I've always thought that any kind of film based on a book or short
story can be a fascinating experience for the author—not necessarily
because the film is good or bad, but because it's a reflection of how
other people visualize the author's words. A writer creates the word
pictures, and then people who weren't directly involved in that
creation process have the task of making the word pictures solid. But
I think the real challenge of being a writer is to create a mental
movie: doing the lighting, the costumes, the casting and makeup, the
special effects, the directing and making sure all the props are there
on cue. I hope the readers do approach my books as films, that they
can see in their minds as they read. The devil, it's been said, is in
the details. If the details aren't there, a scene often lacks
Which is a long way of getting around to writing that the illustrated
version of Swan Song has just been published by Dark Harvest,
and it was an interesting experience for me to see how an artist
visualized scenes from the mental movie I'd created. The details are
right. If something was in the scene, it's there in the illustration.
So I want to thank Paul Mikol and the two artists who worked on the
book, Charles and Wendy Lang, for an excellent job. Paul Mikol
promised me Dark Harvest's production of Swan Song would be a
quality work, and the Langs added an extra dimension of quality that I
feel very, very proud about.
All books are like children. They develop their own personalities as
they're written. Some of them are sweet and gentle, others are nasty
bullies, some don't want to grow up, others jump ahead so fast they
pull you along by the throat. This, strangely enough, has nothing to
do with length or complexity. It just is. No book I've ever written
has been born in quite the same way, though my work patterns don't
vary. Swan Song was a relatively easy birth, in that it flowed
smoothly from beginning to end. Stinger was a beast; about
sixty pages from the end, I realized I'd made a major goof and had to
go back two hundred pages and start from there again. Usher's
Passing almost put me under, but Mystery Walk was easy.
The Wolf's Hour was really fun to do, probably the easiest
birth of all even though it went back and forth between time periods.
But my latest book—called MINE—was much tougher, even
though the story is simple and straight-ahead. So it's hard to tell
what the child will be like until you get into the birthing process.
You just have to grit your teeth, hope for the best, and prepare to
face the detail devil again.
I was asked to talk about how and why I wrote Swan Song. I'd
like to tell you why I don't want to do that.
Swan Song, even though the new hardback version is out and it
looks terrific and I hope it does very well, is ancient history to me.
I got a letter not long ago addressed to Robert "Mr. Swan Song"
McCammon. Now: let me say first of all that I'm really, really glad
readers responded to Swan Song, and that the book continues to
speak to people about hope in a world where hope seems to be a dirty
word. That's great—but I'm not satisfied. I want more. Not more
money, not more fame, not movies and "celebrity status." I want
more from myself, and I don't plan on letting anybody believe for a
second that Swan Song is going to be a laurel wreath on my
I'm going to write better books. I'm going to write ones not as good.
But the point is, I'm going to write different books. Many
people have written urging me to do a sequel to Swan Song. I
leave most of my books open for sequels—not so I can write them, but
so readers can carry the story line further along in their
imaginations. Sequels are never as good as originals, and almost
always disappointing. Having said that, I also have to say that I am
kicking around the idea of doing a sequel to The Wolf's Hour in
three or four years. I would do it because I really enjoyed writing
the original, because I would have something different to say, and
because I might be interested in doing a series of books that span the
continuation of Michael Gallatin's line into modern times. It would
not be The Wolf's Hour Part II. Believe it.
For me, writing is a great freedom. I don't use an outline. I don't
usually know what's going to happen from one point to another, though
I develop what I call "signpost scenes" as a kind of free-form
roadmap. Writing is a great adventure, a journey of faith into the
unknown. Sometimes it's a night trip, and you lose your way for
a while. But when you get to your destination, and see the home fires
burning, the joy is beyond description.
I almost gave it up, a while back. I got really tired of hearing
things like "the poor man's Stephen King," and that I was "walking
on King and Straub's territory," that I was a rip-off artist and a
hack with no style of my own. I almost said to hell with it, and for
a while I was looking through the want ads trying to figure what else
I could do.
When I reached the bottom of that particular pond, I realized there
was nothing else I could do besides write. For better or worse, I was
married to writing, and I had to keep going no matter what was
shoveled at me.
So here we are.
I'm not always going to write horror novels.
The new book, MINE, isn't a horror novel in the supernatural
sense, though it certainly is horror in the real world. I may do a
fantasy novel next. I have a science-fiction book in the early
stages. I'm planning on doing a love story—of a sort—set in the
1600s. I may do a book of the further adventures of Poe's detective,
Dupin. Whatever: the point is, writing is the freedom to go and do
and be and see, and I have no idea of where the boundaries lie.
As I said before, I might write books that are better than others, but
of one thing I'm certain: I won't repeat myself. Neither will I stop
trying to become a better writer. Easy to say, hard to do. I know
where the want ads are; I've seen their gray solemnity and invitation
into a world of locks and keys. I can't live there.
Again, I want to thank Paul Mikol and the Langs for an excellent job
on Dark Harvest's production of Swan Song. And for knowing
that the devil is in the details.
What's past is preface. We go from here.
Copyright © 1989 by Robert R. McCammon. This essay originally
appeared in Mystery Scene magazine, issue 22,
August/September 1989. Reprinted with permission of the author.