Author interview C. Robert Cargill
Cargill began his career with Ain’t it Cool News under the pseudonym Massawyrm, writing there for over a decade, subsequently becoming a staff writer for film.com, hollywood.com and co-founding the animated movie review site Spill.com. In the meantime he appeared on countless podcasts, webshows and in the occasional local film. During a fateful drunken night in Vegas, Cargill pitched the idea for the film SINISTER to friend and director Scott Derrickson, resulting in both the film and a screenwriting partnership between the two. When not writing films with Derrickson, Cargill spends his time writing novels and painting miniatures.
Hi Robert, welcome over at The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions for us.
BP: First off, could you give us a short introduction as to who C. Robert Cargill is?
RC: I was a professional film critic for ten years beginning in the early days of blogging (before it was even called Blogging.) I’ve since become a professional screenwriter, my first outing being the film SINISTER, and an author, just now putting out my second novel.
BP: You have been active in writing business for over 10 years writing firstly for AIN’T IT COOL News and other sites as well as having written various screenplays. Do you still know the moment that you decided that you wanted to become an author?
RC: When I was 8 years old. I had a huge crush on Drew Barrymore – we’re the same age – and desperately wanted to see her new movie. But my parents wouldn’t take me. “We’re NOT taking you to a Stephen King movie!” My aunt heard about this and bought me a copy of the book FIRESTARTER with drew on the cover. She honestly didn’t think I’d read it. I read it three times. During my third reading of it, it dawned on me that this Stephen King guy wrote this stuff for a living and I knew that this was exactly what I wanted to do. I’ve been working toward this ever since.
BP: Dreams and Shadows was your debut book, how did you come up with the idea of an Urban fantasy – folklore inspired story?
RC: There were a dozen different ideas all coming together at once, really. But it was meeting and spending some time with Neil Gaiman at a convention in ’99 that brought all of the elements together. He was reading THE DREAM HUNTERS for the first time and he was, at the time, still claiming that it was based on an old Japanese fairy tale. While this would later prove to be a fib on his part, the idea of using folklore in place of the fantasy elements really took and all of the errant pieces of D&S gelled together. When it came time to sit down and finally write it nine years later, everything just felt right.
BP: Writing a debut is a daunting task, how did you tackle the first steps? Do you think that your previous writing experience helped out?
RC: Absolutely. Being used to the daily grind of writing and having to write even when you don’t want to, proved invaluable. The toughest part was finding my voice. The voice you use when writing reviews or copy is quite different from narrative style, so I struggled a bit at first looking for it. A friend of mine, Scott Derrickson, took an active interest and really helped me find it. Shortly thereafter, I pitched him SINISTER over drinks and he loved it – and knew that I could write from his work with me on the book. We’ve been screenwriting partners ever since. But that book was really cobbled together over two years during whatever time I could find when I wasn’t blogging.
BP: Comparing writing a screenplay or book, which is the most difficult or do they both have easy and hard parts?
RC: They’re two different beasts with their own pros and cons. Screenwriting is about telling a story in as few words as possible; you’re always cutting, trimming and rewriting. It’s often about the moment and not the tiny details. Novels are about the details. You can take your time, you have room to breathe, you aren’t so married to structure. But a novel is often 10x as many words as a screenplay, so a 2000 word day on a screenplay is 1/5th of the story. That’s most of your first act! A 2000 words on a novel is a short chapter. So a novel can feel more daunting at times, despite the amount of freedom there is in writing it.
BP: With your Dreams and Shadows series you are being compared to Neil Gaiman, he is one of the biggest names in fantasy, how did this make you feel?
RC: Well it’s tough. He played a definite, direct role in the story coming together the way it did, but the aim wasn’t to write a Neil Gaiman novel. The biggest thing I worry about is people being disappointed because it doesn’t live up to his standard. No one wants to hear that they don’t live up to a comparison like that, and I’ve heard that very thing. But it’s always a tremendous complement when someone thinks it does. So it cuts both ways.
BP: The second book in the Dreams and Shadow series, Queen of the Dark Things is out May 15th by Gollancz, if you would have to sell your book with a single sentence, how would it go?
RC: There are scarier things than fairies, and now they’re coming for Colby.
BP: When you were writing the Dreams and Shadow series, have you encountered any specific problems?
RC: They say the second book is always the hardest and that certainly proved to be the case here. It was a tough book to write and I certainly learned a lot during the process. The biggest hurdle is finding a way to repeat your success without simply repeating yourself. With sequels people want a similar experience but with a different story, and that’s not easy. I hope that people feel I threaded that particular needle.
BP: What has been the hardest part in writing either Dreams and Shadow or Queen of the Dark Things series so far?
RC: The funeral scene in DREAMS AND SHADOWS. It was a strange moment to say goodbye to several characters that had lived with me for so long. I always knew they were going to die, but the moment you type the words, it’s real. That was quite possibly the most emotional moment I’ve experienced while writing.
BP: Besides the hardest part, which scene/chapter did you enjoy writing about the most?
RC: The scene in which Kaycee tries to break the Bunyip like a bronco. Everything you need to know about Kaycee can be found in that scene. Writing that scene made me fall in love with her as a character and from that point on I really knew who she wanted to become.
BP: You incorporate mythology in the Dreams and Shadow series, did you have to carry out additional research in order to check and keep certain things straight?
RC: Constantly. I do several months of research before each book and fill a notebook or two with all of the details I find. I keep a rather large folklore reference library next to my desk for quick reference, which I use fairly frequently. With QUEEN OF THE DARK THINGS I had to do a lot of research into the Aboriginal mythology and was very careful to get everything right because these are people’s beliefs and you have to be respectful about that sort of thing. In addition, I read a number of books on the mutiny of the Batavia to make sure I got all of those details right. In fact, the largest section of the book that was edited out was an overabundance of needless details about what really happened on that ship. I went a little overboard.
BP: Queen of the Dark Things is the second book in the Dreams and Shadows series, have you already planned on how many books the series will run?
RC: Three. Colby has a very definite arc. There might be other books set in the world that come later, but Colby’s story has a beginning, middle and definite end. QUEEN OF THE DARK THINGS is Colby’s second act.
BP: Next to the Dreams and Shadows series, do you have any other projects that you are currently working on or that you wish to pursue in the near future?
RC: Several. There are a number of film projects in the pipeline – SINISTER 2 and DEUS EX are both chugging along – as well as a couple of other projects coming together behind the scenes. As for books, I’ve got a science fiction novel and an anthology of horror stories that are both in some stage of assembly.
BP: Everyone enjoys science fiction and fantasy in their own way, what do you like most about it?
RC: The big ideas. When done well, sci-fi/fantasy can be really great analogies for really big concepts. Sometimes it is right up front out in the open like cyberpunk; other times it is about getting to the nitty-gritty of who we are as people by changing the rules we have to play by. Either way, the stories can be both viscerally engrossing and intellectually challenging at the same time. And I love that.
BP: If you would have to give your top 5 favorite books which would they be?
RC: REALITY IS WHAT YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH by Robert Anton Wilson, EXTERMINATOR by William S. Burroughs, NO EXIT AND OTHER PLAYS by Jean-Paul Sartre, PRIDE AND PREDJUDICE by Jane Austen, and THE COMPLETE FAIRY TALES OF HERMANN HESSE by Hermann Hesse.
BP: and just lastly, can you give us a sneak peak as to what is in store for the reader when they will pick up the Dreams and Shadows series? And possibly a hint of where the story will go in a possible third book?
RC: The dark things on the other side of the veil wait for you, that’s what. Drunken angels, whiskey soaked fairies, scheming manitous, children who get themselves in way over their heads and adults later paying for those mistakes. And Texas, lots of Texas. Book three? What I can say now is, if I do my job right, it will end in a place I’ve not seen in this kind of book before. You’ll also see a lot of old friends coming back for the biggest fight of Colby’s life. They just might not be on his side.
BP: Thank you very much for your rime Robert and good luck with your future writing projects!
Queen of the Dark Things is out now from Gollancz!