SAN DIEGO — The eyes of a visitor entering Raymond Feist's University City home are drawn to a painting of a dark, heraldic figure hanging on the wall. Helmeted, wearing a mantle of feathers and animal skulls around his shoulders, the man in the painting emanates a brooding, ominous power, in dramatic contrast to Feist's comfortable suburban living room.
It is also in contrast to the relaxed, bearded man wearing an open-neck shirt, shorts, flip-flops, and a Mickey Mouse watch, who explains that he found the painting, "Winter's King," at a fantasy convention in 1984. The figure, by illustrator Dawn Wilson, affected him so deeply that he used it as the model for the Fool, the dangerous other-worldly character who threatens the happiness of an American family--and ultimately, the fate of the world--in Feist's chilling new novel, "Faerie Tale."
An Alien Quality
"There is an alien quality to this character, a mythic quality, and I'm fascinated by that," said Feist, 42. "To me that's the Fool."
He explains that the Fool of "Faerie Tale" is not the amusing, carefree character people associate with court jesters and the like, but the Fool of old Gaelic myth--"a wanton, reckless man, one who disregards risks, so there's an element of courage involved."
Already well-established in the fantasy fiction field, Feist stands to break into the ranks of major-league horror masters Stephen King and Clive Barker with his new novel.
His publisher, Doubleday, has committed $150,000 to promoting "Faerie Tale" and is sending Feist on a 10-city tour, beginning in San Diego at the end of this month. The book has been selected by both the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Quality Paperback Book Club.
"Faerie Tale" is also making the rounds in Hollywood. Though there are no firm plans for a film, Feist said, "If nobody makes a movie out of it, I can safely say there will not be a major studio that hasn't turned it down."
It all sounds like a writer's lifetime dream come true. But Raymond Feist's entry into authorship was something of an accident.
A self-described Hollywood brat--he is the son of Felix E. Feist, whose credits include producing "Peyton Place" on television--he grew up unimpressed by celebrity. When he entered L.A. Valley College in the mid-1960s, the young Feist had no profound motivations other than avoiding the draft.
Classified 1-Y because of previous eye surgery--"which meant they'd take me after the Boy Scouts"--Feist dropped out of college and took a series of jobs. He was at various times a car salesman, a construction worker and a door-to-door photographer.
"I had this fold-down thing I'd hang on the door, and I'd stick the kid in front of it and say 'Smile' and shoot six pictures and be out of the door in 10 minutes," he said. "I was doing four to five sittings an hour for $1.25 a sitting."
Though he describes that period in his life as "bumming around," Feist says it was actually superb training for a writer.
"The things I've done have provided me with an amazing tapestry of people that I've come into contact with," he said. "Like selling cars--you find out a lot about people when you're talking about the second-biggest purchase they're going to make in their life. There's the kind of person who walks in and says, 'I don't care what the car looks like, I want a reliable automobile as cheaply as I can get it.'
"At the other extreme is the guy who's hocking himself up to his eyebrows for the latest, sexiest whatever. In my case, it was usually a fully loaded '69 Mach I Mustang. All those things teach you a lot about how people operate."
Got Serious in Early '70s
By the early 1970s, he got serious about formal education. Even then, his goal wasn't writing, but academic administration. Moving to San Diego, he got a degree from UC San Diego and eventually found a rewarding job working on an Indian health project in Campo. Then came the fallout from Proposition 13. Feist found himself without a job and with limited prospects for another. He began to write.
Feist frequently calls himself lucky, and the good fortune that ensued sounds more like the fantasy he was writing than fact. He showed his first few chapters to some friends, they were enthusiastic, and they became the penniless writer's "patrons."
"They said, 'Hey, we really think you can do this. For heaven's sake, don't get a job, finish the book.' They loaned me the money to continue on."
For seven months, while Feist typed away in a small, noisy apartment on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, his friends--most of them graduate students and young marrieds who were struggling to make it themselves--kept him afloat.
Friends Offered Money, Aid
"I'd call and say, 'Gee, I gotta fix the transmission in my car and I need $68.55 for parts,' and someone would say, 'OK, here's $68,' " he said. "You go a long way before you find friends like that. They really made me believe in the validity of my choices because they believed."