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Friday, February 3, 2012

"The Only Way to Lose is To Give Up": An Interview of Rob Blackwell by Paranormal Reads

I was fortunate enough to have Paranormal Reads  feature "A Soul to Steal" for an entire day on Feb. 1. If you don't know the site, they are very supportive of indie books and are well worth checking out.

One of the administrators, Tif Borka, interviewed me about the book and gave me permission to re-post it here:

PR: What makes A Soul to Steal so unique?

Rob: It’s a lot of different genres rolled into one. It starts out a mystery, becomes a thriller and includes elements of urban fantasy, gothic novels, journalism procedurals and even paranormal romance. It’s funny to me when people say that this book isn’t their normal genre but they enjoyed it anyway – because I’m not even sure what genre the book is. I really think there is something there for everyone. A lot of people try to figure out who the killer is, while others focus on the love story between Kate and Quinn, my two protagonists. Others are more interested in the Celtic myth that ties these two plotlines together. It works for different people for different reasons.
Plus it has the Headless Horseman in it but doesn’t repeat or retread “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which I think people really enjoy.

PR: Did you wake up one day with the idea for your book or did it build in your head till you wrote it down?

Every story I’ve ever had just builds in my head. Sometimes it’s the beginning of a story, but more often it’s the end. In the case of “A Soul to Steal,” I had an image of what became the final two chapters. The trick was figuring out how we arrived at that point and what happened to make it possible. That process built over months in my head.
Honestly, and you can check with my wife on this, I walk through a lot of my life inside my head. There are always stories playing themselves in my head and I’m always adding to and revising them. “A Soul to Steal” was just the first one I committed to paper.

PR: If you could sum up A Soul to Steal in three words what would it be?

You Are What You Fear

Okay, that was five words. Boiling it down further is tricky but I’d go with this: Fear Defines You. Or maybe it should be: Fear Defines You?

PR: Can you tell us a bit about where you call home?

I grew up in Great Falls, Virginia, which is a suburb of Washington, D.C. When I was a kid, there wasn’t much development out that way, so you had these wonderful old, spooky forests that my friends and I used to play in. It’s pretty easy to see why I developed an unhealthy obsession with the Headless Horseman because I always imagined him suddenly coming around the corner.
I still live nearby, but unfortunately the area is a lot more developed now. I have some wonderful biking trails near my house, but it’s not quite the same.
Part of the reason I set the book in Loudoun County, which is still near D.C. but further west, is because it has some of the same landscape. Leesburg has recently expanded, but towns like Waterford and Aldie still resemble their pre-Civil War days, complete with thick forests, rolling hills, etc.

PR: What’s been your most memorable moment so far in your writing career?

The most memorable moment was just two weeks ago. I made the book free for a single day and it just took off! The highest number of books I had ever been able to sell in a single day was 34. When I made the book free, I started watching it jump by 20 and 30 books at a time. Later that day, it started going up by 100 or 200 every five minutes. It was an amazing feeling to know that my book was being downloaded by so many people in a single day—it eventually was downloaded by about 6,500 people. I don’t know how many will actually read it, but even if 10% did, that’s a lot of people that now have my book. I was over the moon.

PR: How long did it take for you to come up with your character names? Did you ever go back and change them or just stick with them?

I’m absolutely terrible with character names! Other than Quinn, the main character, every single name in “A Soul to Steal” was changed, sometimes several times. It actually got pretty confusing for me at some points. Honestly, picking names is my least favorite part of writing. Frequently, I lift the names of friends or people I know. I don’t usually take their whole name, just their last name. This isn’t always a compliment as in some cases the character might turn out to be a jerk, or worse, die. I have to explain, “I don’t really want to kill you, you just have a cool name.” Hopefully they believe me.

PR: What was your writing process for A Soul to Steal?

Almost the entire first draft of “A Soul to Steal” was written on an old Handspring PDA (like the original Palm Pilot). I had a 25-minute subway ride into D.C. at the time and would pull out the Palm Pilot and a folding keyboard, hook them up and get to work. This was great for producing copy quickly, but it didn’t give me a lot of time to plan or think ahead. As a result, the first draft was a mess. I put it away for two or three years before I even looked at it again.
When I returned to it, I really rebuilt it from the ground up. I took a lot more time, but I focused on removing anything extraneous and ensuring the narrative really made sense. It was a chapter-by-chapter affair. Interestingly, this has been my approach to writing the sequel, which I’m doing now. I focus on writing each chapter the way I want it, and then moving on. It’s tough because you can’t linger too long—you have to get the story out or you’ll get distracted and forget what you need to be doing—but you also can’t just write without purpose. You get a lot of extraneous copy by doing that.

PR: Do you have a favorite place to write?

I have an office in my house where I can look out at the woods behind me. It’s not a very big room, but it’s very homey. Truthfully, though, I will write anywhere and sometimes be surprised how I can shut everything out. The other day I pulled out my laptop on a plane flight, assuming I really wouldn’t be able to get in the groove of writing. I was wrong. I banged out a chapter in less than an hour—which is not easy for me to do—and really felt like I was hitting all the right notes. Sometimes I can sit alone in my house for that amount of time and not be able to write a thing. I’m not sure why sometimes it comes easily and other times it doesn’t.

PR:  Who is your biggest supporter with your writing?

My wife, Maia. She didn’t see “A Soul to Steal” for years. I had kept talking about writing a novel and then when I finally did, I locked it away because I knew it wasn’t any good. I didn’t want her to read it that way. Once I revised it (rewrote it, really), I finally showed it to her and I was so nervous. If she hadn’t liked it, the novel would have gone back in the drawer, likely forever. Worse, I would know if she didn’t like it. We’ve been together since we were around 19, so we really don’t have secrets. Fortunately, she really enjoyed it. She laughed at the right parts, and didn’t want to put it down at the right parts. Just knowing that she loved and believed in the book was a huge relief for me.
But it didn’t stop there. She made the novel significantly better. Maia is a very talented writer and editor in her own right and she went through the book page-by-page improving copy, suggesting changes, asking questions, etc. I didn’t make every change she suggested, but it was an incredibly helpful process that improved the characters and descriptions and closed holes in the plot.
Since then, every time I have doubted if the book is any good, or whether I should publish it, Maia has been very supportive. Without her, there is no way I would have made it this far.

PR: What is some advice you would pass along to an up and coming writer?

Write what you want to read and don’t give up. Authors have to be careful not to just try and write something they think is popular versus what they really care about. I didn’t set out to write in a particular genre, but I just picked the story in my head that seemed the most ready to be a novel. It’s important someone doesn’t think they have to write dystopian YA novels because that’s what’s popular. If they like that genre, by all means try and write your own. But if you’d rather read something else, go write it. The first reader is you. If it doesn’t sound too odd, I actually like my own book. I’ve had years to put it away and then re-read it and think, “This is good.” That’s really important.
Secondly, you have to persevere. Very few will be able to write a single novel and watch it become a bestseller. If you are serious about being a writer, you need to get out there and go do it. There’s never been a better time. You don’t have to apply for an agent or publisher anymore. All you have to do is write a good book, get it professionally edited, hire a great cover artist, and start selling it. If that fails, write something else. The only way to lose is to give up. 

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