Monday, March 19, 2007

Interview With Robert Dunbar

I got a chance to interview playwright and author, Robert Dunbar. We discuss the art and business end of writing as well as his books and upcoming projects.

What are The Pines and The Shore about?

Tell me you haven't heard about the Jersey Devil. On second thought, don't tell me that. And, no, it's not a cocktail. (Well, it is, but that's another story.) It's a rather terrifying bit of folklore about a feral creature, born of a witch, who haunts the pinelands of New Jersey. You've got to love these stories. Anybody who grew up in this area was virtually raised on them. The same goes for anyone who ever went camping around here as a kid or ever vacationed at any of the shore towns. Wild stories. And people totally believe. To this day. The Jersey Devil lives!

Which is more fun to write: novels or short stories?

Are you on drugs or something? Who said either was fun? This is hard work. Any real artist mines his psyche for raw material, then chisels away at in a frenzy, fashioning this complex matrix of plot and character, of nuance and atmosphere. Just on the level of sheer language it must be brilliant. Or why should anyone read your work? Sorry - didn't mean to get heated, but I feel quite passionately about this. "Fun" is not an issue, though sometimes there's a kind of savage joy that accompanies the act of creation. Do you understand what I'm saying? I mean, yes, the horror genre is glutted with hacks, grinding it out like sausages. But there are real artists laboring in the field as well. I swear, it's the difference between making love and masturbating. Art is about truth. And truth is hard work. A writer who's just jerking off is also jerking around his readers. Who needs it? Wait ... what was the question? Something about short stories versus novels? Lord, they're both so different. I've also written for television and the stage. All these venues - they have almost nothing in common. The only consistent factor is what throbs in your chest. Or wherever. You know? The force that impels you to create in the first place?

What are the most effective promotion methods for novels, and how many of them can be applied to short fiction also?

Most effective? You mean, do readings and signings work? Of course they work. Everything works. A little. But it's a long process. Listen. Here's the point - you've got to be out there pitching all the time. All the time. So many writers hate the whole self-marketing thing. And rightly so. We are by nature quiet, thoughtful, introspective people - at our best in a blue heat of concentration in total isolation. Standing in front of a crowd and talking about our work goes completely totally against the grain. But this is a fiercely competitive environment, and there are people out there - dreadful hacks many of them - hawking their wares at the top of their lungs on every street corner. Artists get lost in the shuffle. Publishers, editors, agents - faced with a choice between a brilliant unknown writer and a terrible one who calls lots of attention to himself ... well, what decision do you think they're going to make? These are business people after all, and excellence isn't even a criteria. See what I mean? It's tough for an artist to survive in a world full of salesmen. But if you have talent, real talent, plus a passion for the work and a commitment to the craft, you also have an obligation to play the game. And in many ways, this is worse than ever right now. Don't you ever wonder how some of the junk out there gets published in the first place? With so many agents expecting authors to pledge their own money for marketing, even previously reputable companies are turning into vanity presses. No wonder there's a glut on the market. Okay, I'll chill out. Wait. Deep cleansing drinks. There. Much better. Of course, marketing applies to short story writers as well. Lately, I'm seeing a lot more writers signing copies of magazines or title pages in anthologies. On a couple of occasions, I've even organized group readings. The important thing is to be out there doing it.

What's your favorite type of music and how helpful has it been to your writing?

I listen to music constantly when I'm writing. Often it helps take me to that higher state I need to achieve. And I listen to everything. Well, almost everything. I mean, no Black Sabbath. Sorry. But everything from Moby to Cibo Matto to Billie Holiday. Then I have manias that come and go - whole weeks where I listen to nothing but Stan Getz or Chet Baker. A month of Joshua Bell and Jacqueline du Pré leads into a Louis Armstrong marathon. Then there are those days when only Madeleine Peyroux keeps me grounded. And I can't even tell you how many times Annie Lennox has saved my life.

What are your future plans?

I think I'd like to be a professional ice skater. Or possibly train tarantulas for jungle pictures. Maybe I'll just continue writing. Both The Pines and The Shore have made quite an impact. In the months ahead, Delirium Books will be bringing out my first collection of short stories -Martyrs & Monsters. And I'm always being asked to contribute to magazines and anthologies. Plus I'm working on a new novel, a new play, a screenplay. I've got proposals for anthologies and nonfiction books out there circulating, even one for a television series. The only thing I haven't scheduled for the future is free time. Remember free time? Never mind. I doubt I'd know what to do with it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great interview! Rob is a riot! I loved The Pines and cannot wait for The Shore to appear. -- John P.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Scott M. Sandridge said...

Thanks John! Yeah, Rob is a riot!

6:32 PM  
Blogger maria said...

the guy is a fine writer -- i've read the pines -- but what i like about this interview is that it shows how passionate he is about his work.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Scott M. Sandridge said...

And passion is what it's all about.

5:57 PM  

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