Official Alan Philipson

Newsletter ISSUE #6


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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. 

Alan Philispon [sic],
When Dean coming back? Want antsirs [sic]. We know were [sic] you live. 
Neil Tarantella, from Waltham, Massachusetts


Dear Neil Tarantella,
Sorry, pal, but no mere GE stablehand has the power to restore Ryan Cawdor’s only son. Decisions like that are made at the highest echelons of corporate power. And they are based on statistical analyses of focus group reactions: voice modulations, pulse rates, eye blinks, and facial expressions (furrowed brows, smiles, etc.). Twenty-some-odd years ago I was invited to a GE focus group on my first SOB book. I watched the proceedings from behind a one-way mirror. I found it very informative. It was held in a state prison in Louisiana. 

Where do all the brandnew AKs, M16s, and MP5As in DL come from? Huh?! Why aren’t the Deathlanders making their own guns at home like in the Wild West Olden Days? Huh?! 
Thorazeen, from Plano, Texas


Dear Thorazeen,
Excellent question. Which is simply answered. 
At present there are an estimated half a billion (500,000,000) military small arms in existence. Short of the planet breaking apart, there is no way that many guns can be wiped out. No way is the destruction caused by DL’s nukeday (as I read it from PTH) sufficient to take out all the weapons hidden in military and civilian stockpiles (for example, manufacturing plants, National Guard arsenals, shipboard armories, private collections, etc.) scattered outside the population center targets. Unlike a circa-2001 CD (the “Wyeth Codex,” bottom of page 186, Deathlands: Dark Emblem) which deteriorates on its own no matter how it is stored (estimated data life span: five years), modern military small arms and spare parts kept from moisture and humidity, and heavily greased in Cosmoline will survive almost indefinitely. Cartridge cases that aren’t corroded can be reloaded and reprimed.

The total number of “folks with new guns” in all the 80-or-so DL books can’t be more than five thousand. Five thousand out of five hundred million? It’s not “Huh?!” It’s “Duh…”

Mr. Philipson,
Can you please give us more details on the long-overdue and much-anticipated morality shift in DL? Especially Dr. Mildred Wyeth’s religious awakening?
Reverend Ignatius Hillary-Golligon, D.D., from Smyrna Beach, Florida


Dear Rev. Hillary-Golligon,
As I write this, the details are still being worked out by a council of nationally-recognized churchmen and women, and focus-tested (of course) on their respective congregations. Rumor going around the GE stable is that during a mat-trans jump dream Mildred will be visited by one of the Twelve Apostles (which one isn’t set; as you can well imagine there’s been quite a lively debate on this point) and shown The Light. For the next 40 books Mildred’s secondary mission (the first being survival) will be the religious conversion of all her companions and any innocent bystanders they come across. She will convert the entire DL crew one by one over the course of the next (real time) decade. 

This is the most far-reaching story arc ever proposed for DL, and answers the marketplace’s unmet need for more religion-based action-adventure. If it is as successful as projected by the company MBAs, similar pious approaches will be considered for Outlanders, Rogue Angel, Stony Man, and the two Mack Bolan series. And in the same vein a brand new series, The Tenth Crusade, is currently on the drawing board. The premise: a near-future religious war takes place for control of all the world’s minimarts.

Dear Al,
Given that writing novels, like being an actor or an athlete, pays crap except for the lucky few who make it into the top tier, why do you do it? Is it just a hyperlexic defense mechanism? I would think you could make more money flipping burgers....
Head Burger Flipper, from Winter Park, Florida


Dear Head Burger Flipper,
Why do I do it? I put it down to extreme compulsivity (genetic marker for same contributed by both my X and Y chromosomes) coupled with early “positive” reactions to the writing process. I completed my first science fiction short story in the third grade, and read it aloud to the class (giant grasshoppers from outer space sailing around in huge, bubble gum bubbles, threatening civilization as we know it). During the writing of the story (not the reading) I experienced a flushed face and wildly pleasurable excitement between my ears; inotherwords, a brain orgasm (long before I knew what the other kind even was). That reward (personal, intangible, independent of outside input) has kept me pecking at the Skinner box lever ever since. 

FYI, writing novels rarely pays anything as most novels are never published. Which explains why those few of us lucky enough to be on the GE payroll are loathe to release our grip on her scaly teats. Even though the “milk” on offer is thin, full of unidentifiable clots and granularities, and tastes of guano (a feather-and-turd mojito), as long as we keep on sucking, we remain paid professionals. Emphasis, PAID professionals. 

BTW HBF, are you offering me an entry-level fast food job in some decaying, cockroach-infested Central Florida strip mall? Do I need to submit a resume? I am willing to take a lie detector test. 

Deer [sic] Phillippispon [sic], 
I sum [sic] axz [sic] to grinde [sic] with you. I know I promise never talk this in pubic [sic], but you gon [sic] too fur [sic]. 

Numbero [sic] Uno: you ruin my grate [sic], originial [sic] DL book Sunspot by sticking on all your big werds [sic] and gurlie [sic] talk. You mite [sic] as will [sic] dressed the Gravediggers in tootoos [sic] and throwgn [sic] them a tee [sic] party. You take out minny [sic] sexually exiting [sic] seans [sic] from between Ryan and Krysty, J.B. and Mildred, and Doc and Jack [sic]. 

Nubero [sic] Dose [sic]: no pursonal [sic] check for my Sunspot you say in mail. Shouldn’t listen when say no needling [sic] writen [sic] contrack [sic], you when say we "brother writters [sic] taking on the Man."

Noomero [sic] Threes [sic]: I’m start [sic] webpage for my fans, which are minny [sic] and super inteligent [sic] beans [sic]. 
Vin Dildo, from Long Beach, California

P. S.: Can I sent [sic] you more DL? I working one wear [sic] Ryan go back in time, lose his mammary [sic], and becum [sic] god of mushroom peeple [sic]. Very irionical [sic] subtecks [sic]. Minny [sic] sex and fite [sic] seans [sic]. You will much lik [sic].


Dear Vin Dildo,
Sounds like another winner, bro. Send it along ASAP.

Hi Al, 
I'm enjoying your newsletters and have a couple of questions. 1) When do you expect the 'how to write' book to be available? 2) Where can I find a Bibliography of your work? 3) How much time does Gold Eagle give you to write a book? 
Canadian Guy, from Vancouver, B.C.


Dear Canadian Guy,
Thanks for your excellent questions. 

I don’t know when the “how-to” book is going to be published because it isn’t finished yet. I may post a draft of the Table of Contents and Introduction in a future newsletter’s Writing Tips section. 

There is no bibliography of my work, Canadian Guy. I am not a real person. 

GE’s DL contracts usually specify three or four months to delivery, but I’ve found it takes twice that long just to recover from the previous book, so the usual turnaround for me has been six or more months. BTW, GE isn’t the only publisher I work for. To survive on what GE pays would mean acquiring a taste for what we Americans call “Government Cheese.”

Greetings, Alan,
First off, we want to give you congrants [sic] on your latest Deathlands contribution [Cannibal Moon]. Our questions are these: Where do you see the future of the Deathlands series going? Why do you suppose the DL series didn't die out like the past numerous post-nuke series have done? 
All the best,
M & A, from St. Petersburg, Florida


Dear M & A,
The answers that follow are only my opinion, obviously, but I can assure you they are based on hours of pointless wheelspinning.

Where is Deathlands going? “Nowhere” is the short answer. The current editorial structure (no one is developing or supervising multi-title story arcs or themes at the editorial level; the longstanding proposal submission/acceptance process isolates writers—the standard contract specifies the work must be individual, not collaborative) prohibits series’ growth. DL can only continue to circle itself (some would say “Sniff its own butt”). Because DL continues to sell well, there is no incentive to make changes in the structure. Changes mean risk, and that means someone could lose their job if things go sour. Aside from the possibility of failure, the start-up for a new series in a huge bureaucracy like Harlequin is years; it’s always easier to stick with what you’ve got.

Why hasn’t DL died out? DL is still around because unlike the other post-nuke series that have come and gone, it’s owned by the publisher. And the publisher has a proprietary book club that cuts out the wholesaler. Bottom line: it takes fewer copies sold to stay in the black. 

Hope that helped. I know I feel better.

Dear Mr. P.,
I don’t understand your newsletters. What are you trying to do? Who are you making fun of?
Litstudent, from Waycross, Georgia


Dear Litstudent,
These newsletters are about a certain type of “writing life.” The type that would make Annie Dillard wet the bed. In my own way and at my own pace, I’m trying to explain how this subset of the profession works, why it works, and for whom it works. 

As to who I’m making fun of, it’s myself of course. Grandiose. Overeducated. Underemployed (FYI—writing for GE isn’t a career; it’s a gig that tides you over until you get hired on by Best Buy or Lowe’s). Embittered, yet ever-hopeful. Inotherwords, the prototypical late 20th/early 21st century pulp writer-for-hire. 

Dear Alan Philipson,
During a break in the recent Connecticut Valley Writers’ convention I was relaxing in my hotel suite when someone knocked on the door. Through the peep hole I saw a room service cart and the back of a man dressed in what appeared to be a white steward’s uniform. It wasn’t until I opened the door that I saw how grossly overweight he was—the cuffs of the jacket barely cleared his elbows. When he turned and leered at me so strangely I knew something was wrong. I tried to close the door, but he used the cart as a battering ram. I ran to the phone to call for help; he pulled it out of the wall and forced me to sit on the end of the bed. After binding my wrists and ankles, he dumped a backpack filled with threatening objects beside me. Alan, I thought I was a goner! Then from the bottom of the pile he pulled out his unpublished novel, and proceeded to read me every testosterone-drenched page—it took several chapters of Bag Boy before I got used to his high-pitched voice, the patently false British accent he affected, and the distracting, OCD postnasal snorting. Five hours later, after I agreed to represent him, he untied and ungagged me, and to celebrate we uncorked the bottle of modestly-priced champagne he’d brought along. 

Alan, I can’t thank you enough for the career advice you gave Ken Ryobi. I’m convinced he is the new Norman Mailer, only younger and of course, still alive. I would have signed him even without the soldering iron. 
Charmayne DeVilbiss, Simon Detloff Literary Agency, from New York, New York


Dear Charmayne DeVilbiss,
So I take it that was your first “Unabridged Book on Duct Tape”?

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Keeping the Mysteries 

Because scheduling conflicts changed the original publication order of Cannibal Moon, Sunspot, and Apocalypse Unborn it appears that I’m on a Magus-toot. I’m not, although I must admit he (it?) is one of my favorite DL characters. Magus is one of the few DL mysteries that hasn’t been explained away (you know, answers to questions nobody asked, or even wanted answered). IMO, if mysteries can’t be deepened without unraveling longstanding series canon, they are best left alone. This is particularly important in a series like DL with multiple authors who don't have the opportunity to read each others’ work (or see accepted book proposals) in advance of publication. The isolation of the DL authors severely limits what can be changed in individual books and still have the series make a semblance of sense. I know I’m talking Urdu to some people, so maybe an example would help.

An Amazon amateur reviewer of Sunspot complained about the lack of interaction and confrontation between Magus and the companions; he apparently wanted a culminating battle of some sort. Why did I choose not to do that? 

The Magus’s inscrutability is part of DL’s longstanding canon. His origins, the nature of his existence, his intent are all unknowns; like the six companions, in the short term he is apparently immortal. As a mere toiler on this two-decade-old, pulp edifice it is my responsibility not to harm anything vital. That means not killing off valuable characters (unless told to do so), not explaining away the fundamental mysteries that give the material its edge. So any battle I described between Magus and Ryan would have had to end in a draw.

In Damnation Road Show (June 2003), my previous DL featuring Magus, there was a brief interaction inside the carny tent/gas chamber. Magus was involved in the novel’s plot, but there was no face-off at the climax. Readers saw him in action, but didn’t learn much about him, other than some of the myths that surround his comings and goings (See OAP issue #3, final AskAl question for an explanation of a few readers' misunderstanding of this material). 

In Sunspot, Magus operates on a different plane than our heroes—they are unaware of his involvement in their jeopardy. Even though Magus knows who the companions are, they are insignificant to him; and he is invisible to them, as are his goals and methods. A pulp fiction rule of thumb: Heroes are measured by the enormity of the villains they face. Complete explanations, by their very nature (defining the heretofore undefinable), diminish the scale of fictional evil, turning the inconceivable into the mundane.

In Apocalypse Unborn (June 2008) the companions go Magus-hunting. Which, as you can imagine, turns out to be a big mistake.

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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!)

Self-Publishing—is it really the solution to a novice fiction author’s problems? In order to answer that some propositions need to be set forth.

Let’s assume you actually beat the odds and get a mainstream publisher to take on your first novel. Unless you luck out even more and land a huge advance there will be no promotional budget for the book—that’s guaranteed. If, wonder of wonders, you do get a whopping advance (and accompanying promotion) and don’t earn it all back with interest, your first book will be your last—that’s also guaranteed. A book editor’s job security depends not on picking winners, but on not picking humongous losers. Bottom line: chances are you will have to do your own promotion (or hire someone else to do it) whether you publish the novel yourself or get it published mainstream. 

Another proposition: Your first novel is probably going to flop, bigtime, no matter who publishes it. Seven out of ten books tank; two out of ten break even; one in ten makes money. Let’s assume you get a meager signing advance (a few thousand) from a mainstream publisher for your book. Even if your sales earn it back, the advance was only chumpchange after all, and the return of that investment isn’t worth the publisher’s time. Breaking even won’t keep you from being forever branded with the L-word. If you make the publisher a million bucks on a $3000 investment, well that’s different—it’s also a fantasy that happens once in a blue moon, like winning the lottery. Bottomline: Earning back a small advance or turning a small profit doesn’t guarantee you’ll ever get another contract from a mainstream publisher. On the other hand, since the royalty per cent on a self-published book is much higher, even modest sales can cover total production costs, which are lower (minimal staff overhead, smaller initial press runs) than for mainstream books.

The traditional route to publication (or more accurately, to non-publication) goes something like this: You write your first novel then spend years sending it to a series of publishers’ slush piles where it is invariably rejected. Or you spend years trying in vain to find an agent to represent it. What’s wrong with this picture? Mainstream publishing approval of your work is almost guaranteed not to be forthcoming (a 99-per-cent-plus rejection rate is built-in to the system), and which, even if you get it, will probably amount to nothing (odds are, your first book is going to flop, anyway). Bottomline: The traditional route wastes your precious time (waiting for rejection) and costs you money (postage, duplication costs, etc.). It amounts to a passing-off of responsibility, and an avoidance of the main issue which is doing the work and growing your skills. It is also an energy-suck blackhole.

Reputable self-publishers offer a variety of editorial services to their authors, from Copy Editing to Book Doctoring. These services teach you the craft, one on one, and you end up with a professional product to sell. Agent/editor rejections never tell you anything real about your work’s shortcomings—they don’t get paid to instruct wannabe authors (see OAP issue #4, The Biz Buzz, “What’s Love Got To Do With it?”). They get paid to get your work off their desks and into the mail room for return. Bottomline: In the long run, self-publishing saves effort, money, and time. It allows a novice author to get more books written and published, and offers the chance to improve skills with each venture. And the capper, there is less frustration and pain.

Self-publishing makes it possible for almost anyone to be an author, but it is more than just the Great Leveler. It is the bright future of the Biz. 

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