Today I’m delighted to welcome Robert Eggleton to Me, My Books and I.
Robert Eggleton has served as a children’s advocate for over forty years. He is best known for his investigative reports about children’s programs, most of which were published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from 1982 through 1997. Today, he is a recently retired psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel and its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines: Wingspan Quarterly, Beyond Centauri, and Atomjack Science Fiction. Author proceeds have been donated to a child abuse prevention program operated by Children’s Home Society of West Virginia. http://www.childhswv.org/
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Hi Robert. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.
You’re welcome, Kate. Thanks for the opportunity to tell your readers about myself and my debut novel, Rarity from the Hollow.
Where did the idea for Rarity from the Hollow come from?
Rarity from the Hollow is A Children’s Story for Adults – a social science fiction novel that crosses genres and not intended for the prudish or fainthearted. In a nutshell, during a sometimes tragic but mostly comical story, a traumatized little girl learns to be the Savior of the Universe by first addressing the mental health treatment needs of her family and friends. Author proceeds have been donated to a child abuse prevention program in my home state.
The idea for Rarity from the Hollow can be attributed to my work as an advocate of children’s rights for the last forty years. In 1977, I earned a Master’s degree in Social Work from West Virginia University. In 2002, I began working as a children’s psychotherapist in an intensive day program at our local mental health center.
One day at work in 2006, during a group therapy session, I met a skinny little girl who had been severely abused by a very mean daddy. She sat a few seats away from me around a table used for written therapeutic exercises. Rather than focusing on her victimization, she spoke of dreams for the future – a loving family which would respect her, a permanent home, and feeling safe. She was inspiring. I was moved.
The idea for the Lacy Dawn Adventures project ripened that day – an empowered female protagonist from an impoverished family beating the evil forces that victimize and exploit others to get anything and everything that it wants. Rarity from the Hollow is the first full-length adventure in a prospective series preceded by three short adventures published by magazines.
How do you decide on names for your characters?
The protagonist of all Lacy Dawn Adventures, obviously, is named Lacy Dawn. She was named by my wife, Rita. After coming home from work that day in 2006, the day that I’ve already told you about when the project was conceived, my wife and I discussed names for the protagonist. Rita had read my fiction for years and was very supportive.
The next day we both went to work as usual but with an assignment in the back of our minds – to name the protagonist. Rita June is now a retired Chemist. Maybe she had more down-time at work that day than me because by the time we both got home from work, Lacy Dawn had been born. Rita explained that since the protagonist’s mother didn’t have much money to buy pretty things for her daughter that she would at least give her a very pretty name at birth.
Lacy Dawn’s best friend in Rarity from the Hollow was named to incorporate a metaphor – Faith is not dead. Faith was killed early in the story, murdered by her own father during a rage, but returns as a ghost to play a valuable role in saving the universe. Brownie, the family mutt, was named to incorporate a pun that I’m not going to spoil for readers. Similarly, DotCom, the android, was named for a satirical and comical metaphor about Capitalism that I also don’t want to spoil, although some prospective readers may already know because it was disclosed in an excerpt release and mentioned in a book review.
The rest of the characters in Rarity from the Hollow, main and supporting, were named for real-life people. To ensure proper character development, I would use role models and then accentuate or minimize their attributes in the fiction. I have been a professional social worker for over forty years. This work has involved interacting with a lot of “characters” – “street” people, homeless folks, those who had mental illnesses or addictions, as well as, corporate leaders, business owners, supportive and abusive family members, governmental authorities, legislators, rich benefactors and food stamp recipients of all ages, races, genders…. If Sears still produced a catalogue, it would run out of pages before I could blurb about all of the characters inside my head.
What do you hope readers will learn from Rarity from the Hollow?
My hope is that readers of Rarity from the Hollow will learn to take a few moments to listen to their own hearts and minds, and to act accordingly. I don’t write or want to read anything that is “preachy.” Heck, I don’t even think that religious literature, like the pamphlets that one finds on the floors of public toilet stalls, should be so preachy. I wouldn’t want to touch such content, even if it would have been delivered under more sanitary conditions. I want to write about important issues that one person may think support a particular position but the next reader finds the opposite. I don’t have the answers to the most important questions and challenges that humans face.
Your question reminds me of a line from Rarity from the Hollow that a reviewer had pulled out and posted on a blog because she thought that it was significant for some reason:
A person can know everything, but still not have a true answer to an actual question.
The narrative of Rarity from the Hollow addressed social issues: poverty, domestic violence, child maltreatment, local and intergalactic economics, mental health concerns – including PTSD experienced by Veterans and the medicinal use of marijuana for treatment of Bipolar Disorder, Capitalism, and touched on the role of Jesus: “Jesus is everybody’s friend, not just humans.” These messages do not advocate for anything specific. They are not actually learning content, except by exposure of the reader to the issues. In my opinion, it is critical that such messages be in every piece of literature, even comics and erotica, but each of us have to find truths within our own hearts and minds.
One of my personal truths is that enough is not being done to prevent child abuse / exploitation in the world. Author proceeds from the Lacy Dawn Adventures project have been donated to Children’s Home Society of West Virginia: http://www.childhswv.org/
Is any part of Rarity from the Hollow based on your own personal experiences?
Yes, a great deal of Rarity from the Hollow was based on my own personal experiences, including my heart-felt experiences as a children’s advocate for more than four decades. To fully answer your question would produce an autobiography that none of your readers would likely read. So, instead, I’ll exemplify how my personal experiences tied into the story.
I was born into an impoverished family in West Virginia in 1951. My alcoholic and occasionally abusive father suffered from PTSD. He had been captured by the Nazis during WWII and had night terrors. Lacy Dawn’s father, Dwayne, was a Gulf War Vet who experienced night terrors, and was as abusive when intoxicated. Both fathers were so disabled that they couldn’t hold down jobs, also incorporated into Rarity from the Hollow.
My own mother, and Lacy Dawn’s mother, Jenny, did the best they could, but each experienced low self esteem, in part, attributable to rotting out teeth due to lack of access to dental care. This personal experience was also incorporated into Rarity from the Hollow.
I believe that my answer supports the practice of consumers reading author interviews before buying a book. Some scenes just can’t be faked by substituting research or imagination for personal experience.
I completely agree! Do you follow a plan when you are writing or do you let the story guide you?
Yes, I plan my stories. Rarity from the Hollow became the novel that exists today exactly as planned, in detail. However, in this day and age of fanfic and formula products, a little qualification of my answer would more fully answer your question. Fiction cannot always be measured when a reader has turned the last page of a novel. In my opinion, good fiction prompts a mental integration process whereby the story soaks in and subsequently affects the reader in immeasurable ways for many years, perhaps without that person’s awareness or attribution of source.
As an author, I know where I want to go when writing. I detail steps toward what I want to achieve in each scene and build toward a preplanned plot. While I consider other factors, such as target audience, the one-book-after-another busy schedule of book reviewers who may not have enough time to invest in contemplating convolutions of a story, and a host of other factors, I do not write toward markets or book reviewers. Rarity from the Hollow was not intended to be a quick and easy read with a standard straight forward plot line, on purpose. I’ve written other stuff that was intended as such, on purpose.
I start a story with one very general outline consisting of three parts: beginning (bunch of blank space), middle (more blank space), and end. I scribble notes that I use for reference instead of for control of my writing. I have pens and notepads handy in every room of my house, and even take something to write with when I go out, such as to a restaurant. My scribbles fill in the blanks of the outline, and are always subject to modification.
If you could travel anywhere in the world to do research for a book where would it be?
Since we’ve never been able to afford travel, I’d bet that I could come up with a great story wherever and anywhere that I would visit. If anybody would like to fund travel for such a research purpose, email me and we’ll work out a deal. How about Greece? Its economy is in big trouble, and I’m used to being broke – sounds like a great fit. I could write a novel called Rarity from Mount Olympus about an ancient god intervening before humans blow up the planet with high-tech religious warfare.
Are there any occupational hazards to being an author?
Since being an Author is not an actual occupation for most authors, a more common question might be whether being an author presents hazards to one’s occupation. I recently retired and being an author has presented a hazard to me – poverty. At this time, I’ve spent the last four months as a more than full-time author. I’m broke and will need to get at least a part-time job soon. Before that, I worked full-time while writing after work. There was minor hazard from going to work with inadequate sleep.
Authors do face potentially serious psychological hazards in this highly competitive marketplace. It’s not an “occupation” for anybody who is easily worked up or high strung. Not everybody in cyberspace is nice, or supportive. Here’s an example:
Rarity from the Hollow got a one star review by a woman (gender assumed) on a site. The review was two sentences long. The woman posted that she didn’t like the novel because it was a “war story.” It was obvious that this person had not read Rarity from the Hollow because the only thing gunshot in the story was an imitation Barbie doll used as target practice by neighbor boys – a metaphor of the impact of poverty on the self-esteem of children. No sentient being in the story was intentionally killed, but a few cockroaches were accidentally stepped on in one scene. There was no war.
The review was up on the site for a couple of weeks, and then disappeared. However, this woman’s one star rating stands and still affects the overall rating that prospective readers see when they consider what to read. Deletion of the obviously fake review made the situation worse because there is now no basis for the low rating to compare to the five star reviews that have been posted on the site.
You asked about hazards to being an author. I just described the most critical – psychological distress. I could give you a few more examples of it based on my own experiences, but I could also give you examples of very kind and helpful strangers that I’ve met on this adventure so far – you are one, and thank you again for this interview.
Thank you so much Robert, it was a pleasure to have you on my blog. I particularly enjoyed reading about how you planned your novel.
Now check out the book:
“Lacy Dawn is a true daughter of Appalachia, and then some. She lives in a hollow with her worn-out mom, her Iraq War disabled dad, and her mutt Brownie, a dog who’s very skilled at laying fiber optic cable. Lacy Dawn’s android boyfriend has come to the hollow with a mission. His equipment includes infomercial videos of Earth’s earliest proto-humans from millennia ago. He was sent by the Manager of the Mall on planet Shptiludrp (Shop ’till You Drop): he must recruit Lacy Dawn to save the Universe in exchange for the designation of Earth as a planet which is eligible for continued existence within a universal economic structure that exploits underdeveloped planets for their mineral content. Lacy Dawn’s magic enables her to save the universe, Earth, and, most importantly, her own family.”
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