Earlier this month Robert N. Macomber was a featured speaker at the Florida Authors and Publishers Association Annual Conference. He offered a fascinating look at how location research can make a story more vivid and memorable – for both the writer and the reader.
Tell me about your background. Where did you grow up, where do you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.
I grew up in southwest Florida, same area where I currently live. I studied political science and history in college and started as a teacher, then moved into law enforcement, but began writing while doing those jobs. Early on, I knew that my passions were sailing, history and storytelling, so I started composing articles on the side for some magazines, doing non-fiction pieces, and then moved into creating the concept for my Honor Series, which goes back 20 years, after I got some substantial encouragement to keep putting pen to paper. It’s been a long and fascinating journey. This year marks my thirty-first year of lecturing and twenty-second year of commercial writing.
Reading was big in my family growing up, as was sailing and travel. My dad was a civil engineer, but also had his pilot’s license and a small plane, so we did a lot of trips from as early as I can remember. He instilled in me a curiosity for exploration into different countries and into different cultures. That has stayed with me.
What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
Honoring the Enemy is the 14th novel in my Honor Series of historical thrillers, which depict the personal life and global career of U.S. naval officer Peter Wake from 1863 to 1908. Real historical events, personalities, and places inspire the plots in my books. I illuminate significant events in American and world history through Peter Wake, my fictional protagonist. My 14th novel covers the Spanish-American War in Florida and Cuba, and took many years to research in both places. My 13th novel, An Honorable War, set the stage in its storyline for the U.S. involvement in the Spanish-American War, and my 15th novel, “A Word of Honor,” which will be released in October 2020, will round out to the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, where readers will learn what’s yet to come for Peter Wake in the Honor Series.
What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
For this last book, dealing with the ever-changing U.S. government travel restrictions to Cuba and the Cuban government’s paranoia about an American author researching inside Cuba have created constant challenges. But I persevered past the obstacles. A quick word, though, to clear up some recent confusion: you can still travel to Cuba with a licensed tour operator’s group, just not on a cruise ship. As you probably know, I’ve taken groups to Cuba (still do), mostly readers, and they are forever grateful that the team I put together to make it happen worked out beyond their best, imagined scenarios. Everyone comes home having learned that the Cuban people are delightful and some of the most hospitable people on earth. Happy to add that several, who have traveled to Cuba in my groups, have eagerly returned to Cuba with me for a second visit!
What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
Each time a reader expresses accolades for my work or a literary critic in the media gives me rave reviews, or when professional colleagues present me with an award, I still feel like they’re all “aha” moments. I don’t take those moments of validation for granted.
Otherwise, throughout my literary career, there are several, extra meaningful successes which I call “My Author Moments” but I’ll force myself to limit it to one. A few years ago, I was contacted by one of my readers who told me an unbelievable tale. She and her husband were home reading my book aloud to each other one evening when her husband had a very painful heart attack. While waiting for the first responders, then attended to by the medics, in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and in the emergency room, the husband insisted his wife continue reading my book aloud to him because it took his mind away from the pain. Thankfully, he lived and recovered, and they still read my books aloud to each other in the evening. True story!
What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
Major literary influences on me were C.S. Forester, George Macdonald Fraser, James Michener, Jack London, Mark Twain, James Jones, Edmund Morris, and Dan Brown. Since most of my reading relates to research, I don’t have much time to read for pleasure, but a few of those books I’ve enjoyed most in the last 2 years have been A Gentleman In Moscow, A Confederacy of Dunces, and The Woman Who Smashed Codes. I also just read The Patient Assassin by Anita Anand as a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books ~ an excellent read. The most impactful re-read of late has been It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. For every novel I write, I read over 60 books, and keep track because I include a bibliography at the end of each of my books.
Do you write every day? Any writing rituals?
Yes, every day. I get up at 0545, have breakfast, walk 1.5 meditative miles through coconut palm groves, do some light stretching & lifting, then begin working no later than 0800. Creative writing is done in the mornings, when I’m freshest mentally. Editing, research for books, research for my lectures, media interviews, and admin stuff is done in the afternoons. Sometimes, if the research in the afternoon really ignites me, I’ll do some creative writing in the evenings.
What are your interests outside of writing?
My interests include my faith, sailing through the remote islands near where I live, and travel. I like cooking exotic cuisines from the locales in my books, and while cooking I listen to the indigenous, folk music related to the dish. Sharing time to enjoy my wife and her interests is always valuable because I learn from her constantly. Also, we enjoy watching documentaries and a variety of movies (classics and foreign films in particular), and we try to find time to hear live music in smaller listening venues when possible. Balancing my hectic work schedule with time to relax is easier said than done.
Share some tips for other authors or aspiring authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.
What would I have done differently? I would’ve started social media marketing early on with my first book, but, when I started my Honor Series, social media wasn’t what it is today. As social media grew as rapidly as it did, I wasn’t truly ready because I’m not that tech-savvy. It was too intimidating, and I didn’t ask for help. Now I have a little more help, and I’m relatively good at Facebook, but there’s room for me to grow, which is probably a common thread for many of your readers.
What would I do the same? Network, network, network – with enthusiastic kindness. It always reaps rewards and frequently leads to long, genuine friendships. Be ready to learn, adapt, and recognize your own limitations. I am constantly amazed at how networking opens up unanticipated opportunities for success.
Beneficial tips? Here are seven:
1) Stay organized and disciplined. Find what works for you. Since I have to focus on multiple book projects at one time, to keep each one accurate I use an old-fashioned storyboard (a 22 x 28 inch blank poster) for each project, on which I put the historical timeline, the story’s chapter timeline, imagery of important historical people in the story, maps, character lists (e.g., how again do I spell Kalākaua, king of Hawaii?), and sundry other trivia which is important for me to remember. The poster folds up and goes with me on my journeys because I work every day, no matter where I am. Over the years it takes for me to prep each novel, my storyboards are covered with scrawled notes, scratches, ink smears, wine stains, sweat (and occasionally blood) – all of which are separate memorable stories in themselves! With a storyboard, the batteries will never run down, and it works even when the electricity doesn’t.
2) Be different. Create a new niche in an established genre. Write on a topic nobody else is, but one most people would be curious about when they learn of it. Let that drive your brand.
3) Make friends with your readers. Stay in contact with them and give them enjoyable experiences beyond your book. My readers’ enthusiasm energizes me. Maybe those interested can get a few ideas if they friend me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/robert.macomber.750, or sign up for my Quarterly Newsletter, where there are examples of the other ways I engage my readers with opportunities to meet me. It’s simple to sign up on my website http://www.RobertMacomber.com.
4) Give presentations on your subject(s). Become known for being well-versed and confident as a storyteller. Your presentations can be symbiotic with your literary projects and add another revenue stream. I am a specialist in Victorian-Edwardian world history and lecture on 62 different topics. My lectures and books help feed parallel interest(s) and cross promote sales.
5) Ask for help. Put the word out you need assistance on a subject, place, event, skill, etc…. People have surprising knowledge or contacts, and often love being a part of a book project.
6) Always say thank you to anyone who helps you along the way: readers, authors, researchers, editors, booksellers, media critics, librarians, literacy groups, support staff and family. Thank them in the book’s acknowledgments, at public events, on Social Media, in your newsletter, or on your website. Let them bask in the satisfaction of a completed book project too. They deserve it, and it builds community!
7) Have sincere appreciation for your chosen profession. Yes, there are hassles and frustrations, but smell the frangipani blossoms, my friends. We’re writers and storytellers – the chroniclers of human life! Your journey will lead you to wonderful places, people, and experiences you can’t even imagine right now.
Onward & Upward!
Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers. To suggest an author interview, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.