Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Spillane and Me

I hear that Mickey Spillane died recently.

My acquaintance with the Spillane oeuvre was brief. I was a teenager, staying at a mountain resort with my family. The resort's common room--- the place with the pingpong and card tables and the comfy sofa with its cracked leather cushions--- had a bookshelf where people could leave books they'd finished with, or pick up something new. Someone had put a whole shelf of Spillane there, so I read it.

It's not like this was work. The books were short, punchy, moved well, and were told with zest. They were written in a matter of days and could be read in under 90 minutes. The violence, sadism, and sex were fun if you understood that this was a comic book, not real life. Even as a teenager I knew better than to take Spillane's paranoid world-view seriously.

As mysteries, they were deficient. Mike Hammer never actually solved crimes by, say, thinking logically and following clues. He'd go around interviewing witnesses and shooting, stabbing, gut-kicking, or crucifying the various thugs and Commie spies who tried to kill him--- he averaged something like 10 corpses per book--- until about three-quarters of the way through, when he'd "suddenly realize" who the villain was, and then there would be a final one-on-one confrontation, some deeply personal violence, another body stretched on the floor, and that would be that.

But Spillane's writing could teach you a few things--- besides, of course, how to gut-shoot a beautiful woman with a .45. His stories didn't just move, they leaped and bounded and raced. His prose was inelegant but to the point--- if Hammer said something was black, it was black. If he said it was white, then it was white. End of discussion, move on. His characters went far beyond stereotype into archetype--- and when all your characters are archetypes you can save yourself a lot of prose, because there's a lot less explaining to do.

And in one book he did one really interesting literary trick. In Vengeance is Mine, the last sentence reads "Juno was a -----." (I don't want to spoil your enjoyment of the book by giving it away.)

The entire book came down to that last word. Read the last word, and it casts a completely new light on everything that went before.

Now that, I thought, was interesting.

I put the idea away in my mental card file and never read Spillane again.

Decades later, I was starting the Dread Empire's Fall series, and faced with the intimidating prospect of closely plotting three books. Spillane's literary trick somehow surfaced in my mind, and I thought, Aha!

I always like to know what I'm writing toward, and in this case I decided to send the whole story aiming straight as the slug from a .45 right toward that last . . . well, I couldn't manage word, but I did manage sentence. That last sentence is intended to be a kind of cliff on which the wave that is the narrative breaks and is reflected back, toward that which has come before.

Some people have told me I've succeeded in this.

So thanks, Mickey. When we finally meet in that great Author's Bar in the Sky, I'll buy you a slug of rye.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Smells Like Scandinavian Spirit

Ah, the sweet songs of my homeland . . .

The Finnish Complaint Chorus.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Self-Published--- At Last!

After nearly thirty years as a full-time writer, I've finally become self-published!

For my amusement, and that of my friends, I've put together the Walter Jon Williams/Kathy Hedges Calendar for 2007, featuring photos taken during our journey to Turkey in March and April.

It's full-color, 13.5 inches by 19.00 inches, features a complete list of U.S., Canadian, and Mexican holidays, and is in all respects a proper calendar. And it's got really pretty pictures!

Devoted as I am to art rather than profit, I make absolutely no money on this. I just did it for giggles.

But since you've got to buy a calendar anyway, you might as well buy this one. Right?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Incarnation Day

I've got a story, "Incarnation Day," in the Gardner Dozois/Jack Dann anthology, Escape from Earth.

I happen to think it's the best story I've written in ages, so I hope you'll check it out.

And if I'm not enough, the anthology also features stories by Geoff Landis, Allen Steele, Kage Baker, Orson Scott Card, Elizabeth Moon, and Joe Haldeman.

The anthology is available from Amazon, but was published originally by the Science Fiction Book Club.

Check it out. Enjoy.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006


Jack Williamson died the other day, 80 years after publishing his first science fiction story. He was 98. He had no less than three books out in 2005, pretty impressive for a nonagenarian.

Jack was one of the first writers I actually got to talk to. I was a college student, and attended a science fiction convention in Denver where he was guest of honor, and we found ourselves standing next to each other in line for the restaurant, and he invited me to join him and then picked up the check.

I don't remember what we talked about. I have a horrid feeling that I probably talked about myself a good deal. Jack was a good listener, and a good storyteller, and had a lot more interesting things to say than I would have, but he wasn't the sort to put himself forward--- and alas, I am.

But there you go. Jack was kind, polite, generous, and a natural teacher.

Years later, I ran into Jack in the Atlanta airport. We had shared a flight into Atlanta but hadn't seen each other till that moment. He was standing by the baggage carrousel waiting for his bags, and I thought about how the journey he had made to this place was a lot longer than the miles between Portales and Atlanta might imply.

In order to fly to Atlanta you spend several hours in a fast-moving, pressurized steel tube flying in excess of 30,000 feet. After which a tube extrudes from the airport terminal, mates with your steel tube, and you pass along the tube to the terminal, where you take moving walkways to the escalators, where you descend to the subway stop. You wait at the subway stop until your automated train arrives. The automated train speaks to you in a soft mechanical voice, warning you of closing doors and oncoming acceleration, and then you accelerate down a tunnel to the main terminal, where there are more escalators and moving walkways to the baggage carrousel, where you baggage--- delivered on a conveyor belt--- pops out, and there you are in Atlanta with your bags.

This, I thought, was the world that Jack was writing about in 1928. It had come true in time for him to live in it.

It was a very long journey for the boy who had come to New Mexico in a covered wagon in 1915, a refugee from the Mexican Revolution.

From the Mexican Revolution to the Digital Revolution, Jack was there. I'm going to really miss him.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Luck Storm

“Walter, you have the weirdest damn luck.”

Maureen McHugh told me this toward the end of 2005, in reference to that year’s Luck Storm, which involved a couple of surgeries, co-writing the game Last Call Poker, a five-month infection, heavy (and necessary) use of narcotics, and ridiculous amounts of money falling from the sky into my bank account even though I hadn’t written or sold any fiction. (Contrast 2006, where I’ve been working hard all year, selling everything I’ve written, and haven’t yet been paid for a single word.)

2005 was an fanciful, unpredictable whirlwind of incredibly bad and stunningly good luck, all thrown together in a sundae glass with a cherry on top.

The Luck Storm of 2006 hit Monday of last week, and began with a break-in. Someone kicked in our back doors and took two laptops, a digital camera, a copy of GURPS 2nd Edition, some watches, and some of Kathy’s jewelry. Untouched were the TV, the sound system, and the contents of my home office. The thief walked past swords and firearms and took six Britains War of the Roses Swoppets I’ve had since I was a kid.

We were scheduled to leave for Austin and the World Fantasy Convention the next day, but dealing with police, insurance, and the installation of new, steel doors resulted in our leaving late. (We were making the journey by car so that we could visit a family friend en route.)

The next weird piece of luck took place during the drive to Texas, though my participation was handicapped by a lack of cell phone coverage on the Llano Estacado. We had to pull off the road so that I could stand under the cell phone tower in Clovis, NM, and talk with my agent in New York City, who informed me that I had just sold a big high-concept novel to Tim Holman of Orbit US, UK, and Australia, for simultaneous release on all three continents!

The book, the tentative title of which is When the Game Calls, is something that would have been science fiction had I written it ten years ago. Now it’s more of a contemporary thriller about technology, though as it’s being published by an SF line, I expect there will be more stfnal content than I’d originally planned.

So that makes two novels I’ve sold this year, including Implied Spaces to Night Shade.

At World Fantasy Con I met Tim Holman, who I’d never encountered before, and partied till the wee hours with Jason and Jeremy from Night Shade, and gratefully chowed down on a couple meals purchased by Diana Gill with Rupert Murdoch’s money, and gave an interview to Charles and Liza at Locus.

Along about in there somewhere, I found out that I would be collaborating on a novel with a couple of writers who are much more famous and successful than I am, which in addition to being a kind of pleasingly sentimental project for all of us, should serve to raise my profile nicely among the reading public. (And, by the way, this will be a true collaboration, not one of those “Walter does all the work and others just slap their names on.”)

In addition to all of this, the convention was simply a great convention. I got to see all sorts of people I hadn’t seen in ages, and ate some terrific meals, and got very little sleep but in a good way.

And because the convention had some freebies left over from the hotel, I got three of my room-nights comped.

I was feeling sufficiently lucky that before I left Texas I bought a bunch of lottery tickets, just in case the luck storm hadn’t totally faded.

No word yet on whether or not I’m a millionaire.