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F. PAUL WILSON
Cross-Genre & Confrontational, Repairman Jack Rules

April 2001
By Paula Guran

F. Paul Wilson is a jack-of-all-genres as a writer and a practicing physician to boot. He's published a couple dozen science fiction, horror, and medical thriller titles and is the author of the popular Repairman Jack. An anarchic jack-of-all-outside-the-system-trades, the character "fixes" the seemingly unfixable in adventures that include elements of horror, science fiction, crime, and action-thrillers

Jack's latest escapade is HOSTS. It's currently available in limited edition hardcover from Gauntlet Press and a trade edition from Forge will follow this fall. Wilson never intended for RJ to be a continuing character. In fact, Jack died in the 1984 New York Times bestseller THE TOMB and wasn't revived until LEGACIES (1998). Since then he's continued in annual novels -- CONSPIRACIES (1999), ALL THE RAGE (2000), and now HOSTS.

Despite the book-a-year pace and the challenges of writing a series, Wilson seems to be enjoying himself with RJ. "It's work, but it's fun work," he says. "As for pace, my contracts are multi-book and call for one a year -- delivery every December so they can bring it out in the fall. So far that hasn't been a burden. But a series character can be a straitjacket, and the fear of restriction was a major factor in why I took so long to bring Jack back after THE TOMB. So I set up the series to afford me lots of elbow room, allowing excursions into all the genres I love. I can do hard-boiled crime, or action-thriller, or medical thriller, or horror, or sci-fi, all under the Repairman Jack roof."

F. Paul Wilson As for the character himself, "I'm still learning about Repairman Jack, or at least trying to. He's not a navel gazer. A more introspective character might tell me outright, but Jack's a bit mad; he knows that and he's running from it. That's why he keeps himself so busy, too busy to examine his life. At least that's what I think. I'm going to keep throwing him curves and see how he handles them. That's how I'll learn about him."

For all the entertaining excitement and fast-paced feats, the books are far from sheer fluff. Many societal issues are raised in HOSTS. "The ongoing, inescapable theme of a series featuring an anarchic character without an identity who lives in the interstices has to be about the eternal tension between society and the individual, so the novels always deal with that," Wilson explains.

Book Cover "In HOSTS I confront guns head on. The Repairman Jack books have always involved guns, and Abe, Jack's best friend, is a gunrunner, but this is the first time gun control - or what Jack likes to call, 'victim disarmament' -- is addressed. Remember Colin Ferguson, the guy who shot all those commuters on the Long Island Railroad? I've always been struck by the tragic irony of Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed and son severely wounded on that train; she ran for congress on a gun control platform, pushing for more of the same laws that had left her husband and son and every other law-abiding citizen on that train completely defenseless. I've always thought that if just one other person with a gun had been riding that train, a lot more of those commuters would be alive today. So HOSTS opens with a reenactment of that scenario... and I don't have to tell you who's riding in that same car."

"And then there's homosexuality," he continues. "I tackle my first-ever gay character in HOSTS. I've been considering that for some time, and since I didn't want readers to come away from the novel thinking me a right-wing gun nut, a lesbian character added the perfect leavening."

Then there's the "bad guy" in HOSTS, The Unity, a complex cognizant viral entity. "The Unity results from what might be called a 'smart virus'," says Wilson. "I can trace its genesis back to 'Lysing Toward Bethlehem,' a story I wrote for Alan Clark's first IMAGINATION FULLY DILATED anthology. It's told from the point of view of a recombinant virus that, at a certain critical, mass becomes self-aware. Putting myself in the head of an obligate parasite was an interesting experience. The virus in 'Lysing Toward Bethlehem' didn't survive too long, but I began to wonder... if it had lived on, what sort of a society would it envision for its hosts, what sort of ethics would it develop?'"

Eventually those ruminations wormed their way into HOSTS. "I borrowed some rhetoric from Mao's little red book, added a communal agrarian utopian vision, and came up with Jack's worst nightmare."

RJ himself began as a literal nightmare back in 1981. "I was stalled on the follow-up to THE KEEP (which later became REBORN). In the nightmare I'm being chased by a monster and no matter what I shoot at it, throw at it, cut it with, the damn thing keeps coming."

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"I realized later," he recounts, "that it was a frustration dream where I was physically battling the stalled novel's avatar. I decided to try to capture that terror and frustration in a story, but had to come up with a character who could survive the encounter. So I started inventing this tough guy; and since I have this libertarian worldview, I made him a sort of anarchist, a guy attached to society by only the slimmest of threads. The result was Repairman Jack."

Jack's fictional family is becoming part of the series, too. His sister Kate is featured in HOSTS and Wilson plans to introduce readers to more relatives in the future. "I'm planning a trip to Florida for Jack where he will have to pry his father out of a jam. And I'm also planning a book with his older brother Tom, who's the antithesis of Jack. I've always seen Jack as a moral man living outside the system; at this point I see Tom as a crooked judge, an immoral man living within the system and milking it for all it's worth. (That might change, of course.) Jack's family plays a part in one of the larger arcs that are powering the series. "

Wilson doesn't have a set number of RJ novels in mind. "The odd thing about writing the Repairman Jack series is that I've already written and published the ending. The new books loop out from THE TOMB and weave their way back toward NIGHTWORLD, where the world as we know it ends. I have certain points plotted along the arc toward NIGHTWORLD (some that will truly shake up Jack's already rattled world), and I want to tell those stories."

"After that. . . well, I'm 55 this year and I can tell you that I don't see myself writing Repairman Jack novels when I'm 70. Not because I won't be writing at 70, but because these books are not easy. Everyone tells me how much fun they are to read, but it takes a lot of work and creative juice to make them fun. I don't have an endless store of tricks for Jack to pull out of his sleeve, and I respect him too much to run him into the ground just because readers want another RJ fix. When the books stop being inventive and I get a sense that I'm repeating myself, I'll stop the series."

"The fun part," he adds, "is using Jack's stories to link up my other fiction, most of which takes place in the same reality. I've gone so far as to post a graphic of the interconnections on Jack's Web site. (www.repairmanjack.com)

Jack would be a natural for the movies and there are plans for a film, but -- like many such projects -- it's currently lost in the limbo of "development." "REPAIRMAN JACK, as the film is going to be called, is snarled in the depths of development hell at the moment," says Wilson. Universal is on board to distribute, but Beacon Films is still doing rewrites. Scott Nimerfro was hired to rewrite Craig Spector's original drafts, but when Army Bernstein, the head of Beacon, saw what he'd come up with, I'm told he said that this wasn't the book he'd optioned. So they went back to square one and hired a guy named Trevor Sands to start from scratch. I'm not familiar with Sands, but apparently the producers liked his take on how to bring the book to the screen. "

Book Cover Writing Repairman Jack novels is far from Wilson's only endeavor. He still practices medicine two days a week. ("That's enough. I get to keep my hand in, but I have time to write and visit the children and grandchildren, and travel.) He's just finished the fifth and final volume of SIMS. "The project has consumed me. I think it's one of the best things I've ever done. SIMS is a series of novellas set in a world exactly like our own except for one thing: the science of genetics is decades ahead. In my scenario, most simple manual labor is done by sims -- transgenic chimps with human genes swapped in -- who occupy a gray zone between ape and human. Now, the first response I hear when I tell people this is, 'And the sims revolt, right?' Wrong. If you're going to genetically engineer a worker species, you engineer revolt out of them. No, it's the people I'm concerned with, the ones who created these creatures, and the secrets they keep." Wilson's early science fiction novels HEALER and ENEMY OF THE STATE were recently republished by Stealth Press. Re-reading them provided some both the expected and unexpected. "HEALER has its fair share of abecedarian faults, but it still cranks along. ENEMY OF THE STATE was a big surprise -- after almost a quarter century I feared it would have lost its relevance. But it hasn't; not one bit. It remains a powerful manifesto."

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His first children's book, THE CHRISTMAS THINGY, was published late last year -- too late to make it to the bookstore shelves for the holiday season. Publisher Cemetery Dance will be offering it for this coming Christmas. (CD also publishes the SIMS series.)

Meanwhile, "I'm mentally constructing the next Repairman Jack book, but also working on a novel unlike anything I've ever done. So different, in fact, that I may look to publish it online."

Obviously Wilson has little time for leisure reading. "My fiction reading has been curtailed during the past year due to research. In order to write SIMS I had to go back and give myself a course in genetics. During my medical school days in the early 70s we knew a tiny fraction of what we know now. What we've learned in thirty years has blown me away and opened up worlds of fiction possibilities. Trouble is, science is moving so fast I've got to keep dancing to prevent the work from being obsolete by the time it's published."

"But as for fiction, I like Jeffrey Deaver and Jeffrey Hunter, and never miss their books; had tons o' fun reading King's THE PLANT (that is, what he did of it; wish he'd finish it); thoroughly enjoyed Doug Winter's RUN. I know there were other good ones but I'm drawing a blank at the moment."

Like many readers and writers -- and as a physician, a father, a grandfather -- Wilson is concerned about the effects of violence in the media these days. "But it's up to parents to be vigilant and to set standards for their kids as to what they can watch and participate in -- that's what parenting is about," he says. "That's not the same as walling them off in a secret garden, however. Violence is real, and worse things happen to real people every day than whatever we see on the screen. I've always been of the less-is-more school when it comes to violence in fiction, but sanitizing violence in entertainment isn't healthy either."

"Although it would offend the dominant, libertarian part of my psyche, a small fascistic part of me would like to see a law that required every shooting victim in a film, or videogame, or what have you, to die like real people often do --crying and whimpering and vomiting and writhing and messing themselves and calling for their mommies. You'd start to think twice before pulling that virtual trigger. (Another small part of me would like to see a law limiting how many times a person can say 'like' in a 24-hour period, but that's another issue.)"

Evidently, Paul Wilson has no public comment on the overuse of "dude" during the course of a day. But if Repairman Jack got fed up with it, he just might lose his temper...and there'd be hell to pay. You've been warned.


Jack and his creator share Web site worth checking out.

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