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Jim Rook Interview

by Graham Masterton

I talked to Jim Rook during midday recess on the lawns outside West Grove Community College in Los Angeles, where he is a teacher in remedial English. Jim looked tired. He was wearing a crumpled blue short-sleeved shirt and equally crumpled sand-colored Dockers. He had brought his own lunch, which was a ciabatta sandwich with Monterey Jack cheese and tomato, although the tomato kept dropping out.

ROOK: Look at this, all over my pants. I never could make a sandwich that stayed together. I need a wife, that's what. A wife, or a concubine.

MASTERTON: Ever thought about marrying?

ROOK: I'm always thinking about marrying. You've met Karen, haven't you (West Grove's biology teacher)? That's the kind of woman for me. Smart, pretty, sexy. Capable of making sandwiches that stay together.

MASTERTON: So what's stopping you from getting married?

ROOK: What do you think? (taps his forehead with his finger.) The gift. Well, the so-called gift. It's not just that I can see ghosts and demons and all of those psychic manifestations that other people can't see - I get involved with them. Or they get involved with me. And it's very dangerous, no doubt about it. How can I expect a woman like Karen to live with me when I've got a vengeful water creature trying to drown everybody I care about?

MASTERTON: You're going to tell me about that?

ROOK: I don't know. It was a pretty bruising experience. The worst ever.

MASTERTON: Maybe if you tell me about it, it'll help you to get over it.

ROOK: And then what are you going to do, write a book about it? I'm not some kind of psychic Sherlock Holmes, you know - and you're not my psychic Dr Watson.

MASTERTON: You said you liked the other books.

ROOK: Sure, but the Swimmer, that was something else. I think for the first time in my life I was absolutely convinced that I was going to die. Apart from that, it hurt my students, and I'm supposed to protect them, not lead them into danger.

MASTERTON: You've just dropped a slice of tomato on your shoe.

ROOK: Oh, shit. Look at this. How do you get tomato stains out of white canvas? Well, gray canvas?

MASTERTON: What exactly is the Swimmer?

ROOK: It's like an urban legend. If somebody drowns you, your spirit can come back and take on physical shape so long as it's in water. That means that if you've ever drowned somebody, a lake or a swimming-pool or the ocean are all very risky places for you to be. That person you drowned may very well be waiting for you to enter the water.

MASTERTON: So, come on, tell me what happened.

ROOK: I don't think so. The Snowman business was bad enough. What happened to young Ray Krueger ... he survived, yes, but it doesn't bear thinking about.

MASTERTON: Come on, explain a little more. There are still quite a few people who never read the book.

ROOK: (takes deep breath) Well, during several expeditions to the Arctic and the Antarctic ... when explorers have gotten lost in a blizzard ... they've reported seeing a figure walking beside them. For some reason it's always on the left. I mean, this is not just a delusion, some very famous and reliable people have seen it, like Peary and Amundsen.

MASTERTON: So what does it do, this figure?

ROOK: If you're lost, it guides you to safety ... it saves you. In one or two cases, it's even physically carried explorers to safety. But the catch is, it doesn't save you for free. It always wants something in return. And, believe me, it will come after you until you pay the price.

MASTERTON: Like what?

ROOK: Like the person you love the most. How's that for a bind?

MASTERTON: Listen, you're upset. I'm sorry. Maybe we can talk about this later. Let's change the subject and talk about the poetry you teach your students.

ROOK: I teach them all kinds of poetry. But most of all I try to teach them poetry that helps them to understand the world around them, whether it's the real world or the psychic world. Here's a poem for all of those dudes who feel frightened or bewildered, all of those dudes who feel that they don't fit in, and that they're never going to make the grade. 'These are the heroic children whom time breeds/Against the first idea - to lash a lion/Caparison elephants, teach bears to juggle.' That's Wallace Stevens. Like it?

MASTERTON: How about a beer?

Snowman is available by mail-order from Chivers North America, (800) 830 3044; or Grantham Book Services Ltd 00-44 (0)1476 541080. Swimmer will be published later in 2001 by Severn House Publishers.