I’ve known Paul Dellinger for well over twenty years. We share a strange and arcane relationship – we’re pen pals. Yes, that’s right. We write each other real letters pretty much every week. When e-mail became more common, we made a conscious decision to continue with snail mail, but now we tend to e-mail during the week as well.
Recently, Paul has published two books: Secret Invasion and Fuzzy (co-written with Tom Angleberger). From my privileged position, I know that both novels have interesting backstories, so I decided to interview Paul and make him share information about not only the novels, but his long and interesting career as a professional writer.
JANE: So, Paul, I always start interviews with the same question.
In my experience, writers fall into two general categories: those who have been writing stories since before they could actually write and those who came to writing somewhat later.
Which sort are you?
PAUL: I guess I’m in the first category. In grade school, I would draw comic-book-style stories using stick figures. Eventually I managed to draw actual people, although never well enough for real comic books, but I churned out a considerable number of (probably derivative) stories in spiral art notebooks (color by Crayola) until, and perhaps even after, I began writing prose, some of that even being for my own amusement. It wasn’t until after high school, after college, and during an Army stint that I thought about submitting anything for publication.
JANE: Have you ever done anything in the illustrated story line?
PAUL: No, not professionally, just for my own amusement. Well, I did do some topical cartoons for our college newspaper, making light of some aspects of campus life. I sometimes did that via “humorous” columns in that paper.
JANE: So you did live up to the childhood dream. That’s cool!
What was your first fiction publication? How soon after did the next one follow?
PAUL: My first was a short story, “Rat Race,” in the Jan., 1962, issue of Cele Goldsmith’s Fantastic, while I was in the Army. A journalism instructor at the Army Information School told me about the existence of a book called Writer’s Market, which had (as you’ve already guessed) markets. I handwrote the story in a spiral notebook, typed it up after hours at the West Point Information Office, and it sold. The next one? Not until ten years later!
JANE: Wow… And I thought my about two year gap was tough!
You were a professional reporter for about forty years, if I remember correctly. How did having a job that involved writing on a daily basis impact your ability to writer fiction?
PAUL: In some ways, it was actually detrimental. After spending all day and sometimes night covering events and turning them into news or feature stories, the last thing I felt like doing at night was more typing. (And it was typing early on, not keyboarding. I go all the way back to typewriters.)
But it did help with being able to meet deadlines, and having experience stringing words together in readable fashion. Somehow it took me longer, though, to write fiction than to write factual stuff.
JANE: I also find non-fiction comes faster for me than fiction.
If I remember correctly, most of your published fiction has been short stories. Some of these are collected in Mr. Lazarus and Other Stories. Many of your stories are influenced by two of your other great interests – old SF movies and old film Westerns. Can you tell my readers a little about what they’d find in the collection? Who is Mr. Lazarus anyhow?
PAUL: I’m not sure who Mr. Lazarus is myself. I came up with the concept of him in the second magazine story I had published, as someone who turned up to convince its protagonist that there was actually a vampire in his vicinity. I brought him back some years later in a similar capacity for a werewolf story, which was set at West Point. All of us who were stationed there joked that, one day, we’d write a “See Here, Private Hargrove” book about some of the stuff we went through in the Army; this was as close as I ever came to actually doing it. And then, when it seemed to fit the story, I brought Mr. Lazarus back a few times after that.
I once had a vague plan of pinning down exactly who/what he was in a book where someone is trying to track him down, and interviews different people who have encountered him. The interviews would be the short stories about him, which would work, since they are all in the first person. But I haven’t gotten around to that yet. I may need a few more “interview” stories to fill out a book-length, first.
JANE: I’d definitely read it! I liked the Mr. Lazarus stories quite a lot.
PAUL: As for what’s in the collection: the Mr. Lazarus fantasies, some science fiction of various kinds, and only three stories where my childhood every-weekend-viewing of a western movie had any influence: one about a character who could have inspired the Lone Ranger (“Anglefire”), one in which H. P. Lovecraft meets silent movies (“Dark Riders of the Silver Screen”), and one where some DNA from a popular movie horse has been cloned in a future where actual horses no longer exist (“Horsepower”).
JANE: You’re also a playwright, both for stage (Rat Race) and radio (The Adventures of Hap Hazard). How did these projects come about?
PAUL: “Rat Race” was an expansion of that first short story I had accepted. Barter Theater, aka The State Theater of Virginia, was offering would-be playwrights a chance to submit scripts in the summer of 1970. I stayed up into the wee small hours of many nights and early mornings converting the story into a play, adding characters and so forth. One night when I got home from a newspaper assignment, my wife told me the theater director had called. When I called back, it turned out the Barter people were interested in performing it. That turned out to be quite an experience, especially as I got to observe some of the rehearsals before it got on stage.
JANE: You took to the “stage,” so to speak, for “The Adventures of Hap Hazard.” How did that work?
PAUL: “Hap” was a fun thing I did with my friend, Craig Allison, who worked at a local radio station WYVE and has a talent for doing a variety of different voices. We did three “Haps” of about 10 minutes each week for more than a year.
We got it down to a routine. I’d write a two-page single-spaced script, we’d run through it, then we’d record it with us, mostly Craig, doing the voices of the various characters. The first half would set up the plot by STENCH (The Society for Terrorism, Extortion, Nastiness, Crime and Horror; the James Bond movies were featuring SPECTRE at the time). Then there would be a commercial, and the rest of the show would get our heroes out of whatever the cliffhanger had been.
Originally, we had a third radio staffer playing the recurring villain and, when he moved on, we had to figure out a way for his voice to change to one of ours (we had him mangled in one of his own traps).
JANE: That sounds like loads of fun. I got sincerely carried away with my questions, so we didn’t even get to your two recently published novels. How about you let me keep bugging you next week?
PAUL: Love to! Thanks.