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Chris Robertson lives in the community of Niagara Falls in Ontario. I wondered how long he has lived there.
“I’ve lived pretty much my entire life here in ‘The Falls’ as locals call it. I was born here, married here, and all three of my children were born here. In my mid twenties my family and I moved to Peterborough, Ontario, but moved back here after only eighteen months. There really isn’t all that much to say about likes and dislikes though. Other than a whole bunch of falling water and ‘tourist traffic hell’ in the summertime it really isn’t any different than other places. No matter what happens it will always be my hometown.”
He doesn’t see his writing as a career:
“Not the way I look at it anyway. It’s really something that started off as a joke. Tom Rotella (co-author of Sparks in the Dark) and I were talking about entering a short story contest one day. He showed me the story he wrote, I thought it was good so I wrote one for fun. That turned out good as well so we both just continued writing and reading each other’s stories until one day I realised there were enough of them to put together a book. I approached him with the idea, he said yes and the rest is history I guess.
I love writing short stories, probably because I have always been partial to reading them as well. I feel like a lot of authors ‘pad’ their works with over-descriptive nonsense. In a spot where I would write His grey hair was moving in the gentle breeze. Other authors take three full pages to describe that very statement. I feel like any full length novel on the market today can be condensed down to eight to fifteen thousand words and still be just as good (or bad) of a story as it is full length. The pacing would just be more exciting.”
On the surface his latest book is about the topical subject of sexual abuse but
“It is actually the biography of someone very close to me and I felt like it was a story that needed to be heard. Other than some minor changes throughout, it is a true story and that is probably the most disturbing thing about it.”
Chris’s short fiction is inspired by song titles:
“How I choose my subjects is totally unorthodox and most people will probably laugh but here it is. On a day when I know I am going to be writing, I set my music player to random. The first song that pops up is now the basis for whatever I want to write. I just take whatever the song title is, mull it over and over in my head and usually within minutes I have a full story in my head based on the song title alone. If you look into the anthologies you will see titles such as Joey, Welcome to the jungle, Crazy Mary, According to You, The promise, These Days, I Don’t Love You Anymore, and Airplanes, which are all stories that were created simply by thinking about the song title for just five to ten minutes.”
Chris is mainly a “plotter” but admits to occasionally being a “pantser”
“Sometimes when the ideas come I will start with just bullet form. After that frame is down I start at the top, look at the first two and figure how they get from one point to two and add a few more points in between. I continue this all the way through then start over again. Eventually there are enough bullets to start to form sentences and paragraphs with them, and then the story is born. Other times I just start writing and see where my mind wanders off to and just make it all up as I go. Those ones tend to be darker and more twisted.”
Chris plays bass in a heavy metal band and enjoys cooking so
“I really don’t have a [set] time [for writing]. I just do it whenever I can. Between work, playing bass in a band, and my family I don’t get near as much time as I would like. As for a place, I have an office adjoining my bedroom at home. That’s where ninety percent of my writing is done. The other ten percent is when I am lying in bed with my laptop.”
Asked about his favourite writers, Chris admits to having lost his early admiration for Stephen King and Dean Koontz:
“I grew up on Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, and Dean Koontz. Those guys were the be all end all for me. I couldn’t get enough. As I got older though and I read some of their newer stuff, (King and Koontz) I find that their style has changed and I am finding them harder to read now. It goes back to the ‘padding’ that I spoke of earlier. Their newer books have so much of it that some I have tried to read have been absolute snorefests. Some I’ve had to put down after only a couple chapters because they totally lost my interest just droning on and on.
I have recently started reading Edward Lee and Jack Ketchum and I am impressed with them in the sense that they hold nothing back. They don’t care if something is offensive or disgusting if they feel it belongs in the story then they put it in there. That’s something that I have now integrated into my own writing as well. I held back on the first book so as to not scare people away but in the end I felt I wasn’t being true to myself so no more holding back.
My favorite book of all time though is Faerie Tale by Raymond Feist. I have read that book fourteen times and counting. I tweeted about it once and he replied that he didn’t even read it that many times while proofing it.”
And that taste in literature is reflected in his movie choices, except for one:
“My wife and I are movie nuts and watch a lot of them. I love the Jurassic World, Transformers, Avengers and almost any horror movie that comes out. As for older movies I think my favorites are Jaws, Cujo, Carrie, Rocky, Class of 1984, and there are a ton of others as well but my all time favorite, don’t laugh now, is Seven brides for Seven Brothers.”
It is hard to find anything about Chris on-line, even reviews of his books so I asked him to sell himself and his books to you, my readers.
“It’s funny that there are no reviews online but all the reviews that have been told to me in person have been fantastic. I’ve had people come up to me in the store and say ‘Hey, are you the guy who wrote that book?’ When I tell them ‘yes’ they usually say nice things and tell me which story was their favorite.
I guess one of the things that I can honestly say is that you will never be bored reading the books. They are an absolute roller coaster ride from one story to the next. As for According To You, I think that everyone should read it to get an insight into what happens to kids sometimes right under our noses. Even as neighbors and relatives we don’t always see what is happening but there are signs, and we as a general public need to be more aware of them.
One thing I will say is that no matter what genre you normally read, there is something in the collections for you. I am so proud when I talk to people and they all have a different favorite story. To me that speaks volumes on the strength of them.”
Despite being short of time for writing, Chris is presently working on
“Four different writing projects at the moment. I have a new collection coming out this year. I am also working on taking an old book from the public domain and modernizing it. I am having a lot of fun with that one. I am working on putting together a cookbook which hopefully will be available this year as well. There is one more going on but I am going to keep that one under wraps for now.”
That means that his wife will be kept quite busy, too, because
“My covers are all designed by my wife and myself.”
Chris describes himself as “just a simple family man who loves to weave words into short tales. I also play bass in the metal band ‘Oath of Secrecy.’ We have just finished recording our first album and that is yet another thing to look forward to releasing this year.
Another thing about me is that I really enjoy cooking. I don’t do it nearly as often as I would like to. My wife does most of it. Between the two of us we have come up with some great dishes. We tend to not stick with a certain cuisine though. We just enjoy food.”
I enjoyed my chat with Christopher Robertson (There is at least one other author called Chris Robertson on Amazon, not to be confused with this one!) I hope you did too. Next week I shall start updating last year’s “dates” with what they have been doing over the past year.
Here are links to his books at Amazon.com:
Sparks in the Dark (with Thomas Rotella)
My ‘date’ this week is a Manchester United supporting woman from Colorado who writes gritty, emotionally charged mysteries. I began by asking her about her home state and why she prefers soccer and Manchester United to her local NFL team, Denver Broncos.
“Colorado is such a varied state. I know many people who hear Colorado and envision Aspen, of course that is one central sliver of the state, but not the majority. I was born on the western edge of the state in a desert surrounded by mountains. It’s an isolating place full of people who’ve lived here for generations. Colorado means home to me. It’s where I’ve grown up and where my memories of my grandparents are.
As to the Broncos, I’ve always loathed the slow pace of American Football, and as I played soccer throughout my formative years that was what drew my interest. David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Renaldo, were much more exciting to watch then men lining up and pushing each other.”
Her books feature settings a long way from Colorado and include France, Scotland and Greece. She feels it is important to have her protagonists undertake a journey in order to discover their inner strengths.
“I think the US serves as a good starting point for the novels. I have been fascinated, from an early age, with the idea of adventure (i.e. Bilbo Baggins). The protagonist enjoys his/her home but longs for more; they leave, and grow and are strengthened in ways they could not have imagined. Scotland is near and dear to my heart and it is in fact my family’s favorite holiday destination.
I do not choose the destinations lightly. In The Clouds Aren’t White Emmeline MacArthur goes where her education and training are able to get her employment. My great-uncle did live in Paris, he was a cosmopolitan, and so that city was almost fated for him.
Now Greece is another beast altogether for me.
I wanted to push myself beyond my comfort zone and to immerse myself in another culture.
It hasn’t been an easy feat but Google Earth helps a lot with describing the setting (I already live in an arid place and so know what it’s like to hike up a mountain in the middle of the day in the summer).”
Her latest novel, the one set in Greece and due for release on April 2nd, is available to pre-order now. It is her third release in a little over two years although it turns out that the first was finished more than a year before publication. Even so, three books in three years is impressive, especially as politics features in her Amazon biography as one of her interests. It turns out that she is highly organised, working to a strict schedule around caring for her daughter.
“I spent a much longer time writing my first novel than I have with the successive novels. I have a beautiful pen on my desk that my husband got me to commemorate when I finished the first book—in 2014. My level of political activism is limited these days, alas, but I’m fortunate to have writing be my sole occupation right now since my daughter is in school. I manage the work rate by planning out my entire year:
each month has a specific goal (or three) and then I break that down further so that I know what I need to do every day to stay on track.
I’m also horribly competitive, if you ask my husband, but when I’m writing a first draft I keep a spreadsheet of my progress – how long I wrote for, how many words, and words per minute. I’m always trying to write more in a shorter amount of time.
Juggling writing and responsibilities has gotten easier with time. Writing is essential for me. I take the weekends off and by Sunday night I’m twitching like an addict.”
I’m writing up the first draft of our interview as it is snowing outside, something I think would please Rachael.
“I’ve always been very jealous of those writers that say, “oh I write at night when everyone’s asleep” or “I write before everyone gets up.” I’m not a morning person. I’m not a night owl. I’m an 8am-10pm person. I drop my daughter off at school, workout, eat, shower, then I sit down at my desk which faces the bay window in my bedroom. It used to belong to my grandmother and I re-painted it navy and gold. Then from 9am-2pm I work. Some days are better than others but my favorites are when it’s snowing and I can sit at my desk with my feet on the heater and watch the world turn white.”
Her books revolve around the solving of mysteries. The protagonist in her soon to be released novel is a police detective. She describes herself, among other things, as ‘a police wife’. That is something she finds extremely helpful in her writing.
“There is no greater assistance to my writing than having a bona fide cop in the house. We have discussions on police tactics, how one enters a building, how one holds a gun, how one avoids bullet spray – while we are on DATES. His office is down the hall from my desk so often I’ll trot over there and ask him an out of the blue question about some detail or other. He never laughs, just gives over the answer and I go back to my desk.
As a former police wife I have a set of memories that are very specific to that group. Long nights, waking up to an empty bed when your husband should have been home four hours ago, never spending an entire Christmas/Thanksgiving/New Years/4th of July etc. with them because of shift work. I also went on a host of ride-a-longs with him while he was serving which opened my eyes to how hard his job was. I actually helped catch a wanted felon on my birthday one year — from the safety of a squad car — it was thrilling nonetheless.”
Another influence is her early life living with a narcissistic mother, an experience she shares with one of my previous ‘dates’, Lucinda Clarke. Both welcome my introduction; as Rachael puts it, “one always feels connected to those people.”
“Yes, my mother, from whom I am estranged, has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). It’s a terrible disorder and I am only now processing the years of abuse and trauma.
Just as being the wife of a cop gave me insight into a different kind of life so did my childhood with an abusive mother. It does not take much imagination to place myself in my character’s mind when they are living with a narcissist—it was such a central part of my formative years. It has also made me desperate to tell stories about people I can relate to. I want a reader who has a loving caring mother be able to see what a blessing she has in her life when she reads about a character that is tormented by his/her parents. I also want a reader who is currently living with that pain to recognize that others have trod the path before her and there is a way out.
At the end of the day, what I really create is a collection of pages that is stuffed with my heart and my pain and experience and dreams. I hope to heaven that my readers see themselves in it.”
She is highly appreciative of her editor and a trusted team of beta readers.
“Where would I be without my editor? Nowhere. I do have a trusted team of beta readers. I have a good friend in Australia who is my Alpha Reader. I send her the (truly horrible) first drafts and she tells me if what I’m doing is good or not. These amazing wonderful people are indispensable.”
She has strong feelings about the often conflicting advice given to authors.
“Recently I picked up a book on writing advice. But the horrible thing gave authors a list of rules and then authors who followed said rules and then authors who didn’t follow said rules. I wanted to scream.
But the one I hate the most is: write what you know.
Excuse me but Tolkien had never been to Middle Earth. C.S. Lewis had never been to Narnia. Tolkien was a master linguist and C.S. Lewis was a master theologian. They took what they knew whether that was languages, or stories, or the Bible, and they turned it into something new and different and unique.
I’m not a male police captain living on the island of Lesvos. But I know people. I know pain. I know how a police officer feels at the end of the day, how on some days he hates his job because it feels like he’s not making a difference at all. I know that. I think that’s the true meaning of ‘write what you know’– find your strengths and then create something new and exciting.
The advice I love? It’s what my husband said to me when I was struggling writing my first novel and feeling like it was ‘too me.’ He said every single author pours themselves in their books. Every page is full of them. That and write for yourself. Write what makes you happy. Happy writers are happy readers.”
Given her penchant for organisation it comes as no surprise when she asks if she can list her favorite writers by categories.
- “Fantasy: Tolkien and Rowling. Absolute pillars.
- Literature: I’m a diehard Austen fan. The way she chastised her whole society without anyone even realizing is pure magic. Gustave Flaubert-Madame Bovary
- Mystery: Donna Leon, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Rowling again — Cormoran Strike is perfect.”
As usual I end by asking her to tell us something abut herself that might surprise her readers. She comes up with a Shakespearian connection:
“I’m descended from King Malcolm III of Scotland and the Clan Chiefs of Clan MacKay through my paternal grandmother.”