Rob: Hello, my name is Robert Dunbar. That’s me in the photo with the greying beard. How the hell did that happen? There’s probably a portrait staying young in the attic – trust me to get THAT spell backwards. No complaints though. It’s been a long strange trip, but it’s taken me through some interesting terrain. My educational background? You really want to know about this? Pretty much the classic “some college” situation. It’s been a hardscrabble life – never enough money or time to complete a degree, and of course I’ve always regretted it, though it hasn’t kept me from all that much really, not as a writer anyway. Even in my teens, I was able to get my stuff into print pretty regularly. Ah, the days of ‘zines and journals. And coffeehouses. Remember coffeehouses? Poetry readings and passing the hat. Jeez, that takes me back. Funny, the places we start out from. Then I wrote articles, hundreds of them really, for a lot of different newspapers and magazines. It seemed like a new weekly rag would start up every week. They didn’t pay great, but they paid. (Now THERE was a concept.) Things kept moving. I evolved. My plays sometimes got staged at these little hole-in-the-wall theatres, Gods knows why. (I remember hitchhiking cross-country to see a production of an early script. It was awful. The play, not the production. Well, actually the production was too.) I got better. Eventually there were some unbelievably minor awards, and some of my scripts even got published. It all sounds like a much smoother road now that I’m talking about it, maybe because I’m leaving out the drugs and the dangerous neighbourhoods and the grinding poverty and the craziness. You want safety and comfort? Don’t be an artist. Wait. What was I saying? Something about evolving? There was even a period where I was writing for television, hundreds of scripts, dozens of programs, mostly for PBS and Discovery, the Travel Channel, that sort of thing. What a fun experience! Finally – after what felt like a dozen different incarnations – I was able to commit to my fiction.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Rob: Well, my long-term partner – one of the best guys in the world – and I were actually able to get married here in Pennsylvania last year. That kind of rocked my world. Or did you mean literary news? Probably. (I’m still just marveling at my luck, husband-wise.) Let’s see. What else? My latest book came out a couple of months ago. It’s called THE STREETS and the feedback has been amazing. But then I’ve always been lucky with press.
“Substantial amounts of panache and poetic insight.”
Cemetery Dance Magazine
“A literary craftsman, a stylist,
skilled at drawing meaningful characters and building suspense.”
“The catalyst for the new literary movement in horror.”
Dark Scribe Magazine
“One of the best authors working in dark literature today.”
“Unconventional and totally unique.”
Nights & Weekends
“A writer of unusual talent and discipline.”
The Fright Site
“Easily one of the best dark fiction writers around.”
Heart of Horror
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing? When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Rob: I wish I could answer that in a more helpful way, but I don’t think I did exactly “begin” writing. I just always thought of myself as a writer. I really believe it’s an identity issue more than an occupational one. Even back in the early days, seeing my byline every week was more confirmation than realization.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book? How did you come up with the title?
Rob: I was always a huge fan of horror, and I’d grown up surrounded by some very creepy folklore… that no one had heard of outside the region: the legend of the Leeds Devil (aka The Jersey Devil). If you’re not familiar with the myth, it concerns a phantom believed to haunt the pine barrens of New Jersey, a vast, desolate forest region. Thus was born THE PINES… still my best known book even after all these years and – what? – in like its thirteenth edition now?
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Rob: The message is subtle in that first book of the series… but I think it emerges… gradually… and is perhaps more powerful because of that. I want readers to think about the nature of evil, the nature of “monsters.” It’s all perspective, isn’t it? My interest isn’t so much what’s lurking in the darkness as the nature of darkness. My sympathies are always with the creature.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic? Is it based on someone you know or events in your own life?
Rob: That’s an interesting question, Fiona, because – as it happens – yes, a lot of the individual events in the book are things I lived through. I spent a long time exploring the pines and researching its history. (Fortunately nothing ate me, but that was just dumb luck.) Many of the people I met influenced characters that appeared in the book. My process was much the same with the sequel, THE SHORE.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Rob: Ah. So your questions get harder as we go along? Very sneaky. I like to think I have a style… but a specific one? Let’s just say I don’t follow any of the usual rules. All those things they tell writers they must do? I do the opposite, pretty much. That’s kind of how artists are. Stubbornly iconoclastic. I’m not just grinding out commercial fiction here. I try to get to something truer. Deeper. The words have to resonate. That requires blood. My blood. If people are drawn to my work, if they see something of themselves in it, well, that’s wonderful. But it’s not what motivates me.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life? What are you reading now?
Rob: Never trust a writer who doesn’t read. Isn’t it bizarre that so many don’t seem to? It’s a difficult question to answer though. I mean, of all the thousands and thousands of books that have made an impact on my life … how do I choose a handful of titles that “most influenced” my development as an artist? Or as a person? I suppose Samuel R. Delany’s “Dhalgren” would have to be on the list – I think it was the first book that really made me realize what it meant to be a writer: the intensity, the passion, the essential loneliness. Literature as self-immolation. Then “Call It Sleep” has to be mentioned. Do you know Henry Roth’s work? I’m still absorbing the lessons I learned from him, lessons about fervently inhabiting the smallest details of life, about the wealth of meaning to be found… everywhere. That changed my life. Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Proust and Faulkner – dear Jesus, fucking Faulkner. And… oh… I should stop or I’ll just talk your ears off. Currently, I’m reading Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” for the second time and savoring every word.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
Rob: Well, lately I’ve been spending a lot of time promoting THE STREETS – marketing seems to devour more and more of my life – while putting together an anthology of unconventional ghost stories for Uninvited Books. And I’m working on a new novel, of course…
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Rob: Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? Just the fact that you’d ask that question indicates how much the world has changed… and in such a relatively short period of time. It just gets harder and harder. What with the collapse of copyright legislation and the proliferation of pirate sites, most writers have seen their backlists decline in value. The annihilating impact of Amazon on bookstores and publishers hasn’t helped, nor has their tendency to set book prices at around the cost of a cup of coffee. They have become basically the only game in town… and they sell used copies of your books, frequently for pennies, on the same page with new copies. Let’s not even mention the thousands and thousands of self-published books that – every day – make it almost impossible for a writer to attract attention. Talk about the cards being stacked against us. It tests one’s mettle. And tests it. And tests it…
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Rob: You mean the book I’m working on? Sorry, no, I don’t believe in doing that. It’s like expecting a composer to hum a bit of his score-in-progress. But how about an excerpt from the book that’s just come out?
* * *
Just as there are broken people, there are broken places on this earth.
Some have always been broken.
All cities have such neighborhoods at their edges, and this city is all edges … block after block of bleakly hopeless outskirts.
People don’t bury dead cities. They abandon them. They abandon them to the poorest of the poor, to the lost and the doomed.
A few streetlights may still glimmer, but the life of this city ebbed long ago. It might resemble the site of some cataclysm or look as though chains of time had tightened, crushing it; yet it is not truly old, not as such things are measured. No true cataclysm occurred, and the extinct civilization that built it staggers on, even now unaware of its own demise.
Rot phosphoresces where wounds are deepest, and here decay is well advanced, but some form of life festers still. Things scurry. They twitch in shadows. They splash through flooded alleys and lurk along the docks. And they travel in packs.
~ From THE STREETS by Robert Dunbar
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Rob: That’s difficult. So many times in my life, readers have kept me going… often through some very rough patches indeed. How do you thank people for that? How can you ever express what it’s meant to you?
Check out some of the reader comments about my book WILLY to see what I mean.
Fiona: What do you want written on your headstone?
Rob: “Here lies Greg F. Gifune.”
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website?
Rob: I blog (or possibly “rant”) at a site called Goodreads where I also run a book discussion group – Literary Darkness – with about 3,000 members. Stop by sometime.
And there’s all sorts of information about my work (and the work of many of my colleagues) at the Uninvited Books site: http://www.uninvitedbooks.com/page21.html
Thanks, Fiona! This has been a lot of fun.
For more information about Robert Dunbar’s writing, visit his Author Page at Amazon: