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Thursday, 30 March 2017

Interview: Robert Eggleton

I am pleased to welcome the author Robert Eggleton to the blog, talking about his early life, writing and his debut novel Rarity from the Hollow.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.

I’m a retired children’s psychotherapist with over forty years in the field of children’s advocacy. I grew up in an impoverished household in West Virginia, started writing short stories as a child to escape harsh realities, and went to college during the Vietnam War that I protested. I was awarded a Master’s Degree in 1977. During college days I mostly wrote poetry, some of which was published in alternative zines published by hippies and one was published in the West Virginia Student Writer’s Anthology of 1973. After college, a great deal of my nonfiction in the field of child welfare was published – inspection reports on large institutions where kids were locked up and the deficient systems that perpetuated that outrage, research on foster home drift that allowed children to bounce from one home to the next and never finding permanency, statistical reports on child abuse and delinquency and correlates, etc. Most of this work is now archived by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. In 2006, I returned to my first love of writing fiction. Rarity from the Hollow is my debut novel and follows publication of three short stories in magazines. The final edition of this novel was released to Amazon on December 5, 2016.
How did you get inspiration for your book?

In 2002, I accepted a job as a psychotherapist for our local mental health centre. It was the first job of my career that did not include the production of written materials. My need to write started building and I began to write a few poems again. Part of my role at the mental health centre was to facilitate group therapy sessions. One day in 2006, a skinny little girl with stringy brown hair sat a few seats away around the table used for written therapeutic exercises. Instead of disclosing the horrors of her abuse by one of the meanest daddies on Earth, she instead spoke of her hopes and dreams for the future – finding a loving family to protect her. My protagonist was born that day: Lacy Dawn, an empowered victim who takes on the evils of the universe.

What draws you to writing about social issues?

While I’ve read and enjoyed books in most genres, my greatest enjoyment has been from works that have included a literary element, albeit science fiction, romance...as the primary genre. For example, The Color Purple touched me deeply. In addition to writing what I’ve enjoyed reading, frankly, I’m not sure that I could stop social commentary from seeping into what I write, even if my goal would be to produce an escapist young adult story. It somehow slips in thru the side doors, the way that racism was addressed when Harry Potter gave the sock to Dobby. I’ve experienced social consciousness for as long as I can remember. Finally, while I hope to never write anything preachy, I believe that serious social commentary can be enjoyed by employing comedy and satire. Perhaps this is best evidenced by the recent upsurge in popularity of the American television show Saturday Night Live after it began a series of shows filled with parody about Donald Trump. It appears to me that a huge gap has evolved in entertainment between serious and escapist audiences. I hope to play a small role in motivating more readers to enjoy novels that include social commentary.

Tell me about Rarity from the Hollow.

In a nutshell, Rarity from the Hollow begins in tragedy that leads into and amplifies subsequent comedy and satire. It is a story about a most unlikely saviour of the universe, a female protagonist who doesn’t need swords, light sabers, or sex appeal to beat the most powerful being in the universe in business negotiations in order to fulfill her destiny and save her family and friends. The political allegory in the story is much more obvious now that Donald Trump has become a household name. It was not addressed my the vast majority of book reviewers of the Advance Review Copy, the same as very few humans on Earth would have predicted the outcome of the U.S. elections.

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Image: Robert Eggleton
Facing an imminent threat, Universal Management has manipulated the genetics of Lacy Dawn for millennia in an effort to enhance her savior attributes. The present-day-version doesn’t mind saving the universe, but her friends and family come first. After cutting a deal with an android sent to Earth to recruit and train her for the job, following the tragic murder of her best friend, a child sexual abuse victim who plays an annoying and comical ghost most of the story, Lacy Dawn’s parents are cured of their mental health disorders. A team assembled, she heads to a giant shopping mall out-of-state, the center of Universal Governance on planet Shptiludrp (Shop Until You Drop). Tedious Art of the Deal (by Donald Trump) methods are employed by Lacy Dawn to fulfill her mission and to return to Earth before the beginning of high school where she expects to be popular.

Why do you feel it is important to write ‘victimisation to empowerment’ stories?

Many people love “underdog” stories, come-from-behind winners within our competitive and capitalistic structures. I love this type of story, as well. However, I feel that it is very important for victims of child maltreatment to envision a point when the past is the past, and that while they may never forget or forgive the maltreatment, it doesn’t control their futures. I had to find this place myself. I hope that readers of my novel who have experienced childhood victimization to pursue empowerment. 

Can you tell me how your novel aims to help prevent child abuse?

One thing that we haven’t talked about is the correlation between anger outbursts experienced by parents and the infliction of injury, psychological and physical, to children who are otherwise loved dearly. In Rarity form the Hollow, similar to my own childhood, Dwayne, the father of Lacy Dawn, is a war-damaged Vet. Popular in high school, he just wasn’t the same man after returning from the Gulf War. I am hopeful that if read by people with PTSD, night terrors, and anger outbursts, that my novel will encouraged Vets to pursue treatment. While in my story it took ET assistance to cure Dwayne, it was a metaphor for opening oneself up to treatment available by the Veteran’s administrations of many countries. A lot more is known about PTSD and its treatment today than when my father suffered from it in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. A common thread that appears to remain is a “tough man” attitude held by some soldiers about PTSD, as if it can be overcome by sheer will, or because of love for their children or spouses. And, in my opinion, it’s cyclical. The guilt about damage done by disabled Vets, especially to their defenceless children, feeds the disorder and contributes to other correlates of child maltreatment, such as substance abuse.

You’re donating your author proceeds to a child abuse prevention program, is that right?

Yes, half of author proceeds from Rarity from the Hollow have been and will continue to be donated to Children’s Home Society of West Virginia.

Can you tell me a little bit about the program and why it is so important to you?

I worked for this nonprofit agency in the early ‘80s and stand by its good works. It was established in 1893 and now serves over 13,000 children and families each year. The best way to learn about the agency is to visit its site

What’s your all-time favourite book?

Gosh, now you’ve really put me on the spot. I have a ton of favourite books, and the particulars depend on mood and what’s happening in the world. I’ve mentioned The Color Purple. For something on an opposite spectrum, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

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Image: Robert Eggleton
Where’s your favourite place to write?

Despite having contributed to the U.S. Social Security fund for fifty-two years, I’ve never made much of a salary and now live on a low fixed income. When young, I used to handwrite poems anyplace and everyplace, including public bathroom stalls. I’ve tried taking my laptop to the woods, parks, etc., and it just hasn’t worked for me. Since I don’t have an office in the small house that we bought in the ‘80s, I write on an old PC in my living room. It works okay.

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

My most pressing ambition is to get beyond the self-promotion stage of Rarity from the Hollow and to pick back up on the next Lacy Dawn Adventure, Ivy. I’m almost sixty-six years old, a late start for a writer to enter this crazy marketplace. Many of my friends have already passed on, so my ambition is to write something meaningful each day until I die.

If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you’d be doing?

Frankly, writing saved my life. I would not have retired from my last job as a children’s psychotherapist if I had not felt compelled to retire in order to write and promote my fiction. After all these years, the job was so emotionally draining, bringing home and processing the pain of maltreated children every day after work, it is doubtful that I would have survived much longer.

What are you currently working on?

I mentioned the next book, Ivy. I thought that it was ready for professional editing a couple of years ago. I was wrong. I’ve learned so much from book reviewers of Rarity from the Hollow that I realize it needs to be better put together. I would love to say that I was working on it, but I’m still promoting my debut novel. Of course, I always have at least one short story in the works. The next submission deadline that I’m working toward meeting is April 15, 2017. Last week, I submitted a poem to a magazine and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will be published. Last year, one of my poems won first place in an international competition.

Do you prefer e-books or traditional books?

It took me a while, but I now prefer ebooks over paperbacks. I really didn’t have much choice about switching with some exception. My house is so packed with physical books that it feel life my wife and I live in a library. She refused to donate any books to Goodwill, so we’ve just ran out of space for traditional books. I know wear reading glasses but the font is still so small in many paper books that reading them had become increasingly difficult. I now love ebooks, in part because I can enlarge the font. Plus, I can carry a library with me for when my mood in reading tastes suddenly change.

Do you prefer self-publishing or traditional publishing?

I have no experience with self-publishing. Rarity from the Hollow is a traditional small press publication. When I was first exploring options for its original publication, self-publishing was new, expensive, and regarded as the same as vanity publishing. Things have certainly changed in all these respects and I may export that option for Ivy. It seems to have a lot of advantages but I have zero technical skills to do much myself except to contract with one of the companies that have flooded the world of books. I’ve never spent a penny to have my debut novel presented to the world, but I have been responsible for almost all of its promotions. I’m hopeful that Dog Horn Publishing remains alive and well. It’s one of the few traditional small presses left that accept novel length submissions. However, this is a very tough marketplace. I have no hope at my age to be recognized by a traditional Big Five conglomerate publishing house. Those doors have been chained shut for as long as I can remember.

What are you reading at the moment?

I recently finished a debut novel by a prominent Australian psychologist with several nonfiction publications for sale: Hit and Run by Dr. Bob Rich. I loved it but this story certainly would be a tough sell for most readers of mainstream fiction. I then got about half-way finished with the debut novel by a wonderful book blogger, but I had to DNF it. I wanted to love it so much, but the way she treated her own childhood victimization as if it could be told without challenging comfort zones just did not work for me. I’m looking for a comedy, and have almost decided to find my copy of Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins on one of my basement book shelves. It’s a classic 1971 hippie manifesto. But, if you or anybody else has a strong recommendation, I’m in the mood for comedic satire.

For more information about Robert and his work, you can follow him on Twitter. Rarity from the Hollow is available to buy now.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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