Rob Howell

Rob Howell
Rob Howell

Rob Howell’s Biography

Rob Howell is the publisher of New Mythology Press (https://chriskennedypublishing.com/new-mythology-press/), including his work as editor of the Libri Valoris anthologies of heroic fantasy. He is one of the founders of the Eldros Legacy (www.eldroslegacy.org) and an author in the Four Horsemen Universe (www.mercenaryguild.org). He writes primarily epic fantasy, space opera, military science fiction, and alternate history.

He is a reformed medieval academic, a former IT professional, and a retired soda jerk.

His parents discovered quickly books were the only way to keep Rob quiet. He latched onto the Hardy Boys series first and then anything he could reach. Without books, it’s unlikely all three would have survived.

You can find him online at: www.robhowell.org, on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00X95LBB0, and his blog at www.robhowell.org/blog.

Interview with Rob Howell

Why are you here?

I got here in part out of desperation. In 2012, my second marriage had failed. I achieved the status of All But Dissertation in my pursuit of a Ph.D. in Medieval History, but I realized the academic world was no place for me. However, that education made it difficult to find a job.

So I decided in 2014, after wallowing in frustration and depression, to try writing the Great American Novel. I have always been a voracious reader, but hadn’t written much up to that point. However, I had nothing to lose, and with the help of my mother, I started A Lake Most Deep.

That came out on April 30th, 2015, and it was a life-changing moment. Oh, it wasn’t because it was an instant bestseller or anything like that. However, I had a physical copy of something in my hand. Something I’d created. Even if it was awful, I’d done something, and that was huge for me at the time.

I’m proud of A Lake Most Deep. It suffered from many first novel issues, and I made a bunch of mistakes in terms of formatting and publication, but one cannot write a second novel without writing a first one.

However, it gave me a chance to really pay my respects to some of my favorite authors. Tolkien is the foundation, in part because my focus for my doctorate was 10th-century Mercia and I not only read everything Tolkien wrote about Middlearth, I also read his scholarly work. His discussion of the Finnsburh Fragment and the Finnsburh Episode is fantastic. It also inspired me to write a short story set on Mars, “The Chaos of Well-seeming Forms” from We Dare.

There are a bunch of other influences for me, too. David and Leigh Eddings, C.S. Forester, Elizabeth Moon, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ursula K. LeGuin, Gordon Dickson, Ed McBain, David Weber, David Drake, John D. MacDonald, Andre Norton, Raymond Chandler, and Tom Clancy all come to mind quickly. However, one author in particular influenced my writing style: Robert B. Parker. It is no stretch to say that the Edward stories are really Spenser stories in a Tolkien version of the Balkans.

Why the Balkans? Because I did an archaeological dig at a place called Markovi Kuli on a mountain overlooking Skopje, Macedonia. Achrida is actually the Classical name of Ohrid, which is almost exactly as I describe it in the Edward stories, at least in terms of the vivid greens, reds, blues, and shining limestone.

I must also mention my biggest inspiration, and that’s Neil Peart of Rush. Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee also inspire me, but it was Neil’s intertwining of lyrics that first turned me on to poetry. He is also the one that, when I’m down and frustrated, I look to for that extra kick in the pants. I never met him. I was never likely to ever meet him. And yet I can’t think about his passing in January 2020 without crying.

Describe your great Lab of Creation?

My great lab was actually a mother-in-law suite in my house when I bought it. We’ve added a bunch of bookcases, a large wraparound desk, and a tall cat tree for my daily supervisors.

The office also has a bathroom with a shower sized for really thin elves. I’m sure people have used it as a shower, but we use it to hold our brooms and mops. It’s big enough for those. Barely.

I also write and work regularly at Brewbaker’s at the corner of 95th and Renner in Lenexa, KS. They treat me very well, and I have my table at the back where I can sit and work in my little bubble. It’s refreshing because I can look up and get energy of people having fun. Also, it’s a little quirk in my brain that I have trained myself that when I go into Brewbaker’s, I’m going to work, and hence I’m always extremely productive there.

If I were to give one piece of advice to people who work from home, it’s to figure out which tricks actually help your productivity.

I’m often asked if working in a bar or coffee shop is distracting, but I can’t really work without music in the background. As I type up this answer, I’m listening to Queensryche’s version of Scarborough Fair. Yes, Queenryche. Yes, that Scarborough Fair. It’s brilliant. Anyway, I have to have something playing or I feel the lack.

What are your superpowers?

So this question basically asks what I think I do well. It’s always hard to answer something like that, because I’m like most authors and suffer from imposter syndrome. There are days I don’t feel like I can do anything well.

I believe I’m strongest with my dialogue, though. I give a lot of credit for that to Parker, who has a short, sharp dialogue style, especially in his Spenser series, that I find quite enjoyable. It’s something I work at.

I also think I do pretty well with giving my characters a chance to play to their strengths. A recent reviewer of The Feeding of Sorrows said he really appreciated that my antagonists were strong characters and, most importantly, competent. That was a fantastic compliment to receive, because it’s something I aim for.

My writing style is based on the idea that I create situations, then role-play what the characters do. To this, I must thank my various theater teachers, especially Misty Maynard (who still runs plays each summer in the Kechi Playhouse, Kechi, KS). Anyway, they taught me how to put myself into the character, whatever the character was, and I used those skills playing RPGs over the years. Now I essentially play an RPG where I’m both DM and all the player characters. And for that matter, all the NPCs too.

What will Lex Luthor use to defeat you?

I don’t think we have time to list all the challenges I’ve faced that have frustrated me, which is the basic part of this question.

I really struggle at certain parts in the writing process. Somewhere between 50-70k, I get bogged down and lose track of where I’m going. That’s because I’m generally a pantser. There’s often a stretch where words come out in small, grudging pieces, as if the story decides I’m not good enough to be the one to write it.

Then there are those brain weasels. To finish a book is a major accomplishment. Many don’t finish one. Yet, at some point in every major project I work on, there’s a point where my brain tries to sabotage me. Tries to convince me I’m not worthy of success, even if whatever I do is objectively good.

This is true in every endeavor I’ve tried in my life. I’m in my 50s now, and I still fight it. I’m not sure I ever won any of these battles until I finished A Lake Most Deep. It never gets easier, but I’m getting tougher and grimmer as I grow older, with a lot more determination now than I’ve ever had.

That’s probably way deeper than you wanted to know, but these brain weasels have always been my greatest challenge. I can learn to do many things, as I have learned to fight this battle, but I have never learned to defeat them once and for all.

That being said, if I could go back and change anything it would be to have started writing in my teenage years. I am so envious of people who started honing their craft at that age. I’m also envious of their collection of scraps. When I started this, I had very few words to draw on as raw materials. Those scraps are fantastic raw materials, no matter how wretched they might be.

So there’s a big piece of advice. Save all the stuff that didn’t make the cut. You never know when that’s the one scrap that fits into a puzzle.

But the real piece of advice I’d give anyone thinking about writing is to write a little bit each day. Yes, there are a few writers who can punch out massive amounts of words in a short time. Chances are, you’re not one of them. Chances are, you’re more like me, which is to say, someone who has to keep throwing a few hundred, maybe two-three thousand, words at the pay nearly every day.

It doesn’t sound like much. One thousand words is about four pages. It’s not, actually, all that much, but it is a bunch when you do that day after day, week after week. It adds up.

The last piece of advice I’d give is to understand that at times you have reasons not to write. Reasons, not excuses. If you move, you’ll find writing hard because it’s exhausting. Same for raising kids. When I finish a novel, I’ve started trying to schedule a week or so where I’m mostly puttering at various small projects that build up. Whatever I write during that time is a bonus. Then, after giving myself that rest, I get back to kicking out 1k/day.

There’s no alternative to writing but to actually writing. I wish I could tell you otherwise.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Statler and Waldorf
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? I’m going to toss out a couple great medievalesque groups, Wolgemut and Corvus Corax. They basically play medieval songs in a metal style. Brilliant stuff.
  • Favorite Superhero? I’ve never been big into superheroes, but I’m going to say Rocket Raccoon. I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy.
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Lots of choices, but probably the best to me are those later years of M*A*S*H, which I realize rolls into the 80s. However, those episodes with Winchester as the foil are often brilliant.
  • Favorite Weird Color? Cyan, I guess. I’m a Hammer’s Slammers fan after all.
  • Favorite Sports Team? Dallas Cowboys, easily. Been a fan since 1972 so I’ve seen the best and the worst. I’m also a fan of the Texas Rangers, Manchester United, Wichita State, and Kansas.
  • Best Game Ever? Dungeons & Dragons and its variants (Pathfinder v1.0 especially). I don’t know where I’d be if I hadn’t gotten it. Also, I’m always up for a game of bridge. It’s a family game I learned somewhere around eight.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall. The crisp fall nights in October with that chill warmed by a fire crackling with leaves? Best nights ever.
  • Best Present You’ve Ever Received? I’ve been lucky, so it’s difficult to pick just one. I’m going to cop out and say my mom giving me the opportunity to write.
  • What Cartoon Character Are You? Scooby-doo. Always a little off-kilter. Always smiling. And always ready for a snack!
  • Your Wrestler Name? The Weighty Welshman!!!
  • Your Signature Wrestling Move? The rarebit. Don’t ask.
  • How Will You Conquer the World? Whimsical comments that no one finds funny until two hours later.
  • Best Thing From the 80s? Moving Pictures by Rush. OK, OK, that’s too easy. I’ll go with Conan the Barbarian. It’s a great movie, but an even better soundtrack by Basil Poledouris. I will also accept The Princess Bride.
  • Favorite Historical Period? 10th-century Mercia, duh. Well, all of Anglo-Saxon England. Can’t forget Kievan Rus, though. And there’s the Pacific Theater. And… Look, I’m a historian, they’re all interesting to me.
  • Most Interesting Person In History? Again, so many to choose from. I’ll pick someone no one else is likely to pick, and that’s Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great. She ended up leading Mercia in war alongside her brother, Edward the Elder, king of Wessex. She was the core of my research into 10th-century Mercia.
  • Steak Temperature? Medium rare.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Really spicy white cheese dip.
  • Favorite Cereal? I haven’t eaten cereal in years. I guess I’ve eaten more Life than anything else.
  • What Do You Eat For Your Last Meal? I grilled steaks with stuffed mini-peppers. Tonight I covered it all in Cajun spice, with lots of garlic mixed in with the sour cream in the peppers.
  • Beverage(s) of Choice? I’m an IPA hound. That’s my go to. I also drink Diet Dr. Pepper and unsweetened ice tea.
  • Do You Have Pets? (provide pictures if you want) Lots! We have four cats and our stepdaughter has a lab-mix puppy and her own kitty. What do you mean cat fur isn’t appropriate upholstery fabric?
  • What Actor or Actress Should Portray You in Your Biopic? Weird Al in his Fat costume. Humorously, I looked so much like Al when I was younger, that’s what most people called me.

Tell us again where we can find your stuff?

And where can we find you?

I usually attend the following conventions and events each year.

  • January: ShadowCon (Memphis, TN), ChattaCon (Chattanooga, TN)
  • March: Gulf Wars (Hattiesburg, MS), FantaSci (Durham, NC)
  • June: Lilies War (Smithville, MO), LibertyCon (Chattanooga, TN)
  • August: Pennsic War (Slippery Rock, PA)
  • September: DragonCon (Atlanta, GA)
  • November: 20Booksto50k (Las Vegas, NV)

Plus a number of others as opportunity arises.

Hope to see you all there.