Author Interview: Rob Holliday
As some of you may know I hosted a Flash Fiction contest in October. Rob Holliday won round 1 and went on to be the contest winner. I had the chance to interview Rob about his win and what he's working on.
Born in Lubbock, Texas, Rob grew up the youngest son of a successful salesman and a part time teacher, full time homemaker. His love of reading grew from an early age as the result of moving frequently and making friends slowly as well as taking long car trips in the backseat of a ’78 Ford LTD with his older brother and an inexhaustible supply of paperbacks. He wrote his first story in 3rd grade, much to the embarrassing acclaim of peers and teachers alike; he’s been a storyteller since, including a 70 page short story in 5th grade. When he’s not writing or reading, he enjoys soccer, running, buying books with reckless abandon and loving his family. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin as an English major, bleeds orange and answers “Hook ‘Em” or “Tom Landry wouldn’t have done it that way” to most questions. He lives with his wife and five children (four in the home, one in heaven) in Central Texas.
Rob’s love of writing is influenced by the work of JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, as well as many others too numerous to list. His stories center on the indomitable human spirit. His dream mentor is Cormac McCarthy.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to either be a storyteller or an artist of sorts. I’ve loved creating stories and characters ever since I can remember. I loved playing Dungeons and Dragons growing up. Creating characters, visualizing them, drawing family crests for them, sketching out family trees and histories were a favorite part of the game. Then, finding the perfect miniature to represent them, often multiple miniatures if I could find similar enough ones (I was partial to dwarves), and painting them in excruciating detail. I loved it and admire artists who can bring a miniature or other sculpture to life with paint. I think my love of characters is why I often cried if a favorite character was killed during the game or in a story I was reading. It was like losing a dear friend.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a dystopian series of stories, centered around two brothers. They live in a future world governed by corporate plutocracies. It’s a story of human will and devotion, love and hate, and selfishness and selflessness. My biggest challenge, which I’m enjoying immensely, is the world building.
Do you have anything published? If so, where can we get our hands on it?
I recently had a short story published in my graduate school’s literary magazine, The Aviator. It’s a bit tricky to find, but I have all my stories over on my writing page on Facebook, www.facebook.com/rhollidaywrites. The story that was published was called “Machination”. It’s a story about the cost of running from the past.
Your dystopian novel, why did you write it?
Foremost, I’m a huge fan of dystopian work- Orwell, Huxley, Stephenson, Gibson. They all had different visions of the future and not many of them were bright, which I think is appropriate. I’m not a doomsayer, but I think we often view the world through rose-colored glasses and don’t see the dystopian world in which we live. For me, I wrote it for the sheer sake of exploring how the human spirit can still thrive and refuse to be overcome by oppression and scarcity. I wanted to explore how dark the world may become and how the indomitable human spirit will still shine like a light in the pitch.
Dystopia is a popular genre at the moment. What sets your work apart from the others?
In my work, I think it’s just a couple things really. I’m a devotee to comprehensive world building, which I think is essential in dystopian fiction, from the major social structures to the cultural nuances and norms. I enjoy taking the things we know and are familiar with and turning them upside down, creating a world that’s familiar but perhaps alluring and uncomfortable at the same time. Taking expectations, leading them along a known path and then twisting the fundamentals in a radical but realistic way. At the same time, I like to balance my world description with an open vision for the reader to finish and satisfy in his or her mind. I want to guide, not dictate.
How did you choose your genre?
It’s primarily what I read and want to read, as well as watch on film or television. I’m a visual writer and reader; my mind remembers stories by impression, rather than specific lines. I’m a film and screenplay buff and enjoy a well made film almost as much as a well written book. Dystopian worlds allow me to explore and create realistic and also visionary worlds.
What inspired you to be a writer?
Looking back on it, even though I was mortified at the time since I was a bit of a shy kid, I loved seeing people’s reactions to my stories. They were fun to tell but the greatest pleasure was in seeing others enjoyment. I’ve lived in books my whole life; my biggest guilty pleasure is to read a great book late into the night and sleep late the next day. I think my writing is a way of paying that enjoyment forward for others.
Who is your favorite character in your books? Why?
Right now, it’s a couple of my anti-heroes. I have some reluctant, recalcitrant folks in my stories but they’re not without merit. They’re redeemable. They’re flawed in overt ways, but even more so under the skin. I think I like them the best because they’re most like me. I don’t believe in flawless characters; everyone has baggage, heavy baggage. We all have a story consisting of our circumstances and choices, some good, many bad. If I don’t see that or create that in a character, I find them less than human and not engaging.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing?
For me, it’s the willingness just to let go and let the story run. When I don’t do that, the words feel contrived. I’m a bit of a control freak- I loathe unsolicited editorial advice and feeling like someone else wants to direct my story. I suppose we all dislike that. For me though, I can become my own worst enemy when I try to direct my own story, rather than just letting it run out. I find that my mind, when I don’t try to guide each step, creates a narrative far more interesting than I ever could have plotted in detail. I enjoy structure, but loose structure.
What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
Write what you love to read. Be inspired by the greats because they worked hard at the art like we all do, but don’t ever compare your work to anyone else. Learn the craft. Know how to employ story elements so you can meld them creatively to your own vision. Write lots, read lots. Write for your own enjoyment first. And don’t quit your day job.
Who is your favorite author and why?
That’s a tough one. If I were to pick just one, I’d say Cormac McCarthy. I love his starkness and the beautiful cruelty he can inject into a story followed by gentle and heart wrenching hope. Following him, I’d have to say JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Frank Peretti, and Tosca Lee. Mr. Tolkien and Mr. Lewis are tied at #2, the rest are tied for #3. They’re all stunningly good writers for unique reasons. I’d also have to include William Shakespeare. Random, I know and most may not care for him, but his talent remains without peer.
What books have most influenced your life?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say the Holy Bible first. It influences every part of my being as well as illuminates the power of words in a way I don’t think any other written work has or will. But that aside, there are a couple that have deeply changed me as a person after reading them. Foremost, The Road by Cormac McCarthy resonated deeply with me, as a father and husband. It’s one of two books that have ever brought me to tears. The other was Five Years to Freedom by Nick Rowe. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia are defining works in my entire writing imaginative process. The Stand and The Dark Tower series by Stephen King are wonderful epic frameworks to follow. All of Dean Koontz’s stuff for his sheer ability to tell good story after good story while always providing a new twisting, turning compelling ride with a subtle underlying theme. The guy is simply a machine and makes it look easy, definitely a modern master. The Oath and This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti for the power of modern allegory and insight into human condition. Lastly, but equally important is Demon: A Memoir by Tosca Lee for her way with prose, her investment in research and her masterful storytelling with subjects that are immensely hard to make relatable and accessible. William Shakespeare’s works showed me that an author can deal with human ugliness in a beautiful way while not diminishing the truth at hand.
Most writer’s have a very interesting browsing history. What are some of the strangest searches that you done in the name of research?
HA! Yep, I have some strange stuff in my browser history. Let’s see: nicknames for heroin, Irish faerie legends, omens about black dogs, spatter patterns for close-range chest shot from a 357 magnum, hot house grown pharmaceutical plants and supplies, retrovirus engineering for covert assassination use… I’m pretty sure I’m on a number of watch lists at this point.
And finally, congratulations on winning the contest! We had loads of great stories and some fierce competition. You walked away with some great prizes. Have you worked your way through any of them yet?
I'm slowly working my way into them. I already had Martin Reaves "Dark Thoughts" in my queue, but since you were the genesis for the Halloween fun, I want to read yours next- love the Greek theming. I'm in the midst of a critical literary analysis course for my master's that's consuming most of my free time, so I'm not getting to read as much as I'd like (probably not prioritizing well AT ALL). I've peeked at a couple others, but gotta focus.
How can readers connect with you?
I’d love to hear from them- I can be contacted most easily via my Facebook page www.facebook.com/rhollidaywrites
or by email, email@example.com.
I have a blog in the works (it’s a framework only at this point- http://rhollidaywrites.wordpress.com that I plan to do more with next year.