The more varied a writer’s background, the more eclectic and organically interesting their output will be. It’s only natural.
Robert Dean is someone I thought I knew via Facebook, but after contacting and interviewing him, I realized I hardly knew him at all. This is the downside of social media, and the benefit of direct community networking. We’re all in this literary thing together, though we (or many of us) would prefer to stay in our hovels as much as possible, and hook up with like-minded folks from there. (This is the upside of social media…)
Here is an example of a guy that shares many of my own pop cultural influences, and even some Texas roots (even though his were originally planted in Chicago, and mine in New York), but you’d never confuse us, because Bobby is his own man, and his own writer, breathing vivid life into his own work across a wide field, effortlessly (or so it seems) encompassing both fiction and non-fiction. His artistic voice and creative energy are inimitable.
Welcome to Robert's world, which is comprised of a little of this, a little of that, a whole lot of everything in between. To call him "multi-faceted" is to give short shrift to his sundry sidelines.
In short: say hello to a born, straight-up, hard-working writer. Even if he didn't grow up that way...
Your current home base is Austin, a hub of artistic activity. Do do you consider yourself a “Texas writer” or is your heart still in New Orleans or Chicago?
The whole Texas thing is weird for me. I’ve only lived her for the last four years. I married into a DEEP Texas family. (Like, great-great-great granddaddy’s fought in the Texas revolution deep) So, I’m experiencing the state through a whole different lens than just some guy who moved to Austin, because Austin is cool and has tacos. I absolutely don’t consider myself a Texas anything. I’m just a dude who lives here. Granted, my wife’s family teaches me a lot about different parts of the state, and cultural aspects, but I’m so not a Texan.
Honestly, it took me till recently to embrace that I live here. We didn’t move to Austin for any other reason than we needed somewhere better to raise our kids. That, and I was burned out. Prior to Austin, I’d spend the last seven years in New Orleans. I love New Orleans with all of my heart and soul, but it’s a hard place to make a career as a writer, or really anything that’s not strictly tourism related.
I was writing, editing a magazine, and picking up freelance copy work, but I still had to slug it out in the French Quarter working in bars. I was beyond over that shit. If I had to hear “Three for one happy hour! You buy one beer, and you get two for free! Triple shot cocktails and three dollar shots!” I was going to blow my brains out. All I wanted was a job writing for a living and Austin has provided that.
Before that, I lived in Chicago, where I’m originally from. Poor me, I’ve gotten to live in three incredibly cool cities with a lot to offer. So, I have a weird love for different places, different cultural nuances that have rubbed off on me.
If anything, I think I carry the flag of the south side of Chicago, where I grew up. The south side is working class and no one grows up to be a writer. Everyone learns to be a trades guy, or do something with their hands. I’m proud of that work ethic I inherited from my parents, from my neighborhood. But, I haven’t lived in Chicago for over a decade. But, I also consider myself a New Orleans writer, too.
This is going to sound SO lame, but New Orleans was my real college. I move to New Orleans with $300 and all of my shit in my car. I had one goal, I was gonna come out of that city a fucking writer. I was gonna be someone who got paid to write. I slugged it out, lived on nothing, and paid my dues. I took a never ending beating with rejections, and made most of my mistakes down there. When I die, they’ll scatter my ashes in New Orleans. I miss it every single day.
And for those of you playing the home game, yes, Austin is the safest city I’ve lived in. But, really, I count my successes both for the working class of Chicago, but also for all of the weirdoes doing their thing in New Orleans.
Both cities raised me. Austin is cool, it’s a nice place to live and there’s always something to do. I’ve finally become comfortable with the idea of staying here and eventually moving to the middle of nowhere. I like that. I wanna build a compound. It’s gonna be dope. There will be horses and shit. Maybe a goat.
You've written in both the horror and crime genres. Do you have a preference as either writer or reader?
Crime is definitely more my wheelhouse. I love horror. I watch horror flicks, love Halloween, and read horror magazines. My subscription to The Creeps magazine just ended. But, when it comes to writing, I gravitate way closer to crime.
I’ve been writing a horror flick with my dude Todd who wrote this killer movie called The Mourning Hills, and it’s like ½ crime and ½ horror. I just couldn’t write straight up killing. I did that already with In The Arms of Nightmares. Even then, I tried to be so psychological because I was reading a ton of Murakami and thought I was smarter than I was.
But writing horror is tough because there’s a lot of suspension of belief in places I have a problem with and my brain wants everything to go a different direction. It’s weird. I can’t explain how it works up there. I’d love to write a straight up horror book in a few years.
I do have this fantasy of a Nightmares re-release where I can do a second edition and really scrub that shit out of that book. I think I could make it punch a lot harder. Maybe that could happen. Who knows?
As for crime, I can devour books on hustlers, boxers, pimps, sleazebags, winos all day. Show me a sketchy dive bar with a good jukebox and cheap cocktails and I’m in heaven. I could care less that the guy next to me did a bit in the joint. I’d rather drink Jameson with him than some dork dress jeans and a $200 shirt.
What is it exactly that drives you to write?
I wake up every single day ready to fight the world. At this point, I can’t function without writing, without thinking about it, or reading something. I’m neurotic as f*ck. If I’m not working toward getting better, I’m wasting time. If I’m not reading for a purpose, I’m wasting time. I can’t not write, it’s central to my being.
I need always to be writing a review, an essay, writing a poem, outlining a story idea. I never take a break. I can hardly sit still to watch a movie. I can only watch a movie without guilt if I’m happy with the current state of a project. If I’m deep in edits, and they’re just sitting there, they taunt me. The idea that I’m not writing the best stuff I possibly can destroys me. This is why I take anxiety medication.
What are your influences, literary and otherwise?
So many things, so many oddities, people, records, books, movies, and songs affect me – the best way I can explain what it’s like inside my head is like Forry from Famous Monster’s Ackermansion. For those reading who don’t know the Ackermansion, look it up on YouTube. Or as a new reference to go by, look up Del Toro’s Bleak House.
These guys have buildings bursting with ideas, with art, music, and movies. There are countless books, magazines, models, anything to inspire. For me, I’m influenced by stuff like Quentin Tarantino, Charles Bukowski, Elmore James, Hitchcock, Ed Wood, Monster flicks, Blaxploitation movies, The Munsters, The Addams Family, 1960’s cartoons, Rat Fink, The Simpsons, Mad Magazine, Chess Records era blues, Punk, Hardcore, Elmore Leonard, David Fincher, Serial Killers, James Ellroy, Haruki Murakami, The Rolling Stones, Rasputin, the art world, Jack White, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Cormac McCarthy, Hubert Selby Jr. Charles Manson. Hank Williams, Stephen King. Social Distortion, Lucero, Tom Waits. Noam Chomsky. William S. Burroughs, the beats, poetry, taxidermy. It’s just so much. It’s become such a patchwork of influences that it would be disingenuous to say I have like, three influences and that’s it.
What’s next for you?
I’ve been working my ass off on my latest book, A Hard Roll. It’s a crime book that dives deep into the New Orleans black market and crime culture. I’ve been working with Jacob Knabb, formerly of Curbside Splendor as my editor and I think we’ve put something together that sings. I’m super proud of it. I hope people enjoy it. Side note: if you’re looking for an incredible editor, hit up Jacob. He’s a f***ing wizard.
I also collaborated with my dude Todd Campbell out in New Orleans on a script called Marrowbone Holler. It’s a crime + horror hybrid set in Appalachia. I’m psyched on it, and I hope it sees the light of day. It’s been rewarding working with Todd on this project. He knows his shit.
Aside from those two, I’ve been working toward a goal to place ten short stories this year in various publications. So far, I’ve got six. I need four more.
I never sleep and I don’t want to.
Good night and good luck! (I take anxiety meds to sleep, btw...)
Robert Dean is a writer, journalist, and cynic. His most recent novel, The Red Seven, is in stores. He’s working on his newest novel, A Hard Roll. He also likes ice cream and koalas. He lives in Austin.
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Stalk him on Twitter: @Robert_Dean
PHOTO: BOBBY HILLIARD