The Oak King: A Conversation with Peter S. Beagle

Omnivoracious readers may remember my brief post on Peter S. Beagle's great novel A Fine and Private Place back in November. As I wrote then, "If there's one novel that makes you contemplate life, friendship, love, and your place in the world, A Fine and Private Place is that book. A love story with ghosts that features a talking raven, told with a quiet eloquence and a wisdom that is satisfying without being sentimental, it's still my favorite novel by Beagle." Since then, Beagle took time out of his busy schedule to answer the following questions.

       Psb_for_amazon_1_2 When you were writing A Fine and Private Place, did you have any idea it was going to have such staying power?

Beagle: No. Not at all, of course. When I was 19 years old I never thought in terms of classics or being permanently around. I’d known enough writers, even at that age, to see that what happens to your work is so far out of your control you simply can’t afford to let that kind of concern enter your thinking. The publisher asked you to remove four chapters from the book. At the time, did you agree with the decision? Have your feelings about it changed over the years?

Beagle: At the time I was outraged. I fought every step of the way, and every sentence. Today I’m inordinately grateful to Marshall Best, the editor who did that. Marshall is long gone, so I just hope that back then I had sense and courtesy enough to say thank you. But I don’t think I realized fully what his effect on the book had been until many years later. If it weren’t for him I don’t think the book would still be in print. He’s also the one who came up with the title and the allusion to those marvelously appropriate lines from Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”--I'd originally called the book The Dark City, after the way that Jonathan Rebeck saw the graveyard. Titles, sad to say, have never been my strong suit. Most of my best have actually come from friends or editors.

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