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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Happy New Year


I devote the first ten days of each new year to reorganizing my life. I began that tradition in the early eighties when I started buying wholesale copies of my own books to sell at signings and readings. Books are taxed by the State of Illinois at the same rate as jewelry and clothing, and state sales tax receipts must be filed with the state treasurer no later than the twentieth day after the collection period ends. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your viewpoint), I haven’t received enough income from retail book sales during the past ten years to be required to file monthly. I now file annually, in January, for all the retail book sales I made during the previous year.

            I am a lazy record keeper, and I toss all of my receipts and sales records into a big pile on top of one of my many desks (the one in the back office where I file business records) and don’t give them a second thought during the rest of the year. Each January, I go through all of the receipts for the previous year and enter them into categories in a spreadsheet. I used to do this manually, but for the past twenty years I have used Microsoft Excel. This year, to make everything easier, I purchased Quicken for Home and Business.

            Now, as all you old-time writers who migrated from typewriters to dedicated word processors to computers know, there is a learning curve associated with new technology. I am in the process of learning how to use Quicken. It has some amazing features that will make life easier. For example, I don’t need to enter anything manually. All of my bank statements, including deposits and paid checks, are automatically downloaded from the bank and the income and expenditures placed in the proper categories. The same holds true for credit card purchases and payments. I also download sales figures from Amazon and Amazon Advantage. I can snap a picture of paper receipts with my Nook, sync the tablet with my laptop, and the data is automatically input into Quicken. Once I complete the initial set-up, I should be able to maintain real-time records of all transactions. O Brave New World that Hath Such Wonders in It!

            I also purchased two new 72-inch tall wooden bookcases. Once I get them assembled, I can pick up the random piles of books littering the floor and be able to find titles quickly and easily. The two new bookcases, once I get them assembled, should fit into a corner of the office adjacent to my business office where they will join seven other bookcases of the same size. That is the last available wall space in my entire house. I have twenty additional bookcases packed tightly against walls of the basement, and nine more crammed into my top floor bedroom.  Pulp magazines are in boxes in a walk-in closet of the bedroom, comic books and horror magazines are in Rubbermaid containers stacked in the center of the basement floor and on the floor of the upstairs bedroom. Copies of my own published works and copies of all manuscripts fill fourteen filing cabinets in my downstairs writing room. CDs, DVDs, cassette tapes, WHS tapes, and vinyl records fill twenty media cabinets and cases scattered over all three floors.

            In another life I was a librarian. I earned my MA in Library and Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin. I learned how to organize written material and assorted media for quick identification and retrieval. But for the past three years, I have been too busy writing to be organized.

            So, for the next ten days, I will limit my writing time to mornings and spend my afternoons and evenings getting organized again. I will also limit my time on social media.

            Who knows? I may even find some time to do a little cleaning, dusting, and vacuuming.

            And then it’s back to writing full-time. I intend to complete six new novels and ten short stories during the year. I have them already planned, as much as I am able to plan anything, in my mind. Soon it will be time to flesh out the characters and generate the life-changing events that propel the characters into action. I eagerly look forward to looking over their shoulders as they become my closest friends and allies or deadliest of enemies. And, although I have their lives planned out, I know the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Therein lies the true story.

            Happy 2015 to one and all.

 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy New Year


Despite the passing of more good friends, 2014 has been a much better year for me than either 2012 or 2013. I reconnected with my daughter, Tammy, visiting her in Medford, Oregon, in May, then helping her to buy a condo and get everything moved to her new digs by the first of December. I wrote and sold four new novels and two short stories, though they won’t see print until next year. I did autographings or panels or workshops at three major cons, reconnected with dozens of writer friends in person and many more on Facebook, and lectured on writing and hypnosis at Rock Valley College. Macabre Ink and Crossroad Press will soon re-release The Devil Made Me Do It, Claw Hammer, and Daddy’s Home as e-books, and David also agreed to publish a couple of new never-before-published novels I sent him in manuscript.

            2015 looks to be even busier than 2014. Abandoned is scheduled to come out in paperback and hardcover by the end of February or beginning of March. I am so very fond of that novel and its sympathetic characters that I wrote four sequels containing some of the same characters. I’ll be signing copies of Abandoned at Barnes and Noble in late February, the World Horror Convention and Wiscon in May, the World Science Fiction Convention (Sasquan) in August, and the World Fantasy Convention in November.

            Impossible is developing nicely. I’m in the fun process of building the sexual tension between Jack and Sylvia at the same time they’re fleeing for their lives from two teams of super-assassins. Jack doesn’t dare tell Sylvia everything, and Sylvia, of course, doesn’t believe half of what he has told her and certainly doesn’t believe the threat is real. Her naivete keeps putting them both in jeopardy. Let this be a lesson to you, guys. Leaving the woman you love in the dark can be hazardous to your health.

            My writing was often interrupted by the real-life dramas of people close to me. Too many of my friends developed cancer or heart conditions, and several friends died quite unexpectedly. Some of my friends made life-changing decisions or endured life-changing events. On the plus side, Elizabeth has remained clean and sober for more than a year, and Tammy now has a more stable living environment. I had my annual physical and the doctor tells me I can expect to live for another year or more. Maybe I can equal Isaac Asimov’s output before I die. I’ll keep working at it.

            Happy New Year to all my friends, family, and fans. May each year be better than the last.

           

Monday, December 8, 2014

Bah! Humbug!




I hate winter.

As each day gets shorter and nights get longer and increasingly colder, people around me die. That, dear reader, is a fact.

It seems like all my good friends and close family members chose to die between November 1st and March 1st: President Kennedy in November; my mother and my wife in January; my father, my nephew, my aunts and uncles in December; Rocky Wood and Chellis French last week; just the night before last there was a fatal automobile crash directly in front of my house that distracted me from writing with dozens of red and blue flashing lights and wailing sirens; Elizabeth got a phone call yesterday that the pastor of her church passed away; and early this morning I was awakened by more sirens because the old guy across the street kicked the bucket. I was once again reminded how fragile life can be as winter steals precious time from my life and the lives of others.

 I have tried to protect myself and my house from death’s intrusion by surrounding the place with huge living trees and a berm of thick bushes. Twice in the twenty-some years I have lived here those trees and bushes intervened to save my life by stopping careening cars from crashing through the front of my house. I live on one of the busiest east-west thruways connecting the city of Rockford with Chicago, and cars daily race past my house at dangerously high rates of speed. I have witnessed automobiles crash into my big magnolia trees, and I have had my picture window punctured by bullets during drive-bys while I sat near the window writing. Not all of these things happen only in winter, of course. But it seems attempts on my life happen more frequently between the first of November and the first of March.

My thesis and dissertation advisors insistently reminded me throughout grad school that correlation does not prove causation, and I rationally realize that darkness alone does not cause death. After all, Elvis died in August, and plenty of people do die during daylight hours. But I see the grinning spectre of death hanging around my house during the darkness of winter, waiting patiently for me to emerge from my fortress. Let him wait, I say. I don’t plan to venture out into that long goodnight anytime soon.

This is the mood that infects my writing in winter. I have half a dozen short stories currently in progress, plus three new novels. All focus on death and dying. Come spring, my writing will focus on rebirth. Writers cannot help but be affected by their environment, and that includes weather and diminished daylight. Several of my writer friends have found their output in winter adversely affected by bouts of illness. Other friends have mentioned debilitating depression. I empathize with them. Winter takes its inevitable toll on all of us. I hate winter with a passion.

My protagonists are survivors who battle darkness to emerge victorious from winter, and the eight protagonists of my upcoming Abandoned-series of novels are able to consciously choose when to die. They cannot escape death entirely, although some of my antagonists try. Only one of the Abandoned novels was written in winter. It’s titled Winds. It’s followed by Darkness and then by Light. The fifth novel is entitled Time.  Abandoned will be published next March by Eldritch Press. They are all stand-alone novels with some recurring characters. Each is around 120,000 words.  That’s nearly a million words devoted to the themes of death, dying, and rebirth.

In each of those novels, a primary protagonist dies. I want readers to know that death is not the end of the adventure but the beginning. Yes, dear reader, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and day always follows night.

So be of good cheer, and don’t let the darkness get to you. Celebrate the holidays and the return of the Light.

 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Rocky Wood, HWA President, passed to the Great Beyond today

Rocky Wood was a friend. I only met Rocky once in person, and that was last May at the World Horror Convention in Portland, OR. Rocky was wheel-chair bound with ALS, and he communicated primarily via computer. Rocky was the man who personally welcomed me back to horror after a twenty-year hiatus, and he invited me to attend the Stokers and be on a Stoker jury. We shared several e-mails about the founding of HWA (I was one of the original trustees and Rocky asked me several questions about the incorporation of HWA). Rocky was one of the nicest people I have ever met, and he had a true love of literature and especially horror and the works of Stephen King. I was looking forward to seeing Rocky again in Atlanta. Goodbye, my friend. You will always be remembered.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Setting for Abandoned


I live in the best of all possible worlds. I live in Rockford, Illinois.

Rockford is centrally-located in the north-central part of the nation, about equally-distant between metropolitan Chicago (home of John Wayne Gacy) and Madison (near the home of Ed Gein) in Wisconsin or Milwaukee (home of Jeffrey Dahmer). I’m six hours out of Indianapolis going southeast, or six hours out of Minneapolis heading northwest or six hours north of St. Louis. I can drive to New York in fourteen hours or Atlanta in fifteen hours. I’m a good day out of East Texas or Kansas City. I can drive to O’Hare International Airport in around an hour. It took me an hour or longer to get to O’Hare when I lived in downtown Chicago or in Oak Park. What difference does it make if I’m stuck in urban traffic or cruising past mile after mile of cornfields?

My daughter Tammy, who chooses to live in mountainous states like Colorado or Washington or Oregon, calls me a flatlander. To her, endless miles of Illinois cornfields is “bore-ring!” But I write in my mind while I’m driving, and it’s easier for me to write and drive while racing past boring cornfields than fighting construction and congestion on the Eisenhower or Kennedy expressways.

Although I was born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, I moved around a lot to attend various universities and when I worked for the U. S. Army. I spent seven years going TDY (temporary duty) to Timbuktu, or packing up the entire household (including four-year-old Tammy) for a PCS (permanent change of station). I hadn’t intended to return to Rockford after seeing Paris and living in Chicago, Atlanta, and D. C. But, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

The reason I mention Rockford is:  much of the action of my forthcoming novel Abandoned takes place in Rockford, Illinois. My other novels are set elsewhere: Arizona, Texas, New York, Virginia, Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Wisconsin, Tibet, Sweden, Abu Dhabi, even other worlds that may or may not exist. Abandoned is the first novel that mentions Rockford by name. Although the setting is an actual place, the characters are all figments of my imagination.

I mention the Army, too, because I was associated with the military in active, reserve, or civilian status for more than twenty years (not counting five years of junior and senior ROTC). Several of Abandon’s main characters are active or former military.

So let me introduce you to Rockford, Illinois. Rockford was built in the early nineteenth century on both the east and west banks of the beautiful (we used to call it the Mighty Muddy Rock, not because it was a mighty river but because it was mighty muddy) Rock River, and Rockford was the stagecoach stop at the ford of the Rock River midway between hog-butchering Chicago and the lucrative lead mines of Galena. Rockford’s about a hundred miles from Lake Michigan and ninety from the Mississippi River. When my paternal grandparents came to Rockford from Sweden in the last half of the nineteenth century, there was already a railroad from Chicago to Rockford’s Seventh Street train depot. Seventh Street was a Swedish village in America, and the old Swedes called it “Sjundegarten” which was hard for Americans to pronounce because the Sju sounded like wind “whoooondegarten” whistling through the fjords. Some folks even called Rockford “Swede Town” and my father, who was born and went to school in Rockford, spoke Swedish instead of English. Dad dropped out of school in the fourth grade because Turner School stopped teaching most classes in Swedish and everyone had to learn to speak and write in English. Dad found work with the Army at Camp Grant on Rockford’s south side during WWI, and he worked there driving a horse and wagon between the camp and cemeteries during the swine flu epidemic that killed so many in 1918.

Rockford was then, and still is, a divided city. The west side of the Rock River was populated with Italian immigrants on the south side and Irish, English, American immigrants on the north. Swedes occupied most of the east side, along with a few Jews and Germans. I had to learn to speak multiple languages to communicate with friends after school. The Tondis and D’Agostinos spoke Italian, the Singers spoke Yiddish, the Harts spoke German, the Witkowskis Polish. My father, neighbors, aunt, and grandparents spoke Swedish. Rockford had a great multi-cultural mix, and I learned to appreciate differences as well as similarities among residents.

My mother’s side of the family lived on the northwest side of the river. The Crosbys were English, Irish, and German. My cousin Pam Crosby Yager, a Mormon, wrote and published a history of the Crosbys to get her degree from Brigham Young University.

My grandmother Crosby was Roman Catholic, my mother was Methodist, and my father was Swedish Covenant. Pam’s family was Mormon. My uncle Bill was Baptist. Monroe Singer was Jewish. I grew up with all of those religious influences.

This, too, I mention only because it has bearing to the novel Abandoned.

Rockford had a wonderful public library with branches in each of the ethnic neighborhoods. The main library itself, a gift of Andrew Carnegie, sat on the west bank of the river, between two bridges fording the Rock, with doors symbolically facing both east and west. The Montague branch was (and still is) on the southwest side of the river and served both Italian and Spanish speaking residents. The West branch served the English and German and Irish of the northwest side. The Southeast branch served the Swedes. The Highland branch served the Jews and Swedes and Germans and peoples living on the northeast side. There was even a bookmobile that went to each public elementary school every two weeks. The bookmobile is no more, unfortunately, and the main library is about to be demolished. But the legacy of the library endures, and there are still branch libraries serving each part of the city. If there was one thing that unified the city, it was the public library.

The other thing that united the city was factory work. Skilled Swedish, Italian, German, and American craftsmen built multi-national industries with headquarters and production facilities in Rockford. Every family in town either worked for the factories or for one of the local businesses that serviced the factories and their workers. Camp Grant was a major military installation that housed and trained thousands of troops during both World Wars. Rockford had a great economy until Camp Grant closed and the old visionary capitalists died off. Because Rockford had no major universities (why bother when Chicago was so close and the University of Wisconsin and the University of Illinois were handy), the heirs to Rockford’s fortunes moved elsewhere for higher education and few returned. They sold their inherited stock to global conglomerates like Textron and United Technologies who moved the headquarters and manufacturing out of Rockford and left the city with the highest unemployment rate in the entire country. All that remained were a few aerospace technology companies that found a bonanza in currently unemployed highly-skilled engineers and machinists that would work cheap.

To Be Continued

 

 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Adventures in the Real World


Adventures in the Real World

                For four mornings straight, with less than four hours of sleep each night to sustain me, I was already up and moving before seven AM. I drove more than five hundred miles, talked to dozens of book dealers and a handful of other writers, and ate rarely. I was on a panel at an sf con, did several autographing sessions, and spent far too much time on the telephone talking about serious matters to breathe. It was my disastrous attempt to reshape the real world into what I had imagined it could and should be. I failed miserably at some things, excelled at others, and exhausted my reserves.

                Of course, I learned a lot. Each new foray into the real world is a learning experience.

                So I have new tales to tell and new characters to love and hate. My life has been filled with deadlines, so facing a number of deadlines that all happened at once was nothing new. How I coped was to remain fixated on my goals to the exclusion of all else. Now that the adrenalin has run out and the last deadline passed at 6 PM today, I have a few moments to reflect before other deadlines raise their ugly heads and the rat race resumes.

                My comfort zone is inside where it’s warm, sitting down with a screen and keyboard, surrounded by books and cats, and living in imaginary worlds with imaginary people. Acting in the real world and dealing with real people is a challenge for me. I’m aware many of my friends thrive on such challenges, but I’m satisfied to merely survive.

                What never fails to amaze someone like me who doesn’t live in the real world but only visits reality from time to time is the inherent unfairness of it all. There are hoops humans are expected to jump through to join the ranks of the accepted. Those who fail to make it through any of the hoops are excluded and never have an opportunity to advance to the next hoop. Those who fall by the wayside—the handicapped, the underprivileged who have no one to teach them to negotiate the hoops, the infirm or aged who cannot jump themselves, the poor who cannot pay for assistance, those who have no family nor friends to help them—are either ignored or devoured.

                My novels and stories are about people trying to jump through hoops.

                I am alive because, in the past, I had the ability to jump through hoops. From time to time, I misgauged the height of the hoop and fell flat on my face. But I always picked myself up and tried again. I made it through the public education hoops, even progressed through the thesis and dissertation hoops. I made it through the military hoops: ROTC, basic, AIT, NCO academy, OCS, live fire, general staff. I made it through the writer’s hoops: stories appearing in magazines, anthologies, novels; active membership in SFWA, HWA, MWA, ITW.

                I thought I had jumped through enough hoops that I had it made. I was wrong.

                Thankfully, I’m still able to jump. I can no longer jump as high nor as far nor as fast as I once could, but I keep jumping. Yesterday, I fell flat on my face again and had to pick myself up, reevaluate, and prepare to jump some more.

                Once I was a lion jumping through flaming hoops. Now I feel like a bullfrog leaping one last time before he croaks.

                That’s a good description of the hero of my new series of thrillers tentatively titled “Under the Gun.” He’s a modern-day gunslinger, a former army officer and agency man who is over-the-hill at 42. He has been a trained assassin and undercover operative who has always been able to negotiate hoops, to take the hill or go over the hill or around the hill or through the hill. He has never let anything stand in the way of accomplishing his mission. But now he finds his life complicated by love for a woman he has put at risk by wanting to be near her, betrayal by life-long friends, and a body that has been beaten and broken and doesn’t mend the way it used to.

                Two of the novels, Under the Gun Again and Impossible, will be completed by the end of the year. I love the characters, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. Next is the title of the third novel in the series.

                These are cutting-edge suspense thrillers that cross genres into horror—sometimes even supernatural horror—and borderline sf. They’re fast-moving roller coaster rides designed to elicit screams. When you get to the end of one ride, you want to pay your money and ride again.

                It’s great to be back home after my adventures in the real world.

               

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Writing is a Process


Most writers have a life-long fascination with the process of writing.

We spend endless hours studying and practicing our craft. We attend writer’s workshops and conferences, pay big bucks to take writing classes, and some of us even earn a lot more money teaching workshops and classes than we earn from the actual writing itself. This fascination with writing is a life-long addiction we couldn’t break even if we wanted to try.

I spoke recently at Rock Valley College about the joy of writing that occurs when we are in flow. Flow is a kind of ecstasy not unlike orgasm or religious rapture. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered through extensive research (and demonstrated by his own books and articles) that flow occurs when the challenges we face are equally matched by the skills we possess. Mythologist Joseph Campbell called being in flow “bliss.” Campbell said, “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are -- if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”

Stephen King talked about the same thing in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. “Talent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading, or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic. That goes for reading and writing as well as for playing a musical instrument, hitting a baseball, or running the four-forty. The sort of strenuous reading and writing program I advocate—four to six hours a day, every day—will not seem strenuous if you really enjoy doing these things and have an aptitude for them; in fact, you may be following such a program already.”

            I began writing another new novel this week after submitting a new 6,000 word short story to a magazine and sending the completed manuscript of Spilled Milk to a book editor. I’m in that in-between refractory period when I’ve temporarily removed both my writing hat and my editor’s hat so my naked head can breathe. I inhale new ideas by reading books written by other writers. I am able to see both the forest and the trees in perspective.

            I am, for the moment, consciously aware of all I need to put into my writing to make it flow for the reader. When I’m actually writing fiction, my subconscious takes over and automatically does what long hours of reading and writing have trained it to do. When I am in flow myself, I’m so focused on a fictional world that I’m not conscious of my actual environment or my body or any and all of the disparate elements that go into creating a work of fiction. It is only when I take off my writer’s hat that other worlds—including the real world--come into focus.

            Perhaps it’s because I wore my editor’s hat so long while revising and submitting my completed manuscripts that I’m still focused on analyzing the process of writing rather than doing the writing. Perhaps it’s the shock of emerging from ecstasy and rediscovering my own body and mind. Whatever the reasons, I’m now focused on the process itself. My analytical left brain is in charge.

            This is the point where I’m capable of writing a synopsis or a proposal for a new work.

            There may be some truth to the saying that “Those who can, do; those who can’t do, teach.” I can’t teach writing when I’m in the process of writing. Were anyone to observe me when I’m wearing my writer’s hat, they would see a madman maniacally pounding on keys or staring off into space. If they were to ask me what I was doing, I couldn’t tell them. I don’t consciously know what I’m doing when I’m writing. I’m carried away; I’m floating on clouds of ecstasy; I’m flying; I’m orgasmic. No one can teach that. It must be experienced.

            So, now that I’m not completely caught up in the experience, my mind wants to know what happened so I can duplicate the experience again and again. I can only assume other writers go through this, too. Even beginning writers—those that are also readers—have an inkling that the experience is much to be desired.

            These are the twelve steps of the process that work for me: (1) totally immerse yourself in the written word; (2) alternate between reading and writing; (3) find what you like and duplicate it yourself, but do it in a new way that is uniquely your own; (4) do it again and again until it becomes automatic for you, second-nature to do it that way; (5) try something new that has never been tried before; (6) learn from both your failures and your successes; (7) if something doesn’t work—doesn’t feel right and doesn’t create ecstasy--try something else; (8) settle for nothing less than perfection; (9) enjoy what you’re doing while you’re doing it; (10) don’t stop to analyze until the ecstasy is over; (11) know that all good things must come  to an end; (12) begin again.

            It’s all about new beginnings and new endings and the feelings of ecstasy that come between the beginnings and ends.

            I go through this process of reading and writing and analyzing as if I’m caught in an endless loop of beginnings and endings with brief periods of ecstasy to sustain me. Sometimes writing is painful, and that’s when I know I’m growing beyond my previous comfort zone. When reading or writing becomes painful for too long, however, I need to realize I’m reading or writing the wrong thing. I’m a hedonist who seeks pleasure and avoids pain. But pain, in small doses, can prove invigorating.

            Like my characters, I must sometimes suffer pain in order to grow. Rather than avoid pain, I must learn to incorporate it into my being. Muscles are built on scar tissue.

            And then, when I’m in ecstasy again, I can appreciate it so much more because I survived the pain.

            Writing, like life, is a process. Sometimes, it’s a step by step process and sometimes it’s a quantum leap from here to there. Sometimes, it’s painful. More often, it’s joyous. If it’s not that way for you, you may be in the wrong business.

            There’s a story that famous artists, musicians, and writers love to tell--each in their own way--which is, essentially, the same story. It goes something like this:

            Once upon a time there was a young artist (or musician or writer) who thought he had talent and dreamed of pursuing a career as an artist (or musician or writer).

            One day, this young artist (or musician or writer) met Michelangelo (or Beethoven or Shakespeare) and asked the Great Master if his painting (score or poem) showed talent.  Michelangelo (or Beethoven or Shakespeare) looked at the painting (listened to the score, read the sonnet or story) and shook his head in despair. “Do you really want my advice?” asked the Great Master. “Of course,” said the young man. “Then you should give up this silly notion of wanting to become a great artist (or musician or writer) and instead take up a valuable trade or become a merchant.”

            The young man was heartbroken.  He thanked the Master for the good advice. Then he went off to pursue a career as a merchant.

            Years later, the same man met Michelangelo (or Beethoven or Shakespeare) quite by accident at a civic function. “Maestro,” said the no-longer-young man, “I want to thank you again for the excellent advice you once gave me. Thanks to you, I am now a successful merchant, and the richest man in Rome (Munich, London).”

            “What advice did I give you?” asked the Master.

            “Why, don’t you remember? You told me to give up my thoughts of ever becoming a great artist (musician or writer). Obviously, you must have known I had no artistic talent. I took your advice and became a merchant. And now I am wealthy and very happy.”

            “I never said you had no talent,” said the Master. “In fact, I seem to remember you had great talent.”

            “But, then, why on earth did you tell me to give up thoughts of becoming an artist (musician or writer) and become instead a merchant?”

            “I say that to everyone who asks if they have talent. You see, my friend, many men have talent. But only those who know in their innermost hearts that they were meant to become artists (or musicians or writers) and therefore disregard my advice--only those--will ever become great. You see, it makes no difference what I tell them (or what I told you). If they (you) have what it takes to become great, then they (you) will do it despite (or in spite of) whatever I tell them. You, my friend, were not meant to be an artist (or musician or writer). If you had been, what I said would never have mattered at all.”


            Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to put my writer’s hat back on and return to work.

 

Friday, November 7, 2014

More Devil


In the early eighties, I fell under the influence of a group of Lovecraftian scholars that included R. Alain Everts, John J. Koblas, and Eric A. Carlson. I met Jack Koblas and Eric Carlson at a World Fantasy Convention shortly after getting off active duty with the Army, and they invited me to write a piece on Henry Kuttner for an all-Kuttner issue of Etchings & Odysseys that included a Kuttner tribute by Ray Bradbury. Of course, I rushed straight home from the con and wrote my tribute to Hank. I had read everything Kuttner and C. L. Moore had written (everything Bradbury had written, too), and I was honored to be invited into a Kuttner issue alongside Ray Bradbury. Kuttner was my hero, a prolific writer who had written sf, epic fantasy, and horror fiction under both his own name and a plethora of pseudonyms. I was so honored, in fact, that “Random Factors: The recurring Themes of Henry Kuttner” became the first genre piece I penned that bore my full name on publication.

Like Kuttner, I had used lots of different pseudonyms for my genre fiction. Most of my early stories had been written while I was still in the military. Although I did use Paul D. Anderson for non-fiction, my short stories and novels appeared under a variety of pen names because I wanted to keep separate my writing life from my military life. Besides, Paul Anderson seemed too ordinary a name for a writer, and I continued to use pen names even after transferring to the Army Reserve.

But when I wrote the Kuttner tribute, I discovered that one of the reasons Kuttner wasn’t remembered as a truly great writer, despite his multitude of brilliant works, was because so many of his stories were masked by pseudonyms like Larry O’Donnell and Lewis Padget.

Koblas and Carlson were thrilled with my Kuttner piece, and so was Strange Company publisher Randy Everts. Everts invited me to submit my horror fiction to his revived Arkham Samper. I did, and Randy Everts published two of my short stories, “Who Knows What Evil Lurks” and “Soon” under my own by-line. He also published “Love Till the End of Time” in a limited edition chapbook.

So the first Paul Dale Anderson horror stories were published by The Strange Company. “The Last Ding Dong of Doom” appeared in Dave Silva’s The Horror Show magazine under my Dale Anderson by-line, and I wanted to see it reprinted under my full name. So, when the “End of Time” chapbook was snatched up immediately on publication and Randy asked me to compile a small collection of short stories, I told Randy I had twenty horror stories currently available. I sent them off by snail mail. He also bought Hot Summer, a pseudonymous erotic novel that he said he was going to publish. If he did, I’ve never seen a copy. But that’s all right. I sold him all rights, which is what I was used to doing with down-and-dirties I sold to packagers and sleaze publishers. I think I still have a carbon of that story somewhere in my files.

The Devil Made Me Do It, my first collection of short stories, was published by Miskatonic University Press, an imprint of The Strange Company, in 1985. It had an original cover painting by Weird Tales cover artist Jon Arfstrom. Karl Edward Wagner sent me a handwritten note that read, “Picked up a copy of The Devil Made Me Do It. Nice work!” Devil got good reviews in The Horror Show and Fantasy Review and Scavenger’s Newsletter and even a favorable mention in The Chicago Tribune.

I’m glad to see The Devil Made Me Do It back in print after all of these years. It’s coming out soon as a digital edition from Macabre Ink and Crossroad Press.

 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Devil Made Me Do It


Introduction to The Devil Made Me Do It

As I reread the twenty early tales that comprise The Devil Made Me Do It for the digital edition soon to be republished by Macabre Ink Digital and Crossroad Press, I was amazed how well some the stories still worked while others seemed time-worn and too sloppy to be called stories. Few have real beginnings, middles, and satisfying endings. I was still learning my craft when those tales were written, having recently emerged from a literary tradition heavily influenced by Hemingway, Faulkner, and the beat writers of the 1950s and 1960s. Several of the tales were experiments in subtlety where less was always more. The writer’s job was only to set the stage, establish the mood, so that horrors were implied rather than described. The reader was left to fill in from his or her own imagination what would happen next or what might already have happened.

            Two of my favorite tales are included in this early collection: “Change of Mind” and “The Last Ding Dong of Doom.”

            Some of the tales display my debt to Howard Phillips Lovecraft, especially “The Outsider” and “The Rats in the Walls”. “Soon” and “Till the End of Time” had been previously published in Randy Everts’ The Arkham Sampler, and show my cross-over from science fiction writer to horror writer. When The Devil Made Me Do It first appeared in 1985 under the Miskatonic University imprint of The Strange Company, I was definitely a Lovecraftian imitator. Devil was released in a limited edition at Madcon, a semi-annual Lovecraft convention in Madison, Wisconsin. I was heavily into Lovecraft during the early eighties, and it shows in at least half of the twenty stories contained in The Devil Made Me Do It.

            My previously published novels had ranged from westerns, thrillers, contemporary romances, and erotica written under pseudonyms. The Devil Made Me Do It was the first book with my real name on the cover. I had also written half-a-hundred science fiction stories, most of which never saw print. The few that did were more horror than hard sf, and they didn’t fit into Asimov’s or Analog.

            Even “The Last Ding Dong of Doom” had appeared in The Horror Show under a Dale Anderson byline. It was only after Devil that I decided to submit to horror markets and to use my real name on stories and novels. Claw Hammer came out in 1989 under the Paul Dale Anderson name, followed by Daddy’s Home. I began to use my own name on book reviews, too, although I did use Irwin Chapman on most of the reviews I wrote for 2AM. Paul Dale Anderson fiction appeared in The Horror Show, Arkham Sampler, Deathrealm, New Blood, Dark Regions, SPWAO Showcase, Etchings and Odysseys, and in anthologies like Hotter Blood, Masques III, Seeds of Fear, and Shock Rock.

            Then--when death and life-threatening illnesses claimed so many of my loved ones and associates, including my agent Barbara Puechner--Paul Dale Anderson disappeared as a fiction writer and Paul Dale Anderson, the board-certified hypnotist and scholar, appeared. I earned several masters degrees and worked diligently on a doctorate, completing all but the dissertation. I wrote primarily non-fiction for twenty years. And, for twenty years, I fought a valiant battle against death and disease.

            Like all wars, you win a few battles and you lose a few. Without a doubt, I helped some people live longer and more productive lives.

            That war ended in 2012 when my wife Gretta died suddenly of a massive heart attack. Paul D. Anderson, the hypnotist, died that same day.

            A few months later, Paul Dale Anderson, the horror writer, was literally reincarnated. Like Phoenix rising from the ashes, I was reborn with new tales to tell.

            I’m happy that The Devil Made Me Do It is now reborn as well. Soon Claw Hammer and Daddy’s Home will be, too.

            Yes, Virginia, there is life after death. Abandoned is a completely new novel unlike anything I have done before, and Deviants is mind-bending. Spilled Milk is just plain nasty. I love Pickaxe, Icepick, and Meat Cleaver. There are twenty new Paul Dale Anderson novels completed, and more on the way. I have a new few short stories ready to go, too.

            But The Devil Made Me Do It started it all.

           

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Thinking of Death at This Time of Year


I’m always thinking ahead. I play out a lot of “What ifs” in my head. I’m a science fiction writer as well as a suspense and horror writer, and I think of “What ifs” a lot.

                Living in the present moment is as alien to me as living in the real world. I prefer fantasy worlds, but sometimes I’m brought back to reality by my body demanding immediate attention. I set aside my reading or writing to pop something into the microwave, take a nap, or take a crap. That’s as much of reality as I’m used to handling at any one time.

                When my body fails to function as normal, however, I’m brought kicking and screaming into the real world. I’m seventy years old. My wife of almost thirty years died of a sudden heart attack. Someday soon, I’m likely to die, too.

                What if it happens sooner rather than later?

                I envision myself dead in my chair or on the floor or in my bed. In order to concentrate on my writing, I’ve become a recluse. I don’t encourage family or friends to visit. What will my body look like when it’s finally found? I don’t want my family or friends to see me like that. Eventually someone will call the police when I fail to pick up my mail, mow the lawn, or shovel my sidewalks. Let the cops find me.

                Being a horror writer as well as a sci fi writer, I naturally include such morbid thoughts in my writing. But what if it really happens? What then?

                I know I’m sick when I think like that. Physically sick.

                I get a flu shot every year, and I got mine early this year. I don’t get sick often, but when I do I don’t handle it well. I have forgotten what it’s like to feel ill. I regress to childhood and watch old westerns incessantly. I should have known I was sick when I had an urge to watch Rod Cameron and Rex Allen in black and white. I also craved old Captain Marvel comic books illustrated by Charles Clarence Beck and written by Otto O. Binder. Shazam! That’s a sure sign I’m coming down with something.

                Perhaps it is only the cold winds from the north driving leaves across my lawn like penmen driving doomed cattle into the slaughterhouse that makes me think of death. Perhaps it’s the fake skeletons hanging in front yards to commemorate the coming of Halloween and the Day of the Dead. Perhaps it’s the constant ache in my chest from too many cigarettes. Whatever the reason, I think of death constantly. I think of all the people I have known who have died. I remember my grandparents, my parents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my beloved wife. I think of Isaac Asimov and Dick Laymon and Fred Pohl and David B. Silva.

                I remember pets, too: my beloved dog Mitzi and my cats Mow and Fridger and Casey and Kore and Callie and Lyle.

                Death surrounds me.

                I think of Lokesvara Sailendravarman, one of the characters in my novel Abandoned, and how he must assume Manjusri’s persona of the Yamantaka, the Slayer of Death, in order to conquer death. “It is not whether you live or die that is important,” he tells his students at the lamasery at Ankor Wat. “It is how you face death that matters.”

                So, when I face death, I will say, “Old friend, we meet again. I have thought of you often.”

                But not today. I shall not die today. I have writing to do, and I am not ready to pen “The End” quite yet.

 

 

Fears


               Sometimes I forget I’m seventy years old. In fact, most of the time I’m as unaware of my age as I am of my gender. They simply don’t seem important—at least to me--in relation to the other things in life that really matter.

                That is often as true of the characters in my novels as it is of myself.

                My wife of almost thirty years, Gretta McCombs Anderson, was a dedicated feminist. She disagreed with me greatly about the importance of a character’s gender. Gretta, who knew for many years she lived with a ticking timebomb inside of her, was also acutely aware of age. She died before turning fifty-seven.

                The difference between the time I was born and Gretta was born was nearly eleven-and-a-half years, and that never mattered to me at all. I loved Gretta because of who she was inside and not how she looked outside, and I think that’s why she loved me, too. She taught me a lot because she was born and raised in a different era and in a different environment and in a different body than me. But inside we were the same. We celebrated both our differences and our similarities equally.

                We both loved to explore. She had explored a lot of herself and the world before we met, and so had I. I had married twice before and she hadn’t, though she had loved and lived with more than one man before me. Most of the time that didn’t matter to either of us, but sometimes jealousy raised its ugly head when one or the other of us encountered an ex. We learned to work through that. We worked together to get through a lot of things in thirty years. But we worked so well together that people often said that Gretta and I were two halves of the same coin, neither of us worth much alone but very valuable together.

                There are two reasons I bring this up. I have been working like crazy to revise my novel Spilled Milk to meet a November first deadline.  Spilled Milk is a departure for me from my usual comfort zones. Not only do I tell the story in the first person, my protagonist is female.

                Thinking like a man is supposedly easier for a woman writer than thinking like a woman is for a male writer. Most women know how men think because, like it or not, we live in a male-dominated society. Women need to know how men think in order to survive, just as left-handers (both my girlfriend Elizabeth Flygare and my daughter Tammy are lefties, and so was Gretta) are taught to think like a right-hander or African-Americans taught to think like Caucasians. Learning to think like someone else is hard work. Men seldom bother. Women have to.

                I hate writing in the first person, and I often find it difficult to read stories written from the first person viewpoint. I prefer to see the big picture. That’s why I usually write in third person (either limited or omniscient) and alternate viewpoint characters between protagonists and antagonists.

                So Spilled Milk is a big departure for me. But life is an adventure of exploration, and I ventured into the swamp with a goal in mind of exploring everything I encountered there, not knowing if I would sink or swim.

                Life became even more complicated for me when I came down with a virus about a week ago. For two days I was nearly completely out of it with fever and chills and incredible aches and pains. I was too exhausted to do anything, and I hurt too much to sleep. I became acutely aware of my age. There was a time when I would simply plunge ahead despite my discomfort. I discovered I can’t do that anymore.

Of course, this happened at the worst possible time. I had commitments to fulfill and couldn’t simply take to my sick bed. I made it through the lecture at Rock Valley College and only collapsed afterward. Elizabeth fed me hot chicken noodle soup and crackers and left me alone in my misery. This morning I dragged myself out of bed and managed to make it to the keyboard without falling down the stairs, cracking my head open, and spilling my brains all over the carpet. I’ve cracked my head open twice before, and don’t intend to do it again. Bloodstains are difficult to eradicate from plush carpeting.

                So here I am, seventy years old and male, handicapped by illness, age, and gender, writing like a twenty-something year-old woman. I had to rely on what Gretta, Tammy, and Elizabeth had taught me about being a woman. I recalled what my lesbian and gay friends taught me about the way a woman thinks. And, somehow, I think it all works and Spilled Milk is the best thing I’ve ever written.

                Just for fun, I tossed in a few of my favorite ingredients: a crazed serial killer and his rapist associates who dismember their victims with assorted tools that leave distinguishing traceable marks, a rookie female cop and an overworked male detective, an old-time newspaperman who smells a story, political corruption and cover-ups, and a cowardly male who risks everything to save the woman he loves from a fate worse than death and only makes matters worse by his desperate meddling. There’s even a pathologist or two in the mix, though in a very minor role.

                I added a few surprising twists and turns through the swamp. As long as I was writing outside my comfort zone, I decided to go all the way. I thought of my greatest fears and threw them in. I thought of Gretta’s greatest fears and added them in, too. I thought of society’s greatest fears and focused on one or two.

                One final revision and I can put those fears behind me. Finding ways to face our greatest fears and ways to conquer them is a primary function of all fiction, not only horror fiction. As William Faulkner so elegantly put it in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “The writer must teach himself that the basis of all things is to be afraid. And teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old universal truths, lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed: love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse.”

                Have I removed the curse from my labors? Did I spend forty days and forty nights in the swamp only to discover more things that scare me?

 

 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A digression


A lot of writers have been commenting lately that they don’t use outlines when they write. Joe R. Lansdale mentioned that today on his Facebook page, and Stephen King admitted the same in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. They also said they know how to use outlines and can write to outline if they absolutely have to. I think it’s great they no longer have to.

                In the bad old days when three-book contracts were negotiated based solely on synopsis and outline, I felt obligated to stick close to the original inception. But my writing has become so much better now that I’m writing the story first and then doing the synopsis only after the entire tale has been told from beginning to end. I love the surprises that my subconscious supplies as the characters develop on their own and the plot unfolds naturally. I want to learn what happens as much as readers will. I love experiencing the unexpected twists and turns and all those dangerous and exiting rapid-fire ups and downs that shove your stomach up into your raw-from-screaming throat as the roller coaster picks up speed near the end of a wild ride. I’m completely breathless when the car abruptly slows, stops, and I have to get off. I want to buy another ticket and ride again. And I always do.

                I’m a thrill-seeker as much as the next guy.

                Three rides is usually enough. By then, I know what’s coming next before it happens. After the third ride, I’m ready to find another roller coaster, one with even more surprises.

                Lately, I’ve been writing three slasher novels in a row, then switching to supernatural thrillers for a three-book run, then a stand-alone police-procedural or military/spy/action-adventure novel. Those are the kinds of books I love to read. Those are the kinds of books I write.

                I’m prolific, but not fast. I used to be fast, but my fiction suffered for it. Now I write at varying speeds as the action demands.

                But once I begin a story, I get caught up in it and pursue the story to the very end. I write six to ten hours a day, every day. Some days I write all in one sitting with time outs only for bathroom breaks and coffee refills. Most days, I write in the morning, do e-mails, social media, marketing, interviews, and write non-fiction in the afternoons, then return to fiction-writing before bed. There are days when I edit as I go along, polishing each paragraph until the words shine like diamonds. I have days when I do no editing at all. I just write. Those are the glory days when I’m living the story. When I finally do take off my writer’s hat and don my editor’s hat, I cut and polish my many-faceted diamonds in the rough.

                Bedtime is for reading. That’s when I discover how my colleagues think and write. I prefer hardbounds and paperbacks to read in bed. I read books on my Kindle and computer during the afternoons and early evening when I find time. I usually read a dozen books at the same time. Plus, I have a dozen more waiting to be read. Life is good.

                Sometimes family and social obligations require a change to my normal schedule, but I still find time to write six-to-ten hours a day. What suffers most often is my reading, and I absolutely refuse to edit my own work when I’m preoccupied with other things. I can switch realities and re-enter my fictional worlds anytime. What I cannot do is concentrate on editing when I’m in the middle of a family crisis or attending a con. Maybe other writers can. I can’t.

                These days I shortchange my family and friends in order to write. Not all of my family or friends want to accept that, but I can only say to them what Martin Luther said to his Bishop when he resigned as a Catholic priest: Ich kann nicht ander. Please understand, this is something I must do. I can do nothing else.

                True family and friends unconditionally accept the writer as he or she is.

                I have been fortunate to have the support of most of my family and friends. Not everyone appreciates that I prefer to write horror, and that’s okay. If I had to depend on my family and friends to buy my books, I would already have starved to death.

To be continued….

 

 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Myths of Book Marketing Part III


Myths of Book Marketing Part III

Jack Ketchum proved that using a pseudonym can work well if you use it consistently. My problem was I used a different name each time I sold a down-and-dirty. I sold my first horror story to Dave Silva at The Horror Show as “Dale Anderson.” There are a lot of Dale Andersons out there, and almost as many Paul D. Andersons. I’ve even run across a few Paul Dales and even one or two Paul Dale Andersons. I’ve used Paul Dale Anderson for all of my horror and thriller fiction since 1984. I consider it my brand name. I do still use pseudonyms for contemporary romances and some erotic tales told from a feminine viewpoint if I feel a female name is necessary to sell the story.

                One of the problems with using my full name is the sheer length. It requires sixteen characters plus two blank spaces. It takes up too much space on the cover. One way around that is to have Paul Dale on one line and Anderson below it. If I want my name to be displayed consistently on every cover, I should request my first and second names on the first line, my last name on the second, and the title below it. Cover illos could consist of tools described in the story: Claw Hammer, Butcher Knife, Box Cutter, Meat Cleaver, Pickaxe, Icepick, etc., surrounded by a pool of blood.

                Would you buy a book like that?

                Lee Child’s recent Reacher covers have lines converging to a diminishing point like the contrail of a bullet streaking toward a target.  Book sellers tell me the cover instantly attracts attention and the books are selling like hot cakes when displayed face-out. People still do buy a book for its cover.

                I buy books because they have great writing that keep me reading. But, like everyone else, I’m attracted by covers and by names of authors I recognize. I depend on word-of-mouth recommendations, reviews, and even blurbs to direct me to new works by authors I’ve never heard of before. When a book blows me away, as Gone Girl did, I spread the word. Word-of-mouth is still the best marketing tool out there. I never would have purchased and read Gone Girl solely for its cover or the name of its author.

  To be continued….