Welcome to the two hundred and fifty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with novelist and short story author Bob Frey. 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, Bob. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Bob: I have always loved writing. I wrote stories when I was a little kid. I’m kind of a ham. I like to entertain, make people laugh and think, and, perhaps, shake them up a little. When I graduated from college (with help from the G. I. Bill of Rights) my first job was a tech writer using knowledge I had gained as an electronic technician in the U. S. Navy. From there, I graduated to writing ad copy as a copywriter for several top Los Angeles advertising agencies and received several awards for my creative work. When I turned to writing fiction, I found it was a whole new ballgame and I had a lot to learn. My first published novel, The DVD Murders, took several years to put together, and I had a lot of help from editors, critics, and reviewers. It was a lot of hard work but I was happy with the result. I am also an actor, and have appeared in some forty independent films and stage plays. Again, that’s the ham in me.
Morgen: Wow. What can I say? A wonderfully varied life and one rich for fiction picking. 🙂 It’s interesting you say you had to learn fiction. Writing isn’t just writing is it? And you’ve clearly put a lot of work in before publishing your work, which is always very wise. You say you like to entertain, what genre do you generally write?
Bob: I write in many genres: fantasy, satire, science fiction, among others, but I consider mystery my primary focus.
Morgen: Mysteries are very popular (I love them). What have you had published to-date?
Bob: I have published two mysteries, The DVD Murders and The Bashful Vampire Murder & The Comic Book Murders, a book of short stories, Catawampus Tales, and a children’s picture book, Guide to Seldom Seen Animals. Yes, when I saw The DVD Murders in paperback I had a great feeling of accomplishment and pride.
Morgen: Yep, very varied. 🙂 Have you ever seen a member of the public reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Bob: No, but I am always enchanted when a reader whom I do not know posts a review of one of my books unsolicited on Amazon.
Morgen: Oh, me too, and even better when they take the trouble to email me. I love it. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Bob: I can’t begin to relate the amount of marketing I have done for my books: banner ads, solicited reviews and interviews, press releases, etc. You name it, I’ve done it. I belong to a lot of sites that post my bio and photo, such as Facebook and LinkedIn. I not only have a Twitter page, the hero of my mysteries, Detective Frank Callahan, has one too. We tweet back and forth about a variety of subjects.
Morgen: I love Twitter (and Facebook / LinkedIn) – and have made so many friends, albeit virtual ones, that way. I’m no longer an alone (careful not to say “lonely” as I don’t get lonely) bod in my back bedroom. 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Bob: No, I don’t enter many contests. Most of them want you to pay a fee to enter, which I feel is like jamming a thumb in my eye.
Morgen: <laughs> they do. I’ve entered a few (some paid, albeit a pound or five) and it’s great to have accomplishments on my CV but I think unless a writer has money to spare (most don’t) then non-competition submissions are the better direction for time / writing. Do you write under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to an author’s profile?
Bob: No, I don’t use a pseudonym. Maybe it was necessary in the old days for some, but I can’t see the point of it today. If a person uses pseudonyms for different genres, he or she is just making extra work for himself or herself.
Morgen: And have a good memory. 🙂 I read yesterday that Voltaire had over 170 in his lifetime! Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Bob: I have had several agents, but to be truthful, they worked hard, but they didn’t have a lot of clout. A good agent can certainly help, but with the advent of e-books, one is certainly not necessary. In fact, many successful authors are dumping their agents and publishers to publish on their own and keep more royalties. If you use a good graphic designer for your cover and a super editor to whip your prose into shape, you are doing what a traditional publisher does. The days of being a Kurt Vonnegut and have someone handle all your marketing is over. Even the top publishing houses expect authors to promote their books.
Morgen: They do. I’ve only had one author say they don’t do any (or was it “much”?) because their publishers do it. You mentioned eBooks, are your books available as eBooks? And do you read eBooks?
Bob: Yes, all my books, except the children’s book, are available as e-books. I have published four of the stories from Catawampus Tales as separate e-books. I sell many more e-books than paperbacks. I have a Kindle and use it all the time.
Morgen: A perfect advocate. 🙂 If any of your books were made into films whom would you have as the leading actor/s?
Bob: Funny you should ask. I have a poll on my site, http://www.BobFreyBooks.com where readers can choose one of five actors: Christopher Meloni, Colin Farrel, George Clooney, Hugh Jackman, or Matthew McConaughey to play Frank Callahan, the gay LAPD detective who is the hero of my mysteries. So far, Meloni is winning.
Morgen: That’s funny, he’s the only one I’ve not heard of (Wikipedia here I come :)). Did you have any say in the title of your books? How important do you think they are?
Bob: A title is very important. It has to grab a reader’s imagination.
Morgen: It does. I’m a big title fan. Do any of your books have dedications? If so, to whom and (if appropriate) why?
Bob: Yes, I dedicate all my books to members of my family, so I can express my love for them.
Morgen: Ahh… 🙂 Who designed your books’ covers?
Bob: Joleene Naylor designs my book covers. She is very talented, reasonably priced, and easy to work with.
Morgen: What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Bob: That’s a long story but I’ll try to keep it brief. I tried for years with the help of several agents to get a publisher. I had several offers but, in my opinion, they weren’t from reputable publishers. After publishing The DVD Murders with a POD, I signed a contract with a traditional publisher for the sequel, The Bashful Vampire Murders & The Comic Book murders. My dream had finally come true. When I reread the contract, however, I blanched. He retained all electronic rights. E-books were here. They were not in the future. I begged off and he was kind enough to break the contract.
Morgen: Phew. That was good of him. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Bob: I have a boxcar of rejections. I dealt with them the same way I dealt with them when I was an actor. Both require being in the right place at the right time and a lot of luck. There are a lot of crummy actors in films and on TV. There are a lot of crummy books published by big houses. Only a few will make it big time. It’s the law of averages. I think I am a better actor and writer than a lot of big names.
Morgen: They do say a successful writer is one who didn’t give up, as you said earlier you “tried for years”. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Bob: Right now, I am actively trying to promote what I have. My next book will be another Frank Callahan mystery. I have a lot of ideas for one. I just have to pick one and go.
Morgen: That’s the best way round. Do you manage to write every day?
Bob: I’m retired. I write or promote a couple of hours every morning, and depending on what’s going on, sometimes in the early afternoon. When I was working as a copywriter in ad agencies, sometimes I would write my books almost all night. My wife can tell you about that.
Morgen: Hopefully she’d say it was worth it. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it?
Bob: No, I have never suffered from it. I don’t mean to sound glib, but I think the best way to cure it is not to worry about it. Worrying always makes things worse.
Morgen: Oh I know, but try telling that to my mother – she worries about everything. I haven’t since a former colleague said to me “It’s not life or death, it’s only chocolate”… and it was. 32 lorry loads to our new client in Germany (I was the only one in the company who spoke any German). However horrible things are at the time they do seem to have a way of working themselves out. And we get to write about it afterwards. 🙂 A question some authors dread: where do you get your inspiration from?
Bob: I just love life, nature, most people, and the world around me. I’ll never get all the ideas percolating inside me all down.
Morgen: That’s what I think too. I’m only mid-40s but I think I could write 12 hours a day and still keep going, which is far better than struggling as some authors do. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Bob: I plotted a book once, in detail, chapter by chapter. When I sat down to write it, I was so bored with it, I couldn’t do it. I just take an idea and run with it. For me, it’s more fun. It leads me to some surprising and wonderful places.
Morgen: It is / does. I love it. The unknown is the best part for me (worst is lack of time to do it!). Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Bob: You learn as you go along from your mistakes and everything else. What makes a character believable is to have him or her do only those things that is true to his or her character.
Morgen: And they’ll soon tell you. 🙂 Do you write any non-fiction? If so, how do you decide what to write about?
Bob: Yes, I write non-fiction on my blog and have written some ed-ops. I write about writing and books. I’m also a bleeding heart liberal and write political stuff. I’m with the 99 percenters. I feel the average person is getting screwed by the one percent. Something has to give.
Morgen: That’s pretty much how we feel in the UK and sadly I think it happens everywhere. 😦 Do you write poetry? If so, why do you think poetry is so popular and yet so poorly paid?
Bob: It’s too bad, but I don’t think poetry is popular. If it was, it would be better paid. I have met adults in the US who have never been to a stage play. The average person thinks the Henry Potter books are great literature. School children have to be force-fed the classics. I could go on and on.
Morgen: Another guest blog topic perhaps. 🙂 You write short stories. Apart from the word count, what do you see as the differences between them and novels and why do you think they’re so difficult to get published?
Bob: To write novels, you have to have some filler to fill up the pages. Not much, because it takes away from the story. When you write a short story, you simply write it until it’s done. My guess is that people are accustomed to longer pieces because of films. With the short attention span folks have today, you would think it would be the other way around.
Morgen: I think it is changing, especially because of eBooks and as a short story author, I’m embracing that. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Bob: Yes, as I said, I sometimes write political ed-ops and even letters to the editor.
Morgen: Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to? Are any other members of your family writers?
Bob: My editors. I also use evaluators. Savvy people you can find on the web that will read first chapters or a portion of your book and give you an opinion for a fee. Usually, they are a big help as is a good editor.
Morgen: Because they’re readers. We all need them. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Bob: No, for me, the proof is in the rewrite. I rewrite the hell out of what I write.
Morgen: 🙂 How much research do you have to do for your writing?
Bob: It depends, but the web is right there at my fingertips. It can tell me almost everything I need to know.
Morgen: Isn’t it wonderful. I love being a writer today. You mentioned earlier that you’ve received feedback from your readers. Was there anything memorable?
Bob: Yes, one reader told me I use information dumps. That is, I was showing off how much I knew about police work or the speed of a bullet, etc. Sometimes, it’s hard to catch yourself when you are doing that.
Morgen: But then you’ll get someone else who loves it. I put my eBook ‘April’s Fool’ on http://youwriteon.com a while back and someone said I put in too much information. Then when I put it out on Smashwords (pretty much unchanged other than the very end) the first reviewer said that it was too skimpy on detail but he got the idea – you can’t win. 🙂 What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Bob: Usually, I can’t wait to sit down and get started.
Bob: I normally write in the morning and review what I wrote in the afternoon. It’s the marketing that takes away creative time. But you can’t let grapes die on the vine.
Morgen: You can’t. I need to do more writing, or at least more editing then submitting to my editor and finding the time is really hard. I just need to be more disciplined, although finally leaving my day job (I quit October 1st and haven’t quite escaped yet) will help. 🙂 Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Bob: I’ve been writing for quite a while. I started on a typewriter and even wrote longhand on yellow tablets. I used to save drafts and had boxes of them. For me, a computer is like a dream come true. I just keep honing and honing and there are no drafts to keep. It’s a lot more efficient.
Morgen: But less to leave to a museum when you become a household name. 🙂 Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Bob: I like silence but I can work with noise. My first writing job was writing tech manuals in a bullpen where desks were lined up one after another. Once the ideas start coming, they block everything else out.
Morgen: Wow. It takes me a while but I can, although I prefer quiet (with classical music). What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Bob: I’ve written in first, second, and third. I normally use third because that is the most popular POV today. I enjoy second person. You can have a lot of fun with it.
Morgen: Yay. I love meeting an author who enjoys second person. 🙂 Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Bob: Not usually, although I have used them. I think if a prologue is done well, it can suck the reader in to want to read the story. Many mysteries used epilogues, even on TV, although they are routinely part of the narrative. It’s usually after the denouement, when the characters sum up what led them to the resolution of the case.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Bob: Sure, I have some short stories and a couple of novels. I have too much going on to take the time to go back and bring them up to snuff.
Morgen: Because you’re so thorough. I mentioned mine earlier but what’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Bob: Often when I am writing, I get into a groove, and the ideas are coming so quickly it’s hard to get them all down. I kind of forget who I am and what I am doing and just go with it. As hard as they are sometimes, I also like rewrites. It’s a good feeling to see something shape up right before your eyes. I hate marketing. It’s time-consuming and takes away from what I really like to do, write.
Morgen: Yep. Sad but true. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Bob: How one idea leads to another and how the right brain takes over and almost goes on automatic pilot. Usually, when I am in the midst of writing a book, it is surprising how I can wake up in the middle of the night and think with such clarity. It’s a pain, but if I don’t get up and jot it down it down, it may be gone the next morning.
Morgen: <laughs> When I first started at college I was brimming with so many ideas (still am but I use a dictaphone) I’d switch the light on and off so much that anyone walking their dog on the green that my house overlooks would probably have thought I’d be sending out morse code messages. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Bob: Listen to editors, reviewers, your neighbour, and anybody else who has opinions about your writing. Don’t dismiss it, sleep on it, and let it percolate. But in the end, you have to go with your gut. You don’t want to write by the book or like anyone else. You want to write like you. That’s what makes you unique.
Morgen: Your voice. You mentioned earlier that you have a Kindle, what do you like to read? Do you have any favourite authors?
Bob: I like to read books about relationships and an offbeat sense of humour. I like Ann Tyler, Roald Dahl, William Saroyan, Henry Miller, and Charles Dickens. I also like children’s books, such as Alice in Wonderland, The Slant Book, Dr. Seuss, and Harry the Dirty Dog. I love the classics. Some of them are hard to read because of so much description, but they are worth it. I started Moby Dick several times before I really got into it. I now believe it’s the best fiction novel written by an American author. It’s awesome.
Morgen: I loved Dr Seuss when I was younger but Roald Dahl is my all time favourite – especially his Tales of the Unexpected – my Dad met him a few times in the 1970s (as Roald’s photographer) but sadly I never did. If I’d known then I wanted to be an author I would have made sure I was his assistant. 🙂 If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook?
Bob: I’d invite Plato, Socrates, and Michelangelo, three of the world’s most creative thinkers. I hate to cook, so I would probably have pizza, a great salad with lots of choices of salad dressings, and an interpreter.
Morgen: Being Italian, Michaelangelo would have definitely approved of your choice of food. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Bob: Yes, I believe the book title, Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury is terrific. Every time I see it, it sends chills up my spine.
Morgen: 🙂 What do you do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies or party tricks? 🙂
Bob: I walk every day, work out with light weights, and swim. As you get older, it’s tough to stay in shape. I like college sports. My two favourite teams are USC Trojans football and UCLA Bruins Basketball. As you can see, I like winners.
Morgen: Unfortunately being in the UK I don’t know them but will take your word for it. 🙂
Bob: I also love to read, follow politics, and watch movies. I love Turner Classic Movies. I like spending time with my family and enjoy talking with my wife, Susan. She loves many of the same things I do.
Morgen: Ooh, does she write? If so, feel free to send her in my direction. 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Bob: Yes, Murder Must Advertise is a website for mystery writers. Authors post e-mails and are very free with helpful information. I also sometimes go to other author sites and see how they handle things and what they have to say. J A Konrath’s blog,a mystery and thriller author, is a must for all aspiring writers. The guy gives out free info about the book business that is spun gold.
Morgen: Joe has a great blog (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com). It’s been quoted here a few times. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Bob: USA. Nowadays, with Amazon, Kindle, and other online bookstores, it’s easy to get your books posted. But it’s still a rat race, and it’s difficult to get the word out about your books because of all the competition and noise out there.
Morgen: Maybe we just have to shout every once in a while. 🙂 You said earlier that you belong to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. If so, how valuable do you find them?
Bob: I also belong to Good Reads and other sites. It’s hard to judge how helpful they are, but every writer should belong to Good Reads. They offer some opportunities, such as posting one of your books for free and having readers compete for it. It’s good advertising for the price of a book or two. Hard to beat.
Morgen: I belong to Good Reads and have received quite a few friend requests (which I say “yes” to) but haven’t done any more than that. I should (see earlier reference to “time”). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Bob: There are probably more people writing books today than ever before. Yet with venues like Amazon and Amazon Kindle, there are more opportunities for writers. Anybody can get a book published nowadays for little or no money. If that produces a lot of crap, so be it. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Morgen: It does but I do think that customer reviews will lead the way. An author can only have so many friends. 🙂
Bob: A writer should have a platform to express his or her views about life. Some people believe printed books are on the way out. That may be so, but it won’t happen for a long, long time. If we turn into a digital world, so what? People have adjusted to change since time began. I know it’s tough to lose things we love, but life goes on.
Morgen: I think we’ll have both, although the proportions will differ. Paper at home, electronic away. No bad thing if it gets people reading more (which I think it will / is). If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Bob: I would have used a POD publisher long before I did instead of knocking my head against the wall of traditional publishers. They led writers to believe it was the only way to go, and if you couldn’t get published by them, you manuscript wasn’t worth publishing. That monopoly has now been busted wide open.
Morgen: I think it used to be the only way… pretty much, but now ‘self-published’ is no longer a dirty word and as a loud and proud self-published eBooker I can’t wait to see what happens next.
I then invited Bob to include an extract of his writing and this is from his short story Supermale’s Gone and Left Us. (I love that title!).
I loosened my tie and glanced at my notes. So Supermale had a wife. It didn’t seem possible. With his super strength, if he took a female in his arms and embraced her, he would crush her like a grape. Even if he had control over his body, in the heat of passion, he was liable to lose it, especially when he ejaculated. During orgasm, all living creatures lost control over their muscles. It’s a scientific fact. And what about his sperm? The wad would probably come out like a guided missile and go right through her. Even if it didn’t, his dick would. Like the rest of his body, that thing was made of steel. It would be like having sex with a high-speed power drill.
I chuckled. He could always pull out. But who knows where the sperm would end up? Possibly impregnate females all over the city. In nine months, there would either be an army of super babies or deformed monsters if his semen weren’t compatible with the human egg. At any rate, sex with him would be pretty dull with him holding back all the time so he wouldn’t hurt the woman he was making love to. Either that or because he was faster than a speeding bullet, it would be all over before the woman knew what hit her. No wonder his wife divorced him, if that’s what happened. What self-respecting female would want to put up with lovemaking such as that?
Bob Frey loves to entertain, make people laugh and think, and, perhaps, shake them up a little. He was a copywriter for several top Los Angeles advertising agencies and received several awards for his creative work. When he turned to writing fiction, he found it was a whole new ballgame and he had a lot to learn. He has since published a couple of mysteries, The DVD Murders and The Bashful Vampire Murder & Comic Book Murders, and Catawampus Tales, a book of short stories, a mixed bag of fast food for the mind.
Also an actor, he has appeared in some forty independent films and stage plays. Now retired, he lives in Sandy, Oregon, with his wife, Susan. You can also read his flash fiction no.16, guest blog and spotlight. 🙂
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
If you go for the interview, it’s very simple; I send you a questionnaire (I have them for novelists, short story authors, children’s authors, non-fiction authors, and poets). You complete the questions, and I let you know when it’s going to go live. Before it does so, I add in comments as if we’re chatting, and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know.
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