Author Robert Fate ~ Interviewed

N.J. readers. Robert Fate has given us an offer we just can’t refuse. Read his comments about marketing and make sure you leave a comment. A dozen of you will be randomly chosen to receive one of Robert’s Baby Shark books. Make sure I can get in touch with you for your snail mail addy should you be one of the lucky winners. Thanks, Robert. Deadline to comment…June 15th. Winners will be notified.

Tell us a bit about your current project.

In case some of your readers are not familiar with Robert Fate and his Baby Shark crime/adventure series, may I explain a bit about the storyline and the characters?

The Baby Shark stories take place in Texas in the 1950s.

Baby Shark is Kristin Van Dijk’s nickname. Baby because that’s what her father called her and Shark because she shoots a mean game of pool.

In the ’50s, she is the youngest private investigator in the American southwest and the only woman in Texas to carry that permit. She is Otis Millett’s partner at the Millett Agency in Fort Worth.

Kristin was 17-to-19 years old in book one and is 23 years old in book four. She’s a natural platinum blonde, five seven, and varies according to her exercise from 125 to 130lbs. She doesn’t think of herself as pretty, but folks say she is. Her standard dress is black Levi’s and boots with colorful shirts and a short leather jacket. In cool weather, she wears a black wool stocking cap.

She carries a Colt .38 Super Automatic and can use it. She also carries knives in her boots, and can use them, too. She learned to handle these weapons so she would never be afraid again. Read Baby Shark, book one in the series, to understand why.

Her on again off again boyfriend is a Dallas homicide detective named Lee.
Her dearest friend is Henry Chin, a Chinese/American who saved her life.
Her dog’s name is Jim, a 120 lb German shepherd who pretty much does what he wants.

The Baby Shark book titles are: Baby Shark; Beaumont Blues; High Plains Redemption; and Jugglers at the Border.

Now, about your question – Baby Shark’s Jugglers at the Border was finished this past month and is scheduled for release in September 2009. This is book number four in the Baby Shark series and will be introduced on the back cover as follows:

October 1958––When Otis Millett’s estranged wife, Dixie Logan aka The Dallas Firecracker, as she was known on the Texas striptease circuit, is murdered it spurs a manhunt that pairs Kristin and Otis with Lt. Carl Lynch, a straight-arrow homicide detective with the Fort Worth PD.

This blending of by-the-book and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants investigative styles brings Kristin way too close to a ruthless cop-killing gang of bank robbers and their boss, a dreamy maniac who lives with his mother and hears voices.

The question that endangers Kristin’s life and leads to a chase from Fort Worth to New Mexico is where did Dixie hide the bank heist loot?

Hold on tight––once again bad men learn too late they should have taken Baby Shark seriously.

However, if you mean by “current project” what I’m writing at the moment, here is the answer to that: I am presently writing a standalone novel, not associated in any way to the Baby Shark series. I decided, just for a change of pace, to pen a contemporary noir in third person with a male protagonist. I call the novel Kill the Gigolo and it takes place in New York City and on the Pacific coast of Mexico. The book cover copy will say something like the following:

Al Foley, the Boston Godfather, didn’t have his boys simply kill Freddy Bledsoe. He had him mutilated by an IRA fugitive he harbored. So Freddy spent the final few terror-filled minutes of his life staggering about disrupting traffic at Broadway and Amsterdam until he collapsed and died from loss of blood.

The New York Post bought up every nasty cell phone picture taken of Freddy’s departure. Which meant most of the city had its nose in some mob business, and the feeling was the business was unfinished. The city held its breath; who would be next?

That would be Erik Lamar if Al Foley had his way.

Because what got his friend Freddy murdered, Erik was a part of. It was an incident really, a small matter in the overall scheme of things, but the old Irish mobster didn’t see it that way. So Erik got it––what happened to Freddy was a Girl Scout demerit compared to what was planned for him.

But first Al Foley had to catch him, and Erik was headed for Mexico––unfortunately, out of the frying pan and into the fire.

So, that’s what’s happening at the moment. If all goes as planned (laughter here), Kill the Gigolo will be released in the spring of 2010.

We are all about journeys…unique ones at that. How convoluted was your path to your first published book? Share some highlights or lowlights from your path to publication.

I might not have done this to you except you used the word “convoluted.” So, here’s a little bio biz to help launch this answer. Robert Fate is my pen name. The name on my birth certificate is Robert Fate Bealmear. I’m a Marine Corps veteran who lived in Paris and studied at the Sorbonne. I worked as an oilfield rough neck on a Texaco rig in Northeastern Oklahoma and a TV cameraman in Oklahoma City. I was a fashion model in New York City for a few years to earn a living while I co-authored a stage play with my buddy Don Chastain. We never sold it.

I was a project manager and later a sales exec in Las Vegas after working as a chef in a Los Angeles restaurant, where Gourmet Magazine asked for my Gingerbread recipe—actually, it was my grandmother’s recipe. Along the way, I owned a company that airbrushed flowers on silk for the garment industry, and then I wrote scripts for the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. With the support and encouragement of Bruce Cook, a good friend, I produced an independent feature film. As a Hollywood special effects technician, I won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement.

I live in Los Angeles with my wife Fern, a yoga enthusiast and ceramic artist. Our fabulous daughter Jenny is a senior at USC. We have a dog, four cats, and a turtle named Pharrell.

Along about the age of 70, I decided to write crime fiction, and that birthed the Baby Shark series, told in the voice of a young woman (or girl, as the Texans are fond of saying). Everything that I have done, everywhere I’ve lived and worked, every person I’ve met has inspired some aspect of my writing.

The “walk on” characters in my books, the people we meet––maybe only once in our lives and only briefly––tell us a lot about themselves in those few moments our paths cross. It is realism I’m striving for when I expose their lives in my stories, those momentary insights enrich our existence and, I think, round out a story. Years ago, the man on the bus in Thessaloniki who pretended to pull his hair while complaining that it was idioms that made learning foreign tongues difficult has helped me with Henry, a Chinese/American who works constantly to improve his English.

The publication of Baby Shark happened after many inquiries, many rejections, and the kissing of lots of frogs. Giving up wasn’t part of the plan, so I kept working it until I finally met an editor with Capital Crime Press, a small publishing house in Colorado who liked my writing––or probably more to the point––he liked the story and the way it was told. Fortunately, Baby Shark was appreciated and applauded by some influential web sites, 4MA and DorothyL in particular. That exposure led to the first book ending up on some top ten lists, winning some awards, and becoming a finalist for an Anthony at Bouchercon 2007. You have to think if the story could do all that, what were the rejections all about? But few books are everyone’s cup of tea. So I guess the message is to keep looking for your tea drinkers, those who like your work while accepting the fact there will be those who don’t.

Most recently, my publisher was instrumental in the sale of the motion picture and television rights to a Hollywood producer. Brad Wyman, producer of Monster (starring Academy Award winner Charlize Theron), has Baby Shark on his production schedule for 2009. I was thrilled by this turn of events and am grateful for all that’s happened, but in my heart, I don’t believe the journey of Baby Shark is anywhere near its end. I think there is more in store for Kristin, Otis, Henry, and Jim, things that haven’t even been considered yet.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

Since I long ago relinquished all creative credit to that “other guy” who does the writing while I’m spaced out in alpha state, I never suffer writers block or angst driven anything. For example, I’ll be sitting in the living room staring out the window at the distant mountains and my wife will ask me if I’m working. See how that goes? It is most apparent to me when I’m reading something the “other guy” has written and I’m surprised by it. “Did I write that?” I look forward to every minute I spend writing. And, since writing is really rewriting and a book is never really finished, it’s a good thing there are deadlines. It’s difficult to stop doing something that is so enjoyable, so satisfying.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication? Or to narrow it down further what’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

I’m not certain that mistakes would be the way to put it, but if writing is the fun part, marketing is the necessary part, and that’s something anyone seeking to publish a book should understand. With a small publisher, I quickly learned that marketing, promotion, and advertising were shared efforts. Every deal is unique about how sharing is defined, but the items mentioned above will need to be addressed to some degree no matter the size of your publisher. The big time writers––we know who they are––have these things happen for them like magic. But the rest of us, the majority, must do some or all of what generates sales or nothing, make that NOTHING, will happen with our books.

So, give up the idea that you can write it, go to Bora Bora, and just cash checks. It simply doesn’t work that way––for the majority. Write something that makes you a big time writer and all bets are off.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

I don’t get ideas. That other guy does. I just nod my head and say thanks when they come rolling in. But, as far as I know, they emerge from the deep unconscious or maybe from some little something you noticed while out for a walk. All this is to say, I don’t know where ideas come from, I’m just happy they appear. In fact, your question has given me an idea.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

It’s interesting how we have preconceived ideas about the reactions of others. I have asked policemen (after telling them I write crime fiction) about certain details concerning an act of violence or the use of a weapon and have never gotten anything but complete and candid answers. Maybe living in Los Angeles gives a writer an edge, since there are so many screenwriters and other creative sorts out here working in the entertainment industry. But I have telephoned businesses in distant cities, explained my need, and gotten cooperation, too. I’ve found Americans in general to be friendly and cooperative, if given a chance––also, I once called a business in the UK and got the same good-natured cooperation. That was to confirm the direction of traffic on the street where their business was located. They were amused to take a long distance call for that purpose, but gave me what I needed. Weren’t they surprised later to read that someone was murdered on their stoop?

With the clarity of experience what advice would you offer up to the wet-behind-the-ears you if beginning this writing journey today?

I have answered this question before and would say the same again. Marry wisely, someone smart and strong who keeps you honest, and never let a day go by without writing.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

My friend of thirty years or so, Bruce Cook, writer, filmmaker, teacher, insisted that I write a crime novel. I had written in many other forms and seen my work performed, published, and produced, but somehow, I’d convinced myself I could not write a novel. He insisted that I try. I wrote for seven months, threw it all away, and then wrote Baby Shark. Sometimes, when you’re loitering at the end of the board, someone just needs to give you a little push.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why? (Doesn’t have to be one of your books or even published.)

A poem I wrote for my wife to help her when she’s having trouble falling asleep. You see the mere mention of my poetry puts her in the arms of Morpheus. All I have to do is say I’ll get the poem from where I keep it handy and her eyes begin to flutter. In fact, it works on one of our cats, too. Out like a light. The whole house is snoring before I get past the first stanza.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

You mean besides not being on the New York Times bestseller list?

Share a dream or something you’d love to accomplish through your writing career.

My initial goal was to write a novel. Then the goal became to write three novels in two years. Now the goal is to have written six novels in four years, and so on––three novels every two years. It would be good if readers liked them, too, of course.

What gives you the greatest writer buzz, makes the trip worth the hassles (besides coffee or other substances, or course )?

Being interrogated by a brilliant mind on a dynamic blog. It doesn’t get better than that.

What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?

Nothing specific, everything combined. Great friendships and lots of approval that started when I was young. I’m spoiled. My mother gave me a portable typewriter when I was thirteen. I was forty plus when my father-in-law came by the house while I was gone, took (stole) my new IBM Selectric from my desk and sold it. He gave me the check from the buyer and told me to get a computer. No discussion. Just a gentle nudge.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot or send a picture if you’d like.

I use an iBook G4 at a desk that faces a wall. Natural light comes from behind and to the right. Sometimes it’s noisy, sometimes dead quiet. It doesn’t matter. I give it over to the other guy and stay out of the way. My wife will advise me if the house is on fire. If I’m traveling or in a doctor’s waiting room, I write in longhand on a yellow tablet, but usually never use what I write, just refer to it when I’m back at the computer. I rewrite as I go. I don’t really do drafts. My final edit if from hard copy. I often read aloud what I have written, especially dialogue. My wife comes to the door and asks me if I’m working. See how that goes?

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

Getting started in the first place. I was a geezer before writing the first novel. Now I can’t stop.

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

I will have been thinking about stories for weeks, sometimes months. When I know I’m really going to start a book, I choose one of the stories, sit down, and start writing as fast as I can. After a few thousand words, I have a look, share what I’ve done with a few close friends, and then get busy straightening out the mess. While writing a book I think about it constantly, awake and asleep. I love being distracted (NBA playoffs for instance) because when I get back to it, i.e., let the other guy loose, the work usually goes well. It is rare, but sometimes I don’t feel like writing. So, I don’t. That never lasts long––a day or so, at most, and I never worry about it. When I’m ready, I go back to it. That’s the advantage to being self-employed.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

Nope. Nothing special. Just get some coffee, sit down, and write. Very dull guy. I find that messing with the last dozen or so pages completed is enough to get me back in the flow.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

If you are asking if I outline, the answer is not really, certainly not a traditional outline. I make notes to myself that spur direction, but mostly I just start writing with a general idea of where I’m going and surprise myself when I find out I didn’t really know where I was going. Mostly, I have the story sort of figured out and then I visualize scenes and consider weather, sounds, time of day, time of year, and scents in the air – all the elements surrounding the characters and the setting. Weird, I know, but that’s what happens. It’s like building a picture, this happens, that happens, but where and what did it sound like? What did it smell like? Here is an example – in Jugglers at the Border, a few minutes after Kristin has shot and killed a man who came way too close to killing her, she leaves the farmhouse where it happened to walk down a dark country road and retrieve her car. The last thing she wants to do is mull over the violence she has just experienced. She looks around as she walks, considers where she is, and thinks about more congenial things.

The walk down the dirt road was cool and pleasant. I thought of my grandma’s farm and tranquil summer evenings and wished I were barefoot. It was overcast, but the moon must’ve been full beyond the haze to cause the sky’s dull glow. The mild breeze smelled of rain. No bugs or animals; they’d long ago hunkered down. Here and there across the silent farmland, single points of light pierced the darkness. Many miles away, along the thin southwestern horizon, lightning danced.

I want the reader to experience what Kristin is seeing and feeling and smelling and hearing and understand her need for gentle memories. That’s what I mean by visualizing a scene. Put a few of those together and the next thing you know, you have a book.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response or peer honor? Please share.

To have had Baby Shark and Baby Shark’s Beaumont Blues both nominated for the Anthony Award were honors I will never forget. That was rare company for a new guy – see? Spoiled, once again.

Have you discovered any successful marketing/promo ideas that you’d share with us?

Write hard, market harder. How about this – I have four each of the three books in the Baby Shark series that I will send to a dozen of the readers of your blog. You devise the contest or method of distribution and send me the names and addresses and the books will be in the mail PDQ. This is marketing I enjoy. I will be delighted to have twelve new readers. To be clear: that is four copies of Baby Shark; four copies of Baby Shark’s Beaumont Blues; and four copies of Baby Shark’s High Plains Redemption. Ball’s in your court.

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

Perhaps, some time in the future, your readers might like to hear some of my poetry. Just a thought. Thanks for being so gracious.