Rob Watts' eclectic and adventurous outlook has always been prevalent in his curriculum vitae. Possessing a desire for creative outlets, he studied woodworking in high school with the intention of becoming a carpenter. While working in the foodservice industry during his high school years, he developed an interest in cooking, prompting him to enroll in a Culinary Arts program at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. Earning both a degree in Culinary Arts AND Hotel/Restaurant Management, he spent twelve years in the foodservice industry; enjoying success in the various establishments in which he was employed. An extensive traveler, he has enjoyed visiting many destinations around the globe, but it was during his many visits to Iceland where he developed an interest in Icelandic folklore, inspiring him to write his debut novella "Huldufolk" in 2011. Since that time, he has published two additional novellas, "CRABAPPLES" and "Left-Hand Path", as well as the children’s book “Snowpocalypse.” Today, in addition to writing full-time, he's a partner in his family-owned custom stainless steel design business. He currently resides in Boston, Massachusetts.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
Sure. I’m a Bostonian so I have a passion for a lot of history, culture and especially professional sports. I’m a big fan of suspense so I use a lot of those elements in my storytelling. My latest project is a three-part novella series titled “The Crooked Roads through Cedar Grove” where each novella is released one at a time with a musical companion soundtrack performed by me under aliases---relevant to the storyline. In addition to writing books and music, I’m co-owner of a custom stainless steel design company in Boston, Massachusetts. I enjoy keeping myself creatively occupied.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I’m an avid traveler. I love seeing new places and experiencing new adventures. I enjoy cooking. I’d graduated college with a culinary arts degree way-back-when, and I suppose I’ll always have a love affair with ingredients and an open flame.
What’s your favourite food?
Well, Mexican food definitely tops the list. Worthy alternatives, however, are BBQ, Coal Fired Pizza and New England area Seafood.
Who would be on the soundtrack to your life story?
Shiny Toy Guns. Their music is upbeat, yet dismal at the same time.
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
I prefer to market my current work as Dark Fiction. I feel as though the term “Horror” is being discriminated against these days. At least it is over here in the States. The major bookstore chains such as Barnes & Noble have all but eliminated any reference to the horror genre on their shelves. Not too many years back, you could walk into the bookstores and immediately find the Horror section---at least one-full aisle of horror titles. Now, when you want to find a new (or old) Stephen King or Dean Koontz novel, you have to wander through the general fiction section and if you’re lucky, they’ll have the title you’re looking for. It’s not only the book chains. There seems to be a general consensus among certain readers that anyone who writes horror must be clinically insane. I’ve experienced the backlash first-hand many times. I’d done a book signing with a few fellow horror authors at an event attended by the local families and church goers. They’d stop by the booth, very impressed with the beautiful display of books and such. As soon as they’d seen the phrase “Horror Writers”, they’d turned away in disgust. One guy even told me “good luck with your writing, even if you don’t believe in God.”
Who are some of your favourite authors?
In the genre of Horror, off the top of my head I’d have to say Clive Barker, Graham Masterson, Lois Duncan, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Matheson all come to mind. Outside of the genre, I enjoy the works of H.G. Wells, Halldor Laxness, Bret Easton Ellis and Tracy Hickman.
What is your all-time favourite horror novel, and film?
For a favourite novel, it’s a toss-up between “House of Leaves” by Mark Danielewski and “Summer of Night” by Dan Simmons. My all-time favourite horror film has been and always will be John Carpenter’s Halloween. Many have imitated. None have come close.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
Remember the ending to the film “Open Water?” We should be walking out of the theatre feeling the way we did when we left that film. Ditch the happy endings where the protagonist predictably survives. There shouldn’t be happy endings in horror films. I can’t stand it when I sit through a film and the protagonist(s) survive at the end, hair and clothes in perfect order and all with a cute little wink, wink to the audience as to say “if you like this movie, just wait until we water it down even more with a terrible sequel.”
Which fictional character would be your perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
Roddy Piper’s character from the film “They Live”. He’d be perfect because he only wants to kick ass and chew bubblegum. At least until he’s all out of bubblegum. My nightmare neighbour would be Donnie Kohler from “Don’t Go in the House.” If you’ve ever seen that film, you’d know exactly why.
What do you think of the current state of the genre?
Honestly, I think it’s on life support. The only thing keeping it from withering away entirely is the diehard fans of the genre. The problem is, however, that while the fans are keeping the plug from falling out of the outlet, Hollywood is secretly injecting poison into the I.V. bag while they aren’t looking. The problem has always been the big-budget movie making machine. In their minds, a film doesn’t need to have substance. It doesn’t need good scriptwriting or believable dialogue. It doesn’t need good acting. It just needs loads of money thrown at it, with a high-profile actor that’s popular with the kids, lots of CGI and all wrapped up in time to be released around a holiday weekend with a PG-13 rating. It’s been beaten near-death. Hollywood hasn’t a clue. They are all standing around scratching their heads dreaming up new ways to get moviegoers’ money. Because they know that no matter what, horror fans will go out and see horror movies. And why is that? Because horror fans are the most dedicated fans hands down. But they’re being exploited for it, rather than rewarded. It’s become so watered down to the point where Hollywood has given up on sequels in favour of remakes. I somewhat understand, because although sequels grew old and tired, they were sequels to classic and groundbreaking films of the genre. There haven’t been any groundbreaking horror films worthy of sequels in the last ten years. It’s so bad now that Hollywood is resorting to remaking original sequels. Five or six years from now, they will be remaking the remakes.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
I really enjoyed “Delicious” by Ruth Reichl. I won’t slam anyone in particular, but I’d recently read an anthology of short stories that didn’t do much to impress me.
How would you describe your writing style?
I tend to lean towards a descriptive and narrative style. But not so descriptive to the point of illustrating in great detail how a pair of jeans fit perfectly on a character over the course of seven pages. I do like to set the scene for the reader, but just enough where they can fill in the blanks the rest of the way and create their own scene in their mind. After all, they are sharing in the same journey. They should be allowed to take part in how it’s played out in their own minds.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
Not really. I don’t pay much attention to online praise or negative criticism. All of it should be taken with a grain of salt. I find it’s much more constructive to speak to someone who’s actually read my work. I listen to what they enjoyed and didn’t enjoy. I always make mental notes. It’s how you grow as an artist.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
As writers, we have a tendency to fall in love with every single word we commit to manuscript. The difficulties lie in admitting to ourselves that everything doesn’t belong in a story. Speaking for myself, I have a tendency to add more characters to a story than are needed. For the good of the story, however, I’m willing to part with characters and their subsequent storylines. Although my self-governing skills have improved, it’s still a struggle not to overwrite characters.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
The act of a rape scene taking place is a big taboo in my mind. It’s too close to home for many people. It’s insensitive to victims who’ve lived through that and quite frankly, it’s a lazy and cowardly attempt at shock value.
If you could kill off any character from any other book, who would you chose and how would they die?
Patrick Bateman. Never mind that he fantasizes about killing people all day long, but his horrible taste in music is enough reason to off his Jean Paul Gaultier wearing ass. How would I kill him off? I’d introduce him to Bernie Madoff and let destiny slowly take its toll.
What do you think makes a good story?
I think it’s really important to understand your subject matter first-hand. Good writing comes from experience. A writer really needs to draw from something that has a sense of meaning to them. A story about an exchange student who studies abroad in China for the summer might sound like a good story, but if the author has never set foot in China or has never been an exchange student for that matter, they really have nothing to offer the story. The story is coming from inside an empty shell.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
Sometimes it’s both. In my current series, the setting is a predominantly Irish-American neighbourhood, so the character’s names need to fit that mould. So far I haven’t named a character after someone I’ve known personally.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I think it’s safe to say that I’m not afraid to take chances. I don’t like setting limits on my potential to deliver the goods. It took a little while to reach that mindset, but with every new project, I like to top myself just a little bit more than the last time.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
A book called The Little Red Writing Book is a very useful grammar resource for authors. Also, in all-seriousness, a stress ball or a slinky on your desk are great ways to open your mind up when you’re stuck for ideas.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Write everyday. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Just make it happen.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
It’s imperative to reach people both personally and digitally. Having a strong online presence is important but it’s also fun getting out there and promoting yourself and your work in person. I find it extremely rewarding to meet fans and potential new fans at book signings and author events. I’m out there all the time doing personal appearances, and although it’s time consuming and takes me away from other things, it really is an important element of my work’s success.
Who is your favourite character from your book and why?
Pumila, whose character carries over from the last book in the series “Crabapples.” Although she’s a likable character in that story, her attributes and resolve really shine through in “Left-Hand Path.” The story needed someone with a voice of reason---someone who speaks for the reader. I think she comes across as that person.
How about the least favourite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
That would be Jeffrey, whose character crosses over from “Huldufolk”, the first book in the series. I’d left it up in the air as to whether or not his character was bankrupt of shame and common sense. I think his brief appearance in “Left-Hand Path” confirms that he is in-fact a jackass.
Fame, fortune, or respect?
Fame is good for historical purposes after we’re dead, I suppose, but respect and fortune do a much better job in putting us in forward motion.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
As cliché as it might sound, I’m proud of all of them. They all represent a time period in my life, whether it was happy or sad---I turned it into a tangible piece of art.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
If I don’t think something is up to standard, I discard it before it does in-fact become something I’d like to forget.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, what book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?
I’d say read “Carman”, a short story I wrote about a middle-aged man who picks up a young female hitchhiker. It’s a fast read but illustrates my style and passion for good suspenseful storytelling. Call it Rob Watts 101.
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
I’m currently promoting the third part of my “Crooked Roads through Cedar Grove” series “Left-Hand Path” and it’s a suspenseful story of a young woman who gets stalked by an admirer who learns of her personal business by way of social media. I’m in the middle of my second children’s book with my co-author Susan Saunders. After that, I’ll be wrapping up the “Crooked Roads” series with the release of the full-length novel in 2015. Beyond that, I couldn’t really say. I’m sure I’ll be working on a new project soon enough though. I have a lot of weird ideas floating around in my mind.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Hmm...you mean something like do I think it was a good idea to turn “Rosemary’s Baby” into a television series? Because I would have to say NO!
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