Wednesday, January 23, 2013

7 Questions: Author Keith Robinson

Keith Robinson is an independent author whose work I've admired for years.  A transplant from across the pond, he began cranking out quality YA reads almost as soon as he got here. He's currently doing a giveaway of Island of Fog over on his Kindle page so check it out if you want to get a great book at a great price (free!).

Here now, seven questions for Keith Robinson:

Keith Robinson
1) I know you're originally from the UK. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to the US?

I spent fourteen years working in an office in England drawing floor plans and organizing office refurbishments and relocations. It was a different life, wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase, driving or flying to offices all around the UK. It was during this time that I met my future wife from America. We were penpals for five years between 1990 and 1995 -- the traditional sort, sending handwritten letters by mail -- and then she decided to come and visit me in England for a short visit. We hit it off and, six months later, I went to visit her in Georgia, USA, and we got engaged. As you do.

She moved to England and we bought a house, and in 1999 (with an eye on the future) I left my job and became a self-employed website designer. I made half the money but was twice as happy. In 2001 we sold the house at profit and moved to America, and I took my website design business with me. Thus, our five-year plan came to fruition!

2) What made you decide to take the plunge and write your first novel?

Looking back, this probably came out of loneliness. I'd left my family and friends back in England, and while I was very happy living in Georgia, in a house with more yard than I ever dreamed of owning, I was pretty isolated as well. I continued building my website design business while my wife went to work, which invariably left me alone, often with very little work to do. So I started writing "seriously," something I'd only done as a hobby from time to time. I decided I'd make a go of selling short stories. That didn't work out at all, because selling short stories is really, really hard... and I found that I preferred writing novels. There were a few projects on the go, but ISLAND OF FOG (or ISLAND OF MIST as it was originally called) came into existence around February 2002.

3) I always like hearing about an author's process. What's involved in taking one of your books from idea to publication?

The first in the FOG series took a long, long time. Six years, to be exact, finally published in April 2009 -- although that was mostly because I still wasn't taking myself seriously as a writer and only writing as a hobby. This particular book went through numerous revisions before I even got to Chapter Nine. Then, once I'd pushed though, I got to Chapter Thirteen and realized it wasn't going where I expected, so I rewrote that last section as well. This was when I started learning that a detailed chapter summary is probably a good thing to have. Subsequently, all my other books have had a detailed chapter summary that allows me to explore and write the novel without actually writing it. It's a no-brainer. The long-term thinking process is the same, only with fewer words. Why write eight full chapters and then realize I'm going wrong when I can write eight paragraphs and come to the same conclusion? So now I always use chapter summaries, and I end up saving a lot of time.

Once the first draft is written, I go through a slow, detailed edit. This is like rewriting everything I've written, one paragraph at a time. Sometimes I think "Gah!" and delete a whole page of pointless drivel. Other times I'll go through half a page without a single correction and think I'm a genius. But mostly I correct and tighten and reword and flesh out and generally do it better.

Then it's time to print it out. I find a lot more typos when reading printed text, and that sweep is well worth doing. After that, I send the manuscript (now Version 3) to a few proofreader types who are willing to not only look for typos but suggest improvements and generally mention anything they feel is worth mentioning. After all those edits are complete, Version 4 is ready. This version is for a bigger selection of ARC readers, those who don't look for typos and just want to breeze through it and enjoy it as a finished book. Sometimes I'll get back some comments that suggest I fix something, and then I'll do some rewrites as necessary.

Finally it's ready, and I'm sick to death of it. I publish it with a sense of pride and excitement, but at the same time I'm SO over it already and moving on to the next project.

4) Who are some of your favorite fantasy/sf authors and what, if anything, about their style has influenced your own writing?

I enjoyed Piers Anthony when I was around 16-20. I read most of his back then. I also read Terry Brooks' first three Shannara books. I soon realized that I hate reading "high fantasy" with the weird made-up names and thousand-year-old back history and traditional medieval (middle-earth) setting. It's all too serious and plodding for me. I love the Game of Thrones HBO series but could never read the books. It's the same with Tolkien. I've actually read very few "famous" fantasy books; I prefer to read the facts about the myths and legends and make up my own versions of them in my own way, and I prefer starting out in a contemporary world with characters we can all identify with who are thrown into fantastically weird settings. So I guess that's Urban Fantasy.

On the flip side, I used to read a lot of hardcore sci-fi from Stephen Baxter and Asimov, and lighter sci-fi from Harry Harrison. In fact, Harry Harrison (creator of the Stainless Steel Rat series) probably sent me to more places than any other author. Stephen Baxter, though, is something of a genius (brilliant physicist, etc) and I'm frequently mind-boggled by his expansive ideas.

And then there's Douglas Adams. Who isn't inspired by him? Of course, I also read Dean Koontz and Stephen King and all those other authors that everybody else reads.

5) On a related note, I know you're a devotee of Enid Blyton. Who was Enid Blyton and why should folks outside the UK know about her?

Ah, yes. I grew up on Enid Blyton books. She died in 1968 after a very long, very successful career. Some of her most popular series were like England's answer to the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Three Investigators. The difference is that Blyton wrote all her own stories and churned out something like 185 novels in her career, not to mention ten thousand short stories. She's world famous, just strangely absent from America, because although she did have some books here a few decades ago, her stories were in direct competition with the aforementioned Hardy Boys. Oddly enough, despite her fame, the only award she ever got was for MYSTERY ISLAND -- the American edition of THE ISLAND OF ADVENTURE. How ironic!

Was I inspired by her? Yes, but not in terms of genre. I loved playing at "mystery solving" when I was young, as did all my Blyton-reading friends, and I still like the idea of a set of mystery novels beginning with "The Mystery of..." -- but it's been done to death, and besides, I like to inject some weird stuff in my writing. So I grew up on children's mystery and adventure, moved on to light (and some heavy) fantasy, read a lot of hard sci-fi and horror, and ended up writing my own brand of fantasy.

6) You've had a very successful run with your Island of Fog novels. Can you give us a thumbnail of what happens over the course of these books and talk about the challenges of writing a multi-book YA series?

Short answer: kids turn into monsters, kids save the world. The longer answer is that there are a group of children living on a perpetually foggy island with their parents, and now that they're twelve-years-old, they're starting to question what's Out There beyond the fog. Is the rest of the world really "dead" as they've been told? Best friends Hal and Robbie build a raft to sail out to the hidden mainland... but don't quite make it. Things really start to happen when one of the "annoying" girls, Abigail, shows Hal her secret -- that she's growing wings! She says they're all turning into monsters. So the question becomes, "Are we freaks of nature? Or subjects of a sinister experiment?"

The arrival of a stranger -- itself a remarkable thing since there's supposedly nobody left alive in the world outside the island -- sets everything in motion. Now the kids are mad. They're determined to find out the truth no matter how much trouble they get in.

This is all in the first book, and it sets the stage for a 6-book series in which they get to test their shapeshifting abilities against real fantasy creatures and uncover deeper truths about what went wrong with the world. And Hal and Abigail find that they actually like each other a little bit.

Writing for a younger audience is, frankly, not a problem. I firmly believe that writers have a niche, and mine is to write for a young-ish audience but with adults in mind as well. In other words, edgy but clean, dark but not graphic, fun but not childish. I don't talk down to my readers, but I keep it family-oriented.


7) What are you working on these days?

The sixth and final FOG book. Actually, it's the final book for now but not necessarily forever. I'll be starting on a prequel in a few months, plus a series of short stories. In a year or so I might yearn to come back with Book 7.

But aside from that, right now I'm working on a collaboration novel called FRACTURED with author Brian Clopper. Then I have a novel called QUINCY'S WORLD that I want to finish editing and put out for publication. And I have a whole slew of ideas for future projects, which my fingers can't keep up with. If only I was famous and rich so my wife and I could give up work, hire a nanny, cleaner, and gardener.... oh, and pool girl for the pool we'd install. My wife insists on a pool boy, but I vote for a pool girl. A show of hands, please? Roger? Help me out here.

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Thanks, Keith! Personally, I'd go for a pool robot, but that's how I roll.

If you'd like to learn more about Keith, check out his website, Unearthly Tales, or his Facebook author fan page.



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