Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Q: Robert...what made you become a writer?

A: Can any writer answer the question about what caused an overwhelming compulsion to write? I don’t know why I feel so driven, but I can tell you how I got to the place that I’m now acting to resolve my compulsion to write. In the 8th grade, I won the school’s short story contest. “God Sent” was about a semi truck driver so consumed with theological debate that he caused a terrible accident. I began to dream of becoming a rich and famous author. As it often does, life got in the way. I worked and went to school, never finishing any more stories that I’d started, until recently when I incorporated some of those unfinished stories into Rarity from the HollowI recently retired as a children’s psychotherapist for our local mental health center. It was an intensive day program. Most of the kids in the program, like myself as a child, had been traumatized, some having experienced extreme sexual abuse. One day at work in 2006 it all clicked together and the Lacy Dawn Adventures project was born – an empowered female protagonist beating the evil forces that victimize and exploit others to get anything and everything that they want. Rarity from the Hollow is the first full-length adventure in a prospective series. While my protagonist is a composite character based on real-life kids that I’ve met over the years while working in children’s services, one little girl was especially inspiring. Her name is Lacy Dawn. Rather than focusing on her victimization, she spoke of dreams – finding a loving family that respected her physically and spiritually. She inspired me to make my own dream come true — to write fiction — and I haven’t stopped writing since I first met her that day during a group therapy session. That little girl, unknowingly, prompted me to write Rarity from the Hollow.

Q: What is your typical writing day like?

A: After fifty-two years of contributions into the U.S. Social Security fund, the last forty in the field of child advocacy, I recently retired from my job as a children’s psychotherapist for our local mental health center.  For the last four month I’ve lived in front of my computer. So, my typical day right now is to devote most of my time to some writing related activity. Unfortunately, much of this time is spent on self-promotion of Rarity from the Hollow instead of my true love – writing. Even more unfortunately, I broke and will need to get at least a part-time job soon. This means that my typical writing day is about to change, assuming I can find someone who wants to hire somebody old enough to retire.

Q: Do you outline? If so, how extensive are your outlines?

A: Yes, I outline my stories. Rarity from the Hollow became the novel that exists today exactly as planned, in detail. However, in this day and age of fanfic and formula products, a little qualification of my answer would more fully answer your question. Fiction cannot always be measured when a reader has turned the last page of a novel. In my opinion, good fiction prompts a mental integration process whereby the story soaks in and subsequently affects the reader in immeasurable ways for many years, perhaps without that person’s awareness or attribution of source. As an author, I know where I want to go when writing. I detail steps toward what I want to achieve in each scene and build toward a preplanned plot. While I consider other factors, such as target audience, the one-book-after-another busy schedule of book reviewers who may not have enough time to invest in contemplating convolutions of a story, and a host of other factors, I do not write toward markets or book reviewers. Rarity from the Hollow was not intended to be a quick and easy read with a standard straight forward plot line, on purpose. I’ve written other stuff that was intended as such, on purpose. I start a story with one very general outline consisting of three parts: beginning (bunch of blank space), middle (more blank space), and end. I scribble notes that I use for reference instead of for control of my writing. I have pens and notepads handy in every room of my house, and even take something to write with when I go out, such as to a restaurant. My scribbles fill in the blanks of the outline, and are always subject to modification. 

Q: How many revisions will you typically do on a novel?

A: I couldn’t count the number of revisions of Rarity from the Hollow. I over-revise when I write, and sometimes the work suffers in the end. This is a practice that I need to work on – seriously. I can’t seem to learn my lesson, so to speak. I have a background in auto body repair, not professionally, but I’m damn good and have made money at it on the side. I don’t do that type of work anymore, and if you saw my truck you would agree. But, I had the same type of problem when painting cars – when it’s good, it’s good. I need to control myself – seriously.

Q: What is your best tip for editing a manuscript?

A: My best advice for editing a manuscript is to not do it yourself. One tends to read what one intended to write, at least I do. When it’s good enough, like we just talked about, start with trustworthy folks that you know and move up a step at a time until you have a professional editor, or a person who would otherwise qualify to be one, cut the heck out of it. I recommend that a manuscript be looked at by different types of people: one who looks for style and grammar, and the other to look for content – do the scenes make sense to the average reader? I totally got lucky with Rarity from the Hollow. A woman that I met on-line, the former Acquisitions Editor for the University of Michigan’s Ancient History Reference Library took an early interest in the project. She was highly skilled. It took six months of mailing the manuscript back and forth

Q: Which writing habits and/or tricks of the trade have made you a better writer?

A: Personally, I like to use a lot of dialogue to achieve “show don’t tell.” I don’t think that I could force myself to read another novel that uses adjectives and adverbs excessively, or that needs two or three paragraphs to set up a brief exchange between characters. That’s just me. Some readers eat it up, especially in the fantasy and romance genres it seems.

Q: Do you ever suffer through writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?

A: I’ve only experienced writer’s block for brief periods, and even then it is not really a block so much as it is balancing scenarios in a scene.

Q: What drew you to write your preferred genre(s)?

A: I selected the SF/F backdrop for Lacy Dawn Adventures because it was the best fit by process of elimination. While Rarity from the Hollow, my debut novel, is a fun read, the story does include early scenes or references to child maltreatment, poverty, domestic violence, and mental illness in contemporary America . As such, it was not a good fit to the historical or western genres, although these social problems have existed throughout history, including in the Wild West, and are not restrained by our world’s geography, cultures, or religions. The systems in place to help victims of these types of problems are woefully inadequate. I felt that the literary, biographical, and nonfiction genres wouldn’t work because the story would have been so depressing that only the most determined would have finished it.

I felt that the story had to be hopeful and especially wanted it to inspire survivors of child maltreatment toward competitiveness within our existing economic structures, instead of people using past victimization as an excuse for inactivity. I didn’t think that anybody would bite on the theme of a knight on a white stallion galloping off a hillside to swoop victims into safety, like in the traditional romance genre. That almost never actually happens in real life, so the romance genre was too unrealistic as the primary. There was already enough horror in the story, so that genre was out too. What could be more horrific than child abuse?

The protagonist and her traumatized teammates needed fantastical elements to achieve empowerment. But, as in life, one cannot overcome barriers to the pursuit of happiness by simply imagining them away. That’s where the science fiction came into play. It provided a power source. I tied the science fiction to Capitalism because in today’s reality it will take significant financial investment by benefactors to improve the welfare of children in the world, and to invest in economic development. As symbolized in the story, I feel that our governments are unlikely to fund effective solutions to social problems in the near future because of the politics.

Q: Do you utilize beta readers?

A: I’ve been lucky so far by receiving profession quality editing without spending any money. Since author proceeds from Rarity from the Hollow have been donated to prevent child abuse, I’m hopeful but not necessarily optimistic that the same will happen with my next novel, Ivy. Since I’m so broke, it is a tough situation. I wouldn’t want my name associated with writing that had not been professionally edited, but….

Q: In your most recently published novel, what’s one scene you really enjoyed writing—and why?

A: I really enjoyed writing a scene in Rarity from the Hollow titled, “Welfare Fraud.” Ironically, if I had to cut a scene out of the novel, that would be it. I guess there’s a big difference between a writer enjoying the creation of a scene, and whether it is a good fit to the story from a reader's perspective. This scene takes place in an Administrative Conference Room of the local Department of Welfare. Jenny, the protagonist's mother, had been charged with the illegal receipt of food stamps. In addition to Jenny, the characters were an administrative hearing officer (judge) and three Suits  female lawyers there to prosecute Jenny. Jenny played it masterfully in the scene. I don’t want to spoil anything for readers, but it was a classic David vs. Goliath type of scene that was very fun to write. It was filled with comedy and satire. As a stand-alone scene, it was fun to read. But, frankly, this scene slowed down the action of the novel a little.

Q: What makes the main character(s) of your most recent novel so special?

A: Lacy Dawn, the protagonist of all Lacy Dawn Adventures, is special because she exudes contradictions. In Rarity from the Hollow she is powerful as a skinny little girl, highly intelligent yet colloquial, naive but all-knowing, and mostly she’s special because Lacy Dawn inspired me to finally get my butt in gear and write some fiction that quite of few people have said they have enjoyed reading.

Q: What is your best advice for author self-promotion?

A: My best advice for author self-promotion is to keep your email correspondence. Well-meaning and very nice people sometimes get busy and may not follow through with commitments that have been made. I’m talking about bloggers, not friends or social acquaintances, such as on social media. I’m far from an expert on any of this stuff. I’m a novice, and many people reading this interview are bound to be much more knowledgeable than I am about self-promotion. I’m just sharing my experience with trying to self-promote Rarity from the Hollow over the last four months.

Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?

A: In my opinion, there are types of negative reviews, and I deal with them all, but I’ve gotten a couple of fake reviews that were the hardest to figure out. If I’ve solicited a review and it is not what I’d hope for, well, that’s my mistake for not restraining my zeal to self-promote. Rarity from the Hollow is not mainstream fiction. It is literary science fiction that is character driven. If I’ve asked a book reviewer who is heavily into hard science fiction, for example, to review my novel, and if the review is not favorable, that’s “my bad.” Similarly, Rarity from the Hollow was not written as Young Adult, or for the prudish, fainthearted, or easily offended. If I look at what a book reviewer has focused on and find a lot of religious focused stories, even if the stories are in a science fiction genre, such could be an indication of conservative personal values which would affect the person’s review of my novel. If I make a mistake in soliciting reviews, and the review is not what I’d hoped for, I will be able to deal with that just fine.

I’ve gotten a three, maybe four, what I consider “fake” reviews. I have no idea what motivate a person to write a review, positive or negative, about a novel that the person obviously has not read. I’ll tell you about one. A person posted a one star, two sentence review of Rarity from the Hollow. Essentially, the review’s author stated that she didn’t like “war stories.” The only thing gunshot in my novel was an imitation Barbie used for target practice by neighbor boys – a metaphor of the impact of poverty on the self-esteem of children. There was no war in Rarity from the Hollow.

I reacted to the negative review. It was perturbing. However, I didn’t contact the reviewer directly. I wrote a polite inquiry to the Goodreads admin., which essentially said that it did not intervene in such situations. Two weeks later the review disappeared. Good? Not! Now, the text of the review is gone, but the one star rating stands, bringing down the overall average score of Rarity from the Hollow. In the long-run, it would have been better to have kept my mouth shut and hoped that somebody else would have commented on the dishonest review. I’m learning.  

Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an indie author?

A: After decades of suppressing my need to write fiction, [being an] Indie, and the technology which makes it possible, provides hope that I can write something that will be read by others. I have no delusion of making much money. Author proceeds from Rarity from the Hollow have been donated to a nonprofit child abuse prevention program from the start, so I’m not disappointed that “rich and famous author” is the equivalent of telling one’s mother, “Mommy, when I grow up I’m going to be an astronaut.” The opportunity to raise a little money is my favorite aspect of Indie publishing. I hate holding bake sales to raise money for a good cause. My brownies never turn out perfect.

Q: What is your least favorite aspect of being an indie author?

A: My least favorite aspect of [being an] Indie is the constant need to battle with my own common sense about spending money on fancy sounding self-promotions packages. Technology has generated new industries and one of the most predatory targets aspiring authors because we are so susceptible. I desperately want Rarity from the Hollow to succeed. I see expensive and inexpensive author promotions packages all the time, with testimonials by supposedly satisfied customers who I do not know or trust. In my income bracket, I can’t afford to pay for self-promotion of my writing, but I’m constantly tempted to do so.

Q: What is your current writing project?

A: I always have several writing project in various stages of progress at the same time. Since I’ve recently retired, the difference is that I’ve become productive. Instead of ideas, partially developed and then abandoned because life has always seemed so complicated, I’m reaching closure on a ton of older half-baked stories. A new short story just got rejected by a major science fiction magazine, so I’ve got some work to do on it, especially since I agree that it was prematurely submitted. Ivy, my next novel, is almost ready for professional editing. I’m holding off, trying to build name recognition before I submit it to the publisher for consideration. My dream with respect to writing fiction is to get to the place where I no longer need to request book reviews, but instead book reviewers ask the publisher for a copy of my work to review. I’m hopeful that I’ll get to that place with Rarity from the Hollow and then have the release of Ivy perfectly timed so that I can concentrate on writing instead of promotions. Overly optimistic? Of course.

Q: What are three of your favorite novels?

A: I don’t think that I can actually pick three favorite novels. I have tons of favorites. Here are three, but that doesn’t mean that the fourth or fifth, for example, would be less favorites: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut; Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Collins; and, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

Q: If you could have lunch with any novelist, living or dead, who would it be? What would talk to them about?

A: I would love to have lunch with Abby Hoffman (Steal This Book) so that I could ask him to share his views about how the youth counter-culture of the late ‘60s and ‘70s did or did not influence America as a leader in the world, and why he held whatever views that he shared with me.

Q: What is your best piece of advice for budding authors?

A: I have advice for budding authors, but that doesn’t mean that my advice is sound, that they will listen, or that my advice will have applicability in this rapidly changing technology and marketplace. If I would have listened to the advice of established and well-meaning authors when I started writing fiction, Rarity from the Hollow would have never been published. My best advice to budding authors, therefore, would be to listen to your heart, impose self-discipline with respect to productivity, and pay attention to the changes that are going on before your eyes. What worked in the past for someone else may not be the least bit relevant to whether you achieve your dream to become a successful author.

Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote?

A: My favorite quote, but I don’t know to whom to attribute it, would be, “Don’t let the buttholes get you down.”

Pick up your copy of Rarity from the Hollow here!

No comments:

Post a Comment