Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Interview with F. Paul Wilson and Alan M. Clark

Joe sez: F. Paul Wilson is one of my favorite writers. He was first published back in the 1970s, and has since put out more than fifty books with legacy houses. At first glance, he doesn't seem like the sort who would embrace self-publishing ebooks.

But that's what he did. I've been talking with Paul about this for years, and he and I were two of the first authors to becom
e involved in the Amazon Shorts program (now defunct). When KDP came around, Paul got his backlist up, and I collaborated with him, Jeff Strand, and Blake Crouch on the ebook horror novel DRACULAS.

So along comes Kindle Fire, being released today, and Paul is right there to take advantage of this new color technology with his beautifully illustrated (by Alan M. Clark) children's ebook, THE CHRISTMAS THINGY.

How did THE CHRISTMAS THINGY come about?

FPW: We have to go way back to the 70s when I wrote it for my two daughters. I would read it to them every Christmas season. I’d change my voice for all three characters—do a British accent for Mrs. Murgatroyd and hold my nose for Thingy's voice (he has no nose, after all). Kids always love that one the best. As the girls got older and learned to read, they’d take over the voices of Jessica and Thingy. It’s been a great family tradition.

JAK: Never a thought to publishing it?

FPW: Well, sure. But it needed illustrations and I’m no artist. But sometime in the 80s, as I was admiring Jill Bauman's paintings at a NECon art show—she has a wonderful sense of whimsy—it occurred to me that she'd be perfect to do a few illustrations. Jill was game. The studies she did came out so well—just line drawings but she'd added a sweetness to Thingy—that I sent the package around to a few publishers. No one in the strange world of children’s books would give us the time of day.

JAK: Hard to believe.

FPW: I was informed by someone in the field that having a white middle-class protagonist is quite a handicap in that world. Jump to June of 2000. The girls were off to college and THINGY moldered in a file cabinet. I’d just handed in the final Sims novella to Cemetery Dance when Rich Chizmar asked me if I had any fiction lying about. I told him my trunk stories were long gone except for this children’s Christmas story from way-back that he wouldn’t be interested in. He said to email it to him. He fell in love with it and within 36 hours he had Alan Clark signed up to do the artwork. I don't think Cemetery Dance has ever produced a book so quickly. It was released in hardcover December 1, a little late for the Christmas season, but I loved it.

JAK: Alan, how did you come to be involved?

AMC: I've known Paul for quite a while and I remember talking with him about the children's book and knew he was excited about it. I thought it was a delightful story and was thrilled to take on the task of adding imagery to it. I've always loved children's books and felt fortunate to have the opportunity to explore the medium and process.

JAK: What was it like working with Alan? How was the collaborative process?

FPW: Christ, what a nightmare. The guy’s an egomaniacal sonofabitch.

No seriously, it was a joy. Alan has done his share of fiction writing and so has great respect for the written word. But in his genome he's an artist, and he thinks in images and colors. As we'd talk on the phone—we're on different coasts—he'd keep asking me about backgrounds and bleeds and color schemes, and what was I okay with. Finally I had to say to him, "You're the artist. I did the words, you do the pictures. Really, I'm not qualified on the graphic side. And I trust you." As you can see, he came up with a beautiful book.

JAK: Your turn, Alan. How was the collaborative process?

AMC: Paul is easy to talk with and quite willing to discuss ideas. I made only one suggestion for the text. The story originally opened with dialogue, and I asked if he could add to it some visual element that would give me something to focus on for the first illustration. He added description of Mrs. Murgatroyd bending to pick up the broken pieces of a plate she'd dropped, having been startled by something Jessica said just prior to the opening of the story. Mrs. Murgatroyd is simultaneously asking Jessica to repeat what she's said so that we then know what it was. This allowed me to have an illustration facing the opening text that shows Mrs. Murgatroyd dropping the plate.

FPW: That’s right! Completely forgot about that.

JAK: What made you decide to go digital?

FPW: We went digital now because we can. Cemetery Dance did a hardcover first, and that sold out. Then they did a paperback—same trim as the hardcover—and that’s gone. The rights reverted and a few months ago Alan called and asked what I thought about an ebook of THINGY. I said if we can do justice to your art, then absolutely.

For me it’s a matter of wanting all my work available in every existing format. I write to be read, so I’ll jump on any platform that puts my work before readers. All my books are available as ebooks, include the backlist titles I’ve self-published. Listen, if someone comes up with a way of synching a book with brain waves, I’m there.

AMC: My publishing company, IFD Publishing, released the e-book of THE CHRISTMAS THINGY with the help of my partners, Eric Witchey and Elizabeth Engstrom.

As an illustrator, writer and publisher, I've benefited from this exciting evolution in books. Let me give you a brief history lesson. As a small press publisher, I know the cost of adding color images to a traditional book. The expense of hiring an illustrator aside, it's very costly to print full-color illustrations. That’s why, until recently, publishers on a budget have largely restricted color work to what’s necessary to sell a book—the cover and advertising.

As an illustrator who does primarily full-color work, when I was first starting out in the 1980s, I was frustrated by the fact that the jobs that helped a rookie get in the door in freelance illustration were mostly black and white illustrations for magazines and, rarely, for books. I'm talking about the pre-digital days of paste-up, when even continuous tone, now known as grayscale, was too expensive for low budget publications. This work was primarily line art. I was not practiced at pen and ink and so my line work did not represent my skills well. I was a painter.

In the 1990s, publications began printing from digital files, and suddenly black and white illustration, whether line art or grayscale, cost nothing extra in the printing phase. When this occurred, I started IFD Publishing and put out several lavishly illustrated books. Still, color was expensive and so color content was minimized.

When the iPad came out, and I saw how popular it became as an e-reader, and how it rendered full-color in high resolution, I realized it cost nothing now to add full-color art to a book—an ebook, that is. The physical, or traditional color books, such as the hardcover and the paperback of THE CHRISTMAS THINGY, were very expensive to produce. I saw the opportunities for IFD Publishing with e-publishing and here we are. Paul liked the idea and so we now have THE CHRISTMAS THINGY available for all e-reader formats.

JAK: What were the trials of mixing text and full-color illustrations?

AMC: Because we want the files for the book to function properly on all the different readers, we faced restrictions in layout. In the traditional or physical book you can do fun things with the text, like having it interact with the images on the page. Not so in an ebook because the user can resize the text, altering the layout. We had to keep the illustrations independent from the text. On the other hand, the advantage of the ebook version is that you can blow up the images and explore them in detail.

FPW: Whatever you did, Alan, the result is stunning.

JAK: Agreed. THE CHRISTMAS THINGY turned out beautifully in ebook form. Are either of you planning to do any projects specifically as ebooks?

AMC: Thank you for the compliment. We do not at this time have a project to work on together, but I'd be pleased to work with Paul anytime.

FPW: Tom Monteleone and I are collaborating on a series of YA books that was temporarily derailed by looming deadlines on a number of previously contracted projects. But the decks are cleared now and we’ll be back to full speed ahead this week. We plan to launch it as an ebook exclusive and move to paper later.

JAK: Many readers of this blog (me included) believe that paper will someday soon be a subsidiary right. Print books will never disappear, but they may become a niche market, like vinyl records. You both have been in this biz for a while. Your thoughts on this?

AMC: I agree with your prediction. There are many who love books so much, I don't think traditional books will stop being made, but I believe it will be limited to those most in demand. There are e-publishers now who make their books available in a POD (print on demand) edition alongside their digital edition.

FPW: I published QUICK FIXES – Tales of Repairman Jack as an ebook and planned to leave it that way. But so many readers pleaded for a paper edition to put on the shelf with the rest of the series that I had to make a trade paperback available.

That’s a good example of why paper books, though they’ll fade in importance, will never go away. They’re physical objects to which we can attach memories and reference times in our lives. I have books that have sentimental value, that trigger memories when I see them on the shelf. I’ll never read them again but the physical package itself has value for me. That is, until I move and have to pack them up. Then I kind of hate them.

JAK: If we do transition to mostly digital, what are the plusses and minuses for artists and writers?

AMC: Because e-publishing costs next to nothing, publishers have the ability to pay the writer a higher percentage of each sale and still make a profit. But because it costs next to nothing and because there are little or no filters in the way of editors--anyone can decide they are a publisher, start an account with an ebook distributor and publish books--everyone who believes they are a writer can put a book on the market. There's a lot of vanity publishing going on, and much of it gets equal billing through the distribution points.

If we look at it like a river of publishing and the readers as fishermen, all the vanity books muddy the waters and make it difficult to distinguish a nice trout from a mealy carp. What IFD Publishing has done is to create a collective of writers/artists with good reputations who support each other's efforts and work to publish books of high quality. We believe that if we are consistent with this our reputation for good quality will allow our books to rise closer to the surface where they can be recognized.

FPW: I think we all know the plusses for writers—rapid transition to publication, lower cost of putting work before public, lower cost for the reader, higher royalty for the writer, etc. I do see limitations for artists, however, especially because choices of media are narrowed. Alan’s art for THE CHRISTMAS THINGY was designed for high-gloss paper and so it looks great on a high-gloss screen. But other art might be designed for a matte surface, and so you aren’t going to fully appreciate it on a Nook or iPad.

As for me, I’m delighted that people can store THE CHRISTMAS THINGY in their e-readers and tablets and computers and even their smartphones. They can call it up and see Alan’s art and read my words to their kids, or their kids can read it to each other, year after year. Christmas isn’t going away, and neither is THE CHRISTMAS THINGY, now that it’s an ebook. It will remain available to future generations. Because ebooks never go out of print. As someone likes to say, ebooks are forever.

Joe sez: Thanks, Paul and Alan.

I'm getting my Kindle Fire today, and I'll give my review after I've played with it for a bit. But for those who have one, or an iPad (or any other tablet reader with a Kindle app), THE CHRISTMAS THINGY is a must buy. It also looks damn good in black and white.

One of the things I find interesting about the ebook revolution is how quickly ebooks are being embraced by the public. At the same time, paper books aren't disappearing any time soon (in fact, I am working on a deal to release limited edition, signed and numbered hardcovers of ORIGIN, TRAPPED, and ENDURANCE.)

I get a lot of emails and comments about YA and children's ebooks, and if they'll become as popular as adult novels. Yes, they will. It might take another season or two, but Nook Color and Kindle Fire are steps in the right direction. I can easily predict a whole generation of parents and grandparents reading THE CHRISTMAS THINGY to their children and grandchildren on ereaders.

And they won't have to pay $100.00 for a rare, out-of-print hardcover.