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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)
As you should know by now, I have a story in this. The choice of narrator was undertaken jointly by all of the authors. Dan posted samples from all the applicants on Facebook (in a private group) and we each listened and indicated our preference. I had no hesitation in choosing Kasi and am not surprised that the majority of the other authors agreed.
Meanwhile, I have recorded my own reading of my story and that will be posted in a virtual Halloween Party next week.
My ‘date’ this week is a truly inspiring woman. R.L. (Robyn) Andrew suffers from the debilitating condition Psoriatic arthritis. This is similar to the condition which afflicted the English television playwright Dennis Potter. Being from Australia I wasn’t sure if she was aware of the English writer who I would imagine would be an inspiration. I sent her a link to Mark Lawson’ s tribute to him.
“I did not know that, Frank, and I truly appreciate the thought you’ve put into this question. He truly is an inspiration and proof of determination. I believe the man who wrote Simply Alice suffered from ALS. While not the same disease he achieved incredible things with basically no ability to physically move. I hope to inspire others in kind.
While I’m chronically ill I am still able to achieve many things albeit mentally and via technology. It’s only my physical self that’s inhibited, my mind is more than eager and capable of learning. I can’t do most of the stuff I used to be able to like work outside my home, surf, dive, swim, run etc but while sick I’ve achieved things I never believed I would. I’m about to have my second book published by an American Publisher, my first has won an award and has five-star ratings. I sell signed paperbacks at markets once a month when able and I participated in my first book fair. I’ve also met some amazing, wonderful and inspirational people through social media which has likewise opened up many doors. Instead of it being the end when I became ill, it’s become a new beginning.”
On her website she says her illness made her determined to “use the sponge like brain I have before it turned to mush.” I asked her to expand on that.
“Admittedly it took a couple of years before I realised I could not only be happy and in pain/suffering but have realistic goals. I’d always been physically and mentally active with a burgeoning legal career so when I first became sick that all stopped. My world crashed, what I had been, known or knew got stripped bare and thrown away. Pain quickly became my closest friend, enemy and confidant.
It’s almost impossible to see anything else when you’re consumed by body malfunctions, other diseases and damage that accompany it along the way, let alone dealing with different levels of pain. Your life starts being about medical appointments, tests and medication testing, instead of graduating law school. In the midst of it were my three daughters, husband, friends and relatives also affected by this. It’s a dark existence and in the process it’s easy to lose your own identity.
But, I’ve always been stubborn, determined, focused and have an unquenchable mind. I would not allow myself to be consumed by something I could not control.
I can’t change what happens to my body, yet I can change how I deal with it and how much attention I give to it. I swallowed my pride and accepted any external help I needed and continue to need. I also embraced technology and ways in which that could give me a life.
I’d written short stories and poems from the time I could write and I’d always wanted to write a book. When I put two and two together light returned to my day. I returned to writing short stories and found anthologies looking for submissions. One after another they were accepted and before I knew it I had fifteen plus in different anthologies.
These not only gave me confidence but taught me about structure, working with editors and constructive feedback. I came across several Facebook writing groups and one in particular changed my writing life – Writer’s World. It’s an online critique group that offers other services such as novel writing boot camps. I signed up, swallowed my pride again and delved in. It’s a humbling experience and at the same time when you’re open to learning from others you become a much better writer. This is how my first book came to be and I met long lasting friends in the meantime.
Now I worry about plot holes and first round edits. I have gone a bit too far in that regard and sometimes forget about my health, but I’m working on it.
Long story short, never give up, never give in, and never let anyone tell you you can’t do something. The only person who can ever stop you, is you.”
Robyn lives in Victoria, Australia.
“I was born in Victoria and moved to South Australia at five until fifteen. At nineteen I moved to Sydney in NSW and had three daughters. We lived there for seven years and then moved back to Victoria. On and off I’ve lived here for around thirty five years. Despite several attempts I’ve not managed to move back to South Australia where I still have family, but Victoria seems to be in my long term future for a number of reasons, mostly my three daughters are in this state and the medical care is better here. Overall it’s a nice state but no matter where you live you can make it home.”
She published her first book last autumn at which point she was already working on two more. I wondered how these second and third books are progressing, given that her condition limits the amount of work she can do each day.
“My second one is in second round edits and hopefully will be published by mid year! It seems to take me about a year from first draft until it’s ready to publish and that takes into account my health. I do some writing every day. Some days I’m able to do a couple of hours in fragments, other days it’s less. However, the beauty of technology these days is that you can write on your phone or tablet. It doesn’t matter how much I do as long as I do some.
With the first one published I have to work at selling it which is difficult given my limitations, but I make it work. If I have to miss a market or something I will. On the same token I take as many opportunities as I can to promote it even if it means leaving my house.”
She writes about relationships with humour but her books are set in an alien world.
“No matter how crappy life gets you can laugh about it and it makes you feel better.
I’ve always been fascinated in life on other planets and I love making stuff up so it went from there.”
Her experience as a Legal Executive “has not come into my writing at all as yet. I’m not sure it will.” Instead she “finds writing an escape from reality. I love getting absorbed in my worlds and characters. It’s so much fun and it’s often cathartic.”
She is published by JaCol, a small independent. I asked about her experience with them and editor Randall Andrews.
“I have loved every minute of it. It has not been easy, it’s been a lot of hard work, thinking, plotting, planning and tossing away parts that don’t work. Randall has a way of getting me to see where something doesn’t work or what I need to change without saying much. He also knows how to get the best out of me and my story and knows I’m prepared to do what it takes. I highly recommend Randall and Jacol to all authors. I want to see it grow bigger.”
I always ask my ‘dates’ about their writing space and time. Robyn’s is dictated by her illness.
“Until a week ago I wrote from my bed or couch but our former office is now my writing room. I have a motorised bed in there which lifts the feet and head however I need it and it vibrates! It’s also the warmest room and all my books, market and writing stuff in there. Now I’m on the third book with another five planned in this series I needed more room.”
She admires “so many [authors] it’s hard to choose one. Perhaps Edgar Allen Poe was the first author who really grabbed my attention and holds it to this day. My Great Grandmother had a full collection of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. I read everyone of those too.”
Asked to reveal something about herself that might surprise her readers she admits to being “big into the UFO scene and spend time each day researching it. I’m also a keen gardener, such as I can, and a great cook.”
I am in awe of someone who manages to write something every day despite the obstacles life has placed in her way, with the ambition to complete an eight volume series. I hope you are, too. You can connect with Robyn on her website and Facebook. Better still, buy her book here. You can also arrange to receive a signed paperback copy via her website.
At what? Offering to critique a 1000 words (max) submission from you for just $10. And there’s more! If he really likes your submission you’ll be in line to win $300.
Read more about it below
It is 7 or 8 years since the Laois Writers’ Group published an anthology which they sold in order to raise funds for the Cuisle Centre. By attracting sponsors and holding a slew of fund raising events we were able to defray the cost of having the book printed locally so that all sales proceeds went to the charity which supports patients and their loved ones following a diagnosis of cancer.
More recently, as Paul Ruddock’s post which follows explains, a group of authors from across the world contributed stories for an anthology published to support the UK’s Macmillan Fund which provides nursing care for cancer patients being cared for in their own homes. I am proud to have had a story accepted for the second such volume which will be published later this year. I am also assisting with the final preparation of the volume.
“In 2015 my good friend and fellow author, Ian D. Moore invited members of our FB writing group the IASD (see www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com) to write and contribute original stories for an anthology of short stories on the theme of Relationships in all their many and varied forms. The idea was born out of the author’s personal loss of a much loved close relative to cancer. See more
How good is your writing? Find out by entering this contest. Every entry gets a free critique. That alone is worth the entry fee. Most other contests require an additional fee for a critique – that is if they even offer one.
My fourth candidate for “A Date With . . .” is Scottish writer Tom Benson. Tom writes across several genres and is also a founder member and administrator for the Independent Author’s Support and Discussion group (IASD) which brings writers together to help each other with everything from blurb writing to discussing the relative merits of different marketing strategies. I began by asking him about growing up in Glasgow in the 1960s, mentioning my mental image of the city as grey stone tenements and ship building.
“Your mental image is accurate and it’s how I remember the Eastend of the city where I spent my formative years. In 1960 our family moved west to a spacious apartment in a sprawling council estate. In the mid-60s from our secondary school we could see the hulk of the ‘Q4’ in Clydebank several miles away. When launched, the Q4 was named Queen Elizabeth II.
Work hard – play hard, was the maxim. I remember adults fighting in the street; both men and women. The reputation of a ‘hard’ city is well-deserved, but so too is the accolade of being one of the friendliest cities.To this day, for me, Glasgow has always been a city of extremes. I return to visit my mother, but none of the three siblings who have brought up families there. Occasionally on a visit to Scotland with my wife we’ll visit Glasgow but we do so as tourists.”
Tom signed-up for a career in the British army at 17. I asked if he would do the same today, knowing what modern warfare entails.
“I was the oldest child of six living in a household where ‘conflict’ was a way of life, involving my parents or my siblings. I was the quietest and most industrious. My parents could not have afforded me to go into further education so I joined the workforce (in an office) at fifteen. There was no ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ in my life.
Thousands of families are living now as we did back in the 1950’s and 1960s.
I’ve often wondered what my options would be if I were a teenager there now. I believe I would still sign-up, and sadly for the same reasons. There is no evolution for certain families, merely a life-cycle.”
Tom’s army career included a stint in Belfast in the 1970s at a time when the ‘troubles’ were at their height. I mentioned to Tom that I was there for a brief visit on business in 1970 and was shocked at the invective unleashed by a couple of male by-standers when an Army Land Rover patrol passed. When the men discovered I was English, from Coventry, they asked how I would feel if the Army was patrolling Coventry’s streets. I asked Tom how it felt to be on the other side of that situation – patrolling the streets of a British city and being spat at – and worse.
“I served on the streets of East Belfast in 1973. Our unit was the first non-infantry to perform the role of Internal Security there. We trained for months in Germany, but it was surreal to walk along British streets during day or night; with a loaded rifle. None of us were eager to do the task, but we’d taken taken an oath and signed up – it was our job.
I recall my first foot patrol. My thoughts went from anxious to professional in less than one minute. During our four-month tour, we were stoned (and not in a good way), spat at, and shot at among other things. On occasion we remained closer to a suspect device to steer sometimes ungrateful civilians to safety. You learn about yourself when you don’t retaliate against a teenager spitting at you, and when we were shot at, we responded by running towards the location of the suspect.
Juxtaposed to the negativity, there were many who accepted us, offering hospitality and friendship.”
Tom’s army life feeds into much of his writing. As well as the recently published 5 volume first person account of a man’s army experiences (which he insists is not entirely autobiographical), there is a series featuring a former soldier leading a small group determined to eliminate criminal gangs operating in present day Glasgow. I wondered if that is something he would have liked to do.
“Having survived bullying at school, I fought back on the first occasion in my military career. It was at that time I grew to despise injustice and criminality. On more than one occasion I involved myself in a scuffle to help others (male and female), because I refused to witness a person being beaten. I write about vengeance and summary justice, but I don’t believe I would wish to live on the edge. Notably, my characters have little in the way of a ‘normal’ lifestyle and have no dependents.”
One of the genre’s that Tom writes is erotica. In my ‘devil’s advocate’ role I asked did he think such ‘literature’ encourages the kind of attitude towards women exemplified by recent revelations from politics and show-business.
“I started writing erotica because there was so much badly written material in the genre. One particular book which has since gone on to be an international success is a woefully inaccurate tale of a relationship which involves sadomasochism. I was bitterly disappointed in the lack of knowledge shown by the author. (Aside: I wonder what book and movie series Tom could possibly talking about?)
My decision to tackle the genre was vindicated when my first attempt, an anthology of erotica short stories, was well received. I followed this with a novel, and then a series of novellas.
I have always held girls and women in high regard, and this is reflected in my writing.
My female characters are never downtrodden, and in many cases are equal to, or stronger than the males.
Most of the reviews (and private messages) I’ve received on my erotica are from female readers, and all of it has been positive. I now mentor a fellow erotica author.
In my opinion, nothing will sway a man’s judgement concerning women’s sexual appetites. Men will believe what they choose. Women, like men, have varying attitudes regarding sex. Most people have fantasies, and when somebody chooses to read erotica the content is obvious which makes it a conscious choice.
My personal affliction in erotica writing is that I insist on there being a story.”
IASD grew out of a website operated by fellow writer Paul Ruddock. After Paul reviewed one of Tom’s novels the pair discovered both were ex-Servicemen. Tom takes up the story:
“Camaraderie survives long after we leave the uniform. It doesn’t matter which service, or cap badge, male or female – the brotherhood/sisterhood continues.
Paul’s wish was to expand on what he’d started. Apart from minor changes in title the IASD grew rapidly when it became a group on Facebook. I offered my services — supporting Paul as an admin was the way forward. Ian D Moore (another ex-Serviceman) joined the group a few months later and he too became an admin.
Paul donated his original blog to the group a few months later, in October 2015. I’m not an expert, but I commenced rebuilding what is now the IASD blog/website. The group at the time numbered about 150 members and agreement was sought at every stage as I developed the site.
We have several members who are more adept than I am technically and I’m never too proud to ask for help or advice. We increased the admin team and brought on board a couple of members who have helped make the group successful.
The membership spiralled to 400+ at one stage, but many were freeloaders using us as a marketing tool, so over a period of time they ‘disappeared’. We in admin are all immensely proud of our members and their willingness to help the group live up to its name.”
This last sentiment reflects what he has found across the independently published writer community since starting what he describes as his “writing journey”.
“It is one of the few areas of ‘Civvy Street’ where I’ve seen a large group of people willingly offering support to their peers. From the outset, when I’ve seen inferior writing, but an author with potential, I’ve offered help and advice. I’m not an expert, but sometimes an offer of help is enough to show somebody they’re on the right track.”
Tom retired only recently from his second career, so his writing and the creation/development of IASD were all undertaken alongside a full-time job.
“I first tried creative writing in the mid-nineties. I toyed with my military memoirs and short stories. When my brilliant ideas were converted from thought to written word, my material was awful. I cut down on writing to read more, and I bought magazines and text books on writing.
I started writing seriously around 2007. I was a retail manager and to relax one day I wrote a poem. I was commuting for over two hours a day and wrote verse during every train journey and every lunch break. One day I converted a poem to a short story.
Over the next few years I stepped down to deputy, then reduced my hours, and finally moved to the local branch. At each stage I gained time to write. Evenings and days-off were filled with writing.
I am dedicated, whether it be the promise to help somebody else, or to meet a personal target.
Since retiring last November I’ve redecorated three rooms in our house and started on four writing projects. I’ve also read and reviewed twenty books.
My aims now include to continue cycling regularly, and learn to bake; though not while cycling.
I’m already underway with the publication of my novels in paperback.”
Tom is well organised in both the place and time of his craft:
“We don’t have a large house, but we have three bedrooms. When our son left home for university in 2000, we kept his bedroom available for his occasional visits. The room he’d used for his computer and studying became my ‘study’. As recently as last summer I performed an extensive makeover. I now have a modern, bright room, complete with a Mac which was a retirement gift to myself.
My window is large and I’ve fitted a Venetian blind which allows maximum daylight. The desk at which I write is in the middle of the room and end-on to the window. I’ve found ‘freedom’ in this position because for a few years I had my desk against a wall.
I prefer to write early, but it depends how long my morning cycle ride takes. I rarely watch TV, except for news or natural history programmes, so I write a lot in the evenings. I’m disciplined about regular breaks – including a full hour lunch-break.”
Robert Louis Stevenson, Wilbur Smith, Jeffrey Archer and Lee Child are top of his list of authors he’d like to share a pint or a meal with:
“I’d hope to discover to what extent they allowed the story to be diverted by the characters and how wide their stories veered from the original plan. I’d also be keen to learn how much time was spent planning as opposed to writing.”
I thanked Tom for being so frank with his answers to my questions. I hope you enjoyed the encounter as much as I did.
Tom’s latest release, Amsterdam Calling, is now available in paperback. Ten Days in Panama will be released in paperback in the spring, part of his plan to publish all of his novels as paperback, including the five-part, fact-based fiction tale, A Life of Choice, during 2018. You can find a lot more about Tom, and his books, by following these links: