Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? It’s hard to tell “a little bit” when you’ve just turned 50. (grin) I’ve been writing professionally, about disability issues from sports to politics, for roughly 17 of those years. Before then I was working as a social worker in a group home for mentally challenged men. And, my first job just after college was as a clerk at the NJ Parole Board. I love movies and theatre (dramas not musicals) and Xbox gaming. I am a brown belt in Kempo (after helping my sensei design a training program for a wheelchair user).
What do you do when you are not writing? Do you have a day job as well? When I’m not writing I hang out with friends, I read a lot (currently: the True Blood series, though my tastes are eclectic), I attend photography classes and writing seminars, I play Scrabble and card games. But, when I’m looking for true down time I play on my Xbox, or watch TV.
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book? I started writing shortly after my car accident in 1988. The place I was working at became inaccessible and, frankly, a pain to travel to (literally). My first published work came when I started writing articles about what life was like as a new wheelchair user. Though fun in the beginning, using a wheelchair gets old real fast! Then I wrote an as-of-yet unpublished, and fictionalized (to protect the innocent), story of my experiences while in a physical rehabilitation hospital, because I had to get the ghosts of the experience out of my head. It took me a long time after that to decide to write another book, but that finally happened around 2000 after I’d written many disability-related technology articles.
How did you choose the genre you write in? It actually chose me. I had written an article about a piece of technology (at the time in prototype) that would allow a blind person to navigate his environment using virtual sound and the global positioning satellite system. One day I wondered what would happen if the device malfunctioned and, instead of “seeing” what was immediately around him, the user would find himself in an unfamiliar environment. Then I wondered what he would do if what he stumbled upon was a murder about to occur. These wonderings eventually became the threads of my first novel, Blind Traveler Down a Dark River.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? I don’t write every day, though there are many writers who say that one must. When I get an idea to write about I don’t set myself any word number or page length goals for any particular day. On the days that I do write, I work until I am satisfied with what I’ve put down, or until I get bored with what I’m working on. I can only ever remember having true writer’s block once, when my father was diagnosed with brain cancer. The reasons for the block are unimportant, though probably everyone can come up with many, and they’d all probably be true in my case. The fact is, though, that for the seven months and three days of my father’s illness I could not bear to write anything even remotely related to my chosen field of disability issues. In fact I could not write anything related to anything. The odd thing is that the blockage lifted almost on the exact day that he passed away.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published? Like all of us, I struggled to find a publisher for my first book. I scoured the internet for names and addresses of publishers. I talked to several people who I knew were writers and had things published. I went to a writer’s conference where I met with several publishers. I eventually bought a computer program which had an Agent and Publisher section with a list of names and addresses. The program allowed users to narrow their searches based on things like genre, word count and location. Eventually I went with a POD company (fortunately I did not have to shell out any cash for).
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 did a lot of research for the story before I started writing it. I loved learning new things for the sake of the story. But, in the future, it might be worth while to get some help with that aspect of the process. Also, when the book came out I was told that it needed a love interest for the protagonist. So, I gave him one for the second book. But I killed her during the course of the story. I guess it’s true that love doesn’t often last. (evil grin)
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre? For the first book I admit to being rather naïve. I thought the publisher would help me with advertising and marketing much more than they did. Now I know that I have to do the lion share on my own. Actually, I learned a great deal about how to market myself after the first book came out. I learned about radio, both the internet and “real” varieties. I did a lot of interviews. I also did an interview for a local TV station. I contacted many newspapers and magazines to get interviews. Coming from the field of disability issues, I knew several magazines that would be interested in a story about a blind detective. I did a few live reading/signing events at some bookstores too. Finally, I hand out business cards like a madman to anyone who will listen. Alas I’m still not sure what avenues work best for marketing.
Can you tell us about your upcoming book? In each Blind Traveler story I will be exploring the use of one of my protagonist’s remaining senses. For example, in the first book Douglas Abledan, my protagonist, used his sense of hearing to solve the murder. The second book, which will be coming out as an ebook by Echelon Press, is called Blind Traveler’s Blues. In it, Douglas uses his sense of smell to uncover and solve the crime. The story takes place in Chicago, where Douglas has gone on vacation. On the plane he meets an attractive scientist who is headed to a meeting of world experts to find a cure for an agricultural plague. During their brief encounter Douglas becomes enamoured. Alas, she dies. Upon hearing about her demise he determines he has to find out why he won’t have the chance to get to know her better. ’Nuff said.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination? What is imagination? I don’t believe in fiction. In my mind everything comes from a part of who a writer is. His experiences. The people he comes in contact with during the day to day of his life. The feelings he has about the world around him. We, as writers, may not be conscious of the fact that we are, in some senses, writing about our own lives. But, I believe we all are. My characters are an amalgam of all the people I’ve met in my life. For example, my mother would tell you that Douglas is based on me. I don’t recognise some of his characteristics in my own makeup but certainly there are parts of him in me and parts of me in him.
How did you come up with the title? I’d been searching for a good name for my protagonist even before I started thinking about the title for my first book. I wanted a name that had a meaning. Names should mean something after all. I looked through several baby naming books. I like interesting, foreign-sounding names. Finally I came across the name Abledan in one of the books. Whichever language it comes from, and I don’t remember which anymore, it meant “traveler on a dark river.” I liked that, a lot, since we are all travelers on life’s river. And, since I’d decided to create a blind protagonist the book became titled Blind Traveler on a Dark River. Now every book title will begin with the words Blind Traveler.
What project are you working on now? I am trying very hard to write a short story about my protagonist, Douglas Abledan. I want to bring him more into the minds of readers, so more people will look for my novels, and I think short stories might be the way to do that. I’d like to write something short enough for people to read while riding one way on a train. I’m also doing research for my next Blind Traveler novel. At the moment I’m thinking it will take place in Antarctica and have something to do with the search for alternative fuels.
Will you have a new book coming out soon? As I said earlier, my second novel, Blind Traveler’s Blues, will be coming out soon as an ebook from Echelon Press, though the date has not yet been set. Look for it! (grin)
Chocolate or Vanilla? Definitely chocolate. I was born into a family of chocoholics.
The light side or the dark side? Depends on the day
If you were a superhero (or villain!) what would your power be? Would you wear a cape? In college I was in a role-playing club. I played a game called Villains and Vigilantes, a take-off of Dungeons and Dragons that was set in modern times. I played a super hero named Oxilar who had mind control abilities, was very fast, and was able to scale walls using adamantium hooves.
Do you have deep dark secret? Don’t we all? Especially writers??
What sort of Starbuck’s coffee would you order? I’m partial to peppermint mocha.
Drink of choice? Amaretto or dark beer.
You can find Roberts work on Amazon.com (trade paperback and Kindle versions)
Be sure to stop by his website too!