Name Robert Crawford
Where are you from? Astoria Queen, NYC
A little about yourself ie your education Family life etc
I don’t know how to answer this open-ended question. I graduated from high school, my family life was violent, unhappy, unstable. Which is why I never contact my family.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Endeavour Press in the UK asked me for the entire ms of my thriller TATTERDEMALION the day after I’d queried them.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
As I’d said on my Amazon author page, I began writing with wooden blocks (Yes, as a toddler). When I was a small child, I wrote and drew my own comic books (sometimes on spec for lunch money. My very first royalties!), in my early adolescence I wrote short stories. Later in my adolescence, poetry. By the time I was 35, I was hit with the novel writing bug and I’ve been doing that for the last 23 years (the last 12 I’ve also been a political blogger.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I don’t think there was any single “Eureka!” moment. I guess I always innately felt that as long as I could tell stories and entertain at least myself if not others, then I was a writer. Despite the advent of self-publishing and the occasional runaway success it’s produced, there’s still this stubborn insistence on believing that one cannot and should not consider themselves a writer until their work’s been ritualized in print. It’s also worth noting that there’s a polar opposite faction, this one permeating like a cancer throughout the entire spectrum of the publishing business, that if one is forced into self-publication, then they’re not a real writer (more on that later). One woman wrote on the Huffington Post last year, to many well-deserved jeers, that self-published work was “an insult to the written word.”
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Again, I don’t know. Define “book.” Define “first.” Throughout the 90’s, I wrote helter skelter a collection of satirical definitions in much the same manner as Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary but I didn’t collect them into book form until a few years ago as THE MISANTHROIPE’S MANUAL. My first novel was written 23 years ago and I can’t even begin to tell you why I wrote that except to say writing a novel was, well, a novel experience. I thought the story was worth telling (it wasn’t) and I guess that was enough incentive to go through with it. Incredibly, it got me a literary agent in 1996 and that encouraged me to keep writing fiction.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I have to say No. At least it depends on what series I’m writing. Every one of my books has its own idiosyncratic stamp but with one exception, every one of my novels is narrated first person by the main character. Scott Carson, the hero of TATTERDEMALION, has his own unique voice (a guttural East Side affectation in late 19th century New York), whereas Cornelius Van Zant, the MC in GODS OF OUR FATHERS, expresses himself much like an educated man would speak and write in mid-19th century Boston. Mike Flannigan, the narrator in AMERICAN ZEN, has a snarky, 21st century way of expressing himself that’s very much in keeping with his trenchant thoughts on politics. I guess I always believed it was more important for my various main protagonists to have their own voice than for all my novels to have one singular voice or stamp on them.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
What title? Which book are we talking about?
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Again, what title are we speaking of? I have four novels out.
Regarding a “message”- I choose to leave messages to the serious literary novelists to contemplate and articulate. I’m at the stage of my life in which I’m a glorified entertainer just trying to tell a good story. While I suppose every novel ought have a message, I trust that that message will become apparent to any who’d read it. It’s like the statue that the Greek sculptor found buried in a block of granite. With AMERICAN ZEN, I looked back on what I’d written and realized it was about the strength yet the frailty of love and friendship. With GODS OF OUR FATHERS, I had a vague idea that should address the issue of whether we can survive the gods of our forefathers or if we should create newer, kinder ones. I’m not aware of any message in TATTERDEMALION except to say innocence never lasts and it is either a casualty of the world or, after being curdled, aids that world in its wickedness.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
The only novel I’ve ever written to which there’s an affirmative would be AMERICAN ZEN. That was written between March and July of 2008 and was intended to be a contemporary bildungsroman. About a quarter or so of the chapters take place 30 years before in 1978 and act not so much as counterpoints but as a way of giving parallel, contemporary events some context, one generation giving an explanation for another, I guess. Every guy in the band was based to some degree on people I’d known or those I’d only met once. The narrator, Mike Flannigan, was based on myself. JoJo’s inspiration and template was Josiah Leming from Season Seven of American Idol, and so forth. Snatches of dialogue I’d even heard in ’78 and saved for God knows what reason, found their way in the book. TATTERDEMALION’s cast of characters was largely aided by my using many historical personages such as Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley and so forth.
Fiona: What books or mentor have most influenced your life most? A mentor?
I’ve only had one mentor to speak of because writers by and large never seem to have time or interest in those trying to get a leg up in the business. For poetry, I’d enjoyed a decades-long correspondence with the poet, text book writer and novelist X.J. Kennedy. Despite he and his wife raising five kids, Joe often found the time to critique whatever horrible poem would come out of my typewriter and he’d patiently explain its merits and shortcomings. Joe Kennedy was also the one who tried to push me to write prose, something I didn’t seriously pursue until 1994. Orwell’s 1984 influenced me socially (and even depressed me!) when I began reading it at the same time it begins (Spring 1984). Strunk & White’e ELEMENTS OF STYLE, which ought to be in every writer’s library, taught me each word should carry its weight. Caleb Carr’s THE ALIENIST and THE ANGEL OF DARKNESS showed me the potential of English in a work of contemporary, commercial fiction (It eventually inspired me to write my own historical psychological thriller, TATTERDEMALION).
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
It all depends on your definition of “new.” Since joining Facebook last January, I’ve discovered quite a few authors I never knew existed and I’ve bought more than a few of their titles. One guy I like is William Ryan, who for the last five years had published a trilogy of novels about a 1930’s Moscow detective named Korolev. As I love Russian-based crime fiction, Ryan was a perfect addition to my ever-growing library. My favorite author is still Caleb Carr, although I wasn’t very enthusiastic about his latest, SURRENDER, NEW YORK. I fear he may’ve lost his mojo after THE ANGEL OF DARKNESS but maybe he’ll find it again in the next two Alienist novels. But as for new authors? Well, most if not all of those I read and have befriended on Facebook are middle-aged to elderly.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Again, that was X. J. Kennedy who at some points in our correspondence had to squint really hard to justify maintaining it. But as far as being a novelist goes, I’ve essentially been working in a near-complete vacuum. No one in the business, and I mean NO ONE, has given me the slightest bit of encouragement, interest, opportunity, assistance or guidance.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Absolutely. I’d be happy being a midlist novelist, as long as I can support myself and live like a human being. But the sad reality is that an alarmingly small percentage of writers can actually support themselves by writing. The poet Randall Jarrell once bemoaned the 20th century took away a poet’s readers and replaced them with students. I’ve revised that to, The 20th century is the one that took away a writer’s patrons and replaced them with literary agents.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No. I gave myself that chance when I was proofing it and I changed everything I felt I had to.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
No. Remember, I began writing with wooden blocks that came in a wagon my parents bought me when I was a toddler. Many kids are born hams. Some sing, some dance, some play instruments. I wrote.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Here are the opening paragraphs of a Scott Carson short story I’d published just before last Christmas. It gives the uninitiated reader a good sample of Carson’s way of expressing himself. It’s a supernatural tale that happened not long before the events of TATTERDEMALION:
“(December 25th, 1888)
Not that I expect anyone to give a rat’s ass since I’m just an average mug from the Upper West Side whose sole claim to fame is in killing Jack the Ripper. And I’ve yet to even put pen to paper about how that came about with Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull and me last month. But I’m an engineer, partially educated at an overpriced joint named Columbia University. I work with numbers and depend on the laws of physics to get one contraption or another in good working order and I don’t truck in stories about ghosts or hogwash like that.
Yet, in our incessantly pragmatic day and age, self-important men inflated with hot air better than you and I breathe, those ranging from my fellow engineers to robber barons to the politicos who infest every level of government would publicly scoff at such tripe. They’d airily dismiss ghosts as figments of a febrile imagination or the hokum of confidence men and who knows, maybe they’re onto something.
Privately, though, like a hidden vice or buried crime, they’ll admit to experiencing something they’re at a loss to explain- Maybe a shadow in the corner of their eye, a glimpse of a face at the top of the stairs, a bump in the night what’s reprised on request, an object moving by itself or a voice coming out of nowhere when they knew for a fact they were alone.
We tend to shrug off such anomalous moments and continue whistling by the graveyard whether or not it whistles back at us. Or maybe it’s just the wind scratching through the dead limbs of a tree. Again, who knows?
Easy explanations and denunciations are always easier to swallow, I suppose, than a fact what eludes reason like a greased pig out of the hands of a slaughterman. Twain once wrote that it’s easier to fool the people than it is to convince people they’ve been fooled. That applies to seeing those shadows, faces and hearing those bodiless voices and bumps in the night. We’ll willingly play the fool and keep believing that the dead always continue their journey to who knows where or what and that they’re done with us like jilted lovers.
But once, just once in my young life, I saw something, and briefly held the proof of it in my hands. In fact, my mentor Jake Riis and I both saw it and, as with the murders of five women in London’s East End at the hands of a maniac, there are some things in this world we cannot unsee.
And sometimes the dead grab us by the lapels and won’t let us go because, contrary to popular belief, sometimes they ain’t done with us and have to speak their minds.”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Virtually everything! Yet there are some facets of writing that are more challenging to me than others. Plotting, for instance. I’m a pantser rather than a plotter. And, because I use the Poe method, I sometimes run into trouble when my muse leads me astray.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
When you’re on a shoestring budget, you’d be amazed how fast you become friends with Amazon and Wikipedia.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My current cover designer is a young man from Alabama named James Moore. He did the covers for GODS OF OUR FATHERS, the upcoming sequel, BLUE BLOOD as well as the cover for the first installment of a new series, entitled THE SAIPAN SEVEN. His Instagram account with samples of his work can be found here: https://www.instagram.com/designzrus/ He mainly does rap CD covers but he’ll do the occasional book cover.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Except for AMERICAN ZEN, in which I knew all the dramatic spikes from start to finish literally from Day One, the plotting. Plotting’s never easy for me. But trying to write off an outline would paralyze me and the process. The thing is, I believe every writer knows all the real writing is done in that thin No Man’s Land between the fingertips and the keyboard. I could write the most brilliant outline but when I actually go to write, I’d immediately deviate from it and just go with what I’m told to write from inside. I know. I’ve tried outlines once or twice. Doesn’t work.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
With AMERICAN ZEN, I learned a lot about myself as a human being and things I’d been avoiding or not dealing with gradually stood tall and would not stand down until I’d dealt with them. With TATTERDEMALION, I showed myself I could write a good if not great historical psychological thriller virtually on a par with THE ALIENIST. And, through its five or six line edits, I learned how to be an effective editor. But with every book, the author wrestles with some part of their self and it’s entirely up to them to judge which side is victorious.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film. who would you like to play the lead?
I’ve thought about this a lot. I think of all my books, perhaps TATTERDEMALION has the most big screen potential. I’d love to see Justin Long play Scott Carson. In fact, Carson’s appearance is based on Long. I’d also love to cast either Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt as Buffalo Bill, Ellen Page as Annie Oakley, with Graham Green as Sitting Bull.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
I don’t know why anyone would take advice from a middle aged guy who’s yet to make it. But whatever advice I’d impart would be not about writing but the business of writing and it’s this:
Do not let anyone con you into believing you actually need a literary agent. That’s a corrupt system set up to make most people fail, a system of kickbacks set up between publishers and literary agents a generation ago for their benefit. And if the interests of the author are ever met, it’s strictly incidental. I could go on about this for hours and pages and pages. But self-publishing exploded a decade ago largely because of the rude, dismissive way authors were treated by agents and editors. And it’s notable that, after pushing us into the self-publishing waters, when they saw how successful we’d become as a whole (23% of all book sales, last I heard), who are the ones who are loudest in their denunciations when they see their bottom lines threatened? Editors, literary agents, chain retailers and Big Five authors, all of them being entirely dependent on the fortunes of legacy-published books. It’s an insidious propaganda campaign designed to turn people off from “Brand X” authors.
It’s notable that my work began getting attention from editors and indie publishers only the moment I finally wrote literary agents out of the equation, got off their hamster wheel and began approaching these publishers directly. So that’s my advice for young writers: Do not be conned into believing a literary agent will solve all your problems. They fail to find homes for their properties nearly 100% of the time and have no better idea than Joe Blow who will catch lightning in a bottle or with what. Until a generation ago, authors were still able to approach acquisitions editors directly, negotiate their own contracts and manage their own careers. And in the succeeding generation, I don’t think our intelligence and pragmatism has atrophied one iota.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
You have no idea what it took me and took out of me to write this book for you. And it is you for whom I’d written this book. I do not write to please editors or literary agents or reviewers and critics. I am that most proletarian, socialist of authors- I write for the man on the street, the person most in need of a good story to divert them from their troubles, those who read for the love of it and don’t look at reading as an onerous chore. It is you who buys the books and makes or breaks literary careers. It is you who dictates trends and keeps afloat a $25 billion a year business. And what I did was in my spare time between trips to the doctor, the mechanic, the vet, paying bills, shopping or earning money. It was a selfless act of love and all I ask is for you to give me the benefit of the doubt and let me earn that trust by entertaining you.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
The 12th Department by William Ryan.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I don’t know if they were the first ones. But the first ones I bought, through Scholastic, was Ribsy, The Street of the Flower Boxes and Monarch X.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Seeing children or animals hurt makes me cry. Seeing others crying either in real life or a movie after a crushing loss or hurt. I’m empathetic, maybe too much so. What makes me laugh: The guys of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax and the Three Stooges.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
Nellie Bly. She revolutionized journalism when she was with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. She is such an inspiration to me that I put her in a Scott Carson short story (the one for which I’d provided a sample) and the first sequel to TATTERDEMALION.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
I refuse to think about that. The idea of my own extinction is too terrifying to even contemplate and I do not and will not dwell on my own death.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
No. Except if watching movies and TV qualifies as a hobby.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
The Flash, Green Arrow, The Americans, Ripper Street (while it was on), Boston Red Sox baseball. I love virtually all superhero movies and well-made action and sci fi movies.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Food: Mexican. Colors: Scarlet red and emerald green. Music: Hard rock and heavy metal.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
As a child, I loved to draw more than write. In fact, had my parents actually encouraged instead of discouraged me, I would’ve become a comic book artist and eventually a graphic novelist (less of a stretch, I know). But who knew back in the 60s that comics would grow into a multi-billion dollar business? Still, when I think that I could’ve gotten in on the ground floor…
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it? http://welcomebacktopottersville.blogspot.com/ It’s been renamed Welcome Back to Gotham City and I mainly write about politics from a decidedly liberal perspective.