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Paul McComas’ ‘Unforgettable’ Fiction

Apr. 26, 2011
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Paul McComas is engaging, intelligent and creative in many media. His most recent novel, Planet of the Dates (2008), was drawn from his experience as a teenager from Whitefish Bay prowling the fleshpots of Milwaukee with a fake ID. Like its predecessor, Unplugged (2002), it has been optioned in Hollywood, meaning a screenplay is rattling around the environs of Los Angeles. His new book, the short-story collection Unforgettable, is a sharply written return to genre fiction roots for the Evanston, Ill.-based writer, filmmaker and Northwestern University writing instructor.

When you were middle school age, you were publishing a Lon Chaney Jr. fanzine and making short films with a Super 8…

It was below Super 8—I filmed with a Standard 8. I have re-edited some of them with new sound for “No-Budget Theatre,” a cult cable series in Chicago. A few of the scripts appear in Unforgettable.

You categorize the work in
Unforgettable as horror, monster, science fiction and speculative fiction?

They are in those categories, but not confined to them. “Space Slime” is about intelligent slime from another planet, but it’s also a paranoid political thriller about malfeasance at the highest levels of government. Often, what really draws me to genre fiction is not the escapist element. My favorite science fiction has always been Earth-grounded, extrapolating where we might be headed from where we are now.

I have three pieces in Unforgettable that I wrote at ages 10, 13 and 16—the first two are mercifully brief. Some of the material is revised and reworked from older pieces. Much of it is brand new. Unforgettable also includes 16 collaborations with 14 authors, and that’s all new.

Unforgettable is published by a small Wisconsin press in Kansasville. Where’s Kansasville?

It’s 20 miles west of Kenosha and unincorporated. Walkabout Publishing is a small press, but a good one with impeccable taste. The owner, Steve Sullivan, is a fine fantasy writer himself. My contention is that most of the best genre work is done by writers outside the genres. Genre writers often have a good premise but characters with the depth of a bottle cap. Steve disagrees.

You’re collaborating on a novel with William F. Nolan, the author of
Logan’s Run?

When I was 14, I sent him some of my fiction. He wrote back a wonderful, handwritten letter telling me how good it was for someone my age. That was 1977. I finally met him in 2002 when I sent him a photocopy of his letter. I don’t know if he remembered me, but he welcomed me as a long-lost son. Now we’re collaborating on Logan’s Journey, which will be published two years from now on the coattails of Warner Bros.’ 3-D remake of Logan’s Run.

You’re scheduled to perform in Milwaukee…

This means I’m reciting mostly from memory and in character to make a reading more than a reading. I came out of the performance-poetry/monologue-poetry slam scene. What appeals to me about this is the instant feedback. If a line is supposed to be hilarious and you can hear a pin drop, there might be a problem. Also, some of my favorite writers stand and mumble the words from their text. I saw Joyce Carol Oates at a reading and I wanted to rip the book out of her hands and shout, “I just finished reading this and you’re not doing it justice!”

Paul McComas and Tim W. Brown will perform May 4 at People’s Books, 2122 E. Locust St.


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