Q & A with Whitley Strieber: The Key
by Sean Casteel

In the following interview, Whitley Strieber discusses his recent foray into the publishing business, The Key, and the long spiritual road he has traveled in his search for reality.

SEAN CASTEEL: Why did you decide to publish The Key yourself?
WHITLEY STRIEBER: I made the decision to publish The Key myself because I did not feel that once the text had been... "attained" would be the word... that it could be changed. I think the text may be 80 to 90 percent accurate, and editors I exposed it to essentially regarded it as a sort of a basis rather than as something that was sacrosanct. They mostly thought the book should be longer or that he should be more of a character. They did not look at it the way I did. This is not a designed work, fiction or non. It is a transcription of a conversation, and that's all it can be.
     And I figured that was the way to do this, because I've had situations in the past where they've made changes anyway, even when I've said I didn't want them, and then I open the book and there's changes. I just couldn't take that risk with this. It was too important to me. That's one level of it.
     Also, I have big publishing plans. I intend to branch out. I had with my series, "Hidden Agendas," from Dell, the chance to publish quite a number of books that would never have been published without that series. I just think I can do more of that and I would hopefully expand Walker & Collier to the point where it is publishing lots of authors who get short-shrift from the big publishers. Because people just don't understand what they're after, what they're doing.
     And especially regarding UFO authors and so forth, we are perceived to have a very small market. There are lots of wonderful books out there that aren't getting much exposure and I hope to change that. So this is also the beginning, it's the foundation for something new.
CASTEEL: So Walker & Collier is your own company?
STRIEBER: It's my own company, yes. "Walker" and "Collier" are two characters from my book Catmagic. Constance Collier, if you ever look into her life, was a very important figure in sort of the hidden world of the United States, and she's portrayed in my book Catmagic. And Amanda Walker is the protagonist in the book. So Walker & Collier. The company is owned by me and Anne. It's nothing fancy.
CASTEEL: Well, how have sales been going so far? Have you started to make a profit on The Key yet?
STRIEBER: Oh, yeah. I'm incredibly grateful to everyone. They bought a lot of copies. The book is well into profit and I'm hopeful that we'll keep selling it. So far, we have not gone into stores, largely because I'm scared to. It's a big step to take to suddenly be dealing with wholesalers and so forth. I hear lots of horror stories from other small press publishers of people returning all the books unusable and not paying you and stuff. My web site gets a million hits a month, and the radio program helps a lot, too. And I think I might be able to build my own distribution this way with an 800 number and the Internet rather than have to go the store route at all. I might be able to build the whole company on this basis eventually.
     It's been probably the most delightful experience of my life. I set the type of the book myself. Louis Steiner came up with what I think is a brilliant cover idea and the hands-on feel of it was so marvelous from beginning to end. It was just the biggest thrill of my life to publish it.
CASTEEL: What about your new novel, The Last Vampire?
STRIEBER: The Last Vampire is coming out from Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster in August. It is also going to be a movie from Columbia/Tri-Star. It's being produced by Red Wagon Productions, who made Gladiator, so it's probably going to be quite a wonderful movie I think.
CASTEEL: Could you talk about your spiritual background, elaborate on that for us? I know you began as a Catholic as a child.
STRIEBER: Well, I've been on quite a long road spiritually. I've never not been a Catholic. I've always been a Catholic. But there are a lot of different ways of being Catholic. Catholicism is a very, very old religious faith and there's plenty of room in it for any number of things. And I've been most of them over the years. When I was a child, I was pretty much of a typical 1950s kind of conservative Catholic, I guess. I believed in the efficacy of the ritual and the reality of the sacraments implicitly.
     My search began when I was a teenager, and it was a search at first into the true meaning of the Gospels. It took a giant leap forward in 1970 when I joined the Gurdjieff Foundation in New York, which is not a replacement for a person's religion. Gurdjieff himself was a Russian Orthodox Christian. He was an Armenian philosopher and a seeker who had been in Tibet and he was a very extraordinary man. I was privileged to meet people who had known him. And I spent fifteen years working in the context of the Foundation and learning. Gradually I branched out from the readings from Gurdjieff himself and the people around him to much deeper studies.
     Then I left the Foundation in 1983 and was sort of wondering what would happen to me. By that time, I'd been meditating. I started meditating about five years before I joined it, so I'd been meditating then for about 20 years. And the close encounter experience happened. I can't identify exactly what the experience was, or whether or not the beings I saw involved in it had anything directly to do with my own spiritual life. But they caused a crisis in it - because they were there.
     I was appalled by this invasion of my existence. I was not expecting it in any way. I had left flying saucers behind in my childhood, and I really had not thought about that in so long that it was three or four months before the idea of it really sank in. I wrote the short story Pain almost right after it happened, and when I was going back and forth through the story, you can see that all of sudden all this UFO stuff starts appearing in the story. And that was when I was beginning to relate the two things.
     By that time, I had exhausted the obvious medical answers. I had not yet taken the test for temporal lobe epilepsy, but I had taken all the really urgent, sort of neurological tests that you would think of, like for a brain tumor and various other kinds of diseases. And I knew I was basically okay. Budd Hopkins was tremendously helpful for me in that he introduced me to a psychiatrist, Dr. Donald Klein, who was as skeptical as I was.
    I was fascinated by Budd's stories and by the whole idea, but I didn't really think that had happened to me.
     You know, my spiritual life consists basically of going to church and meditating. I went through a period of exploration of Wicca, which is reflected in my book Catmagic. But if you read my work, my search has been more about the nature of reality than the nature of man's relationship to God.
     I know a surface reading of Communion and Transformation makes them seem like texts about a spiritual journey, and they are. But they're much more importantly texts about the articulation of certain questions. At least that is what is important to me about them, is the questions that they lead you to. And the way they lead you to thinking about questions about the nature of perception and what exactly the physical world is.
     I have been aware of the existence of an inner path for a while. There were hints of its existence in the Gurdjieff. Certain people in the Gurdjieff work were very, very advanced, not only spiritually but also in their knowledge of deeply hidden social structures within our culture. They were profoundly knowledgeable, and they know much more than the outside world does.
     When you scratch the surface of the Masons, you find sort of a bunch of old men who are very half-hearted about what they're doing, but underneath the surface, especially in certain places, there's a very powerful strain of some kind that's had an extremely important influence on our culture. Not necessarily all of it positive, because the organization of the Masons became rather acquisitive of power in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And then subsequently it's faded tremendously in its influence in this country and to a great extent abroad as well. That always interested me.
     But once again, I think I was more interested in things like the true meaning of Christ than I was in a kind of a spiritual journey. In other words, what actually physically happened during the resurrection? What did they see? In Paul's Letter to The Corinthians, I believe, he mentions his own witness, something that he saw. They saw an event take place. This group of men, their Master had been humiliatingly defeated and murdered by the Romans. His claims to kingship had been swept aside and they had crept off into the countryside. It was over. And then suddenly, this group of men, all of whom had abandoned him, and were not present at the crucifixion, were galvanized and turned into firebrands and spread across the Mediterranean Basin with this extraordinary message after the man was dead.
     Something happened. And the result of this is I've been much more interested, for example, in explanations for the Shroud of Turin than I am interested in the theological issues surrounding St. Thomas Aquinas or Meister Eckhardt, both of whom I love to read and enjoy. But that's not the direction of my search. The direction of my search has always been to try to define the line between the real and the imaginary. I think that the line became unfocused in my life in 1985, and, as a very imaginative person, it was kind of a lucky thing that happened to me. Because I've been able to entertain so many possibilities that I would have automatically otherwise have dismissed.
     So to call it a spiritual search would not be totally accurate. It's a search for what is really real, what is actually there, without regard to the old defining line of "I'm looking out a window right now and this physical world is all that's there." I see the world as being an aspect of reality, or more a way of looking at reality, and I'm trying to find a broader view. That's been my search, I guess, more than anything.
     The appearance of this man in my life was something of a surprise. He was not an alien. He was a human being. I mean, he was just as human as you and me. I don't relate this much to the UFO stuff because it doesn't seem to me to be related, although he talks about them a little bit in there. Actually, he seems to say that they were rather dangerous. He wasn't particularly complimentary about them. He seemed to think that they were catalytic but that they were also exploitative.
     I've had the thought for years that the process of evolution would look very negative to a dinosaur, but to the creatures that survived the crash of the comet, it would have been in the long run a wonderful blessing. In fact, it was. So he seemed to kind of recognize what the negative side of that evolutionary potential, the appearance of something new like that in our world, suggests. He even uses the word "exploitation" at one point. So it's a mixed bag.
     I think that that part of the thing is probably pretty accurate, because I have more faith in the parts that really struck me at the time when he was talking. Like the part about the Holocaust and the three religions being actually one. Those were things that really grabbed me, because they were unforgettable to me.
CASTEEL: Is there anything you wish to add? Is there some question I haven't asked or some kind of final statement you'd like to make?
STRIEBER: The man was awesome. He was this extraordinary man and I feel a little embarrassed at the idea of the stupid things that would be said about him, and already have been on the Internet in one or two cases. Somehow I don't want him to see that. I don't want him to feel that. If he's out there anywhere-and he probably is. He said he lived in Toronto. I just can't find him. That doesn't mean he doesn't exist, though, believe me.
     I go through all kinds of different levels of questions about whether or not he was even real. But the fact remains that, because I know I do that, when I have extraordinary and unusual experiences, I called Anne the next morning and said to her, "Never let me forget this. Right now, I know damn well he was real. And it was an incredible conversation. Do not let me drop this." And I tried so hard to drop it so many times. I gave up on it. I had to learn the taste of a voice inside myself that was not my own in order to find his words in a lot of cases. It was really hard to do, but to me a fantastically valuable experience.
     The things that don't fit the paradigm quickly come to seem like dreams after they happen unless you are proactive about preserving them. I know that now from long experience, and that was why I called her. And it was the right thing to do. Because she knows it, too, and she has kept me on the straight and narrow with this ever since that day. ~

Q & A with Whitley Strieber: The Key
26 March 2001
© 2001 Sean Casteel
All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted by kind permission