Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Author Interview: Robert Steven Williams (Plus Giveaway!)

Hello fellow readers!

Today I'm welcoming Robert Steven Williams, author of My Year As A Clown to Melissa's Midnight Musings. 

Read on to learn more about the author and also enter to win a copy of My Year As A Clown.

About My Year As A Clown:

My Year as a Clown

Title: My Year As A Clown
Author: Robert Steven Williams
Publisher: Against the Grain Press
Published: December 26, 2012
Format: E-book
Pages: 272

With My Year as a Clown, Williams introduces us to Chuck Morgan, a new kind of male hero—imperfect and uncertain—fumbling his way forward in the aftermath of the abrupt collapse his 20-year marriage.

Initially, Chuck worries he’ll never have a relationship again, that he could stand in the lobby of a brothel with a hundred dollar bill plastered to his forehead and still not get lucky. But as his emotionally raw, 365-day odyssey unfolds, Chuck gradually relearns to live on his own, navigating the minefield of issues faced by the suddenly single—new routines, awkward dates, and even more awkward sex.

Edited by Joy Johannessen (Alice Sebold, Michael Cunningham, Amy Bloom), My Year As a Clown will attract fans of the new breed of novelists that includes Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper and Tom Perrotta. Like others in that distinguished group, Robert Steven Williams delivers a painfully honest glimpses into the modern male psyche while writing about both sexes with equal ease and grace in a way that’s both hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.

The Interview:

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Do you have any unusual talents or hobbies?

I live in Westport, CT with my cat, The Munce Man. He inspired the role of Arthur in the novel; his sister Cleo (who passed away 2 years ago), inspired Guinn.

I play guitar, write songs, I also do yoga and enjoy the outdoors.

I write for several not-for-profits including Paul Newman’s Safe Water Network. 25% of the world’s population doesn’t have access to safe water. It’s hard to believe how many people needlessly suffer.

I’m also working on a couple of film projects.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? 

I’ve had aspirations to write since I was a kid, but I didn’t commit to the writer’s life until I was 40. Someone the other day asked how I was managing to make this work—I told him that I made a lot of sacrifices and I had to downsize my needs to match the dramatic drop in income.

If I’d known when I made this transition that it would take 15 years to publish a novel, I doubt I would have had the guts.

The hard work is now starting to pay off, but it’s still a hustle.  I love writing, so it’s no big deal.

Lots of folks are enamoured with the idea of writing: wake up late, write for an hour, go fishing with Castro, run with the bulls in Pamplona, drink deep into the night. The reality is much different. It’s a solitary endeavor and it’s really, really hard. I don’t recommend this to anyone.

Where did the inspiration for My Year As A Clown come from?

I was attending the Squaw Valley Community of Writers conference and a number of us were hiking up a mountain. The title just appeared in my head and moments later I knew that this book was going to be about the emotional rollercoaster of divorce and recovery.

Three authors inspired the style of my novel: Updike’s Rabbit series, Ford’s The Sportswriter series, and Amy Bloom’s short story collection, A blind man can see how much I love you. Although very different, there’s a raw honesty and unique perspective in each that sets the bar high in regards to what I wanted to accomplish with My Year as a Clown.

Often books that deal with the breakup of a marriage are told from a woman's perspective rather than the male perspective. Do you think that Chuck's journey back into singledom takes the same path as a woman's would? If not, what do you think makes it different?

It’s not for me, a writer, to comment about the differences between men and women. It’s my job to tell a story that may shed light on these differences, or similarities. It’s my job to provoke thought on such matters, but my personal opinion is not so important.

I did find the reaction to Sheryl Sandberg’s book fascinating. Clearly the issue of women in the workplace and at home is still raw. It evokes emotional responses, passion, intensity. That’s why I love fiction. It’s an opportunity to pick at the bone of a sensitive subject without causing a flare up that prevents people from at least hearing a perspective. 

I wrote My Year as a Clown in first person, present tense, to give the reader a front row seat into Chuck’s life. Heartbreak is heartbreak and what I tried to do with Chuck Morgan is show how he really felt. Because the book is in first person, the wall is down and the reader gets to experience real heartbreak from the male perspective. At the end of the day, when you get underneath the leaves, there’s much more in common with the sexes than what one might expect. But rarely do we get to see the unfiltered self.  Perhaps in real life, men are better are hiding emotion, but obviously there are a gazillion exceptions.

Here’s an example from the book: Chuck is estranged from his older brother. They are chalk and cheese, but Chuck’s divorce is an opportunity for them to reunite. Without giving much away, when the barriers come down, the brothers realize they are more alike than they thought.  I believe this phenomenon is not unique to men.

Did you draw on any personal experiences in writing this book, or those of people you know?

I wrote a novel, not a memoir, and I did that because I didn’t want to be bound by the facts. Having said that, I tried to be true to the emotions in this story. I was inspired by what happened to me, and the many friends and family members that shared stories of heartbreak and disappointment. I love to draw from many sources and then create something fresh.

 Who is your favorite author?

It’s hard to just have one, but if pushed, it has to be Fitzgerald. I just completed his biography and I was shocked to hear how poorly the Gatsby was received when it came out. Fitzgerald drank too much and he was totally underappreciated the 2nd half of his career. I was even surprised at how he struggled at Princeton.

His command of language and sentences, the economy of story, he had it all. It’s a terrible shame that he lost it for so many years.

 Do you have writing routine? A special pen, a certain type of music, time limits?

I write every day and try to keep to specific times, but you have to be flexible. I also set targets to make sure that I complete projects. I could rewrite forever. I do like writing with music, but only instrumentals – jazz from the 50’s, classical quartets and piano concertos, that sort of thing.

 Do you enjoy edits/rewrites, or not?

I enjoy edits/rewrites more because you’re on your way. There is nothing more terrifying than the blank screen.

Do you do a lot of external research in the process of writing? If so, what's the most interesting thing you've uncovered in your research?

For my latest novel The Sound of Money (still in process), I did a lot of research on Elvis and it was shocking to see that his manager (the Colonel), kept Elvis propped up at the end on drugs so that he could go on tour because the Colonel needed money. Once again, a tragic ending to an incredible artist.

Which character or scene was your favorite to write and why?

I loved writing the scene where Chuck pops by his friend’s house at midnight, lets himself in and makes a sandwich in the kitchen. I wrote that scene after reading Good Grief by Lolly Winston. It was inspired by that scene she wrote about her character showing up to work in her pajamas—we all go into shock when something traumatic happens, and I loved how Lolly showed that with the pajamas.

Because I was writing in first person, present tense, the reader couldn’t trust Chuck telling you that he was okay. So having him get into trouble that night at his friend’s house was a way of showing that Chuck’s narration can be suspect at times.

How do you come up with your character names?
The sound and cadence of a name is just as important as the actual name and potential secondary meaning. Each name is chosen carefully, but each book or short story I write has its own internal set of rules, so I don’t apply the same approach to everything I write.

Please tell us a little bit about your journey to publication
I generated lots of interest in this book from agents, but I never got a deal signed because everyone thought that a guy’s perspective on divorce wouldn’t sell. My goal was to write an honest book, a simple enough goal, but difficult to achieve.

The turning point on My Year as a Clown was two-fold. A good friend decided to help me financially produce this properly. Second, getting Joy Johannessen to edit the book was key. She works with writers like Alice Sebold, Amy Bloom and Michael Cunningham. When she agreed to work with me, I knew we had something special. She gave me the encouragement I needed to get this thing completed.

Winning the silver medal for popular fiction from the independent publisher book awards was very satisfying because few of the winners in that competition come from the independent world, most are affiliated with university presses or small publishing houses. I did this book on my own, but I assembled a cracker-jack group of industry veterans to help.

Having a digital distributor was also very useful, without them, I never could have gotten Amazon to help promote the book.

For you, what is the hardest part of the writing process?
It’s all hard. But it’s also all very gratifying because when you succeed, you realize that the journey was well worth the effort. How one defines success is a key element of that prior sentence. For me, completing a book that I felt worked was enough. You can’t get attached to what happens next. You’re never as bad as people say, nor as good.

That’s not to say that I’m not enjoying the success that’s starting to happen. J

Are there any common themes that you feel are particularly important to write about?

The key to writing is honesty. Trust me, this is no easy objective and most writing fails to achieve it.  Anything honest has vast potential.

When you're not writing, what are your other hobbies/passions?

I enjoy yoga, bike riding, and watching good TV like Madman, Game of Thrones, Nurse Jackie and Homeland. I also read a lot.

 Are you working on any new projects?

I’ve got several cool things going on at the moment:

I’m making a documentary film on Scott and Zelda’s time in Westport CT (1920) and how their time in Westport influenced The Great Gatsby.

I’m also completing my 2nd novel: The Sound of Money.

I’m in the preproduction phase of a new CD of original songs.

I’m assisting the Fairfield Museum celebrate the town’s 375 anniversary by celebrating noteworthy musicians who have lived in the county the past 100 years.  I’m helping my good friend Chris Frantz, a neighbor and the drummer of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, who is in charge of the exhibit.

Quick Fire round:

Coke or Pepsi? Neither. Espresso
Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate
Rainy winter days or blazing hot summer days? Heat, baby, heat.
Hard Copy or e-book? There’s nothing like the Real Thing
Favorite book? The Great Gatsby
Last book you read? George Saunders Tenth of December
What's a quote that inspires you? If I had more time, this letter would be shorter (Mark Twain)
What's your favorite comfort food? Fresh Blueberries and Dark Chocolate
What's your favorite color and why? Blue because it reminds me of the beauty of the sky or a summer day at the beach looking out at the ocean

Connect with Robert Steven Williams:

Robert Steven Williams is an author, singer-songwriter, and musician. His debut novel, My Year as a Clown (Against the Grain Press), was released in January 2013.

As a writer, Williams was a finalist in the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and was awarded a Squaw Valley Writers Community Thayer Scholarship. He attended Bread Loaf, Sewanee and the Squaw Valley Writers’ Conferences, and worked closely with the esteemed fiction writer, Barry Hannah. His short fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, The Orange Coast Review, and the anthology Tall Tales and Short Stories Volume II. Additionally, he was the executive producer of the critically acclaimed BOOM! Studios CBGB Comic series, nominated in 2011 for a Harvey Award for Best Anthology. Robert’s work has also appeared in Poets & Writers Magazine, Billboard, USA Today  and LetterPress, a newsletter for writers. He is also co-author of the best-selling business book, The World’s Largest Market.

As a musician, Williams studied songwriting with Rosanne Cash, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and other top country writers. In 2005, he released the critically acclaimed CD “I Am Not My Job,” featuring Rachel Z (Peter Gabriel, Wayne Shorter) and Sloan Wainwright.


Giveaway Details:

One winner will get an e copy of My Year As A Clown
This giveaway is open  INTERNATIONALLY
The winner will have 48 hours to respond to their notification emails before another winner is chosen.
The author NOT Melissa's Midnight Musings is responsible for sending the prize to the winner
The giveaway will run from June 26, 2013  until July 3rd 2013 at 12:00 AM PST

1 comment:

Teddy Rose said...

Thanks again for taking part in the tour and hosting Robert!