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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….

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Myths of Book Marketing Part II


Myths of Book Marketing Part II

Doing a video interview only takes a few minutes. That’s true for the actual video when it’s aired, but prep time can be daunting. Today I was lucky. I spent only an hour prepping: showering, shaving, selecting the right attire that included a blue instead of a white shirt, stopping for a haircut on the way to the interview, driving to the interview location, practicing what I wanted to say. The interviewer/camera person was almost right on time. Setting up the equipment took no time at all, finding the right background with minimal background noise and good lighting was slightly more tricky, but Abbye Garcia—affectionately known as “the girl with the camera”—proved an expert at what she does. She started off with asking the right questions, promising to edit out all but the essentials. I forgot I was on camera and I answered her questions as if I were speaking directly with her. We did two interviews and a couple dozen publicity stills. We wrapped up the entire session in less than an hour. I had time to drop off some mail-order book sales at the post office before heading home to write. Total time away from the keyboard: less than four hours.

                Is all this necessary? you ask. Yes, it is, if you want to sell books.

                I’m naturally a shy, retiring kind of guy. There was a time when I sold most of my stuff using pseudonyms. Name recognition didn’t seem important to me at all. I was wrong.

                Kevin J. Anderson reminded me, in his wonderful Million Dollar Professionalism for the Writer, that Dean Koontz also wrote many of his early works under pseudonyms. Stephen King wrote a few books under the Richard Bachman name. But it was only when they got their own names out there, where people could recognize them, that they wrote best-sellers.

                King is as much a master of marketing as he is a master of the macabre. People ask for his works by name because they know his name and know the quality of his writing. People are willing to pay money for his grocery lists.

                I want people to read what I write because they know my name and recognize the quality of my story-telling. Writing a good book is only part of the process. Getting the books into the hands of readers is equally important.

                Do interviews sell books? Yes, a few. But a lot of interviews over a long period of time can add up to a significant number of books reaching readers who’ll want to buy more.

                A by-product of having your own name on the cover of your books is writing a better book because you own the story. When I ground out down-and-dirty novels for packagers, I didn’t care about the quality. I did it for the money (plus the practice of fast-paced story-telling with minimum characterization). Nobody knew who wrote those novels. I didn’t care if anybody ever knew.

                But the marketplace has changed, and I have changed as I’ve aged and grown as a writer. I care about what I write, carefully crafting every word, and I want people to read what I write and to know who wrote it.

                I’m proud to be a horror writer. I write in other genres, too, and I’m proud of those stories, as well. I do mysteries, police procedurals, suspense thrillers, and occasional fantasy and science fiction. I have a few cross-over novels. Okay, more than a few. But I want to be known as a horror author.

                But what makes me a horror writer isn’t the interviews I do nor the name recognition. What makes me a horror writer is what I write. It’s writing the kind of stories I like to read and putting them into the hands of other readers who also like my kind of stories. Reading and writing always comes first.

                To be continued….

               

Monday, October 6, 2014

Myths of Book Marketing Part I


Myths of book marketing Part I

Social media marketing is a great way to get the message out about your upcoming book releases, but it can be time-consuming. In the old days book marketing was done by publishers, and authors only had to show up when they were scheduled to do signings. Market research was done by agents or publishers, and authors could devote most of their time to writing.

                Successful authors have always done lots of marketing on their own. We went to select conventions (World Science Fiction Convention, World Fantasy Convention, World Horror Convention, Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, Horrorfest, and monthly regional cons) as much to get our names in program books as to have a good time and meet old friends. In this business, like most businesses, you’re nobody without name recognition. There are so many other authors out there that it’s easy to write a good book and never sell enough copies to impress publishers. Writers have always had an obligation to get out the word about their books.

                Today we sit at our keyboards and post to Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Blogger and Wordpress and Tumblr or send off e-mails or Constant Contact newsletters to subscribers to our mailing lists. We have no need to shower and shave and dress up in costume and hop planes to far-off places. We can stay at home and switch hats from writer to marketer as easily as switching from our writer’s hats to our editor’s hats. ‘Tis indeed a brave new world that hath such wondrous and goodly tools in it.

                But, like talking out your story instead of writing it, it’s much too easy to fall into the social media trap. Authors are, of necessity, solitary creatures chained to keyboards. We relish positive feedback. We know we are often too close to our own work to see the forest for the trees. And we love to see our by-lined names in print even if it’s only on blogs.

                I’ve noticed my creative output (novels and short stories) declined significantly as I increased my on-line presence. Something similar happened to me back in the early nineties when SFWA and HWA went on Genie and Compuserv (precursor to AOL). Not only did I have to overcome the learning-curve for new technology, I spent far too much time reading and posting to forums instead of writing novels and short stories.

                Now I’m doing the same thing again. I recognize the need to find a balance between writing, marketing, and social presence. Some of my writer friends have publically commented on the decrease in their creative output in direct proportion to the increase in their social media presence. I guess it happens to most writers.

                My present solution is to set specific times for each task. I write in the mornings, and I refuse to talk to anyone in person, on the telephone, or online during my best writing time. I edit in the afternoons. And I do marketing, Facebook, and reply to communications in the evenings. I limit my convention appearances to four per year, and I do signings and public readings only rarely. That seems to work well for me.

                With the release of six new novels during the next two years, I’m preparing to do interviews and even a book tour overseas. I’m looking forward to getting copies of my books into the hands of readers. But I’m also dreading the toll this may take on my creative output. What happens if I have written no new novels next year or the year after that? Will I fade from memory as I did after 1997?

                I know marketing is important. Without readers, my writing means nothing. Writing only for oneself is like verbal masturbation. It’s satisfying, but it’s fruitless.

                (To be continued)

 

 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Free Lecture on Writing


Learn about Self Hypnosis and Writing

 

 

Self-hypnosis is practiced by writers familiar with their craft who use it to separate in their writing the creative process and the editing process. One of the challenges for writers is to take the elements of a story and imaginatively create a finished work for readers. One aspect of Paul Dale Anderson’s talk will be a discussion of “flow” as a state of mind. As explained by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychology professor at University of Chicago, “Flow” is sought out by people in their desire for happiness and challenge related to their skills. To achieve flow humans must have challenges and achieve mastery in the skills necessary to meet those challenges. Skill sets develop when each challenge is only slightly greater than the previous ones. If the challenge is too much greater, or insufficient to be interesting, the person becomes anxious or bored and develops no new skills.

 Anderson has an MS in educational psychology from Northern Illinois University and an MA in library and information studies from the University of Wisconsin. He is the author of numerous books and short stories and has taught writing in courses for the Writer's Digest Schools and in workshops at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Learn more at www.pauldaleanderson.com

Date:  Wednesday, October 22

Time: 2:30 – 3:30  pm
Location: Woodward Technology Center Room 141/142

 

The lecture is sponsored by Friends of the Estelle M. Black Library.

 

In Defiance of Death


 

Many of my friends rightly express deep concern each time they see pictures of me with a cigarette. Long-time friends may remember seeing me with a briar tobacco pipe dangling from my mouth as I pounded a typewriter (didn’t all great writers smoke pipes back then? Raymond Chandler, William Faulkner, and Harlan Ellison come immediately to mind), but few people seldom, if ever, saw me smoke a cigarette. Oh sure, I smoked a cigarette on stage in Bertold Brecht’s Private Life of the Master Race. I also smoked cigarettes when I was in the Army and the sergeant called out “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em” and smoking didn’t make me a target by breaking light discipline at night.

I quit smoking a briar pipe when my wife Gretta was diagnosed with a heart condition. I didn’t want her breathing second-hand smoke. For nearly ten years, I made it one of my missions in life to help people become smoke-free. I even have a best-selling audio CD entitled “Smoke-Free Forever”. I practiced and taught hypnosis techniques to help people quit. I was extraordinarily successful.

                When my wife Gretta died of a sudden heart attack in 2012, I heard Gretta telling me “I want a cigarette.” She first told me that when I picked her up at the hospital after she had been injured in an automobile accident in a suburban Chicagoland shopping mall parking lot. I stopped at Walgreens and bought her a package of cigarettes at the same time I picked up her pain medications. We had both stopped smoking when Gretta’s father suffered his own heart attack years before Gretta.  Gretta went back to smoking cigarettes and I went back to smoking a pipe. Gretta quit again when her mother became ill with cancer. I continued to smoke a pipe intermittently. But when Gretta died, her words “I want a cigarette” haunted me until I bought a package of cigarettes and lit one.

                I know intellectually, as a trained psychologist, that people have a tendency to regress at times of extreme stress. I implant post-hypnotic suggestions to counter such regressions when working with clients. I neglected to do the same with myself.

                I regressed to two significant events in my past when I had told loved ones not to smoke. My father had smoked cigarettes for fifty years. I urged my father to give up smoking after my mother died. I was a non-smoker back then, and I did not want to lose my father to lung cancer. My father quit smoking to please me. Shortly after that, he died of a sudden heart attack. I associated my father’s death with my urging him to quit smoking. I began smoking in memory of my father. I told Gretta not to begin smoking again in that Walgreens’ parking lot. But she had insisted “I want a cigarette” and I acquiesced. I always gave Gretta what she wanted.

                When Gretta died of a sudden heart attack, I was reminded of my father dying.

                Some psychologists would say all this is merely a rationalization because I’m addicted to nicotine, and they may be right. Regardless, I now smoke as my antidote against death.

                I also receive significant secondary gains from smoking. Smoke keeps people away from me so I can devote my time to writing. I don’t want to be close to people who are going to die. As crazy as it may sound, I actually believe smoking will drive death away.

                Much of my current writing is devoted to characters who defy death. Some of my characters have a death wish (thank you, Brian Garfield, for introducing me to the concept). Manjusri, one of the major characters in my novel Abandoned, must climb the holy mountain to come literally face-to-face with and conquer Yama, the God of Death, himself. In the end, of course, we all must come face-to-face with death. Not even smoking can keep death away for long.

                But finding ways to function in the face of death is a challenge. Cigarettes help me meet that challenge.

                Don’t talk to me about dying. I know I’m going to die someday. Maybe there’s nothing noble about holding a cigarette in my hand. But no one I have ever loved has died while I was smoking. No one. Ever. So I smoke, not only for myself, but for you. As long as I smoke, I can keep you alive.

                Do you still want me to quit?