Q) Tell us a bit about yourself-where you are from, where you are now, what got you interested in writing fiction.
ROB: I grew up in Minnesota, went to college at the University of Arizona to play baseball and got my degree in finance with a minor in creative writing. From there I went on to Harvard Law School, and after graduating I came out to Los Angeles to practice corporate law. I worked for three years at a large law firm in town, but then in 2001 had the experience of a lifetime on a CBS reality show called the Amazing Race. My buddy and I ended up winning the first season of the show, and the money and opportunities that came from it allowed me to set up my own smaller law practice, so that I could spend more time pursuing my interests in writing.
I've loved reading and writing since I was a little kid. I grew up loving comic books (in fact, LOL, my Mother still complains about the tens of thousands of comic books clogging up the closets back at the house in Minnesota). I got my start in college with publishing some of my poetry and short stories, and for my law school thesis I wrote a speculative short fiction paper for Professor Alan Dershowitz (he of O.J. fame), dealing with the standards of self-defense for law enforcement officers. It was really this experience that got me interested in moving on from shorter prose to novels and screenplays (I enjoyed researching the legal aspects and conducting interviews with FBI agents and police officers). That's really what I love most about writing... coming up with creative scenarios in which you can apply your research and factual basis in order to vest your characters with grounded and real personalities. Especially in science fiction, which has always been my favorite genre, I do my best to make my stories character-driven and to put real people with real feelings into extraordinary circumstances in order to flesh out the human dynamic.
Q) You use quite a few ideas and are able to blend them together quite well. When you write do you have all these questions you want answered-and then go about answering them-or as you write do more and more things come to mind that fit in with the story? (basically, how extensive is your outline?)
ROB: Honestly, I never outline my stories. I think it can prevent the story from taking on a life of its own that can make it unique and real rather than contrived. I start with a general sense of what the story is about and who the characters are and their emotional make-up, and then I just let it fly. I set up the circumstances of the story, place the characters in those circumstances, and by then they're alive enough in my head that it's more like I'm just keeping up on the keyboard with the things they're doing and saying of their own volition. Believe it or not, the numerous ideas and themes that turn up in my works are more a product of the characters and their individual stories coming to life than they are of any initial outline or synopsis. I think the best writing comes from creating real, grounded characters, and as is true in daily life it is the interaction of people that fleshes out the flow and resolution of the circumstances in which they are placed. Especially with science fiction, I think the key is letting your characters tell their own story, no matter how surreal or far-fetched the premise, and this creates wonderfully emotional and fulfilling stories.
Q) All three of your novels deal, in a certain regard, with biblical characters or situations and are epic in scope. In A SEA OF TIME it's the flood, in FILES ATTACHED it's the crucifixion and aliens having indeed written the bible. Why do you keep on coming back to the bible as a tangent-because that is an epic as well? (talk about each book)
ROB: The fact that Biblical allegories and situations turn up in all three novels was really for the most part unintentional. That is to say, the biblical and religious scenarios are essential to each story in and of itself, but it was not intended to be a thematic carry-over from book to book. I think the use of the Bible and religious beliefs in science fiction is a great device, because theism creates very profound feelings in people, and this can vest your characters and situations with a lot of depth. In Sea Of Time, for instance, it's not so much the flood itself that drives the story, but rather the overall nature of religious belief-- how it creates conflict not only between the protagonists and antagonists of the story, but more importantly how it leads to suspicion, doubts and rifts amongst our group of heroes. The same can be said of Files Attached. It's not the crucifixion nor the alien hybrid nature of Jesus that is the crux of the matter... instead it's a very graphic and deep catalyst that explains how humanity's nature left unchecked can often lean toward fear, hate and belligerence. With The Meteth Chronicles, what we have is a being that has walked the earth for tens of thousands of years, and so to him the rise and fall of religions is like the blink of an eye, and we wonder through his perspective whether religion and belief are inherent to our world and our nature, or in the alternative perhaps just creations of our minds to explain that which we cannot understand. Religion, love, hate, friendship... these are the deepest of human feelings, and I try to use them not as plot devices but rather as the underpinnings of the characters who make up the stories.
Q) Which is your favorite book you've written and why?
ROB: I like them all for different reasons. Files Attached was my first labor of love, originally a trilogy that ran nearly a thousand pages, into which I poured a lot of my own curiosities about religion, the possibility of alien life, and human nature. Admittedly, it's a much better and more exciting read in its current state, but I'll always hold dear that first draft, there was so much of me in it.
Sea Of Time is my favorite in terms of character development. In this one, the characters really took on lives of their owns and started doing and saying things I never would have expected. I like to think that shines through in reading the book, and a lot of those characters still run around in my head, talking to me. I hope to bring them back in a new story.
The Meteth Chronicles is my favorite in terms of technical writing style. My writing tendencies often lean toward lengthy explanation and exposition, but with Meteth I'm proud with how crisp a read it is. Here we have a character whose memory of humanity's history, or lack thereof, drives the story, and so this lent itself to a very lean style. After all, if we're seeing the world through Meteth's eyes, so much of it is forgotten that lengthy exposition would be antithetical to the nature of our protagonist/narrator.
Q) What is your next novel about?
ROB: Actually my latest project is a screenplay, with which I'm really happy. It's a supernatural love story that deals with the generation that has passed since over-exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. We follow a young Army Ranger whose father is a Vietnam vet, and some very disturbing things start occurring in his life and build to a great twist. I hope the initial interest my agent and I are getting carries through to someday seeing it on the screen!
Q) You've gone the self-publishing route-what prompted you to do this?
ROB: That's a tough one to answer. The reasons, as with most things in life, are numerous, ranging from finances to issues of creative control. To sum it up, publishing in this day and age is a very closed pursuit, dominated by a few conglomerate houses that make their dime off the names of a short list of established authors. Unfortunately, this leads to some mediocre works on the shelves, while young and hungry writers and their inspired stories often never see the light of day. Personally, the offers I'd received for my books were very minimal and involved giving up the rights to them and very little say in the editing process. With Dark House Books, I'm able to get my stories to the readers as I originally envisioned them, unimpinged by corporate editing formulae, and from a business perspective I can profit directly from sales, rather than just receiving pennies on the dollar. If things go well for Dark House, I hope to open it up to other young writers interested in doing the same!
Q) Anything you wish to add?
ROB: I just want to say thanks for the opportunity to talk with Buried.Com and all its visitors. I hope to hear from many of you and that you'll take a chance on the books. Check out the website, and I want to give all Buried.Com fans a great deal on the books, so feel free to e-mail me personally through the site and I'll give you the "Buried.Com half price deal"!