Today, I'm honored to present my interview with Bob Gaston, or Robert Gaston as he pens his books. Bob and I go back a number of years. We met when I first moved to Dallas and finally found a critique group. Bob was a member. From that beginning, we've shared many writing experiences and some truly enjoyable social occasions.
Bob's latest book is The War Within, a darn good read.
Randy: Who or what inspired you to start writing, and when did you start?
That is a hard question to answer. My life has been a poor adaptation of the slogan, “Be all that you can be.” I have been what I had to be by the circumstances of my situation.
In college I wanted to be a radio announcer. The military wanted me to teach broadcasting at the information school. To kill time between my classes I attended journalism classes. I guess that is when I first seriously considered writing. When I got out of the service my first job was as a television newscaster. That is when I seriously began to write.
After twenty years as a broadcast journalist I thought I knew how to write and wrote a novel. That is when I discovered how little I knew…my son called my first attempt a “series of news bites.” Several attempts later I hope with my first published book, The War Within, I have learned my craft and become a writer.
Randy: How do you categorize The War Within? Genre? Mystery? Mainstream? Western? How?
When I started writing The War Within, I wasn’t thinking genre my motivation was a stray thought…was post-traumatic stress a product or recent wars or did the veterans of the Civil War suffer from it?
The War Within is not a western, though it is set in West Texas and has Indians who are fighting to hold onto their lands. It is not a mystery though the main characters are suffering from an un-named and un-recognized emotional disorder brought about by war.
It is not mainstream though the plot deals with the Homestead Acts and its promise of free land and a fresh start to the thousands of war weary citizens. It is not woman in jeopardy or romance, although there is some of both in the story. If The War Within must be placed in a genre is could be action-adventure, but I like mystery because of the mysterious emotional conflict that drives the two main characters.
Randy: What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?
I worked out the plot and then peopled it. In my writing the characters take over the story. I attempt to submerge myself in their actions and thoughts. It is not a question of “what would I do?” but “what would they do.” I am currently writing the story of a single mother who is drugged and kidnapped. She awakens, naked, in a blacked out basement with the sounds of heavy breathing. A man and a woman would react differently so I can’t ask “what would I do?” I had to enlist emotional and thoughtful information from different ladies. Explaining what information I wanted and why created a lot of raised eyebrows.
Randy: How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?
Bob: I’m a seat of the pants guy. My characters carry the story. I set a goal they must reach at the end of the story and attempt to make each chapter a scene on that journey.
Randy: In the age-old argument of character versus plot, which one do you think is more important and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?
Bob: My son’s critique comes to mind…“news bites” If you don’t have a balance then all you have is a narrative without emotion, which to my mind is without the readers' involvement.
Randy: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?
Bob: I once thought it was starting. Finding a plot and characters to carry the story. To be honest I miss this….right now I am up to my eyebrows in promoting and selling The War Within. My biggest challenge is not the writing but the time and distractions of marketing…something I am no good at.
Randy: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?
Bob: Holding my first printed copy of a book I had written with a cover I had designed and painted. The second thing is the generous reviews I have received from total strangers.
Randy: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?
Bob: An old Texas comment comes to mind…Don’t ___ on my boots and tell me it’s raining. So I won’t kid you. There are time when I wonder how my book stacks up against all the competition. Apparently the biggest challenge we all face is calling attention to our work. I see well know published authors books that I don’t think are as good as The War Within, but their books are selling and listed on the NY Times list and I am struggling to get a local paper review. To be candid, I think The War Within is different because it is one of those stories that could be set in any time period, today, WWII, The Civil War…anytime when vastly different characters filled with anger, fears and emotional damage cross paths.
Randy: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?
Bob: All of it. When I was in politics I had supporters and a staff doing this work. When I was a journalist I had personal exposure on radio and TV. I am self-taught on the computer and don’t really understand the internet. I ask my 11 year old granddaughter for help. But I guess I would have to say finding the time to write, paint, and promote. Each discipline wants a piece of me. At this moment I wish I understood how to use the internet media to create sales.
Randy: What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?
Bob: I have never worked harder than I do now that I am retired. But my work is what I want to do. My conflict is dividing my time between two creative demands. Art and writing. I spend far too much time looking at e-mail and Facebook to catch up with friends and family. When I get started after coffee and the morning paper I may paint for a couple of hours and then write. My writing is currently on a novel loosely titled The Victim. This writing is a revision. It is almost ready to take the next step into publication.
I would guess that I spend two or three hours painting and three or four writing.
Randy: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?
Bob: I thought it would be easier. Having spent my life in an ego driven occupation I also expected instant acceptance. Now I know two things. It is hard work and writing is something I should have doing seriously twenty years ago. I really regret those missing years.
Randy: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?
Bob: Focused on writing and not my television career. The painting I could always fall back on as a relaxing hobby. I sell my art, but I can’t kid myself into thinking I would have made a living at it….my writing is another matter.
Randy: What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?
Bob: Write because you enjoy it. Write because you must. Write every day.
Don’t be discouraged by what is happening in the industry…this is one of those bad spells that every industry has. Be ready when all the dust settled. Your time will come.
Randy: What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?
Bob: I am attempting to polish The Victim, the story of the TV news anchor/ single mother with a problem child and a stalker. I have just finished a painting of a buffalo stampede from a wildfire and am working on an owl among Spanish moss.
Randy: Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?
Bob: Sometime in the near future I hope to establish a website and a blog. So far the pressure of art shows exhibits, birthdays (all my family seems to be on the same clock) and a brief illness have kept me occupied.
I’m available for book signings, readings, painting demonstrations, etc.
The War Within is available from Amazon in digital or paper back, or from me with check to Bob Gaston 428 Spruce Trail, Forney Texas 75126. You can contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks, Bob. I hope this helps move lots of copies of The War Within. Anyone who buys it will be amply rewarded with a great read.
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