Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? I’m a Canadian novelist, screenwriter and non-fiction book author living and writing full-time in Huntington Beach, Southern California. I’m the father of two amazing sons, Brian and Josiah, and very lucky husband to Leslie Coogan (she had such a great name she decided to keep it, couldn’t blame her, lol). I just finished my latest novel, Jo-Bri and the Two Worlds, and am looking for a Young Adult agent for it. My previous novel, “God Wars, Book One: Living with Angels” is coming out from Echelon Press either late January or early February 2011, it’s a fantasy Sci Fi novel. I’m also just finished the first draft of a new non-fiction book, a self-help book with a twist, irreverent in many ways and definitely not your father’s self-help book, it’s entitled “Enlighten This, Motherf*****.” LOL.
What do you do when you are not writing? Do you have a day job as well? I love just hanging with my wife Leslie, dining out, going to movies, ziplining, skiing (though we don’t go nearly enough), reading (don’t do nearly enough of that either, it’s always a time cruch). I do still have a day gig, as a marketing communication writer, so I’m incredibly lucky, even my day gig involves writing.
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book? I started writing when I was three years old, short stories. I wrote my first book, a novel, when I was 12.
How did you choose the genre you write in? I never had a specific genre until my last two novels and I chose fantasy and then, with my latest novel, Young Adult fantasy (I know, that sounds dirty). It was partly a commercial choice. I have a feature film coming out in April, another one in development but I wasn’t satisfied with my success in screenwriting so I went back and wrote my first novel in twenty years or so, and the concept that came to me just happened to be fantasy/SF, so I went with it. Of course that genre is killing right now especially the YA market, so I think it was the right choice.
Where do you get your ideas? Do you ever experience writer’s block? Do you work with an outline, or just write? I don’t think I’ve ever experienced writer’s block even though I once wrote an article on it for a well-known writing magazine, lol. I have no idea where the ideas and concepts come from, one moment there’s nothing and then a concept and if I’m smart enough and quick enough to write them down, they almost inevitably end up being written as a story, though I have a huge backlog of ideas awaiting my attention. I always outline after I get the initial concept, in fact I wrote two screenwriting books that emphasize outlining: “The Screenwriting Formula” and “How to Write High Structure, High Concept Movies.”
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult? Anything by Hemingway, loved his terse, muscular style, and anything by Richard Bach. Loved Pearl Buck, Steinbeck to a lesser degree, then I got into a lot of SF and fantasy, like “Stranger in a Stranger Land,” “The Foundation” series, Ursula LeGuin, a little sword and sorcery like McAfferty.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published? I spent years trying to get my first two novels published and there was the occasional nibble but nothing. The real reason for that was that I wasn’t invested enough in rewriting my work, trying to get by with first or second drafts. I didn’t know back then that the real secret to writing is rewriting. “God Wars,” though, came relatively easy. It was originally written as a screenplay, but it just kept on going until it was somehow book-length, so I converted one copy to a novel and the other copy I slashed back down to feature script length. It was turned down by several publishers, which is par for the course for most novelists, and then an editor at Echelon Press took a liking to it and the rest will hopefully one day be history, lol.
If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change? I would have written it as a novel to begin with. Screenplays and novels are just so different in style and content and especially point of view and it took a lot of editing to get “God Wars” to be a novel, though in the end with a lot of great editorial help from Echelon, it came out pretty well I think.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre? You know, again there are the differences between the film world and the world of books and then the differences in the book world between the old days and now, with all the social media marketing that has to be done. So I’m catching up. I had some presence on the web, the usual suspects – facebook, myspace, linkedin, etc. but it’s been an uphill climb learning what I need to know. I finally have website (robtobinscreenwriting.com) though I haven’t converted it fully to the new novel yet, and certain people at Echelon, especially Jen Wylie, are helping me maneuver into the proper position prior to publication date.
Have you written a book you love that you have not been able to get published? Absolutely. I mean I really like “God Wars,” but my latest novel “Jo-Bri and the Two Worlds” was written exlusively as a novel from the beginning, as a Young Adult fantasy novel somewhat like “Harry Potter” meets “Twilight” and “Stranger in a Strange Land” and it is the best thing I’ve ever written, and my book agent thought so too, actually calling it brilliant (and she’s extremely hard to please), but she doesn’t handle YA and I haven’t been able to yet find the right agent to take this one big – I really feel this is another “Twilight” or “Harry Potter” kind of series waiting for the right agent and right publisher to take off with. I’m absolutely sure it will, but the book industry is in flux and people are hesitant to commit.
Can you tell us about your upcoming book? “God Wars” is about a teenage girl, a world-class gymnast, who is training for the Olympics and is an amazing athlete but more than that – she has this… “power” that allows her to do things others can’t. Then one day this drugged-out punk drives her and her parents off the road, permanently paralyzing the girl, killing her parents and stripping her of that “power.” Years later, in a wheelchair, a dark figure (who turns out to be a demon) helps direct her into witchcraft and she rediscovers her power, and decides that she is going to use that power to punish all the wrongdoers she can, especially the young man who put her in a wheelchair and her family into the grave. She’s got justice in her hands and she’s really, really pissed off. She also meets another shadowy figure who turns out to be an angel stranded on Earth who tries to prevent her from abusing her powers. The question becomes, will she gain revenge, and will she destroy the world in the process? It’s funny, sexy, with a great female lead and it has a lot of twists and turns.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination? Just my constant desire for instant justice – you know you see that a-hole and you want a bolt of lightning to come down from the sky to fry him or her and it never really does. I guess “God Wars” is for all of us who are just praying for that bolt of lightning.
What project are you working on now? Will you have a new book coming out soon? Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with? Well, “God Wars” is the first book in a trilogy, I’m working on that aforementioned self-help book but the book I’m pushing the most right now is “Jo-Bri and the Two Worlds,” which is completed, and for which I’m looking for that top-notch agent.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers? Again, the secret to writing is rewriting. Hemingway actually once said: “The first draft of anything is shit.” An actual quote. And he is absolutely right. Write, then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. And the only other thing I’d say is that if you’re going to write, do it for the joy of it, because the odds of making a living as a novelist or screenwriter or playwright are quite small. I hate to discourage new and young writers, but you have to know what you’re facing, and it’s an uphill battle.
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans? I have readers and fans? Damn. Yeah, let me repeat: enjoy the process of writing, that way even if you never make it commercially, you’ll at least be doing something you enjoy.
Rob is a husband, father, screenwriter, novelist, non-fiction book author, frequent guest speaker at film festivals and writing conferences, and a graduate of USC’s Master of Professional Writing program and of the University of Victoria’s Creative Writing program. He has a $15 million feature film (“Dam 999”) in post production, a $40 million feature (“Camel Wars”) in development with legendary filmmaker John McTiernan (“Die Hard,” “Predator,” “Hunt for Red October”) attached to direct, a novel (“God Wars”) scheduled to be published in early 2011, and two published non-fiction books. Creative Screenwriting Magazine recently produced two of Rob’s instructional screenwriting DVDs.
Rob is a former VP of Writers Boot Camp, the country’s largest private screenwriting school. As a story analyst, he read 5,000+ screenplays for Goldwyn, Spelling, Interscope, TriStar, TriMark, HBO, et al. He also helped establish a feature film department for Stephen J. Cannell (“The A-Team,” “Hunter,” “The Commish”).