1. Tell us about your latest book, The Hornbrook Prophecy.
Let’s see. This is my second first book. That is, it’s the second book in print, but it’s actually the first one I wrote. I still think of it as my baby. When I began to write it in 2002, it was a very tough sell for a new author. I was writing a story about what I saw as a logical endpoint for where the country was heading, and it seemed too fanciful. I also filled the manuscript with too many polemic discources. Eventually, I pulled out most of the ranting and streamlined the rest into a faster-paced, more exciting saga of the struggle about the inevitable result of blind ambition and the abuse of power. The material I deleted became the basis of my non-fiction The Myth America Pageant: How Government & Politics REALLY Affect The Ordinary Joe. So, if Myth America was about “here are the problems and here’s how you can fix them, and if you don’t someday it will all hit the fan,” then Hornbrook is about what happens when it really DOES all “hit the fan.” My dad’s been telling me for the last few years, “If you don’t get it published pretty soon, it won’t be fiction anymore!” I’m not so sure he won’t turn out to be right.
If you think that the notion of a “second first book” is odd, you’ll love this–The Hornbrook Prophecy is the first of what I’ve outlined as a four-part trilogy! I’ll explain that some other time.
2. How did you get started as a writer?
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was driving up I-5 through the northern California outback when I saw an exit sign for two small towns called “Henley” and “Hornbrook.” I thought, “What an interesting name that would be for a character in a book.” To pass the time as I drove I began to watch signs for other character names and over time I had collected an entire telephone book full of names. Twenty years later, I’m still collecting. When I finally decided to use some of them, I thought I’d write a disaster novel but they’d all been done before hurricanes, tornados, fires, earthquakes, floods. However, after teaching a class called, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” I realized that the biggest and most likely disaster of all was going to be a social one, not some act of nature and anything to do with society today is going to have a heavy political tone. It wasn’t difficult to dream up a story with all the mischief politicians are up to. The day I finally decided how the story was going to end was the day I sat down and began writing it (although I ultimately changed that ending). Henley Hornbrook was the first name I had collected and he became my lead character.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
I wish I had one. It took two years to write the first draft of Hornbrook because it was so difficult to find the time. I’d go to work all day, come home, take care of home stuff, kick back for a while and, finally, as the house grew quieter I finally could pull out my laptop. I did most of my writing between ten pm and two am, but the fact of the matter is that I write when the words “arrive”–and they can arrive at the oddest of times. A 3×5 index card and a pen can be your best friend when you are away from your keyboard.
4. Describe your workspace.
Me, a chair, my lap, and a laptop. Could be anywhere.
5. Favorite books (especially for writers)
Anything written by Raphael Sabatini. Although his 17th and 18th century story lines are swashbuckling fun (such as Captain Blood, and The Sea Hawk), I loved them because the characters are well-defined, the prose elegant, and the dialog demonstrates how rich (and civil) the English language can be. The generations today being raised on text messaging, Twitter, and email, will never discover or understand the beauty of language and its ability to create emotion and convey ideas. That is sad. On the other hand, J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) is not a great technical writer, but she is an amazingly creative storyteller. Her ability to transport the reader and fully immerse them in another time or place is wonderful. There were seemingly minor story elements in the first book of the series the importance of which was not fully realized until the seventh book. That’s storytelling!
6. Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you
I’d love to do a standup comedy routine sometime–you can’t survive the world today and still be sane without having a sense of humor, and in my tender years on this sphere I’ve found there’s a smile to be found in almost every situation.
I have no interest in motor homing in my upcoming retirement (from my day job). I’d rather sail off to the Bounty’s Pitcairn Island, but I don’t think I can persuade my crew to try that. So, instead, I want to get a boat and travel the Great Loop, a 6000-mile circumnavigation of the eastern half of the U.S. using the intracoastal waterways, Great Lakes and canals, and the inland river system. I think it would be quite the adventure, and I’ve invented a new word for it: Boaterhoming!
Once upon a time MANY moons ago, I particularly enjoyed a day off I had from my summer job as a bronzed god at Camp Emerald Bay on Catalina Island off the coast of southern California. After sunning and swimming and wining and dining the day away in Avalon, my buddies and I just didn’t want it to end. We deliberately passed up the last boat to our end of the island, figuring we would be able to hitch a ride on the backroads later on. No such luck. We ended up walking 33 miles in the starlight, often using some narrow shortcuts we knew of through cactus-filled canyons, from one end of island to the other, because we had to back to work by 7:00 in the morning. We made it–barely. I was a tad nuttier–and a lot younger–in those days.
7. Favorite quote
I use a quote at the beginning of each chapter and section in each book, so I have a lot of favorites. Will Rogers once said, “It’s easy to be a humorist when you have the whole government working for you.” Today, however, it’s getting a lot tougher to be funny when you’re talking about politics. I am a vigorous advocate for liberty over tyranny. One of my favorite quotes could be, “We don’t live in a democracy; we live in an AUCTION!”, but that actually was just a bumper sticker I made up once. Thinking of how anyone who today raises his voice in opposition to political or corporate business as usual becomes the victim of character assassination and marginalization, I am reminded of El Capitan Esteban in the movie, “Zorro, The Gay Blade,” who said, “Yes, everyone is free to speak their minds; we will simply arrest everyone who listens!” But if I delve deep into my psyche for the true inspirations for my passion for liberty, I find two quotes that are neck and neck for my favorites. The first was by Richard Rumbold, a Cromwellian rebel who fought against the Stuart monarchy. As he stood upon the gallows in 1685, he proclaimed, “I am sure there was no man born marked of God above another; for none comes into the world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him.” The other is by Henry David Thoreau who wrote in Civil Disobedience in 1849, “The State is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is strongest.”
8. Best and worst part of being a writer
The best part is creating something that will outlast my pathetic little carbon life form, making a statement about life or about ideas and feelings in such a way that others will (hopefully) enjoy or learn from long after I’ve written the words. When I first held a finished copy of my initial book, it was like savoring the long-awaited arrival of a child. The worst part is that once you begin you are hooked. It’s too easy to let the rest of life fend for itself sometimes, as long as I can get at my keyboard.
9. Advice for other writers
Writers write because they must, not because they expect to be famous or rich (because few do). Don’t write so you can see your name in print. Write because you are passionate about your subject. If you aren’t, your reader won’t get anything out of it anyway, and you’ll both just ending wasting your time. But if you are, you’ll never lack for words and your readers will benefit from your inspiration. There’s nothing that hasn’t already been written, but your passion will lead you to express it in new ways.
Don’t be discouraged if you meet with repeated rejection as you try to get published. Tom Clancy couldn’t get ANYBODY interested in The Hunt for Red October. If you believe in your writing, just keep at it. Even if you end up self-publishing you will have accomplished something that most people could never manage to do.
10. Tell us a story about your writing experience.
We were having lunch in a chowder house on the Oregon coast some years ago, before I’d written anything of note, when we spied an oar hanging from the ceiling with the woodburned inscription, YISDERSOMENIMORORSISASISDENDERISORSIS We spent the better part of lunch trying to decipher it before I realized that the first letter, Y, was really a word, Why, and that it was, therefore, a question. The rest fell into place rather easily and it revealed one of the most profound queries about the nature of man and society. What makes it profound is that the answer is really self-evident within the question (I challenge you to figure it out right now). I printed it out on my computer and hung it as a sign in my office. Years later when I was writing my non-fiction work, The Myth America Pageant, I used it to summarize the “state of the union” on the last page of the book. I’m sure that my fictional hero, Senator Hornbrook, has the same sign hanging in his own office.
Where can people buy your book?
If you ever happen to find yourself in Montesano, WA (the GOOD Washington), drop by my office on main street and I’ll fix you up with a nice copy. Otherwise, you’ll find it on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and in as many book stores as my publisher can manage (after it releases on August 1). Or else swing by my website at www.robertwickes.com where you’ll get the scoop on all my literary goodies.