William Kotzwinkle, b. 1938. Presently living in an undisclosed location in Maine.
Not much seems to be known about the background of Kotzwinkle. His books list his birthdate as 1938, so I will accept that as gospel, but his birthplace remains a mystery, the only clue being mention of him as an "American born author." He is a private person who talks about his books during interviews and guides the interviewer away from questions about his personal life. He is married, and he and his wife live on an island off the coast of Maine.
Kotzwinkle's writings are difficult to label. Some call him a political satirist. Others label him a master of magical reality. Still more consider him a writer of fantasy. Through his countless short stories and catalog of novels, one is never sure. He wrote bizarre, surreal works that are cult masterpieces, and at the same time was responsible for the novelization of E.T.: The Extraterrestrial and a number of children's books.
I was sitting in a bar I once frequented and one of the waitresses there, a young blonde named Kaylee, had taken a great interest in my writing. I often sat at the bar writing notes in my notebook or editing pages of manuscripts. She asked to read the novel I was working on, and a few days later told me she had a book for me to read. The Fan Man by William Kotzwinkle was that book. It was amongst her favorites and she claimed my style reminded her of Kotzwinkle's. Since that day I have been hooked.
Published originally in 1974, The Fan Man was one of those novels no one knew what to do with. It is the story of Horse Badorties, a man who sees importance in collecting filth and filling his apartment with it. He sells hand-held fans and talks about the things he enjoys, like "cigarettes rolled between the legs of women from far away lands." An entire chapter consists of nothing but Horse Badorties chanting his mantra, "dorky." All as he collects 15 year old runaway girls to join his "Love Orchestra." You really can't explain The Fan Man. To read it is an experience. Soon after its release it gained a cult following that included the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Kotzwinkle's next novel, Dr. Rat, published in 1976, won the World Fantasy Award. Dr. Rat, combining elements of Animal Farm with the cruelty of animal experimentation, took black humor to the limit. Not only did Kotzwinkle expose a cruel world but how man's mastery over the animals had led to casual mistreatment. "Death is freedom," is the mantra of Dr. Rat, the story's lead character, who has gone mad from running the same maze over and over.
1977's Fata Morgana added to Kotzwinkle's cult legacy. A mystery novel, it changes dimensions once you begin the read. Our hero, Inspector Picard, encounters seemingly random elements of the unknown, including black magic, a partly Paleolithic family and very weird toys. All within the realm of nineteenth century Paris.
Getting a complete list of Kotzwinkle's work becomes difficult as he writes in a wide variety of genres. He has a children's guide to backyard bugs called Trouble In Bugland and is listed as the author of a book on deciding how soon to have another child called Swimmer in the Secret Sea. This in addition to his E.T. books, having written both the novelization of the movie and a follow up for children called E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet as well as the novelization of Superman III. Can the career of a writer get any more bizarre?
Other books by him I have not read because they tend to be out of print include 1980's Jack in the Box (all I know about it is that it isn't about the restaurant), 1982's Christmas at Fontaine's, his 1983 fantasy novel Queen of Swords and 1987's The Exile.
The Midnight Examiner might be the most engrossingly dark comedy of Kotzwinkle's career. Imagine a cast of characters assisted by a woman who practices voodoo going to battle against The Mob in order to save the life of a kinapped poet. The Game of Thirty returns Kotzwinkle to the crime/mystery genre but with his usual wit and impressive approach to the nature of reality.
Kotzwinkle's closest strike at a real mainstream audience came with 1996's The Bear Went Over The Mountain. Magic realism takes an interesting turn with the story of a Maine bear who stumbles upon a manuscript and takes it to a publisher... only to find himself embraced by fame, fortune and book tours. It is one of the greatest parodies of the publishing industry I've ever read.
Since 1996 I have only been able to find one release from Kotzwinkle, the story collection Hot Jazz Trio. He has in the course of his life written countless short stories, which are also difficult to get one's grubby little hands on.
As an author who writes multiple genres and has seen his work simultaneously appear in reviews by mystery, fantasy, mainstream and science fiction clubs and reviewers, Kotzwinkle has always inspired me forward in my own writing. There don't have to be rules outside of your own and you can paint a world that is similar enough to our own that no one will notice. Just remember to retain complete control over that world and you will know Kotzwinkle's secret.
Research was painful
Over fifty websites were used
Yielding nothing but repetitive scraps
and information from back covers of Kotzwinkle's books
Like pulling teeth
No one knows anything
It is a conspiracy.