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F. Paul Wilson Interview by Drew Bittner
Review by Drew Bittner
SFRevu Interview  ISBN/ITEM#: 0506FPWI
Date: June 2305 /

The writer behind Repairman Jack recently took some time out to answer a few questions for SFRevu's Drew Bittner.

SFRevu: When did you start writing?
Wilson: I started in second grade, but I wasn't published till later. My first thing was a ghost story?I asked to read it to my class and read the first half... but I hadn't really finished so and then I decided to wing it. My teacher figured out pretty fast I hadn't written the rest. She stopped me and said, "Paul, when you're finished, come back and read the rest." I was embarrassed? but then kids came up and asked, "So what happened to this guy? What happened to the house?" That's when I realized that's what I wanted to do. Of course, I knew I couldn't make a living at it, so I went into medicine, but I was writing short stories through college and med school. I made my first sale in 1970 to John Campbell. One of my great regrets in life was not going to see him. He invited me to come by but... like I said, a great regret. But having sold him a story gave me credibility when I sent Doubleday my first novel.

SFRevu: Were there specific inspirations that led you to write horror? Is "horror" a poor description?
Wilson: Horror it is. Start with "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" and go from there. That was my first exposure to anything horrific, but I always liked that stuff. Shock Theatre with Zacherly? I was in Heaven! We had a thing called 'Million Dollar Movie,' where this local station showed the same movie all week and then all day Saturday. I saw King Kong eleven times in one day. It must have been on a 90 minute loop and they cut stuff out I guess, but I went at 7am... and saw it eleven times, back to back.

When I was a kid, you couldn't buy horror to read, only SF. It was Ray Bradbury's "October Country" that blew me away- and I wanted to have that effect, to do that, to someone else. It's the perfect story, and I found it in "13 More Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV" by Alfred Hitchcock. It was too gruesome?not on the page, though! It was what Bradbury didn't show that made it. I love it when a reader has to take the next step. That's the best kind of horror- the stories that make the reader a participant. I've striven for that but don't think I've ever really made it. I do think the oblique view is more effective than the in-your-face view. The more a reader has to participate, the less passive they can be.

SFRevu: There are definite differences, though, between a horror short story and a movie or TV show...
Wilson: Absolutely, and I'm finding that out with a comic book project I'm doing for IDW. I just scripted my short story Faces for Doomed?I'm adapting four stories that they'll collect in one volume at some point. Faces is about a very deformed serial killer who happens to be a female. In the script, I try to hide what her face looks like until the big money shot at the end. In prose, you can hide stuff by not describing it, but in graphic media like comics, it's a tough job.

I'm doing The Keep for IDW next and that's not so hard, but I do believe that the more you show, the less mysterious it is. The entities in the Adversary Cycle are the Ally and the Otherness?they're too big for names, and they don't even want names! Names limit them somehow. If you give something beyond our understanding a name like Cthulu or Nyarlathotep or something, you trivialize them.

SFRevu: Was there anything in particular that inspired Repairman Jack?
Wilson: He came from a dream. The scene on the roof in The Tomb was the dream, then I worked backward and forward to create a character who could survive that situation. I've been a libertarian forever, so I figured I'd act out my libertarian dreams, you know, make this guy an anarchist with no identity. But as I write him more and more, I see that it takes a lot of effort to live below the radar, especially since 9/11.

With Jack, I intended him to be a one-shot, which is kind of obvious at the end of the book. As I finished The Tomb, I thought, "Well, this character is great?- so I gotta make it look like the guy is dead or they'll want more." I had books planned out and didn't want to get locked into a series. Then, later on, Jack became a way out of a trap I got myself into with a medical thriller contract. I'd gotten bored with writing them after doing three and I was contracted to do a fourth... but thought "Hey, why don't I rework this and use Jack again? It'd be great for him!" I made his client a doctor and that was that. And the publisher was happy that I was bringing back a character that my fans wanted to see again.

Legacies was fun so I had to do another, and it's been going from there. And now I'm up to starting on the tenth one. How the heck did I get here?

One downside, though, is that Jack's story has gotten so big and so wide angle, I need people?like the folks on my website?as resources. I really need a compendium, 'cause I end up asking readers, "Um, what happened here again?" I could use a compendium a lot more than the readers...

SFRevu: Many of the novels and short stories you've written are part of a meta-plot, a supernatural apocalypse that you've already written. How did this come about?
Wilson: I never intended to bring Jack back. Then I wrote Legacies and thought at first that it would be another one-shot for Jack, but instead it exploded from there. So now I have this huge I-don't-know-what to call it?but I have my own little outline in my head for where the stories go from here. It's gotten kind of out of hand but then I look back and say, What the hell have you started?

SFRevu: Was there a point at which you realized (or planned in advance) that all these works were approaching a mutual endpoint?
Wilson: When I was outlining Reborn and Reprisal and Nightworld, in my head, they were all one novel. But I knew pretty well that this 1000-page thing wouldn't be published, so I divided in three... but it's really one novel.

In Reborn, I didn't want to have an Antichrist?- but I thought, "I want something else to be born." So why not use the entity from The Keep? Maybe he sees this clone as a good vessel, so that ties Reborn into The Keep and... hey, that's pretty good. Then I started looking for other ways to connect. I mean, I knew I needed characters for certain things?- so why not take them from other books? Maybe I was thinking about this all along, subconsciously, but no one was more amazed than I when it worked out.

Thing is, I'm also a great fudger?- I can take something in a previous book that I wish I hadn't written, then find a way to fudge around it in making that connection. I'm good that way so that's how I levered some things in there. There are (gasp) some inconsistencies, but those who recognize them I hope would keep them quiet.

SFRevu: Have there been any particular complications in writing Jack's stories, given that his "fate" is pre-ordained?
Wilson: Well, his "fate" has been that way since Legacies, so I'm used to it. It's weird to have the last book written while you're doing new books. I tweaked Reborn and The Keep and The Tomb for the Borderlands editions--not the story but the prose. I'm disturbed by quality of my prose from back then. Luckily I can see it getting better as I go along. Borderlands wants Reprisal next, and that'll need some work; it's very 'early 90s,' and a lot of the story has to do with phones. Of course, there were no cell phones back then, and I have to find a way around that. It won't be sunspots, though!

SFRevu: What is the most unusual thing you researched in preparing to write one of these novels?
Wilson: Cults! I pride myself on my imagination but I couldn't come up with anything wilder than what I read on the Internet. A history of people going to mountain tops and freezing to death waiting for the second coming, and cults that kept revising judgment day when it didn't turn up on schedule. Scientology is whacked out! Mormonism?well, as it's practiced, it's actually a pretty good, productive lifestyle, but it was formed in such a patently phony way, it amazes me. Joseph Smith-- what a con man.

But I used what I learned. The Dormentalist religion is part Scientology, part Mormonism, part Raelienism.

It's sort of like my research for Haunted Air, studying psychics and how they do what they do. It's astounding that people believe even when they're shown how the tricks are done. James Randi did a test where he put two people in a room with a psychic for a cold reading?- they came out and said he knows all about us! Randi showed them the tape, where the guy was correct one in 14 times. Even after seeing the tape, they thought he was wonderful. If you can lock in the will to believe, people will accept anything.

SFRevu: In Infernal, we see Jack suffer some acute losses, one of them at the hands of what seem to be Muslim terrorists. Was this a conscious reaction to 9/11?
Wilson: It's tapping into the zeitgeist, in that the reader will react in certain ways. Before, an event like that might not have been believable... but now it is. I wanted it to be random, shocking and senseless, not a motivated murder. It sets Jack up to acquiesce to things he wouldn't agree to in the book.

However, that said, I don't like Islam much. It seems like an adolescent power fantasy, having multiple wives and all that?- I have no respect for it, but I didn't really dwell on that when I was writing Infernal.

SFRevu: Jack is also in a position of being powerless to stop something terrible from happening, but can't. That has to weigh on him too.
Wilson: I like to defy expectations. Jack doesn't always take action, even when he can, often because he doesn't know what's going on. Like in Crisscross, he saw concrete being poured without knowing his friend was dying under it. There's that clich? about the hero always being in the right place at the right time, but it's a form of irony if the hero doesn't know what's going on.

One of the things I've really tried to emphasize is that Jack is fallible. I refuse to make him Superman or James Bond, because he isn't; he's feeling his way through life like the rest of us. He's not a SEAL, there's no big government agency behind him. People aren't used to that?they see the ultracompetent guy who's always one step ahead.

Jack is sometimes ahead and sometimes behind, but sometimes people die who shouldn't because he can't predict human nature. In real life, you can't predict what other people will do. There's always a kink in the plan?- everything sounds perfect and then something screws it up. It's something I've used for comedic and horrific effect. When real crooks are caught, it's usually some stupid thing they didn't foresee. I love to play with that type of thing, setting up a clich?, and then pulling the rug out.

SFRevu: It seems a number of supernatural powers are waking up-- the subject of the new book's title being one of them. Will we learn more about the world's "magical history" in the future?
Wilson: To some extent. There WAS a "first age" where this all began that's now lost in history. I know that that's not terribly original but I might go deeper into that era sometime.

Things right now are in flux in the world. As of Infernal, there are 18 months of internal time before Nightworld begins?- it starts in May of the following year. I don't want to run this into the ground, so I'm not sure exactly how far I'll go in mapping out Jack between now and then, but there are things I want to set up. Like the woman with the dog, for one.

I?m always trying to misdirect the readers, but you know, in a series, there's a huge drawback: you know Jack's not going to die 'cause then there won't be a next book. Putting him in jeopardy won't work. But I think I've gotten through to people that no one is safe... except maybe Gia and Vicky, and even they might not make it.

SFRevu: Whoa, wait. They make it to Nightworld...
Wilson: Yeah, but so much has changed. In the original, Jack didn't know anything about the Otherness, so now Glaeken won't have that long expository sitdown with him. They might even meet beforehand.

The baby [note: Gia is currently pregnant with Jack's child] could be an Achilles heel but Gia and Vicky already are?- ah, but I do like to break hearts. My wife might not speak to me if I do something to the baby and some people would really resent it, but I can say that the fate of the baby is determined in the novel I'm writing now. There are still two ways I can go. I have choices to make will it come out one way or the other. I do love to break hearts, though... like with [Jack's sister] Kate in Hosts.

SFRevu: I liked that microwave radiation, which many people fear, is what kept the alien influence at bay...
Wilson: Microwave radiation doesn't have wavelengths to ionize anything, which is what you need for mutation (i.e., cancer) so you can't cause a tumor with it. Junk science drives me up the wall. And creationism makes me crazy. There are all sorts of arguments about how evolution took place but it did take place, no way around it!

Science is a process of discovery. If you have the source of all knowledge be the bible, there's no discovery. Creationism can't be modified by new information, no method, no process, they have the answers. And they have no understanding of science. They're glib and people are sucked in, but they're dead wrong and they're a bigger threat to American education than the teachers' unions.

SFRevu: The Repairman Jack novels have introduced a number of characters and situations-- would you revisit any of these in a revised or expanded version of Nightworld?
Wilson: Oh yeah! Things will occur to me, making links and connections. Readers love it when they can spot these sorts of Easter eggs. If you're in the know, you got the reference. Heinlein's future history was full of self-referential tidbits?I call it "lagniappe" for the discerning reader.

SFRevu: How has your view of Jack evolved? How has Jack evolved?
Wilson: To me, he's become more connected with the world. In The Tomb, he was a real hard case. It might sound like a clich?, but the love of a good woman can change a man. Now he has two sides?- and I don't want to invoke Star Wars but he does have a dark side and that really came out in Crisscross. Not so much in All The Rage, because that was drug-fueled... but I was worried about how people would accept his solution in Crisscross. I mean, we're talking the cold-blooded murder of a couple of people.

Crisscross started with the idea of framing a murderer with murder he didn't commit. It's where the novel came from, that one little idea. To make it work, I had to have someone heinous for Jack to kill and someone heinous to pin it on. There are fates worse than death and for this schmuck to be in jail? well, like I said, worse than death.

In the Asian cultures, face can be lost with small things but in our culture, nowadays it seems impossible. It's hard to shame people, which is very sad. Standards are gone. One of the ongoing themes in Repairman Jack is that he's a career criminal who has higher standards than the world around him. He has a code and lives by it.

Kusum [the "villain" of The Tomb] was a man of honor and did what he thought was right to pursue vengeance?- but he respected Jack for being the man he was. They could have been friends if their purposes weren't crossed, because they were so much alike. It's why Kusum didn't kill him at one point?- it wouldn't be honorable.

So in Infernal, I asked, "What if Jack's brother is sort of the Anti-Jack? Everything Jack believes in, his brother doesn't care about?" Tom takes what he can take and has no moral compass. Jack loathes him but has to stick with him. That's just the kind of guy he is.

SFRevu: There is a lot going on in these books.
Wilson: Yup. I have a lot of throwaways in books, too?- in Crisscross, on Halloween when Jack is guiding Gia and Vicky around and wearing a Creature from the Black Lagoon suit, they stop at a house in the West Eighties. A balding guy comes out and offers Jack a vodka. I threw in the Creature costume for David Schow, the world's most obsessive Creature fan, and wouldn't you know, he guessed that the guy was Peter Straub. Those are fun things you can do in a book. I worked five song titles by The Byrds in there, and one guy got four out of five. That's how I amuse myself while I'm writing. (God, I need to get a life.)

SFRevu: Is there one question you would like NEVER to be asked again?
Wilson: No. I have pat answers to a lot of things and I'm comfortable with those, but it's human nature for people to want to know the same things. Some guys throw hissy fits when asked where this or that story comes from, but it's natural for people to ask. Readers are consumers of imagination and they can't imagine coming up with what you've written. It's no reason for hostility. If places were reversed, I'd ask the same thing. You have to realize the life situations of the people who are asking and where they're coming from. One look at "Starry Night" and I know I'd ask Van Gogh how he came up with those pinwheeling stars. I don't know what he'd say, maybe he'd cut off another ear. But if you don't want to be asked, don't take questions at all.

Readers should visit the official F. Paul Wilson website: www.repairmanjack.com for news and current events, as well as a very active forum. Readers can also sign up for email updates?all they have to do is ask. Thanks to F. Paul Wilson for taking time to chat? so now hurry out and get a copy of Infernal, the ninth Repairman Jack novel!

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