Your titles are very lyrical, No Lipstick in Avalon, The God Beneath My Garden, Samson and Denial… does a title ever prompt a story, or how does the process go?
This question made me laugh and here's why; with almost everything I've written, I'll get the title first before the story even presents itself. I don't know why my process is like that but you know writer types. We're a strange fucking bunch.
A lot of times I'll hear things incorrectly and somehow it makes sense. Sometimes... not so much. I wrote a short story titled Bloodlegum and Lolliknives after taking my kids trick or treating one year. My son was young and was trying to say "bubblegum" and I heard it wrong.
I was on a very long drive from Florida when Free Ride Angie came to me. I knew the title and why this character was called that. The rest came a long time after. Same with Samson and Denial. It sort of hit me one day and I liked the play on Samson and Delilah and my muse kept chewing on the title until a story formed up around it.
But that's how it goes with me. The titles to the things I write have been mentioned to me before so I guess I wouldn't have it any other way.
As I’ve mentioned: your readings are damn unique. Did the style develop itself over time, or is that a vibe you crafted?
Well thanks for the kind words and I'm really glad you enjoy my readings. It really is one of my favorite things to do.
I'd met the incomparable Tom Monteleone years ago, but had never seen him do a live reading. I'd seen lots of other writers do readings and the majority of them either sat at a table or stood at a podium. Some were better than others.
Then I saw Tom read. The man is animated. He puts emphasis where things need it. He understands the importance of a pause. He makes eye contact with the audience and secretly picks out individuals to hammer home certain sentences.
I was blown away. It was way beyond just a reading and I knew right then and there... that... THAT is what I want to do when I read live.
I practice ahead of a reading and what helps for me, is that I do a lot of homework on the main character ahead of time. I mean, I really know the character, so it makes it a lot easier.
Calvin in The Compound, Samson in Samson and Denial, they share a ‘feel’ — down n’ outs with a swan song: not quite good guys, not quite bad. What attracts you to these types of characters?
I really wish I knew the origins as to why so I could better answer that for you, but the truth is, I've always been drawn to the underdogs. I don't like polished. I'm drawn to the rough, the gritty, the underbelly. Because even though there may be a hit man or a drug dealer or prostitute, I try to look past the dirt and see if I can find any redeeming qualities there. The characters I'm interested in ride the gray area between good and bad, morally.
On the surface, most of us go about our day and don't look deeper. I'm interested in what the garbage men found along the side of the road on their morning route. I want to know about the absolute strangest night a bartender has ever had. What bet the bookie had to turn down.
I guess I'm drawn to these types of characters because, yeah, they're the underdog, but they're also more interesting to me. They're not living in a crackerbox house with a white picket fence, two kids and a dog. Though... I do have a screenplay called Lower Levels that takes this stereotypical character and turns it on its ass.
Samson’s cinematic qualities are hard to deny, I can easily imagine it translating to film. Was that intentional?
I had written several short stories and partnered with someone on a novel that is yet to be published and won't be because I shelved it. Then I wrote several screenplays. I had certainly read quite a few, but had never written one before from scratch and thought why the hell not?
So I did. What I discovered was writing in that format – planning on visuals and angles and such where there might not be a single line of dialogue, but you had to convey something – was so very different from prose. In fact, it was so different, that I had a few false starts I had to throw away when I went back to prose. But when it took hold again, the visual direction and certain other aspects of screenwriting came along for the ride.
Several people have mentioned Samson and Denial would make a great film and I can't argue. The visual elements would be tremendous fun.
Plus... a street full of naked witches? What's not to love?
You’re a 90s rock guy, much like myself. Can you recall any particular song lyric sparking an idea?
Music is always on when I write and I'll change the playlist depending on what I'm working on. I would definitely say the music choices change the tone of what I'm writing. Samson had an awful lot of Nine Inch Nails, Frank Sinatra, and Tool.
The Last Firefly was written to a lot of blues and the Black Keys.
As for an actual song lyric sparking an idea... the screenplay I mentioned earlier – Lower Levels – that idea started from a song from The Cure titled Happy the Man. I love the title and kept imagining the type of character it might describe.
And one day I wrote this down:
"There was a black and bruised homeless man peeling a black and bruised banana.
A bum leaned against the telephone booth holding a banana half black with age. He began to peel it and saw me watching him. He smiled and I saw he he was toothless, save for two upper teeth off to the side like a deformed rabbit.
He bit a little off the top of the banana — the inside flesh of it darkened like an old bruise — and I had to turn away from the smacking sounds he was making."
That was part of my development notes on the screenplay and I'm planning on eventually reverse-engineering the script to turn it into prose because, as it turns out, Happy the Man is a polite, but rather disgusting, individual and I think my fans stand a better chance of reading a novel than it getting developed into a movie.
What can your readers expect next?
There's a couple short stories I'm working on that are tons of fun right now but I'll keep quiet about the details.
After those are knocked out, I'll get back to working on the novel length sequel to Samson and Denial. That's titled The Crimson Sisters and so far I'm having a blast with it. The shit Sammie goes through... well... you'll all see.
Once The Crimson Sisters is finished, there's a novel that dropped into my lap all at once, signed, sealed and delivered. Doing some preliminary research on it was really messing with me, and I really think, once this is done, it's going to be a truly disturbing piece of work.
You can find Robert's work on Amazon here