Author Interview: Robert Kent (The Book of David/ All Together Now: A Zombie Story)

Games, Brrraaains & A Head-Banging Life are very pleased to bring you an interview with acclaimed author, Robert Kent. You can read our reviews of all five chapters here.

Robert Kent is the author of the horror novels THE BOOK OF DAVID and ALL TOGETHER NOW: A ZOMBIE STORY, the middle grade novel BANNEKER BONES AND THE GIANT ROBOT BEES, and the novellas PIZZA DELIVERY and ALL RIGHT NOW: A SHORT ZOMBIE STORY.

He runs the popular blog for writers, MIDDLE GRADE NINJA, which features interviews and guest posts from over 500 authors, literary agents, and other publishing professionals, and was the recipient of Middle Shelf Magazine’s Best Blog award. He is a proud member of SCBWI, The Horror Writers Association of America, and the Young Adult Cannibals. Robert Kent holds degrees in Literature and Creative Writing from Indiana University and owns over 900 Batman action figures. He lives with his family in Indianapolis where he teaches courses at the Indiana Writers Center and is hard at work on his next book.

1. Hi Robert. It’s a pleasure to talk to you. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where did the desire to write come from?

It’s a pleasure to be talked to. I’m a long time book lover and blogger and I recently became a stay-at-home dad, which is my favourite job ever. My day to day life involves a lot of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and potty training, and I run the blog Middle Grade Ninja, where I review books for children (and occasionally write them). So, naturally, I also write disturbingly violent horror fiction at night. Every time Daniel sings about he and his adorable best pals riding a trolley in The Land of Make Believe, I’m plotting gruesome murder and carnage.

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I ask every author I interview whether they believe writers are born or taught, but I think it’s both. Before I could write, toddler me was recording stories on tape for someone else to make into a book, and I don’t think that’s learned behaviour. My grandfather ran a small-town paper, my father was an editor for a major city paper, but it’s 2018, so I blog:) I write because it’s one of the things I was born to do and when I make books, I feel fulfilled the way I imagine a bee feels about making honey.

2. How did the idea for All Together Now: A Zombie Story come about? It’s no easy task to stand out in the zombie fiction crowd yet the book has had rave reviews!

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I’m extremely grateful to all the kind reviewers out there. It’s hard to stand out with fiction about zombies, vampires, witches, werewolves, or any of the great monsters. Yet readers love them. There are plenty of romance novels in the world, yet new romance continues to dominate the market. I’ve read more than my share of zombie apocalypse stories, but if I like an author, I’ll want to read their zombie apocalypse story. Hugh Howey isn’t known for I, Zombie, but I like that book better than Wool (and I adore Wool).

In the case of my zombie book, it started with me trying to convince young adult Jedi Master Courtney Summers to write a teenage zombie novel. I knew teenagers were the perfect characters for a zombie story because their lives are so much about imposed conformity as are the “lives” of zombies. I kept after Courtney for years and when she finally wrote a YA zombie book with a fresh and absolutely brilliant take on teens in the apocalypse, she thanked me in its acknowledgements.

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As much as I love This is Not a Test, it’s Courtney Summers’ zombie apocalypse. I wanted my own. It was sort of like trying to convince your friend to date the person you haven’t admitted to yourself you want to date. When I at last admitted to myself that I loved zombies enough to make a true commitment, All Together Now practically wrote itself.

3. How much trouble did you have getting published? Do Miriam’s problems reflect your own?

My journey to publication has been more difficult than some, not nearly as difficult as the journeys of other writers. I’ve been interviewing literary agents and editors and book publicists at my blog as well as authors since 2010, and I’ve been privileged to spend time with all sorts of different writers, which has given me a pretty comprehensive overview of the industry. Poor Miriam has a harder time than I’ve had both in writing and publishing her books, and that’s on top of living in a haunted house:)

Because I wanted The Book of David to be my version of a Stephen King novel, I knew I had to have a writer as at least one of the protagonists. So I made Miriam an amalgamation of several of the writers I’ve known. One danger in writing about a writer is that my personal thoughts on publishing can cloud the story and I try to save those ramblings for my blog where they belong. I wanted Miriam’s experience to be reflective of real life writers, but she carries burdens imposed on her by the novel and its themes.

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Thematically, The Book of David is all about the momentum of the past shaping our present, and that’s easy to explore in the experiences of today’s writers. I could only marvel at an essay by Kurt Vonnegut in which he related starting his writing career by selling a couple short stories to magazines to save up living expense for a few years so he could write a novel. The world of publishing has changed dramatically, and yet despite global networking capabilities, the vast majority of publishers are still paying Manhattan rents, presumably because of the momentum of the past.

Miriam is trying to build a writing career in a publishing system that no longer fully exists. That’s true of a lot of writers I know. And guides on “how to be a writer” haven’t caught up because modern writers themselves are still trying to figure out how to be a writer in these modern times.

4. Let’s talk about David…it’s a hell of an epic and one that I’ve so pleased to have read. Where did the idea come from?

Thanks so much for your kind words and thoughtful reviews and for promoting books in general. I’m so glad you liked my story.

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My wife and I bought a house that felt very much like home the first time I toured it, almost like I’d been there before in a former life. That experience and the creepy paintings in my son’s nursery made me want to write a haunted house story. That’s an item I can now scratch off my bucket list along with a zombie story. God willing and I’m alive, I still want to do a werewolf story eventually.

A slightly more spoiler-y answer is… clear out if you haven’t read the book… I grew up in a moderately religious family that was nothing like the more extreme Walters family, but my beloved grandmother did have a sign on the front of her house that read, “Jesus Wants To Give YOU Eternal Life.” I was encouraged to preach as a child. After one sermon, a respected missionary pulled me aside and told me that one day I would be a prophet of the Lord. As an adult who does not belong to any organized religion, I find his claim unlikely. But the storyteller in me has always wondered what my life might be like if he was right.

5. As fantastical as the The Book David is at times, it’s heavily based in reality. You take swipes at corporate America, organised religion and alien conspiracies. Do these reflect your actual opinions?

Yes and no. The characters assert many beliefs with which I absolutely disagree. I don’t care if the reader believes in flying saucers outside of the story. But I don’t think it’s a revelation to point out that the United States has a massive and untenable disparity between its wealthiest citizens and everyone else or that our government has transformed to an oligarchy that’s creating all kinds of trouble and threatening our republic. Donald Trump could never be even a presidential candidate in a healthy democracy.

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Anyone who believes the American government is still of the people, by the people, and for the people is wilfully ignorant of the clear evidence this is no longer the case. I like a 4th of July parade as much as the next patriotic American, but when Congress passes a tax bill in the dead of night that an estimated 75% of the county disproves of, it’s not unpatriotic to point out the disparity between the country we aspire to be and the country the facts say we are.

However, The Book of David isn’t an essay about politics or publishing or conspiracy theories and I’m not playing fair. It’s a for fun story. All the evidence presented in the text, while much of it can be verified, is in service of the story without the counter arguments I would be obliged to present if I were writing nonfiction. I’m intentionally trying to rev up political anger and suspicion in the reader because I want them to be at least somewhat sympathetic with David’s cause, even when the story gets really crazy.

And I’m trying to terrify the reader. Never forget that. You shouldn’t trust a writer when that’s their motive. But there’s plenty in The Book of David that’s metaphorically true.

I remain skeptical of most UFO claims, but there’s enough smoke to suggest actual fire. I wrote a long article about my thoughts on flying saucers should anyone be curious, but I fully acknowledge that I want flying saucers to be real. Also, I want ghosts and zombies to be real and I believe in all of them at least enough to finish my books:)

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6. The characters of David and Miriam feel so real. It’s a testament to your abilities as a writer but I have to ask…are they based on real people?

That’s a very kind question. Thanks.

But no. My hero Stephen King famously says that all of his characters are him and the girls are just him in a dress. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. When I go to create a new character I start with thinking of ways I identify with them. How I might behave if what is true for them were true for me. If I thought aliens abducted me or that animal paintings in my home were coming to life (neither have happened to my knowledge), my reaction wouldn’t be entirely unlike my characters’ reactions. Even if I were to consciously model a character after a real life person, which I wouldn’t intentionally do, the moment I had the character react to fictional circumstances, they would become their own entity. The best characters whisper their own dialogue to me and take action on their own so that they can’t be said to be anyone other than themselves.

7. Were you worried that the introduction of aliens and Sexy Jesus might turn people off what is at first a ‘haunted house’ story? I’ll admit to wondering what the hell was going on the first time the painting spoke!

I wasn’t worried. In fact, I was certain some people would be turned off and I tried to target them as much as I could. I made sure to drop a few F-bombs in the opening passages so that anyone who might know me for my writing for children would know this wasn’t that (assuming they skipped the warning in the description and on the first page). The language gets much fouler before the end, so I wanted those readers who would be bothered to tap out early.

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There’s A LOT of really offensive stuff in this story I wouldn’t discuss at the diner table in front of grandma, but I might discuss some of it with a select audience late at the bar. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to publish The Book of David as a serial novel. The first chapter is always free to read as an ebook and it’s short. If a reader gets to the end of it (or the middle) and they’re turned off, they’re not out any money or that much time. Plenty of other books out there for those readers and I hope they find a story more to their liking. The second chapter is also short, but it’s much more offensive than the first chapter and goes farther down the rabbit hole.

Chapter four and five are absolutely nuts. I don’t want anybody reading them who hasn’t already made it though the increasing offensiveness of the first three chapters. If you’re still reading by chapter five, you’re obviously entertained and having at least some fun because you had four perfectly good opportunities to quit reading. As much as possible, I want those readers to self select.

8. If you could sum up The Book of David in a few words, what would they be? Personally I’d go with ‘the purpose of David Walters…it’s pretty messed up’.

Reluctantly religious man buys a haunted house and has his faith rewarded.

9. Games, Brrraaains (Horror) or Head-Banging? What’s your poison?

Brrraaains, for sure. But later, games and head-banging also.

10. What’s next for Robert Kent?

Another cup of coffee sounds pretty good:)

Next up is a middle grade book. I try to alternate between writing horror and middle grade fiction so that neither gets too stale. My most die-hard fans are children who love Banneker Bones and the Giant Robot Bees. They’ve been hounding me for a sequel I promised them three years ago. so I’m going to make good on that promise in 2018. After that, I’ll probably be in the mood to write another scary story.

I’ve been re-reading all of Jack Ketchum’s stuff lately because he was one of my heroes. He recently died and I interviewed him just a year ago. The man was a true master of the craft, and I kinda want to do something he’d approve of… but maybe with a werewolf in it.

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