Rob was kind enough to submit to some questioning regarding his reading and writing.
Is the writing full-time?
It is now. I decided four years ago it was now or never. I’d always expected to be a writer and actually earned most of my income from various forms of writing early in my career. Corporate communications in the eighties and nineties led pretty directly to interactive media and before long I found myself running a boutique digital agency. I wound that down after 2010 to focus on writing.
Part of the impetus was the state of change in the publishing industry. Periods of rapid change usually mean excitement and opportunity. It feels like we’re seeing that now, with everything from multiplying markets for new voices, channels for short fiction and novellas, different ways of getting stories to readers.
What’s been the most satisfying moment of you writing career so far?
This week, in fact. As end-of-year lists start coming out, I’ve had two nods. One from Crimespree Magazine’s Jon Jordan who put Stinking Rich on his list of 2014 Book Picks. And then Scott Montgomery at MysteryPeople listed it as one of the year’s Top 6 Debuts. Both are people whose opinion resonates in the crime fiction world. Beyond that, they’re people I’ve started to get to know as I immerse myself in the crime fiction community and it means a lot personally to see them recommend my work. It makes me want to write something even better tomorrow.Crimespree Magazine - Jon Jordan 2014 Book Picks
Mystery People - Scott Montgomery Top 6 Debuts
How long did Stinking Rich take from conception to completion?
Ha! I love that question…because I actually started crafting the story in 2000 on a car ride from Montreal to Toronto. Ten years later, I had maybe thirty thousand words and was convinced I was almost done. Very few of those words made it into the final manuscript, of course. But if I’d known at the outset how long it would take and how many rewrites would be involved, I probably would have thrown in the towel along the way.
Really, though, once I got serious, it was about two years from start to a good enough draft to secure representation and, ultimately, Down & Out Books as publisher. Every chance I got, I gave it another polish. Right to the ARC.
Was this your first serious attempt at a novel? Are there any unpublished gems in the bottom drawer?
I paw through the old files every so often, thinking maybe I’ll pull an idea or two onto my desk, but there’s little there that would serve as more than an idea. There are two favourite novel ideas that I’d like to flesh out but anything I wrote against them is pure dreck I’m afraid.
Any modern influences on your stories?
Influence is a hard thing to quantify. Although I’ve read a fair amount of crime fiction, my favourite authors range from Thomas Hardy to Carl Hiaasen, Margaret Atwood to John Irving—with plenty of variety in between. I guess they all influence me one way or another. But more than anything, I think it’s the daily news. I read, watch, and listen to it far too much. And then I rant to whomever’s within earshot. I do my damnedest to keep my reactions mute on social media and vent my frustrations on my characters. Maybe that’s why they’re uniformly whacked.
What’s your typical writing schedule?
In the city, I tend to write between 10 and 4. When I’m disciplined, that’s about six days a week. I also binge write alone in the country. I’ll disappear for three or four days, ignore the time of day, write ’til I drop, eat, sleep, repeat. It’s a terrific way to move chunks of story forward and I really should do it more.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?
People, no. Situations, yes. Or, at least, situations give me seeds that create scenes or interactions between characters. In a lot of cases, those are yanked from the news. Other times, it’s a snippet of conversation I overhear on the street which I flesh out into a completely speculative story. If strangers knew what they made me think about, I think I’d get slapped on a regular basis.
Are there any subjects off limits?
Not so much off limits but I do choose my subjects for their potential humour—when I’m writing comedy, that is. That said, my sense of humour is pretty black.
What are the last five books you have read?
LAMENTATION by Joe Clifford, DEAD BROKE IN JARRETT CREEK by Terry Shames, KILLSHOT by Elmore Leonard, BLACK ROCK by John McFetridge, CARNIVAL by Rawi Hage. All fantastic books. I’m a slow reader, so I’m careful what I pick up. Still, these past few months have been a real treat where my reading is concerned.
Who do you read and enjoy?
David Adams Richards ranks way up there. I first encountered him giving a radio interview on the CBC. I tuned in mid-segment and didn’t realize it was an author speaking—just an unbelievably interesting voice answering some questions about his life. I wound up sitting in the laneway waiting until the end of the interview to learn who it was and immediately ran out and bought Mercy Among the Children.
I’m also a big fan of Thomas Hardy. The echo I hear in Richards’s writing is the way he takes someone who’s in a bad way and beats him down further, then stomps on him a bit, until you wonder how the soul can carry on. And yet it does. And it’s a thing of beauty. I can’t recommend him strongly enough to people who enjoy literary crime, though he’s rarely categorized that way.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Yeah. My next one. It’s overdue.
Favourite activity when not working.
Cooking. Sometimes vaguely following a recipe, but usually just modifying some dish I already know how to cook. It’s most fun for a group of friends, but I enjoy cooking for the family and even for myself when I’m alone.
What’s the current project in progress? How’s it going?
The sequel to Stinking Rich which I’m calling Bible Camp Gone Bad. I’m enjoying its extra layers relative to my debut. Hopefully, readers will feel the same way.
What’s the best thing about writing-publishing?
That special high that happens when my characters take off and start writing the story for me. The creative workflow can’t be beat.
Waiting. And I’ve been fortunate. I haven’t had to wait terribly long for feedback and responses at any point so far. But when you’re in wait mode, insecurity becomes all-consuming. The number of times I’ve spent hours, days, weeks waiting for a response, assuming it would be negative, that whatever I’d submitted was a worthless piece of crap, only to have it accepted with a strong vote of confidence in the end…well, you try to stop thinking about it and focus on the next piece but it ain’t easy.
In a couple of year’s time…
I plan to be two or three novels further down the road, at least one of them a non-comedic title. It’s an absolute privilege to be doing this full-time. My commitment to do it well couldn’t be stronger. With any luck, it’ll show in my readership.
Thank you for this opportunity to guest-blog, Colman. I do hope to be back here a couple years hence, and that your readers will welcome me.
You can catch up with Rob on his website here and over on Twitter @RRBrunet.
Many thanks to Rob for his time.