C. ROBERT CALES: I BECAME ADDICTED TO THE HORROR AT THE AGE OF 10
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
C. Robert Cales released his second book The Bookseller in January. The reception of the novel was decent with average 4.9 stars from 7 Amazon reviews. His previous book Devil Glass was also loved by readers (av. 4.6 stars from 17 Amazon reviews).
Our next guest’s strongest weapon is his “triple dose of imagination”, as he likes to say. It’s time for another interview with very interesting author.
– Robert, what will readers find inside The Bookseller?
– Across from Boston Common, nestled into the corner of a cobblestone mall, sits The Bookseller, a bookstore owned by a lovable rare book dealer and his wife, who runs a coffee parlor inside the store. The parlor is the morning greeting place for business people from around the mall where the complementary coffee is hot and delicious, the croissants are a quarter and the lively banter is free. George and Elizabeth lead a happy life surrounded by many friends. Their happiness is about to be shattered by a violent South American drug cartel with a new, high tech process for smuggling cocaine.
– How did you decide to write the book?
– I like to explain to readers that I was born with a triple dose of imagination. With no siblings to provide entertainment it flourished and quickly became my constant companion, always ready to take me away to unexplored worlds. At the tender age of ten I became addicted to the horror genre and when I was about sixteen my imagination started demanding an outlet. That’s when I decided to pursue the writing craft.
I tinkered with science fiction and political intrigue, but nothing was firing up my mind. Undaunted, I continued working toward the objective, sometimes simply honing my descriptive skills on random scenes absent of plot and character. When I wasn’t working on becoming a writer I was feeding my addiction to horror. I was driven to watch any movie with the slightest chance of delivering the next big scare, but much of what Hollywood was producing was remake and sequel dribble. There were so many times that I left the theater filled with disappointment and regret for wasting my money. I was leaving one such poor excuse for a scary movie on one particular summer afternoon. I left the theater grumbling to myself. Deep inside I knew I could create a better story. That was when I witnessed a three-way collision between my imagination, my love of horror and my need to write.
Writing The Bookseller wasn’t as much of a decision as it was a continuation of my imagination to create completely new and original stories. Any thought process affecting it took place years ago when I decided to give my invisible companion the freedom to invent and develop with very little overriding conscious control.
– What was the greatest challenge during the writing process?
– Under normal circumstances my imagination does all the work. In the work of story creation my input is limited to the basic premise. Idea in, story out, that’s how it works. I deliver my premise and then check back periodically to watch the short film clips that have been produced for me. After that I’m just a scribe doing my best to show readers what I’m being shown. So imagine my surprise when I was told that I had to speak and think like a rare book dealer. That required me to do a significant amount of research and that was a couple big steps away from my normal idea in, story out process.
– Tell us something more about your main character. Is he close to someone in your real life?
– George Saunders has a fascination with the written word that began when he read his first book and never faded. When he was young he carried a small diary where he kept a record of the books he’d read, a practice that created some friction with the other boys, who were more interested in bugs, snakes and baseball. There were a few black eyes and split lip or two until he decided to read up on self defense. After that the tide of respect turned his way. In high school his intelligence and accumulated knowledge became a valued asset among athletes on the cusp of scholastic disqualification. His tutorship saved more that one sport season from disaster. In college he studied classical literature and fell in love with Elizabeth Stratton. That summer the two of them were inseparable and before the snow fell he asked Elizabeth’s father for her hand in marriage. The bookstore across from Boston Common was a wedding present from his father-in-law thirty years before the story begins.
My imagination is far too active to pattern characters after real people I know. I create characters as effortlessly as some people slip on ice. Besides, I don’t know anyone as well educated as George.
– How long did it take you to finish the story and publish it?
– I began teaching myself to write by studying the works of my unwitting mentors and holding up their best as standards. I was completely anal about the quality of the story because it was my absolute intention to give something back to the horror genre. The process of teaching myself to write and creating my first novel took eighteen years. My second novel, from inception to completion took about five years. The second edition of The Bookseller took about three months. I suppose I’m getting faster, but speed has never been my focus. I’m more in tune with dynamic, intriguing plot and engaging characters with depth and life. I think I’m simply too meticulous about the story to put much of a time standard to it.
When I finished The Bookseller I had a small circle of readers waiting patiently, so I had fifty numbered, limited edition copies created and then turned my attention toward traditional publishing. During the next few months I was reminded of the lesson from my Devil Glass marketing days. Traditional publishers will not talk to a new writer unless they’re represented by an agent and an agent will not talk to a new writer. It’s a catch-22. Eventually I concluded that the effort was going nowhere, again. That was when I made a critical decision and started my own ebook publishing company, ScaryBob Productions, LLC. It was my way of maneuvering around what I saw as a major dysfunction in the publishing industry. I’ve positioned myself to be available to readers with digital devices all over the world. Now the challenge is to introduce myself to those readers. That introduction is the driver behind this interview.
– Share some insights about your other novel, Devil Glass?
– Devil Glass was a labor of love. From the beginning it was my absolute intent to create a story worthy of being my contribution to the horror genre. It was my vehicle for becoming a writer. It was originally a short story that I kept rewriting. It didn’t have the emotional punch I wanted and after completing the third rewrite I was no happier with it. It finally hit me. The story needed more character development, and at sixty-eight pages already, it was obvious that I had to write a novel. That was a sobering conclusion and I immediately understood my need for help. That was when I selected my two unwitting mentors, Stephen King and Anne Rice. Stephen taught me story construction, timing and suspense while Anne provided lessons on character development. They both gave me strong, vividly detailed characters, but it was Stephen who demonstrated how to pull the reader in with emotional attachment. I still remember Stu Redman and Larry Underwood from The Stand. They were my friends and when they parted in the desert to pursue their individual assignments Stephen broke my heart by telling me they would never see each other again. Agh! The agony! I was going to lose one of my buds. One of them was going to buy the farm and it took me days to find out who it was. The magic Anne Rice performed was no less impressive. She created the vampire Lestat, a blood thirsty, emotionless killer and then made readers fall in love with him. He became our hero as he drank the blood of evildoers. That can only happen with masterful development of the character.
Writing Devil Glass was pure joy, marketing not so much. I mentioned agents previously. The honest agent works hard to sell a story because it’s the only way to make money. However, there is another form of agent, the one who charges the writer fees for everything from reading and editing to envelopes and postage stamps. The Horror Writer’s Association calls them scam agents because they make their money through fees and have no strong incentive to sell the work. Yeah, one of them found me before I found out about them. Worse yet, Devil Glass slipped into the clutches of an abusive Print On Demand publisher where it languished without the nationwide promotion promised. My first assignment as Creative Director at ScaryBob Productions was to break that smoke and mirrors contract. I recovered the publishing rights to Devil Glass, but only after I fought a war in the editorial columns of newspapers across the country, but that’s another story. That publisher is still out there, waiting for the next unsuspecting author, but they’ve changed their name several times, so overt warnings to fledgling writers would be of no use. In lieu of that warning I will offer my advice. Read the entire contract and if you don’t understand it, take it to somebody who will.
– Who are you?
– I’m ScaryBob.
My wife and I moved into a beautiful condo in Bowling Green, OH. The huge master bedroom was a loft design with double windows on the stairway landing. Mary voiced her desire to have our bedroom downstairs and it took me about that long to claim the loft as my writing and video game room. My claim stuck, but even more surprising was that she left the decorating to a horror writer. The landing windows provided an abundance of light, but it was a dark place with gargoyles, hanging plants and dark pictures. It was my comfort zone, the place where I ruled.
One weekend two of our granddaughters, about 9 and 11, came to stay. At some point during their visit they were on the landing under the double windows, on the very threshold of my dark kingdom, playing some game marked by much whispering. I took note of their presence and then went back to the Playstation, where I was painting the ground with alien blood.
Eventually it came time for them to leave and we drove them home. We kissed them goodbye in front of their house, waved to their parents and pulled away. I hadn’t driven very far when Mary looked over at me and said that she had something to tell me, but I had to swear that the information she was about to divulge would never cross my lips. She had promised the girls to keep their secret. I crossed my heart and pledged to take the information to my grave. After securing my promise she explained that the girls had been playing a made-up game on the landing under the double windows. It was a game in which they were protecting the world from a horror known as Grandpa Evil. Oh, my God, I howled with laughter. I loved it. I wanted to use it, but I had sworn to hold the secret. Shortly thereafter my imagination rewarded me for my integrity and ScaryBob was born.
Sorry Girls. Some secrets demand to be shared.
– What are your writing habits?
– In that period when I was teaching myself to write my habits were very structured. I wrote every night from 7:30 to 9:00. I would first read over the previous few pages before moving on to write fresh material. Any given section was reread multiple times and each time there were minor tweaks and adjustments. It was like a rolling editorial process. Years later my routine is much less structured. I still work at writing every day, but now the time slot is somewhat fluid.
I’ve mentioned my imagination, right? I have come to believe that the entire tale is constructed and stored in some corner of my mind by my imagination, which then meters it out to me as I write. Occasionally I take a wrong step when I’m working, something that threatens Its master plan. When it happens I get shut down flat with the dreaded writer’s block. I’ve learned to search the recent material for the misstep. I always find my mistake and when it’s corrected the creative flow always returns. When you think about it, that’s just a little creepy. Maybe I’ve been possessed by an alien ghost with a deep desire to make readers sleep with the lights on.
– Are you satisfied with the sales of your book?
– I’m waiting patiently for the uptick. The truth is I’m just starting. Devil Glass and the first edition of The Bookseller have been available for some time, but there has always been something wrong with the equation. With the release of the second edition of The Bookseller I suspect things will change. This interview is part of my end game. I’m introducing myself to readers and offering them a look inside the imagination that, at times, leaves me stunned.
– What are you doing to promote your book?
– The Bookseller deserves nationwide promotion in the mass media, but I could never afford the cost of such a program, so I turn to social media focused on readers and writers, such as Goodreads. I’ll use interviews like this one to introduce myself to the world of readers, tell them of my imagination and invite them to sample its prowess. The truth is easily discovered with a mouse click. The preface to The Bookseller beckons to readers waiting for the next story to rock their world.
– When will we see your next novel, Reincarnology?
– I was on track to have the story completed by the end of 2014, but in October I met Rachel Verdi, the charming woman behind OddModicum. I nicknamed her the Voodoo Queen of Editing. Our collusion produced the second edition of The Bookseller. That temporarily delayed work on my third novel. I expect to spend a little time on this launch and then I will be back at it. Maybe Reincarnology will be available toward the end of 2015.
– What is your daily job besides writing? Does it contribute to your creativity?
– I no longer work, but for years I was a quality assurance engineer in the defense industry where I made my contribution to the M1 series battle tank. After that I built Jeeps in the same capacity. What I can say about my work life is that I tapped into the same imagination, hence creativity that drove me as a writer. It developed quality systems as effortlessly as it created stories. With my working days behind me I spend my time writing and playing violent video games where blood flows freely, whether it be alien or zombie. Does all the killing help my creativity? I like to think so. The games keep my mind flexible and young.
You know it’s been a good day of killing zombies when there’s nowhere to step except on rotting flesh and oozing brain matter.
– As a specialist in horror thriller, which are the three key points of the genre to keep the reader turning page after page?
– I had two elements right off the top of my head. I had to look around for the third one. Plot and character are two distinct elements, which by themselves don’t hold much explosive potential. All plot and no character development is flat and lifeless, all character development and no plot is boring, but somewhere in the middle magic happens. Those were the two that were obvious to me. The third one took some thought, but after pondering the question I concluded that the third leg of the stool had to be suspense. It takes an intriguing, well thought out plot, well defined characters offering an emotional bond, and gripping suspense to keep readers turning pages well past their bedtimes.
– If you could ask yourself one question in this interview, what would it be?
– Clearly, your writing process is a little different from what the average reader thinks. Do you use outlines, notes or any other aids that seem stereotypical of writers? I use no aids that a reader might expect to see. In On Writing Stephen King wrote about outlines. He said that creating an outline was like building railroad tracks. Those rails force your creative locomotive along a predetermined path, which stifles creativity. When I begin a story it’s like I’m taking a road trip between New York and Los Angeles. I know where I’m going, but I don’t know which roads I’m taking until my imagination shows me. It’s not uncommon for me to be surprised by the dialog or actions of my characters. I’ve had minor characters step forward and offer something truly unique to the story. Who am I to reject such initiative. It’s very entertaining, except when it’s not. Sometimes sacrifices are demanded. I try to resist by pointing out that a great deal of time was spent on character development or I really like the character or I don’t want to. My objections are always ignored and the story is always better for it.
Learn more about C. Robert Cales at his Goodreads page
Take a look at his books: