Well, my most recent published book is God Wars: Living With Angels, an urban fantasy which was published as an ebook on March 1st, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com, and is the first in a planned trilogy. I’ve written one other novel since then, just finished it and am shopping it now. “God Wars: Living with Angels” is about a young woman who becomes a witch and uses her powers to try to right the wrongs in the world, but ends up literally opening the gates of Hell and then trying to undo the damage she’s done. She’s a strong, controversial female lead, and there is quite a bit of dark humor in the book, but it also has something to say about the nature of good and evil, justice and vengeance. It’s got a bit of everything — the witch, of course, an angel with a fondness for human women, a very erudite demon and these three-foot tall aliens who definitely have a bad attitude.
Tell us something about yourself.
Well, I’m Canadian, though I live and write full-time in Southern California, not least because of the weather! I was brought up in Timmins, Ontario, Shania Twain’s home town, just a few miles from James Cameron’s home town. Timmins is about 400 miles north of Toronto, 8 months of the year snow flies, 4 months of the year blackflies. Gold mines, moose, hockey and lots and lots of beer. I worked the mines for a bit, as deep as 10,000 feet underground, saw men die, wondered every day whether I’d make it through the shift, drilled, blasted and collected a lifetime of stories in the short time I did it. Finally escaped to college, but I still have very deep feelings about the town — just did an interview yesterday by phone with my home town newspaper and it was surprisingly emotional. Went to my high school reunion and it affected me deeply, reconnected with old friends, saw things from a different perspective. I’d always been trying to escape the town, and now I realize that it’s inside me no matter where I go, thank God. It helps make me unique, helps give me my unique voice. And it gives me great drinking stories, lol.
What inspired you to write this book?
The really deep yearning for justice, and not just justice, but instant justice. Instant Karma. I see and experience so many injustices that go unpunished, that the question naturally occurred to me: wouldn’t it be great to have some kind of magical power that allowed me to mete out instant retribution for wrongdoing? The problem is, vengeance has a way of twisting a person and making them as culpable and dangerous as the original perps, and that’s what this story is about — a young woman paralyzed by a gangbanger gains magical powers that allow her to avenge herself not just against HER perp, but against all the evil people out there who usually go unpunished. But it all gets out of hand, she accidentally opens the gates of hell — literally — and suddenly she’s dealing with a demon she can’t defeat, an angel she can’t trust and three-foot-tall aliens who might be the creators of all of us, and she’s fighting to save the world and her own soul.
How did you choose the title?
Great question, wish I could tell you, but I don’t really remember. I’ve written and rewritten this piece so many times and that was always the title, don’t actually remember choosing it. It’s funny, because originally I wrote “God Wars: Living with Angels” as a screenplay but for some reason it just wouldn’t stop writing itself, going on and on and suddenly by the end of the first draft it was the length of a novel, as if it were giving me the finger and saying “I’m a novel whether you like it or not,” so I had to give in and make it a novel.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
You know, it’s a bit of a different book, partly because of the way it was written — as a novel-length screenplay, essentially, so it’s a bit of a hybrid, with a screenplays’ pace and action and point of view, but with a novel’s narrative. I think that made it hard for some publishers to wrap their minds around it, so it took a while, I shopped it to several publishers, don’t know how many, then an editor at Echelon Press read it and actually liked it a lot. He pushed it through and it then became a really lengthy editing process, a lot of disagreements though never nasty, again partly I think because of its hybrid nature.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I started writing short stories when I was three years old, my first novel when I was twelve, I didn’t become a writer so much as I was born a writer. That’s not a comment on the quality of my writing, by the way, I suppose it’s possible to be born a crappy writer, lol, but certainly it was never a choice, just a recognition of who and what I am.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Coffee shops. I haven’t owned a desktop computer in years, it’s always been laptops, going back to a little Mac 190. As often as I can I go out to coffee shops and spend the entire day there, writing and drinking green tea. It’s bliss. One of my scripts won an award at Telluride several years back so I went there for a week, to watch the film festival, receive my award and try to promote my work because so many heavy hitters were in town. I found this little coffee shop on the main drag and I sat there for 6 or 7 hours every day just writing and drinking coffee or tea. It was the happiest week of my entire life. Of course it helps that Telluride is the most beautiful place on earth. But if I have a ritual, it’s going to coffee shops, kicking back and just enjoying the process of finding out what my characters and stories are going to do that day.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
No idea. They’re not particularly unique, I just search until one seems right for who I know that person is. For example, the angel in “God Wars: Living with Angels” is named Dominico, an Italian American psychiatrist, now where the heck did that name come from for an angel? Don’t know. Then the demon is named Lessage. My own background is part Irish and part Acadian, the forerunners of the Cajuns, so maybe Lessage’s name came from that, again I don’t know, the characters are there and their names pop up like on a screen.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
Yes. Mostly that there is a huge difference between screenplays and novels. I’d written novels before but hadn’t written one in maybe 20 years, writing only screenplays during that time, and being fairly successful I guess — I’ve got a feature coming out in June, another in development with the director of “Die Hard” attached to direct. But when I wrote “God Wars” as a screenplay that turned into a novel, it made it a different kind of story. A good story, interesting, different, kind of like someone who speaks English with an accent — the book has a screenwriter’s accent if you will. Kind of like reading a Joseph Conrad novel, where you sense his “accent” because English wasn’t his first language. So what I learned was to go back to writing novels from scratch rather than adapting them from a screenplay, and the result was my most recent novel, “Jo-Bri and the two Worlds,” which my agent called “a great idea told brilliantly.” It’s the best thing I’ve ever written, but I still have a special place in my heart for “God Wars” because of it’s wonderful oddness, it’s “accent.”
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
Hm, I don’t play that game, because what’s done is done and everything has a purpose, even the stuff that seems horrible at the time. I wrote a screenplay called “Chasing Steven Spielberg,” which was the script that won at Telluride and it was very autobiographical and what it taught me was not to look back except maybe for lessons, but not to waste time wondering “what if.” So I would not have done anything differently. Everything led to where I am now and I’m really happy with where I am now. Similarly with “God Wars: Living with Angels,” everything led to what the book is now and it’s an interesting, unique story with an interesting voice and, as mentioned, a fascinating “accent.”
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
You know, I used to be a voracious reader, then I came to L.A. and started working in motion picture development and became so busy that the only things I ever read were screenplays, thousands upon thousands of them — in fact I read so many that I ended up writing two screenwriting books that made me a bit of a minor “screenwriting guru” as they’re called down here, “The Screenwriting Formula,” and “How to Write High Structure, High Concept Movies.” I get asked to speak at film festivals and writing conferences because of those books, Disney flew me out to Boston to address an audience of a thousand animators about story, then I was flown to the south of France to address another animation festival and my wife Leslie and I got to share a glass of Cognac with a real-live countess in her 1300 year old chateau in the Cognac region. But I got away from reading novels because I was working 80 hour weeks in development and taking my Masters in professional writing at USC and it was insane.
But whenever I get the chance to sit and read a book I devour it, like someone who hasn’t eaten in a long, long time. My favorite author is Richard Bach, as much for what he says as how he says it. Hemingway for pure writing talent, Pearl Buck, Updike. Stephen King, LeCarre, Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradley, Heinlein — in fact “Stranger in a Strange Land” is one of my all-time favorite books and I was so flattered when someone compared my latest novel, “Jo-Bri and the Two Worlds” to “Stranger in a Strange Land.” I also love Homer and other Greek classics. Love “Oedipus,” “Electra,” “The Odyssey” and “Iliad.”
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
I just finished “Jo-Bri and the Two Worlds” which is a Young Adult (YA) urban fantasy, kind of “Twilight” meets “Harry Potter” with a strong dose of “Stranger in a Strange Land.” My current book agent doesn’t do YA but I showed her the manuscript anyway and she raved about it, which surprised me because she’s very reserved in her critiques. So I’m shopping it around to YA agents. I could go with my current publisher with it but I really think this is one of those special “Harry Potter” level books that could break out and be a bestseller, so I’m shopping it only to the top agents in the country. It may be the very best thing I’ve ever written, certainly the best novel I’ve ever written, very very special. LOL, did I convey enough excitement there for you?
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Enjoy the process. Seriously, I know that sounds trite, but the harsh reality is that very very few people make a living from writing, at least a decent living, so if you don’t enjoy the process, you’re wasting your time. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky, making a living from writing for the last dozen years or so, but that’s rare. But if you enjoy the process, you’ll be a winner no matter whether you get published or not. I don’t “have” to write, I “get” to write, and that’s my attitude — that writing is a privilege, a kick, better than sex, better than food, better than skiing or ziplining or going to the beach, anything. That enjoyment has not only gotten me through some tough times, it’s made my writing better. I don’t depend on my writing “making it,” so it removes the desperation that can so easily sink a writer.
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
Certainly urban fantasy fans, action fans, women because “God Wars” has a very strong, unique, outspoken, controversial female lead. Fans of magic, demons and angels, Sci Fi fans. Anyone who wants a wish fulfillment story with a twist regardless of genre. We all want to be able to get back at the people who do us wrong and who do wrong to others, the punks and a-holes and just bad people out there who sneer, cheat and hurt their way through life, and that’s what this book is about, but it’s also about the dangers of having that kind of power, the power to stop evil.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
The book is available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Omnilit.com among others, and will come out as a hard copy probably toward the end of the summer. Also, feel free to reach me at Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or LinkedIn at: http://twitter.com/RobTobin, http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000425881722, http://www.myspace.com/canuckscreenwriter, and http://www.linkedin.com/in/robtobin.