Interview With Robert Gainey
Stolen dragon eggs, rogue wizards, a federal agent in a race against time. My first thought upon reading the blurb for Robert Gainey’s debut novel was, This would make a fantastic video game! Maybe that will happen someday, but for now we’re just lucky that we can enjoy this adventure in book form!
On June 28, The Wild Rose Press will release Dragon(e) Baby Gone—the first book in Robert’s Reports from the Department of Intangible Assets series. Robert joins us today to discuss his new book, his sensible take on bad reviews (not that he’s received any), how the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission inspired his new series, and much more.
Welcome, Robert! Tell us a little bit about Dragon(e) Baby Gone.
Dragon(e) Baby Gone is about an underfunded, overworked federal agent trying to track down some stolen dragon eggs before their big, bad mama notices they’re missing. It follows Special Agent Diane Morris of the Department of Intangible Assets as she does whatever it takes to complete her mission, including making a deal with a demonic entity known as Archades. Diane faces down mad wizards, crazed gunmen and elemental monsters from the Firelands, armed with her wits and determination. It’s all the Department could afford.
This is the first book in your Reports from the Department of Intangible Assets series. How many books will ultimately be in the series—and when can we expect to see the next one?
That’s a good question. I’d like to see half a dozen or more in the series, though I expect there’ll be as many as it takes for Diane to either retire or finally get transferred to a less dangerous assignment. The second book in the series, Witches Get Stitches, is already nearing completion, so I hope it’s made available very soon.
How did you get interested in the fantasy genre?
I grew up reading all kinds of things, but I had the privilege of getting a copy of The Hobbit when I was 9 or 10. There’s just something so vivid about the kinds of stories told in fantasy, in science fiction, that made an impact from an early age with me. With an active imagination, it was easy to see the world in a fantastic light, to refuse to believe in the mundane. I’d still rather see things that way, and I think fantasy as a genre helps with that.
What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m doing some final edits on the second book in the Reports from the Department of Intangible Assets series, with the working title of Witches Get Stitches. Once that’s done, I’ll probably kick around some short stories for which I’ve collected an impressive stack of notes.
Do you have a specific writing routine or process?
I’m a professional firefighter, and I do a lot of my writing at the fire station between calls and in down time. This doesn’t necessarily allow for the most consistent schedule, but it keeps me from getting too bogged down in the process. At home, I try to set aside a block of time every day to write, edit or research. It’s essentially chaos over here but it works. At least, usually.
Are you an outliner or a pantser?
Funnily enough, Dragon(e) Baby Gone is the first novel I’ve worked on where I did any kind of outline. Usually it’s more of an organic process, but I jotted down a very barebones outline of what I wanted, where things were going, plot threads and such. It seemed to keep things cohesive and helped with some of my end-stage editing.
What comes first, character or plot?
In this case, the character Diane and the Department of Intangible Assets came first. It actually came about from a conversation about how the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has some unusually broad powers. It was speculated that they needed such authority because they were trying to cover up the Florida Bigfoot population, and from there the idea kind of took life. The plot, and really the whole concept, changed radically over time, but the heart of it is right there.
Do you base your characters on real people or make them up from scratch?
All characters are entirely fictitious and any resemblance to real people is entirely coincidental. Right? On a serious note, no character is based on any specific person I know from real life. A lot of qualities are drawn from interactions, or from conversations, or just the general impression. If someone looks at a villain and says, “Hey! I take offence to that!” then just remember what my dad always says: If you throw a rock into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps is the one that got hit.
What is your favorite part, and least favorite part, of the publishing journey?
The best part is that feeling when you open an email and it says, “Congratulations!” instead of “We regret to inform you…” It’s sure to make anyone feel a little giddy, especially after a lot of hard work. My least favorite bit is probably the marketing part. I’ve got the salesmanship skills of a wet dog in a furniture store, so learning how to reach out and tickle people’s interest has been a challenge.
How do you deal with reviews, both positive and negative?
I’ll let you know when I have some of either.
But seriously, someone once told me to never let the positive feedback affect you more than the negative feedback. The opposite is also true. I’ve always genuinely enjoyed criticism, since usually it feels more honest and open than a lukewarm attaboy. Improvement is only earned through critical feedback. The only thing I prefer is that the insults be at least a little clever.
What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
Write for you. Write for fun. Write because it’ll let you sleep at night or because you’ve got something to say. Just write.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished up Young Men and Fire by Normal Maclean, which was an outstanding, grim true story of the Mann Gulch Fire. Next on my list is Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War by Judith Miller. Right now I’m on this history kick, which isn’t so much my normal vein, so I’m looking for suggestions on what’s good out there.
What kinds of books do you like to read?
It’s a little cliché to say “All kinds of books,” but it’s the truth. My library at the house is, I dunno, 60% sci-fi/fantasy, but I’m a huge fan of history, biographies, and other non-fiction. I’m a sucker for apocalyptic fiction, especially ones like Lucifer’s Hammer or Seveneves that includes both before, during, and after. Sometimes I want stories with happy endings, where the good guys triumph over evil, but sometimes the more satisfying story is the grim and gritty realism of a more nebulous morality.
How will you go about choosing the next book that you read?
Right now I’m working through a few books recommended by an instructor in a hazardous materials class. Aside from those, I get suggestions from family, friends, and sometimes strangers. Last Halloween, I looked up the top ten spookiest books on a couple lists and picked the ones that seemed to have unnerved the most people. It’s how I ended up reading The Troop, so I’d say it worked out.
Who is your favorite author?
Sir Terry Pratchett. Without a doubt in my mind the finest fantasy author to have ever lived. Pratchett exhibited the finest qualities of a writer in the way he showed his love for the craft with every sentence, every character, every story. There are a lot of passages from his books that leave you knowing that he had spent time just having fun with words for nobody’s sake but his own.
What’s your favorite book of all time?
Guards! Guards! by Sir Terry Pratchett is my favorite fantasy novel, probably my favorite overall. Every character is memorable and unique, the wit and criticism are on point, and I’m a sucker for a classic hardboiled detective fighting a dragon story.
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank is a close second. One of the best apocalyptic novels of all time, it avoids some of the grim, dark brutalism of more modern works by focusing on a community building from the ashes rather than tearing itself apart. I’ve always related to the Dan Gunn, the only doctor left in Fort Repose. Sometimes you’ve just got to make do with what you’ve got and make it work with stone knives and bearskins.
Would you rather be able to teleport or read minds?
Blurb for Dragon(e) Baby Gone:
“Dragon is hard to overcome, yet one shall try.”
– Nowe Ateny, Polish Encyclopedia, 1745
Diane Morris is part of the thin line separating a happy, mundane world from all of the horrors of the anomalous. Her federal agency is underfunded, understaffed, and misunderstood, and she’d rather transfer to the boring safety of Logistics than remain a field agent. When a troupe of international thieves make off with a pair of dragon eggs, Diane has no choice but to ally with a demon against the forces looking to leave her city a smoldering crater. Facing down rogue wizards, fiery elementals, and crazed gunmen, it’s a race against time to get the precious cargo back before the dragon wakes up and unleashes hell.
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