A "Brief" Autobiography

(Okay, I Lied, It Isn't Quite "Brief" :))

Last Revised April 26th, 2011

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Basic Resume'-type Stuff

I am a writer by avocation and a Federal employee by desperation, 5'11", about 230 lbs, brown eyes and longish brown hair that's starting to fall out. I'm no longer in my teens (by several eights of years :)) but I have the barbaric musical tastes of an eighteen-year-old (hard rock, metal, etc.)....but I like progressive rock/metal and stuff like Dead Can Dance and Enya along with Opeth, Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, so go figure. :)

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Our annual Gathering of the Tribes :)

I'm Director of the Bands/Performers' Concourse area for Dragon*Con, the world's largest multi-focus convention for SF, fantasy, gaming, computers, comics and the popular arts, an unpaid volunteer post that is nonetheless quite fun. At 40,000+ total attendance, we're in Atlanta's top 5 for conventions of any sort, and we're the largest annual convention held in Atlanta that's run by volunteers. Wow!

My job for the convention is basically to organize the Concourse area, with its performing band-tables and to coordinate performances on the Hyatt Concourse's acoustic stage.

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Publishing History

I've had one story professionally published: "White Wolf's Awakening," a story about the accession of Elric to the throne of Melnibone, based on Michael Moorcock's Elric and -- at the time -- a canonical part of the character's life. You'll find it in the anthology Elric -- Tales of the White Wolf from the now-defunct fiction publishing arm of White Wolf Publishing. It was also published in paperback; both versions are now scarce. I'll happily sign a copy if you REALLY want to DEcrease its value. :)

I wrote most of the story between deliveries at Primo's Pizza, and got a lot of razzing about it at the time from my co-workers, who collectively had the intellect of a concussed gnat. I guess the laugh's on YOU, kids; I even got paid real money for it. :)

I've had other scribblings published in various places, and I've never sent a letter to the editor of a paper and not had it published. An op-ed letter to the editor of the then-Atlanta Journal was published with my photo and a short bio.
My review of Storm Constantine's Wraeththu was reprinted in her fan club's zine, Inception, and an excerpt from my review of her book The Bewitchments of Love and Hate was used as a blurb on the back-cover of the newly revised UK edition.
I've had two books dedicated to me, Michael Moorcock's The Fortress of the Pearl (in part) and Storm Constantine's Three Heralds of the Storm, and I've been thanked in several places for help, assistance with proofreading, etc.: in the beginning of the short-story anthology The Crow: Shattered Lives and Broken Dreams (Ballantine/Del Rey), in Storm Constantine's Stalking Tender Prey (US edition) and Stealing Sacred Fire (British edition), and a few other anthologies edited by my friend Ed Kramer.
Musically, I've been thanked in several CDs; here's a list, that I know of, as of the end of 2004:

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Early History:

I was born in New York state on the mainland, while my parents were living on Long Island, NY. They later moved to Sharon, Massachusetts, then to Stamford, Connecticut, where my dad encouraged me in a still-ardent love for railroading. Then we moved to Monroe, where we lived until I was 14. By this point I had two younger sisters, Cynthia and Megan, with all the joys, hassles and troubles that can cause. :)

My best friend back then was a great guy named Robert Cirella, who, despite being technically inclined, seems not to be on the Net these days according to the web-crawlers I've checked. Rob, if you're out there, drop me a line!

I attended Masuk High School in Monroe for one year as a freshman, and was the "staff meteorologist" at the school's FM radio station, WMNR (600 watts). I had a Class III Radiotelephone License from the FCC at the tender age of 13...wish I'd kept it! I still have a great love for the physical sciences, especially meteorology, astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology. It was here also that I was first introduced to computers (this was 1977-1978), thanks to the school's ancient Educomp beastie, and it wasn't long before I was skipping lunch to play on the computers. Ever landed a lunar lander at 2 x ten to the minus twelfth miles/hour? Rob and I did!

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The Georgia Years

My dad, a photoengraver, got a job offer down in Atlanta, and we moved down to Kennesaw ("land of guns") Georgia in the summer of 1978, first staying in a residential motel while the house was finished. (It was heaven! We just swam in the pool all day, so often that, since I didn't have a face-mask, my vision had this chlorine-blue cast by the end of the day. Kinda like a Fremen from Dune, only not as cool.)
I entered North Cobb High School, a decent school but at the time computer-less, and gravitated toward the few other SF readers in the school. By my senior year I had finally flowered, and was a member of the Academic Team, Math Team, Debate Team and the inaugural Science Team -- that year we sent a team to the Georgia State Science Finals for the first time ever...and walked off with a first-place finish -- to the shock of Statesboro High's team, who'd taken first place every year for the last seven! (This is why, against all reason, I appear on the cover of the school's yearbook. :))

Despite its humble nature (North Cobb once had a section of its yearbook devoted to "chaw" tobacco....no, I'm not kidding), the school had some truly excellent teachers, including Wes McCoy, Doug Carter and Linda Morrison. Teachers often get short shrift these days, and I think there's an unhealthy push toward getting more and more mediocre ones rather than encouraging the really good ones. That, and a scary trend toward acquiring Internet access and technical "toys" instead of encouraging a firm grasp on the basics of education, like reading and comprehension....but I digress. Anyway.....

Just about a year after moving us down to Georgia to take that job, my dad passed away in 1979, a victim of cancer. The night before he died, my mom and I were returning home from seeing him at the hospital while, off in the distance to the northeast, a vast electrical storm played under the clouds, ground-strike after ground-strike. I think it was then that I knew what was coming the next day.
My mom remarried within a year, to the consternation of us kids; she married a widower from the church, Henry Goetze.

Meanwhile, I'd taken my first job, in the Grounds department at Six Flags over Georgia, a job I kept for three seasons (they paid ten cents below minimum wage, but some of the perks were kinda cool).

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The College Years

After graduating from North Cobb with an avid interest in astronomy, I was accepted at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and at West Georgia College in Carrollton, GA. I decided to enter West Georgia because my friend Doug Nunnally already attended there, plus I had a friend on the faculty, the inestimable Dr. Bob Powell. (It was also a lot cheaper.) I planned on acquiring a degree in physics with a minor in astronomy, but a funny thing happened on the way to graduation: I discovered computers.

Oh, I already knew a lot about them, and we had an Atari 800 back at the house (it cost $800!), but WGC had a dialup terminal with a 300-baud acoustic coupler parked in the library lobby, and one day I wandered by and watched a user talking to other folks elsewhere in the state. It linked to the CDC Cyber mainframe at UGA in Athens, GA, and all the schools in the state university system were tied to that mainframe over a network called the University System Computer Network. A loose statewide confederation of users already existed and had become friends over the network -- this was many years before the rise of Internet email, chat-rooms, IRC, home computer BBSs, etc.
I was entranced.
That moment, my life changed.

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Tales of USCN Forum

That "loose confederation of users" was nicknamed the Forum Users' Guild, named after the 'forum' program (like a public bulletin board, with messages readable by all) where we all congregated and yakked. We also had a program called 'talk' which provided reasonably quick realtime chat -- this was back in 1982, LONG before the Net made this common --and I quickly made friends and enemies at many schools in the network. These were all user-written programs, completely unofficial, and we were (barely) tolerated by the network administrators. One big source of trouble was MUL, a text-based multi-user realtime Star Trek battle simulator, which ate system resources (and paper, on our old DECWriter terminals) fiercely. Too much fun, though!

Every quarter we had a FUG -- a Forum Users' Gathering -- near a different school on the network, lasting a whole weekend. Some drew as many as 60-70 people, mostly students, from all across the state! I made many friends, and I still miss many of them dearly. Some of the FUGs were held in kewl surroundings: one was held in a big ol' cabin out in the woods, owned by Middle Georgia College; another was held on a similar property near Columbus College. We had some great times back then.

In later years some users were 'hacking' the system pretty regularly, acquiring the big Cyber mainframe's password file and generally doing a lot of non-destructive playing and looking around, so elegantly that the system operators were totally unaware of the activity. I was peripherally involved in this until the sysops replaced the mainframe's operating system with NOS version 2, which coincidentally saved them from most of the ongoing cracking. I finally lost access to the USCN in 1994 after twelve and a half years or so of being online there. In some ways, those were the happiest days of my life.

There's a new effort to reunite many old Forum/Talk users underway, coordinated by Teri "Scorpion>" Sears. If you are such a lost soul, please E-mail me.

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That First "Real" Job

My grades in college were somewhat adversely affected by all this, but I survived and in the spring of 1986, I graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science, minors in math, physics, English and astronomy. I was accepted almost immediately at CBTCorporation, a really neet Atlanta company where I helped write computer-based-training courseware as part of a team. The people were really cool and the money ($18,500/year) was much more than I'd ever made before. I moved out of my parents' basement at long last, into an apartment with some friends from the USCN Cyber days. I started racking up some credit-card debt. I had the money, after all.....
There was only one small problem...... I was let go with severance pay and accrued leave a little less than a year later. I was told it would probably be only temporary and that I'd be rehired soon...over and over.... Meanwhile I returned to my other job full-time as a pizza delivery driver at Dominos -- which was pretty good money in its own right -- to wait it out. And I waited.....

Finally word reached me that CBTCorp. had indeed gone bankrupt, and the programmers and courseware writers who'd been left at the end were let go with nothing -- no severance pay, etc. I realized later that they'd done me a favor, cutting me when they did. Several reasons were given, including the fact that they really had only one primary customer (AT&T), and there were also tax problems....

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Pounding the Street

In the meantime, though, I'd been "out of the loop" for too long, and there were now lots of fresh programmers from the trade schools like DeVry who were getting the entry-level jobs. For the most part they could barely spell their own names, lacking a true 4-year degree, but like many idiot savants, they could program a computer. I tried for a while to get a job as a programmer or, better yet, a technical writer (you really can't learn to write like a pro in four months at DeVry), but to no avail. So, I stayed with pizza delivery, shifting to Pizza Hut when they first started delivering, then later to Primo's Pizza nearer to where I now lived.

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Life as a Federal Grunt

During the interregnum, I'd followed my friend Greg Fisher's advice and just-for-the-heck-of-it applied for a job at the Internal Revenue Service, taking the OPM test for a job as a tax examiner. (At the time, Greg worked in IRS' computer center, but he quit in disgust just shy of the sacred three-year mark.)
I didn't hear back from IRS, so I forgot about it....until a year later, when out of the blue I got a call to report in if I was still interested in a job. I wasn't really happy about taking a job at the IRS, but to borrow a quote from Calanthe in Storm Constantine's The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire, "I half-starved for a week before I reviewed my morals." Well, I wasn't quite starving, but I did review my morals before taking the plunge. :)

At the time I wasn't too impressed with my assignment -- a grade 4 tax examiner in the Combined Annual Wage Reporting ("CAWR") Unit -- but as time moved on I realized that, as IRS billets go, this one was much cooler than most. Instead of going after people who owed taxes, auditing and examining them, it was our responsibility to investigate cases where an employer's payroll tax returns didn't match what he reported on his employees' W-2 forms for the year. So, in effect we kept your employers honest, making sure they actually paid the government for the tax they withheld from your wages! :)

If someone had suggested that I'd still be employed by the IRS, a unit of the Illuminati, bane and mortal enemy of most Americans, over twenty years later, I'd have laughed in his face, but it's been many years and yea, I'm still there. I'd rather be writing, or broadcasting or whatever, but the benefits are good, the pay is improving and I'm trying to save up money....

After the CAWR program was dropped for a couple of years (and yes, you're right to worry about whether your employers were being honest), my co-workers and I were reassigned permanently to the Customer Service Division as telephone customer service representatives. We handle all sorts of problems: refund inquiry calls, correcting simple math errors on returns, establishing payment plans, etc. As the bird says ruefully in The Flintstones, while being used as a backscratcher: "It's a living...."

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Pizza and Soul-Stealing

At first I stayed with pizza delivery in the evenings, as the extra cash helped to supplement my meager Federal wages. It was during this time, while working at Primos Pizza, that I wrote "White Wolf's Awakening" between deliveries. This story was later edited by Michael Moorcock himself (creator of Elric) and became a part of the Elric -- Tales of the White Wolf anthology from White Wolf Publishing. Per MM, it was, at the time, the definitive and canonical tale of Elric's accession to his father's throne. (MM has since written conflicting stories about the same period...oh, well.)

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Wait! Who's that Moorcock dude again?

Now let's set the wayback machine to a pleasant spring day in 1986. I was a youngster devouring Michael Moorcock's Elric books, a series of landmark dark sword-and-sorcery tales from one of Britain's most famous SF and fantasy writers. On this particular fateful day I had gone down to the Georgia Rennaissance Festival, its first year, and somewhere on the site I bumped into a chap who, seeing that I was an Elric fan, introduced me to a fellow named Ed Kramer. Ed, it seemed, was in the process of organizing a SF/fantasy/gaming convention called Dragon*Con, to be held the following fall, and Michael Moorcock was to be guest of honor. I had already attended several Atlanta Fantasy Fairs, and my dad had taken me to the big Star Trek cons in New York back in 1974 and 1975, so I was not a "con-virgin."

I joined Dragon*Con staff in Guest Relations, and as the convention weekend progressed in late September 1987 I befriended Michael Moorcock and his wife Linda, as well as Eric Bloom from the band Blue Oyster Cult, who was likewise a guest at the convention by virtue of being Michael's musical collaborator. Together with Ed and another big local Moorcock fan, Shane Russell, we decided to restart a new fan club for Michael, since his old one had died. The following year MM visited in the spring, and we consummated the deal and formed The Nomads of the Time Streams, the International Michael Moorcock Appreciation Society. I would eventually handle the Society's affairs as de-facto "President" for about six years before turning it over to some British fans, who still run it to this day.
To this day, because of my involvement in Dragon*Con and the friends I've made thereby (plus my first acquaintance with Starfire Swords, with whom I've worked ever since), I regard that fateful day in the spring of 1986 and that visit to the Rennaissance Festival as the single most important day in my life.

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Confessions of an 80s Metal Fan :)

I'd been listening to pop-rock dreck as late as c. 1979, but with the eighties came my discovery of rock'n'roll. Another defining moment in my life came when I attended a music-and-laser show at Atlanta's Fernbank Planetarium called LaserDrive: the combination of beautiful laser imagery, starfield backgrounds and powerful music was damn near a religious experience. I "discovered" Rush, Pink Floyd and Billy Thorpe that day, and after that there was no turning back. For many years Rush was easily my favorite band. To this day they occupy a special place in my heart, and they always will.

Thanks (oddly enough) to my managing the Michael Moorcock Appreciation Society, I learned of a new band from the Seattle area called Queensryche, recommended to me by the club's very first paid member, Randy Sarbacher. One day I won a coupon from 96rock here, good for any free cassette, and I decided to try out QR's Operation: Mindcrime album, which Randy had been touting via mail for years....
I was entranced. I had to pull off to the side of the road to hear it without road-noise.
Paul had discovered metal. :)

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The Metal Years

Getting into Queensryche also got me into other metal bands of the 80's, some of them "hair" bands and some, like Metallica, not.
(Say what you will about hair-metal, but in contrast to many of today's two-hit wonders, they at least had substantial musical talent. You know something's gone dreadfully wrong in the musical industry when mediocre bands intentionally play poorly and get stardom out of it. And let's not even go near rap and hip-hop.)
One fine Florida day my good friend and homeless-waif street-poet Moebius befriended Queensryche at an in-store record show signing, and cajoled them out of some backstage passes. He went backstage and then befriended Metallica's Kirk Hammett, who, it turned out, was a fan of Michael Moorcock like us. Eventually I met Kirk and befriended him too -- he'd much rather talk about books and movies backstage than music, it seemed. I haven't actually spoken to Kirk since 1992 -- as the years passed, Metallica (except for Jason Newsted) became increasingly less fan-friendly -- but he did yell "How's it goin' Paul!" at me from the stage at Lakewood Amphitheater during the 1994 Summer In the Sheds tour. :)

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Tales of Progressive Oceans

Oddly enough, my discovery of Dream Theater and progressive music (like Magellan, Shadow Gallery, Superior, etc.) started in a similar way: after hearing "Pull Me Under" played on 96rock here, I acquired a copy of the Images and Words cassette for free from their deejay Alan Ayo (in exchange for Metallica's cover of "Breadfan" dubbed from my rare CD-single to broadcast cart), and instantly fell in love with it. Sadly, I missed their show here by about two days, truly "discovering" them just a few dozen hours too late.

Although progressive music -- typified by good, tight musicianship, songs that don't quite "fit the mold" and are often too cerebral for mainstream interest -- isn't a huge scene in the States, at least right now, its adherents are very vocal and extremely dedicated. I signed onto Ytsejam, the Dream Theater mailing list, and immediately made some great friends online. Many of us used to hang out on the dedicated Dream Theater Chat server. I later met many of these great people up in New York at Ytsecon II, the second gathering of Dream Theater fans, in the winter of 1995. I owe a lot to these people, and I've discovered a lot of terrific music solely because of their recommendations and suggestions. If I've brightened any of their lives in the meantime, so much the better. Other roadtrips and DT shows have followed. Many emigrated elsewhere -- to Mike Portnoy's website and the Perpetual Motion web-board -- but I'm still subscribed to the Ytsejam, which nowadays is but a shadow of what it once was.

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Seems Constant Change Is Here To Stay

Quite a few changes have taken place in a life that had begun to settle down -- my friends were calling me "Mr. Stability" since they knew they could always reach me at the same phone number and at the same address, etc. :) At the end of August 1998 my roommates (longtime friends Tim Hurd and Jeremy Campbell) and I were told by our landlord that we had to move at the end of September, and so, about thirteen years for me in the accustomed apartment on Peachwood Circle came to an abrupt end. My hours at work changed to a nights-and-weekends shift, and my workplace changed, from an old ex-department store near my apartment to a brand-new building about two miles farther away. As Rush says, it seems constant change is here to stay. :) The money's better at night, though.
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"Pilot of the Metal Airwaves, Here Is My Request...."

Since 1998 I've become a regular deejay (or "community host") on 91.1 FM WREK's long-running weekly metal show, WREKage. My musical tastes have changed a bit; whereas I used to worship mostly progressive-metal bands, I now also take the darker road into extreme metal (black-metal, death-metal and some hardcore bands). So, every Friday night after work I head down to the broadcast studio, armed with a few hundred CDs of my own, to help "spread the word" about metal. The show runs from midnight Friday until 6am or so Saturday (or when we get tired :)), so we basically sacrifice most of our Saturdays for it. :)
WREKage has been running for over 25 years (maybe 30), and is one of Atlanta radio's true fixtures: we have listeners who have been listening for most of their adult lives, and listeners who -- to this day -- archive the best parts of the show onto tape. All of WREK's broadcasts are archived for a week in high-quality streaming mp3, so you can listen to WREKage up to a full week later. If you visit the site, you should be able to see playlists, listen live or to the archive, see upcoming concerts, etc.

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Since 2004 Or So...

....Some things have changed, and some things are remarkably unchanged. I'm now a Lead Customer Service Representative at work, which means that I'm the technical lead for our "unit" of about 15 CSRs, and responsible for workflow, technical backup, etc. I'm not the administrative manager, though: if our "unit" were a military unit, I'd be the sergeant, with the manager as the lieutenant.

I'm still a "community host" at WREKage as mentioned before, and in fact for a time I was the only host routinely showing up and "holding down" the show for several months. We do have several student hosts involved with the show, now, which is pretty cool. I have to say that I get a feeling of pride when listeners call up and thank me for helping establish and guide their musical tastes for over a decade, now: we have listeners who first listened to the show ten years ago when they were 15, and have "grown up" with the show and my choices of bands and songs to play. Pretty awesome!

I'm still a director at Dragon*Con, although locations for things have changed between the various hotels.

I no longer work for Starfire Swords at the Georgia Renaissance Festival, since they pulled out of the Faire beginning in 2010. I still go down there fairly often -- why waste a good costume? -- and like to go to the drum-circle and dance that forms up after the last day of each Faire weekend, at a restaurant in nearby Union City.

In 2005, after our next-door neighbor was bludgeoned and died (drug-related), my roommates Tim and Adam and I decided it was time to vacate our apartment in northeast Atlanta; two months later I became the proud owner of a house in Auburn, Georgia. Not a big house, but an affordable one, and the area is quiet and certainly a lot less crime-ridden! I deliberately chose an inexpensive home so I could be sure to afford the mortgage myself, without needing roommates, although various friends have stayed here for up to a year at a time (generally rent-free, since I'm too nice for my own good). It's a loong commute to work, though, but at least I'm building equity in a home!

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Closing Comments

Well, that pretty much brings us up to the present. I'm blessed with a supportive family and lots of friends, both in-person and online, and your support really helps me through the occasional hard times. Some of them will read these words eventually; to them I say "thank you!" You are, as always, my inspiration. :)

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