Part 2: This conversation is divided into ten parts.
EH: I see. Makes sense to me. So, you first read Tolkien’s books in 1972 or 1973 and the books made an impression on you. How old were you then?
OD: I was born in September 1953 so I had just turned nineteen. A bit old to be discovering Tolkien’s books for the first time, but thank the bees and trees for Dr. Taylor requiring us to read those books. They changed my life forever.
OD: Well, I’d never really read fantasy before. And, I suppose if I was going to read fantasy I was lucky that I my first experience was reading one of the best fantasy writers that ever lived. Like all of Tolkien’s fans I was immediately sucked into the world of Middle Earth and its inhabitants. Every minute detail of the Shire fascinated me. I was completely obsessed with the architecture of Hobbiton. But, what really intrigued me was some of the words that I had never come across before.
EH: Which words? I’m curious to know.
OD: The word “barrow-wight” is the first that comes to mind. I had no idea what either of these words meant. Naturally, I grabbed the OED, the Oxford English Dictionary, and looked it up. The definition for ‘barrow’ to led me to look up other words and I began writing them down in a notebook. For example: Barrow is a burial mound; a prehistoric burial mound. At the end of the OED definition the citation said “See also ‘tumulus’, ‘cairn,’ ‘souterrain’. Of course, I had to look those words up too and I was thrilled to learn that these were ancient burial structures that are found throughout the British Isles.
EH: And so these words prompted you to write your own mythology? Create your own Middle Earth?
OD: More or less. Probably more. I really do love words, odd words, unusual words. And the more I read about Tolkien’s life and work the more intrigued I became with Anglo-Saxon and Norse mythology.
In the summer of 1974 I worked as the drama counselor in a summer camp in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. It was there that I met a guy from Scotland who became one of my best friends. I graduated from college in 1975 and went on to graduate school on the west coast. I left grad school and moved to San Francisco for a very brief time and then found my way to Philadelphia. I met my first partner in July 1976 and finally being in a stable, secure relationship gave me the confidence to settle down and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I was twenty-two years old. My greatest fear in life was that IF I didn’t get my big break by the time I was thirty it was never going to happen. The clock was ticking!
EH: Interesting chronology. So, how did all this affect your writing?
OD: It was my first partner, Ed, who encouraged me to do watercolours and keep drawing. Then in 1978 I flew to Scotland to visit my friend and his new wife and new baby in Glasgow. I spend six magical weeks in Scotland. By this time I had amassed quite a bit of knowledge about prehistoric structures in Britain, especially Scotland, and I decided that I wanted to see barrows, cairns, brochs, duns, earthhouses, crannogs, etc. for myself so that I could more fully appreciate Tolkien’s books.
EH: And did you see all these structures during that first trip to Scotland?
OD: Yes, I did! Quite a few, in fact. I ended up returning to Scotland year after year from 1978 to 1998 doing what I called my field research. I had bought a BritRail pass in 1978 and my friend in Glasgow urged me to travel to the Highlands, see Inverness, Skye, and so on. He and his wife drove me to Pitlochry and found a nice little B&B for me to stay at when I began my six week tour of Scotland. Pitlochry was my first real introduction to begin exploring the Scottish countryside. From Pitlochry I took the train to Inverness. I stayed in Inverness for a few days.
Over the course of the twenty year research period I was most interested in the Highlands and northern Scotland, the more remote areas of the country. And also the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Outer Hebrides, and the mysterious St. Kilda, far off the west coast of the Outer Hebrides.
EH: Wow! So you really did want to get to know the country and the prehistory quite well in order to write about it and use the research in creating LOME? Did you go to Loch Ness and Urquhart castle? Did you see the Loch Ness monster?
OD: Of course I went to Loch Ness! But, no I didn’t see Nessie. And believe me, I spent an entire day walking around the castle and constantly looking out across the loch hoping to catch a glimpse, just a tiny glimpse, of Nessie.
EH: Do you believe that Nessie is real? Or is it just another legend to get tourists to Loch Ness?
OD: I honestly believe that Nessie is real. Or, at least I want her to be real. There has to be unexplained mysteries in life in order to keep us interested.