Saturday, May 28, 2011

The F. Paul Wilson Interview: Final Installment

Well, it's hard to believe that May is almost over, and with the end of May comes the final installment of the F. Paul Wilson "Breakfast Interview" from World Horror Convention 2011.  I would like to express my gratitude to Paul for being so gracious as to allow me over an hour of his time to have this interview, and the subsequent time he spent going over my transcriptions to make sure that everything accurately reflected his responses to my questions.

So, without further delay, enjoy the final installment of my interview with F. Paul Wilson.

AA: So, since you still practice medicine on a part-time basis on Mondays and Tuesdays, do you have a concrete writing schedule for the rest of the week?

FPW: Yeah. Basically, I get up in the morning and I write, and I write until I run out of gas. Usually, by 3:00 in the afternoon, I'm ready to quit. Sometimes, I'll go to the gym and work out for about half an hour, and if the juices are flowing, I'll write some more. And, of course, there are times when I'm on a roll, and I'll skip the gym.

At the minimum, I try to do 1,000 words every day on a novel. Once I do that, I feel like I've done my duty. Then I can do other things. I used to work on a short story here and there. But now I'm scripting these graphic novel adaptations, or I'm proofing something. I've got the proofs for Reprisal sitting there, and they want them back by May 6. And they'll get the back on time, but I can never go through with the kind of care that I'd like. I mean, I go through it as carefully as I can, and try to make it as consistent as possible with everything else I've written. But then, reading it again is like “Ugh!” So that can be a chore, but it's something I have to do. And it can pay off. Sometimes I'll find a glaring error, and I'm really glad I caught it.

AA: Do you tend to wait till a chapter, a section or the entire book is complete before you go back and do revisions, or do you tend to “revise on the fly”?

FPW: No. In fact, I do my best not to go back until the entire book is finished. I start out not knowing my characters very well. They're much more a function of my story. But then, as I go along, they become more real. By the end of the book, I know them well. So then I go back and re-write what I know about them. I can include things earlier in the book about their characters that will be consistent with what they'll have to do later on. It's a matter of retro-fitting the characters with the rest of the story.

AA: It's interesting that I actually read The Haunted Air shortly before I read the book Superstition by David Ambrose, which also deals with the tricks of the psychic trade. I actually learned more about the underbelly of that industry reading these two works of fiction than I ever had anywhere else.

FPW: I learned from The Psychic Mafia [by M. Lamar Keene and Allen Spraggett]. It's an outdated book, because now they use computers and email now to share all this information.

AA: So, when you're setting out to write a novel, do you tend to be more compelled by your plot or your characters?

FPW: I like to think of it as “the story,” which is everything together. Plot doesn't move without characters. And characters running around without a plot? I guess it could be interesting for a while, but during 100,000 words or more, they have to do something.

But basically, as a rule, my characters serve my plot. I work hard on the characters to make them likable and accessible. Or reprehensible, if that makes the story work better. I like symmetry when I'm writing a story, so I work very hard to achieve that symmetry. And if [the symmetry] works, even if you fail a little bit with the characters, the reader still comes away feeling like they've had some sort of satisfying experience.

So, I'm a story guy rather than a pure character guy.

AA: So the story itself tends to have power over your characters, rather than the other way around?

FPW: Yeah, they serve the story. I mean, I may have to have someone jump in the river to accomplish something in the story, and I didn't know they were going to have to do that in the outlining stage. Then I have to go back [during revision] and include the fact that they were on a swim-team in high school to make the scenario plausible.

Sometimes I'll start off with a strong character, like Lyle in The Haunted Air. I wanted a very cynical—at the risk of sounding redundant—fake psychic. He wasn't kidding himself. He was in a very likable role, as opposed to the other psychics that Jack deals with.

AA: What book in your repertoire are you MOST proud of?

FPW: I would say Black Wind. The Keep is also up there. For some reason, it hit all the notes that I wanted to hit. And it's also frozen in a very crucial point in world history. So it doesn't get old and dated. I did a lot of research, and I got everything right as far as the period. So, I'm very pleased with that. Thirty years in print—I must have done something right.

I also really like The Haunted Air. That's one of the few novels I've written where I actually went in with a theme: knowledge versus belief. That was the theme that I clung to during the whole novel. It is very rare that I approach a novel with an idea as the engine. Save for my science fiction novels. Those books are very idea-driven, except maybe Dydeetown World. That was character-driven. I wanted to write Raymond Chandler-esque book, and that was it. I love that book.

AA: Do you get to do a lot of reading these days?

FPW: Nowhere near as much as I would like. That's why I like these trips. I can get on a plane and I can read. I can also write, because I don't have the internet or a phone to distract me. I can pound out my thousand words without much trouble on a plane. On the flight here I finished a .pdf of the last book of Sarah Pinborough's The Dog-Faced Gods trilogy. Which, by the way, you can't get here in the United States, so she was nice enough to send me a copy so I could load it onto my Kindle. I believe Tor will be publishing it here soon.

AA: Who is the most exciting writer in your estimation to come out recently?

FPW: Well, Sarah is awfully good, but she's been out for a while. She wrote for Leisure years ago. Even her books there were a cut above the rest. I think she has really hit her stride with the supernatural thriller like The Dog-Faced Gods. She's got the procedural down cold. She's got the underlying “Otherness-type” stuff. I really look forward to reading her books. Women seem to be writing the more innovative fantastica these days. Rhodi Hawk, Alex Sokolov, Mary Sangiovanni, Sarah Langan, Kelli Owen—they’re not recycling the same old tropes.

I get a lot of books from people who are looking for a blurb or whatever. Some are good; some are not. Nowadays, I spend a lot of my reading time doing research. Searching for New York in the 1990s has taken up a huge amount of my time. I thought it would be so easy. You know, Life in New York in 1990: The Book...Nope, doesn't exist. So, I have to go to all these different sources to do my research. I have to think about all the popular places in New York City. You're walking down Seventh Avenue near Times Square—is CATS playing yet? Is Les Miserables still playing? And all this just to add a little color to the narrative. It amounts to ten throw-away words, but it can take me hours to do the research to get it right. I'm anal about all that, so that's where I “waste” a lot of my time, rather than reading. Believe me, I'd rather be reading for fun.

AA: I'm going to ask you a question similar to one that I ask almost every other author that I interview for my blog, and that is--

FPW: Do you like Marvel or DC?

AA: [laughs] I was thinking more along the lines of “Do you prefer The Who or Led Zepplin?” Actually, the question is: if you were sitting across the table from a young F. Paul Wilson, and you were advising him about the directions that he should take to become a successful bestseller, what would you say to him?

FPW: Well, if we're talking about writing for profit, I would tell him to write that second Repairman Jack novel. Then again, maybe not. I mean, I earned a seven-figure advance for The Select, and if I had been writing Repairman Jack [instead] where would I have been? But, I went and wrote The Select because I had finished Nightworld and The Adversary Cycle as a whole, and I wanted to try something a little different. So, if I'd continued with Repairman Jack, I wouldn't have had that advance.

But who knows? It's a tough question to answer. A successful film could have made a huge difference. I look back and the movie technology of the 1980s was pony-cart compared to today. They could not have made a good version of The Tomb back then. Roger Corman optioned it, and re-set the story in Pasadena. And you just know [the Rakoshi] would have been guys in rubber suits. I always say the line between horror and hilarity is very thin. They would have made a very bad movie out of [The Tomb]. He came up with a terrible script, plus there were complications with rights to the title (a long story involving Fred Olen Ray that I won’t go into here). All in all, a mess.

But I digress. [If I'd stayed with Repairman Jack], I might be on Repairman Jack #27 right now, and I could have run him into the ground, and I would be so locked into Repairman Jack that I couldn't do anything else. I could have been like Lee Child. He's very happy writing [Jack] Reacher novels. And for him it works, because they are all very stand-alone in nature, so he can go on writing those forever. But if he wants to take off in another direction, he might have some trouble—not because of the quality of the writing, because he’s tops, but because readers would say “I want a Reacher novel.”

Robert Parker got out of that with Spenser by cloning Spenser. Jesse Stone is Spenser in a small town. He even talks the same. So, people who want another Spenser novel can just go out and pick up a Jesse Stone novel. They're exactly the same.

It's easy to get locked in, especially if the character is successful. Jack started off with a bang in The Tomb. It was on the New York Times bestseller list, and I certainly could have kept doing that. People kept saying, “I want another Repairman Jack book.” And I would just raise my hands and say “No, no, no. I want to do The Touch. I want to do this really cool book about World War II called Black Wind.”

F. PAUL WILSON is the author of forty-plus books and numerous short stories spanning science fiction, horror, adventure, medical thrillers, and virtually everything between. His novels regularly appear on the New York Times Bestsellers List. He was voted Grand Master by the World Horror Convention and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers of America. He has also received the Stoker Award, the Porgie Award, the Prometheus and Prometheus Hall of Fame Awards, the Pioneer Award from the RT Booklovers Convention, the Inkpot Award from San Diego ComiCon, and is listed in the 50th anniversary edition of Who's Who in America.

Over eight million copies of his books are in print in the US and his work has been translated into twenty-four languages. He also has written for the stage, screen, and interactive media. His latest thrillers, Ground Zero and Fatal Error, star his urban mercenary, Repairman Jack. Jack: Secret Vengeance recently concluded a young-adult trilogy starring a fourteen-year-old Jack. Paul resides at the Jersey Shore and can be found on the Web at

JESSE S. GREEVER is "The Accidental Author" and CEO of eLectio Publishing, a digital publisher for Christian authors.  If you are a Christian author and have a manuscript that you think is worthy of publication, check out the submission guidelines and follow the directions for manuscript submissions.

Greever is also a co-author of the book, Learning to Give in a Getting World, and numerous fiction titles from Untreed Reads publishing.
You can become a fan of eLectio Publishing on FaceBook:
You can follow eLectio Publishing on Twitter (@eLectioPubs):!/eLectioPubs


  1. For some reason I always thought FPW had all his characters totally hammered out at the start of each book. It was very interesting to read in some cases FPW doesn't know all the details when he starts writing a book.

  2. I am interested to read some of the works from the authors FPW mentioned. I have heard of Lee Child before but not the other authors. I also greatly enjoyed reading The Haunted Air. I'm not embarrassed to say reading that book while I was living alone gave me a few sleepless nights lol.

  3. I've been hooked since the Keep came out. I try not to miss anything that F. Paul Wilson writes. By far the coolest, most down-to-earth doctor, em, I mean author. And is that a Shiner Bock in front of him in that picture? He rocks!

  4. about 10 years ago i was looking for something new to read and picked up a second hand copy of 'Legacies'. I've since read everything F.Paul Wilson has written and look forward to seeing where he will go once he wraps up the Repairman Jack books....

  5. I've been an FPW junkie for years. For good or bad I have a lot of memory problems. For good, I can pick up one I've read a few years ago and still be blown away. For bad, with so much back story I don't always rememeber a return character. I will definitely miss Jack, but everything he's written that I've been able to get my hands on has been fantastic. Still trying to get my hands on some of the more obscure titles.