GNOH – Hi Rob, how are you doing?
I’m all right. It’s beena wild ride since I published the book so I’m a little bit stressed and alittle bit tired, but I’m doing well. It’s very exciting, to say the least. Thebook has been in my head for so long, it’s weird (and wonderful) to now have itout there.
GNOH – Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Sure. I grew up in GreatFalls, Virginia, not far from where the novel takes place and a suburb ofWashington, D.C. So I’ve been steeped in politics all my life and now work as ajournalist covering D.C. I’ve also spent almost two years in the U.K., thefirst for a year at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the second asan employee, not a student, of Pembroke College in Cambridge. I love the U.K. andhope I can go back again soon.
GNOH – When were you in St Andrews? I’m a born and bred St Andrewian? What did you think of my hometown?
I was there in 1994 and1995 on a year abroad study program through my university (The College ofWilliam and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.) I LOVED St. Andrews. I was in Uni Hall(Lumsden wing) and I loved seeing the ocean every day when I walked to and fromclass. I loved the pubs (pub quiz night at the Homelea was a particular favourite.)I joined the kayaking club and used to love boating around the cathedral ruinsand the old castle. Really, really loved it. I might have stayed there if theexchange program had allowed it and I didn’t have a girlfriend I really wantedto come home to (now my wife.) Two years later I took her there for a shorttrip and she loved it too. We reallywould like to go back.
GNOH – If you met any “odd locals” they were probably related to me.
True story: I wasattacked by a mob of teenagers while living in St. Andrews. Their leader was aguy in a top hat. Again, not making this up. A friend of mine and I were outlate at a pub to celebrate his birthday and we decided that we wanted to go toJ.T.’s to get a loaded baked potato (something no store sells in America and itsucks). We were just walking down the street and there were a bunch of youngishteenagers on the other side of the street shouting. It took us a minute torealize they were shouting at us! So one of them crosses over and looks at myfriend and says, “Want to fight?” My friend, who had been drinking a lot andthought the guy was joking, says “Sure. Ok.” Then the ring-leader of the groupcame up to me—there were about 12 to 15 of them total. The guy is wearing thisgigantic top hat, like something out of the 19th Century or CharlesDickens. I looked at him and said, “Come on, man, it’s my mate’s birthday.” Andhe says to me, “Happy Fucking Birthday!” I responded: “No, no, not MY birthday,HIS birthday,” pointing at my friend. As if that made a difference (I had beendrinking too.) This confused my would-be attacker who couldn’t figure out why Iwas mentioning this. At that point, the other guy was swinging at my friend andwe decided that the odds were against us, so we…uh…“bravely” ran away, as MontyPython would say. We did go to the police, who insisted I must have been wrongabout the top hat until another student came in afterwards shouting, “There’s aguy in a top hat attacking people!” So I have to ask Jim, was that you? If so, thatwould be kind of wild.
GNOH – No that wasn’t me, all I ever did to students was push them onto the initials of Patrick Hamilton. A lot of them really started to panic.
If anyone is ever in St Andrews go up , North Street where you you notice people lurch quickly andcomically to one side when passing St Salvator’s Chapel. Don’t worry, they’renot drunk. Well, they might be but that is almost certainly not the reason fortheir strange actions. The reasons lie in one of the traditions of St Andrews.Yep, another one. Set into the cobbles outside Sallies Quad are the initialsP.H., and it is considered absolutely fatal to your chances of a degree if youstep on them. Postgrads are mysteriously immune to the curse of the PH cobbles.They commemorate Patrick Hamilton, a member of the university and the firstProtestant martyr of the Scottish Reformation. He was burned at the stake atthis very spot. It might be as well to avoid treading on the initials GW(outside the castle) which stand for George Wishart, and any of the variousmartyr’s crosses around St Andrews.
Just to be on the safe side. If you should accidentally step on the cobbles,then there is a remedy. Two, in fact. Some say that the only way to remove thecurse is to take part in the May Dip. What a person would do if they stepped onthe cobbles between their last May Dip and their finals is not recorded. Anolder tradition is that the way to lift the doom is to go around the light atthe end of pier three times.
GNOH – So what made you want to become a writer?
I was always making upstories in my head. From the time I was in the sixth grade, I started writingand I really enjoyed putting those stories on paper. When I graduateduniversity, I had no idea what to do with myself, but I knew it had to involvewriting. That’s how I became a journalist. But I found that didn’t quite cutit. I still had all these stories in my head waiting to get out.
GNOH – Who are some of your literary heroes and influences?
The easy one is StephenKing. To say I love his work is an understatement. King can cast a spell withhis writing. Even if later I think, “That was unrealistic,” he’s so good, itnever bothers me. I’m also a huge fan of Neil Gaiman. I thought “Anansi Boys”was absolute genius.
Arguably, however, thebiggest influence on my own work has been Joss Whedon, the writer of “Buffy theVampire Slayer,” among many other things. Whedon has this way of combininghumor with horror without it ever feeling silly or cheesy. I think Buffy wasthe best show ever to grace TV.
GNOH – How would you describe your writing style?
Very visual, pretty plotdriven. I am in awe of writers like Carlos Ruiz Zafon who write this lush,gorgeous prose, but that’s not me. I tend to focus on the plot first and letthe writing flow from there. I am keen on making each character feel like themain character, even if they aren’t, so I usually have a long backstory foreverybody in the book, even if I never bother to tell the reader about it. Mythought is, “Could I make a short story out of every character that comesalong?” Hopefully, the answer is yes.
GNOH – And what made you decide to write supernaturalfiction?
I’m fascinated by thesupernatural, always have been. I love stories about ghosts, vampires,werewolves, demons, etc. I particularly enjoy hearing actual ghost stories fromreal people. I took a ghost tour of Edinburgh once and the tour guide broughtus back to a pub afterward and asked people if anyone had their own experiencewith ghosts. People had some great stories to tell and they all seemed totallysincere. It was a great experience.
GNOH – It’s a rather over crowded market, how would yousay your novel stands out from the crowd?
Great question. This isactually my problem when I pitch the novel to people. It has a serial killerand the Headless Horseman on it. On its face, it doesn’t appear too original.But you know this from reading the book – it actually is. I have this whollyunique legend about the origins of Halloween underlying the entire novel. Theserial killer is just warm-up for what’s really going on in Leesburg, Virginia.Secondly, this novel isn’t just a cool story. Like Whedon on Buffy, I’m tryingto explore a theme. What is the nature of fear and how does it define you? Forsome it motivates, for others it paralyzes. What would you do if your worstfear suddenly took form in front of you? Does that fear reflect who you are? Ina way, I think what we fear is a big part of who we are as a person. I thinkthat’s a fascinating idea worth exploring.
GNOH – So what is your worst fear?
If we were to be literalabout it, I have a phobia of spiders. But honestly, I was always scared of theHeadless Horseman (the same fear that Quinn O’Brion, my protagonist, has). Hehas no head, he can ride like the wind and he’s coming right for you.
GNOH – For those not familiar with the novel, could youtell us about some of the themes you are trying to explore in the book?
It’s about fear andtrust. I really do think fear is a big part of who we are, and in many waysreflect us as a person. In the novel, there is a legend called the “Prince ofSanheim,” where two people (a man and a woman) must face their own worst fearsin order to gain power near Halloween. To do that, they have to be able to confronttheir own fears and also trust each other.
GNOH – How do you go about writing, are you verymethodical, or do you just sit down whenever you get the chance and hammer awayat it?
Both. I’ve learned thehard way I need to plan my novels out in advance. The first time I wrote anovel I was all over the place. The result was a mess of a novel. It had verylittle structure, subplots that went nowhere, etc. So I had to go back and planeverything out, which I realized I should have done in the beginning. Now whenI start a book I basically sit down and write down what will happen in eachchapter. Then I start writing. At that point, I can change the story, and oftendo, allowing for a certain amount of inspiration to strike. But I also try andfollow the outline as a guide telling me what major points – both in plot andcharacter development – that I need to hit. All that said, I can write in 5minute increments if I need to – and often do. I have two young kids so I canbe interrupted a lot. So when I get a chance to write, I sit down and starthammering away. I do the same thing when I read, too. I know people who like tohave a chunk of time before they will crack open a book, but I will read anovel if I have a spare 20 seconds.
GNOH – You are a journalist in real life, do you thinkthis has helped develop the skills required for being an author?
Yes, absolutely. Writingis like anything else. If you don’t practice, you won’t be very good. As aresult of my job, I’m always writing. So it’s very easy for me to sit down andpound something out. Journalism has also taught me a lot about writing. Itreally taught me to focus on the most important elements and not to waste timeor words.
GNOH – Do you ever get bored with writing?
Well, the drawback towriting all the time is that you can get a bit sick of it. There are momentswhen I just want to stop and do something else, especially after working allday. I’ve figured out I need to do most of my novel writing in the morningbefore work because otherwise I get burnt out.
GNOH – Can you tell us about your debut novel A Soul To Steal?
It’s hard to describesuccinctly because it’s a mix of genres. It’s mostly a paranormal thriller witha mystery and some romance thrown in. It involves a serial killer, the HeadlessHorseman of Sleepy Hollow, and a Celtic legend known as the “Prince ofSanheim.”
The most basicdescription I can offer is this: Two community journalists on the trail of anotorious serial killer discover the key to stopping him may be to get to thebottom of an ancient myth about the origins of Halloween.
GNOH – Was the legend of sleepy hollow always a favouritestory of yours, and why did you use this story as a basis for yours?
I read “The Legend ofSleepy Hollow” every year around Halloween – that’s how much I love it. It’sjust a great story with wonderful descriptions, characters and, of course, oneof the best gothic figures of all time, the Headless Horseman. Honestly, theHorseman has scared me since the third grade when my school class was shown theDisney adaptation of the story. I left the room in tears. In the 7thor 8th grade, I even tried to write a sequel to it, although as Iremember it, it was pretty laughably bad. (“The pumpkin juice ran red withblood” was one of the lines.) But you can see I’ve been thinking about theHeadless Horseman a long time. Why use him again? He’s a great character andhe’s scary as hell. Technically, Sleepy Hollow takes place in New York state,but growing up, I always felt like he would fit well in Virginia.
GNOH – Have you managed to come up with a way to describeto prospective readers? I know you havehad a hard time pinning one down.
I definitely still havetrouble with it. I’ve decided to call it a “page-turner” and try and leave itat that. One of the most consistent things I’ve heard about the novel is thatit’s hard to put down, so I felt like I should embrace it. I think the term“urban fantasy,” which I wasn’t really familiar with until recently, also woulddescribe the novel well.
GNOH – There are a lot of threads in the novel, how hardwas it for you keep track of them all, and ensure that they all came togetherin a coherent ending?
Pretty damn difficult,actually. One of the things I really wrestled with in writing it was when tointroduce certain concepts. The thing I worry about most is that when you startthe novel you think it’s just about this serial killer. And he really isn’teven the main event in the book—he’s just the catalyst for a lot of otherthings to come together. But it was tough to know how soon to start tipping myhand to readers that there is something supernatural going on in addition tothis murderer.
GNOH – I really enjoyed the book, how has the reaction toit been in general?
Overwhelmingly positive.Of the book bloggers that said they would review it, nearly all of them havegiven it 4 or 5 star reviews. On the U.S. Amazon page, there are 27 reviews –23 of them are 5 stars and the other four are 4 stars. That feels prettyamazing. Unfortunately, on the U.K. version of the site, there’s only onereview (yours, thank you very much), so I haven’t done as much advertising onthat side of the pond because it’s harder for prospective readers to tell ifit’s any good.
In short, though, I feelvery fortunate. I worried for a long time about whether the book was any good, soit feels fantastic and freeing to receive such a great response. I’m thrilledpeople are enjoying it.
GNOH – Fame and Fortune or respect as an author, you canonly choose one?
That is tough. I reallywant to say “respect,” because that’s what I’m supposed to say, right?Truthfully, though, I have a family to support and I’d love to be able to writenovels full-time. If I could say “respect” and still earn a living, I wouldtake that.
GNOH – Are you afan of horror novels?
Yes, to a point. I loveStephen King, who usually writes horror. I love Neil Gaiman, who delves intothis area as well. The Clive Barker books I’ve read I’ve also reallyenjoyed. I enjoy being scared by a book.
That said, I’m not ahuge fan of gore. It doesn’t scare me, I just don’t find it that interesting.So that can turn me off if I feel like someone is just trying to gross me out.
GNOH – I thought the book was a perfect book to read atHalloween, was it always your intention to write a Halloween book?
Not totally. For somereason, I always find it easier to write in the fall and when I initially cameup with the idea for this novel, it was around Halloween. I came up with thislegend all about All Hallow’s Eve and just decided to go with it. The thing Iworry about now is this: will people read it when Halloween is over? I hope so.
GNOH – I take it you are a big fan of Halloween?
Huge fan. I’m looking ata row of little pumpkin lights outside in my yard as I sit here and write this.The ghost stories, the costumes, the candy, trick or treating—I love everythingabout it.
GNOH –I’ve read you always take the day off, what do youdo all day?
Well, this year I’mprobably going to spend a part of it promoting the hell out of the book. I am alsogoing to my son’s Halloween party and parade at school. I nearly missedHalloween once because of work and I vowed that was never going to happenagain. The problem with my job is that news doesn’t respect holidays, so if Idon’t take the day off, there is always the chance that I could get pulled intowriting or editing something when I want to be out with my kids or greetingtrick or treaters. Just better and easier to tell work I’m not coming in.
GNOH – What is your best memory of past Halloweens?
One of my favouritememories of Halloween is this: My Dad used to put a sheet over him on Halloweenand sit in a rocking chair on the front porch of our house. He basically lookedlike a decoration instead of a real person. He would sit there, unmoving, untiltrick or treaters came to the door and then he would shout “Boo!” at them. Itgot them, every single time. Some would scream and run away—others would justfall over laughing. Years later, I did the same thing and it was an absoluteblast. It really was fun to scare people like that. I’d like to do it againsomeday.
GNOH – So what does the future hold for you, can you letus in on any secrets?
First, I need to startwriting the sequel to “A Soul to Steal.” The two sequels have been in my headfor a long time, but it’s time to put pen to paper. I’m hoping to get the firstone of those out next year. In short, I want to keep writing novels and maybeone day, I can earn enough that I can write books full-time. It’s always beenmy dream.
Folks Rob’s book is a very good read, and you really should go and buy a copy. Click below to purchase