Official Alan Philipson

Newsletter ISSUE #5


Ask Alan  ::  The Inside Story  ::  The Biz Buzz 



Alan will take reader questions via email ( 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. 


I am 46 years old, single, and I live in my parents’ garage. I sleep on a cot between the dryer and Dad's workbench. My long fiction cries out to save the human race from its own stupidity, and soon I hope to make lots of money on it and meet hot chicks. My folks are really pushing me to move. They keep putting my sleeping bag out on the curb on Trash Day. How do I land an agent?

Kenmore Ryobi, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Dear Kenmore Ryobi,

At last, an easy question. The best way to land an agent is to sign up for one of the many regional writers’ conferences. Pick one that offers attendees the chance to meet agents privately, one on one, and pitch book ideas. Usually the pitch is limited to a specific length of time, five or ten minutes. The creative use of a door wedge, duct tape, and electrical cable ties can extend this to a long weekend of really getting to know each other. Don’t take a simple headnod as an agreement for representation; get it in writing. Maybe a member of the SWAT team can witness it for you. Good luck in your career.


Dear Al,

I am in the process of constructing a word codex from your DL works. As you know, word codexes are a grid that places the words in order, wherein a computer program then looks for meaningful sentences within the matrix. I got turned on to this by some friends who have unearthed hidden predictions from the Old Testament, like "the goat of the east will rise up and fall in the land of Babylon." Trippy, isn't it? Although I’ve just scratched the surface of your books, I’ve already discovered a couple of concealed messages in my favorite DL: "when global heat rises, dig deep." Another one is: "death finds the wary when the morning sun sets." I think you are divinely inspired. More as I go on.

The DL Codex Man, from Shreveport, Louisiana

Dear DL Codex Man,

It’s true, there are multitudes of secret messages in my GE books. Always have been. One of my personal favorites is from SOBs/Gulag War: a scatological reference to the then-editor in chief of GE, Mark Howell. After the book was published, even when I told the company what page the message was on, no one could find it. Yet it is there, plain as day to anyone who figures out the key. Please keep me posted on progress. Yours is important work.


Dear Al,

I am stocking my personal bomb shelter in the backyard. We've got pistols, shotguns, an AK-47, stabbing knives, and other combat items. We've got gasoline and kerosene. We've got lots of freeze-dried food and canned stuff. The question Eileen and I have is, what do you recommend we stock as high value tradable cash stuff? The wife says booze, which I'm not opposed to, but I think chocolate will be more valuable post skydark. Who's right?

Moleman, from Minneapolis, Minnesota

Dear Moleman,

Sorry, but neither of you is right. I predict toilet paper will be golden after the nukecaust.


Dear Alan Philipson,

Do muties ever interbreed? For instance, can a mutie breed with a norm human? Like Krysty getting knocked up by Ryan? I think it’s possible cuz the mutie was a human to start with. How do you tell if a mutie is female and fertile?

Cold Rum, from Toledo, Ohio

Dear Cold Rum,

I’ve been getting a lot of correspondence from readers on this fascinating subject. In a future DL I will be listing all the possible permutations and consequences of hellscape interbreeding: stickie/stumpie, doomie/stupie, scalie/norm, etc., etc. in an Appendix table. Incorporated into the table will be highly detailed, close-up diagrams of male and female mutie genitalia, information on fertility cycles and breeding rates, and the unique mating practices of each species. I’m surprised that LJ didn’t publish something like this himself. It illuminates the very core of his thematic concept.


A. P.,

Why are you so snide?

SugarPlum, from Islamorada, Florida

Dear SugarPlum,

Another excellent question. Snidivity, to coin a word, isn’t something you’re born with; it's a natural consequence of human experience. Those with experience who conceal its presence (hide the snide) or stifle its expression do so to in effect, double-snide; rest assured all the public Pollyannas are laughing heartily up their sleeves. If you don’t feel you’ve got your snide working just yet, wait a few years and it’ll find you, I promise. 


Dear Alan,

I just finished reading the excerpt from DL: Cannibal Moon on your website and frankly I am even more concerned about your present circumstances. From the sample prose it’s clear you have major family-of-origin issues: the symbolism of Mildred (the mother figure) trying desperately (and failing) to save the children from being eaten alive by male (the father figure) cannies. I was horrified by the intensity of the violence; it actually made me feel queasy. In my professional opinion, you need immediate help, perhaps even chemical restraints. 

I want you to know that I operate a private clinic/sanitarium just outside of Lincoln. Total lock-down. Cool white rooms with high ceilings, white sheets, white bars on the windows. You wouldn’t be alone here, either. Among the patients are other fulltime pulp writers who’ve gone over the edge. One patient of mine wrote 223 romance books before she set her office on fire. Please contact me ASAP.

Dr. Lynn H., from Lincoln, Nebraska

Dear Dr. Lynn H.,

Sorry I didn’t make it clear, but I’m already in a sanitarium. 


Alan P.,

Re: your DL book Cannibal Moon. You don’t know shit about shit. You didn’t even include the secret handshake. 

UrbanCannibal, no city or state given

Dear UrbanCannibal,

What can I say? I did include the secret handshake; the MBA powers-that-be made GE’s editors take it out. And I’m afraid this is just the tip of the iceberg. Apparently there is a campaign afoot to make DL a more “family-friendly adventure.” In future books expect to see Ryan and Krysty settling down in a Shens’ shantytown suburbia to raise a gaggle of precocious, mischievious, prehensile-haired muties; Doc goes on the road with his one-man show: "The Civil War"; Jak puts aside his Colt Python in favor of the slide trombone; Dix becomes despondent when he finally loses his glasses; and Mildred turns into a royal pain in the ass after she finds religion. 


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Although the biological weapon in this book and its delivery system are entirely made up, a PhD. microbiologist acquaintance of mine—who worked for ten years at the Russian Gamalea institute for microbiology and epidemiology—helped me give it some legs. After finishing his military service,Yuri Shumakov emigrated to Sweden and was employed by a research university there. He was a father, a scientist, an inventor, an outdoorsman, and an adventurer. A man of wit and intelligence, sadly recently deceased (and far, far too young). 

I took this assignment because Deathlands was temporarily “overstocked.” I had done one Stony Man series book before, Message to America (1998), and I knew the various characters from the Dick Stivers/Bill Fieldhouse days. Although we’ve lost touch over the years, both of those authors were good friends of mine. We lived in the same area way back when, talked on the phone a lot, and I got together with them, separately. Since the two original series, Able Team and Phoenix Force, were combined into Stony Man, the writers have been faced with a very large ensemble cast (unless I counted wrong, eighteen running characters including Mack Bolan). Developing a suitable plot line that uses them all, and is dynamic and fresh is no easy job. In my opinion, this is far and away GE’s most difficult series to write.

Working out the details and describing the effects of the bioweapon at both individual and population levels were the most interesting parts of Red Frost for me. Taken together, I guess you could say Red Frost and Cannibal Moon are my “make ‘em queasy” period; if anything, Red Frost tops Cannibal Moon in that regard—it deals with an actual bioweapon deployment on U.S. soil.

One way a writer can keep going in the burn-out grind of series, for-hire fiction is to constantly set the bar higher, to try to outdo the last book in some fashion; or to at least do something different each time. I know that might sound contradictory—more a recipe for burn-out than a defense against it—but if there’s no challenge (and no personal triumph at the end), the work becomes very hard to produce. I knew a prolific pulp writer once who after many years in the biz started rewarding himself with a sip of cold Coke after he finished each page of prose. The writing itself wasn’t enough of a reward/challenge for him. It was like a Skinner box experiment where a chicken is trained to peck a lever to get a few grains of corn as a reward. Peck. Peck. Peck. The author in question ended up out of work, toothless, and diabetic as I recall. 

Because the job in franchise-series fiction is essentially the same every time (the same main characters; you can’t kill anybody important; status quo at the end), it’s up to the writer to build his or her own challenges into the work. By “challenges” I mean the writer doesn’t have all the story’s answers when he or she starts Page One; he or she may not even have all the questions. This is no different than any other kind of fiction writing: it’s always a good idea to leave yourself some wiggle room. In pulp work I do this consciously, on purpose, and up front. I try to build-in problems along the time line of the story, but don’t necessarily work out the solutions, even though I know I will have to eventually. This forces me to fully engage with the material along the way, and not “go-robot” with it, dredging up old action scenes or plot gimmicks to fill up the pages. The sense of engagement and the tension of “Can-I-really-pull-this-off?” is what keeps the work exciting. Example: when I started writing Red Frost, I knew exactly what the fictitious bioweapon did to human tissue and how, but I hadn’t worked out any of the consequences, or the book’s ending. 

In this edition of the newsletter I’ve posted the Prologue of Red Frost (due out August 2007). The main characters of the Stony Man series don’t appear in it, but it sets the stage for the rest of the book—and doesn’t give away what happens next. 

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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!)

Since I haven’t seen any royalty statement postings by other GE authors in response to last issue’s AskAl question and answer, as a public service I thought I’d prime the pump a little, demonstrating that anyone who actually has a sales statement can post it.

When I started working for GE in 1983, and all the way through December 1996, the writers-for-hire were given “bonus payments” (a.k.a. royalties) on the house-owned series (The Executioner, Able Team, Phoenix Force, Stony Man, and SOBs). The payments amounted to 2.4 % of cover, or six cents on a $2.50 cover price book. The payments escalated to seven cents a book after 100K copies were sold. (This compared to the 6 % —and 18 cents a book—on a standard paperback royalty contract.) 

Click here to view my last sales statement from GE on SOBs: Butchers of Eden

“Units” are books. This was my best-selling SOB novel, although the first title I did in the series, The Plains of Fire, came within a thousand or so copies of matching it.

A little math: 130K copies @ six/seven cents versus 130K copies at 18 cents. That’s $8105.81 versus $23,400 on a $325,000 gross. Where did the extra $15K per title go? I always figured I was providing brandnew company cars for the execs, and that they imagined they’d actually earned them.

The whole “bonus payment” thing revealed way too much about book sales to the writers-for-hire—who are often desperate but rarely stupid—so the program was terminated in 1997. 

In the post-bonus payment era, each GE series (supposedly) has its own fixed pay rate, and it is (supposedly) a flat fee/no royalties. Since the publication of Butchers of Eden, cover prices on the GE books have gone up 150 percent. Are the writers making more money than they were 20 years ago? Discerning readers will note that the sticker price of a new, fully-equipped (leather, GPS, high-end sound, etc.), Ford Crown Vic has gone up by roughly the same percentage.

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