Here is a bio of sorts, in his own words.
Points of origin: childhood outside Boston, college in Chicago, taught English in Japan, the rest of my 20’s were soul-enriching jobs helping Vietnamese and Ethiopian refugees in Philadelphia and Boston. Then I did communications for Perkins School for the Blind, the alma mater of Helen Keller.
Two years ago I left Perkins to write full-time and begin Our Spirit, a non-profit that helps gay/lesbian youth.
In January I moved north of Seattle where my partner since college became the lead pastor at a liberal Congregational church. Bellingham is a university town with views of the San Juan islands and snow-capped mountains. Every morning I look outside and say, “Wow.”
You do live in an amazing part of the country! It must lend itself to inspiration. Thanks so much for being here with us today, Robert!What are you currently working on?
I’m supposed to be querying my first novel fit for publication. Romeo, Romeo is a love-triangle of three high school guys. I say “supposed to” because it’s much more fun to work on my next two novels then to think about agents.
As I do Romeo, Romeo business, I’m chugging along on another YA book, completing a high-concept middle grade novel and producing films for Our Spirit.
You always have so many irons in fire, Robert. I'm very excited for you to start querying! So, when was it that you started to write seriously?
At Northwestern University I was a creative writing major, but it wasn’t until after graduation, Japan and stopping as a counselor for refugees that I had enough brain and emotional space to write seriously. But working at Perkins full-time, I got frustrated that it would take decades to finish a novel, so I started screenplays where the pages flew by.
I took screenwriting classes in Boston and got into a mentorship program in New York. Oddly, that brought me back to fiction. I wrote Romeo, Romeo as a screenplay, but thought it would make a good novel, so I spent a week on a lake in Maine and scratched out the rough draft. I’m not afraid of wretched first drafts. They’re just throwing clay on the table. Then I was ready to get to work.
And of course that whole time I’d been working on a quasi-autobiographical novel; may it rest in peace.
Ah, screenplays. No wonder your written dialogue is excellent. What stage are you at, currently, in your journey toward publication? And--how is that going for you? Has anything surprised you about this stage?
Right now I’m writing the query letter and researching agents who will be psyched to take a gay YA novel.
Robert, tell us about Our Spirit, what it is, and where it's going?
Our Spirit is a resource to help LGBTQ youth deal with the homophobic messages of the religious right. We launched the website this summer. Youth can find stories, links, and information like “ .” One short film shows on the homepage. Five episodes of The Romeo Files, a gay high school soap opera, will launch this fall and we’re planning to shoot Finding Juliet this October. At Our Spirit we want all youth to know that they’re loved.
Love... that’s the whole story.
If you had to pick one favorite blog, what would it be?
Jon Arntson puts me in a good mood. Tina Lee’s Practice Room is class in a portable MFA program. Nathan Bransford and YOU, Heather Kelly, make me smarter. I was a terrible math student, but that seems to be more than one.
I'm blushing! Jeesh. Robert, what is a favorite blog post that you have written?
Maybe Swiss Cheese because I’ve found that approach so helpful.
I think lots of people agree, that your Swiss Cheese post was extremely helpful! Especially this mom of three. What online resource have you found most helpful?
What has been your biggest trial in writing?
Time. I love writing. It’s easy for me to write. Not that it’s always good, but all I have to do is sit down.
Ah, time. That's a tough trial to overcome. Thank goodness we have your swiss cheese method! What tricks have you acquired to make you write or create when you don’t feel up to writing?
Just do it. Those well-paid Nike marketers came up with the best slogan. For me, I just have to write SOMETHING. Later I can change it. Even if I scrap the whole thing, I’ll be at a different place and who knows what happens there?
Tell us about a book that has impacted your writing life.
Bold, adventurous, emotional and determined Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund made me want to think big.
Excellent--I'll have to check it out. Robert, what is your practical goal with your writing? Do you have a reach-for-the-stars goal that you would like to share?
My niece brought the first third of Romeo, Romeo to her high school’s gay-straight alliance. Feedback was great, my favorite, “Tell your uncle that his novel ROCKS!” I want to write novels that open people’s hearts. How to gage that? Maybe it’s hearing that someone thinks it rocks.
So far, what has been the best part of your writing experience?
Feedback from the guy in the previous question.
Sweet! If you could create the perfect place for you to write in, what would it look like?
A big, comfortable room with a view of the ocean.
I have to say, that surprised me. I thought you would say a cafe with a comfy chair. It still boggles my mind that you can write in busy place. If you could be a character in a book, and live within their world, what character would you be?
Huck Finn. He set his own agenda. I believe Twain once planned to write a sequel where Huck went west. But I wouldn’t want to hang out with arrogant Tom Sawyer. We’d ditch him.
Oh, we'd totally ditch him! What other distractions are in your life?
I like people too much. I wish I could be more of a hermit… But there are so many great people in my life.
Robert--you do surround yourself with some wonderful people! And, just because I’m curious--coffee or tea?
Tea. Not a simple question. I LOVE tea. All kinds, especially white and funky greens. Loose leaf. No tea bags. Never flavored. Oh, and lapsang souchong, which I think of as a tea-drinker’s espresso. I make gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free scones (hockey pucks, they’re just vehicles for jelly) and I’ll bliss out with a good old-fashioned quality black tea. My first published essay was called “A Simple Cup of Tea.” Yup, tea, it’s a life. Coffee… I’m too high energy for it.
Robert, you're right--there is nothing simple about how you do tea!!
Thanks so much for the insightful interview. Everyone, please make sure to visit Robert's zen-like blog, and to leave him a question or comment here, since he'll stop by to answer them when his West Coast, Swiss Cheese schedule permits!