Random Bursts of Cortical Activity - InformationWeek
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F. Paul Wilson
F. Paul Wilson
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Random Bursts of Cortical Activity

F. Paul Wilson isn't a tech guy, but he's no stranger to computers. And now Repairman Jack, his most famous creation, spills the technology beans on his personal pixel slinger.

F. Paul Wilson

As told by Repairman Jack...

Byte asked has F. Paul Wilson to contribute bits and pieces about the interfaces of technology and writing and, you know... stuff. On the surface, this may strike some as kind of strange. When he mentioned it on Facebook, one of his gay friends posted: "They asked YOU to write about tech stuff? That's like someone asking me to write a book about seducing women."

Not so fast. Let's take a look back at F. Paul Wilson. (Add ! and it sounds rather pejorative, don't you think?) He could call himself simply "Paul Wilson"—everyone else does—but he feels compelled to add the "F" when he writes. He never could get used to being called Francis.

We met in the early 80s... when he created me.

Jump back to 1980: It's the World Science Fiction convention in Boston where Wilson is talking to Joe Haldeman at a SFWA reception. Joe mentions he's writing his current novel on a computer using something called a "word processor." What the hell is that? When Joe explains what it does, Wilson realizes such a miracle could probably pay for itself with what he'll save on Wite-Out alone. (He was a lousy typist then and, after literally millions of words of published fiction, still uses only two fingers.)

When he received his advance for The Keep, Wilson bought an Apple II+ with dual 5.25" floppy drives and 32k RAM. He could have splurged for 64k but who in the world would ever need that? He also bought a word processor called Apple Writer 1.1 that displayed all-uppercase text in 40 columns on his black-and-white monitor, and broke words wherever it damn well pleased in the wraparound. The rig cost over three grand—a lot of Wite-Out.

He wrote The Tomb, my debut novel, on that Apple, and I've been riding his cortex ever since.

Repairman Jack

He stayed loyal to Apple until PCs dominated the installed base to the point where he could no longer trade disks with any of his friends. He switched to a PC.

Wilson tended to be an early adopter when it came to technology. He bought a Motorola bag phone in the early 90s—also called a "mobile phone" or "car phone" back then—with a huge battery that plugged into the car lighter and charged a shocking rate per minute.

For years he'd been hearing about something called the Internet where people could interact through their computers. In 1992 he took the plunge, bought himself a top-of-the-line 14.4 kb modem, and checked out the bulletin boards. He joined an online service called GEnie—General Electric Network for Information Exchange. This was before the World Wide Web—very crude by modern standards, all text, no graphics (unless you consider ASCII art and smilies graphics).

You had CompuServe, Delphi, and The Source available, but GEnie became the hang for all the tech-savvy sf, horror, and fantasy writers of the day. Lots of discussion groups, and something called... email—letters sent at electron speed. Think of all the money he could save on stamps! Then he learned he could attach documents to emails and swap them with other writers.

Dude, talk about wired. (And yes, this was before Wired the magazine pubbed its first issue.)

The e-letter itself would arrive in seconds, but then he had to download the attachment. Watching the download progress through a 14.4kb modem was excruciating. Imagine sucking a gallon of spackle through a straw.

Wilson was not an early adopter of the mouse, however, preferring to key in DOS commands until the day he agreed to be a beta tester for Windows 95. He needed a mouse for that and immediately realized that the GUI was the wave of the future.

Like many other writers, Wilson landed at AOL during the post-GEnie diaspora in the late 90s. Speedier, prettier, yes—but just not the same.

In 1997, fourteen years after writing The Tomb, he started my second novel. Legacies. Published in the fall of 1998, it was such a hit that the publisher wanted another. Seeing the writing on the wall, Wilson purchased a domain name. F. Paul Wilson fansites had been around for years, but in March of 1999 he went live with his own: repairmanjack.com. Hits peaked at 3.5 million per month from 2008 to 2010, but have slipped to about 2.5 million or so since he started sharing his online time with Twitter and Facebook.

So it's not a mindbending stretch that he'll be contributing to Byte. But I warn you: His mind wanders, so these bits and pieces might wander as well. But they'll be filtered through me to keep them honest and keep him in line—so he doesn't waste your time just blowing his own horn (as writers are wont to do).

Watch this space.


F. PAUL WILSON is an award-winning, NY Times bestselling author of forty-plus novels and many more short stories. His work, spanning horror, adventure, medical thrillers, science fiction, young adult, and virtually everything between, has been translated into twenty-four languages. Currently he is best known as creator of the urban mercenary Repairman Jack. (http://www.repairmanjack.com)

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