Author Interview ~ Robert Downs

A new author to introduce my followers too, this time a gentleman, Robert Downs. I have not had the pleasure of reading Robert’s writing yet, I will correct that in the near future, he may write ‘MANfiction’ but this reader reads almost anything and is a bit of a tomboy, so I’m sure I will fall into step with Robert’s readers. I hope you enjoy a look into Robert, at times a bit lighthearted.

*Please tell me about your first novel. What or who inspired you to write it?

My first novel is what my publisher and I like to refer to as MANfiction, a term coined by Stephen King in an Entertainment Weekly article. Casey Holden, former cop, current PI in Virginia Beach,VA, screens his clients the way he screens his women, based on whichever drop-dead gorgeous woman happens to waltz through his door first and manages to hold his attention. So when Felicity Farren, widow-at-large, struts into his office asking him to solve the two-year-old murder of her husband Artis, she intrigues him. When Casey starts digging, he learns the murder isn’t what it seems to be and he doesn’t have a big enough shovel to unearth the truth. And to top it all off, his former rival at the police department, Greg Gilman, is determined to disrupt his investigation. Casey’s challenge is to learn what really happened to Artis, and why Gilman can’t seem to remove his head from his butt. And he’ll need all of his wits to complete the task.

The movie Finding Forrester helped change my way of thinking when it came to writing. I always hated writing in school, because it was all about the rules (not necessarily a bad thing), and it was forced down my throat. I never thought of writing for myself, until I watched Finding Forrester. After the movie, though, something clicked for me, and I realized for a shy guy I had a whole lot to say. I opened this massive floodgate that I haven’t been able to close since. And if I’m lucky, it’ll never close.

*Who are some of your favorite authors and books? Did they influence or inspire your writing style and give you ideas?

Since I’ve placed myself squarely in the MANfiction genre without even realizing it, I’d be remiss without mentioning some of the MANfiction greats, such as Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler, the late Robert B. Parker, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and Robert Crais. I’m also a huge fan of all mysteries from cozies to hard-boiled, and I also read fairly extensively outside of the mystery genre. I have a longer list of books that I like than those that I don’t.

Every book that I’ve read has inspired me in some form or fashion, because I know I can always improve my writing skills. But at some point, I have to say this book is as good as I can make it at this particular point in time, otherwise I would have never published a single word. So as you can imagine, I can be a bit of a perfectionist, but my ego also needs constant reinforcement, as I strive to prove to both myself and my readers that I can continue to express myself through the written word. That alone helps me stay on the publishing track, otherwise I’d be on the track of writing manuscripts and stuffing them away in file drawers.

*What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What was the biggest complement? Did those change how or what you did in your next novel?

Every time a reader doesn’t enjoy Falling Immortality, especially the rather negative reviews that I have found on the Internet, are always tough. It always hits with as much force as a Mike Tyson uppercut, but I’ve been known to experience a pretty quick recovery. My skin may be thicker than most, but I’ll still bleed the same as everyone else. I’m rather good at accepting and receiving criticism, which I’ve heard is a bit different from your average author. But then I’ve always played in a different sandbox than the other kids.

*This or That – Chocolate or Vanilla?? Coffee or Tea?? TV or Movies??

That’s really hard to say. I’m a big fan of vanilla to the point that I could probably drink vanilla extract straight from the bottle, although I’ve never attempted this. But I eat chocolate bars like they’re the only form of sustenance known to man. While I may be partial to white chocolate, I don’t discriminate when it comes to its various forms, as I’ll eat milk and dark with equal reckless abandon.

Tea, definitely. I can drink coffee, as long as it’s mutated from its basic form into a sugary substance that only my sweet tooth could love.

Movies, but TV is a close second. I enjoy movies, because like books, I receive the whole story at once, whereas TV shows I have to keep returning week after week. But Netflix has helped even the score, because I can watch entire seasons of my favorite TV shows in a couple of weeks, and then move on to the next season. Netflix and complete series DVD packages have been great equalizers, though.

*When you sit down to write, are you at a computer or do you do it, the ‘old fashioned’ way with pen and paper? Do you prefer one way or another?

I’ve always gone the computer route, and it’s my preferred method by far. I’ve tried writing longhand, but I only do it in short spurts, when there’s no other way to get an idea out of my head. Otherwise, it would take me way too long to have my ideas flow from my brain to the paper, since I write rather slow, and it would completely interrupt the process. Plus, I’d get hand cramps from writing longhand for extended periods of time.

*What do you do in your down time? Do you pick up something from your ‘to be read’ stack?

As one of my colleagues has informed me, I don’t really have all that much downtime. But it’s certainly based out of love of the craft, not necessity. Right now, I’m spending quite a bit of my time promoting Falling Immortality, but if I don’t put forth the effort, no one else will. My publisher, friends and family, reviewers, and great bloggers like yourself have certainly done what they can, but I know my novel better than anyone else, since I spent seven years, off and on, before I ever reached the point of publication.

But when I do have a bit of free time, my wife and I do our best to singlehandedly keep Netflix in business. We have both the streaming and DVD mail-in option.

I’d classify reading as a close cousin to writing, since in order to improve as a writer, I have to read both extensively inside and outside my chosen genre, otherwise my endless well of ideas will dry up, and I’ll stagnate as a writer. The day I’m done improving will be the day I die, otherwise writing, like life, is a journey, not a destination.

*If your protagonist was a real person, what would they think about you? Would they want to hang out with you?

Honestly, my protagonist probably wouldn’t want anything to do with me. The only reason he does now is because I’m the vessel through which he’s able to tell his stories. Otherwise, I’m of about as much use to him as a jug of stale milk. In many respects, I’m more like Ian Jackard than I am like my protagonist Casey Holden, and since my knowledge of police work is confined to what I absorb around me, I can’t think of a single situation in which we interact in everyday life. Plus, it’ll be years before I ever make it back to the Virginia Beach area, if ever, and Casey isn’t likely to move from his comfortable world.

*What do you look for in a book when you sit down to read for fun?

What I look for more than anything else is to be entertained. I’ll read the occasional work of non-fiction, but I enjoy a certain amount of entertainment even within these works, although that’s not a hard and fast requirement. Otherwise, I’m fairly open. I don’t have specific authors I gravitate toward, and I’ll read both self-published as well as traditionally published books. I do look for unique voices, since there are many books out there that sound the same, and I’ve always appreciated people that will hang on the edge of the cliff by their fingernails. Many people aren’t willing to take that risk, but I take quite a bit of pride in that like my main character I’ve always colored a bit outside the lines.

*When you go to Starbucks or Jamba Juice, what do you order? Do they know you by name or drink?

I can’t say that I gravitate toward either one. My wife and I have become hooked on Satellite Coffee, a local New Mexico chain, and we go there way too frequently, to the point that I’ve mentioned to my better half that I should own stock in the company, even though they’re a private enterprise. So, yes, they know me by my face and my drink, as while I enjoy change more than the next guy, I’m also a creature of habit. In many respects, I’m an oxymoron.

*What has been your favorite part of being an author? What has been your least favorite?

I love all of it, and if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Sure, there are certain parts that are more fun than others, and it’s hard to be beat the creative process of the rough draft, but I wouldn’t have gotten where I am today if I hadn’t learned from and grown through every step of the process. From the creative side to the business side, I’ve discovered that writing and I are a perfect match, similar to peanut butter and jelly.

*When you walk into a book store, where do you head first?

I head for the discount section. Sure, I’ll pay regular price for books, because I’d be rather hypocritical if I didn’t support other authors but then expected readers and authors to support me, which is why I’ve gotten much enjoyment out of writing reviews of other author’s novels, but it’s hard to beat a good bargain when it comes to reading. I’ve purchased and continue to purchase an insane number of books—and I’ll certainly try to get through as many of them as I can—it’s hard to beat finding a great book at a great price.

*Did you get to quit your ‘day job’ and become an author, or do you have a ‘day job’ and writing is something you do for fun?

Writing is definitely something I do outside of my day job, but it’s always been more important to me than just a fun activity that I do when I have free time. It’s been a much deeper connection. Before I graduated college, I was actually naïve enough to believe that I could support myself as a writer, and I believed that in order to show my dedication to the craft I needed to only write. My mom quickly told me that was a bad idea, one of the few times she hasn’t fully supported whatever insane plan I managed to come up with. And after eleven years or so, it’s safe to say she was exactly right. If I’m lucky enough, I might reach a point where I can support myself strictly as a writer, but it’s not something I’m forced to count on, fortunately. And even though my day job has its ups and downs like any profession, I enjoy having a daily dose of math and finance with my literary side. That to me is a complete world, and because I interact with others on a regular basis through my budget analyst duties, my writing improves.

*What has been the strangest thing a reader has asked you?

I can’t recall anything specific offhand. Just as my readers have supported me, I believe in supporting my readers. Without readers, authors would have manuscripts stuffed in file drawers (guilty), holding up desks, or used as odd-looking doorstops. And I believe in the old adage that there are no bad questions. The only bad question is the one that isn’t asked.

*What is your favorite junk food vice?

I have many junk food vices, and by listing them all, I’d have enough words to fill the length of the average short story. To give you some idea, I once had a college roommate ask me if I was diabetic.

*Is there any movie you have seen that was based on a novel, which you think lived up to the novel? What made it live up to the novel?

Where I think readers, as well as authors, run into problems is when they expect the movie to be a perfect representation of the novel. I’ve been guilty of this myself, but they need to be treated as two separate entities. There have been quite a few movies I’ve enjoyed, even though in most cases I end up enjoying the novel more. I heard Douglas Preston speak on this particular issue, and his philosophy is one I agree with: I don’t care if they burn the book, as long as the studio sends me the check. And in many respects, he’s exactly right: authors have their books opened up to a whole new audience; they receive plenty of free publicity; and readers have another avenue to explore their favorite work. Will movie studios make some readers unhappy? Inevitably, but it’s another medium in which to explore the novel you’ve come to love.

*If you could step into the shoes of your protagonist for one day, would you? What would you like to experience or see during that day?

No, I highly doubt it, even if it meant I could drive a Dodge Viper SRT-10 on I-64, especially if I were to take it to the western side of Richmond, where the road really opens up. Writing and reading are ways for me to escape reality, and I wouldn’t want to taint my perspective by living the life of my protagonist. The beauty of our relationship is he has his world, and I have mine, and whenever the two worlds come together you’re gonna see some serious shit.

*Did you have any teacher(s) in high school or college that encouraged you to write? Did you take their advice?

Honestly, I actually hated writing in school. I had the rules of writing shoved down my throat on a regular basis, and I tried to fit within the confines of those rules, which is in sharp contrast to my main character. But I did have a teacher in second grade, I believe, that encouraged me to write, and my mom found a note she had written on one of my stories that she and I discovered about two years ago or so. To have her believe in me at such a young age has meant as much to me as any particular piece of advice I have been given.

*What type of ice cream could I find you eating on a hot summer day?

Even though I’m not a big coffee drinker, I’m a big fan of all coffee-related ice cream, and that includes many of the various brands you can think of: Breyers, Ben & Jerry’s, Healthy Choice, and Starbucks, to name just a few.

*We all have our little ‘things’ when it comes to reading or writing; is there anything that bugs you when you read a novel?

The first issue for me is editing. Like most readers, I don’t like to read a novel filled with editing errors. After editing, I’d have to say dialogue tags. I know it’s a trivial matter for most people—my wife included—but I don’t like it when authors get too creative with their dialogue tags. When I was a beginning writer, I was way too creative with my dialogue tags, because I wanted my dialogue to stand out. But if you’re writing good dialogue, the dialogue will stand on its own, and readers only read the dialogue tag to know who’s speaking. When an author uses a tag like ejaculated, he probably needs to spend a bit more time rewriting the dialogue.

*Is there anything else you would like to share or say to those who will read this?

I’d like to thank all of you who took the time to read this blog interview, and I can’t thank you enough for this opportunity. As an author, you can never promote yourself, or your writing, too much. And so I always appreciate the opportunity to have my readers, and potential readers, learn a bit more about me.

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