AN OCTUPLET CHAT WITH F. PAUL WILSON
According to The Fountain of All Knowledge (Wikipedia), the number 8 “is the natural number following 7 and preceding 9.” Boy am I glad the .com masters cleared this controversial issue up—a debate has been raging in my family for decades! 8 also signifies the antichrist, who, according to the Book of Revelations, is the eighth king. How does any of this apply to my chat in 8 parts with F. Paul Wilson? Well, seeing as I was the one who drew the lucky straw to interview him, I assembled about eight bazillion topics on which I wanted to pick his brain. But since he was gracious enough to even speak with me, I figured I better sort and sift those 8 bazillion topics to find the 8 I really wanted to cover. I hoped that in the end, I would assemble an interview more informative than Wikipedia’s info about 8 following 7 and preceding 9, but less provocative than affirming that the number 8 means the antichrist.
On that note, shall we proceed?
Wilson really doesn’t need an intro, but before we get into the 8 topics, let’s get just a little smidge of le background.
Paul Wilson is a multiple award-winning, international best-selling author, who has published something like 56 books. He is what we call: THE REAL DEAL. And on top of his prolific history, he is still a practicing physician. That’s right. Wilson is THE BOSS.
Wilson has published in multiple genres: Horror (best known, THE KEEP), Medical Thrillers (my fave, THE SELECT), Supernatural, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Young Adult, Shorts, and in anthologies. THE KEEP was made into a major motion film, and many of Wilson’s other works are under option. Some people like to gasp about how he’s crossed several genre lines, but I think he’s just straight up telling stories. That’s what writers do. And Wilson does it well. This is what I like most about Wilson, his benevolent apathy to be boxed in and strictly defined. I admire that, look up to it.
TOPIC 1: WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
Wilson’s current book, PANACEA, will be released in July, and has a super fantastic cover.
Kirkus Reviews says of PANACEA, “An intelligent, intriguing, fast-moving blend of science fiction and thriller. Wilson’s complex, entertaining, smart story…flies at jet speed. The dialogue is seamless, natural, and ratchets up the tension.”
PANACEA follows Medical Examiner Laura Fanning, who has two charred corpses and no answers. Her preliminary investigation points to a cult that possesses the fabled panacea–the substance that can cure all ills. And thus ensues a heart-pounding, cross-continent battle between Fanning, a billionaire who wants the panacea, and those who wish to keep the panacea secret.
According to Wilson, an actual panacea is impossible, but to imagine that one might exist, well that’s where stories are born. He sold PANACEA as a standalone, and wrote it with that intent, but he now plans on making it a series. So all you Repairman Jack fans, steady yourself to get addicted to a new drug: Panacea. Which brings us to Topic 2.
TOPIC 2: SERIES WRITING
The Repairman Jack series was, like PANACEA, also written as a standalone (Book 1 titled, THE TOMB). But 23 books and 32 years after first publishing THE TOMB, Wilson no doubt has a long-running and beloved series character.
How does that happen? We hear this a lot, authors writing for years about one character when they never intended to do so. Wilson says, “I didn’t want to do a series.” And in fact, he waited fourteen years after THE TOMB (1984) to break the seal and write Book 2 in 1998. It went from there. He cautions new authors that Repairman Jack “took over my career….If you’re not okay with that, you better think twice.”
This is not to say that Wilson regrets writing about Repairman Jack. He knew eventually it was a closed-end series. But he did have other ideas along the way, such as PANACEA, which had been “sitting in [his] head for years.” PANACEA just had to “sit on a back burner,” which might have been a good thing. By the time Wilson got to it, it was “ready to go.” I liked that Wilson said this. I think we writers, or at least I, get anxiety about the various ideas we have swirling around in our heads and journals and how we don’t have the time to commit to them. But perhaps that’s how it should be. They need time to cogitate in the subconscious.
TOPIC 3: PROMETHEUS AWARD
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, Prometheus is a “Titan who is chained and tortured by Zeus for stealing fire from heaven and giving it to humankind.” Given this, Prometheus is often evoked as a sort-of patron saint of organizations that pursue the politics and philosophy of libertarianism, such as the Libertarian Futurist Society (“LFS”). The LFS was founded in 1982 to recognize and promote libertarian science fiction.
The LFS has awarded Wilson with five annual Prometheus awards and a lifetime achievement award. According to an LFS press release, “In Wilson’s Prometheus-winning science-fiction trilogy, HEALER, WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS, and AN ENEMY OF THE STATE, Wilson charts a far-flung saga about the LaNague Federation, a galactic association that replaces a repressive imperium with a philosophy of voluntary cooperation…The LaNague novels and related stories…dramatize a peaceful economic revolution establishing the federation’s policy of self-ownership, mutual consent, cooperation, free trade, honest (non-fiat) money, no taxes, and right of self-defense.”
Wilson is of course honored to receive repeated awards and accolades from LFS. He explains that he didn’t write with the express intent of injecting such politics into his storytelling. He simply can’t separate his internal philosophy from his writing. “It’s my world view,” he says. Wilson is quoted in a 2011 LFS.org interview as saying, “I also am skeptical of the motives of people who run for office.”
with that skepticism.
But why is Wilson skeptical of politicians? As Wilson explains, inherent in the act of running for office, you’re really saying, “I know how to do things better than you do.” He continued, “I think it takes enormous ego and a certain amount of bad taste to run for office. Pretending you like everyone. I mean come on. For someone like Donald trump, it’s meat and potatoes….he’s not a paragon of taste.”
Well there’s a whole lot of something I agree with.
Wilson and I had a fairly robust conversation about politics, and I have to agree with him that as a writer, it’s very difficult to avoid lacing stories with your internal philosophies. For example, I can’t imagine ever painting any politician in a positive light. They likely would be the psychopathic killer and/or supernatural demon. I suppose the only exception is if I were writing a twist and the politician/government agent was merely acting the part to infiltrate the system, which is consistent with my theory on the hot Darth Vader: Kylo Ren. Oh yes. I went there. Cue the DEBATE.
Back to Wilson and our talk on politics. According to Wilson, an election doesn’t have “a meaningful ballot without a ‘none of the above.’”
TOPIC 4: THE SELECT
THE SELECT is F. Paul Wilson’s 1993 medical thriller about some nasty bad &#!T going down at a medical school. What’s my review? 5 stars. Here’s the link to buy it. It’s true we normally promote the latest book, but I already did that at the start of this interview, so now it’s time for a classic. As this one’s my favorite contemporary thriller of Wilson’s (although, I haven’t read PANACEA yet), I spent a lot of time asking questions on this book, especially where I annotated the whole novel with my questions.
ME: “After I re-read THE SELECT and knew I had a 100 questions for you about it, I read an interview in which you identified it out of your, what 55-56, books as one of your favorites because, I believe you said, it fell together just right. For our writer friends, is there something you can point to or describe further that tells you when a book falls together?”
WILSON: “Quinn [the main character] came alive for me…Quinn and Tim, those two characters came together for me. You wish all characters could write as easily…[Also, the story is a] bit timeless because it’s a medical school…[The Select was] “more cerebral [and] at the end physical…” [You know a book comes together when] it comes to you, the book, like you’re taking dictation. There’s always the midpoint where you think it’s crap…but then in the end you know how to fix it and bing bang boom it’s all together. You can tell when you sit down.”
For THE SELECT, Wilson drew a lot of details from his own time in medical school, which gave the story a “patina of reality” and therefore easier to believe.
ME: “One of the themes/ideas in the book is a fear that in the soon future (and this was released in 1994) there would be a lack of health care resources for a larger population and therefore, there is an ethical dilemma that forms the spine of the novel on how doctors are to address that. Are they to tier who gets what health care and when? Quinn fights back on this notion on two main fronts that I could see: Doctors aren’t God, and she also suggests that maybe technology would improve to bridge the resource issue. Tim, her boyfriend, says, ‘The empty suits will try to get into the hospital charts, into the operating rooms, into the office records, even into the examining room.’ Now that it’s 2016, do you think we are at the feared future already?”
WILSON: “Yeah we are in this place now. The whole electronic medical records requirement…I try to put as little as possible that’s damning in [a patient’s] chart. Because it never goes away….Used to be paper records were shredded after two years.”
ME: “What ever became of Quinn Cleary? I liked her. And I liked her boyfriend, Tim. Any chance for a sequel?
WILSON: “[No, not planning any sequel. The Select is somewhat] of a cautionary novel.”
Damn. Really wanted more Quinn.
TOPIC 5: DAY JOB
Many of us newly published writers also have an established career. And because of this, the number one question we get is when we’re going to quit our day jobs. For me, this is neither fiscally nor professionally practical. But was there ever a time when Wilson could have stopped being a family physician and chosen to write full time? Here’s what he had to say:
“I always encourage writers to keep your day job. I think it’s good for your writing. It puts you in contact with real people. I work two twelve hour days. It’s rewarding. I like it. I could live off my writing. 1994 was when I went part time. But couldn’t quit it all. I do like it. There are rewards that are beyond the fiscal. And also, I think it makes you a better writer…to get that broader look at what real people are thinking out here. I think that’s really important.”
TOPIC 6: CROSS-GENRE-BRANDING
Wilson has written in several genres: Sci-Fi, Horror, Thriller, Medical Thriller, Young Adult, Supernatural. In a 2011 LFS interview, Wilson said, “I did get pigeonholed as that libertarian sci-fi writer in the late ‘70s, [which is] one reason I decided to write a horror novel, something that wasn’t libertarian or science fiction. I don’t like being pigeonholed.”
So I asked, is that okay? To branch out like Wilson first did, away from Sci-Fi? He answered, “I was a genre hopper all along. It sort of got me in trouble.” He went on to explain that while there will be loyal readers who will read anything you write, there’s a percentage “who want this one to be like another.”
So I asked about this thing in publishing about “branding” and how some people believe an author should “brand” themselves. According to Wilson, “Branding is good and bad.”
Writing across genres might also have allowed Wilson to publish more often than he might otherwise have been allowed. Wilson explained that it used to be that publishers didn’t want you to publish more than one book a year because they said the reading public wouldn’t be able to handle that. “So of course they were wrong,” he said. “I was able to squeak through the cracks….switch genres…had dumb luck to have good timing.” It’s about “Being in the right place at the right time.”
Wilson is also a genre-crossing reader, which he believes also helps his writing. For example, he is a big Robert Ludlum fan, which helped him in writing his internationally bestselling horror, THE KEEP. Ludlum novels taught him how to write about paranoia and misdirection.
No matter what the genre, the first question Wilson asks is, “Can I give it a bang-up ending?”
TOPIC 7: ADVICE FOR ME
Since I was conducting this interview, I thought I’d use my coveted time to sneak in a request for advice just for me. So I asked him for his number one bit of advice on how to write a horror [because I find it really damn hard].
According to Wilson, “A lot of it is instinct…you have to trust your gut to some extent.” To my relief, he also said, “There’s no rules for that type of thing…Horror basically is a visceral reaction and it’s also a mood. Thrillers tend to be more hopeful. You can change things for the better, whereas with horror fiction, it’s more of a sense that the world is going to be changed….and that sense of dread that I can’t avoid it…I’ll do the best I can, but this doesn’t look good. But a thriller, we’ll get through this. With horrors, however, if we get through, we’ll be damaged.” He further explained, “This is the message horror sends out: This is not a good thing. And it’s only going to get worse.”
I found this to be the best answer ever. It gave me license to do something really bad to a main character. Anyway, Wilson will be doing a panel at ThrillerFest on writing horror and I for one, plan to attend. *Subliminal message: get your tickets to Thrillerfest now*
TOPIC 8: ADVICE FOR ALL WRITERS
I wanted to get Wilson’s most specific and practical advice for new writers. Here’s what he had to say, so listen up.
“When I signed my first contract, I just signed it. Gave away world rights…Foreign rights are always important to understand. The other thing to understand is the option on the next book… It’s the hidden bear trap.” Typically, he explained, holding an option on the next book gives the publisher “3-6 months to pass or fail,” and this can really “hold you up.”
But, he says, “A good ethical publisher won’t hold you up that long. They have these things in their boilerplate, and you get lost in the shuffle, and you have a book and you can’t show to anyone else. It could hold up your career. That’s the big bugaboo.”
Another specific item to be aware of, he says, “Reversion is a big one. [Reversion is] where you own the book rights again. [Typically, reversion is triggered]… when a book goes out of print. But e-books screw that up because they never go out of print.” Wilson cautions writers to put some kind of limit with respect to reversion. He concedes, of course, “But with your first novel, you don’t have much bargaining. This is why you have an agent.”
Alright then, this concludes our interview. What are the main points we’ve learned: Go pre-order PANACEA, go buy and read THE SELECT, sign up for ThrillerFest and go see Wilson’s panel on horror writing, and 8 comes after 7 and before 9.
Shannon Kirk is the award-winning author of the debut psychological thriller, METHOD 15/33 (THE METHOD in UK, NZ, and OZ), which has garnered three starred reviews, won the National Indie Excellence Award for best suspense, was selected by the School Library Journal as one of the best 17 adult fiction books for teens, and was the Gold winner of the Benjamin Franklin IBPA award. METHOD 15/33 has been optioned for a major motion film and has sold into sixteen foreign territories. Ms. Kirk’s second novel (not a thriller), THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF VIVIENNE MARSHALL, will be published in September 2016. Read more about Shannon Kirk, her books, and short stories at www.shannonkirkbooks.com and www.thegoatmancometh.com.
To learn more about Shannon Kirk’s most recent novel, click on the cover below:
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