What is the most important part of writing to you?
There is nothing more important in art–any of the arts–than the story the artist is trying to convey. This is what people look for in any form of entertainment. Modern art failed the masses by involving itself solely with the artist’s viewpoint, allowing it to become such a personal statement that the audience became excluded, which is why modern art has so often turned out to have a limited appeal. I write because there are a number of messages churning within me which I feel I have to get across to people. Luckily for the audience I never know exactly which moral point I’m trying to make until I’ve completed that particular work. Not concentrating on the moral helps me keep the excitement level up and the lecturing down which, I think, makes for better entertainment all around.
What’s your favorite poem?
Believe it or not, this really has been a frequently asked question. The answer I always give: Shelley’s “Ozymandias.”
Why do you write?
Can’t help myself. I love it … I love the process of starting with an idea and seeing where it will go, and then seeing other people’s reactions to the finished product, and then seeing where I go next after that. I always hope that each new project I tackle will show a growth in my ideas, a further reaching for whatever truth I was after the time before, even if it’s only a few inches further.
How long have you been writing?
I started simply telling stories when I was very young. The first time that any of them actually made it onto paper was in 1962 or ’63. The first time I sent anything out for sale was in ’71, ’72. That story didn’t sell, so I trashed it. The next one I sent out a while later did sell. Thank God for that.
You write in so many different genres. Which one is your favorite?
Cop out answer, but the only honest one I can give is that I really don’t know. I enjoy writing science fiction and straight adventure, but neither of them is my favorite. Those are pretty easy to eliminate. But when it comes to hard-boiled mysteries and horror, I can’t choose. I don’t write a lot of mysteries these days because there’s no real market for hard-boiled stories that I can find. But, since I find myself still writing them even though I have no place to sell them, I must enjoy putting them together as much as I do the horror stories.
Who are your favorite authors?
Well, in no particular order, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, Frank Miller, Poul Anderson, Clifford D. Simak, Stan Lee, Alan Moore, John Brunner, Philip K. Dick, James Clavell, Lester Dent, Jonathan Swift, Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.J. Cherryh, Sax Rhomer, Rex Stout, Jack Vance, Brett Halliday, Jack London, C.L. Moore, and if I can throw in the world’s best poet, ol’ Percy Bysshe Shelley.
Some of these I no longer read (you drop some of your fiction reading as you get on in years), and there are some folks I read now who aren’t on the list. But, these are my favorites, the ones who serve up the warm memories when I think of their words sliding over my brain.
How many books have you written?
There are two answers to that question. At this point I’ve written close to 40 books, but a lot of those were for other people, or for faceless corporations, et cetera. Many of those I don’t care for people to see or to connect to me (merely filling in terrible outlines, following orders to be purposely bad, under contract not to reveal that I wrote them, et cetera). Those I do want people to know about, in or out of print, are all listed in the bibliography section.
Why do you do so many conventions?
Well, the practical answer is that I do sell a lot of books to the people there, but there’s really a lot more to it than that for me.
What you have to realize is, when your day joy is writing for a living, you’re by yourself an incredibly large part of the day. Alone. You and the plants and the cats. Man’s a social animal. Conventions are this modern age’s way for people to socialize from around the world.
Normal people socialize with the individuals from their immediate surroundings–family, neighbors, maybe keep in contact with folks from school, that’s it. Going to conventions keeps you in contact with people with similar interests from everywhere. People go to cons from other states and other countries. They talk and they share ideas and they chat up movies, technology, game systems–everything.
Shriners have conventions. Music fans, romance novel fans, Star Trek fans, everybody has conventions. Some are no more than 40, 50 people–some have 30, 40, 50 thousand. For a guy who sits and just types, by himself, all day, all week, all month, all yea … well, you get the idea. It’s fun, and I’ll keep going to them as long as they keep inviting me.
Who is your favorite comic book character?
Whether you mean the best character I ever worked on, or the best one that has ever been created, the answer is the same: Batman! He is the absolute greatest comic book character of all time. I’d write him again in a heartbeat.
Will you read my stuff?
I was able to keep up with such requests for about twenty years. Now, in these days of the internet, I can barely keep up with just my fanmail. If you catch me at a convention, you’ve got a chance, especially if things are slow or you have the good sense to just bring a short story or a single chapter. I apologize, but to give anyone even half-way decent criticism takes a long time–perhaps about ten minutes a page. Take on one or two stories, let alone novels, a month, and you’re left with no time for your own stuff.
Who is your favorite character that you’ve created?
This is a really, really hard one. It took a long time to decide, but I think it’s Lai Wan, the psychometrist from the Teddy London series. There are a lot of people tied for second, though.
What’s your favorite book out of the ones you’ve written?
The Things That Are Not There. No question. I was in negotiations with two publishers at the time and neither one would even consider looking at the idea I had for a supernatural detective. I got so frustrated with their attitudes that I sat down and wrote the first one in four months worth of lunch hours. It sold instantly, spawned lots of short stories and sequels, many of which have been published around the world.
It isn’t the paychecks that make it my favorite, however. It’s the fact that every time I think of the editors who turned it down, and the fact that both their companies are out of business, I get to snicker with glee, and it really feels good each and every time I get to do it.
How can I get published?
Wow. Well, the smart ass answer to that one is, I wish I knew. The cynical answer is, You can’t. Neither one is essentially wrong, or even all that misleading, but of course, they don’t tell the whole story.
First off, you have to get yourself in a position where an editor even wants to read your stuff. Remember, even the most small-time editor at the most obscure dot.com has your story on his desk, and fifty or sixty more right behind it. Everyone thinks they can write. And, essentially, everyone can. It isn’t that hard. Not really. The hard part is finding something to write about that anyone else wants to read. After that it’s all a matter of luck and perseverance. No one seems to want to admit this, but it is. You can have the greatest book in the world, and if the editor you sent it to opens it on the day after a big fight with his wife, or paid his income taxes, or lost a bundle in a bet with a guy he loathes, you’re out of luck. But, that’s where the perseverance comes in. The trick is simply to not give up. Like I said, anyone can write. It just takes tapping at the keys. Try your stuff out on people. Read it out loud to them and to yourself. Listen to the flow. Make certain there is a rhythm to your work. If there is, others will be able to hear it as well, and eventually you’ll sell something.
The bottom line is that you really have to want to write for the love of it. Writing for money is a tough job because there is little joy or reward in it. Best to have a day job and work in your free time. That way at least you won’t starve, and every sale will be a cause for celebration.