masonic

12/18-1/14, 4 weeks


1/16-28, 2 weeks

Dayton, OH Victoria

1/30-2/4, 1 week

Cincinatti, OH Taft

2/6-11, 1 week

Columbus, OH Palace

2/14-18, 1 week

Saskatoon, SASK Centennial

2/20-25, 1 week

Fort Worth, TX Will Rogers

2/27-3/3, 1 week

Kansas City, MO

3/5-10, 1 week

New Orleans, LA Saenger

3/12-17, 1 week

Colorado Springs, Co Pikes Peak



3/26-4/7, 2 weeks

Seattle, WA 5th Avenue

MORE TO COME, it says on the Xerox I have here — and like all tour schedules, this is subject to change without notice.

(1999 addendum: for appearance schedules for Theodore Bikel, go to )

Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, N.Y. 10952



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