As promised, author F. Paul Wilson has kindly taken the time to swing by this blog. Despite being at a con this weekend where web access is limited, he has managed to respond to your questions and comments on April’s horror book of the month club selection: The Keep.
A little bit about the author before we begin. F. Paul Wilson embarked on his writing career while a first year medical student at Georgetown University. He has written more than thirty books (and counting!), ranging from horror and science fiction to medical thrillers and short fiction collections. Between 1992-1995, he co-created and scripted SciFi Channel’s FTL Newsfeed. He is a multiple-award winner and New York Times best-selling author who, amazingly, is still a part-time practicing physician. The novel we have been discussing this week, The Keep, was a 1981 national bestseller that to this day, consistently finds its way onto various Top 10 Horror Novel lists. It is the first installment in a six book series known as The Adversary Cycle (made up of The Keep, The Tomb, The Touch, Reborn, Reprisal, and Nightworld).
For more information on F. Paul Wilson – his work, his opinions, and his upcoming appearances, head on over to:
Check it out for the latest on upcoming projects including developments on the much anticipated Repairman Jack movie. Also, while you’re there, make it a point to read an entry titled “Bestsellers 101” in which he explains what goes into the making of a Bestseller. Very informative.
And now, onto the Q&A -
Dyginc writes: “What was the spark that made you set Woermann as the “good” side of the war?”
F. Paul Wilson: “Not necessarily the good side. My research revealed that a lot of German soldiers were not members of the Nazi party. They were dedicated soldiers fighting for the Fatherland, and looking for payback for the indignities of the Versailles Treaty. Gen. Rommel was a perfect example: He refused to join the Nazi party and they would have been booted out of command if he hadn’t been such a damned good tactician.”
Dyginc writes: “Were you listening to any music while you wrote this book? If so, what kind?”
F. Paul Wilson: “I can’t listen to music and write – I start tapping my feet and trying to decode the chord structure and such. I prefer silence.”
Dyginc writes: “What is it about the horror genre that drives you to write?”
F. Paul Wilson: “I think we’re wired for certain likes and dislikes. I’m wired for the weird stuff. I like a sense of wonder fueling what I read and so it’s there in what I write, whether SF or horror or a straight thriller. I’m not big into mundane horror – the slasher, serial killer, splatter stuff. I much prefer something like THE EXORCIST which I found deeply disturbing.”
Iamza writes: “Did you have Woermann’s fate already in mind when you started writing the novel?”
F. Paul Wilson: “I knew he was going to die but didn’t determine how until late in the writing. I also wanted him to kill Kaempffer, but not in any mundane way, so I killed him first.”
Iamza writes: “How did Glaeken know that Rasalom was breaking free? Did he have some kind of mystical tie to the keep?”
F. Paul Wilson: “Absolutely. He built the keep and he and Rasalom were linked in eternal opposition. When he was released from within the wall (a nod to Poe) Glaeken sensed it.”
Iamza writes: “Would Rasalom not know of this connection, and, if so, why was Rasalom so surprised to learn of Glaeken’s appearance outside the keep?”
F. Paul Wilson: “Rasalom was insulated from the outside world by the keep – and vice versa. That was why he was trying to escape – to feed on the horrors of war. And so he was also insulated from any sense of Glaeken’s presence. He was hoping to escape before Glaeken arrived.”
Coolbreeze writes: “What do the names Rasalom and Glaeken mean?”
F. Paul Wilson: “Nothing. I made them up and chose them because I liked their sound.”
Coolbreeze writes: “What the significance of reversing Rasalom’s name at the beginning to Molasar? I got the impression that there was a significance to the name Rasalom that was initially disguised when he is identified as Molasar, but I can’t figure out what it is.”
F. Paul Wilson: “It’s a nod to the old wizarding practice of keeping your true name secret. Also, he might have feared that people speaking his true name would alert Glaeken.”
Astrumporta writes: “How did you approach the research for this book?”
F. Paul Wilson: “Lots of reading and hunting through libraries. This was in the 80’s with no Web, no Google. Lots of down-and-dirty scut work with cardfiles and dead ends in books.”
Astrumporta writes: “Is there a building like the keep anywhere that you know of?”
F. Paul Wilson: “Nope. Made up the Dinu pass, made up the keep. It’s what I do – make stuff up. But I didn’t snatch them from thin air. Their form and function were determined by the story.”
Astrumporta writes: “Was there ever a real Nazi plan to build a concentration camp in Ploiesti?”
F. Paul Wilson: “Not that I know of. And I doubt it. I used it as a ticking clock to up the stakes for Kaempffer. It’s always good to give characters, even villains, a life outside the plot.”
Nika writes: “I’d like to ask Mr. Wilson if he had issues with the movie version of The Keep, or if it was all just speculation by the public or media.”
F. Paul Wilson: “This December marks the 25th anniversary of the film’s release. It also marks the 25th anniversary of my bitching about the film. I’ve gone on about this (one might even call it whining) ad nauseam, but if you want to know my objections at length, check out this interview conducted by a fan of the film. (http://www.the-keep.ath.cx/default_en.htm - Scroll down the left sidebar until you get to the F. Paul Wilson interview)
Fsmn36 writes: “How did you come to be an author of sci-fi, horror and such with a no doubt busy schedule as a physician?”
F. Paul Wilson: “I practice only 2 days a week now. But when I was going full time, I’d set a minimum of writing 3 pages a day, every day, without fail. At the end of 6 months I’d have 540 pages – a good-size novel. It can be done, but ya gotta wanna. Most failed writers suffer from lacka wanna.”
Fsmn36 writes: “Is writing something you’d always wanted to do?”
F. Paul Wilson: “I started writing in 2nd grade. And always horror. My first story in 2nd grade was a haunted house tale.”
Fsmn36 writes: “And why these genres?”
F. Paul Wilson: “I’ll give you Stephen King’s answer to that question: What makes you think I have a choice? (See the “wired” comment above.)”
Fsmn36 writes: “How (specifically with this book, or in general if you prefer), did you write the twists and turns? Did you have the end reveal in mind before ever sitting down to write it, or did you write from the beginning and the storyline “revealed” itself to you as you wrote?”
F. Paul Wilson: “(This answers Terry’s question as well) I’d read a couple of novels about “good” vampires and found the idea ridiculous. They’re parasites. But I could see a vampire pretending to be good. Then I took it another step: What if the being was pretending to be a vampire in order to hide something worse? I had this vision of castle walls studded with crosses. That mix simmered awhile because I wanted something cosmic, outside Judeo-Christian mythology, yet I could not throw out those crosses. All right…so if my vampire is really something else, let’s have the crosses represent something else as well. And then as I was dozing off in bed one night I realized that the hilt of a sword could look like a cross. I jumped out of bed and started scribbling – the whole story had fallen into place in that instant. I knew I wanted to contrast human and cosmic evil, and Nazis came immediately to mind (which demanded a WWII setting). I wanted to show a man’s soul being manipulated and destroyed from within, and that’s where Cuza arose. I realized it was a quantum leap in theme and scope from anything I’d written before, but I was stoked and raring to go.
I always have the end worked out before I start. I owe my reader an ending that releases the tension I’ve been building in a cathartic blast rather than letting it just dribble away.”
Thornyrose writes: “Is there a reason, other than to have Kaempffer setting up a concentration camp, that you timed the story for April of 1941, instead of say, just after the start of Operation Barbarossa?”
F. Paul Wilson: “The vampire red herring required the Transylvanian Alps setting. I wanted the Dinu pass to be important to the Wermacht – they needed it to protect the oil fields, and so it seemed logical that they’d want to secure before they attacked Russia. The concentration camp was simply to put extra pressure on Kaempffer from outside the plot.”
Thornyrose writes: “How much research went into laying out the historical context and geography of the story?”
F. Paul Wilson: “Tons. I needed to know Wermacht and SS chains of command, uniforms, weapons, and attitudes. Most of my topography came from a talk with Gahan Wilson (the cartoonist – no relation) after he made a trip to Transylvania.”
Thornyrose writes: “Do the later books of the Adversary Cycle give more information about the nature of Glaeken and Rasalom?”
F. Paul Wilson: “Yes they do. In REBORN Rasalom is (surprise!) reborn and he and Glaeken have their final showdown in NIGHTWORLD. REPRISAL and the Repairman Jack books also deal with some of what he was up to between those two novels.
Terry, I think my answers to Fsmn36’s questions will answer yours.”
Rebecca H. writes: “I’m most intrigued (and disturbed) by Mr. Wilson’s philosophical take on good vs. evil. According to his stories, evil isn’t quite as evil, and good isn’t quite as good, as humans understand evil and good. It kind of has the tinge of Zoroastrianism (the dual universe of struggle between light and dark), and I wonder if Mr. Wilson’s writings were influenced by that, or if that’s just the way he sees the universe.”
F. Paul Wilson: “My cosmology (explored in the Adversary Cycle and the Repairman Jack novels) is influenced somewhat by HP Lovecraft, but I refuse to have gods – I think you diminish a cosmic entity by naming it. A truly cosmic being doesn’t need a name – it simply is. So the evil side is known as the Otherness and its opponent as the Ally – not names, simply terms ascribed by humans. I present an indifferent universe. We are of value only as pieces in a cosmic game we don’t understand. We are not a great prize, just another marble in the game. The evil side (which I call the Otherness) is truly inimical because it will want to feed on us and suck us dry if it captures us; but the opposing force (the Ally) is not good, not beneficent, but preferable because it will treat us with simple neglect.
“Is this my own philosophy? No. I do believe in an indifferent universe, but no cosmic entities. And even if there is anything out there, I doubt it notices us.
Drldeboer, see above.”
Charlie’s Angel writes: “Who decides the category/genre for placing and promoting a book? Is it the writer, publisher, etc. Do you know where the book will be placed before you begin, or is it categorized after writing? I’m interested to know if you write with a certain audience in mind, or let the story go where it will.”
F. Paul Wilson: “As a rule, the editor and the marketing department decide, but that’s usually an easy call in most cases. I mean, if it’s genre fiction about vampires, it’s usually horror, but it could wind up in paranormal romance if there’s an erotic element. Most fiction, be it literary or genre, is written toward a certain audience. Some writers – usually those who like to refer to themselves as “artists” – have onanistic fantasies about writing solely for themselves, but most of us are storytellers. We come from the cave-dweller tradition of spinning tales around the campfire in the hope that one of the hunters will toss us a hunk o’ meat in return. So if you want your nightly brontoburger, you’d better not ignore the audience.
That doesn’t mean you become a slave to the audience, but if they’re plunking down beer money for one of your books, you owe them a satisfying read. They deserve to turn that last page and feel it was money and time well spent.”
Robert Cooper writes: “I just wanted to take the opportunity to say thanks you to Mr. Wilson for his talents and efforts and for inspiring me as a writer. My question for him is, how do you judge the success of each of your individual works and how has time changed your opinion of your work over the years if at all?”
F. Paul Wilson: “Thanks, Robert. I sort of learned to write in public, and some of my early stories aren’t so hot. I left those out of my first short story collection (SOFT & OTHERS) back in the 80s because I didn’t feel it fair to inflict them twice on the public.
I’ve found that my style has changed over the years. I write much leaner prose now, trimming excess verbiage and redundancies that abound in my earlier fiction. I’ve recently had a chance to revise the Adversary Cycle for the Borderlands limited editions, and found I didn’t have much to do on THE KEEP. It’s more descriptive than I write now, but the style seemed appropriate. However, THE TOMB (the first Repairman Jack novel) was another story: It struck me as seriously overwritten. So I cut-cut-cut. The current paperback edition is the revision (the so-called “Author’s Definitive Version”) and is much cleaner.
Oddly, some of my favorite books are the least successful. BLACK WIND has been referred to as my “lost novel” but I think it could be the best thing I’ve ever done. My odd, new-agey thriller THE FIFTH HARMONIC is another favorite – it’s very personal, a kinder, gentler me, and it tanked.”
Sparrow Hawk writes: “Is the location and structure of THE KEEP based on reality? Your description is so vivid; is there a place you have seen that inspired you to write the tale?”
F. Paul Wilson: “No, I made it all up. I saw it very clearly in my mind’s eye and translated that to the page. When THE KEEP was in development for the film, the producer, Gene Kirkwood, called me and asked where the Dinu Pass was located because they wanted to look into it for location shots. I told him it was in my head and they couldn’t go there. He wouldn’t believe me at first. Finally they found a slate quarry in Wales that fit the bill.”
Sparrow Hawk writes: “I the parallel between Hitler and Molasar intentional, or am I reading too much into it as I often do?”
F. Paul Wilson: “You’re onto something there. They both wanted to reshape the world, but in different ways.
Good questions, folks. Thanks for the kind words along the way and I hope the answers satisfied your curiosities.”
And a huge thank you to Paul for finding the time to visit with us.