Robert Eggleton Interview
Robert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. Locally, he is best known for his nonfiction about children’s programs and issues, much of which was published by the West Virginia Supreme Court. Today, he is a retired children’s psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome maltreatment and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel and follows the publication of other Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines. Author proceeds support the prevention of child maltreatment. For a complete listing of specific services, including the nonprofit agency history and its mission, please see: http://www.childhswv.org/.
An interview with science fiction & fantasy author Robert Eggleton
Tell us something about your book, including your genre and your characters and/or themes.
Rarity from the Hollow is my debut novel and the first in a prospective series, Lacy Dawn Adventures. It is adult literary science fiction filled with tragedy, comedy, and satire — the story of a traumatized girl who learns to be the savior of the universe with the help of an alien boyfriend, for when she’s old enough to have one, and her mentally ill family and friends.
Lacy Dawn Hickman, the protagonist, lives in an isolated community in the Hollow. She is part of a dysfunctional family: Jenny, a worn-out mother who has sacrificed her dreams for her family; Duane, a father suffering from combat-related PTSD; and Brownie, the family mutt, who is unconditionally loving, forgiving, dutiful, stupid at exactly the right times, and highly empathetic.
Lacy’s only friend, Faith, was killed by her abusive father, and her spirit now inhabits trees and rocks around Lacy’s house. Tom, a pot-head neighbor, moved to the Hollow because he believed it would be better for his Bipolar Disorder. And, Lacy’s guardian, a naked alien known only as DotCom (his name is a recurring pun) whose mission is to guard and guide her destiny — saving the universe.
Awesome Indies called Rarity “…a hillbilly version of ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ …the author has managed to do what I would have thought impossible; taken serious subjects like poverty, ignorance, abuse, and written about them with tongue-in-cheek humor without trivializing them… it sucks you into the Hollow, dunks you in the creek, rolls you in the mud, and splays you in the sun to dry off. Tucked between the folds of humor are some profound observations on human nature and modern society that you have to read to appreciate…it’s a funny book that most sci-fi fans will thoroughly enjoy…” https://bit.ly/3lbiD3e
Where are you based?
I live in West Virginia, an impoverished state in the U.S. that has one of the highest unemployment rates and the highest opioid overdose death rate in the country.
The next full-length Lacy Dawn Adventure is called Ivy. It asks the question, “How far will a child go to save a parent from addiction?” While this topic sounds very serious, similar to how child maltreatment does when thinking about Rarity, I’m working on the satire, puns, and dry humor to make it a fun read.
Publication has been delayed because the traditional small press that I was working with went under. It was located in Leeds (Dog Horn Publishing). I didn’t spend a penny on anything to have Rarity originally published and even was sent boxes of paperbacks to request book reviews. I had to learn a lot to self-publish it after rights reverted back to me. I’m on a very tight budget. Good editing, I found out, is expensive, as is good cover art….
What inspires you to write?
I’m a retired children’s psychotherapist with over forty years in the field of child welfare. I’m full of stories based on these experiences just busting to come out. To illustrate, let me tell your readers about my inspiration for Rarity. Part of my last job was at an intensive mental health day programs for youth who had been victimized by abuse or other mental health concerns. I facilitated group therapy sessions. One day, a skinny little girl sat around the table from me and as she worked on her written therapeutic exercises, and instead of focusing on her maltreatment by a very mean daddy, she spoke instead of her hopes and dreams for the future – finding a loving family to protect her. My protagonist, Lacy Dawn, was born that day and I’ve been writing about her ever since.
When and why did you get into writing fantasy?
I’ve been writing short stories since I was twelve. All of them had fantastical elements. It’s what I enjoy reading most, and I just gravitate to that genre. However, Rarity could be categorized as genre-bending, instead of pure fantasy. I enjoy writing contrasts to amplify elements in a story – i.e., harsh realism amplifying outrageous fantasy.
One of my favorite reviews of Rarity was written by an affiliate of Fantasy Fan Federation, an organization that has been around for well over fifty years. The reviewer spoke about aspects of the novel outside of its fantasy: “The author has created a new narrative format, something I’ve never seen before, with a standard third-person narration, interspersed, lightly, with first-person asides. This makes me think of Eugene O’Neill’s play ‘Strange Interlude’ where internal and external dialogue are blended…soon turns the corner to satire, parody, and farce, partaking a little of the whimsical and nonsensical humor of Roger Zelazny or even Ron Goulart.. reminding me of Esther in Dickens’ ‘Bleak House.’ https://amzn.to/3rJ8Yn2
Who are your favourite authors?
I’m not sure that you have enough bandwidth for me to make a complete list of inspirations and favorites, so here’s a few. Ferlinghetti, the poet of the Beat Generation, showed me how to enjoy my anger about political and societal issues. Similarly, Vonnegut’s anger in Breakfast of Champions helped me stay strong as a children’s advocate and as a writer, and how to experiment with my writing style outside of commonly accepted structures and formats. The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series reinforced my faith in the potential of adolescent morality and the future of the world. Watership Down by R. Adams was such a sweet adventure that some of this element just is a necessary ingredient of even the scariest, saddest, or most erotic story. The versatility in cross-genre and the use of humour by Bradbury had to have been a subliminal inspiration, especially now that I think about it. Dean Koontz has been masterful. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by D. Adams and Another Roadside Attraction by Robbins pushed me into the wilder side of writing regardless of censorship, as did the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics. And, Stephen King’s use of everyday horror convinced me that alarming scenes can be created by using almost anything as a prop. Piers Anthony sure knew how to write a goofy pun and has always gotten me to giggle.
What is your favourite fantasy series and why?
My favorite series is ‘Xanth’ by Piers Anthony. I really enjoy Anthony’s goofy wit. But, this selection might be influenced by the fact that he read Rarity and wrote a blurb for it: “…an original and interesting story of a backwoods girl who saves the Universe in her fashion. Not for the prudish.”
What are your favourite fantasy subgenres?
I like all fantasy subgenres, especially urban fantasy. The only types of these stories that I enjoy least are those that identify sometimes similar characters using long and unusual names. I have a hard time keeping the characters straight in the beginning of the stories and that has been so frustrating with some books that I’ve given up on them. That’s probably just a personal weakness rather than a weakness in the actual story.
Who are some of your all-time favourite fantasy characters? And why do you think they became your favourites?
Bilbo, Death in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Harry Potter (of course), Gandalf, and Roland Deschain (and others).
Do you follow any fantasy entertainment outside of books? (Video Games, Boardgames, Comics etc.)
I love Rat Queens. (Comics have gotten so expensive.)
What’s going on in the next few months? Anything on the Horizon?
Unfortunately, instead of spending a great deal of time doing stuff that I enjoy – writing and reading – I will continue with self-promoting Rarity. Half of author proceeds are donated to help abused children living temporary shelters, especially problematic during the pandemic. https://www.childhswv.org/ This means that I need to earn enough money from sales to not only contribute to a wonderful cause, but also to afford the costs of publishing the next Lacy Dawn Adventure.
What kind of books did you read that contributed to your upbringing, as far as fantasy and science-fiction?
Pre child labor laws, I went to work at a pharmacy when I was twelve (cleaning, stocking shelves, etc.). At the time, drug stores stocked new paperbacks, and were the primary source for books in many communities. The manager of the store would let be borrow paperbacks if returned in the same-as new condition. The book that most comes to mind was Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.
Was your upbringing pretty geeky?
No. I grew up in an impoverished family that didn’t own a telephone or television until I was a teen. We couldn’t afford books or comics. Actually, that’s why I started writing short stories – for entertainment of myself and my siblings.
Why should anyone read your book?
The targeted readership for Rarity is those who enjoy involvement outside of mainstream fiction and who expect more from a book than simple escapism. That audience should give my novel a try because it comes highly recommended by notable book reviewers of different genres, including Gold Medals (Awesome Indies and Readers’ Favorite) and other awards: “…Full of cranky characters and crazy situations, Rarity From the Hollow sneaks up you and, before you know it, you are either laughing like crazy or crying in despair, but the one thing you won’t be is unmoved….” https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/rarity-from-the-hollow Several book reviewers have referred to it as “unique” or a synonym, so if readers are interested in something a little different, a genre bender, my novel would be one to check out.
And, I recommend that prospective readers buy Rarity from the Hollow because it is a fun read with meaningful content that is enough food for thought to last a long time. Early tragedy in the story feeds and amplifies subsequent comedy and satire. This means that readers will get a “bigger bang” for their time spent reading than if they had selected a book quickly forgotten after the last page.
“…It is funny and irreverent but beneath the hallucinatory story of visits to shopping planets and interstellar shopping games, there is a profound critique of social problems, substance abuse, child sexual abuse and child murder that is quite eye opening…it is very, very good…I’d recommend Rarity From the Hollow to anybody who likes a side helping of the lunatic with their science fiction and fantasy.” http://www.addictedtomedia.net/2016/03/rarity-from-hollow-robert-eggleton.html
“…I really enjoyed reading Rarity from the Hollow. It’s so different and so well-written. I also love that it creates awareness in readers about mental health and different types of abuse and that it’s told in a way that isn’t too heavy. There wasn’t a single dull moment and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for something out of the ordinary.” http://paperbackdarling.weebly.com/blog/rarity-from-the-hollow-by-robert-eggleton-a-book-review-interview
The writing process ( Inspiration, discipline, planning, software, editing)
Do you have a process, do you plan or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
I use a flexible outline with all of my stories, and work from it or adapt the outline during the writing process.
How has your writing process changed since you first started writing?
In the beginning, I used to fight with myself to make a good scene fit the story. Today, I just save the scene that doesn’t fit for later use, perhaps in a different story.
How long does it normally take you to write a fantasy novel, and what proportion of the time is spent doing what?
Rarity took a little over six months to write, but its editing took over a year with input from three different editors before the final product. The time-consuming part of the process has been self-promotion. Even when the original version was backed by a traditional small press, there was little money in the budget to purchase advertising. I realized that it was my job and the marketing learning curve is huge.
What is your favourite part of the writing process?
I love the writing process in its entirety, except for promotions. My favorite part is reading a scene that I’d written the next day or two, and that scene really, really working.
Have your previous vocations influenced your writing?
Yes, most of the characters in Rarity from the Hollow were based on real people that I’ve met over the years in the field of child welfare. I accentuated traits and attributes, of course, especially the comedic. The mission of the project remains to sensitize readers to the huge social problem of child maltreatment through a satiric and comedic science fiction adventure.
Do you involve other people in your writing, as collaborators or editors? How do you make this work?
Yes, I believe that good editing is essential. When I’m proofing something that I’ve written, I tend to read what I intended to write as opposed to what is actually on the page. I lucked out with Rarity in that three highly competent independent editors contribute at no charge to me. I’m saving up for editing of Ivy and won’t feel comfortable with it until that’s done.
A number of fantasy/sci-fi authors have been known to use art, music, exercise, alcohol and even drugs as a way to find inspiration to enter the zone! Do you use any tools to enter into your creative headspace?
I listen to loud, usually ‘70s, rock music when I write, unless my wife makes me turn it down. I’m an advocate for legalized marijuana but I can’t imagine writing under the influence of alcohol – it just causes me to feel sleepy.
Publishing (formatting, cover design, formats, marketing)
Describe the road you took to publishing your first novel? And how that has changed?
As I mentioned, Rarity was originally a traditional small press publication. After the press went down, I discovered Draft2Digital for the ebook and used Lulu for the paperback. I don’t feel knowledgeable enough at this point to self-publish Ivy without help, but I’m learning.
Will your next book be traditional or indie published?
The doors of traditional Big Five publishing houses have been chained shut for decades. I don’t think that Tor Books is still accepting unagented manuscripts any longer. I’ll continue to look for a traditional small press for Ivy, but the ones that I’ve found so far seem like rip offs. So, I’ll probably have to indie publish it.
Would you recommend self-publishing to aspiring authors, or would you suggest a more traditional path?
I started writing late in life. If one is young and has the time to look for a solid traditional publisher, that’s probably the best bet, but I haven’t found one yet. I will certainly consider recommendations if you or your readers know of an option. If short on time, like me, I recommend self-publishing because it is so much quicker.
What sort of input do you give to formatting, cover design, marketing?
I like the current cover for Rarity. It’s the fifth cover, and by far the best. An English comic book artist, Jag Lall, donated the first cover because of the mission of the project (child maltreatment), but it didn’t fit the bent genre of the story. The small press came up with three covers, the last one was by far the best, but the science fiction font was too difficult to read. A paid graphic artist produced the current cover based upon the immediately preceding one and my instructions. I have no skill or talent in graphic arts, so cover creation was outside of my abilities. I know what I want for the cover of Ivy, but I’ll have to pay for its creation, also. If an author is skilled in graphic arts, I suppose she or he could create book covers, but I recommend lots of input from others before it is finalized. A great cover is essential. Rarity experienced an increase in sales with its new cover.
What do you do pre and post-release to help get your books noticed?
If I could afford to do so, I would pay for promotions. BookBub, which has a good reputation, accepted Rarity, an honor in itself, but wanted something like $1500 to promote it for a short period. Every day, I receive sales pitches for book promotions by email. Some of them appear better than others. I didn’t do anything pre-release of Rarity because I didn’t realize that such was common. Typical to most authors, I use free advertising through Facebook and Twitter. One drawback to self-publishing outside of Amazon is that one is not eligible to buy Amazon ads. I didn’t realize that until recently, and it’s important for aspiring author to consider. I considering a trial as a paid Facebook ad – every day I get tempting offers by Facebook. In the back of my mind, I realize that it would not just be gambling my money, but also gambling my donations to abused children – so, I remain hesitant. Maybe…… I’ve been using book banners / mockups that I got for free when marketing on Facebook and Twitter. I probably should pay for ones that have movement (gifs) or blurbs. They are nice enough, but not competitive with other advertising.
I’ve also contacted book bloggers and Rarity has had great success by appearing on over seven hundred blogs in twelve countries. Sadly, many wonderful book blog have gone down in recent years, so they are not a durable mechanism to market.
Marketing is so important nowadays, what’s your best advice to fellow authors?
My best advice is to believe in and invest in your product, but not to “bet the family farm” on its return. I have known authors who have invested more than they could afford, got discouraged, and then “faded into the sunset.”
How did you decide the pricing of your material?
For the ebook, I balanced the price based on other ebooks by relatively unknown authors, while maintaining an interest in raising funds for abused children. Unless I had several books for sale, I would never price the ebook for less ($3.99), and especially not for free. If an author has several quality books, it would be much more likely to work better as a strategy. I have had free ebooks given as prizes for a competition on blogs. Personally, I don’t read inexpensive or free books and I feel that many “customers” who take such gifts do not actually read the books or submit book reviews. I don’t think that a single person who got Rarity for free has ever left a book review. And, today, only persons who have spent $50 in the last year to buy stuff from Amazon are eligible to post a review, even when they bought the book.
The cost of the paperback ($16.99) is as low as I could go given Lulu’s costs for printing it, and to show any profit at all. I guess it’s because Rarity is a little over 300 pages, plus the shipping cost which is outrageous. There is more profit from ebook sales than from the paperback,
Five Must Read Fantasy novels?
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guinn
Must read non-fantasy novels?
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Most prized fantasy book in your collection?
The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind, because it has a letter from him folded in the pages.
Do you read digital, paperback or hardback or do you listen to audiobooks?
Now, I mostly read digital unless I am rereading a paperback that I already own. Our house got so crowded with books, wall-to-wall, that it became a space issue and I switched to reading most often on my PC. We own a Kindle, but I like to enlarge the font as my eyesight is weakening as I get old. I’ve never listen to an audiobook, but I’m interested. I would also like to publish Rarity as an audiobook when I figure out how to do so, and can afford to pay narrators.
What are some difficulties you’ve experienced in your writing career; how do you handle book critiques/criticism?
I’ve had a few “bumps” along the way. There were a couple of one-star reviews still on Amazon that I had a hard time accepting. One was two sentences, which said, “I don’t like war stories…” There is no war in Rarity. The only thing gunshot in the story is a fake Barbie doll, a metaphor of the impact of poverty on children. The other review was written by a book blogger that I’d emailed a copy of the novel the night before it was posted the next morning on Amazon. She simply didn’t have the time to even scan Rarity. I’ve moved on. Another difficulty was a few new authors on Goodreads that I must have somehow ticked off. Rarity received a few one-star ratings without reviews or comments. I checked out the raters, but never commented to them. They appeared to have been guys with one story to their belts and have since disappeared from the site. I appreciate honest critics and have learned from them, affecting the final edition of Rarity.
What are the best experiences in your writing career?
Glowing book reviews.
What are some encouraging words you’d give to another author/writer?
Don’t give up. You’re not likely to be discovered like Elvis singing on the stoop of an apartment, and sometimes success is accomplished by being durable – hanging in there. A lot of good authors have gotten discouraged and quit trying. Don’t be one of those.
Get in touch
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100063179171078 (Lacy Dawn Adventures)
https://bit.ly/2KNJkI2 (any digital device)