Horror Interview – Robert R. Best

I had a chance to sit down with author Robert R. Best and got a lot of insight into his writing style and interests. To find out more about Robert R. Best, check out his site at http://www.robertrbest.com/.

To start off, tell us a little about your work and the “Memorial” series.

Well, I’ve been writing since about 19 but didn’t get serious until sometime in my 30’s. I wrote some artsier stuff in college that helped me learn how to handle characters and quiet moments between them. My real love, though, is genre fiction. Mainly horror, fantasy and sci-fi. So at a certain point I stopped writing pure artsy fiction and started writing genre stuff. I quickly discovered I had a knack for horror so I focused on that.

The Memorial series started several years ago when my wife Laura asked for a zombie book. I’m a big fan of the Romero films, with Day Of The Dead being my favorite. I wanted to do a back-to-basics, simple zombie novel and Lakewood Memorial was the result. People have really responded to it, so it’s funny that as I was writing I worried that there was no gimmick in it. I was afraid people wouldn’t be interested unless there was something unique about the zombies. But, the response to Lakewood has proven that people still love classic, Romero-style zombies.

(I should insert here that Romero zombies only involve the unburied dead. Mine include already-buried corpses. So, I guess they aren’t really Romeo zombies but more like Fulci Zombi 2 zombies.)

Ashton Memorial, the second book, is bigger, longer and more complicated than Lakewood. I worked very hard to make it different so people wouldn’t feel like they were reading the same book. Whereas Lakewood was very simple, in Ashton I delved deeper into the characters and hinted at the larger mythology of the series.

Book three, World Memorial, is currently being written. It will probably be bigger still, and will pay off the hints of mythology in Ashton. There will be an explanation and a resolution to the events that started in Lakewood. All I will say at this point is it will be a little weird.

Shit, that was long. Sorry.

Do you have any previous books that you have written that you would like to publish?

Nope. The are previous books I’ve written but they are almost all terrible. My earliest books were attempts at humorous fantasy, along the lines of Robert Asprin’s Myth books, which I loved in High School. The ones I wrote were bad and should stay hidden away.

The only book that’s maybe okay is Prophets, my art-novel I wrote shortly after college. It was my attempt at contemporary literature, and it has its moments. But it would need a lot of work before being published and I’ve reused some of the themes in my horror stories anyway.

Who is your favorite author and is your writing style similar to theirs?

In horror, my two big faves are Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee. I love Lee’s fearless depictions of violence and the simple brutality of Ketchum. The Girl Next Door remains the only book I’ve read that seriously, honestly disturbed me.

Outside of horror, I love Kurt Vonnegut. Even his 80’s stuff when he got really weird. I love his short, direct sentences and I try hard to have the same lean, simple prose. I come nowhere near it, but it’s what I strive for.

As far as contemporary, non-horror writers, I really like Mary Gaitskill. She’s probably best known for the story the movie Secretary was based on. She writes stories about people in really rough, depressing and sometimes depraved situations with an almost breathtaking honesty. And yet there’s also a warmth for her characters. You can tell that regardless of the content of their lives, she really cares about them. That odd mix of love and brutal honesty really inspired me when I first read her in college. So she’s an influence too, I think.

So I like all of these people and I strive to imitate them all. I come nowhere near them so you couldn’t call me similar. But, my style is the result of trying to be them.

Who is your target audience?

I don’t really know. I don’t think about it that often. The simplest answer is that I write what I think would be cool if I read it in another book. My first reader has always been my wife Laura. We have very similar tastes, so I gauge how successful I’ve been by her response. She’s very tough and can always tell If I’m slacking off or phoning it in. So if she likes it, I’m reasonably sure that people who share our tastes will like it.

How do you begin writing a story? Do you use notes or an outline?

I start with notes. Flashes of ideas and scenes. Sometimes without any context. Then I move into outlining. I will frequently outline extensively before I start a book or story. I work things out beforehand as much as I can. I’ve tried doing the seat of my pants, making it up as I go, “discovery” style of writing. There are many people who are great at that. I am very much not one of those persons.

Do you use your own experiences in your writing?

I think it’s impossible to avoid, really. For your writing to have any weight, you have to be able to feel what your characters would feel. And the only way to do that is to extrapolate from your own experience. I’m not saying you have to have lived though something to write it. But you do have to find something in your experience that connects to what your characters are going through.

How do you conceive your plot ideas?

Badly. Seriously, I have a heck of a time coming up with story ideas. When they do come, they’re usually in fragments and flashes. An image or line of dialogue. And I build from there. Sometimes I have two separate ideas that I suddenly realize work together, and a bunch of small ideas suddenly become a nice big one.

Have you always wanted to write?

Yes and no. My mom and grandparents have always been big readers so there were always lots of books around. Trips to the library were frequent and honestly fun. I’m told I would sit in bed with a book before I could actually read, just because that’s what I grew up seeing. So it was always there.

But, when I was a kid, I wanted to be a director. I’ve always loved movies and I was one of those 80’s kids with a Super 8 camera. I’d recruit family members to act and film these dippy little scripts I’d written. I loved it, but had a heck of a time finishing things.

Later on, as making movies became less feasible, I started writing as a way to tell stories that was completely self-contained. I didn’t need equipment or actors. Soon, I fell in love with the medium itself and I was all in.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Keep going. My early stuff was terrible. So bad I’m glad the Internet wasn’t around then, or at least wasn’t available to me. I’m glad I got to toil in obscurity until I sucked a little less. But the point is I did get better. And the only way to get better is to suck for a long long time. So keep going and keep pushing yourself. One day you’ll wake up and realize you’re a better writer than you used to be.

Find writers you like and try imitating their style. I once had a writing teacher who made us re-type an entire story someone else had written. I think the point was to learn the rhythm of the prose, how it ebbed and flowed. Kind of like playing along to a song helps you learn to play. Once you get good at imitating people you like, you’ll start to internalize those rhythms and patterns and develop your own style.

What advice would you give to people who “run out of creativity” when writing?

The same writing teacher said something about writer’s block that has stuck with me ever since. I don’t know if he was quoting someone else or if it was all him, but what he said was this:

“Writer’s block is a mixture of arrogance and fear.”

And he’s right. The fear is that what you write will be terrible, and the arrogance is the thought that “the great and awesome ME cannot be allowed to write something terrible.” These two things will lock you down and keep you from moving forward. And the only way out is to allow yourself to suck. Tell yourself it’s really okay. You can always fix it in post, so to speak. And like I said in the previous answer, just keep going.