Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Robert Fate served 8 years in the Marine Corps, studied at the Sorbonne, and worked as an oilfield roughneck, a TV cameraman, a fashion model, a chef, a sales executive, a fabric painter for the garment industry, a scriptwriter for the soap Search for Tomorrow, an independent film producer, and an Academy Award-winning special effects technician. Around the age of 70, he tried his hand at writing crime fiction, which resulted in the Baby Shark series, told in the voice of a young woman named Kristin. The series has gotten good reviews and award nominations. (Baby Shark and Beaumont Blues, the first two books in the series, are Anthony Award finalists. Beaumont Blues earned a Library Journal starred review, book three, High Plains Redemption, earned a starred Kirkus review, book four, Jugglers at the Border received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.)

by Robert Fate

My Dearest Kaye –

I know I said yes––how can anyone say no to you? And though I normally like the sight of a blank page, all white, no marks, just waiting to be defaced by the written word, contributing to your successful blog was intimidating. Concerns such as these came to mind: How do I meet this challenge with something new? How do blogsters do it day-to-day? What wine would JT Ellison choose? Where did I leave my garter straps? Etc.

Well, since responding to questions is easier for me––and since easy constantly figures into the way I make choices––I asked Brant Randall (some know him as Bruce Cook) to fire some questions at me. I figured that only a magician could fathom what he might ask, given his twisted approach to life, and that in itself could be the originality, the fresh approach, I was seeking––along with inner peace, which is something else I always have an eye out for. Anyway, I felt Brant’s questions might make something interesting happen. Ha! (That slipped out. Sorry.)

So, all of the above is to say, if this goes to hell in a hand basket, Brant is to blame. I’ve included a picture of him so all may be warned as to his identity.

Brant: What prompted you to depart from your Baby Shark series?

Fate: You must be referring to Kill the Gigolo, the noir stand-alone I’ve just finished, wink, wink. I hope the rest of your questions aren’t going to be so blatantly self-serving. (Brant can be a twit and his first question is a good example.) But I should try to take him seriously. Well, Brant, there was a story and a character that had been kicking around in my old brainpan for a while. I tried it with a friend as a screenplay a few years back, but couldn’t get it to fly, so I thought after four Baby Shark stories, I’d just take a break, and see about a new angle on a story that I’d had in the drawer long enough. My hope is that the readers of the Baby Shark series will give me a chance to try something new. It’s darker than my series with characters that lie, cheat, steal, and murder, but live interesting, if hopeless, lives. I’m aware that noir is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve done one anyway, complete with an unscrupulous, cruel, and deceitful femme fatale––can it be noir without her?

Brant: How does writing multiple POV differ from the 1st person of Baby Shark?

Fate: Trickier than all gitout, he said without using expletives. There’s something comforting about being inside Kristin Van Dijk’s head. She’s a dangerous young woman who’s capable of doing violent things to bad people, but is basically a good girl. You sort of always know where you are with her, even when she’s killing someone. She’s taught me a thing or two about humanity as I’ve trailed along on her adventures and seen things through her eyes. Now this multiple point of view business is another matter. First you’re inside the Gigolo’s head, then you’re hearing the thoughts of a mafia soldier, or one of the gigolo’s amoral clients, or sharing memories with a mob hit man, or the dreams of a Mexican policeman. It took some getting used to, all that moving around from mind to mind. It’s a kind of literary democracy, really, since the reader is in on everything and can know about the schemes that are being hatched before the poor protagonist is blind-sided. But, in the end, the story gets told no matter how it’s done and for me that’s the important thing. I want the reader to be involved in the story and care about the characters––even if they are creation’s own worst nightmares.

Brant: Why did you start a new career as an author at 70?

Fate: When I was much younger, a woman I respected told me something that at the time seemed too straightforward to be taken seriously, but later I saw the wisdom of her advice. We were discussing me returning to college after my military service. She said the time would pass whether I attended university classes or not, but after that time was gone would I be looking back at a wasted opportunity or looking forward better prepared for the rest of my life? Time passes regardless of what we choose to do. Time passes, so what difference does it make what age we are? The best time to start something is today.

I’d never written a novel. I didn’t think that I could, even though I had written stage plays, screenplays, television scripts, magazine articles, poetry (oh, oh, my wife just fell asleep. The mere mention of my poetry puts her right out.) Anyway, even after all that writing, the novel seemed out of reach until I accepted an invitation to join a group of dedicated writers who had set a goal of writing a mystery novel and getting it published. Time passed. Instead of worrying about whether I could do it or not, I wrote Baby Shark. And then, Beaumont Blues. And then, High Plains Redemption. And then, Jugglers at the Border. And then, Kill the Gigolo.

I turned 75 in July. You asked me why I started a new career at 70. I think, after all things are considered, I did it to keep from having to look back and ask myself why I didn’t do it.

Brant: What impact does your previous work as a male model have on your writing?

Fate: Brant, my man, you are such a weird guy, and that is such a strange question. But, okay––let’s see. I went to NYC from L.A. in the mid-sixties, ostensibly to write a stage play with Don Chastain, a friend, who was, at that time, in the cast of a Broadway show. (Some may remember him from TV as Debbie Reynolds’ husband on The Debbie Reynolds Show.) It was the blind leading the blind when it came to penning a stage play, but looking back Don and I didn’t do too badly. Our finished product was read and considered. We got a shot. It was close, as they say, but no cigar.

Anyway––modeling. Well, having been born a member of the working class, a job was necessary to pay the rent and eat. So, as I considered labor, a girlfriend who was employed as a model in NYC suggested I give fashion modeling a try. She introduced me to some folks, I got hired, more work followed, and I ended up modeling for several years, and subsequently got a lot of writing done, as well.

That’s how that went down. Now, what impact did the work have on me as a writer besides the opportunity to practice removing adverbs from my finished products and putting food on the table at the same time? Every job I’ve had has exposed me to a new perspective and nothing can be more important to a writer. To have seen and done as many things as possible can only help when a story is unfolding in your mind, the smells, the sounds, the attitudes of the bit players––it all comes together better if you’ve had some first hand experience. During those years of modeling, I worked at and visited places I never would have seen without a job that provided a way in the door. I met folks in advertising, photography, the arts––people I might never have met if I hadn’t been modeling. To say nothing of the wardrobe I ended up with.

There was a minor celebrity that went with the work, too, that made it fun.  Strangers (mostly women) would say, “Aren’t you the guy in the Sak’s ads?” That sort of thing. After a picture of me landed on the cover of the New York Times Men’s Wear issue, I ran a copy by to show Robin Bright, a friend and noted fine artist. He took a look at the newspaper, and said, “Let’s go over to Fulton Street and watch ’em wrap fish in you.” In case you were wondering, that’s what friends are for.

I have sent along a copy of that Times Men’s Wear cover in case anyone is interested in a picture of Robert Fate at age 31. Eat your heart out, Brant.

Brant: Do you write to a schedule or wait for the muse to descend upon you?

Fate: I close my eyes, the muse is there––won’t leave me alone. I write every day and have written every day for years––always writing something. Not that everything I write needs to be read, most doesn’t––thought I’d beat Brant to the punch with that one.

But, for instance, I never think of a book as finished until it’s published, and it’s still a target, even then. I will fidget with it until someone pulls it from my grasp. My writing group routinely ignores the chapters I submit, knowing if they have two weeks before we meet, I will have rewritten what I sent at least twice––wait a minute. Two weeks? Make that four rewrites. I must say that there has never been any work that I have done that has been more satisfying to me than writing––and, in particular, the novel. Regret is an ugly thing and is to be avoided. Everyone knows that. But, between us, I wish I’d started writing novels years before I finally fell into it.

Brant: Since Baby Shark is a private eye type series, why did you go noir for Gigolo? What attracts you to noir? Are you afraid of losing your readers by going so dark?

Fate: Brant goes for the big finish. Notice how he ganged up on me with this last question? The simple answer to part one is the two stories are very different. A private eye story is optimistic. The reader never believes the private eye will fail in his/her attempt to right a wrong or save a client no matter how difficult that may be to accomplish. Baby Shark fills the bill. Kristin, Otis, and Henry all champion good over evil, and are willing to put their lives on the line to defend that point of view.

A noir story, on the other hand, is anything but optimistic––no heroes in that fiction. You wonder how the protagonist can meet so many losers, and which will be the one who suckers him in the worst way, who will be the greediest, or play the dirtiest trick on him? I am attracted to scenes of criminals squabbling over stolen goods. Anything is possible in an atmosphere drenched in greed and selfishness. I can imagine a reader not caring who wins those arguments, since all parties are equally depraved. But there will be, even in noir fiction, someone you can hope will survive, someone who might actually learn a lesson and straighten out his or her life. But that’s a lot to hope for in noir.

I’m hopeful the readers of the Baby Shark series will allow me to tell a different story now and again, even if it is a bit of a departure from what they consider the norm. I promise more Henry, Otis, and Kristin very soon––in fact, I am several chapters into a new story at this time. It takes place a year and a half after Jugglers at the Border, in the spring of 1960.

We are leaving the 50’s, but it will be a slow transition to the many revolutions that hit their stride in the mid-60’s. The series is easily two books away from Kristin and the gang having to face the major issues of the decade, i.e., sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, civil rights, Vietnam, feminism, et al, but you can count on our heroes adapting to the times––well, getting Otis to give up his fedora may be more trouble than it’s worth. We’ll see about that. And Jim and Linda have puppies to birth. Much to think on.

Thank you, Brant for the scintillating questions, and thank you Kaye, for the opportunity to appear on Meanderings and Muses––and sorry about the mention of my poetry that no doubt caused a large number of your readers to doze off.

My warmest best regards to everyone, Bob Fate


Julia Buckley said...

Great interview. I love your philosophical wisdom about time; so often we either squander it or don't appreciate it or tell ourselves it will stand still. :)

Vicki Lane said...

Wonderful post -- but I wish you'd included a taste of your poetry!

Meredith Anthony said...

Bob Fate ROCKS! I love the Baby Shark books and recommend them highly. And I can't wait to read the new noir!

JT Ellison said...

A blog of all my favorite people - lovely! I'd choose an especial wine then, a Piedmont Barolo, maybe like this:

Happy Late Birthday, Bob! Keep writing!