Author Gene DeWeese Passes
Author Gene DeWeese has passed away. Born in 1934 Gene wrote in all genres, but in particular Science Fiction.
DeWeese was an active member of science fiction fandom, and his first stories were published in science fiction fanzines.
DeWeese’s first published fiction, the novels The Invisibility Affair and The Mind-Twisters Affair (both 1967), were part of the series of Man from U.N.C.L.E. books written with fellow science fiction fan “Buck” Coulson under the pseudonym Thomas Stratton. DeWeese since has written over forty books, including novels in the Star Trek, Ravenloft, Dinotopia, and Amazing Stories series. His best-known young adult novel is The Adventures of a Two-Minute Werewolf, which was made into a television movie of the same name.
Gene DeWeese is survived by his wife Bev whom he married in 1955.
I met Gene a number of times and really enjoyed his company. We are also friends of his wife Bev who is in our thoughts.
Interview with Gene DeWeese
Jon: Before writing fiction you were a technical writer for the Apollo program. Was that interesting work or mind numbing?
Gene: Actually, except for pressing pants in a clothing factory one summer many years ago, I don’t think I’ve ever had a job that could be classified “mind numbing” — unless it numbed my mind so much I’ve forgotten it altogether. As for Apollo, it was mostly fun, particularly when I was doing a series of programmed instruction texts that were supposed to be an “intuitive” approach to orbital mechanics and another series about the LEM and CM guidance computers. In fact, most of the tech writing I did was more fun than not, since a lot of what I did was try to explain how the equipment worked, which meant I had to find out myself how it worked, which usually meant reading lots of specs and then endlessly bugging the engineers to fill in the gaps and “clarify” the jargon. In a way, the “high” you get when you suddenly realize, “Oh, _that’s_ how that works!” isn’t all that different from the “high” you get in writing fiction when a plot problem suddenly resolves itself with an “Oh, _that’s_ why Character X did that!” And with Apollo there was the fringe benefit of a couple trips to Cape Kennedy and Houston with enough spare time to do touristy things like take a ride to the top of the VAB. Jon: Among your work you have written some franchise books, Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Star Trek, is it a bit limiting to work with in an existing structure like that, or is it kind of fun to see if you can stretch the boundaries a bit?
Gene: The U.N.C.L.E. books were the first sales Buck and I had made, in fact the first things either of us had written longer than a short story, so we considered them a great “earn-while-you-learn” program. And for the Trek books I mostly adapted ideas I’d originally had for sf novels. Even the Lost In Space novel was from an idea that had been laying around for a couple decades and a variation of which I’d used in a Hi-Lo book in the eighties.
Jon: You’ve written in a lot of different genres. Do you have a favorite to write in?
Gene: Juvenile sf, probably, since the informal “voice” in those is the closest to my “normal” style.
Jon: Do you have a favorite to read?
Gene: I’ve always read both sf and mysteries — PLANET STORIES and Clarke and Erle Stanley Gardner in grade and high school, Priest and Clarke, Gorman and Pronzini, etc., now.
Jon: Does your wife Bev read your work, and is she honest with you about it?
Gene: Not much of the shared-world stuff, especially the Ravenloft fantasies, but, then, while they were fun and challenging to write and turned out pretty well, I probably wouldn’t have found them, let alone read them, if I hadn’t known the author.
Jon: You’ve used a few pseudonyms over the years, why?
Gene: It’s generally been the publisher’s choice. With the first U.N.C.L.E. book, for instance, they accepted the manuscript but rejected the title, our names, and the dedication. INVISIBLE DIRIGIBLE AFFAIR was too long for the cover format, so it became INVISIBILITY AFFAIR. Our names were likewise too long, so we took my unused first name and Buck’s unused middle name and became “Thomas Stratton”. (We’d already done dozens of pseudo-Will-Cuppy articles for YANDRO under that name.) And then, with only one author’s name on the cover, they decided the original dedication, “To my wives and child,” was too racy for the intended pre-teen audience, so that was gone, too, replaced by “To Serendipity,” which was actually pretty appropriate since the only reason we sold it in the first place was that Juanita had already sold a couple of novels to Ace and the editor (Terry Carr) was also the editor of the U.N.C.L.E. series. As it turned out, Terry was looking for U.N.C.L.E. books with a bit more humor, so he offered Juanita a chance to try out, but she turned it down. Buck and I, being less choosy, decided “what the hell, it’s worth a shot,” and put together a fast three chapters and outline, which Terry shocked the hell out of us by buying — and giving us a deadline of less than three months.
As for the other names: The editor who was buying my gothics insisted that I use a female name, so I just changed “Gene” to “Jean”. (And later met the real “Jean DeWeese”, who turned out to be a retired [male] hardware store owner in Ohio.) And for the one romance(GINGER’S WISH), it was again a combination of unused names of the two authors, “Thomas” again for me and “Victoria” for my collaborator, another one-time tech writer who, incidentally, was the model for one of my gothic heroines, a tech writer/instructor working at Elmendorf(sp?) Air Force base in Alaska. (One reader objected to the heroine as being “too competent,” which always struck me as one of the weirder reasons for not liking a character.)
Jon: Your latest book, Murder In The Blood, set in Farrell County introduces some really great characters. Is this the first of a series?
Gene: Only if I can sell a paperback edition and find someone willing to contract for a sequel or two. As it is, I have ideas for a couple more, and I’ve saved one subplot that was originally in MURDER but was taken out when I had to shorten it. Although, come to think of it, I’ve already used one of those ideas in a Sherlock Holmes story that ended up in EQMM a few years ago.
Jon: How do you approach your writing? Do you outline in advance or do you see where the story leads you?
Gene: Always an outline, for a couple reasons. First, I once tried taking a “see where it goes” approach, and it didn’t go anywhere. Second, you have to have an outline in order to sell the book. MURDER is, so far, the only one I’ve ever written without a contract, but it more or less made up for all the others, in that it’s been written and rewritten so often that it would have to be a real bestseller before I’d even make minimum wage on it. And even it started with a fairly detailed outline. Actually, though, there is an element of “see where it goes,” even when you’re working from an outline. Unforeseen things pop up all the time, and the route you take to get to the end isn’t always precisely the route taken in the outline. In WANTING FACTOR, for instance, I found myself killing off one of the characters I hadn’t intended to kill, but it just “felt right,” and it took me another week to figure out why he needed to be killed. And in MURDER, a couple of the final twists only showed up in the final manuscript — or somewhere along the line in one of the half dozen or more “final manuscripts” I eventually did.
Jon: What inspired you to write fiction?
Gene: No idea. Probably just the fact that I started reading a couple years before starting grade school and was into pulp detective magazines (like Phantom and Black Book) by second grade and science fiction (mostly Planet and Startling) a year or so later. (Didn’t find Astounding/Analog and Erle Stanley Gardner till around 6th.) First thing I ever tried writing was a “sequel” to a Mickey Mouse serial in Walt Disney Comics. (I don’t remember what the sequel was, but the Disney serial was a variation on/steal from one or more of Ray Cummings’ Girl in the Golden Atom type stories.)
Jon: How much time do you spend writing?
Gene: To paraphrase what Mickey Spillane said at the first Milwaukee Bouchercon (and probably many other places), it depends on how soon the editor needs it. Lately, with no contracts outstanding, not a lot. One time, when the editor needed the last couple chapters of PROBE by Monday, I only got three or four hours sleep the whole weekend and transmitted the last section to his home computer (this was before email and internet) around midnight Sunday night and a batch of changes to the same computer, which he’d taken to the office with him, Monday forenoon. Strange as it may sound, though, that weekend was the most fun I’ve ever had writing.
Jon: You’ve been using computers a pretty long time. Does it surprise you to see how far computers have come and the way they are a part of everyday life?
Gene: Actually, I was something of a latecomer to personal computers. Didn’t get one until ’84, which was the year after I’d done a juvenile non-fiction book about them. (COMPUTERS IN ENTERTAINMENT AND THE ARTS) As for being surprised about their ubiquity, not really, except maybe in retrospect. It all happened so gradually, and I’d been writing about the innards of computers since the early sixties, starting with analog, not digital. In fact, the first thing I worked on when I transferred to Milwaukee and what was then AC Spark Plug was the B-52 bombing/navigation computer, several hundred pounds of metal rods and gears. (“Clean the ball bearings with a cloth-covered finger” was one of the boilerplate sentences I came across early on. No one ever told me where they stored the cloth-covered fingers.)
Jon: How many miles a year do you think you put on your bike?
Gene: 1,825 miles the last Bical Year (July 4 to July 4). Most miles in a single year was approximately 3,700 when I was pedaling to and from work all days the weather permitted.
Jon: I found an older copy of Mike Shayne’s mystery digest magazine with a short story of yours in it recently. Have you written a lot of short stories?
Gene: Not a lot, maybe 15 or 20. There’s a complete list of them and the novels on the ACWL.ORG website. Which, by the way, is the only complete and accurate listing I know of, since it’s the only one I did myself.
Jon: What is the main difference in writing short fiction compared to novels, as far as pros and cons for the author?
Gene: Never really thought about it, aside from the obvious stuff. Like, it takes a lot longer to write twenty 5,000-word short stories than it does to write one 100,000-word novel. And except for the few exceptions that prove the rule — like Bradbury or Ed Hoch — it’s almost impossible to make a decent living writing only short stories.
Jon: What was the last book you read and what did you think of it?
Gene: I’ll fudge a little and say that the last one that made a real impression on me was The Prestige by Christopher Priest. It’s Victorian-style sf about a magician who was able to transport himself instantaneously from one side of the stage to the other, and it’s the only thing I’ve seen in decades that has a truly spine-chilling concluding scene.
Jon: What are some of your favorite movies?
Gene: Here I’ll save time by quoting from an article I did for The Milwaukee Journal back in the late 70’s. It’s still true, the parenthetical insert in the first paragraph even more so since cable and the dozens of movie channels.
“There are only three movies I’ve purposely gone to theaters to see more than twice. (Watching movies time and again on tv late shows doesn’t count; that’s laziness, not enthusiasm.)
“Back in the fifties there was The Day the Earth Stood Still, the best of a huge spate of science fiction movies, most of which were mediocre or worse. It has the distinction of being the only sf movie I know of in which Hollywood actually improved on — rather than destroyed — the original story. “Then, about a decade later, there was 2001: A Space Odyssey, written by Arthur C. Clarke. Despite director Kubrick’s tendency to be obscure, it was the most beautiful and most mind-jolting movie I’ve ever seen, and it will probably remain so until someone does a faithful version of Childhood’s End…
“Then there’s No. 3: The Rocky Horror Picture Show…”
In the original article, I went on about Rocky for a thousand words or so, but here I’ll limit myself to saying that I first saw it at MidAmericon, the ’76 World SF Con, and four more times at the Oriental before the Rocky “fans” (nowhere near as clever as the movie they were drowning out) started getting out of hand. And I’ll finish with the one line the Journal censored: “I hesitate to say that it’s all in good taste, but, then, taste is in the mouth of the beholder.” (A reference to Meatloaf being on the castle menu. The editor/censor changed the last eight words to: “… taste is a pretty subjective business.”)
Jon: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Jon: What’s harder, the original writing or the re-writing?
Gene: Usually the original writing. I certainly enjoy the rewriting more, which probably explains why I generated at least 8 manuscript boxes full of notes and drafts of Murder in the Blood in the 20+ years between the first draft and the sale last year. Of course there are always exceptions, like Jeremy Case, which I did for Laser in the mid-seventies. That turned out to be one of best things I’ve ever done — won Best Novel of ’76 from the Council for Wisconsin Writers — and it was virtually effortless. Went from idea/contract to finished manuscript in roughly one month. And it’s just been reissued in trade pb in the MWA Presents series, complete with the original Kelly Freas cover. (Hour of the Cat, a mystery starring one of our cats, was also reissued in the MWA Presents series. All available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, of course.)
Jon: The University of Southern Mississippi has a collection of your papers. http://avatar.lib.usm.edu/~degrum/html/research/findaids/DG0267f.html?DG0267b.html~mainFrame How does this come about? Did they ask you? And who tracks down all the papers? Can anyone view them?
Gene: I honestly don’t remember. I think Tom Aylesworth touted me onto it, which prompts a sidetrack regarding a question you never asked, something along the lines of: “Have you ever felt like your life was one big coincidence?” Answer: Yes, especially the year I accidentally ran into the “real” Jean DeWeese in downtown Milwaukee, which was by itself a ridiculous coincidence, but only one of many. That was when a new book had just come out, I don’t remember which one, and my hometown newspaper, the Rochester (IN) News Sentinel, did a small article about it, ending with the sentence, “Another Rochester native, Tom Aylesworth, just had his 14th book published.” Which, at the time, was half a dozen more than I’d done. (He eventually did a hundred or so.) Anyway, I’d never heard of him, so I looked him up in the reference books and found that, not only had he written 14 books, he was a senior editor at Doubleday, who had been publishing my books at the time. So I wrote to the editor I’d been working with and asked if she knew Aylesworth. She wrote back that, yes, he was one floor up, “and he has the cutest picture of you in his high school yearbook.” Turns out he had been student teaching my freshman year, and he had the yearbooks to prove it. (To appreciate the magnitude of the coincidence, you should know that Rochester had a population of under 4,000 and the whole high school was less than 400 students) Not only that, he was juvenile fiction editor at Doubleday, so he asked if I had anything along those lines. And that’s how I got into writing juvenile sf.
As for the original question again: The university has a huge juvenile literature research collection, the deGrummond collection, and they solicit material from any and everyone who’s ever published in juvenile or YA. And my 25 cubic feet pales beside other donations. The champ in that category has donated well over 100 cubic feet. And it’s not a case of anyone “tracking down” the papers, etc. In my case, anyway, I just mailed them everything I could find in the attic closets where I’d been packratting rough drafts, notes, correspondence, etc., and they mailed back the paperwork needed to get me a bunch of neat little tax deductions. And they’re remarkably well organized. At one point Margaret Wander Bonanno and I wanted to see just what one set of Paramount’s comments on Probe had been. I emailed them the specifics, and they located and faxed us exactly what we were looking for within 48 hours. And yes, anyone can view them if they go to the university. What they have on the web is just a sampling and description, done with the money they got from a federal grant a couple years ago. I was just lucky they picked mine as one of the several collections they used the grant for.
Jon: What your favorite way to spend free time?
Gene: Probably play table tennis, despite a lack of depth perception, so if anyone wants a game sometime, feel free to contact me. I got a table and a robot in the basement just last year and haven’t gotten nearly enough use out of them yet.
Jon: What’s the one thing always in your refrigerator?
Gene: Coke. And lactose-free milk for one of our one-eyed cats, who apparently is lactose intolerant.