Sunday, August 7, 2011
Interview with Author John Robinson
WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE A WRITER?
I’d always liked to write, even from my early teen years, and when I was in college I was student affairs editor for the school paper. Years passed though, and that love seemed to fade. But over a decade ago it came roaring back, and in an unexpected way. It was New Years Day, 1999, and I was watching one of the bowl games on TV, when suddenly I started seeing something different on the screen. Don’t laugh, but it was almost like watching a movie. During that I was unaware of the passing of time. When I roused myself I found only a few minutes had passed, but amazingly I had the entire plot of Heading Home completely lined up in my head; it was then just a matter of writing it down and editing it. That process took about a year. Finding a house that would take such a controversial novel proved to be a challenge, though, and it wasn’t until 2008 that it was sold to Sheaf House Publishers (it's now out). During those intervening years I wrote and sold the Joe Box novels, and began the Mac Ryan series.
I'M A JOE BOX FAN, SO I HAVE TO ASK, WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO INCLUDE A SOCK MONKEY IN YOUR STORIES? DID THAT TOY HAVE A SPECIAL SIGNIFICANCE TO YOU?
Actually I did have a sock monkey when I was little, and when our oldest son was born we bought one for him. I guess for Joe, I wanted to give him something sentimental, something that would keep him grounded to his past.
YOUR NOVELS ARE SO VIVID. AFTER READING THEM, I WAS COMPLETELY CONVINCED YOU'D SPENT TIME IN VIETNAM. HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU SPEND ON RESEARCH? AT WHAT POINT, DO YOU FEEL AS IF YOU'VE COMPLETED ENOUGH RESEARCH ON A TOPIC?
The research time varies for each story, but I know when it’s done when the story tells me so. In other words, it’s like it taps me on the shoulder and says, “okay, boy, enough digging; it’s time to write me down.”
DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING IN YOUR RESEARCH THAT SURPRISED YOU?
In researching the Vietnam back story for Until the Last Dog Dies, I was surprised at how dispersed our ground troops were over there, and how tenuous the supply lines could be; it made a hard time for them there even harder.
YOU HAVE INTERESTING TITLES. HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH THEM? IS THERE A SPECIAL PROCESS?
Thanks, Heidi! The title of the first Joe Box novel, Until the Last Dog Dies, is based on a phrase I heard growing up in the Kentucky hills. It was usually something on the order of, “we’re going to fill-in-the-blank (keep weeding this corn, keep running this trot line, keep knocking men down in this bar) until the last dog dies;” in other words, until there's no more work to do. The second one, When Skylarks Fall, is a takeoff on God knowing when each sparrow falls (the word “skylark” is recurring in the story). And everyone has heard of the phrase, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat;” (hence the title, To Skin a Cat), and since the villain’s nickname is Cat, he gets well and truly skinned! As far as titling my stories go, there really isn’t a process; they tend to grow organically. For instance, my apocalypse-with-a-twist novel is called Heading Home, because that’s exactly what happens twice, first at the end of the war prologue, and then at the end of the novel proper. Relentless, the first of my soldier of fortune Mac Ryan novels, describes Mac in a single word, and The Radiance, my science fiction novel, is the term given to the unseen effect that causes such problems worldwide.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
I’d tell them a story I once heard about Winston Churchill. The time was either the late fifties or early sixties, and by then Churchill was quite elderly when he was asked to give the commencement address for a large university.
The day came, and the auditorium was packed with students and alumni wanting to hear strong words of wisdom from the man who’d basically saved Britain during the darkest days the country had ever known. Slowly Sir Winston took the platform. Standing behind the podium, he gazed out at the sea of faces. And then setting his famous bulldog jaw, he ground out these words: “Never give up. Never, never, never, never give up.” He fixed them with a gaze of iron. “NEVER.”
And then he sat down.
And the place erupted in praise.
That’s what I’d tell people: “never give up.”
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE AUTHORS?
Oh wow, there are a lot! I’d say, in no particular order, for fiction they’d include Dean Koontz, Charles Dickens, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Flannery O’Connor, James Lee Burke, Robert Crais, and my buddy James Scott Bell. For nonfiction the list would have to include James Herriot, P.J. O’Rourke, Lawrence Block (his Telling Lies for Fun and Profit is an essential—and hilarious—reference book for any budding novelist), and Tom Wolfe.
HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU WRITTEN?
Six: four commercially published, and two in the querying stage.