Table of Contents

Fall 2007

Short Stories

Bus Stop

Deep Freeze

In the Ditch

Missed Connections

My Bedtime Buddy

On Silent Feet

Out of Service

Ric With No K

The Rorschach Affair

The Years of the Wicked

Under the Blanket of the Sun

Upon A New Road

Reviews

Ammunition

Bad Thoughts

Beating the Babushka

Bloodthirsty

Hidden Depths

Pay Here

Play Dead

Poison Pen

Silence

Who Is Conrad Hirst

Profiles/Features

Bronx Noir

In For Questioning

Together We Write

Profile: Derek Nikitas

Pelecanos Country

Interviews

George Pelecanos

Robert Fate

Rick Mofina

Kevin Wignall

Interview:

Two Ladies Chat With Robert Fate, Author Of BABY SHARK

Since Julia had already chatted with Robert I inserted myself in the conversation for an expanded interview.

by Julia Buckley and Sandra Ruttan

Julia: Fate is actually your middle name. Why did your parents choose it? Were they fans of mythology? Or did they just like the concept?

Robert: Well, Julia – my mother had a brother named Fate. My Uncle Fate had an Uncle Fate, and the way I understand it, somewhere way back there the name was related to the Marquis de Lafayette. That always made my father laugh. He claimed the only thread of truth in that story was that no one on my mother’s side of the family could spell Lafayette. I’m sure you didn’t mean to bring up a sore subject, but there you are.

Sandra: Speaking of sore spots, I shrugged off my (constantly incorrectly pronounced Icelandic) married name to use my maiden name, which traces back to the same region as your surname, and you’re shrugging yours off. Hardly anyone pronounces Ruttan right. Is that why you passed on Bealmear?

Robert: Over the years, I have learned that Bealmear is difficult to pronounce, spell, and remember. Since Fate is my middle name and is easy to pronounce and so on, I decided to go with it. Besides, my daughter says that Fate is a cool name for a mystery writer.

Julia: Your book, Baby Shark, has garnered many positive reviews, has an interesting premise, and a great title. What did you think of first—the title, or the plot?

Robert: Actually, the character came first. The idea of a young woman shooting pool appealed to me. And, if she were say a smart, well-read young woman who through circumstance finds herself in and out of west Texas pool halls for a year or two while traveling with her father, a pool hustler – hmmm. A situation like that would keep it from being an occupation forced on a young woman in the 1950s. Further, I thought it was kind of cool. Maybe she would be an interesting character full of contrasts. Maybe a character that readers hadn’t met before. The plot came next, but it depended on the character. I kept visualizing a Greyhound bus pulling away leaving a cloud of dust and grit through which we begin to see a figure emerging—walking toward us—telephoto, slow motion—a young woman in boots, tight blue jeans, a short Levi’s jacket, sunglasses—a loner, confident, sexy—carrying a pool case—crossing the highway—a dry, west Texas afternoon. The filling station behind her becomes visible as the dust settles—some men watch her—the cars in the station are 1950 models. The story needed to be set in a time before cell phones, before CSI, before the issues that define present day crime fiction. Her “things” were going to be a pool cue and a pistol.

After that, it was the plot—what were women’s worst nightmares? The title is Kristin’s nickname and simply seemed logical as some point.

Sandra: Interesting you mention Kristin as a character full of contrasts, a character maybe people hadn’t met before. She has a potential duality to her, and I think that’s emerging as the books progress. A feminine side, but also a tough survivor side. She’s a bit of a Jeckyll and Hyde, in her own way, I think. I also think that books have a tendency to portray one aspect of people when in reality few people really are black and white, they’re more shades of gray. Did any of that kind of thinking factor in to your development of Kristin and the series? Do you ever consciously tell yourself to try to show other aspects of her personality?

Robert: You have noted Kristin’s strongest attribute. She is a survivor. But that trait alone, as you point out, is not all that she is. More than anything, I want Kristin to be a real person, someone readers can get to know. She is strong enough to recover from the tragic experience of losing her family, and being assaulted and thrown away like so much trash, but vulnerable enough to need time to recover fully.

Though they are not so often spoken of, I think living with reality and rising to meet challenge are feminine qualities—and, yes, every woman develops her own personality as a result of life’s challenges. Kristin is young at the beginning of Baby Shark and turns with gratitude to strong, older men trained in violence that are willing to teach her skills to survive and strike out at her enemies.

But what is to be done with killing skills when young warriors return from the battlefields older than their years and no longer blind to the evil of which man is capable? Beaumont Blues is the continuation of Kristin’s growth—her opportunity to get in touch with herself in a new way. Or, in an attempt to stay close to your question, the second book in the series is an opportunity for Kristin to show herself in more shades of gray.

Julia: Your protagonist, Kristin Van Dijk, is only seventeen; she survives a brutal attack, vows to hunt down the men who killed her father, and teams up with Henry, a Chinese American who is also out for revenge.

First, how did you happen to create such an authentic voice for Kristin? Do you have a daughter, perhaps, who inspired some of her behaviors?

Robert: Kristin’s voice was not easy and still requires vigilance to keep her honest. I do, in fact, have a daughter who is eighteen. And I’m sure that helped—certainly in establishing some habits and responses. But not so much voice. Remember, the time is 1952 through 1954. Kristin is nineteen and a half at the end of Baby Shark—but she burns a lot of life in those two years. The language was different, the slang, the regional dialects—that all continues to be a consideration.


Julia: Second, what steps did you take to keep Henry from becoming a stereotype? (Which I think you succeeded in doing).


Robert: Here’s the thing, Julia. I want readers to lose themselves in the story, and I feel obligated to not shock them with false-sounding dialogue or references that are not authentic. That’s where candid critique comes in handy. I’m fortunate to have some friends who keep me honest.

Henry Chin – Hank, as Otis calls him, is pure imagination in one respect, but in another, a combination of people I have known who didn’t start their lives in the U.S. Henry is the guy next door who came from somewhere else and is much smarter than most give him credit for being. He learned English late and will forever speak it with an accent. But how he speaks is not who he is. His unselfish love for Kristin. His heroism and loyalty. I think those attributes and others give him dimension and distance him from stereotype. He is a character necessary to the story first and a Chinese/American second.

Julia: Your prose is stark, yet suggests great depth. Has this always been your writing style, or is it just the style you wanted for this novel?

Robert: The writing style evolved from a desire to make the story and characters paramount. I wanted the writer to disappear. Especially since Kristin is telling the story. She’s well read and had a literate father who influenced her. She could use “high falutin’ talk,” as Otis would say. But she chooses not to. And she isn’t critical of how others speak. Her father taught her to be observant. Harlan, the grifter, Sarge and Albert, her teachers, added to that talent of watching and listening. It was borne out of necessity—her desire to survive, but it molded her persona, too. The writing style in Baby Shark is an attempt to be true to Kristin. It’s her story.

Sandra: You’ve chosen to tell the stories from Kristin’s point of view, but do you ever find yourself thinking you’d like to do more from the pov of other characters in the books? What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of the first person narrative, and as a reader do you prefer one over the other?

Robert: I didn’t want arms-length for the reader, and I was fearful that multiple pov might push me toward telling the story rather than showing it. I wanted the reader to experience events with Kristin—at the same moment—the sounds, the smells, the surprises of the violent underworld in which she has chosen to exist. There is immediacy to that approach, and it appealed to me. As the author, I wanted to stay out of the way. It is Kristin’s story, let her tell it.

Do I ever envy the multiple voices I read in many well-written mystery stories? Absolutely. What fun to write from the villain’s point of view. And I am looking forward to doing that in a stand-alone that is planned between books three and four of my Shark series.

Julia: The title has more than one meaning. Which is the dominant meaning for you? The pool shark, or the baby with lethal teeth?

Robert: You’re a lot of fun, Julia. Well, let’s see. It was important to Kristin to earn a nickname in the male-dominated pool halls of Texas in the 1950s. She looks like an angel, shoots like the devil, and they call her Baby Shark. But, you’re right—like she says to herself when she stands up to Otis early in their relationship. “I haven’t spent the past year and a half learning to take crap off people.” She knows that to be taken seriously she must now and then show her teeth. So, to answer your question—I never want readers to forget that Kristin shoots pool, but it’s that pistol in her back pocket that makes her dangerous.

Julia: Kristin has three basic “teachers” after her attack, all of them men. Was it important to put this girl in a world of men so that they were her victimizers AND her helpers? Or was it just more realistic that everyone around her was a man because she chose a male-dominated lifestyle?

Robert: The strongest consideration in reference to Kristin’s transformation from victim to trained killer was that it be believable. She is given a year and a half to make the transition, which is realistic if the student is motivated. Baby Shark’s dedication to study was predicated upon her desire to never be afraid again. But even so, her first attempt at revenge with Scarecrow turns into a fiasco. Again, the aim was for realism. The transition is rocky. It ain’t magic and it doesn’t happen over night. Her teachers are men because realistically, especially in the 1950s, they were the teachers available. A WWII vet, a Korean vet, older professional men. Without a hairdresser, a café owner, and an occasional waitress Kristin would have been hard pressed to have had any women in her world.

Julia: Your book is set in 1953. Why did you choose this time period?

Robert: The 1950s were a transitional period for women. The era if often played for its innocence, though it was anything but that. Rosie the Riveter had just shown American women that they could do the same work as men and—here’s a concept—earn the same money. So, when women were asked to go home after WWII, many simply didn’t want to. The prevailing attitudes toward women in the 1950s were influenced by late nineteenth and early twentieth century thought. Men came to their feet when a woman entered the room. They opened doors for them, removed their hats. Lots of ritual, but it was a double standard and women knew it. There was an unspoken tension in society that gave an edge to the ‘50s that I wanted to explore. Daddy’s little girl could also be a hell-raiser, but not many wanted to admit it. And, most importantly for Baby Shark, it was a time when women were blamed if they were raped. It was their fault. What were they doing there? Why were they dressed like that? They were just asking for it. Women know what I’m saying is true.

Sandra: Okay, here’s a question people seldom ask. What’s been the hardest thing for you about being published?

Robert: First of all, it was like something strange happening to someone else. Sometime in the late fall, early winter of 2006, after Baby Shark landed in bookstores in September, and I could actually see it for sale even earlier than that on Amazon, I called my friend Bruce Cook and said, “How can this be? Baby Shark won’t be released until September, it is August, and Amazon is already discounting it.” “Welcome to the unfathomable world of publishing,” he said.

The hardest part of being published is waking each day to face marketing and promotional challenges instead of how much can I get written today.

There was great satisfaction in seeing Baby Shark selling. I remember when I was told the book had sold its first 1000 copies. I said to my wife, “I don’t know a thousand people.” She said, “Well, you must be selling to strangers.” And we laughed. Imagine that! People we didn’t even know were buying my book. That sort of makes anything possible, doesn’t it?

Julia: You’ve lived all sorts of places. What’s the most beautiful place in the world?

Robert: You’re right. I have traveled, and that provides memories. Most beautiful? There was a stand of autumn birch I recall on the way up Mount Olympus—perhaps that qualifies. But was it more beautiful than a stone garden I visited in Kyoto? An early winter morning in the Luxembourg Gardens with the light just right, or an evening on the beach in Zihuatanejo? I quit. It has to be more about who you are with, doesn’t it? That’s what makes a place beautiful. So I’ll think on that, Julia.

Julia: Okay.

You mention on your website that you were once a fashion model. Well, naturally your picture explains why a handsome man like you would get the job, but why fashion? Was it to pay bills, or did you enjoy the fashion scene?

Robert: I moved to NYC. I was writing a musical comedy with a friend. I needed to earn a living. A girlfriend of mine was a model. She introduced me to some photographers. I put together a book, made the rounds, began working. I earned my living as a fashion model for three and a half years. Finished the musical comedy. Couldn’t sell it. Moved back to LA. My biggest success as a model was when I landed the cover of the NY Times Menswear Magazine. “Look,” I told my painter friend Robin Bright. “There are thousands of me all over the city today.” “Uh huh,” he said. “And tomorrow we’ll go over to Fulton Street and watch ‘em wrap fish in you.” That’s what true friends are for.

Julia: You were also once a chef. Do you cook for your wife?

Robert: My wife didn’t cook, so yes I cooked for the first twenty-five years of our marriage. Then, without preamble, she said she was going to do the cooking from then on. Just got tired of fried okra was my guess. So, she took over the kitchen some five or six years ago and I have to tell you, she’s a great cook!

Sandra: Now, you’ve also won an Academy Award. Tell us about the award. What did you win for?

Robert: In 1984, Jonathan Erland and I—as Hollywood F/X technicians—received Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Sci-Tech Awards for Technical Achievement.

The screen design and construction that earned each of us an Academy Award was part of a projection system that was developed to accommodate objects that were widely different in size. An example would be the huge worms and the normal-sized actors in the film Dune, or actors working against a backdrop of outer space, as in 2010. It was an honor to have the Academy's recognition.

My wife, Fern, and I spent a magical year in Mexico while I oversaw the construction of two front projection screens that were 38' tall and 104' long. Not only was the work challenging and rewarding, the experiences Fern and I shared that year in Mexico, and the friends we made, inculcated in us a love of all things Mexican that endures to this day.

Sandra: How does your experience in film contribute to your writing? Do you think it makes you more visual as a writer?

Robert: What I will admit to is being a visual writer. But I think writing visually has more to do with my desire to tell a story in the clearest manner possible, than any influence from the film industry. I have heard many writers speak of the influence of reading early in life, and I am certain that reading early must be a powerful and positive incentive to write. However, I did not have that inducement. I didn’t begin reading seriously until I was twenty-years-old, and then I read like a crazy person for years. Presently, between the three of us, our home library never has fewer than three or four hundred books.

Radio and motion pictures took the place of books and must have been my training in story construction. Singing and acting in many stage performances from the age of eleven taught me the value of timing, the need for clarity in presentation, and the importance of motion—subtle and broad. Somehow, all these things brought me to writing visually. I do see my stories, and I read them aloud, as well. “You’re frightening the turtle,” my wife tells me when I get carried away. That turtle again.

Julia: Whose writing do you admire?

Robert: Joe R. Lansdale. How could anyone improve on the opening of “Sunset and Sawdust?”

Sandra: You’ve done a lot of touring in support of your books. Any special highlights, memorable moments that stand out?

Robert: Memorable events. Well, to meet readers at bookstore signings is always a delight. There are no scripts. People say what’s on their minds, as it should be. There are funny stories, of course, and mostly, I would have to say, the experiences are similar but unique—in the sense that each reader to whom I have spoken has been different from all others. Except in the case of three different young men, at three different stores, months apart, and in different cities. It was eerie how alike they were in what they said and how they approached me.

They were Marines, and each had taken note that I was an ex-Marine (I was in the service for eight years and served sixteen months in Korea). Two of the men had returned from Iraq, and one was scheduled to go. Each asked when I served, where, and for how long, and each spoke of his service. We talked in general terms about the USMC. No politics. Just Marines talking. The curious thing that tied these events together was each man, before saying goodbye and walking away, shook my hand and thanked me for my service.

I took those meetings home with me with a lump in my throat. My long hair and casual attitude aside, I realized once a Marine, always a Marine.

Sandra: You are finishing a book now, and then what? What’s coming after that?

Robert: The third book in the series is Baby Shark’s Panhandle Caravan. With good fortune and a tad less marketing, I will be finished with number three by the end of summer. That should EXPLODE into bookstores in the spring of 2008. Through the fall and winter, I will be writing a stand-alone. Could it be the story will take place in… Canada? Hmmmmmm.

Julia: How can people find out more about you and your writing?

Robert: At http://www.robertfate.com/ there is a lot of stuff about Baby Shark and some stuff about me. And an email address that I always respond to. I like hearing from readers.

 

About Julia Buckley:
Julia Buckley is a mystery writer who lives in the Chicago area. Her first mystery, THE DARK BACKWARD, was released in June of 2006; Kirkus Reviews calls her latest mystery, MADELINE MANN, a "bright debut" and Library Journal has dubbed Buckley "definitely a writer to watch." Julia is a member of Sisters in Crime, MWA, and RWA. She keeps a writer’s blog at www.juliabuckley.blogspot.com on which she interviews fellow mystery writers; her website is www.juliabuckley.com She has a husband and two children who put up with her hogging of the computer, but she doesn’t know how long that will last.