Welcome to the four hundred and forty-second of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with historical and non-fiction author Robert ‘R.L.’ Tecklenburg. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Robert. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Robert: I live in northern Virginia with my wife, Rebecca. I retired from the federal government and took up fiction writing. Even though I have advanced degrees in history, I love reading and writing fiction. I guess it fulfills some intrinsic need for self-expression that non-fiction writing does not.
Morgen: I’m the same, the only non-fiction I write is about writing. What genre do you generally write?
Robert: I write historical fiction generally, but have also written extensively in non-fiction including newspaper articles and historical essays.
Morgen: (history was my worst subject at school) What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Robert: I have published two novels—“Ghosts of War” and “Chasing Pancho Villa”. I published one play titled, “Tell Mama Good-bye”.
Morgen: Scripts are hard. I wrote the first 102 pages of one for the now-defunct Script Frenzy and struggled, so much so that I only managed two pages over the target 100, so I admire anyone who does. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Robert: I have had many, many rejections and each one is difficult to handle. I take them too personally. But I keep writing and writing, determined that the next thing is better than the last. Sadly, most rejections are not from the manuscript but on the query which is both good and bad. Good because it isn’t necessarily a critique of my writing, and bad because the manuscript doesn’t get the input it needs to improve. My philosophy is no matter how good one thinks their writing is, it can always be made better.
Morgen: But we can fiddle with our writing for ever and never been completely satisfied. It’s like a child on its first day at school, you have to let it go. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Robert: I have an agent representing a screenplay for “Chasing Pancho Villa”. After circulating the book around screenwriters, an agent actually found me. I think for screenwriters an agent is critical to an author’s success. Hollywood is far too complicated for me ever to understand, but for publishing, I don’t think they’re vital. Important but not vital.
Morgen: That’s really interesting (I know nothing about Hollywood from the other side of the camera). Are your books available as eBooks? Were you involved in that process at all? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Robert: “Chasing Pancho Villa” is only available as an ebook. Publisher is Untreed Reads. “Ghosts of War” is paper only.
Morgen: Ah, Untreeds has been mentioned on here a few times. You have a publisher, how much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Robert: I have done almost all the marketing for “Ghosts of War”. I am involved in marketing for my ebook, “Chasing Pancho Villa”, but the publisher has been more involved. The latter has been a real learning experience for me. I discovered that marketing for paper is a rather expensive process when the author takes on that responsibility.
Morgen: Ouch. Do you have a favorite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Morgen: Oh yes, I’d pay to see that. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Robert: The titles have been mine. The covers were developed by the publishers with my input and consent. Both are very important to selling the book.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Robert: I’m working on a non-fiction. I call it a memoir / history / travel story.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day?
Robert: I write every day. When I have nothing to say I work on something else, or edit, or go sailing. Hey, life is short.
Morgen: Sadly, yes, time does seem to go quicker the older you get (I’ll be 45 next month ). Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Robert: I plot them, but my stories have all been born from an idea that I develop and re-develop. I think it’s important to BE FLEXIBLE.
Morgen: Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Robert: I have no method that I’m aware of or will admit to. But I think it’s important that characters be believable. I like the idea of normal people confronting abnormal circumstances.
Morgen: I agree completely, they have to be believable, regardless of how quirky or dull. Please tell us more about your non-fiction…
Robert: I’m working on a non-fiction story about the Vietnam War and a recent return. The story is about a marine returning to the villages where he served during the Vietnam War thirty-five years later. The tentative title is “Children of PhuLoc”.
Morgen: Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Robert: I edit, edit, and edit more. No, I think my ideas are fully formed but not the story that follows from them.
Morgen: I’m sure everyone reading this will feel the same about their writing. Do you have to do much research?
Robert: I was trained to do research and I do a lot of it for everything I write. Here in the Washington, DC metro area, I have access to some of the best research facilities in the world.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Robert: Third person.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Robert: Probably, but I don’t tell myself that. You gotta believe.
Morgen: You do… and I plan to revisit my old stories, in fact I did just that with a six-year-old children’s story (the age of the story not the child) this week and didn’t think it was too bad until I put it out to my first readers and saw the first one come back splattered… I’m glad it did as I don’t have children so I have to learn. What’s your favorite / least favorite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Robert: Writing is my favorite part. That is, setting down alone in a quiet setting with an idea, story, etc, and writing. Least favourite: occasionally it gets lonely.
Morgen: Most authors have said the same for their favourite (although I do know some who find it tortuous) and although most say marketing as their least favourite, some have said the solitude. Personally, with a dog for company in the day time, I love being shut away. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Robert: Keep writing, writing, and re-writing.
Morgen: Because it’s what we do. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Robert: I would choose Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, and the guy who built the great pyramid of Giza. Forget the food. We would sit in the Oasis Tavern in Belle Plaine, Iowa, drink cheap booze all afternoon, and find out how that guy did it in 2500 BC.
Morgen: That sounds like fun. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Robert: “Man is condemned to be free: because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” John Paul Sartre.
Morgen: That’s true. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Robert: I like to paint with oils and sail.
Morgen: Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful?
Robert: I’ve found the website where I met you to be very useful.
Morgen: I think that was LinkedIn. It is great, isn’t it. I was running low on interviewees earlier this year so put a shout-out on the dozen or so groups I belong to and am now booking into April next year! Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Robert: I’m not on any regular networking sites or forums but I plan to get more involved.
Morgen: Oh well, set aside half your life, they’re very time-consuming. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Robert: As long as there are readers the world will need writers. The mediums may change but not the process.
Morgen: I’ve heard a few times that people are reading more now than ever and that can only be a good thing. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Robert: Morgen, how long have you been doing this blog?
Morgen: Just over a year. I started it on 31st March 2011 because I’d heard it was the good thing to do, not knowing how much it would take over my life (in a good way)… it’s become a full-time job (and then some) but I’ve loved meeting everyone. Thank you, Robert.
I then invited Robert to include an extract of his writing…
“Rapido! Rapido, muchachos,” General Villa urged in a low voice. “Los invasores vienen.” He sat astride his favorite horse, Siete Leguas, with the morning sun at his back.
A lone rider on a great dark stallion navigated expertly through the column of armed men to move up beside the General. The rider greeted him with a simple nod and he reciprocated, also without speaking. With a weapon strapped tightly to her narrow waist, sombrero pulled low over her eyes, the tall, slim figure, sitting ramrod straight in the saddle, made an unforgettable impression on the war-weary soldiers.
I then invited Robert to include a synopsis of his latest book…
The year is 1917. Violent revolution rocks Mexico while, just across the border along the Rio Grande, African American soldiers plunge the Army into crisis. Negro soldiers rebel against America’s “Jim Crow” laws at army camps in Houston and Brownsville. Caught in this maelstrom of violence, Harrison James and Maria Washington, two people from very different worlds, fall passionately in love as they battle revolutionaries, uncover spies, and expose gunrunners.
With “Chasing Pancho Villa” and “Ghosts of War,” Robert Tecklenburg explores how great human events impact on the lives of ordinary individuals. The author, a veteran of the Vietnam War, is an enthusiastic student of history, currently working on a memoir based on his combat experiences in Vietnam seen from the vantage point of thirty-five years after. This story develops from two recent trips he made there. He and his wife Rebecca make their home in Northern Virginia.
Update December 2012: Robert has a new novel just out (Nov 28): ‘Cold War: Murder in the Heartland’, available as an ebook on Smashwords, and as an ebook and in hard copy on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, published by Penumbra Publishing.
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