Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Interview with Robert Jackson Bennett and Giveaway - June 13, 2012

Please welcome Robert Jackson Bennett to The Qwillery. Robert's most recent novel, The Troupe, is one of my favorite novels of 2012 and could very well turn out to be the best novel I will read all year.  It's beautifully written, tells a fantastical story, and was very moving (read "I may have been teary at one time or another.")  And now the interview...

TQ:   What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Robert:  I guess I write pretty fast. And I write pretty impulsively. The second I have an idea, I immediately think LET'S DO IT, only to rethink it later, so I usually have 4-6 drafts of anything I'm working on floating around in my inbox, with certain ones set aside with notes that only slightly make sense to me, like, "she doesn't die in this chapter but she does die later after the hot dog stand goes under" or "changed it so they know uncle morton is a serial molester at the fair" or "decided the talking cat was just too much."

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Robert:  Pantser. I do think spontaneity is what makes some books really click. And I also think that the feeling the writer has as they write a scene reverberates through to the readers. So the more surprised and delighted I am with a scene, the more genuine it feels to read. If I've planned it in advance, I usually have to go back and edit, edit, edit to make it feel genuine, which isn't the same thing.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Robert:  Probably not having enough time to do it. If I could, I'd write and read all day. But life doesn't work that way, and besides, if it did, I'd probably get sick of this.

TQ:  What inspired you to write The Troupe, your most recent novel.

Robert:  Well, I knew I wanted to write a fairy tale, of a sort. And I've always been fascinated by the performance culture - it's a culture based around deception, one that attracts people who want to show themselves off, but when they get up onstage it's not actually them they're showing off: it's practiced artifice. Then one day I read an interesting article about how vaudeville was the first "great cultural cross-pollination of America," and that made me think, "Well, of course." And I've always loved vaudeville, so later that day when my agent asked if I had any ideas for my next novel, I said, "I think I might have had a pretty good one this morning."

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for The Troupe?

Robert:  Vaudeville isn't a well-known part of history, but it is actually well-documented. A lot of the movie stars from the beginnings of cinema started in vaudeville, so they wrote about their time there. It's actually kind of surprising how a wildly popular entertainment medium can make so much money, and generate so much press, only to be eclipsed and totally forgotten in less than twenty or thirty years. It makes you wonder which medium we're going to forget about in a couple of decades.

TQ:  In The Troupe, who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?

Robert:  Silenus was the easiest. I knew his voice and his character from the start, and he's the man who carries the plot around in a box, so to speak. He takes up a lot of the spotlight - where he went, the book followed, and I wanted to follow, too. It made it very easy.

George was actually the hardest. Urban fantasy can be difficult because a lot of its appeal comes from looking in on something wonderful - but the vantage point must be somewhat normal in order for the whole thing to work. Alice from Through the Looking Glass is a perfectly ordinary girl, and I'm not sure it would work as the story it is if she walked into it a manic depressive or a budding alcoholic or something. It'd make it a totally different story, to say the least.

So you've got to have a somewhat stable center to walk through all this madness. But stable is boring. Stable is passive. Stable sits and looks, it doesn't do. So, on the second draft, I knew I had to make George - who was at that time a somewhat boring, stock fairy tale character - into something more interesting. And the second I realized that, I knew that if this kid was real, and if he'd actually been brought up as talented and spoiled as the story suggests, he'd be a hilariously preening little jerk, at least at the start.

TQ:  Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in The Troupe?

Robert:  The goodbyes.

TQ:  You have written three published novels - Mr. Shivers (2010), The Company Man (2011) and The Troupe (2012) - in ostensibly three different genres. Are there any themes that you explore in all three novels?

Robert:  I would say that my stories all seem to examine the relationship of an individual to a much, much larger whole, and attempting to make sense of that. In Shivers it was the relationship of life with death, with The Company Man it was the individual with the larger mechanisms of progress, and with The Troupe it was... Well. Everything.

TQ:  Describe each of your novels - Mr. Shivers, The Company Man, and The Troupe - in 140 characters or less.

Robert:  This came out a little Craigslist, but:

Mr. Shivers: The Seventh Seal told in reverse, in Dustbowl Oklahoma.

The Company Man: drunken empath seeks deep, meaningful relationship with complicated machines.

The Troupe: a young vaudevillian seeks to know everything and succeeds, and comes away understanding less.

TQ:  Which character from the three novels surprised you the most?

Robert:  Connelly, from Mr. Shivers. Connelly is such a blank space in the novel - he's big, silent, but watchful. But there's a scene where he finally shoots someone quite graphically, and right before he does so he whispers, "I never liked you." And that's always, always surprised me.

TQ:  What's next?

Robert:  My next book is American Elsewhere, coming out Spring of next year. It follows ex-cop Mona Bright, who, after a couple of rough post-divorce years, finds out she’s inherited a house that once belonged to her mother in Wink, New Mexico. But though every map and every official says the town doesn’t exist, Mona finds they’re wrong – Wink is a curiously pleasant little town constructed around a now-defunct government laboratory, like Los Alamos. But when she comes to Wink, she starts wondering – Why does this place feel so perfect? Where did these people come from, and why do they stay? And why is it that she feels she’s come back to a home she never knew she had?

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery

Robert:  Thank you for having me!

The Novels

The Troupe
Orbit, February 21, 2012
Trade Paperback and eBook, 512 pages

Vaudeville: mad, mercenary, dreamy, and absurd, a world of clashing cultures and ferocious showmanship and wickedly delightful deceptions.

But sixteen-year-old pianist George Carole has joined vaudeville for one reason only: to find the man he suspects to be his father, the great Heironomo Silenus. Yet as he chases down his father's troupe, he begins to understand that their performances are strange even for vaudeville: for wherever they happen to tour, the very nature of the world seems to change.

Because there is a secret within Silenus's show so ancient and dangerous that it has won him many powerful enemies. And it's not until after he joins them that George realizes the troupe is not simply touring: they are running for their lives.

And soon...he is as well.

The Company Man
Orbit, April 11, 2011
Trade Paperback and eBook, 464 pages

The year is 1919.

The McNaughton Corporation is the pinnacle of American industry. They built the guns that won the Great War before it even began. They built the airships that tie the world together. And, above all, they built Evesden-a shining metropolis, the best that the world has to offer.

But something is rotten at the heart of the city. Deep underground, a trolley car pulls into a station with eleven dead bodies inside. Four minutes before, the victims were seen boarding at the previous station. Eleven men butchered by hand in the blink of an eye. All are dead. And all are union.

Now, one man, Cyril Hayes, must fix this. There is a dark secret behind the inventions of McNaughton and with a war brewing between the executives and the workers, the truth must be discovered before the whole city burns. Caught between the union and the company, between the police and the victims, Hayes must uncover the mystery before it kills him.

Mr. Shivers
Orbit, September 1, 2010
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 352 pages
Hardcover, January 15, 2010

It is the time of the Great Depression.

Thousands have left their homes looking for a better life, a new life. But Marcus Connelly is not one of them. He searches for one thing, and one thing only: Revenge.

Because out there, riding the rails, stalking the camps, is the scarred vagrant who murdered Connelly's daughter.

One man must face a dark truth and answer the question - how much is he willing to sacrifice for his satisfaction?

About Robert

Robert Jackson Bennett's 2010 debut Mr. Shivers won the Shirley Jackson award as well as the Sydney J Bounds Newcomer Award. His second novel, The Company Man, one a Special Citation of Excellence for the Philip K Dick Award, as well as an Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original. His third novel, The Troupe, is out now to wide acclaim.

He lives in Austin with his wife and son. He can be found on Twitter at @robertjbennett.

Robert's Links


The Giveaway


What:  One commenter will win a copy of The Troupe from The Qwillery.

How:  Leave a comment answering the following question:

What is the best novel that you've read this year (so far)? 

Please remember - if you don't answer the question your entry will not be counted.

You may receive additional entries by:

1)   Being a Follower of The Qwillery.

2)   Mentioning the giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter. Even if you mention the giveaway on both, you will get only one additional entry. You get only one additional entry even if you mention the giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter multiple times.

3)   Mentioning the giveaway on your on blog or website. It must be your own blog or website; not a website that belongs to someone else or a site where giveaways, contests, etc. are posted.

There are a total of 4 entries you may receive: Comment (1 entry), Follower (+1 entry), Facebook and/or Twitter (+ 1 entry), and personal blog/website mention (+1 entry). This is subject to change again in the future for future giveaways.

Please leave links for Facebook, Twitter, or blog/website mentions. You MUST leave a way to contact you.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59pm US Eastern Time on Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules are subject to change.*


  1. Great interview. I envy pantsers. I must try that more often, as I'm a plotter most of the time.

    I'll throw my name in the hat for the giveaway, too.

    My favorite novel of 2012 so far? I think I will stick with Chuck Wendig's Blackbirds, as that was a fantastic blend of genres.

    I'm a GFC follower, plus I tweeted a link to this post:

    therabidfox at gmail dot com

    1. I loved Blackbirds also. It will definitely be in my Top 5 for the year!

  2. Of the books I've read, so far, in 2012, the Harry Dresden series. I read the first 4 books and loved them. I'm ready to read more!

    +1 comment
    +1 follower

    Tracey D
    booklover0226 at gmail dot com

  3. Thanks for the excellent interview and the giveaway. So far this year I've enjoyed Illuminate by Aimee Agresti the most. "deliciously creepy"

    I follow this blog by email: carlscott(at)prodigy(dot)net(dot)mx

    I tweeted a link to this blog post:

  4. Thanks for a fun interview and giveaway! I must go check out this author as he is new to me :)

    Ummm... I don't really have an absolute fav/blow my socks off yet for this year. I did really enjoy Nora Robert's The Witness and Joey W. Hill's Something About Witches.

    gfc: erin

  5. Cemetery Girl by David Bell! Not my usual read, but I loved, loved this book!

    mlawson17 at hotmail dot com (GFC follower under Martha Lawson)

  6. I love 50 Shades and the Hunt. Please enter me in contest. I am a follower and email subscriber.

  7. I enjoyed Copper Beach. Very nice reading.
    debby236 at gmail dot com Follower

  8. Great interview. I liked The Darkest Seduction.

    I follow the blog.


  9. The books I liked best this year are The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. If I count rereads, I'd have to go with The Time Traveler's Wife cause that one tops them all.

    Thank you so much for the interview and giveaway!
    +1 comment
    +1 follower


  10. I read BORN WICKED by Jessica Spotswood a little while ago & LOVED it.

    GFC: Mary Preston


  11. i loved everneath by brodi ashton. read it at the beginning of the year

    gfc ;rogier

    +1 comment


  12. Really?? Favorite book of the year? How can I name just one favorite, with 6 months of fabulous books already out???!? How about I just name the most recent book I read, that I loved a LOT? It was John Scalzi's Redshirts, and it was great! :-)

    +3: comment, follower, retweeter

  13. Love the interview. That line from Connelly in Mr Shivers kinda surprised me as a reader. Then I was like, hell yeah! Is there anything better than hearing writers talk about writing? (Aside from reading.)

    I think my favorite read so far this year was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Other favorites were Horns by Joe Hill, The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan (this is my first time reading it), and of course Mr. Shivers as I didn't read it until just this year.

    Thanks so much for the giveaway!

    +1 comment
    +1 GFC follower Spaz / Twitter follower SPAZinOL