Thursday, November 30, 2017

Robb White on Weather as Setting

This week we’re going to find out a little about author Robb White. November’s theme is ‘Weather as Setting’ so Robb will share his thoughts on this plus share a little about himself and his writing.

Under the names Terry White, Robert White, and Robb T. White, Robert White has published dozens of crime, noir, and hardboiled short stories, and three hardboiled private-eye novels.  A lifelong reader of crime fiction, he published his first story in Gary Lovisi's Hardboiled magazine. Since then, he has published several dozen crime stories, and a collection of mainstream stories in 2013. An ebook crime novel, "Special Collections," won the New Rivers Electronic Book Competition in 2014. 
White was born, raised, and continues to live in Ashtabula, Ohio.

Beverley: Do you think using weather can be part of a setting?
Robb: I recall some writer saying that using weather was a risk and goes nowhere fast.  I want to say Elmore Leonard but I can’t recall whom. Deploying one of those “it was a dark and stormy night” gambit could lead to trouble.  There’s also the risk the reader will say, “Who cares what the temperature was or how the wind was coming from the southwest?” My gut tells me weather as setting is likely to be either a distraction or a writer’s self-indulgence.  A good writer can get away with anything, of course.  I still remember a description from one of the “Rabbit Run” novels of John Updike years ago in which he describes the iridescence of sunlight reflecting from a sidewalk puddle after a rain as the character walks out of a bar. It’s easy to forgive talent. 
Beverley: Do you think adding weather to a scene can add emphasis to the scene?
Robb I do.  No contradiction to the above response.
Beverley:  Can weather add to the emotional contact with a reader?
Robb: Only if done sparingly, I think.  Weather is always a “delay,” a deliberate suspending of the plotline.  As a reader, I’ll always give a writer who is also a good stylist that opportunity to show me what he or she can do. It’s a promissory note in which the author works in some descriptive detail about the weather but knows the reader is “waiting.” We’re gravity-bound, weather-oriented creatures so it’s expected—that is, outside of experimental fiction. It’s a risk because one sentence too many and the writer breaks the reader’s trust. The writer controls the narrative but the reader gives permission in a sense.  
Beverley Do you know any authors who use weather in their books?
Robb: Two of my favorite crime-fiction writers, David Lindsey and Martin Cruz Smith use weather brilliantly in dollops.  In the former case, you get a wonderful sense of Houston’s skyline and its oppressive heat and humidity as Lindsey’s detective drives around the city. Smith can make you feel a Moscow winter with a few sentences scattered about or make you feel what Arkady Renko feels as he drives his clapped-out Lada through slushy snow in the outer ring of the city in a squall. On the other hand, I admire Lynda La Plante and I can’t recall any weather in her fiction.
Beverley: Have you ever used weather as a setting in any of your books?  If yes, tell us how.
Robb: Only one book comes to mind:  Saraband for a Runaway.  I set the book in Miami and used the Everglades for a major scene.  I wanted to make it sticky and hot, naturally, but my only experiences in Florida were on the west coast—a couple days in Ft. Myers with my wife on a belated Spring Break and one long drive down and back from Ohio to fetch a relative in trouble.
Beverley:  Anything else you’d like to add about the use of weather in a book?
Robb: I suspect most readers don’t think of it one way or the other. Enough said.
Beverley: Which genre or genres do you write or prefer to write?
Robb: Crime.  A sixty-forty split in favor of hardboiled over noir. I’ve made rare forays into horror or fantasy in my short fiction but nothing to brag about.
Beverley: What prompted you to write in the genre/s you do?
Robb: A genetic predisposition.  My mother was an avid reader of mysteries, mainly of the dreaded “cozy.” I never thought of it until my middle age toward the end of my teaching career.  I’d always been content to read great writers and talk about them to my students. However, one day I was in my local library browsing the recent arrivals in the mystery corner, and I skimmed a couple pages of a bestselling author. I was surprised and even annoyed the author had opened up so many points of view so soon into the story.  A clichéd, disheveled detective arrives on scene and a rookie cop gazes admiringly at him and mentally provides the reader with too much information.  I considered it awkward from such a well-published writer.  I decided to take a crack at writing a novel, knowing it was easy to criticize someone else’s flaw. 
Beverley: I’d love to hear what you think of the present genres, how they’ve been affected by self-publishing and where you think they might be headed.
Robb: This is a great question and a complex one.  It’s also one that exposes a writer of indie novels like me to hypocrisy or resentment. In short, it’s both good and bad.  Here’s the good:  the iron grip of the Big Five or Big Six, if you prefer, among New York City publishing houses has been greatly weakened. We don’t need to have the same ten authors jammed down our throats week after week courtesy of the New York Times bestseller lists.  (I’ll restrict myself to the mystery genre and its subgenres.) Readers now have many, many choices. The big-name authors aren’t even allowed to die nowadays.  Teams of ghost writers take over and add to the canon. It’s all about money and control.  Indie authors can’t get spaces on book shelves because these NYC houses reward and punish stores.  One could say the same for certain “approved” websites that kowtow to the Mystery Writers of America.  Again, the same authors are annually rotated for the honors with the assumption the public willing buys into their selections—except that nowadays the reading public has awakened, thanks to the internet, of course, to the variety of choices out there and the sheer proliferation of indie publishers.  Bloggers are independent of all control. 

The bad?  Well, that’s easy.  There’s too much of everything. People like to believe that talent rises, the old “cream rising to the top” expression, but we all know that’s not the only thing that floats.  Every human being with enough experience knows you can be overwhelmed by obstacles.  In this case, the force of numbers can get any writer stuck in the shallows, never able to reach enough readers or reviewers.  POD [print-on-demand] can’t compete with even a below-average press run of a first-time novelist. Furthermore, it works both ways for a writer’s benefit and detriment to be put at the mercy of “stars” awarded on Goodreads or Amazon. Bloggers, too, can harm by inflicting their own tastes without submitting to scrutiny. The owner of Vigilant Reader once rejected my offer to send a novel because he found the online sample “too wordy,” yet he gushed enthusiastically over a book in which the character slaughters six people in a bar during a drunken blackout and then takes his nephew fishing.      
Beverley: How long have you been writing?
Robb: That anecdote I relayed about my library experience with the bestseller’s latest work happened in the early 1990’s.  The manuscript I then wrote in five weeks sat neglected in a file on my desktop for years; it was nearly ghosted along with a couple other efforts when our work computers were being upgraded.  A tech called down to ask if I wanted “those files,” or else, he said, they would be erased.  The long and short of it is that one of those became Haftmann’s Rules, published in 2011 thanks to Ryan Thomas of Grand Mal Press who liked what he saw.
Beverley: Who influenced you the most in deciding to become a writer?
Robb: I can’t say anyone influenced me. When you teach great books for a living, it’s impossible to think you can be like the writers you teach. I tell myself I don’t write “literature,” I write “entertainments,” as Graham Greene once said of his lesser works.
Beverley: What obstacles did you have to overcome to begin creating your work?
Robb: Absolutely none. My own lassitude, if anything.  Life keeps everyone busy but I am as much a creature of habit as anyone I know. If I’d had a difficult job like my father, a tug man for the Great Lakes Towing Company, or if I’d been stuck in a plastics factory like the one I worked summers in during high school, I’d never have found the energy to write.
Beverley: What gets your creative juices flowing?
Robb: Thinking about the next Hannibal Lecter or Arkady Renko novel.  I think some of that joy carries over into a desire to write something again, not that I would compare myself to those master stylists, both of whom write beautiful prose, never mind the subject.
Beverley: What will stop your creative muse the quickest?
Robb: Being in the middle of a sentence, working on an image or the right word choice in something I’m writing, and my cat Athena will jump onto my laptop’s keyboard. Because I must adore her when she does that, I cease at once and attend to her. 
Beverley: What do you have for breakfast?
Robb: I don’t eat breakfast.  I drink coffee all day.
Beverley: What do you wear when you are writing?
Robb: Tee-shirt, gym shorts (no shoes).
Beverley: Where do you do most of your writing?
Robb:  A room upstairs, Goldie’s Room, named for a sick cat my wife and I adopted many years ago.  I face a wall with photos of Great Lakes steamships I once sailed on, a large map of shipwrecks of Lake Erie, and a postcard-sized image of James Joyce.  I keep a few knick-knacks on the desk. Except for removing one photo of Hemingway at his typewriter in Key West, the room has been unchanged for ten years. My wife reminds me to clean it every couple of weeks. Correction:  I do have film posters on the walls behind me, which I rotate or replace every few years.  Right now, it’s Body Heat, Syriana, Låt den Rätte Komme In, Chinatown, No Country for Old Men, and Hitchcock’s Psycho, which I had seen in a theater at 10 years old (an era bereft of political correctness and excessive parenting). 
Beverley: Do you have a favorite cartoon character? Why?
Robb: I grew up on Looney Tunes.  I admit to laughing at the characters in South Park—great satire. And I did watch a few minutes of Family Guy recently and surprised myself by laughing.  But Daffy Duck is my all-time favorite.  Alas, I am he.
Beverley: Who would you love most to meet 'in person' and why?
Robb: Not being arrogant here, I hope, but I don’t want to meet anyone, either alive or a reincarnated version.  I’m not a great fan of human beings in general.
Beverley: If you had an unexpected free day what would you do with it?
Robb: The very same thing I do now: relax in my hammock, the weather we have discussed assisting, read a few pages of my favorite travel and film books, maybe try out a new recipe.  I’ve found Voltaire’s advice “to cultivate one’s own garden” a sure-fire way to staying content in life.  
Beverley: What are you working on now?
Robb: I want to say a new novel but I am bogged down after developing the outline to a sequel. Writing about “dangerous women” has also intrigued me to want to do more with women protagonists, but Jade Hui, my woman FBI agent in Perfect Killer, hasn’t returned to my imagination in a way that compels me to write about her again, so I’m hesitant to resume unless something clicks. I don’t know what that is right now, and so I pass the time writing short stories and sending them out with a decent batting average in acceptances.

Blurb for Dangerous Women:

Weaker sex?  Not hardly!
The female is definitely deadlier than the mail.  Short stories about ladies who can hold their own.

Excerpt for Dangerous Women:
   Be careful what you wish for, Regina.
   Her mother’s words. Sometimes she could hear her mother’s voice in the house.
   The Vindicator piece on Bodycomb’s death was two paragraphs.
   He was found floating in Lake Milton, a popular summer resort area for fisherman seventeen miles east of Austintown just off the Interstate 80 overpass. Shot by a small-caliber weapon in the back of the head. The important information was in the second paragraph: Bodycomb, it noted, was running a dog-fighting network among three states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia for a loose-knit West Virginia crime family connected to the Pittsburgh LaRizzo family.
   Damn you, Leo.
   She was blowing through caution lights, ignoring the honking of cars, as she beelined for the office on Market.
   Like a script from a cheap thriller, he was there, wearing the same clothes and unshaven, big jowls dark with stubble, pong of body odor in the overheated single room.
   “You promised me full disclosure, total honesty,” she said.
   She threw the paper across his desk.
   “Here it is in case you missed it.”
   Be calm, Regina, she told herself. She wasn’t going to lose her temper and a new job in that order.
   “I did and I meant it, Baby,” Leo said.
   He glanced at the paper sideways and pushed it back to her. He’d obviously read it.
   “You asked me—no, you demanded I call somebody. I did,” he said.
   He disgusted her with those wagging jowls and big stomach. She noticed his belt was undone and a patch of curly belly hair exposed.
   Probably jerking off in here, the freak.
   “I suppose you’ll tell me when the mood strikes.”
   “I meant the second case—your next case,” Leo said. “Full disclosure, just like you want.”
   Her indignation petered out at the prospect. “So tell me about it,” she said.
   Bodycomb was moving in on Donnie Bracca’s territory with his dog-fighting, Leo said.
   “He can kill all the dogs he wants in West Virginia,” Leo said. “But Donnie B. controls gambling around here.”
   “Donnie Bracca was your real client all the time,” Baby said.
   “It’s like this, kid. They don’t blow each other up in cars no more. Gentlemen’s agreements, all nice and polite. But rules have to be followed. Bodycomb went rogue.”
   She bit back a retort: You mean, like your own father?
   Leo went on, waxing large, a hopeless Mafioso lover, although a real mafia man, a made man, could see Leo couldn’t be trusted. But even the Aryan Brotherhood used outside associates to get things done. Leo could be useful if you couldn’t buy a cop or scare off an investigative reporter snooping in shady politics or business deals.
   She didn’t feel bad about Bodycomb’s death. After all, she'd wanted to kill the guy herself.
   “Damn it, Leo,” she said. “You should have told me this in the beginning.”Baby moved in the direction Bodycomb’s vehicle had taken. After A couple of hundred yards through meadow grass up to her knees, she stopped and listened. Moving on, she dodged stunted bushes that popped up out of nowhere to snag her clothing. The foliage grew less dense. She found the parallel ruts of the Road Runner’s tracks and kept moving, straining her eyes to see light ahead. If Bodycomb was hiding assets from his soon-to-be ex-wife, he was taking a lot of trouble over it.
After five minutes of faster walking in the grooves, she heard barking coming from the right. She saw the first glimmer of light in the distance. The terrain was sparse but small slopes refracted the light source so it appeared and disappeared with every rise of the ground. A single dog barking became two, then three and finally a pack. Beneath their howls, men’s voices.
   When she got close enough to make out words, she lay flat on her belly and put the binoculars on a cluster of men beside a ramshackle barn surrounded by cages of dogs in the beds of trucks beside a squared string of light bulbs a dozen feet from the ground. It looked like a crude boxing ring for backyard brawlers.
   Its purpose became clear in the next few minutes. It was a dog-fighting pit.

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Don’t forget to check back next week for another author interview.