Friday, May 6, 2011

The F. Paul Wilson Interview Part One

Recently, I had the privilege of sitting down to breakfast with New York Times bestselling author (and personal favorite), F. Paul Wilson during the World Horror Convention in Austin, TX.  Wilson has been writing bestsellers for over thirty years, spanning many genres including straightforward horror, action/adventure, family drama, science fiction and medical thrillers.  In 2011, one of his most recognizable works of horror, The Keep, is celebrating its 30th year in print.  Wilson was gracious enough to allow me to hound him with over twenty questions, and spent the better part of two hours discussing his nearly every aspect of his career.

The interview will be posted in four (or more) parts during the month of May.  Check back early and often (or follow my blog) to see when new portions of the interview are posted.  At the end of the month, my own version of "outtakes" from the interview will be posted, which will include special content that may be considered "spoilers" from The Adversary Cycle and the Repairman Jack series will be posted.

In this portion of the interview, Wilson discusses The Adversary Cycle, the young adult Repairman Jack series, his upcoming Repairman Jack prequel trilogy, the process of killing off characters.

The Accidental Author: You wrote The Keep thirty years ago this year. In that story, the main villain, Molasar (or Rasalom, as we come to know him), is a pretty despicable bad guy. But, as The Adversary Cycle and the Repairman Jack series progresses, his level of insidiousness reaches new heights. When you were originally writing The Keep, did you foresee Rasalom as capable of the level of atrocity that he perpetrates in the further volumes?

F. Paul Wilson: I never thought of taking him anywhere beyond The Keep. I had written a short story previously called “Demonsong,” where Glaeken and Rasalom first met. So, when I wrote The Keep, I looked at these two characters whose rivalry had been going on for millennia, and I thought, “This is perfect.” Very few people had picked up the anthology that contained “Demonsong,” so I renewed the rivalry more for me. I really had no idea it would go anywhere beyond The Keep.

AA: One of the really interesting things that you are doing right now is that you are taking The Adversary Cycle and The Repairman Jack series and tying them together in such a way that they logically converge in Nightworld. You've stated that you are heavily revising Nightworld to become more temporally congruent with the Repairman Jack series. How do you even begin to undertake something like that? That has to be a pretty daunting task.

FPW: Yeah. I moved the opening scene of Nightworld to Bloodline [Repairman Jack #11], where Jack and Glaeken meet. Furthermore, in Nightworld I had to rewrite all of Jack's encounters with Glaeken because Jack already knows all about The Otherness, so all those conversations had to be cut. Some other things had to be cut too, but the book wound up being 10,000 words longer, so there is a considerable amount of new material.

I realized as I was going through it that Gia and Vicky are completely absent from the body of Nightworld, and it didn't really matter when Nightworld was written, because they had been supporting characters in The Tomb. And Abe was a minor character as well. But I realized now, if I'm a reader, I'm going to be asking “What are Gia, Vicky and Abe doing?” So, I created a whole new sequence of events with those characters.

And there was a lot of other stuff too. The Lady wasn't even on the radar when I wrote Nightworld originally. There were so many things that had to change, and things kept developing through the series that I couldn't possibly foresee. Weezy was only supposed to be a minor character he met as a kid, but she started taking over the Young Adult Repairman Jack books, and at times I had to beat her back with a stick. And I said, “Jeez, I can't leave her out. Where is she now?” So I brought her into the adult Repairman Jack series. All these things I never foresaw, so I ended up having to make a lot of changes to Nightworld.

AA: As I've made my way through the Repairman Jack series, I find myself wondering when you have a major character that has to make an untimely exit from the series, do you get sentimental about that, or is it something that you do in a more clinically as a part of the overall plot?

FPW: I used to outline quite a bit. I outline less now, but I still do some outlining. A lot of times, things work fine in an outline, and, as you say, clinically there comes a point when this character has to go, and you do it. Easy. However, by the time I've written the novel out to that point, it is much harder.

If you've read Deep As The Marrow, there is a character in that book I had to kill, and it hurt. It hurt the readers, too.

AA: I've recently been reading your young adult Jack series. Do you experience any major challenges when switching between writing for more mature audiences and writing for young adults?

FPW: You know, I was at a trade show a few years ago and two women who were bookstore owners approached me. They mentioned that they'd heard I was writing a young adult Repairman Jack series. And they asked me if it had a lot of violence in it, like the adult series.  I said, “No. Most of the violence takes place 'off stage'. You'll see the results, but not the violence itself.” And then they asked about the kind of language used in the books. And I said, “Well, it's rural New Jersey, 1983. You know, there's not a lot of 'F-bombs' being thrown around.” So, then they asked about drugs, and I replied, “It's pretty much the same thing.” They asked about sex. And I said, “He's thirteen years old in the early 1980s.”

So they said, “Well, good. We can recommend them to everyone then.”

That conversation got me thinking. [These bookstore owners] have a responsibility. Someone comes in looking for a book for a twelve-year-old; they obviously can't read everything in the store. But the YA Jack books can easily be put in the hands of a twelve-year-old, and it isn't necessary for me to soft-pedal stuff, because it really isn't there to begin with.

In terms of style, well—when you do a spell-check and grammar-check in [Microsoft] Word, which is a huge pain because of all the sentence-fragments I use, it gives you a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. Mine usually comes out saying you need a fourth-grade education to read my books. Obviously, I was chagrined when I first saw that score. But then I realized that with the thrillers I write, the prose is in short sentences and short paragraphs. You don't have these long, compound-complex sentences. You're dealing with characters who aren't Rhodes Scholars. Most of the people [Jack] is up against are street people, so they don't have huge vocabularies.

So when it came to writing the young adult series, I didn't have to change a thing as far as style goes. It's really nice, because the adult and young adult books read the same. Except for the tone. [The young Jack] doesn't have the worldly voice of the adult Jack. He has more of the “Gosh! Wow!” kind of tone.

AA: You recently signed a contract to write a trilogy of Repairman Jack books that span the formative period between the time he arrives in New York City and the events of The Tomb.

FPW: Well, it covers only a few years; it won't go up to The Tomb. I'm not planning on having him meet Gia in those books. Those are going to be locked into 1990, 1991 and 1992 in the “pre-Disney” Manhattan.

You know, that's actually a very difficult time period to research. I mean, if you want to research New York around 1850 or post-Civil War, there are tons of books and information about the city during those times. You want 1990? You can't find a thing! Nothing! Then, as I was doing some Google searches, I did find some YouTube videos by people riding on a bus in Times Square in 1990. And I could literally see what everything looked like at that time. Those help stratify the memories. I think, “Oh yeah, I remember when 42nd Street looked like that.” But was that 1986, or was it 1991?

AA: I never really thought of YouTube as a research vehicle.

FPW: I didn't either. I was putting out all sorts of search strings, and all of a sudden videos popped up.

AA: Are you planning on making The Adversary part of the Repairman Jack prequel trilogy?

FPW: I haven't gotten quite that far, yet. Right now, [Jack] is pretty callow. He's making mistakes. He really has no idea where he's going. You know, he didn't come to New York to become Repairman Jack. He came to New York to get away, and he's simply living under the radar right and minding his own business now. But trouble comes a-calling, of course

In book 1 he meets Julio. They're not friends yet. He's going to meet up with [Ed] Burkes from the U.N. He'll buy his first gun; it comes via Abe [Grossman] but he won’t know that for a while. Abe arranged it. So, all these connections are going to be made, but I still haven't worked out every last detail.

I'm about 30,000 words into the first book, and he's just gotten himself into a jam, and he's got to get himself out. There's going to be a lot of fix-its in the trilogy, some of which he'll bungle, of course. It's just one of those things where there's a lot of irony, because the reader knows a lot more than Jack about what's going on. So, it's really fun to play with that sort of irony.

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.
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  1. It amazes me how the good doctor has managed to tie the vast majority of his disparate novels into his "Secret History of the World" timeline.

  2. April 2010 I discovered FPW and "Repairman Jack" after visiting Jonathan Maberry's blog site. Mr. Maberry had an interview with FPW posted which piqued my interest in his series. After reading "The Keep" I ordered all available Repairman Jack and adversary cycle books. I read all books in the Jack and adversary cycle in addition to "Black Wind" and the short story collections by September 2010. Since then I have been eagerly awaiting "The Dark at the End". I was also very excited to hear about the new 3 book deal. I think Jack's early years in NYC will provide for some great stories. I am also curious to see how Jack comes to trust Julio and Abe and how he builds relationships with other characters including the brothers who run the private air charters.

  3. @Admin2341: You know what's funny? I can never recall the name of the brothers who fly the planes either. It must be some sort of mental block...or perhaps the Otherness???

    @Shieldsinger: I am amazed as well. I have always loved Stephen King's Dark Tower series, and how he ties many of his books into that Mythos. However, I think that FPW does AS GOOD if not BETTER in terms of the tie-ins.

  4. I haven't read any of the YA Jack books yet but I am considering getting them. I really enjoy FPW's writing and I am sure the YA books are a high quality. I am interested in learning more about Jack as a youth too.

  5. @Admin2341: I HIGHLY recommend the YA books. Among other things, you get introduced to one of the other seven Infernals in JACK: SECRET CIRCLES (the same one that is in THE PEABODY-OZYMANDIAS TRAVELING CIRCUS & ODDITY EMPORIUM, which I also HIGHLY recommend). Check them out when you get a chance.