Robert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. He is best known for his investigative reports about children’s programs, most of which were published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from 1982 through 1997, and which also included publication of models of serving disadvantaged and homeless children in the community instead of in large institutions, research into foster care drift involving children bouncing from one home to the next — never finding a permanent loving family — and statistical reports on the occurrence and correlates of child abuse and delinquency.
Robert created the Lacy Dawn Adventures project in 2006. Many of his stories have been social science fiction or literary science fiction, include serious social commentary and satire, and feature a female adolescent victim empowered to fulfill her destiny as a kickass savior of the universe. The protagonist is a composite character based on real-life kids that Robert met over the years in his work.
Today, Robert is a recently retired children’s psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome physical and sexual abuse, and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel and its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines: Wingspan Quarterly, Beyond Centauri, and Atomjack Science Fiction.
Author proceeds have been donated to a child abuse prevention program operated by Children’s Home Society of West Virginia.
What inspires you to write?
I’ve always been a writer, not necessarily an accomplished writer, but I’ve had a compulsion to write for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would make up stories. No, I don’t mean the kind that kids use to get out of trouble. I’m talking about scenes, characters, and plots. I won my school’s eighth grade short story competition in 1964. That was my first formal fiction writing. Over the years, I’ve started but have not finished a zillion stories. So, I guess that I’ve been a half-baked writer until recently.
In 2002, I accepted a job as a children’s psychotherapist for our local mental health center. It was an intensive day treatment program. Most of the kids, like myself, had been traumatized, some having experienced extreme sexual abuse. One day in 2006, during a group psychotherapy session that I was facilitating, a little girl sat a few feet away from me, around the table used to complete therapeutic worksheets. When it was her turn to talk, she didn’t stop with mere disclosure of detail about her abuse. She spoke of hope and dreams, a future involving a loving family that would respect her physically and spiritually. Her presentation inspired other victims. It inspired me to pursue my life long dream – to write fiction.
I was very excited when I got home from work that day – the day that the Lacy Dawn Adventures Project was conceived. I was so excited that it felt like I was going to burst as I waited for my wife to get home from her job. I started telling my wife all about it before she had even gotten her jacket off. Since then, I’ve had three stories published in magazines, and my debut novel, Rarity from the Hollow, is now out. I’m getting excited right now telling you about my upcoming novel, Ivy. It asks the question, how far will a child go to save her parent from addiction to drugs and, of course, addresses that serious problem with comedy and satire. The excitement about writing seems to be self-perpetuating. The more I accomplish the more excited that I get.
Tell us about your writing process.
I outline my stories. Rarity from the Hollow became the novel that exists today exactly as planned, in detail. I know where I want to go when writing. I detail steps toward what I want to achieve in each scene and build toward a preplanned plot. While I consider other factors, such as target audience, the one-book-after-another busy schedule of book reviewers who may not have enough time to invest in contemplating convolutions of a story, and a host of other factors, I do not write toward markets or book reviewers. Rarity from the Hollow was not intended to be a quick and easy read with a standard straight forward plot line, on purpose. I’ve written other stuff that was intended as such, on purpose.
I start a story with one very general outline consisting of three parts: beginning (bunch of blank space), middle (more blank space), and end. I scribble notes that I use for reference instead of for control of my writing. I have pens and notepads handy in every room of my house, and even take something to write with when I go out, such as to a restaurant. My scribbles fill in the blanks of the outline, and are always subject to modification.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Yes, I talk to my characters, but the two-way conversations only occur in dreams. My characters give me nonverbal instructions as I write about them. They correct me when I “get it wrong.” A couple of them or so are jealous and don’t like to share the spotlight, but I straighten them out during editing. They might get angry and not talk to me for a little bit, but I never worry because they need me to exist — they always come back to life when I call them.
Who are your favorite authors?
I’ve always had eclectic tastes in fiction. Mark Twain’s characters inspired me as a child to work hard to support my family. Without that inspiration, I have little doubt that I would have ended up on the “wrong side of the tracks.” Episodes of male incarcerations were an accepted way of life in my family, especially on my mother’s side although my father did his time in prison too. Tom Sawyer gave me an alternative to believe in beyond what seemed like an in and out of jail existence. I probably should have paid a little closer attention, however, because I served some time behind bars too, but it was during the hippie counterculture days so it was cool.
With respect to writing, I’m not sure that you have enough bandwidth for me to make a complete list of inspirations, so here’s a few. Of course, Heinlein’s determination as an aspiring author after having been rejected so many times inspired my own persistence. Also, the way he progressively treated racial and gender issues in his fiction at a time when science fiction was regarded a pulp for kids inspired me to consider incorporating social commentary into my fiction.
Ferlinghetti, the poet of the Beat Generation, showed me how to enjoy my anger about political and societal issues. Similarly, Vonnegut’s anger in Breakfast of Champions helped me stay strong as a children’s advocate and as a writer, and how to continue to have fun experimenting with my writing style outside of commonly accepted structures and formats.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series reinforced my faith in the potential of adolescent morality and the future of the world, which was comforting. Watership Down by R. Adams was such a sweet adventure that some of this element just is a necessary ingredient of even the scariest or saddest story. I want my writing to be as hopeful regardless of barriers. What the point in bumming people out?
The versatility in cross-genre and the use of humour by Bradbury – I have enjoyed everything that he’s written. It taught me that people finish what they read because they are experiencing enjoyment. Recreational reading is not like a homework assignment.
Dean Koontz has been masterful and can give me enjoyable nightmares. I’m one of those people who learned how to enjoy having the crap scared out of me.
Nora Roberts knows how to get me in a romantic mood. Yes, older guys can still at least remember romance and I’m not embarrassed to admit it. Males do read romance novels.
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by D. Adams and Another Roadside Attraction by Robbins pushed me into the wilder side of writing regardless of censorship, as did the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics. It’s a place that I really like to visit, but would not necessarily want to live there full-time.
Stephen King’s use of everyday horror convinced me that alarming scenes can be created by using almost anything as a prop. At home, we have a game. We name common household objects that could be converted into a dangerously exciting killing machine – the more gross the better.
Once I’m hooked on a book, it becomes intrusive. I’ve stayed up all night and went to work with little sleep because of reading. The irony is that it doesn’t have to be a great book. Maybe I’ve got an addictive personality because I’m easily hooked. So, there’s not a particular genre or author that makes me stay up all night reading. It can be cause by something written by an unknown author and the content could have grammatical errors, plot weakness…. I’ve fussed at myself for reading all night, especially if the quality is not high, but I think that part of my fun when reading is rewriting the story to suit me as I read.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
The reason that I went with a traditional small press for publication of Rarity from the Hollow was because I was and still am broke. If it had not been for Dog Horn Publishing taking an interest in the project, my novel would likely be a paper manuscript under my bed in a box, never read outside of my family. I simply didn’t have the money to self-publish it even if I had the skills. I don’t have the money to self-publish my next novel, Ivy. It’s about ready for professional editing, and I’m hopeful that I can build enough name recognition with Rarity from the Hollow that the owner of the press will be interest in the investment. I’ve never spent any of my own money on having Rarity from the Hollow published or promoted. Especially since I retired from my job as a children’s psychotherapist about four months ago, I’ve spent a great deal of time self-promoting it, but I’ve not had any money to pay for promotional services.
Also, and this is embarrassing, I’m not skilled in technology. I was in my 30s when computers were first introduced into business environments. Some people that post on places in cyberspace that I visit, sites where aspiring authors are members, might as well be talking a different language than me. Maybe I’ve got a mental block, but I’m not picking up the lingo, much less learning how to self-publish without spending money that I don’t have to spend. If Dog Horn Publishing doesn’t bite on my next novel, I’ll try to learn the technology of self-publishing, but if there are any volunteers who read this interview, I’ll write it if you can get it to the marketplace. Contact me.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
Ferlinghetti and then Vonnegut both warned about the conglomeration of traditional publishing and its social impact — the implications. The doors to big publisher have been chained shut for decades. I’m certainly no expert on this topic, but it appears that It would take much more than a writer simply producing a masterpiece to get the attention of those folks.
Traditional small presses appear to have gone down faster than seals in an oil slick. Indie titles have clogged reader choice. It’s hard to separate the wheat from the literary chaff by using Amazon’s Look Inside feature, although some stuff was obviously prematurely released if one does take a moment to look inside.
The star system of rating novels doesn’t help. It seems to actually make things worse because it welcomes dishonest and dishonorable practices by authors, publishers, and promoters, fueled by the competitiveness of the marketplace and the profit motive. If it ever had creditably, in my opinion, its long gone. As a reader, I’m not going to waste my time or money on a novel just because it has a lot of five star ratings. I’ve been there and done that no return policy.
Escapist action driven young adult and romance novel sales seem to dominate fiction. It’s not simply a matter of reader choice, readers don’t seem to get exposed to much that falls outside of mainstream subgenres, so they have little actual choice. Although I loved Harry Potter stories, he may have damaged literature in general, not meaning to, of course. Harry would never do anything that wrong. Sure, he might sneak out of the dorm against the rules, but to negatively affect cultural evolution, man, that’s a biggie.
Future is, of course, an imprecise measuring tool for you to ask me about my thoughts on book publishing. I’m not optimistic, given the factors that I spoke of, that I will live long enough to see a great fiction masterpiece published.
But, I’m sixty-four years old, and optimistic that literary elements will be incorporated into literature by authors and publishers alike at some point in the not too distant future. Everything seems to be going toward instant gratification, such as flash fiction right now, but one can only play Ms. PacMan so many times before it becomes stale.
What genres do you write?
literary speculative fiction
What formats are your books in?