Q & A with Robert Peate

Q: Favorite author or story and why?

A: Dante, The Comedy (Il Commedia)–not The Divine Comedy, as most say.  More appropriate would be The Universal Comedy, which is what he meant.  Virgil leads Dante through Hell and Purgatory, then Beatrice leads Dante through Heaven.  Dante merged his political exile, his love for Beatrice, and his religion into a brilliant 14,233-line poem that organizes the afterlife and rhymes every third line.  Amazing.

Q: Why do you write?

A: I can’t help it.  I enjoy it.  To share ideas.

Q: Do you ever ask yourself why you spend your time telling stories, the world being what it is?

A: No, I don’t ask myself that.  I write fiction because the World is what it is.  Escapism should be on Maslow’s heirarchy.  “Fiction has helped me move up Maslow’s hierarchy,” an acquaintance of mine said.  But fiction is not just entertainment; it is one of the devices we use to learn and make sense of our world.  Fiction provides cathartic resolution of real-world issues.  Believe it or not, during the experience of stories we form judgements and make resolutions on how to deal with our real problems.  Our views are challenged, reinforced, or both.  We learn things we did not know before.  Fiction is kind of training for Reality.

I see what I do as a very high calling, one made possible by many other kinds of work, therefore a great responsibility.  To have someone lend me her or his mind, to let me influence it with my words–think of that!

Q: What are the skills and qualities of an excellent writer?

A: To be able to keep the big picture in mind, to organize the larger whole, while turning a pretty phrase.  To surprise the reader.

Q: Describe a creative challenge you experienced and what you learned from it.

A: For a long time I didn’t see the value of editing.  I didn’t think I needed it.  Then I started editing Money’s Men and saw the value.  Now I want to edit all my work.  I have my publisher, Dan Marshall, to thank for this revelation.  He made me do it, and he was right.  Boy, was he right!

Q: What would you like from your readers?

A: Reading but also responses.  I would like to know what they think of my work, which is really just one part of the larger conversation we’re all having.  They can and should email me at robert@robertpeate.com or review my work online.  Go ahead–I don’t bite!

Q: Describe a time when you wrote something that pleasantly surprised you.

A: I think “Chasing Kerouac”, a short story I wrote in 2008, is the only perfect story I have ever written in terms of structure.  I hope someday to write as well again.

Q: What are your weaknesses as a writer, and what can you do to address them?

A: I am good at complications and bad at climaxes and resolutions.  I think most writers are, so to an extent I blame the lack of good role models, but only to an extent.  To do better, I can practice.

Q: How does a writer succeed today (and how do you define “success”)?

A: By writing and promoting her or his writing.  I define “success” by being read.

The World and publishing are changing.  This is a good thing.  Let us get words and ideas out of the hands of a few and into the hands of the many, or all.

Q: What is your advice to writers?

A: Really it’s to everyone.  Do what you love.  If others love it, great.  If others don’t love it, at least you did what you loved.  There is no other success.  I write what I want regardless of others, and a few readers actually like it.

Q: What are you wrestling with right now?

A: Writing the heaviest stories I have ever written.

Q: What do you hope to do with your current project?

A: Change the World.  Of course, I hope that with every project.

Q: What do you say to anyone suffering writer’s block?

A: Write about it.

Q: How have social media influenced your work?

A: From 2001 to about 2010, I used LiveJournal for blog posts of all lengths.  Since what I call the Great Facebook Migration of 2010, when Facebook really took off, my posts have been shorter.  Regardless of my post sizes, I find social media don’t interfere with bigger inspirations.  Oftentimes my conversations there provide inspiration and material, most notably for Sisyphus Shrugged, Money’s Men, and “The Vegans”.

Q: Where do we find your work?

A: Just whistle.

Q: What is the best part of being a writer?

A: There are two things.  The first is inspiring others.  I have had several persons tell me I have inspired them either to begin or to resume writing.  That makes me feel greater than anything else.  Then the living forever in text, of course.  When I think of the countless human beings who have lived and died unknown to us today, whose joys, sorrows, and pains will never be known to us, I think how fortunate I am to be a writer.  When I say the best part of being a writer is immortality, I do not mean having my name known; I mean being able to share ideas and feelings beyond my death.  That, to me, is the greatest power on Earth.

But yet it pains me I am able to share so little of my experience, due to the limits of the human condition.  Really, what are shared are the tiniest slices.  Life is Life and cannot be captured fully.  What is written are the barest hints of the larger experience.  We all know this.

Q: I struggle with stories.  I feel I stumble over all the he-said she-said stuff, and I feel I’d have to know where the story is going and how to get the characters there.  I never just let my writing “take over” as some people can.  I’m always trying to push a point or express an emotion.

A: I know the ending, not how it will get there. That’s what makes it fun.

Q: Does it naturally progress to the ending on its own, or do you have to push it along or manipulate it at points?  Does it ever lead to an ending you weren’t planning on?

A: I only manipulate it to the extent that I feel strongly about the outcome. If I feel strongly about the outcome, I will make sure it gets there, while still only manipulating to the extent necessary. If I don’t, for example in a short story, sometimes I let the ending surprise me. But surprise endings are rare. I usually know where it’s going, because I have a message or point to get across, but sometimes the ending will happen and I will suddenly just know it. Of course, even then the story was already “about” a certain topic.

Q: Any pet peeves?

A: The question I hate the most as a writer is, “What do you write?”  The only way to learn what someone writes is to read it.  As for what kind of things I write, I don’t know the answer to that question.  I write my kind of things.  I write novels, short stories, poems, and nonfiction.  How many kinds of things are there?  As for genre, I write funny and serious, deep and thought-provoking works of fiction primarily.

Q: For what do you want to be known or remembered?

A: Depth, morality, humor, and of course my extraordinary good looks.

Q: For what are you grateful?

A: My children, my wife, my health, and my ability to write.