Robert Shaw Interview!
A big warm welcome to Robert Shaw!
First some fun trivia – give me some juicy details…! What is your favorite place to eat? Why? I’m currently stuck in Australia and have no favorite eatery here. But in Los Angeles it’s hands down a Mexican (El Indio) restaurant called Gilbert’s which is in on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica. Best Huevos Rancheros in the world!
What is your favorite junk food vice? The McDonald’s Angus Deluxe in L.A. – in Australia the Quarter Pounder.
What does a typical day look like for you? On a typical weekend, what can we find you doing? Who are you with? Well, I hate to harp on about being stuck in Australia but right now that’s my lot and I really have no social life here. I live at my little sister’s house in the outer regions of a seaside town, it’s miles from anywhere even remotely interesting! I have no car of my own so most days I’m stuck at the house. Luckily I have my writing to keep me busy. When I was in L.A., on Saturday mornings I would meet friends for breakfast at a greasy spoon diner called Teddy’s Café and talk about writing and movies and such. On Sunday’s I would always meet my oldest friend in Los Angeles for breakfast at the aforementioned Gilbert’s and talk about everything. I really miss those mornings. After breakfast on either day I would go off and run my errands, do chores and then of course sit down and do the ever important writing.
Favorite book or film? Why? It’s hard to pick a single favorite book or movie – there are so many that I love. But if I had to choose a book I would say – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. It’s written in a wonderfully modernistic style and is an adventure/mystery as well as a great social commentary of the times it’s set in, almost like a window to the past. And it features a strong and capable heroine who goes through great difficulties and comes out the winner. This is my favorite sort of female lead character – the kind I always try to create in my own novels. I can’t pin down a favorite movie. I have many favorites ranging from the serious like Amistad to the ridiculous like Dude Where’s My Car – I know, crazy right? But that is an extremely funny and surprisingly clever move.
Any movies that you really want to see? Nothing upcoming. I’ve lost interest in new movies, they’re almost always disappointing and I no longer get excited about going out to see them like I did in my younger years. It’s tough to get me to commit to going to a new movie these days. I prefer to watch films on DVD that I’ve already seen and know are good.
What’s on your reading list right now? I don’t have a list per se. Books in Australia are ridiculously expensive, sometimes thirty bucks for a paperback you wouldn’t pay ten bucks for in L.A. I tend to search for used books in thrift stores and grab whatever catches my fancy. Currently I’m reading Fire on Dark Water by Wendy Perriman, Comanche Moon by McMurtry, Dances With Wolves by Michael Blake, the latest in the Deathlands series by James Axler and I plan to start the second Secret Watchers book as soon as I’ve got all those out of the way. I’d like to focus on that one by itself.
We all have our little things when it comes to reading that bug us. What makes you cranky when you read a novel? Not having peace and quiet and time to read uninterrupted. But if you mean in the actual book itself there’s not really anything stylistically that bothers me with the exception of one book I recently tried to read and couldn’t stand – it was called The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl. I found it to be pretentious, confusing and not exceptionally well-written as the blurbs led me to believe. I took a look at Pearl’s bio and saw that he was an Ivy League boy and I believe that’s the only reason he’s published by a big publisher. It’s very rare that I read someone else’s book and think my own are just as good or better (I usually doubt my own writing a great deal) but in Pearl’s case I felt my books were just as deserving of a “big house” publishing deal as his and it really bugged me that I remain undiscovered.
Besides writing and reading, what is your most favorite thing to do? Watch DVDs of movies I love or old TV shows I loved as a teen. I’m a pretty boring guy.
What do you look for in a book when you sit down to read for fun? Obviously the genre has to strike my fancy first, and after that it has to have a main character whom I really like from the get go and whom I come to care about and want to see win and survive. Now that I’m older it’s harder for me to find books that grab me. When I was younger I loved fantasy, sword & sorcery, horror and sci-fi but nowadays I can’t really stand that stuff. I love to find a really great YA book (Secret Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Holes, Runaway, Anne of Green Gables, Secret Watchers), great historical fiction (The Devil’s Company, any Dickens or Wilkie Collins, The Gallows Thief) westerns (Deadwood, Gone to Texas, St. Agnes’ Stand, The Missing), action/adventure (Deathlands series), thrillers (Runaway Jury, Black Dahlia, Robert Parker’s Jesse Stone series). I don’t think Grisham’s style is great but his stories do tend to grab me.
Who are your favorite authors? Well, I guess Dickens and Wilkie Collins, Charlotte Bronte, L.M. Montgomery, Steinbeck, Robert McCammon, Robert Parker and Rebecca Skloot. There are quite a few but I can’t think of them all right now.
What 7 words would you use to describe yourself? I know you mean good and positive words, right? That’s always hard for me as I’m usually self-deprecating, but I guess I’m compassionate, loyal, reliable, trustworthy, witty, charming and shy (in certain circumstances) – heck, actually I can think of quite a few more than 7. What a surprise for me!
When you walk into a bookstore, where do you head to first? Why? Are there any booktores left? I haven’t been to one in almost 2 years (stuck in the sticks in Australia, remember?). When I was a teen it was the sci-fi and fantasy section. But as I grew older I’d usually go to the general fiction section at Barnes & Noble and scour the shelves for whatever grabbed my fancy.
Did you get to quit your day job and become an author or do you still have a day job and writing is something you do for fun? If you still have a day job, what is it? I wish I’d quit my job because I made enough money from writing! But no, I was laid off from my job at DreamWorks Studios due to “austerity measures” imposed by the investors because a bunch of the movies released while I was there didn’t do well (War Horse, I Am Number Four, the remake of Fright Night, Cowboys & Aliens, Real Steel to name a few). And when “Austerity Measures” are imposed by investors it usually means getting rid of the folks who are paid peanuts (like I was) and keep throwing ridiculous sums of money to the people writing the bad scripts and making the films that tank. But I guess that’s the game the studios are in – spit-balling and hoping something sticks and does well. While I was at DreamWorks they were developing The Hunger Games with Nina Jacobson, but Spielberg decided he didn’t want to make a movie in which kids kill each other – so they went with I Am Number Four, which they hoped would be the next big franchise. If they’d kept The Hunger Games I’d still be there. I don’t currently have a job in Australia. I only recently got permission to work and so far all my experience in the film and TV industry doesn’t seem to have qualified me to do anything in this country. I’m really quite concerned. And quite broke.
What has been the strangest thing that a reader has asked you? I haven’t been asked anything at all by any readers. Judging from my book sales figures and dearth of reviews, I don’t think I have many readers. Or if I do not many of them write reviews. I don’t blame them. I’m not big on writing reviews either – and I hate synopsising anything! I guess the most annoying question (or conversation) I get into – not with readers but with those folks who “want to be writers” – is when they learn that I’m a writer (always from someone else) and they have a “great idea for a book” and they want me to write it. Whenever I run into this problem I tell them I think their idea is great and that they should write a sixty-page treatment and send it to me so I can do the novel. At that point their eyes glaze over and they run for the bar.
Links Where can people learn more about you and your work?
My blog: http://wwwuselyssesblogspot.blogspot.com.au/
Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/author/shawrobert
On Twitter: http://Twitter.com/OzBritUS
General Questions About Your Approach to the Writing Craft What are your tips and tricks for other independent authors to get the word out about their books? Gosh, I really don’t know. I don’t even know how to get the word out about my own books. I go on Twitter but it doesn’t net much in the way of sales. I do sell the odd copy now and then so I suppose Twitter is doing something – but I think that when I get invited to do interviews like this, and people read it, that might actually lead to more interest in my books than the Tweets with quotes or links. I guess the one piece of advice I will give anyone is don’t pay someone to promote your books. Don’t fall for the old “we can sell your book if you pay us two grand” line. It’s always b.s. – if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
What are some of your favorite genres to read and to write? So far I’ve written teen horror, YA romantic comedy and a sci-fi western – each being an adaptation of scripts I wrote. I guess my favorite of them is the teen horror. I can do that again. I’m not keen to do another YA romance or western. I do love vampire stories but there are so many out there that it seems pointless to do one. I have a great idea for a vampire story though so I will get round to it eventually.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What was the biggest compliment? Did those change how or what you did in your next novel? The Kirkus review for The Scare probably had the toughest criticism – something about a tedious torrent of overwriting – but I agree with it. The Scare is overwritten, but it’s darned good overwriting even if I do say so myself. The Kirkus reviewer was even-handed though and also gave The Scare some great compliments. But I think the biggest compliments have come from my oldest friend – he’s a lawyer and I thought he’d be the most critical – but he loves my writing and says that I deserve to be published. I was blown away. It’s great to hear that. None of it changed how I wrote though – my style is my style and I don’t want to try and tailor it in any particular way. I just hope it improves on its own the more I write.
What has been your favorite part of being an author? What has been your least favorite? I’m not joking or being facetious when I say this, but my favorite and least favorite parts of being an author are the same thing: the writing. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I hate it. I think I put it like this in another interview: sometimes it flows and sometimes it blows. There are times when I am so confident and inspired by what I’m writing that I think I can’t possibly fail. And yet there are times when I am overwhelmed with self-doubt and feel I cannot go on. I simply have no idea what to write next or how to write it. Thank God those moments pass and I do go on. It also helps to know that guys like Steinbeck had those same doubts. Stephen King does too – he says to ignore them and keep going. So I do.
What is the most frustrating thing you have had to deal with as a writer? Most exciting? In the creative sense it’s all in the answer above. In the business sense it’s when I’ve found someone who says they can get my book published and I’ve wasted time and money on them only to find out that they are no better connected than me. They can’t do anything for me. My experience in the film business has taught me that if I can get someone on the phone, that person cannot help me. The one’s who can really help? You can’t get them on the phone. Not getting a fair crack at a deal simply because you don’t know the right person, or do know them but not well enough for them to bother helping, is very frustrating. I’ve seen people get deals because they went to the same Ivy League school with the right person. It sounds like sour grapes but I’m just citing what I’ve seen happen. And yeah, it burns me. The most exciting things have been when I had Robert Carradine interested in making Girlfriend Trouble into a movie. I had Irene Ng – the star of Nickelodeon’s Mystery Files of Shelby Woo attached to play the female lead and Keith Coogan from Adventures in Babysitting for the male lead. Nothing ever came of it but it was exciting at the time.
When you sit down to write, do you do it the old-fashioned way with pen and paper or do you use a computer? Do you prefer one way or the other? I’ve done it both ways. I’ve got reams and reams of handwritten pages for all three books I’ve written. There are times when I find that the writing, my creativity and inspiration just flow more easily when I’ve got a pen and am scribbling away on paper. It’s a great feeling. But currently, now that I’m done with my new book and taking a break from it so it’s fresh when I hit revisions, I’m doing a “quickie” adaptation of an old script I wrote back in the early 80s – I’m doing it straight into my laptop and it’s going well for what it is, which will be a short novella really.
What do you do when you are not writing? Read, watch movies, wish I was rich & successful.
Compared to when you first started writing, have you noticed any big changes in your writing style or how you write compared from then to now? I started writing seriously in my late teens – screenplays at first. I’ve been writing for years now and I definitely see improvement – but there’s always room for more. I also see a change in the characters I write. When I was younger I was a sucker for female characters who needed rescuing – you know the old, clichéd and sexist trick, the girl trips over and the guy has to go back and pick her up. I can’t stand that sort of nonsense now. I love strong, capable female leads that do not need to be saved by a dude – who in fact save the dude. They put up as good of a fight as anyone. In my latest book, Emeline Bransford is a perfect example of this sort of very capable woman. She goes through Hell – but she also sends her enemies there.
For our writer friends: What advice do you have for authors looking to find and connect with a wider base of fans? Write in different genres. I know having a dystopian or paranormal romance series like Twilight is all the rage right now but there are tons of them out there. Trying to get noticed with one would feel to me like I was a drop of fresh water trying to survive in the ocean.
Along the same lines, what advice do you have for writers about the writing process and their development as writers? It’s a boring, uninteresting and unglamorous piece of advice but it’s true: write as much as you can, keep writing, and keep reading all kinds of different books. So much nonsense has been said about how to write but there is no mystical magic bullet that makes it easy. The bottom line is you have to sit on your bottom, isolated and alone, and crank out words on a blank screen (or piece of paper). And it is not easy. I’ve known people who wanted to be screenwriters so they bought one of those expensive screenwriting programs thinking it would make the writing easy. I say save your money – the only thing those programs write for you is FADE IN: – the rest of it is a whole bunch of blank pages that you – the writer – still have to fill. No program will do it for you.
What advice would you give to a younger you? How has reading influenced you? The most important thing I’d tell my younger self is don’t waste time writing scripts. Start writing novels. There was no such thing as the Internet or Amazon or CreateSpace or Lulu when I started writing. But if I’d started writing novels back then I’d now have an entire library of books written that I could self-publish on Amazon. As it is I’ve got my work cut out for me adapting the tons of screenplays I’ve written. Reading helps me form different approaches with regards to my prose, and it definitely inspires. Every time you’re reading you are absorbing lessons on writing. Reading is an essential tool for a writer.
Are you a plotter / planner or do you prefer to dive right in? I prefer diving right in. I do use notes and beat sheets and research once I’m writing but for me the best thing is to just start writing and see what comes out. If it flows I keep going. If it blows I stop and start mapping things out, plotting and planning and making notes about all the possibilities of which direction the story can go in. But the fact is no matter what planning you do, the story will usually go off in its own direction and you just wind up following it and leaving a trail of words.
Do you have a strategy for finding reviewers? Not a clue. I did a free Kindle promo for The Scare a year or so ago and got almost three thousand downloads. I thought the reviews would come flooding in after that. But nope. I’ve only got fourteen reviews. I think there’s a world full of people who love free books but either don’t like to write reviews or don’t actually bother reading the books. They just grab a freebie. I think the best way to get reviews is write the best novel you can, hope people read it and like it and spread the word for you. Good word of mouth is the single biggest factor I believe. Unfortunately I don’t believe there’s any way to make it happen or manipulate it in your favor when you’re an unknown indie with no big publisher backing you. And even then there’s no guarantee. Bill Goldman once said of movies and their success or failure: No one knows anything. I believe the same goes for books. No one knows what will capture the reading public’s hearts.
Who was your current novel dedicated to? Any particular reason? My new book is dedicated to my dear old mom. She read the screenplay over and over again and always told me she loved it and “couldn’t bloody put it down.” She has Alzheimer’s disease now and is in a nursing home – she no longer knows who I am and she’ll never be able to read the book – she can’t even read anymore. I couldn’t possibly have dedicated it to anyone else.
What do you listen to when you write? Do you find one type of music over another that inspires you to write? Why? Nothing. I like total silence and nothing to disturb me.
Did you have any teacher in school that encouraged you to write? Did you take their advice? Ms. Rose was my English teacher in high school. She’d give us creative writing assignments and I’d always still be writing my short story by the time the bell went. She never hesitated to encourage me and told me I would one day be a writer. She was a good sport too. She once wrote a word on the chalkboard and I pointed out that she’d spelled it wrong. She checked it, gave me a big grin of thanks and corrected herself. Ms. Rose was great and I’ll never forget her.
Please tell me about your novel. Who or what was your inspiration behind it? My new book is called Thunder Rising and was inspired by a few things: Ron Howard’s movie The Missing (based on Thomas Eidson’s novel) , the character of Ellen Ripley in Aliens and an old episode of Lost in Space entitled One of Our Dogs is Missing. Cate Blanchette played Maggie Gilkeson in The Missing – anyone who’s seen the movie knows that Maggie was a tough, unrelenting heroine who refused to let her daughter be kidnapped by Comancheros and sold into sexual slavery across the Mexican border – she went after the kidnappers and fought to get her child back. There is no stronger character than a mother fighting to save her child. And we all know how tough and courageous Ellen Ripley is. In Thunder Rising, Emeline Bransford is a woman like Maggie and Ripley – she kills anyone and everyone who gets in her way of rescuing her daughters. And when they’re on the run, Emeline crosses paths with worse things she has to fight. During my research of the Old West I found a real woman named Emeline Bransford. I can’t recall where I read about her or what she did but I liked the name.
Which is your favorite character in your book and why? In The Scare my favorites are Ethan and Shay. In Girlfriend Trouble it’s Lian. In Thunder Rising it is of course Emeline.
What authors inspired you to write this particular novel? Why? Thomas Eidson – he wrote two very strong female leads in The Missing and in St. Agnes’ Stand. Both great books in my opinion.
Dream big… Your book has been purchased to be turned into a movie script and you have been asked to list the people you would most like to play each role. Who do you choose? For Emeline I’d pick Connie Nielsen – she’s the right age right now (48) and she embodies my vision of Emeline Bransford. For Emeline’s daughters and Dancing Bird I’d probably cast total unknowns. I’d have Eric Schweig play Ten Bears and Jay Tavare as Lone Eagle. I haven’t given any thought to who I’d want to play the remaining characters but I’d lean toward unknowns or low-key character actors.
What else do you have in the pipeline? Next I plan to do a novelization of a story treatment I wrote that was passed on when I pitched it to DreamWorks while I was working there. It’s a romantic comedy/superhero story with a weird twist. After that I’d like to do the other two books in the Three Adventures Thrillogy. The Scare was number one – I have the scripts written for the other two and just need to adapt them into novels. Then people keep telling me I’ve got to write my memoir of my adventures in the movie business. I’ve worked with Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Anthony Hopkins, Elliott Kastner and so many more that if I don’t write about it all soon I might forget it.
What a wonderful interview! Thanks for sharing. I’m now looking forward to reading Mr. Shaw’s books, especially The Scare. The cover grabs me and the review you wrote intrigued me.
I’m so glad! Robert Shaw is a talented author.