JANE: Last week I started interviewing author Paul Dellinger, who has two new books out. However, we never got around to actually discussing the new books! I’m determined to try this week. However, first I want Paul to tell you about his real-life experience with UFOs.
So, Paul, In addition to copious amounts of newspaper material, you also co-wrote a book on a UFO incident in your area. How did that come about?
PAUL: Danny Gordon, news director for radio station WYVE, reported a UFO sighting relayed to him by our county’s then-sheriff. After that, lots of people began reporting strange stuff in the sky and Danny kept reporting it. Suddenly our town became UFO central, with people in the national UFO community visiting and descending on Danny as their first source of information. It all got so intense that Danny was hospitalized briefly with chest pains, which luckily turned out to be from anxiety.
JANE: I can understand why he’d be anxious. How did the book come about?
PAUL: It was Danny’s idea, and he even came up with its title: Don’t Look Up!, based on everything that happened to him when started looking up and saw some of the lights in the sky himself. He had lots of strange visitors. One carried rocks in his pocket that he said came from Jupiter and would grow warm when a UFO was in the vicinity! He didn’t say how he obtained them.
We wrote the book in alternate chapters, with Danny relating his personal experiences in one chapter and me following up with one from an outsider’s point of view. The publisher rushed it into print, since sightings were still happening and being publicized, without giving us a chance to proofread so it has more typos than we’d like.
JANE: Does the book solve the UFO mystery?
PAUL: It doesn’t solve the mystery of what people were seeing – helicopters, balloons or dirigibles with strange lights at night, military test aircraft, you name it – but is more about how people, both locals and outsiders who wanted to put their own spin on the sightings, reacted to a UFO flap. It’s out of print now, typos and all.
JANE: I seem to recall that even if the book didn’t solve the mystery, it did have quite an impact.
PAUL: It did bring still more outsiders, including a TV crew from Unsolved Mysteries who did a segment on the sightings (including some of Danny’s; they had an actor play him for the re-enactments). The show provided some great special effects to show the various whatevers that people described. A writer for The National Enquirer came but didn’t stay long because, he said, people here were too matter-of-fact about their sightings and declined to come up with sensational theories about them. Another tabloid, The Globe, did their own brief version of Danny’s experiences on its front page, along with a photo of Danny and me looking up at our book “floating” in the room over our heads. The headline was UFOS RUINED MY LIFE.
JANE: Moving from fact into fiction, your short novel Secret Invasion had an interesting genesis. Can you tell my readers about it and how a contest shaped your choice of plot and characters?
PAUL: The contest was to write a 38,000-word story in 48 hours. A list of rules was provided at the start requiring certain things to be in each story in a meaningful way (to make sure nobody wrote theirs in advance). Also, the story had to be set in Roanoke, Virginia, where the contest originated.
The plot isn’t very original; other stories have had disguised aliens hidden among attendees at a science fiction convention. The main difference in mine was probably tying the events to older SF movies. (There are the movies again.)
Just to make things more interesting, my laptop decided to die in the midst of all this. Luckily, I’d saved almost everything up to that on a flash drive and so was able to pick up the story again. I’m not sure how many of the twenty-some contestants who started actually managed to finish by the deadline. I know of at least two others.
JANE: Another new release by you is the novel Fuzzy, written in collaboration with bestselling middle grade fiction author Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda and other works). From our correspondence, I know that the book was in the works for many years. I think our audience – especially those with pet projects that are taking longer than they’d ever imagined – might be encouraged in hearing how Fuzzy came to be.
PAUL: Tom worked for a while at the same newspaper that I retired from in 2007. That was when he came up with the concept (a middle school student who was a robot) and suggested we collaborate. We didn’t start immediately and, when we did, it was done by fits and starts.
We met in person only two or three times during the process, with most of the work being done via internet back and forth. We both had other projects or distractions, and many times the book would languish for a while before we’d get back to it.
JANE: How did Fuzzy evolve over the years?
PAUL: When we started writing, we had a whole prelude about the robot scientists observing a failing mission for which they were trying to develop a competent robot. That was when one of them comes up with the idea of teaching the next one survival techniques by throwing “him” into the hell of middle school.
We eventually dumped that entire opening, starting instead with Fuzzy’s first day of school, where he locks up and falls over because he can’t process the hallway hullaballoo between classes – which is where a student called Max comes in, when the scientists recruit her to help. Most of the material from that carefully-crafted prelude, which originally was supposed to set up the entire story, was worked into gradual revelations of Fuzzy’s mission (which even he doesn’t learn about until well into the book).
JANE: As a reader, I applaud the choice. The evolving mystery of what was intended for poor Fuzzy really added to the tension.
What did you do when you had a complete manuscript?
PAUL: When we had a finished product (or thought we did), Tom’s editor had suggestions for alterations. We either took turns incorporating those or put up a fight against a particular suggested change. Then the work sat for a while, and we wondered if that was the end of it. And then Tom’s agent (and mine, for this one project) found an interested publisher, and again we went through some changes. It came out in August, nine years to the month from when Tom first proposed it.
JANE: I could ask a lot more questions, but I’ll close with just one lest I provide spoilers for the plot. The human protagonist in Fuzzy is named Maxine. I suspect a particular reason… Would you care to elaborate?
PAUL: Given that I’m married to a Maxine, lots of people who know us suspect a particular reason. Even when I tell them otherwise, there are some who still insist that Maxine was the inspiration for that name. Actually, it was not me but Tom who came up with that name (“Max,” for short; the character does not like the name “Maxine”). I did come up with Fuzzy’s name, tying it in with his development of “fuzzy logic.”
JANE: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing your many and varied experiences as a writer with my readers.
PAUL: It was lots of fun. (And you’re a good interviewer!)