Interview with Robert Ray
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I was six years old, listening to stories from my mother. One story was adventures of Bertram, authored by Paul Gilbert—the ibex, the velocipede, the father on business in Omaha. And the other was a cave man hero named Oogli, with a wife named Oompah, a nod here to Alley Oop. With those stories in your head, who wouldn’t want to be a writer?
What genre do you write and why?
I write mysteries because I have the mouldering manuscripts of five experimental novels gathering dust in my author’s closet.
In a mystery, you have modular scenes—the crime, discovery of the crime, reporting the crime, sleuth onstage, witness interview (Christie runs these in a tantalizing string)—scenes with purpose and time limits—and that helps me keep a tight structure.
Tell us about your latest book.
Murdock Tackles Taos is #6 in the Matt Murdock Mystery Series, a romp through the mountains of Northern New Mexico—Murdock has 4 books in SoCal and one in Seattle—but the big change in Murdock Six is his encounter with ex-cop Helene Steinbeck, who demanded her own POV, which jostled my writing out of the First Person Private Eye Film Noir narrative into a shifting Third Person, Murdock scenes trading off with Helene scenes. The writing is tighter, the action moves faster. Early reviewers are making nice comments—so maybe I did something right.
What marketing methods are you using to promote your book?
This interview, a blog tour, a book Launch party, begging friends for help, a book-signing here and there—but the internet is crawling with hungry writers littering cyper-space with their spoor—and Facebook-itis has shortened the life-span of each sound-bite online—so we are all equal, Dante’s Inferno is on the same plane as the flimsiest urban fantasy which creates its own little vampire Hell. Strange times for us all.
What formats is the book available in?
Paper and Kindle.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I meditate. On the floor, on my back. Knees up, legs on a bolster, just lie there and be at one with the floor and then do specific core exercises. I listen to Lozanov-inspired French tapes—French read against Baroque music—so I can order beefsteak in Paris and not wind up with a Swiss hotdog, laced with cheese.
Who are your favourite authors?
In college I gorged on Thomas Wolfe—now he overwrites. In graduate school I discovered T.S. Eliot and heard his lines singing. When Prufrock sings that line about the mermaids: “I do not think that they will sing to me,” I bounced off the walls with envy. In prose, Hemingway got close to the singing line in The Sun Also Rises: “Looking back we saw Burguete, white houses nd red roofs and the white road with a truck going along it and the dust rising.” At Beloit College—I taught there for 12 years—I took my classes through Nabokov’s Pale Fire a dozen times—lots of sly laughs in those pages. My favorite dialogue writer is Tom Stoppard—what an ear.
These days, I am an old man reading other old men like Don DeLillo and James Salter. The opening of Mao II is a stylistic dazzler (Crowd Eye!).
For my writing work—detective fiction—I read the detective writers who help me hone my technique: John Sandford, T. Jefferson Parker, Robert B. Parker for dialogue and jokes. I just finished David McCullough’s book on Paris in the 1830’s, preparing for a trip to the City of Lights. I devour the Paris Review interviews with writers. I’ve been reading Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae for a dozen years—I’ll be dead before it’s done with me: each Paglia sentence is it’s own universe.
1. Do writing practice with a group. Louisa’s Writers has been going for 20 years. Look it up on Facebook.
2. Forget about publishing and work on your sentences.
3. If you’re writing a novel, buy a used copy of THE WEEKEND NOVELIST, it’s better than the revised version, which was butchered by the editor, and do the exercises.
4. If you’re rewriting a novel, get my weekend novelist book on rewriting and start with Subplot One.
5. If you don’t know how to find a subplot, watch the movie called Moonstruck—it’s got six and it’s cute.
What's your favourite quote about writing/for writers?
Elmore Leonard: “I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”
What's the best thing about being a writer?
Writing with other writers. Reading aloud. Working sentences until they sing.
Where can people find out more about you and your writing?
I have a cool blog, with my buddy Jack Remick. Here’s the url:
Anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks. You folks ask good questions. I appreciate the chance to answer.