Updated: Feb 25, 2019
| by Winter Lawrence |
The other day I was reading an amazing article about the importance of having a writing partner to help with accountability. In that regard, I’ve always been very fortunate. Over the years I’ve collaborated with so many wonderful people — both at school, while I was going for my M.A. in Creative Writing and English Literature, and also out in the real world, where I’ve met the most talented and encouraging writing partners. Of course, many people come to mind, but this month I wanted to talk about my writing buddy Robert Ashcroft, who has offered me so much guidance throughout my writing career and who has continued to provide me with the utmost support as I embark upon the journey of releasing my upcoming novel.
I sat down with Robert to ask some candid questions about his experience with the publishing process and how he’s feeling now that his book, The Megarothke, is nearing its six-month bookiversary.
(Q) Robert, you are such a talented writer and after completing your debut novel, The Megarothke, you were fortunate enough to find a publisher who adored your work. Tell us about the day you were notified about your book going under contract? What was your favorite part of the entire experience and in hindsight, do you have any words of wisdom for those seeking publication now?
(A) This is a great question! I actually got a call from the editor, Will Evans, about 48 hours before I was set to deploy to Honduras. Most of the contract was reviewed and negotiated in a wooden hut with termites falling down from the ceiling. I didn’t have any internet for the first week, so I would walk back and forth to the MWR (a sort or recreation center for soldiers) just to check if any new emails had come through.
My only advice to writers would be to get as many words down on the page as possible, and to try to establish a pattern of habits that let you enjoy writing. Energy drinks, whiskey, chocolate, a morning run, an afternoon walk ― maybe a candle or a statue or some mood music ― do things that reward you for writing, and enjoy the time you spend writing. You’ve got to really love a character before a reader will ever even notice them.
(Q) Your book is broken down into three parts and utilizes some pretty cool symbols throughout the text. I know you’ve done a lot of traveling abroad, so I couldn’t help but wonder if these symbols were somehow influenced by your prolific journeys? If not, where did you find them and why did you include them in your book?
(A) I was a Korean linguist, so I was always very interested in the Chinese characters (hanja) that they used before they invented their modern script. But the symbols aren’t really ideograms per se, they’re closer to sigils. I developed quite a few at the time but only four or five really survived. What’s crazy is that the sigil of the Megarothke, which was the first one I ever actually drew, didn’t make the final cut!
(Q) Another immediate eye-catcher in your introduction is the use of certain quotes. Before I read your book, I didn’t know that Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None was a philosophical novel about the fictitious travels of Zarathustra, written between 1883 and 1885 by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. How did you go about selecting the appropriate quotes for each section and how much did this book influence The Megarothke?
(A) I read Thus Spoke Zarathustra when I was living alone in Mexico after dropping out of college. The goal was to take my education into my own hands and read all of the books that were being overlooked in my university curriculum. That year off was a very formative time. I powered through a lot of the classics, from the Iliad and the Odyssey to Sartre and Camus.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra was particularly important because it’s so dense and authoritative, while also retaining a mystical, timeless quality. There’s something about it that cuts to the core of what it is to be a human, to struggle with yourself, with others, with the very concepts of purpose and being alive. And yet it’s never boring ― difficult, yes ― but not boring.
(Q) Let’s talk themes, because your book runs the gamut on some pretty intense issues. For me, I was instantly intrigued by the way you portrayed the environment and how helpless your characters felt in the dismal world that you had created for them. Is there an underlying message about our future in that regard? Or are there other themes, perhaps about morality, that you wanted to include?
(A) This will probably be the darkest book I ever write. It was a very dark period in my life and I wanted to compress a lot of what I was feeling ― about vanity and the need to dominate vs humility and the willingness to be vulnerable ― but I never wanted to lose sight of the action or plot. If I had to boil it down to one central idea, it would be: arrogance will destroy even the best ideas; it separates us from each other and from ourselves. Every step toward arrogance is a step away from empathy.
There are a lot of themes in the book: the Ubermensch and the Last Man, Master vs Slave Morality, whether or not humanity deserves the future.
What’s most surprising is how often Mathew doesn’t get discussed, or how often reviewers completely ignore the fact that he is transgender. He’s the only character that has a real narrative arc ― from passion to disillusionment ― and his chapters drive the philosophical core of the entire story. While Theo gets most of the screen time, it’s Mathew that undergoes the most profound changes and really struggles with the ideas. Is he a hero? Not at all. But he is the character I identify the most with on a fundamental level. I used to be very idealistic; I don’t know that I have the energy anymore.
One of the biggest themes, however, that I really want to make sure gets out there, is how good ideas ― beautiful ideas, even ― are so often maliciously abused by humans who only really want power. The queer community has united around a pretty basic belief: that many of us are different on the inside than society expects us to be based on outside appearances, and that we could all live more peaceful and loving lives if we set aside these “outer” expectations and allowed ourselves to live as who we truly are on the “inside.”
Christians of all varieties also unite around a beautiful idea: that we are all flawed and need love and forgiveness ― from God, from each other ― in order to live a full life. This is an outlook that encourages humility and tolerance. Both these ideas get horribly twisted by the main villain of the book. This is important, because I believe most of the problems in the world have arrived from this same premise: a beautiful idea in the hands of a horrible person.
(Q) You begin your first chapter with an intriguing yet seemingly random Q & A, which some readers may overlook until they run into it again right in the middle of the next chapter. Who, or maybe in your book’s case, what is asking and answering the questions, and what was your inspiration to use this format? More importantly, did you ever worry about confusing or losing a reader with this technique?
(A) In The Godfather, there is a scene where Don Corleone gets shot and spills a basket of oranges. The angle is from an apartment window overlooking the market, so you can see the oranges tumble out into the street. Coppola had to debate with some of the senior staff to get this angle included, because they said, “Who’s looking down into this market? You’re going to confuse the audience.”
This is a perfect example of how industry professionals can over-analyze a lot of the quirks that make writing and reading fun. Readers want a good story; they want an honest voice. It’s only when the editor gene gets switched on that people start to overthink tense, POV, etc.
Then there’s a certain side of me that thinks: if someone quits because they don’t understand an issue of format, or maybe a few new vocab words, it’s for the best. I want a certain, very specific type of reader: an adventurous, curious, thoughtful reader. Of course, I think any fan of The Megarothke is not only the perfect reader but also an amazing person, with a really remarkable past and an incredibly bright future!
Robert, you’ve shared some truly profound and candid responses here and I can’t thank you enough for taking time out of your busy schedule to discuss The Megarothke. I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts on your book, your writing process, and your publishing adventures. Many congratulations on your upcoming six-month bookiversary and many well-wishes on your continued success!
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Robert Ashcroft has worked as a State Department contractor and was recently mobilized to serve abroad with the U.S. Army Reserve.
A lifelong fan of science fiction, Ashcroft spent nearly a decade after college staying up late to write novels, at one point going so far as to quit his job and rent an apartment in Mexico City.
Trained as a cryptologic linguist (with experience in Korean and Spanish), the study of foreign cultures, languages and belief systems has been a lifelong priority and his main goal for the foreseeable future is to be able to travel and encounter interesting people and ideas.
Readers, to learn more about Robert or to purchase a copy of The Megarothke, you can visit him at his Amazon author page.