Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
I am 67 years old and my name is Robert I. Katz. I use the “I” because there are a number of other writers named Robert Katz, at least one of whom was very well known (The Cassandra Crossing, Death in Rome, etc.).
Fiona: Where are you from?
I grew up in Syosset, a not-so-small town on Long Island, NY.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I graduated from Columbia in 1974 with a degree in English. I then went to Northwestern University Medical School (now the Feinberg School)followed by a residency in Anesthesiology at Columbia-Presbyterian, in New York. Most of my career was spent at Stony Brook University, where I had numerous roles, including Director of Obstetrical Anesthesia, Chief—Anesthesiology Service, Northport Veterans Administration Medical Center, Director of Pre-Operative Services, Director of the Division of Neuro/ENT Anesthesia, Chairman—Departmental Finance Committee, Professor of Clinical Anesthesiology and Vice-Chairman for Administration.
In 2008, I began a website: thedefensiveinvestor.com. A couple of years ago, I published a non-fiction book on investing, entitled Make Money, Don’t Lost Money: The Defensive Investor on Thriving and Surviving Through Bull and Bear Markets.
I finished my medical career as Clinical Professor of Anesthesiolgy, University of Florida and Chief—Anesthesiology Service, North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System.
I am married, with three grown children and (so far) two grandchildren.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
My latest novel is entitled If a Tree Falls. It was published by Genius Media on July 30, 2019 as part of a collection of medical mysteries, Do No Harm. A week after publication, Do No Harm reached number 55 on the USA Today Bestseller List.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I was a voracious reader from the age of nine, and I always pictured myself in the writer’s role. I don’t really remember when I decided to write, but I began to seriously try in the mid 1980’s, shortly after I purchased my first computer with a good word-processing program. Fifteen years later, I finally got something published.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That’s a tough question. The average published novelist in the United States makes no more than a few thousand dollars per year from writing. Most books that get written, never get published. Most books that do get published, lose money for the publisher. For most of us, it’s a hobby—a serious hobby, but still a hobby. Very few writers can afford to quit their day job. For years, I was reluctant, even embarrassed, to describe myself as a writer. It seemed too pretentious. I suppose that I began to feel comfortable with the idea that I was a writer when I finally began to make more money selling my books than I was spending on advertising them.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I just liked the idea of telling stories. There’s something magical about writing a book. You’re creating this whole Universe out of nothing other than words and your own imagination, and I’ve never found ideas hard to come by.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I was not and am still not happy with the title of my first book: Edward Maret: A Novel of the Future. It’s a science fictional version of The Count of Monte Cristo, set thousands of years in the future. Today, I would come up with a better title, one that draws the reader in and tells at least a little bit of the story.
My latest book, If a Tree Falls, is a mystery, and refers to the tragic murder of the victims, who live and die in anonymity, with no one caring, and in most cases, with no one even noticing.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
Years ago, I read an excellent book by John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist. Gardner felt that the writer should strive for his words to be un-noticed, that the words are meant to convey the sights, sounds and entire sensory experience directly from the page into the reader’s mind, without themselves getting in the way. It’s the same thing that Samuel Johnson meant when he wrote, “Whenever I see a line of mine that I think particularly fine, I strike it out.” This is sometimes called the “transparent style.” It’s what I try for.
As for genre, I write both mysteries and science fiction. Each presents its own challenges. In science fiction, you have to craft an alien world, and make it seem both comprehensible and real. In both mysteries and science fiction, you have to come up with a plot that blends seamlessly together. Mysteries tend to be more convoluted. They require a puzzle to be solved and something important that your protagonist needs to figure out.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I forget who it was who said, “Of course, life is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” Fiction, while it needs to reflect and say something significant about reality, is itself inherently unrealistic. Reality (and life) just happens. It rarely means anything meaningful and it often makes no sense. This can be a difficult lesson for the novelist to learn. Many years ago, I read Writing to Sell, by Scott Meredith. I particularly remember Meredith’s description of “The Plot Skeleton,” a template that virtually every successful story has to have. Specifically, you start with a protagonist for whom the reader can feel sympathy. The protagonist has a problem that he or she must solve. The protagonist’s efforts to solve the problem fail, and usually make the problem even worse. Finally, when all seems lost, the protagonist solves the problem…orcomes to a realization that the problem wasn’t worth solving in the first place. An example of the latter might be a man who strives all his life to become wealthy and finally realizes that what he wanted all along was the love of a good woman and a career saving the environment.
It’s often been said that a writer should, “Write what you know.” But how many of us know very much of anything that would make a good story? Writers, to be specific, rarely have exciting lives. They sit in one place for much of the day, writing. It’s nothing at all like the lives of their characters, which resemble our own.So, what is important is not the reality that we know. It’s what we can realistically imagine, and if you happen to have a field that does lend itself to some interesting stories (like doctor, or lawyer, or astronaut, or cop) that’s all the better.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I might have needed to travel before the internet. Now, the world is truly at our fingertips.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My first cover was designed by an outfit called Desktop Miracles. Since then, they have all been designed by my son, Steven A. Katz, who is a very talented cover designer. If anybody would like to use his services, he can be reached at email@example.com.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I think of that old quote, supposedly attributed to Samuel Goldwyn, “If you have a message, call Western Union.” The fact is that every good story has a message, but it’s rarely a message that needs to be spelled out. It’s inherent in the plot, in the problem that the protagonist must solve and the ways that he goes about solving it. My novels all feature protagonists who are trying to right wrongs, solve problems and/or make things better, sometimes for the world but more specifically for themselves…so if you want to think of a message, it might be the very simple message, “Do the right thing,” which of course leads to the question, “What is the right thing?” Many books have grappled with this question, certainly including mine.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I’m not sure about new writers. My specific field of study was English, which means that I’ve read a lot of the classics, and many of these inform my work, but at the moment, my favorite writers are Ilona Andrews and John Conroe. Neither are high-brow in the slightest, but both tell a great story. In the past, my favorite writers, at various stages in my life, were Edgar Rice Burroughs, then E. E. “Doc” Smith, then Robert A. Heinlein, then Samuel R. Delany and Roger Zelazny and Ursula K. LeGuin, then Dorothy L. Sayers, Robert B. Parker, Robert Crais and John Sandford, then Dorothy Dunnett, and then Iain M. Banks. Probably my all timefavorite books are Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury, Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks, Camp Concentration by Thomas Disch and The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
Well, nobody stood in my way and tried to say, “Stop, you can’t do this!” On the other hand, I can’t say that anybody was particularly supportive. Everybody knows the myth of the struggling artist, and most everybody assumes that the struggling artist is doomed to struggle and fail, and in fact, most do. It’s a lonely business. It usually takes years of work with no tangible reward and all of us doubt ourselves.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Now that I don’t need the money, absolutely.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
There are a couple of scenes I might make shorter. Other than that, no.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Since my most recent book was my thirteenth novel and fifteenth published book, I can’t say that I learned anything about either writing or myself. Every book, however, involves research. In researching this book, I learned a good bit about the State of West Virginia, golden trout, the school of classical realism in painting, and serial killers.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
The hero of my mysteries, Richard Kurtz, is a surgeon. He’s ex-army, six foot two inches tall, 210 pounds, with a black belt in tae kwon-do. Hmm? A young (and taller) Chuck Norris, Hugh Jackman, maybe Paul Walker or Mark Wahlberg.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Keep writing. Fight through the inevitable discouragement. It takes a long time.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I’m very grateful to everybody who buys one of my books, and I hope you like my stuff. And reviews, particularly on Amazon, would be appreciated.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Changeling, by Molly Harper.
Hazard, by Devon Monk.
Wild Card, by Alan Lee.
Eagerly waiting for Sapphire Flames, by Ilona Andrews, which should come out at midnight tonight.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I have no idea what the first book I read was. Probably something assigned by my First Grade teacher. The first book that I ever read because I actually wanted to read it was At the Earth’s Core, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The day I saw that book, with one of those terrific Roy Krenkel covers, really changed my life. I was 9 years old. That book, and that day, marked my transition from a kid who didn’t like to read to one who was constantly reading.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Calvin and Hobbes and Dilbert for the first. I try to avoid crying.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Petronius. He wrote a good book, had a lot of fun and died heroically rather than betray his friends and colleagues.
One day during my Freshman year, I was walking along a hallway in the English Department, while some pompous professor was talking to his acolyte about heroes. They were specifically discussing the heroic qualities of Che Guevara. I piped up and said, “My hero is Petronius.” The academic glared at me and said, “You, sir, are very sick!”
I still stand by Petronius.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Golf, fishing, reading, cooking and eating.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
The Lord of the Rings, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Blade Runner, Five Million Years to Earth, Forbidden Planet. As for TV shows, I mostly watch them to chill out, which means something mindless and relaxing. I’m particularly partial to Beachfront Bargain Hunt, Caribbean Life and Forged in Fire. Also, I wish they would bring back Iron Chef, America. In the not so recent past, I was into The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Six Feet Under. I’ve tried to avoid Game of Thrones until George R. R. Martin finishes the series, but I’m afraid that might never happen.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Thai, Indian, French.
Gorecki’s Third Symphony, Duke Ellington, Steely Dan, The Allman Brothers, The Beach Boys and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Probably be bored and depressed. I like playing golf, but I’m not good enough to take it seriously. Maybe I’d volunteer somewhere.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
See the pyramids, and then go trout fishing in Canada or Chile.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
Aside from, “Here lies the greatest man who ever lived?” No clue.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Also, my Facebook page.
Amazon authors page USA https://www.amazon.com/Robert-I.-Katz/e/B001K7T7D8?ref=dbs_mng_calw_a_0