All my career I've tried to write a Callahan's and then a non-Callahan's. The Callahans are all funny stories with a serious point underneath and in between I try to write serious novels with a few funny jokes on top. [Laughs] I cover the waterfront, you know? But the Callahan's are more popular or more consistently popular, anyway.
On the Internet is this Usenet newsgroup, alt.callahans which I'm terrified by and awed by and moved by: I don't quite know how to react. I don't spend time there because I don't dare. I see it as sort of a black hole into which I could easily get sucked and never emerge again. There's thousands of these kids and they're all fascinating people. I sense a drug shaped to fit my endorphin receptors. The first bag is free, they tell me, so I've very carefully avoided that first bag and, thank goodness, they seem to understand and they don't mind.
I get the impression that at least half the people there have never heard of me and don't know where the name "Callahan's" came from and don't realize there are books about a place called Callahan's Place, it's just that someone told them about alt.callahans and they came there. I said once in a message to them that the only kind of church I'd want to belong to is the one where no one can quite remember who the hell the prophet was or what exactly it was he did and they wouldn't recognize him if he showed up. [Laughs]
Mostly what they took from my books was the important part. Not my name or details of plot. They took: shared pain is diminished, shared joy is increased. That's all I wanted to get out there. As long as that news is spread I don't care if you put my name after it or not. The benefits will eventually rebound to us all, including me.
One of the things I like about alt.callahans is that if I wanted to completely lose their respect for all time, all I'd have to do is go there and put a message up, saying: I have a new Callahan's book out called Callahan's Key and I hope you'll all like it very much. I like the fact that there's nothing commercial about it. Just as I like the fact that there's nobody at slip F18 at Bahia Mar Marina at Fort Lauderdale merchandising Travis McGee souvenirs and selling you little plastic Busted Flush key chains.
It was a committee decision. It sounds like it, doesn't it? I'd always been known as "Robbie:" a hereditary contraction of my last name. And I just one day got heartily sick of being "Robbie," it was kind of a juvenile name for a college man. So I put out the word to all my friends that I wanted a new name.
They deliberated for a few days and then came back and said: Your name is "Spider." Naturally I asked why and each of them had a different reason. One spoke of my notorious fondness for Spiderman comics. One spoke of my [admiration] for a Minneapolis folksinger called Spider John Kerner that I still highly prize: he's one of my heroes. Other people mentioned my physique. More or less all my life, until I quit smoking last year, I'd been 6'1" and 120 pounds, which is a spidery sort of frame. Others mentioned the way my fingers look going up and down a guitar neck: I didn't care about any of that. All I knew was: Spider? That sounded like a folksinger's name! Like a blues name. Barbecue Bob. Ramblin' Jack. So I started performing as Spider Robinson. That's great, except when they pay you by check in that name. Now you've got a check made out to "Spider Robinson" so you have to open up a bank account in that name. And in order to cash the checks, you'd better get at least some of your ID changed, so you can prove you are, in fact, that guy. It just snowballed and after awhile it became the name on my driver's license and Jeanne has never known me by any other name. My mother used to call me something or other else, but mom was a notorious liar and we paid as little attention to her as possible. So I've been Spider for so long it's as official as it gets now.
Now this can backfire on you. Jeanne and I named our daughter "Louanna" when she was born. Jeanne had met a woman of that name once and admired her greatly and our daughter suffered with this name until she was about 11 or 12. Then she happened to find one of those name books that explains the meaning of names and she found out that Louanna means: Graceful woman warrior. Well, I think that's great, but at 11 years old, it was the last straw for her: I'm not having this stupid name anymore. I'm not a warrior!
So she came to us and told us she was changing her name. Well, if your kid wants to change her name and you're called "Spider" you haven't got a leg to stand on. What the hell was I gonna say? So we negotiated as best we could. We rejected the first dozen names: Ashley, Tiffany, Brittany, Morgan, Brook. We finally settled on "Terri" and even agreed that she could spell it with an "I" at the end instead of a "Y" as God intended. But in return we negotiated an ironclad contract -- I have it in writing -- that she will never, ever dot the "I" with a heart, a smiley-face, a flower, a sun or any calligraphic object of any kind. She kept the Louanna for her middle name.
I really don't know, the only other thing I ever had any success at was folksinger and it was an extremely limited window for that career. [Laughs] About the time I hit puberty, briefly there was a folk music revival. Just as I got good enough that I was getting hired regularly, the bottom dropped right out of the business and there was room for one James Taylor and the position was filled, thank you. No others need apply. So it was either learn disco and crank the volume all the way up and go electric or find something else to do. I found something else to do: science fiction. Thank God!