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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.