Writerly Lifestyle

How to Perfect the Opening of Your Novel: Author Interview with Rob Hart

September 28, 2022 David Season 2 Episode 26
Writerly Lifestyle
How to Perfect the Opening of Your Novel: Author Interview with Rob Hart
Show Notes Transcript

5 Minute Writer
Article
Rob Hart's Website
Connect with Rob on Twitter!
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Last week on the interview series I talked to Bianca Marias, author of the new release The Witches of Moonshyne Manor and host of the popular podcast, The Shit No One Tells You About Writing. She shared how she developed unique character voices in her novel

3 BIG TAKEAWAYS 

  1. Use a variety of ways to develop character voice
  2. The importance of a great agent-author relationship
  3. Where The Shit Noone Tells You About Writing podcast is headed

Today's interview will help anyone who feels like their writing needs a little boost. Rob shares some really important and practical writing tips while giving a behind the scenes look at how he creates his fascinating and suspenseful novels. Let’s get to the interview!

BIO

Rob Hart
  is the author of six novels, including The Paradox Hotel  and The Warehouse , as well as the short story collection Take-Out , Scott Free  with James Patterson, and a Star Wars short story. The Warehouse , sold in more than 20 countries and was optioned for film by Ron Howard!

Tweet me @DavidRGwyn
Check out the YouTube Channel

WLIS 226 RH

Rob Hart: [00:00:00] The work gets done or it doesn't, as long as it gets done, you're fine. You, you don't need to set yourself these sort of arbitrary goal posts. And I, I don't like when writing advice becomes an impediment or like self-defeating. Everyone's process is different. To a large degree, I'm still learning my process.

David Gwyn: Figuring out how to give the right amount of information to readers early in your story can feel impossible. You don't want to bore readers with backstory, but you need to give them enough. They understand what's going on, so how can you decide how much information to give to readers to keep them interested?

Thankfully, author Rob Hart is going to help us. I'm David gn, a writer with a recently finished manuscript wondering how to traditionally publish. During the season of the podcast, I'm asking agents, book coaches, editors, and authors, how they suggest writers go from the end on a first draft to signing a publishing deal.

Last week on the interview series, I talked to Bianca Marais, author of three novels. Her newest, The Witches of Moonshyne Manor is Out Now. She's also the host of the popular podcast. The Shit No One Tells You About [00:01:00] Writing. She shared how she developed unique character voices in her novel, and it's definitely worth the listen.

So go check that out. This week we're talking to Rob. He's the author of six novels, including The Paradox Hotel, The Warehouse, the Short Story Collection, Takeout Scott, Free with James Patterson, and a Star War Short Story. The Warehouse sold in more than 20 countries and was optioned for film by Ron Howard.

My conversation with Rob will help anyone who feels like their writing needs a little boost. Rob some really important and practical writing tips while giving a behind the scenes look at how he creates his fascinating and suspenseful novels. Let's get to the, interview 

Rob, welcome to the interview series I fanboyed a little bit about your work, before I started recording, I'm really excited to dig in here and talk shop. So thanks for taking the time to chat with me.

Rob Hart: Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it. 

David Gwyn: So let's go back. Let's go back all the way to when you started writing, did you always know you wanted to be a writer? 

Rob Hart: I think I was 18 when I decided I wanted to write [00:02:00] books and so yeah, 18 and my first book came out when I was. That was like 32, I think.

So. Yeah, it takes a while. It's, it's not a, it's not a short or easy process. I you know, I, I talk to a lot of people who are aspiring writers and, and they're like, you know, what's the one piece of advice you would give me and I'm like, be stubborn. Like, that's the only way to do this. You have to be really stubborn.

David Gwyn: It seems like that's like one of those things that keeps coming up for, for people I talk to that that have success. They're like they didn't get there because they were even the best writer that they knew. They literally just got there because they didn't stop writing. They didn't stop going after that thing.

It sounds like it was the same for you. 

Rob Hart: Yeah. This is a, a gig that really involves a lot of rejection, involves a lot of like you sitting in a room by yourself, hoping the thing you're doing, isn't insane. And it's really hard to like, have that. Distinction sometimes because you really have to be willing to dedicate a lot of time and effort to something you don't know is gonna work or not.

So, if you can kind of just accept that as how it's gonna be and [00:03:00] just keep powering forward and recognizing that over time, you will get better with practice, you know, it'll, it, it usually works out in the end. Yeah. It's like, 

David Gwyn: it's like having homework for the rest of your life, right? It's 

Rob Hart: oh yeah, no.

A friend of mine said that and it was absolutely too, Michael Selinger said that he's like being a writer is like giving yourself homework for the rest of your life. and like, when I'm sitting like reading another research book that I don't really wanna be reading, but I know I need to read for something I'm writing.

I'm like, why did I do this to myself? 

David Gwyn: I could see that. So let's talk, you know, most. Release was the paradox hotel which was super fun read, can you talk a little bit about that and, and what the story's about and how you came up with it? 

Rob Hart: Yeah. Well, I'll, I'll tell you how I came up with it right off the back.

Cause it was so funny. Did, do you know what sleep no more is. No. Okay. It's it's this interactive, interactive theater experience. It's, it's a, it's a New York city. Okay. I've been probably like four or five times. And it's, it's basically like a retelling of Macbeth. But it's set in what starts as a hotel, but then turns into all these different spaces.

And it's basically like free roaming. Like the, [00:04:00] the actors are all moving throughout this space, which is like multiple levels and multiple rooms. the audience members wear masks. So, you know, it's just, it's super creepy and Gothic and weird, and you, you start in a hotel in, in the McKitrick hotel, but then it turns into like a psych ward and then the woods and a cemetery, and like all these different settings and wow.

You can either follow the actors or you can kind of like do your own thing. Like you can go through drawers and you can go through like, you know, the books on the shelves and look for secret. And, and I was doing it one time and I was walking from one room to another and I'm like, wouldn't it be cool if there was a hotel where you can go into a room and it was like five minutes from now, or like 10 minutes ago.

And I literally like went home and just wrote time, travel hotel on a note and and then that's where the entire thing started. But so yeah, paradox hotel is basically about a hotel for time travelers where. You know, we invent time travel and it becomes sort of like a tourism industry for [00:05:00] the super rich kind of like what's happening with space travel now.

And when you wanna catch a flight to a different time period, you stay at The Paradox until your flight is ready to go. And so. The book follows January Cole, who is the, the house detective who one day finds a dead body that only she can see. So she's trying to figure out if this is a murder that's happened or is going to happen, or if it even happened, because she's in the process of losing her mind and it kind of, dovetails from there.

David Gwyn: Yeah. It was, it was such a fun reading. It felt like I don't know. And we're talking a little bit more about, about your fiction, your brand of fiction specifically, but it. Very unique. In that it was like a suspense story thriller, but also like, not that . And so I'm looking forward to, to talking a little bit more about how you come up with these things, because I feel like your books, they provide that kind of like there's a social commentary to your work.

Specifically I'm thinking, you know, the warehouse and in the paradox hotel and like terms. The warehouse at capitalism, corporate greed, and then[00:06:00] you know, even gender and gender identity and, and these big social ideas, they seem to be what keeps or, or like, I don't wanna say like keeps the driving your fiction, but it's in the backdrop.

There it's, it's something that exists as part of what you're doing in your writing. Why do you feel so compelled to write about those? 

Rob Hart: It's it's always something that really bothered me, you know, the way systems of power are set up to hurt people and keep people down. I mean, even you know, I wrote a, a sort of like a private detective series called the, the Ash McKenna series and in the fifth book of that series, I, I was writing about the heroin crisis.

And even though there are very street level books, I made sure to point out that, you know, all of the onus for the heroin crisis is really on the shoulders of people like the Sackler family and like these rich people who decided they wanted to make money on opiates and, drove this crisis into existence.

Because I think that's something that we don't. Think about enough is how large [00:07:00] corporations, large businesses, billionaires, like they really treat us like the food they need to eat to grow bigger. And, and we're not always cognizant of that, that, that, that's always something that I've wanted to write about, cuz it's just makes me angry.

And I like writing about stuff that makes me angry. 

David Gwyn: well, it's interesting. It feels like I, I I'm thinking like now the, the warehouse, the, it almost is a little prophetic in a way, like the way you wrote the warehouse with the drones and everything, and like, thinking about the way Amazon is now and like moving, moving towards that.

So I know that it was optioned by Ron Howard. Any movement there, any, any chance of that coming to late? I know the, the film world sometimes moves even slower than publishing. 

Rob Hart: It moves very slowly. You know, I've had some encouraging check-ins with them over the last couple of years and you know, every time, every time I talk to them, I learn something new.

But it's not like actively being shot or anything, but that's the thing it's like, this stuff takes so long. Like paradox is in development for TV too. and , I just kind of sit around wondering like, Hey, is today the day I'm gonna [00:08:00] find out something's happening.

But it's also, it's, it's really good to be in the game to not be in the game. So, you know, it's, it's, it's been an incredible opportunity.

David Gwyn: Yeah, super cool. So I, I love this question and I know it's, it's difficult to answer kind of retroactively. So I, I apologize for that in advance, but when you're looking at your narrative and you're looking at your story how are you building in these, like.

Tense thriller suspense moments within this like kind of bigger question or bigger idea. Like we talked about these like societal ideas, are you trying to create like almost the big idea within the narrative within that like suspense thriller narrative or is it the other way around? 

Rob Hart: That's interesting.

You know, because there there's one way in which. And I talk about this a lot, and I believe this very strongly is like, you almost write a novel in a fugue state. You know, like I look back at the books I've written and I'm like, I don't understand how I did that. How was that even possible? And then I look at like the next one I wanna write.

And I'm like, I don't even know how to write a novel. Like, this is a [00:09:00] ridiculous process. But like looking at it from a technical perspective, you know, it's, it's kind of, it, it is really hard to strike that balance between telling a compelling story, you know, conveying information, making sure the characters are relatable.

I mean to try to look at it, simplistically, I always try to think of it like this. Like the second I'm getting bored. I feel like the reader might get bored. The second, I feel like a character can walk away from something the reader can walk away from something. So I think a lot of my process is just trying to keep myself engaged with the narrative.

And as long as I'm actively engaged with it, Then I think it's gonna be okay. And if I start to feel myself drifting or waning, or if I'm rereading something and I'm, I'm, it's just kind of like, okay, this is going on too long, you know, I, I know like, okay, you know what? Let's just stop here, stop here. It's gonna be fine.

We'll move on to the next thing. And, and that to me is always help me maintain a feeling of momentum and the stuff that I write. So now that you've, you know, have a few books under your belt, I, do you go about [00:10:00] planning your books the same way? Do you feel like you have it figured out at all? Like, do you have any confidence going into your next project or is it like a whole new world every 

David Gwyn: time?

Absolutely not. No confidence whatsoever. , I'm, I'm serious. Like, like someone said this and, and I forget who and I wish I can credit them because it, it was so accurate. It's like writing a book is like, you climb. You get to the other end of the mountain, you're all done. And then you look at the next mountain and you just have no idea how to climb a mountain you know?

Rob Hart: But my, my process is generally the same in the sense that I I'm a big researcher. I'm a big outliner and my outlines Are really, really in depth to the point where I draw maps, you know, like I, I had to map out the entire warehouse facility before I wrote that book. I, I have a, I have a schematic of the paradox hotel with the rooms individually numbered because I needed to see how many rooms there were that could fit.

And, and I need that for the sense of space. So I know like, because in the paradox hotel, I need to know how long it's gonna take January to get from like the end of the second floor hallway down [00:11:00] to the lobby. And, and I need the map to be able to do that. So I, I know that like, I'm gonna need plenty of research material, some maps, some like visual aids, stuff like that.

And I mean, that's part of why I've got this giant whiteboard on the wall behind me, which is like one of the best things I've ever invested in. But yeah, I kind of need a lot of that stuff laid out for me. And the way I think of it is like a roadmap, or like an old school roadmap where, you know, cause now you have GPS that tells you exactly where to go.

I mean, more like when you had a map when you were driving from one place to another. So you know where the start point is, you know, where the end point is, but like halfway through, you might see a sign for the. Biggest bowl of yarn and you're like, oh, cool. I'm gonna go check that out. Let's see what happens.

So I always leave myself room to kind of explore things and then dive off the path. But yeah, I, I kind of need a clear sense of like the starting moment, the ending moment, and like some of the bigger landmarks in between. 

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It's funny in talking to, to authors here, it there's like there is such a range and I think it goes to your point [00:12:00] of like, there's no right way to write a novel.

Like you literally just gotta climb the mountain, however, best you can climb that mountain, however best you can get there. And whether it's you outline your way through it and you have schematics or. I was just talking to somebody yesterday who she's like, I literally, if I do that, like I can't write the novel.

Like if I write an outline, then that's the novel. And she's like, she has to start at the beginning and just like work her way through. And it's just so funny that it, for, for people who are listening, if, regardless of what system you have, it doesn't really matter. As long as the, the end product, is a good book.

Right? 

Yeah. And, and, you know, I actually, I, I think that's a really important thing to recognize because one of the most dangerous things about writing advice is people internalizing it and thinking there's only one way to do things. And, and my favorite example of that is when people are, you know, it's something I've heard a lot, people say, if you want to be a successful writer, you have to write every day.

And that is such utter nonsense, because I don't write every day and I'm doing just fine. This is my full time job. Mm-hmm , you know, I can't, I, I honestly can't remember the last time I wrote prose wrote [00:13:00] fiction because I'm between books and I'm figuring stuff out and I'm working on a bunch of other stuff.

But I've had people approach me, like when I'm teaching classes, they're like, you know, I just really, I really want to do this writing thing. I just like, you know, I work so much or. You know, taking care of like my dad's sick. Like I just can't write every day. So maybe I can't do I'm like, no, no, no, no.

That's not the point. The work gets done or it doesn't, as long as it gets done, you're fine. You, you don't need to set yourself these sort of arbitrary goal posts. And I, I don't like when writing advice becomes an impediment or like self-defeating. Everyone's process is different. To a large degree, I'm still learning my process.

Like there are things I learned on The Paradox Hotel that I'm gonna take into the next one. And then I'm gonna be a student until I stop doing this. 

David Gwyn: Yeah. So valuable for people to hear. So speaking of projects that you're working on , what are you working on now? What have you got coming up?

Rob Hart: Well, well, right now I've got nothing on the horizon. in terms of novels I'm working on a few pitches with my editor and we're trying to like figure out which the best one would be. And it's, it's one of those [00:14:00] weird things where like, there are four or five books I wanna write, but we're trying to decide on which one fits best for both of us at the same time, which is cool.

And like, that's how it works. You know, I've got a couple of side gigs that I'm kind of like playing around on I do have a comic book coming out the first week of September that I co-wrote with my buddy, Alex, Segura, that Joe Isma did the art on and that's gonna be a really fun project. So that's been a couple of years in the making and I cannot wait for that to hit. Otherwise I'm just working on some short stories and just some like editorial stuff. And yeah, it's like summer is such a dead period that I'm trying to like, take it easy on myself a little bit and just not push too hard. And also, you know, make sure to leave room to like enjoy spending time with my daughter and, and not burn myself out.

David Gwyn: Nice. And so speaking of those kind of side gigs, I know you do some work with lit reactor. Can you talk a little bit about what that website is like and, and what you do with them? 

Rob Hart: Sure. So lit reactor is basically it's a website for readers and writers and we offer a lot of resources, you know, lots of [00:15:00] articles and stuff about like, Books and, and, you know, film and TV, and also things about like writing craft and, and online writing classes.

I actually run the online writing program and, the last two months have been a bit of a challenge. You know, it it's always been a passion project for me and the two other guys who run it. And we've always tried to give a lot of attention to like ind presses and, and smaller presses, the kind of presses that don't always get a lot of attention or, or review coverage from like the bigger media.

And we, we kind of hit like a rough patch of road money wise for a couple of reasons in, in part because you know, so an issue with the IRS that, you know, was related to someone else involved with the site and, and yada yada mm-hmm. So we just ran like a big Indiegogo fundraiser and raised a bunch of money just to keep us solving for a little while.

And now we're kind of looking toward the future on how to improve the site and develop it. Cause. You know, it's one of those things where, because it's a passion project for the three of us, sometimes it's, it's just like the three of us are so busy. It's hard to actually like sit down with [00:16:00] it and, you know, really dedicate time to it.

 But I, I really believe in the site, I believe in the classes that we that we offer. I mean, really, like, it's kind of where I cut my teeth on on writing classes, because what's nice about it is it's sort of like an A La carte kind of thing, where instead of, you know, spending tens of thousands of dollars to get an MFA, This one author like, you know, Blake Butler who is really cool.

I wanna work with him on like, you know, this one, four week course. So it kind of gives the, it gives the writer a little bit more of an opportunity to focus in on what they wanna focus on, as opposed to just spending a ton of money on a big sweeping program.

David Gwyn: There's been a few programs I've seen recently pop up and it, it feels like such a, a gateway for people.

Like, I mean, they're talk, some of these programs are asking for thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars for. You know, an eight week program or a 10 week program. And it just feels like another gate keeping measure to keep people who really wanna write like out. And, and it's just so interesting to me.

And it, that's why I wanted to ask you about it is it seems like such a great [00:17:00] place for people who are serious about their craft and they can really get, like you're saying that like kind of a, a cart, like what they need when they need it kind of fixed. And, and I love that. So I'm if you're listening to this I'll link to lit reactor so you can.

Quick access to, to that website. Cause I think it's, it's gonna be really useful for a lot of people who are listening. So I wanna pause for just a second here and talk about what Rob's philosophy on writing is.

I think he says really plainly what a lot of guests have been suggesting on here for a long time. There are so many people out there who will tell you they can teach you how to write a novel, but it seems like what's really important is that you figure it out for yourself. Sure, you'll need help along the way, but you have to do the legwork and the trial and error all on your own.

As someone who recently started querying, I'm diving into a new project and just like Rob shares in this interview, it feels like an insurmountable task, but hearing him talk about his own struggles makes me feel a little bit better. I hope it makes you feel better about your process too. And the next part of the interview, Rob shares [00:18:00] how he thinks about the opening of his novels, tells us about his fascinating route to a literary agent.

It's one I've never heard before, so definitely hang out to hear. He also shares how to develop suspense in your novel, his top advice for aspiring writers and so much more. In the next part, he also references an article that helped him. I've linked it in the description, but if you wanna see my takeaways from the article as well as some practical suggestions on how to use it in your work, then be sure to sign up for Five Minute Writer.

It's a series I'm doing to help you save. It's free weekly writing advice, providing five minute summaries of a longer article, podcast, book, video, or course. It's designed to give you the highlights without the fluff so you can gain the knowledge without wasting time, so you can get back to writing. Be sure to sign up and join them More than 160 writers who've trusted writer lifestyle with their publishing futures.

Plus you get the first edition. Right now it's linked. Let's head back to the interview. 

 When I have authors on here, I like to ask.

Them to talk a little bit about their literary agent so that people who are listening, who want a literary agent are [00:19:00] thinking about what they, they should look for in, in theirs. And I know you're rep by Josh Getzler at HG literary. Yes. Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about, what you, why you decided to work with Josh and what you like so much about working with him?

Rob Hart: Well, you know, it was funny and, and, and it's always like borderline awkward when I talk to people about this, cuz I've had two agents, neither of whom I had to query. And everyone's like, I'm a future . But my, my, my first agent, I met her at a conference and she was actually involved with lit reactor and she was like, oh cool.

You're a writer. Send me a story. I sent her a story. She liked it. Some, she was like, send me the book when you're done, sent her my first novel and. And then it was kind of like off to the races. And around then I did like three or four books with her, then she retired. So I basically was like a free agent for a little while.

So for my fifth book, with my old publisher at that point, like I'd been working in publishing, it was a boiler plate contract. I, I knew what I had to do. So I was like, let me handle this and I'll figure it. And then Josh came knocking. And the [00:20:00] reason he reached out is because he heard that I didn't have an agent.

And I had, I had developed enough of a, a reputation at that point that enough people knew my name. I had good reviews. Like I was producing good work. And he was like, Hey, do you want to go out and have a beer and, and talk about what you're working on? So I sent him like, The first, oh God, it wasn't even a lot.

It was the first section of the warehouse, cuz that's all I had at that point. That's all I had written. And I had like a rough idea for how the rest of the book was gonna go. So I sent him. And we went out and, and he sits down and the first things is, he's the first thing he says, he's like, when are you sending me the rest of this book?

I'm like, ah, I gotta write it. But we, we, we had a long conversation about that book. And as I was explaining it, he was like, Jesus, this is better than I thought it would be. And and then we talked about some other ideas that I had and he basically just like at the end of the conversation, he's like, I wanna rep you.

And a lot of people, it would've been perfectly okay for me to say like, Hey, like, you know, thank you for your interest. I really appreciate that. Can you gimme two or three weeks to like, look at some other options? And he would've been fine with that because he's a professional. But [00:21:00] I had such a good vibe from him and we had gotten along.

So. That I, I just shook his hand. I'm like, all right, let's do this. Nice. And then he made a deal on the warehouse that changed my life, which for the record, I thought warehouse was an unpublishable book because it's it's about how Amazon is terrible. And Amazon is also responsible for 70 to 80% of book sales in the us.

 So, yeah, I thought maybe I'd get like a small punk rock press on that one who didn't mind poking the bear. And instead I ended up with paying a random house, so. What do I know? But but yeah, no, it's the, the other thing that's kind of funny too, is that I, I kind of went into my, my relationship with Josh thinking, like, I don't want an agent.

Who's my friend. I just want someone who's gonna work for me and I want to keep the lines clear there. And, and now, like, you know, Sometimes we just hang out and go get drinks and don't even talk about business. And like we text each other random shit. So so yeah, no, it's a, it's a fantastic relationship.

And he was basically, he was out of agenting for a while, and then he, he was just getting back in when he signed me on and now he's repping like SA [00:22:00] Cosby. Who's like the biggest writer on the planet right now. And my buddy Alex Sura and like a whole bunch of other really great authors. So he, he he's doing okay.

I think he'll be fine. 

David Gwyn: yeah, he seems like he's doing all right. I was looking at his client list. He seems like he's gonna be just fine. He's he's like, like you said, repping some big names. I mean, that's, he's obviously doing something right? 

Rob Hart: He's just, he's good at what he does because you know, I, again, like I worked in publishing for a little while I was working for a small press and I've dealt with some great agents and I've dealt with some really bad agents and Josh has that ability to be like, you know he could be tough without being rude.

He can be forceful without being a jerk about it. And he knows how to kind of play the game and get the job done to the best of everyone's ability. So, yeah. No, it's, it's, it's been. 

David Gwyn: Nice. And so I like to ask too, what, what type of work relationship is it?

Are you sending him chapters or are you sending, waiting until something's completely done? Are you talking to him bouncing ideas off of him? Like, what is that process like? 

Rob Hart: , it's a weird fluid process. So [00:23:00] like right now, because we're trying to find a pitch, that's gonna work for me and my editor,

 I've got a pitch out to him that he's gonna, that, that he's taking some notes on that. He's gonna send back to me. I don't necessarily need to sell it on the pitch to my editor, but I at least want my editor to look at it and kind of gimme a thumbs up because, you know, I like, I really like him.

I really like our relationship. I like where I am. I like the people I work with and I wanna stay there. So it doesn't really behoove me to write an entire novel and just kind of hope that, that he likes it. You know, I wanna just have a sense that we're on the same page. So, yeah, it's, it's a lot of back and forth and sometimes , I get a little frustrated and Josh also acts as like my therapist.

 But, you know, Hey, he gets that 15%. So he is getting paid but yeah, it's a lot of back and forth. It's a lot of kicking things around and. Yeah, it's it sometimes feels a little frustrating because it's like, I just wanna be working on a book. That's what I wish I could be doing right now is like writing instead of pitching and pitching is hard because it's hard to take like this big, giant thing you have in your head and just explain [00:24:00] it in a way that other people can get it.

And that's something that I need to work on because you know, someone will read the pitch and be like, well, I don't understand this. And I'm like, how can you not understand that? It's I'm like, oh wait. Yes, no, because it's in my brain. It's not on the page. So yeah. Yeah. It's it's a fun, weird fluid process that is sometimes maddening, but always works out in the.

David Gwyn: Yeah. Nice. So I wanna, I wanna pivot a little bit here. I, and kind of the reason I wanted, I really wanted to talk to you. And one of the things I think you do so well in your fiction that a lot of aspiring writers can, can learn from. So my, my audience, people who listen to me and interact with me are largely made up of writers.

Who've. Written a few manuscripts, you know, they've shelved them and burned them or whatever they do with those like kind of first couple books that, that you do that, you know, aren't good enough. And, and now they're really trying to like make the one that they're working on now be the one that gets them, the agent.

And I think in reading, in reading your fiction, that the thing that I think you do unbelievably well, I, I was, I was blown away. Is that, that balance in those first couple chapters, especially you who you, you know, working with these kind [00:25:00] of specul. Story backdrops, where you're giving just enough information to keep readers engaged and keep them in the know, but not so much to, to bore readers with too much backstory.

And so. Do you have a process for that? Do you kinda like write it all out? Is that something that happens in later drafts? Like, can you talk through about how you think about giving and dripping information, especially about these settings and, and back stories that, that are, are necessary for the story?

But need to kind of happen organically. 

Rob Hart: Yeah, sure. You know, because that's, that's a really hard thing to pull off. I'll I'll tell you this. The, the best thing I ever read about about this subject was Lee Childs wrote an essay for the New York times. And, and look I know people are like, oh, Lee child, James Patterson, blah, blah, blah.

Like they get all worked up. It's like, you know what? You may not like their books and that's okay. They know something about the world that , we don't, they've both sold more books than me. They have [00:26:00] things to teach us. Like we need to just kind of put aside the ego and just look at what they do and figure out like what it is they do.

That's so effective. So, so with Lee, he wrote this article for the New York times. That's basically just like about asking questions about how, as you're writing, you should be asking questions of your reader, not answering them right away. It's like a way to kind of like build momentum and suspense.

And , even when you answer those questions to have those kind of like, bring about more questions, you know, every answer should it should itself also provide a bit of a question. So I would say if you play around with Google a little bit and lead child in New York times and questions and stuff, you'll find it.

But it's, it's incredibly worthwhile and it really made me think in those terms of how, you know, the best kinds of books are the ones that sort of open with these premises that. You kind of have a sense of what's going on, but like you can't explain everything right away. Like you have to create this sort of momentum for the reader to keep on, going to keep on turning the pages to wanna find out what's gonna happen.

And really [00:27:00] the best way to do that is just to ask questions, you know which. is an interesting balance too, because , as the author, you already have all the answers in your head, you know, where everything is leading. So it's sort of like, right. You're you, you're learning how to like play a joke or a magic trick on the reader.

It's like, how can I reveal something now that's gonna make the answer this much more impactful down the line. Mm-hmm so Yeah, it's, it's an incredibly long and complicated and difficult process that I think if I were to boil it down into something useful for the purposes of a, a podcast, I would say, find that article, read it, really internalize it.

And then start when you read really effective books from whoever, just start thinking in those terms about how that's being utilized, because. I teach writing classes and so much of what I teach is like storytelling mechanics, like how to sort of look at what other authors and, and, you know, films, TV shows, whatever do, and how to sort of take those [00:28:00] mechanics and use them in your own work.

And, and Lee's essay is something that I use and, you know, all these different examples from fiction, the way that like. You know, I, I, I really like to point to the Marvel movies and their usage of humor because I really believe humor is something that, you know, connects with an audience, gets them to laugh and it gets them to trust you and it gets them to open up a little bit.

So then when you hit them with the emotional moments later on, it really lands like a body blow It's kind of like thinking in those terms of like how to absorb other media and recognize the mechanics of what they're doing and then how to utilize it yourself. It's kind of like watching a mechanic working on a car and just trying to pay attention to where they're using, which tools and how they're using them.

So that when it's your turn, you can do it. 

David Gwyn: Yeah, no, I, I love that. And, and for people who are listening, I will, I will try to hunt down that Lee child's article. And if I find it, I 

Rob Hart: will link it. So I'm, I'm pretty sure I, I, I have a link for it somewhere because I refer to it so often 

David Gwyn: to I send you good stuff.

And so. Is, is there a moment when you're reading those first couple chapters and you [00:29:00] feel like you've nailed it, or are you relying on early readers to look at that and, and tell you that you've got it right? Cause it is it's, it's all jumbled in your head. It feels like as a writer, you know, what's going to happen.

It's hard sometimes to know what to give and what to take. So are you doing that on your own or are you, are you kind of relying on others when they look. 

Rob Hart: I would say in large part, I'm doing it on my own. It's really, the big test is when you send it out to a few people.

And, and my rule is, is that like, if someone, if someone gives me a piece of CR, like if I send it out to five people, And one person comes back with a criticism. I'm gonna say, okay, that's interesting. And I'm gonna sit there and consider it. And, but if like three or four or five people come back with the same criticism, I'm gonna say, okay, that's something that needs to be fixed.

You know, it's those are the things that always hit me a lot harder because you know, everyone reads books differently. So not everyone is gonna respond the same. And so. The more people are pointing to something, the more I realize it needs to [00:30:00] be addressed. So yeah, no, it's it it's, it's a weird act too, because I, I, I do at least like four or five pretty serious edits before anyone even sees it.

So by the time someone else has it in their hands, like it's been worked over pretty. Mm. Yeah. 

David Gwyn: Yeah. I love hearing about the a writer's process and it sounds like I'm starting to frame yours in my head. Like, it sounds like a long outlining process, like a fury of writing and then like multiple edits on the back end.

Is that, do I have that more or less? Correct?

Rob Hart: Pretty much. Yeah. Huge bit of outlining. You know, and I actually, like, I tend to work really fast when I'm actually writing, because I've got the outline. I'm also, I used to be a journalist. I work really fast. I. I I'm really good at hitting deadlines.

So the book itself comes out pretty quickly. And then the editorial process. Yeah. It's usually like I kind of start macro and go micro where like the first edit is like, okay, does any of this make sense? And then by the last edit, you're kind of like doing the sentence [00:31:00] by sentence stuff. And one, one of the things I always do, it's always like the second to last edit is I do one edit entirely backwards where I start with the last chapter, then move forward to the first.

And I find that incredibly helpful in terms of just, you know, seeing things out of order sometimes helps with pacing and helps you see, like, if you actually set things up correctly, but it also. You know, something that I've recognized in my own work and I've seen in other people's work. And even in like finish novels is that you can tell that there's a lot of energy in the start and then by the end they kind of just want it to be done.

So what I think this does is this puts a lot of that fresh starting energy into the ending so that you can actually like give it a little bit of room to breathe. So, yeah, it's, it's, my process is like, it's weird. It's like fairly set out, but you know, if I get to the last edit and feel like I'm not done, then I'm just gonna do another one.

It it's kind of like, it's, it's weird. It's this mix of like, my process works for me, but I've also kind of got that gut feeling of like, okay, does this work or does this not work? Yeah. 

David Gwyn: Yeah. That's awesome. All right. So as we, as we [00:32:00] wrap up here just a few more questions first, what's one thing that you hope aspiring writers take away from this conversation.

Rob Hart: I would say, well, two things like be stubborn and also just remember that. Whatever advice you hear from me or anyone else is a suggestion. And if it works for you, that's great.

If it doesn't work for you, that's fine. I. linear, right. I, I start with chapter one. I end with the last chapter. I've got a buddy Jordan Harper who wrote this book called She Rides Shotgun. That is probably one of the best books written in the last 10 years. And he told me about how he writes like all of his favorite scenes first.

And then he goes in and writes the connective tissue and that's utterly insane to me. It's absolutely insane to me. It's like that doesn't make any sense whatsoever. Like how could that possibly work? And yet he won an Edgar award. So, I mean, he's doing okay. It works for him. It's great. It doesn't matter what you do as long as the work gets done.

It's it's fine. 

David Gwyn: Nice. So my last question is where can people find you? Where can people look, you. 

Rob Hart: Sure. My [00:33:00] website is Robwhart.com. I'm on Twitter at RobwHart on Instagram at Robwhart1. And yeah, that's pretty much where I spend most of my time these days. 

David Gwyn: Cool. And I'll, I'll link to all that stuff if you're listening.

So you have easy access to, to follow Rob and, and where, where he's headed next. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, Rob. I really appreciate it. I, I feel like I learned a lot and I, I really enjoyed our, our time, so thanks so 

much. 

Rob Hart: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much for having me.

David Gwyn: Okay, so there you have it. If you haven't checked out Rob Hart's books, you really need to, I just ordered Blood Oath, that project he mentioned he was working on with Alex Sura and I can't wait for it to get delivered.

If you're curious about the article of Rob referenced during our conversation, there's a link in the description and don't forget to sign up for five Minute writer. Next week on the interview series, we'll be chatting with Josh Stallings. This was one of the more intense and emotional interviews I've done.

Josh is an amazing writer, and his life story is as amazing as any plot you can. If you haven't yet, be sure to subscribe to the podcast so you don't miss that. I'll see you next