(Photography Akos Major)
Glad to. I was born and raised in the American south, which is certainly reflected in my writing. For the past thirteen years, I’ve lived and worked in South Korea as an English teacher. For the past three years, I’ve also been a writer.
How did you end up moving from the American south to teach English in South Korea?
I was wrapping up my fifth year of college, without a clue as to what I wanted to do afterwards. A girl I was interested in at the time mentioned teaching English overseas. Sadly, things didn’t work out with the girl, but the English teaching thing stuck with me. After I graduated, I started looking into it more seriously. I had my sights set on Japan, and answered a few ads.
I don’t know how any Koreans wound up with my contact information, but they started contacting me. Japan was kind of competitive, but Korea, it seemed, would take anyone they could get (even if that person had never expressed any interest in working in Korea, apparently). The money looked good, and they were willing to buy my plane ticket over there, so I took a chance.
When and why did you decide you wanted to write a novel (or novels) and how did you decide upon the Critical Failures Series?
The decision to write a novel was an easy one. Everyone wants to write a novel. Sitting down and actually doing it was a little harder to do.
I had taken a bunch of creative writing courses in college. During that time, I had written some vignettes about a group of teenage girls with involuntary supernatural powers. Taking classes was nice, because a deadline and a grade were sufficient motivators for me cranking out some words. After I finished college, I didn’t write a creative word for nearly a decade.
So time passed. I moved to Korea, landed a job teaching English at a college, and got married. The nice thing about the college job was that it involved a lot of down time. I spent most of that time playing Civilization on the computer in my office until I decided that I wanted to do something more productive with my time.
So I dusted off the characters from my college days and decided to write a novel-length book about them. I spent three years on it. Some of it showed a bit of promise, but a lot of it felt really forced. I was pretty close to crapping out an unsatisfying ending when, out of the blue (though I’d been playing a lot of D&D at the time), another idea struck me.
What if you and your friends got to live the game for real? What if you and your friends were a**holes?
I knew right from the beginning that if I tried to explain it to anyone, it would sound completely lame. But it wouldn’t be. If I could get what was in my head down on paper successfully, it would be awesome (for a very specific demographic). At any rate, it would be much better than this shitpile I had been typing out for the past three years.
But I didn’t want to just up and abandon the project that I’d spent so much time on when I was nearly at the end. So I spent another week or so finishing my first novel, if for no other reason than to be able to tell myself that I’d written a whole novel. However crappy it was, it felt reassuring to know that I was capable of at least that much.
It was then that I made a mistake which I think a lot of aspiring writers probably make, especially in today’s anything goes self-publishing climate. I felt I deserved something for all the hard work I’d put into that book. Maybe it wasn’t the best piece of literature out there, but it had its moments. And that was three goddamn years of my life! I was going to be compensated.
(SPOILER ALERT: No, I wasn’t.)
I started querying agents, trying to get representation for my book. Unsurprisingly, no one was in the least bit interested.
In the meantime, I started writing Critical Failures, and knocked out a first draft in about three months.
Many of your readers enjoy the humorous aspect of your writing, including antics, commentary and shortsighted (stupid) actions of your characters. Where does such inspiration come from and do you find it easier or more difficult than other aspects of writing?
This is a difficult question to answer, but I’ll try. When I read the question, my brain got to work making associations. The old maxim “Comedy is hard” came to mind. Then I giggled at the word “hard”.
And so my brain went to work again, digging through all the files of my past memories to make further associations, and I remembered this old Orkin commercial from years ago.
At the end of the commercial, the Orkin Man says “Ants are tough. Orkin’s tougher.” I went from there to what will be the title of an upcoming blog post, as well as possibly my new mantra.
“Comedy is hard. I’m harder.”
And that pretty much sums up how my comedy writing is inspired.
Here’s the description for your first novel in the Critical Failures set of adventures:
Tim and his friends find out the hard way that you shouldn't question the game master, and you shouldn't make fun of his cape. One minute, they're drinking away the dreariness of their lives, escaping into a fantasy game and laughing their asses off. The next minute, they're in a horse-drawn cart surrounded by soldiers pointing crossbows at them. Tim now has the voice and physique of a prepubescent girl. Dave finds that while he lost a foot or two in height, he somehow acquired a suit of armor and a badass beard. Julian's ears have grown ridiculously long and pointy. And Cooper... well Cooper has gotten himself a set of tusks, a pair of clawed hands, and a bad case of the shits. He also finds that he's carrying a bag with a human head in it - a head that he had chopped off when they were still just playing a game. Shit just got real, and if they want to survive, these four friends are going to have to tap into some baser instincts they didn't even know existed in their fast-food and pizza delivery world.
With that in mind, what readers do you feel would enjoy your books and short stories?
I’ve been surprised at the variety of people who read my books. I’m the primary audience I write for, so I figured my target demographic would be thirty-something year old males who used to (or still do) play Dungeons and Dragons. And yeah, I get a lot of those. But I also get a surprising amount of female readers, often with no history of gaming.
Take a look at my Facebook page stats:
Sure, my male thirty-somethings are the biggest group, but they’re hardly ahead by leaps and bounds.
You don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy my books. In fact, one of my core characters, Julian, has never played the game before. I wrote him like that, in part, to act as a sort of surrogate for readers with little to no gaming experience.
Anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of gratuitous swearing and toilet humor should be able to enjoy my work.
What can readers expect from you in the future?
More of the same. I’ve fallen into a pattern that I aim to continue. One novel, followed by six short stories, followed by the next novel, and so on. As of right now, I’ve just finished the first draft of what will be the fourth short story between novels 3 and 4. The short stories are good for marketing purposes (like flooding Amazon category lists with my titles), but they’re also good from an writing angle. I feel freer to experiment, to take creative risks that I might not want to take in one of the novels, and sometimes to just be silly.
For example, the one I’ve just finished the first draft for is called The Land Before Tim. Here’s the cover my brother-in-law made:
It’s a self-contained mini-adventure that includes a lot of Jurassic Park references. It was fun to write, but it’s not something I feel belongs in one of the novels.
Thanks for taking the time to answer questions, Robert.
Thank you for taking an interest in me and my work. This self-publishing gig is a long, hard road.
Places where you can learn more about Robert Bevan and his works: