Alan will take reader questions via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Because of space and time limitations, he can’t post and answer every question he receives. If there are duplicate queries, he’ll randomly pick one email to respond to. If your question isn’t answered, it isn’t because he hasn’t read it. Alan reserves the right to edit and rewrite all questions he selects. He is sorry he can’t reply to everyone by personal email.
You know if that sexual harrassment business wasn’t hanging over our heads, you’d have been fired by Gold Eagle years ago.
Spooky, no city or state given
Just remember the restraining order. Five hundred yards, bitch.
I was really excited when I read about your hypnagogic Sleep Writing© method in the first OAP newsletter. I want to become a more prolific writer like you. It’s so great that you are taking the time to share your professional writing tips. I followed your instructions, but I think I need a little help. When I got stuck in the middle of writing a page of my Arthurian fantasy romance novel, I lay down on the couch and elevated my feet just like you said. I closed my eyes and tried to think about the problems in my writing, but I couldn’t keep my mind focused. Right away I started thinking about doing the laundry. Then a TV commercial popped into my head, the one for Circuit City that uses that old Top Forty hit “You’re Just What I Needed.” I couldn’t get that dumb song out of my brain! Then the dog came over and slimed my arm with his wet nose and I gave up. When I checked the clock, only two minutes had passed. Tell me please, what am I doing wrong?!
Darlene, Austin, Texas
You are missing the two most important elements of my methodology: panic and exhaustion. They work in tandem to produce the desired effect. Panic leads to exhaustion and vice versa. This cycle of anxiety is what brings about the hypnagogic state wherein the self-censor is disabled. That is the ultimate goal of the exercise. You can’t just have a lie down and reach the tipping point. First, you must work yourself into a dither. Remember, Darlene, mellow is the Enemy.
Isn’t it true that you stole the idea for Deathlands Shadow World and the battlesuits from Outlanders' Lost Earth Saga?
Bender, no home town or state given
(Interesting handle. You must be British.)
I turned in Shadow World to Gold Eagle five months before the first book in that Outlanders' saga was published. I know because I just looked up the Fedex receipt and the release dates on Amazon. GE never passes unpublished manuscripts or contracted proposals from one author to another for fear of “cross-pollination.” That Shadow World wasn’t published until years later was a function of an over-stock of DL manuscripts—something that happens all the time.
The only Outlanders book I’ve ever tried to read was the first one, sent to me by a GE editor long since fired, and I’m sorry to say I couldn’t get through the opening chapter.
If you examine the works of Science Fiction’s “Golden Age” writers, which predate DL/OL by at least a quarter century, I think you’ll find the original sources of the ideas you mention.
Are you dead? There was a review of Labyrinth on Amazon that said you were.
Farfella, Hot Springs, Arkansas
I am temporarily a member of the un-dead.
Dear Mr. Philipson,
Why doesn’t Deathlands have continuity like Outlanders? Isn’t it because you’re lazy and don’t give a damn about the series’ longtime fans?
Hootie, from Hartford, Connecticut
You’re mixing apples and oranges. How hard is it for someone who invented a series to keep things straight? Not very, unless he or she’s a total nitwit.
Deathlands has had nine writers over 18 years. No DL writer ever knows what the others in the stable are doing—or for that matter, what they are being paid. There are 70 plus titles extant and most are out of print. There is no formal series' Bible that codifies the canon and sets series' direction, and in comparison to say the Star Trek novels which are painstakingly vetted by committee, there is no editorial oversight. Mistakes end up being compounded; there's no way around it. If the series was failing, GE might try to fix this. But so far it isn't.
Every reader has a different opinion, sometimes internally contradictory and often based on misreadings of the prose. Which reader (or readers) am I supposed to listen to? Should my creative life be determined by a show of strangers’ hands? Hootie, like every other novelist on the planet, I do this job to please myself. If anyone else is pleased by the work, that’s a bonus. If they’re royally pissed off, well, that’s a bonus, too.
R U an elitist, or what? Why don't you want people to know who you are? Are you ashamed of writing books for the Deathlands series?
Metalhead, from Sitka, Alaska
I don’t want people to know who I am because then they will bother me over nothing, as you are doing now.
I have read books from both the DL and OL series. Frankly, I can't tell the difference between them. They are both peurile [sic] crap. How can you be proud of such tripe?
Dank, from Athens, Georgia
They are supposed to be puerile crap. If you’re looking for literature, try Dan Brown or Sue Grafton.
You have written the excellent Executioner novel Slaughter Squad, and the SuperBolan Ultimate Game, both of which were very popular with Mack Bolan readers. Would you ever consider writing more novels in the Mack Bolan range?
Glenn, from the Netherlands
After doing so many of the contemporary action books I find the genre extremely tedious to work in. There is too much violence to choreograph, and it is by nature redundant. (How many ways can a head explode?) It all adds up to no fun for Al.
Another thing, I absolutely draw the line at one 350-tablet, jumbo bottle of COSTCO antacids per novel, or about one tab a page (although I eat them by the handful). That's my consumption rate for Deathlands. If I'm eating more than that, as happens with the paramilitary books, my body is sending me a warning I must heed. Last year, because DL was overstocked, I did write a Stony Man novel, Red Frost, about a biological warfare attack inside the U.S. It's due out in August 2007. It was a 700-tablet book.
I am confused. Do cannies all carry the active canny virus? Is there a injection for it? I need to know this ASAP. Thanks.
Deetle, from Landover, Maryland
No worries, Deathlands is fiction.
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DEATHLANDS COLLECTOR’S EDITION — ENCOUNTER
This prequel project was dumped in my lap at the last minute. The editor pulled me off another book to write it. Which left me in a predicament. As I’ve said, there has never been a proper Bible for the
Deathlands’ series, nothing that lays out the Trader/Ryan backstory, or lists DL titles where relevant canon (information about happenings prior to Book One Pilgrimage to Hell) appears. Even back in 1997 a lot of the Lawrence James titles were already out of print. GE couldn’t—or wouldn’t—send me the missing material. Because of the pressure of deadline I didn’t have time to locate all the books, let alone read them to identify any important background they contained. Even if I had been able to find and read the books, I still would have faced the problem of trying to make sense of and integrate the inconsistencies and outright errors in science, logic, and history that had accumulated over 45 titles.
Under conditions like those, how do you write a “prequel” that doesn’t violate some part of what has gone before? This is how I did it, and why…
I lifted a vague, one-sentence reference from Pilgrimage to Hell about Trader and a ville called “Virtue Lake.” Because there was so little said about Virtue Lake in PTH and because it appeared only the once, I knew if I used it I wouldn’t be stepping on anything that had been done by other writers after PTH. To further cover the fact that I couldn’t reconstruct the pertinent backstories (if any) from the missing books, I framed Encounter around a folk tale spread from campfire to campfire across the hellscape: How Trader got his terrifying reputation. The novel itself was not the myth; it was the ironic truth of the matter. It turned out Trader was more a victim than a victimizer, but since it was to his advantage to make Deathlanders afraid of him, he never denied the accusation that as payback for a business-wrong done him, he had chilled every living thing in Virtue Lake, men, women, children, animals, “right down to the flies on the dog doo.”
The idea that post nukecaust the transfer of news would necessarily devolve to word of mouth, with the attendant issues of distortion, error, purposeful misinformation, works on a lot of levels. It seems an unavoidable outcome of the end of civilization. It complicates matters for all the characters, and simplifies things for the writers. If DL is rife with false rumor and manipulated fear, then every fact stated by the characters is suspect, and subject to change.
Outside the framework of individual novels, the idea that the series itself is a whopping big fib also has resonance. After all, the world didn’t end on January 21, 2001. The Soviet Union was already long-gone by then. (Not to mention that the PTH canon re: the nuclear devices in D.C., the US/Soviet responses, etc. doesn’t hold up to even rudimentary analysis.) Which raises the question, if DL isn’t on this earth, then where the hell is it? And if DL’s earth isn’t our earth, then why should any of our scientific doctrines apply?
Some readers didn’t understand the reasons for my approach in Encounter. How could they? The problem wasn’t sitting like an elephant in their laps. What I did made some people mad. As I’ve said, the prime directive of a novelist is to please him or herself. A book can’t be written otherwise. It’s a matter of gathering momentum. If you hate sentence A, how do you proceed to sentence B? If an audience gets it and eventually follows along, that’s great. If not, a writer can either take it personally and throw in the towel, or move on to the next project and try again. Another way of putting it: the real pleasure for some of us is in the doing, not the having done.
By the way, this book isn’t, as some have claimed, a “novella.” It was 80K words instead of the usual 90K for DL. Eighty thousand words is the same length as
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Revenge, and the lust for same, is one of the most powerful motivational tools at a pulp writer’s disposal. It provides a sort of a jet-assist—over and above the Balance bars and coffee enemas—that makes a first draft flow faster. A tight focus of genuine hatred propels action narrative like a bobsled ride. I’m not talking about making up characters you hate; I’m talking about making real people you hate into characters. It is an approach that requires subtlety and care to forestall possible legal downsides.
Some points to consider: The boilerplate disclaimer (“All characters in this book have no existence outside…blah, blah, blah.”) is for the publisher’s protection; it doesn’t necessarily let an author off the hook. You should never use actual names unless the targets are deceased. And you should always blur physical description and mannerisms to avoid recognition. To muddy the waters toss in something like thick eyeglasses, smelly feet, or a compulsion to drink recycled motor oil. Tweaks like these are best done after you have achieved the desired result—a complete first draft.
To be successful and fully satisfying, revenge must go deeper than a simple cat-of-nine-tail session under an assumed name. It should involve a psychological dissection, albeit cursory, one-sided, and entirely juvenile. Again it is much easier to “fully round” a cruel caricature after the first draft is complete. Edit out the over the top humiliation, toss in a sympathetic, explanatory notion or two (a domineering father, mercury poisoning, gender confusion, etc.) and bingo, “IT WALKS!”
You might think a pulp writer who produces 200K published words a year would eventually run out of people worthy of excoriation. Not so. Go out into the world, open your eyes and ears: the supply of cannon fodder is endless.
Oddly enough, my closest friends always beg me to make them the bad guys and treat them in an inhumane fashion. They seem to take pride in ghastliness of their suffering and ignominous ends. Maybe that says something about the company I keep?
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This opinion forum is meant for entertainment purposes only. Any resemblance to assertions of fact is unintentional and purely coincidental. (Whew!)
“The Sweetener” is a new success strategy for first time and midlist authors. Touted as the best and fastest way to get out of the slush pile and onto the bestseller lists, apparently it’s taking mainstream publishing by storm. “The Sweetener” is a variation on mordida, the traditional Latin American practice of pay-to-play. It consists of a personal check made out to the editor you want to buy your book.
From what I understand, the procedure is as follows. Make sure you have the correct spelling of the editor’s name. Make sure the editor is still working for the publisher (anymore, editors jump ship every few months). Most important of all, in the lower lefthand corner of the check, on the printed line under “For” you must write: “Here’s your money back. Thanks for the personal loan!” This is in case the check is discovered by someone other than the payee. Put the check in sealed envelope addressed to the editor, clearly mark it “Private,” and draw a Happy Face in upper right corner where the stamp would go. Paper clip the envelope to the cover page of your manuscript.
How much to make out the check for is another critical issue. Apparently that depends on a number of variables, including the publisher’s status in the industry, and the editor’s rank in the company. Mathematical formulas for figuring this out are already popping up online. These formulas factor in editor salary, manuscript word count, projected advance against royalties, plus a little extra to separate the project from all the other authors using Sweeteners. Of course, how much you decide to write the check for is a personal decision, but if you don’t enclose enough your check will be cashed and the manuscript still won’t be read. Rumor has it that Big Checks produce Big Winners. Zeros help!
Above all, please keep the strategy under the radar. Be discreet or you’ll louse this up for everyone.
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