This month, it’s my honor to feature one of the supernatural thriller genre’s most interesting personalities, F. Paul Wilson. I’m not only a huge fan, I consider Paul a friend. At various conferences around the country, we’ve been on panels together and closed bars after hours. One of Paul’s most admirable traits is his protectiveness of his family and personal life. During this interview I made a valiant attempt to break in, but he held firm and the firewall stayed up! Paul might claim all that private stuff is boring anyway, but trust me, there’s nothing boring or dull about this amazingly talented writer. And you won’t find a kinder pro in the business. And if anyone’s curious, the F stands for Francis.
The only fault I can possibly find in Paul’s character is his willingness to hang with Joe Konrath! Just kidding Joe, you know I love you like a brother.
Where to begin? Paul’s invested 35 plus years in this crazy business of writing fiction. Nearly every F. Paul Wilson story involves some degree of supernatural suspense. He’s probably best known in the horror and science fiction genres although many of the Repairman Jack novels cross into the thriller camp.
So who is this intriguing character called Repairman Jack and what does he repair? It’s a safe bet he won’t be called upon to fix a leaky toilet, seal old windows, or silence a squeaking floor board. It’s also a safe bet that RJ doesn’t advertize his services in the yellow pages. So who is he and what does he do? Perhaps the best answer is from a Repairman Jack Wikipedia article:
“Repairman Jack is a self-titled “fix-it” man, but not in the common workshop sense. He is something of an underground mercenary, hired by everyday people to fix situations that cannot be dealt with through legal means (e.g. blackmail).”
That’s a nearly perfect description. RJ’s adventures have ranged from investigating the World Trade Center tragedy (GROUND ZERO, 2009) to exposing and bringing down a couple of phony spiritual mediums in Queens, NYC (THE HAUNTED AIR, 2004) When I Googled “Repairman Jack,” I found over 52,700 references — that’s just plain crazy! To say RJ has gained cult status wouldn’t do him justice. RJ’s become his own subculture, complete with t-shirts, hats, and dare I say… Groupies?
The Repairman Jack novels in the order they were written are:
THE TOMB (1984)
ALL THE RAGE (2000)
THE HAUNTED AIR (2002)
BY THE SWORD (2008)
GOUND ZERO (2009)
FATAL ERROR (2010)
Paul also has a young adult series going involving the early years of Repairman Jack. And yes, we’re all relieved he didn’t call it the Repairboy Jack series. That just wouldn’t do!
SECRET HISTORIES (young adult, 2008)
SECRET CIRCLES (young adult, 2010)
SECRET VENGEANCE (young adult, 2011)
RJ’s roots reach back to The Adversary Cycle, a series of six novels that was originally titled The Nightworld Cycle. RJ first appears in THE TOMB, November 1984. The Adversary Cycle is an amazing collection of supernatural themed stories which have remained timeless — they’re just as relevant in today’s world as they were when they were written. It seems that good will always battle evil and nowhere is that classic battle more defined than in THE KEEP, the first of The Adversary Cycle. Here’s the TAC series:
THE KEEP (1981)
THE TOMB (1984)
THE TOUCH (1986)
THE TOMB and THE TOUCH were originally written as stand-alone novels, but NIGHTWORLD brought all the characters together in the final battle against the Otherness. So exactly what is the “Otherness?” With everything boiled down, the Otherness is evil —pure and simple, although there’s nothing simple about the Otherness’ leader, an ancient entity called Rasalom from the “First Age” of humans. Opposing Rasalom and the Otherness is the Ally and its leader, Glaeken. The two beings are eternally linked in a way that binds their destinies together. Even though Rasalom’s supernatural abilities seem to vastly outmatch Glaeken’s powers, a delicate balance between the two of them remains firm. And often in The Adversary Cycle stories, humans are caught between the two combative sides, being used as tools and pawns. Both sides want total domination of everything that is, was, and shall be. Sound heavy? It is, and that makes The Adversary Cycle all the more compelling. Glaeken and the Ally aren’t all good and they’re not battling the Otherness for humanity’s sake. They’re fighting for dominance and unfortunately, humanity occasionally takes it on the chin.
If you’re interested in getting a nice gift for an avid reader/collector, or if you want one for yourself, I worked a special deal with Tom at Borderland Press. He’s offering The Adversary Cycle in a beautiful slip-cased numbered edition. All subscribers of The Big Thrill will receive a 20% discount. So feel free to take a look. Not only will you get some top-notch novels by a New York Times bestselling author, you’ll own a treasured, leather bound set of literary classics. I’ve already ordered mine!
Between The Lines appreciates Paul answering some questions. And I might’ve put a tiny crack in the firewall with the first few!
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Have you always lived in the New Jersey area? Did you ever call someplace else home?
I was born and bred NJ except for time at schools – Xavier High School in NYC and Georgetown University in DC.
Approx how many of your books have been sold? How many languages?
Not sure. North of 8 million in the US. Probably more than that overseas in 24 languages.
I raise triffids. They can be difficult at times, especially in cold weather when they want to come inside.
You inspire a lot people by attending writers conferences like ThrillerFest. Why is that so important to you? Was there someone—an established author—who helped you on your journey to publication?
I’ve made the bestseller lists, but I’m a Lilliputian at Thrillerfest. It’s loaded with household names – writers who inspire me.
Because my work crosses numerous genre lines, I attend a fair number of conventions each year – Thrillerfest, World Horror, World Fantasy, ComiCon, and I’m still invited to the occasional SF con. I also teach at an average of two or three workshops a year.
As for who inspired me? A fellow named John W. Campbell, Jr. I’d been trying to sell short fiction when I started out but was receiving those pre-printed “Does not suit our editorial needs at that time” rejection slips with Pavlovian regularity. I wrote “The Cleaning Machine” (now there’s a gripping title) and sent it to Analog. Weeks later I received an envelope from the magazine and expected another form. But no. Inside was a letter from John Campbell himself, the father of modern science fiction, telling me why he was rejecting it: “It’s not a story because it doesn’t go anywhere. (The tenants did but the story doesn’t!) It’s a vignette. A story has a beginning, middle, and end. Send me a story.”
So I did. I kept writing and he kept rejecting, but always told me why, and I always will revere him for that. I’d never taken a writing course – he became my writing course. One day I received a check and no letter. If he couldn’t disagree with you, Campbell had nothing to say.
There are many ebooks for sale on your website. Is our industry in a slow transition to a dominate electronic media? Do you think traditional “mom and pop” bookstores will become things of the past? How will they compete in the electronic era?
When you have a career as long as mine, you build up a significant backlist. I never sold e-rights to earlier titles because ebooks didn’t exist then. So I’ve put them up on Kindle and Nook and Smashwords, usually for $2.99, to make them available to all those myriad e-readers out there. I’m an epublisher.
As for the future of publishing…I don’t have a glib, facile answer. Of course it’s going to change. The explosive penetration of Kindle into the reading marketplace has shocked the industry. (My 95-year-old mother loves hers.) The burgeoning popularity of tablet computers will further expand the ebook market. Borders’s collapse is a huge blow to p-books – millions of feet of shelf space gone in an eye blink.
P-books will persist, but tweens are reading books on their iTouch and comics on their DSi. They see p-books in school, but for how long? Soon all their textbooks will be on flash drives, or simply downloaded. And they’re searchable that way.
Publishers will have to adapt. Eventually p-books will constitute a minority share of the market, but not as soon as some people think. A good editor will always be valuable, however, no matter what the medium.
Specialty indy bookstores will hang on, and may even publish the very genres they cater to. But I don’t see how the big chains with their huge, high-upkeep palaces can compete with the limitless inventory and low relative overhead of online stores. I’d love to see the return of little mall stores like Walden and B.Dalton offering p-books and ebooks – just cover flats for the ebooks, and if one looks good, I download it then and there. An impulse buy.
But with ebooks come the leeches and freeloaders. Piracy is going to have to be dealt with eventually.
You collaborated with three other authors, Joe Konrath, Blake Crouch, and Jeff Strand in writing DRACULAS. Please tell us about that. How did it work? Did one of you take the lead? How do you feel about co-authored books in general?
Talk about a fun time. We each chose a human character and a non-human character, and wrote from their POVs. Joe and Blake had the reins and did all the scut work. I simply wrote my butt off and let it all hang out for about 20k words and had a blast. This was a great group of writers to work with and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
This went straight to ebook – self published by the four of us after it was beta read and copyedited by outsiders.
Do you feel that the horror and thriller genres are close cousins? Does a good thriller have elements of horror and vice versa?
A good thriller doesn’t need horror, but horror can benefit from some thriller techniques. Almost all of my horror novels are thrillers in approach and execution. MIDNIGHT MASS especially. And THE KEEP was definitely influenced by the early Ludlum novels I was reading at the time.
If you have one, what is your favorite F. Paul Wilson book, and why?
THE SELECT occupies a warm place in my heart because it netted me a 7-figure advance. I love SIBS because I wrote it in 9 weeks as a part-time writer. (I should mention that I’d been thinking about it for 15 years, hunting for the final twist that would make it work.) CONSPIRACIES because the research was so damn much fun. And THE KEEP, of course, because this year marks its 30th anniversary; in all that time it’s never been out of print and it made my career.
Can you tell us about your GU (Grand Unification) gatherings each year? What are they and how did they come about?
It started in 2001. Repairmanjack.com went live in 1998 and quickly gathered a faithful following. Some of the regulars became close online friends and gathered in chat rooms when they weren’t hanging out at the RJ site. They decided to get together in the real world for a weekend and chose Baltimore. They came from all over – one fellow even flew in from England. I said, What the hell. If you’re getting together, I’ll drive down one night and have dinner with you. And I did. They’ve averaged about one GU a year and I’ve made all of them except Nashville because I was on a West Coast book tour at the time. The term Grand Unification comes from the Jack novel CONSPIRACIES.
You’re extremely popular, even iconic. Have you ever had a problem with an overzealous fan? If so, how did you handle him/her?
If I’m iconic at all it’s only because I’ve been around so many years. (Wilson’s still here?) I’ve never had a stalker. I keep a firewall between my writing life and personal life, but when I’m out and about at a con or on tour, I make myself accessible. You don’t have to stalk me: Here I am. I’m occasionally handed strange gifts at signings, though – everything from ammo to concealable weapons to CDs of old, hard-to-find rock. I love my readers. Really. And I think they sense that.
Repairman Jack is an extraordinary character with strong motivations. How much of F. Paul Wilson is in Repairman Jack?
Not as much as at the start. I used to think his under-the-radar lifestyle would be cool, but as I’ve spent years in Jack’s skin (metaphorically) I’ve come to see that it’s a lot of work. What he’s got to go through just to get on a plane – yoiks! We still share a deep distrust of governments and people with the bad taste to run for public office.
After 15 years in development hell, it’s seen some recent movement. We have a great script by Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious, Wanted). We have Ryan Reynolds interested in playing Jack. And now an iconic movie personality whose name is instantly recognized in every country in the world and who is a longtime Repairman Jack fan wants to direct the movie. He and Beacon Films are dancing. I don’t know if they’ll go home together, but I hope they do. (Pardon the obliquity, but I’m sworn not to name names at this point.)
When all else is peeled away, what makes F. Paul Wilson happy. What’s truly important to you?
In writing, it’s when the strands of a plot or plots all weave together into an organic whole. In my personal life…oops, there’s that firewall!
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Each interview I do is a unique experience and the various personalities seem to shine like suns. I think this is especially true with Paul, maybe because I feel a certain amount of familiarity. His firewalled answer above is of course, an answer. It goes without saying that Paul treasures his family and puts it above all else. As far as the triffids go? (I hate to admit this folks, but I had to look them up.) Triffids? What the hell are triffids? Well, I’ll spare you the embarrassment I felt doing a net search. Has this Between The Lines editor just been duped into a snipe hunt? Sheesh!
Triffid: A tall, mobile, carnivorous, prolific, and venomous fictional plant that was first introduced in the 1951 John Wyndham novel, THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. Triffids were the main antagonists in the story. There is a more practical definition out there: A triffid has since become a British/English colloquial term used to describe a large or menacing looking plant.
This feature wouldn’t be complete without mentioning one of my favorite novels of all time. THE KEEP. And despite Paul’s reluctance about the movie, I really like it. Scott Glenn played the role of Glaeken — mentioned above. The strong musical score is composed and performed by Tangerine Dream. The acting is top notch, especially by Jürgen Prochnow, who played the role of Captain Klaus Woermann, an alienated WWII German infantry officer. The ending is different from the book, but powerful just the same. Paul has expressed his distaste for the film, calling it: “Visually intriguing, but otherwise utterly incomprehensible.” I must respectfully disagree because I had no trouble understanding the movie’s plot and characters. Of course such things are always subjective, but I liked it. A lot. I’ve watched it half a dozen times.
For a more factual (or research related) look at Paul’s career to date, Wikipedia has good article. There are many links and references to material on Paul’s amazing career. It’s an impressive collection of information.
And I encourage you to visit Paul’s official website.
Bottom Line? F. Paul Wilson is a class act, through and through. He’s approachable, willing to help aspiring authors, and has a soft place in his heart for the little guy. He resents bullies and everything they represent. Perhaps Repairman Jack’s roots can be found in this basic tenet: Never kick a man when he’s down. If you violate it, you might just open your front door one day and find Repairman Jack standing there — smiling.
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F. Paul Wilson was born and raised in New Jersey where he misspent his youth playing with matches, poring over Uncle Scrooge and E.C. comics, reading Lovecraft, Matheson, Bradbury, and Heinlein, listening to Chuck Berry and Alan Freed on the radio, and watching Soupy Sales and Shock Theatre with Zacherley. He is the author of over 40 books, including the THE KEEP, SIBS, THE SELECT, and CONSPIRACIES.