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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It's My Story, Damn It! -- An Interview with F. Paul Wilson

F. Paul Wilson will be appearing at the Love Is Murder Conference, Feb. 4-6, in Chicago.

1. Paul, you’ve said you don’t believe in gore on the page. You prefer to make the gross/horrific stuff happen in the reader’s head. Would you tell us more about that and why it works so well?

I tend to go by the maxim that less, if done properly, is more. I’ve been through med school and a rotating internship that included surgery. I’ve dissected a human body and I’ve been up to my wrists in blood in someone’s open abdomen. Blood and gore don’t get to me. I’m more disturbed by what I don’t see.

Remember the little girl in The Leopard Man banging on the door to her house to be let in because something was following her? Remember how you thought she’d get safely inside, but she didn’t? Remember how she screamed and went silent? Remember the blood flowing under the door?

I do. And in my mind I saw worse things happening than Jacques Tourneur could ever have shown on the screen. I first saw that scene in the 1950s and I still haven’t forgotten it.

Consider this scene from FATAL ERROR, the most recent Repairman Jack novel: I’ve got a bad guy tied up in a van. He has info he’s not giving up. It’s an improvised situation. The person who’s going to get that info arrives with a paper bag labeled “Ace Hardware,” gets in the van, and closes the door. I don’t need to take you into the van for the details. The Ace Hardware bag is unsettling, but what’s really chilling about the scene is that the person with the bag is an ordinary housewife whose little boy was seriously hurt by this man. Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned … but a scorned woman’s fury can’t hold a candle to that of the mother of a brutalized child. No, you do not want to be in that van.

2. You often write lean. How does one go about learning to write lean? What are the advantages of it? Is it simply your voice or is it a style you prefer?

I let the story choose the style. Lean and mean is good for the Repairman Jack novels—they’re dark and fast-paced—and that’s the style that’s defined my work over the past decade. But if you read The Keep, it’s quite a different style; it’s set in Europe in the early 40s and requires a more elaborate style. Black Wind spans nearly twenty years from the 1920s to the 1940s and involves a clash of cultures; that book demanded still another style.

Lean (but maybe not so mean) works well in the YA Repairman Jack novels. Because I use short, staccato prose, and short paragraphs, the Flesch-Kincaid level for my adult books is around fourth grade. So I didn’t have to change much except the language for YA.

3. Story comes first, you’ve said. How do you meld story and character? Please describe how you move from a story, a narrative thread, to a fleshed out book. How do the characters occur to you?

I rarely start with well-drawn characters because I don’t want the story hindered by what might or might not be consistent with a character. It’s my story, damn it, and you’ll do as you’re told.

In my first draft, the characters tend to serve the plot – but they take on flesh as they react to events or make them happen. Then I go back and further flesh them out into distinct individuals who would be capable (even if the don’t know it) of doing the things they do in the story. I determine what in their past, in their makeup, has made them into this person. And then they become real people.

Repairman Jack was an exception. He and The Tomb served each other. I needed a character who could survive the rooftop battle (even though I didn’t know what he’d be battling), but I wanted Jack to be mine. I took every cliché about the loner hero and turned it on its head. I made him blue-collar, self-taught, and fallible – a reaction to the super-competent, super-trained, always one-step-ahead-of-the-bad-guy Jason Bournes of the times. In fact, I decided on an anti-Jason Bourne – with no black-ops, SEAL, or Special Forces training, no CIA or police background, no connection to officialdom. In other words, no safety net. No one in the system he could call on because he’s under the system’s radar. He has to rely on his own wits and his own network.

Turned out people loved that. They could never be Jason Bourne; they have a better chance at being Jack. He’s a regular guy; people can see themselves having a beer with him.

4. You mentioned your editing process in one interview. Tell us more about it. Any suggestions for how we could all improve our editing? You’ve written so many books. How have you improved your editing skills?

By teaching at the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp. Parsing other people’s prose is such detail led to some eye-popping revelations when I returned to my own writing and realized I was committing many of the errors I’d been flagging in others. You know better, but you simply don’t see the errors in your own writing. I became much more conscious of my own prose. I can see a definite difference between my pre- and post-2005 writing. Editing others helped me edit myself.

5. You’ve said that marketing departments got mad at you because you “genre hopped,” talk about how much authors should or should not care about the marketing department. In today’s market, we all seem to want to please our agents and editors. But you seem to have listened to a voice inside, and it has served you well. Could you encourage the rest of us to do the same?

I’m usually two books ahead in my brain, and so I’ve always written the next book that’s ready to go. I’ve felt free to do that because I’ve always had another source of income. That’s one of the reasons a day job is important – it frees you from living advance to advance and allows more elbow room in your writing. You can never ignore your editor and the sales force, but you can challenge them. A day job also keeps you in contact with real people in the real world outside publishing, and that’s very valuable.

6. You have said that no one wanted your horror, which was your first love, until Steven King’s books made it big. Talk about staying true to what you love to write.

I wish I could puff out my chest and say that I’ve stayed true to my muse no matter what, but in reality I don’t have much choice. My brain is wired for the outré. I write weird stuff because that’s how I see the world. My first sale was to John Campbell for Analog – yeah, it was an SF story, but about intelligent mutant rats on interstellar cargo ships, and at the end they ate the bad guy alive. As I said: It’s the way I’m wired.

7. You believe that villains should have a code of honor. Explain that, and why it makes a book “sing.”

Not “should.” I don’t like to “should” on people. Remember, a villain doesn’t think of himself as the bad guy. And I think some of the most interesting villains do have a code that they follow. Fu Manchu and Hannibal Lecter are examples. Kusum in The Tomb had his code. But Rasalom, my big bad guy throughout the Secret History, has no code. He wants to win – by any means necessary. He’s the compleat sociopath, who feeds on pain and misery.

8. You write part-time. Talk about how you use your time, and how you make sure you stay on track with your writing. It’s pretty easy to let other stuff get in the way, and since you are a doctor, it sure seems like you would get some pretty important distractions.

Technically part-time, I guess, but it’s a much bigger part of my time than when I started out. In 1994, after twenty years of writing and practicing medicine each full-time, I cut my practice (I’m in a group) to Mondays and Tuesdays. Those are two long days that leave no time for writing. So, I write Wednesday through Sunday. I try to do a minimum of a thousand words a day on those 5 days. That allows me to accrue 100k words (usually more) in 20 weeks.

As for part-time writing, here's what worked for me: I found a minimum of 3 first-draft double-spaced pages per day did the trick. That's 21/week. At that rate you've got over 540 pages in 6 months. That's a decent-sized novel.

In writing those 3 pages pre day, avoid tinkering with them. This stalls you by fooling you into thinking you're still writing. You're not. And you're losing momentum. Get them down and then leave them alone and go on to the next 3. The time to fix and hone them is after you've finished that all-important first draft. You'll know your characters better then and can go back and make meaningful edits and additions.

When I was practicing full time I'd use commuting time to mentally compose my next pages so that I'd be primed when I sat down at the keyboard. That’s a key point: TURN OFF THE DAMN RADIO AND TAKE OFF THE DAMN HEADPHONES. Stop wasting valuable time listening to other people's words. You're a writer. When you're driving or walking around you should be working on YOUR words -- the words you want to tell other people.

9. You teach writing. If there was one lesson that every student could learn, what might that be? What mistakes do you see people making over and over?

Matters what you want from writing. If being a dilettante suffices, then write when the mood hits you. But if you want to have a career in writing, I think you’ve got to write every day. Even when you don’t have a story, reconstruct conversations, describe settings in new ways, and save it all for later cannibalization. If writing is a career, then it’s got to be part of your everyday life.

10. The scene that sparked Repairman Jack came to you in a dream. How did you happen upon his character? You make a big deal of one of the character’s (Kusum’s sister’s) physical beauty, but you also emphasize that beauty and sexual competency are not ultimately as fulfilling as the union of two souls. Pretty romantic for an action hero. Comments?

As I’ve said, I deliberately designed him as the antipode of the typical thriller hero. I wanted to do the same with his relationships. No new-book / new-girlfriend scenario. That allows for more sex, brings more hormones into play, and that’s exciting, but I decided to go for a stable relationship. I did, however, choose a woman who’s very unlike him – a single mother and a functioning member of society – and, even though they share core values, there’s a lot of conflict. But we can’t always choose who we fall for, and conflict is the heart of drama. The relationship has mellowed Jack, something I didn’t see coming.

11. I find the concept of Repairman Jack fascinating. There’s a Hebrew phrase “tikkun olem” which refers to “repair of the world.” Are you familiar with it? I know your political leanings factor into what you write. Do you see writing as a way each of us can repair the world?

People write for many reasons. For some it’s self expression. For others it’s the words themselves, for others it’s the sheer joy or telling a story. For some it’s an o-c disorder. And for still others it’s because they’re pathological liars and fiction allows them a socially acceptable outlet for their affliction. Too often it’s to achieve a sort of immortality—the hope that something of theirs will go on living after they’re dead. Woody Allen once addressed this in a typically pragmatic way. “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work—I want to achieve it through not dying.”

I believe the “repair the world” approach causes far more problems than it solves – rife with unintended consequences. All politics are local, all repairs are local. Jack shuns the world. He repairs only his world, and that’s a big difference. I’ll repair things right around me, and you repair things around you, and that guy over there will repair things around him, and so on and so on. And eventually, by default, maybe we’ll fix the world. Maybe not.

12. You’ve created such a tight-knit community among your fans. You even play get-togethers with them. What’s the secret to developing and maintaining such a loyal following? How do you balance your personal privacy with being so available to your fans?

It’s not so hard, really. A littler interaction goes a long way. I answer email, participate in the Forum, go to conventions, do signings where I hang out with readers afterward. I happen to like my readers. On the whole I’ve found them to be very bright and fun to be with. But it’s probably the Secret History that glues us. All the interlocking stories challenge them to come up with more connections binds them to each other as well as me. We’ve become this large, polymorphous organism.

F. Paul Wilson is an award-winning, best-selling author of more than 40 books in genres including science fiction, horror thrillers, contemporary thrillers, and novels that defy categorization. The Keep, one of the novels in his Repairman Jack series, was made into a major motion picture. Visit his website at

Monday, August 16, 2010

What a Burglar Won't Tell You--But You Will Wish You Knew!

Here are some safety tips from reformed burglars shared by Dr. Sarah Layton, Corporate Strategy Institute.

These are useful tips — from former burglars!

1. Of course I look familiar. I was here just last week cleaning your (or your neighbors’) carpets, painting your shutters, or delivering your new refrigerator.

2. Thanks for letting me use the bathroom when I was working in your yard last week. While I was in there, I unlatched the back window to make my (or my friend’s) return a little easier.

3. Love those flowers. That tells me you have taste... and taste means there are nice things inside.

4. Those yard toys your kids leave out always make me wonder what type of gaming system they own.

5. I really do look for newspapers piled up in the driveway. And I might leave a pizza flyer in your front door to see how long it takes you to remove it.

6. If decorative glass is part of your front entrance, don’t let your alarm company install the control pad where I can see if it’s set. That makes it too easy.

7. A good security company alarms the window over the sink. And the windows on the second floor, which often access the master bedroom — and your jewelry. It’s not a bad idea to put motion detectors up there, too.

8. It’s raining, you’re fumbling with your umbrella, and you forget to lock your door. Know that I don’t take a day off because of bad weather.

9. I always knock first. If you answer, I’ll ask for directions somewhere or offer to clean your gutters. (Don’t take me up on it).

10. Do you really think I won’t look in your sock drawer? I always check dresser drawers, the bedside table, and the medicine cabinet. Helpful hint: I almost never go into kids’ rooms.

11. I won’t have enough time to break into that safe where you keep your valuables. But if it’s not bolted down, I’ll take it with me!

12. A loud TV or radio can be a better deterrent than the best alarm system. If you’re reluctant to leave your TV on while you’re out of town, you can buy a $35 device that works on a timer and simulates the flickering glow of a real television. Find it at

13. If it snows while you’re out of town, get a neighbor to create car and foot tracks into the house. Virgin drifts in the driveway are a dead giveaway.

Source: Orange County (Florida) Sheriff's Department

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Winner of the Kiki Lowenstein Fan Club Tee Shirt

Jane Jeffers Thomas won the Kiki Lowenstein Fan Club Tee Shirt.

I put all the commenters into a random number generator, and Jane won.

Meanwhile, I'd like to introduce all of you to my talented and beautiful cousin, Andrea Hazel Hamilton, the watercolorist.

You can read about our family reunion at the Killer Hobbies blog.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Lois Hirt Looks for the Smiles

Lois Hirt writes a column called "Dental Scraps." She's interested in dental references we include in our mystery books. After she read Photo, Snap, Shot, she donated it to the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore!

I was happy to meet Lois, and to share the fact that I've had GREAT experiences with my dentists. In fact, I think so much of my dentist in St. Louis that I even named a character after him: Dr. Mike Wallace.

Lois posted on DorothyL that she "loved the lines where Kiki remembers how she and each family member could take a day to worry." She quotes from Photo, Snap, Shot were Kiki says, "That way we'll worry more efficiently. If something happens to any of us on your day, it's that person's fault--and we can blame her."

Actually, that's an idea I came up with for my own family.

I am learning, however, that worrying is a spectator sport where nobody wins. Sigh.

Lois went on to write, "I can’t wait to see what happens next in Kiki's life. I absolutely loved the last two paragraphs of the book. I could just picture it."

Thanks so much, Lois. You put a great big SMILE on my face!;)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Aloha! A Review of PHOTO, SNAP, SHOT by Cindy Chow

Note: Cindy is the first reviewer to notice that Kiki, too, is prejudiced. By the end of Photo, Snap, Shot, she must question her own assumptions about other people

I admit that I completely lack the Martha Stewart gene. My one attempt at a DIY
design project resulted in six - that's six - pieces of my furniture becoming
"'marbelized" in paint. I come by it honestly, though, as ten years of my
childhood photographs reside in shoeboxes at my parents' home, all in their
original Kodak envelopes.

So it takes a lot for me to continue to follow a "crafting" mystery series, as
there's pretty much no chance that I will ever follow the crafting hints and
tips. However, Joanna Campbell Slan's Kiki Lowenstein's Scrap-n-Craft
mysteries is a series that does have the humor, realistic characters, and
complex plots that compel me to read each engaging new entry. The third in this
series, Photo, Snap, Shot(Midnight Ink) continues this excellence and never

Thanks to financial support from her late husband's mother, Kiki Lowenstein's
daughter Anya attends the elitist prep school Charles and Anne Lindbergh Academy
(CALA). It's the last place one would expect violence to occur, so when Anya
discovers the body of her teacher there Kiki goes into full panic mode. The
school is eager to cover up any hint of impropriety or scandal, so it's no huge
surprise that the woman's African American boyfriend, the basketball coach, is
immediately implicated and arrested.

After being warned repeatedly from interfering in previous murders, Kiki's more
than a little surprised when Detective Chad Detweiler actually asks for her help
in clearing the coach, who happened to have been a Little Brother Detweiller
mentored and believes is a convenient scapegoat.

This places Kiki in an emotionally precarious position, as Detweiler is the
married man she dreams about while two perfectly acceptable other men, one of
whom is the man she SHOULD want to love, stand at the sideline. As they say
though, the heart wants what the heart wants. However, any rash actions she may
contemplate are definitely curtailed by her watchful mother-in-law and friends.

As Kiki ventures in the rarefied world of the CALA elite, she discovers that the
headmaster's wife and four CALA mothers all had past ties that unite them in
hiding past secrets. The murdered teacher herself also had a cloudy past
despite her recent path to redemption.

What surprised me so much in this novel was how the chip on Kiki's shoulder that
resulted from her insecurities and feelings as an outsider prejudiced her
against all of the mother's of CALA. Slowly, as Kiki questions and begins to
know more about each woman she understands that each woman is far more complex
than she realized in her initial snap judgments. The author fleshes out each
woman realistically and empathetically in a way that enables the reader to
understand the sacrifices they've made and how they've become who they are..

Rather tortuously, but realistically, Slan concludes Photo Snap Shot with a
cliffhanger that leaves some questions unanswered and definitely has the reader
wanting more. The next Kiki Lowenstein mystery can't come soon enough. I love
Kiki, a character who has grown stronger in will and character as the series has
progressed while never losing her sense of humor.


Cindy Chow
Kaneohe Public Library

Sunday, August 8, 2010

You Say Tomato. I Say Album.

To celebrate the release of my friend Avery Aames' new book, The Long Quiche Goodbye, I decided to turn a cheese container into an album. Yeah, I'm always looking for a way to recycle!

1. Cover and backside. I used a rubber stamp of a tomato, colored it in, and adhered it to the round with green masking tape. I also used red masking tape to cover the sides of the round carton.

2. Insides. These are coasters I picked up at restaurants. I drew my images onto water color paper so I could experience with paints. I'm not very good, but I had a lot of fun with this! The paints I used are really cheap. Almost any set you buy will do better. I started by sketching different designs and then painting them. There are six inside pages, each is double-sided. The only paper I didn't paint is the green plaid.

I owned that paper, but it was too bluish, so I used a marker and colored the green a more yellowish tone. Be sure to plan which "pages" will be your front and your back (your final) pages.

Special tips for the inside pages...

1. Always start with your lightest color of paint, the one thinned with the most water.

2. Always prep more paint than you think you'll need because if you remix, the color will be different.

3. Use an archivally safe black ink pen such as the Pigma Micron by Sakura.

4. Make a mistake? Paste a new image over the goof.

5. Try wetting your paper and then adding color for a soft look.

6. Keep a tissue or paper towel nearby to blot the color if it's too intense.

7. Want a plaid? I painted the background color first. Then I made stripes with a thin brush. I added a green stripe with the Sakura pen.

8. The tomatoes making the border on the red plaid pages were created with a cork stamp that I carved. I've covered this in other posts, but stay tuned and I'll tell you how in the next blog post.

9. Not a great artist? Look up images on your computer. Print them out and copy them.

You'll note that all the "pages" are strung together with a double set of ribbon. Make sure to allow enough room for the bend of the ribbon so that your pages stack neatly. Also, the first "page" is a shaker box. The plastic overlay was discarded packaging.

Do you like it? What do you think?

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Art of the Cliffhanger and a Contest!

Okay, I know some of you don't like cliffhangers, but just so you know, I intend to keep writing books that sort of flow into each other. Someone once told me that the first sentence sells the current book but the last sentence sells the next one. I know that I simulaneously love and hate how my favorite television programs end with question mark. But even as I might curse the writers, I find myself eagerly tuning in each week for more.

So what cliffhangers can you expect in the upcoming Kiki Lowenstein books? More specifically in Make, Take, Murder when it comes out May 1, 2011?

First, you'll learn more about Bama Vess, Kiki's new co-worker. Bama (pronounced "Bam-ma" and named long before our president took residence in the White House) is a conflicted woman. She's spurned all Kiki's overtures for friendship. At the same time, Bama does a great job of organizing and running Time in a Bottle. Will she and Kiki make good business partners? What's stopping Bama from being nice to Kiki? Could it be that Bama is as jealous of Kiki as Kiki is of her?

Second, you'll see what happens with Sheila and Police Chief Holmes. This is an old flame, rekindled, but they have a big problem. You see, Sheila is Jewish and Police Chief Holmes is Roman Catholic. Since Sheila is so very, very might guess there will be problems ahead.

Third, Dodie's health problems. Yes, they'll have an impact on how the store runs, and who's involved in Time in a Bottle. That's a given.

Of course, the biggest snafu ahead concerns Brenda Detweiler. There have been hints about problems with her marriage, but what are those problems? And why is Chad Detweiler unwilling to say, "Goodbye?"

You know, I've rarely seen people up and divorce each other. There's always a back-and-forth, a questioning, a sorting out of feelings. I don't think that marriage is a commitment to take lightly, and I truly believe that most people don't. This would be Detective Detweiler's second marriage. Since he's clearly such a cool guy, you have to wonder, what's up? Is he not everything he seems? Or has he simply gotten lost along the way? (My sister keeps teasing me that everything I write seems to be about redemption. Well, I'm a big believer in redemption, the art of the second chance. Most days, I think it's all we have to live for, that hope that we'll be forgiven, that we'll learn something, and we'll do better in the future.)


Meanwhile, I'm always curious. Which characters do you want to see return? And why? So here's the deal--you tell me, and I'll choose one of your comments to win a Kiki Lowenstein Fan Club tee shirt! You have until August 15 to comment. (Hey, why not get a friend to comment, too? Maybe she or he will let you share the tee!)

By the way, here's a sweet review of Paper, Scissors, Death,

Made my day!