TQR Confidential

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Total Quality Robot theater : TQR reviewer Steve Hansen gets Dunbar'd in a sauna (condensed version of an actual interview)

The total quality robot theater version of the interview (scroll down for transcript) between myself and Robert Dunbar came about by accident. Remember, there are no mistakes ... just happy accidents? What was that guys name on PBS, painting and whispering his affirmations whilst creating alpine scenes and happy trees? ... Bob Ross! Bobbie Freaking Ross, man!

Anyhow ... I digress.

Originally, I was going to type in the entire interview. When I got about 3 quarters of the way in, the xtranormal database freaked. Turns out, the database is not set up for such a long script, right? So, I'm pissed, but then I get the idea of condensing the whole thing, a la Readers Digest! And, viola, the re-enactment creative nonfiction theater dealio that you just viewed was brought into the world.

I hope you enjoyed it! And please read the original interview and judge for yourself whether I captured the essence (and the odor) of the whole affair. Bon appetit!

Steven Hansen

Mr. Robert Dunbar, you're a big fish in this small sauna.

Robert Dunbar

Yes. Yes, I am.

To what does TQRstories owe this honor?

Well, Steve, I ... Does it have to be so hot in here? Can't we order drinks? Sorry. What were you saying?

You know, saunas are inherently hot places. I will take you to the Rump after the interview, and we can have a flaming zombie.

Been there, done that.

But to the point, what prompted you to solicit your book to TQR?

Solicit? What are you a cop? Actually, I first heard of TQR while chatting with another writer. I checked it out and was intrigued and ... Are you sure you're not a cop?

Nyet. I am but a humble emissary of TQR sent to get the goods on you. So, what are your goods and how do you intend to use them?

Well, I’ve been a poet, a playwright and a journalist. I’ve written for newspapers and magazines, as well as for radio and television. But now I’ve found my true voice, and my dark novels and stories are developing a real following. Of course, I seem to provoke just as many people as I inspire, which is delicious. For every review of the “masterpiece” and “work of genius” variety, you’d be amazed by how many people are outraged. There’s an aversion to literary quality in genre writing … at least in this country. Not so much in Great Britain of course, where they have a tradition of serious writers penning mysteries and ghost stories. By the way, your towel is slipping.

Oh. This gets me so steamed! What is "literary?" What is "genre?" And why can't they be happily married?

Those are hot button topics. I mean, isn’t there room for every kind of writing? The problem is that sophisticated readers tend to be tolerant of diversity, whereas at the other end of the spectrum … not so much. My novel THE PINES is in its – what? – sixth edition now, and I still hear from people who want to thank me for bringing intelligence and style back to horror. But I also get messages from consumers – I can’t bring myself to call them readers – who believe I shouldn’t be “allowed” to write this way. It confuses them, and being confused makes them angry. Pretty much a reflection of what’s going on in the larger culture. So what’s the answer? We can either abandon dark fiction to the lowest common denominator … or continue trying to attract more evolved readers.

When you sit down to write, in that transient moment of creation, are you writing for yourself, or with an audience in mind?

Well done. “That transient moment of creation.” Good phrase. That transient moment is where I live, but there’s something oxymoronic about it. The more I write for myself, which is the hardest and most painful sort of writing, the more people seem to relate to it, to connect. Something about the honesty, I expect.

How does horror fiction (dark fiction or whatever you want to call it) allow you, Robert Dunbar, to express this personal honesty better than any other genre?

Notice how I try to avoid the H-word. Nothing personal. It just has such a bad rep these days. Not altogether underserved. Think about it. Is there a great work of literature that doesn’t employ dark themes? Once upon a time, it wasn’t all zombie porn and vampire romance. This was art. And it still is. Or at least can be. Besides, what could be more personal than our nightmares?

Robert Dunbar, that answer is off the hook. But let me go back to an answer you gave two questions ago and, at the risk of being adversarial, ask how you (a writer who makes his living willingly selling books) can use the term "consumer" as a pejorative?

Because I’m not selling fish. There are plenty of writers out there looking for customers. I want readers.

But you don't give the books away, right? Therefore, a reader is a consumer, too. I am belaboring this point because the TQR ethos is congruent with the old Star-Kist ads featuring Charlie the tuna: We don't want tuna with good taste, we want tuna that tastes good, regardless of whether it features shagging zombies, or troubled souls making hay out of discovering lint in their belly buttons.

Don’t be afraid of art. It won’t hurt you. Well, maybe just the odd growing pain here and there. Look, Steve – this is not an easy way to live. Writing, true writing, requires a level of commitment most people can’t even imagine. You need passion and discipline and incredible amounts of courage. It’s not so much an activity as an identity. Practically a religion. Sure, I could just grind the books out like sausages, but there’s plenty of that available already. Isn’t there? And, yes, people buy it. They consume it like endless bags of potato chips, the point being that each bag is exactly like every other bag. They know what they’re getting, but that’s product, not art. Art is full of surprises. And you know what? I have a taste for junk food once in a while too. That’s fine. If you’re in the mood, enjoy. But it’s not all there is – just be aware. There are levels of writing, just as there are many kinds of readers. There are people whose voices throb when they talk about Henry James or Edith Wharton. No, really. The person whose eyes light up if you mention Eudora Welty? That’s my church. Those are my people.

Amen, sir. Amen. ... Your most recent offering has the enigmatic title Martyrs and Monsters. How did you come up with that title, and what does it mean to you?

All the characters embrace both qualities. Themes of sacrifice and redemption run through that book. People talk about those stories – and they talk a great deal – in terms of how terrifying they are, but to me they’re all about devotion, about the things we become for love. And about the things we do. Passion can be as relentless as gravity. We fall.

Robert Dunbar ... I look forward to reading and reviewing your book for TQRstories. Thank you for sweating through this interview.

If you have any last words, er ... parting shots ... I mean ... uhm ... final thoughts, the investors are listening.

Shots? Thanks, I’d love one. Oh, parting shots. Well, I guess just that three of my books are available through Amazon now, if any of your “investors” are interested: THE SHORE, THE PINES and MARTYRS & MONSTERS, and my new novel – WILLY – will be released later in the year. Also, you might want to keep your eyes peeled for a new small press called UNINVITED BOOKS, founded by – what’s his name? – that Dunbar guy. We hope to do some very exciting things in the field of dark literary fiction in the months ahead. That’s it. Thanks again, Steve. This was fun, except I think I lost five pounds. Did you say something about a flaming zombie?