Welcome to my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, scriptwriters, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author and guest blogger Robert Rosen. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Robert. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Robert: Hi, Morgen. My name is Robert Rosen and I’ve been writing professionally since 1974. Writing, to me, is akin to a religious calling. I do it because I have to. I do it to satisfy a primal need to communicate. I’m based in New York City and I’ve lived here my entire life, except for brief stints in Washington D.C. and L.A.
Morgen: You write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Robert: I ask myself: What’s the best story I have to tell? Is it a story that will keep me interested day after day, for years on end? If the answer to both these questions is yes, then I start writing.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Robert: So far I’ve published two books: Nowhere Man: The Final days of John Lennon and Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography. I’ve also published hundreds of articles and stories in newspapers, magazines, and on websites. I’ve written about everything from national security in Mother Jones to articles about film and theatre in the Mexican newsweekly Proceso. And I’ve written a lot of erotica under the pseudonym Bobby Paradise.
Morgen: Are your books available as eBooks?
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Robert: I’m working on a novel called Bobby in Naziland. In part it’s about a child growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s and early ’60s where, to quote from the book, “World War II lingered like a mass hallucination on East 17th Street and large swaths of the surrounding borough.”
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Robert: Yes, I write every day and I’ve been doing it for 35 years. If I’m not working on a book or an article, then I write in my journal. The best writing advice I ever got was, “Keep a notebook and write in it every day.” I don’t believe in writer’s block. If you’re stuck, then write anything, even gibberish. And keep doing it. Eventually, the words will flow.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Robert: God, yes! For Beaver Street, I spent as much time doing research as I did writing. For Bobby in Naziland, I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at newspapers from the 1950s and early ’60s. They’re great memory joggers.
Morgen: Do you pitch for submissions and / or are you commissioned to write?
Robert: These days I only write on commission for newspapers and magazines. For my books, though, I’ll write them first and then go out and sell them, or have an agent sell them.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Robert: Are you kidding? My books were rejected by everybody before I found a publisher. I file the rejection letters and forget about them.
Morgen: How much marketing do you do?
Robert: The marketing and promotion are the hardest parts of writing a book because you have to do it every day, and if you’re lucky it goes on forever. Twelve years after publication, I’m still doing promotion for Nowhere Man. My philosophy has always been: Talk to anybody who wants to talk to you about your books for as long as they want to talk about it. Treat every journalist as if they’re Oprah. And go anywhere you’re invited. Since 2000, when Nowhere Man was published, I’ve done more than 300 interviews, and because the book has been translated into a half-dozen languages, and was a bestseller in five countries, I’ve travelled to Mexico, Chile, Italy, and England to do promotion. I’m thrilled that this has happened, but it’s exhausting.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Robert: Don’t listen to what anybody, especially so-called “experts,” tell you about your work because nobody knows what they’re talking about. And never give up.
Morgen: If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why?
Robert: In October 2003, after Nowhere Man became a bestseller in Mexico, my publisher, Random House Mondadori, invited me to Mexico City to meet the press. I felt as if I’d entered an alternate universe where everything I’d been working for, for 25 years, had come to pass in a language I didn’t understand. The press treated me as if I’d written Harry Potter. I wouldn’t mind re-living the day of the press conference.
Morgen: You’re currently working on a novel – are there any differences or similarities between writing non-fiction and fiction?
Robert: Good writing is good writing, and in terms of style, there’s little difference between my fiction and non-fiction. My non-fiction, I’m told, reads like a novel, and that’s a great compliment. The big difference, of course, is that in fiction I make things up. I also happen to be married to a great editor, Mary Lyn Maiscott. (I call her the Mistress of Syntax.) When it comes to my non-fiction she fact-checks me to death. Drives me nuts sometimes. But in the end, it’s worth it.
Morgen: 🙂 What do you do when you’re not writing?
Robert: I’m a compulsive walker. I walk all over NYC, at least five miles per day. It relaxes me, frees my mind, puts me into a meditative state. If I’m stuck on something in my work, the answer often comes to me when I’m walking. So I never leave the house without pen and paper.
Morgen: Me neither because you never know when inspiration will strike and there’s nothing worse than losing a gem. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Robert: Best place is my website: http://www.robertrosennyc.com. Everything you need to know about me is on there.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Robert: I’m out there now promoting Beaver Street. It was published in the U.K. 2011 and in the U.S. 2012. (My publisher, Headpress, is based in London.) The reviews, thus far, have been extraordinary, across the cultural spectrum from highbrow to lowbrow. Vanity Fair, the Erotic Review, Michael Musto of the Village Voice, the academic site H-Net, Bizarre, which is a British mag, the Sleazoid Podcast, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer—they all like Beaver Street. I’m grateful for this kind of reception, but unless your name is Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, it’s really tough to sell books these days. So, I’m hoping people with an interest in provocative literature about contemporary history will give Beaver Street a chance.
Morgen: Thank you, Robert.
I then invited Robert to include an extract of his writing and here are the opening grafs of the Beaver Street, Prologue: A Kid in a Candy Store…
Once, many years ago, my father owned a candy store on Church Avenue in Brooklyn, around the corner from where we lived. The whole family worked there—my grandfather, my grandmother, sometimes my mother, my uncle in a pinch, and even me. By the time I was nine years old I knew how to mix egg creams, sell cigarettes, and put together the Sunday papers. I also understood on some instinctive level that when a new customer walked in and muttered under his breath, “Where do you keep the books?” he was talking about the special rack in the back of the store where my father stocked some of his favorite works of literature. They included My Secret Life, by Anonymous; My Life and Loves, by Frank Harris; The Autobiography of a Flea, also by the ever-prolific Anonymous; Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller; and Last Exit to Brooklyn, by Hubert Selby.
Every weekend a half-dozen of my father’s cronies—the neighborhood regulars—would gather in the store. Most of them were in their late thirties, my father’s age at the time, and they struck me as a streetwise and sophisticated lot. One of them smoked Gauloises. Another worked for TWA and made monthly “pleasure trips” to Europe. And I’d sit by the window a few feet away, listening to them as I made change for newspapers. Some days they’d amuse themselves deconstructing the New York Giants and their bald but talented quarterback, Y.A. Tittle, whose name they repeated over and over, seemingly for the sheer joy of saying it. Other days they’d swap World War II stories, horrifying tales of seeing corpses piled like cordwood after the Battle of the Bulge, or of butchering a cow—after not eating fresh meat for months—in a French village just liberated from the Nazis. But their greatest flights of oratory fancy, surpassing even the passion they expressed for the Playboy centerfold, were their expert critiques of the latest book to appear on the special rack.
And a synopsis…
For sixteen years Robert Rosen worked behind the X-rated scenes of such porn magazines as High Society, Stag, and D-Cup. In Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, Rosen blows the lid off the lucrative and politically hounded adult industry, providing a darkly engaging account of its tumultuous decades—from the defining Traci Lords scandal and the conception of “free” phone sex to the burgeoning success of smut in cyberspace in the twenty-first century.
Robert Rosen is the author of Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon, an international bestseller that’s been translated into six languages. His investigative memoir, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, was published by Headpress in the U.K. in 2011 and in the U.S. in 2012. Rosen’s work has appeared in publications all over the world, including Uncut (U.K.), Mother Jones, The Soho Weekly News, La Repubblica (Italy), VSD (France), Proceso (Mexico), Reforma (Mexico), and El Heraldo (Colombia). His website is http://www.robertrosennyc.com.
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