Those who know me well, know I’m a shy guy. I don’t like talking about myself because I’m a private person. I am a good listener, however. And I’d much rather hear about other people’s lives than my own.
I’m the lurker in the shadows, the one who reads all of my friends’ posts on blogs and Facebook and who so seldom comments. I was the wallflower at the school dances, the reporter who covered the four-alarm fires and drive-bys, the one who preferred to take photographs to appearing in them. I would rather observe than participate. Perhaps that’s why I love reading so much. I get to observe other people living their lives while forgetting about my own.
I was the sideline guy on the varsity teams in high school and college. I was good enough to make the teams and earn varsity letters, but I was never motivated to be a star player. I was satisfied just being a team player, although I didn’t get to play in every game. That has been true of my writing, too. I have been happy to be a mid-list author, qualifying for membership in SFWA, HWA, MWA, and ITW. But I never wanted to win an award, and I always downplayed the quality of my work. I hid behind pseudonyms like a shy child hiding behind his mother’s skirts.
When I wrote about myself, it was usually in the third person. I much prefer reading books written in the third person, and most of my novels and short stories are third-person narratives. It’s difficult for me to write these first-person pieces under my own by-line, but the discipline is good for me, too. I’m out of my comfort zone, and I realize feeling uncomfortable may be necessary if I want to continue to grow both as a person and as a writer. One of the reasons I write horror is because it makes people uncomfortable and helps them grow spiritually as they confront their worst fears.
Part of my growth as a writer occurred when I emerged from the sidelines to play the game in earnest. I now put my whole name on manuscripts and reviews, and I appear on panels at conventions and sign at bookstores using my own name. I have recently begun to give interviews where I will talk about myself and my craft.
There is a familiar voice inside of me—my father’s voice—screaming loudly that I’ll make myself a target. Being out in the open makes me vulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism. My father, also a shy man, warned me often of the dangers of being a public person. Do only enough to survive, he cautioned. When you go public, you will create enemies. It is better to remain invisible, to be an average person, to get lost in a crowd.
My father, whose name was Paul Anders Anderson, settled for half-measures all of his life. He died at the age of sixty-four when I was twenty-four. He was an average middle-class man. He left behind a son, a granddaughter, a house, and not much more. Few people alive today still remember him.
I have spent my entire life making mistakes and learning from them. One of the mistakes I made was listening to my father.
My father also told me it was okay to write, but one couldn’t expect to earn a living from writing. One should have a career that paid the bills and provided for a family. That was my father’s dream, and he realized his dream.
My dream has always been to write stories that revealed a small kernel of truth buried beneath a top-layer of fertile soil. Truth—the real nature of things—is, by its very nature, occult. Truth, like God, must be hidden from man’s conscious mind if it is to continue to exist. It can only be revealed, a little at a time, when the subconscious recognizes the secret meaning of universal archetypal symbols. Otherwise, truth would surely be devoured by animals hungry for truth before it had even a chance to grow into a tall tree like the proverbial mustard seed.
My father wanted me to be an engineer or an architect, someone who built things. Or to serve as a soldier, something he was unable to do because he was too young to enlist in World War I and too old to enlist in WWII. My mother wanted me to be a teacher or a minister. I was able to do all of those things, serving in the military from 1966 until 1987, part of which was with the Army Corps of Engineers. I studied electrical engineering at the University of Illinois, switching my major from EE to physics and eventually to journalism. I studied philosophy at Rockford College. I earned my BA from Loyola University with a major in English and a minor in journalism. I continued my education by earning a masters in Educational Psychology and most of a doctorate from Northern Illinois University. I also earned an MA in Library and Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin. I taught creative writing at the University of Illinois and for Writers Digest Schools. I was a certified instructor for the National Guild of Hypnotists, and I taught hypnosis at the enTrance Center and at Rock Valley College.
I have been an ordained minister, and I have married people and buried people.
I have been, like Yeats’ slate-colored thing, many things in this life. Being many things, I think, is fitting for a writer.
Now, at last, I am ready to write. I am ready to emerge from obscurity and make my name known. Too few people read my books unless they know my name.
Name recognition appears to be the number one reason for book buying. When I was an editor (yes, I was an editor, too, and have the mastheads to prove it), I know I paid more attention to big-name writers and often bought their works mainly to add prestige to the publication. I know agents also pay attention to established names. And I know from my own book-buying experience that I buy books from names I recognize rather than take a chance on an unknown author. I am also willing to pay more to read a name I know than a work from an unknown, despite the fact that the greatest joy a reader, agent, or editor can have is to discover a hitherto unknown masterpiece from someone new.
Masterpieces are few and far between. Stephen King’s The Stand is a masterpiece. Gone With the Wind is a masterpiece. Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a masterpiece. I like to think my own novel, Abandoned, is a masterpiece. I want people to read it. You don’t have to buy it. Just go to your library and check it out. Or find Abandoned at your local bookstore and read a chapter at a time while sipping coffee in the store’s coffee shop, if they have one.
Of course, I have been disappointed with some of the works of big name authors. Writers are notoriously inconsistent, and good writers write a variety of stories as part of their growth process. Some stories appeal to me more than others. At least, with a name author, I can expect to read a competent story even if it isn’t my cup of tea.
I hate giving interviews. I am a private person who only exposes himself through his writing, and I abhor talking about myself or my work. If I had the money and knew of a good publicist, I would pay to have someone else write news releases and give interviews for me. My publishers do a small amount of publicity, but they expect me to do the actual leg work of appearing in public. So, once again, I must leave my comfort zone and venture out into the cold cruel world and answer questions to make my name and face known. I would so much rather remain at home where it’s warm, comfortable, and I can write all day.
Abandoned will be published on March 1st, and Eldritch Press is already taking pre-pub orders (at a 20% discount, I might add). The Devil Made Me Do It and Daddy’s Home are already available from Crossroad Press as e-books. A revised Claw Hammer will be next, followed by Pick Axe and Ice Pick. If I want these titles to sell well and lots of people to read them, I need to let people know what the books are about and where to get them. Interviews, especially magazine and newspaper interviews, reach a lot of potential readers. TV and radio interviews do sell books, but those books are seldom read all the way through. Regardless, I need to do all of those interviews in hopes of finding the one reader whose life will be changed forever by my words.
You may have already guessed I wrote this to psych myself up to do interviews. I’ve done lots of interviews before, both print and media, and I want to be prepared with answers to as many questions as possible. When an interviewer asks me, “What is Abandoned about?” I’ll reply, “Redemption.” That’s it, really. My entire elevator speech. The book is about redemption.
It’s about making mistakes and learning from our mistakes. It’s about ordinary people who have extraordinary abilities. It’s about good and evil warring on multiple levels. It’s about life and love and greed and salvation. It’s about belief and endurance, hope and despair. It’s about karma and reincarnation. It’s about forgiveness for not knowing and it’s about doing better the next time around.