We’ve been campaigning for Mike Robinson for some time. This guy is just damn impressive with words, and he’s got an imagination that is genuinely worth exploring. We’re not about to slow our support. The fact that Mike’s also a really relaxed, easy to approach guy only made the decision to get an interview worked up that much more obvious. The world needs to know this guy, and hopefully, this Q and A session can help make that happen in some small way.
Conducted by Vitina Molgaard
HorrorNovelReviews: I want to discuss some of your works here but I first want to get a feel for who you are personally. Is there any special thing or person that inspires you to write?
Mike Robinson: Nothing specific, to be honest. Stimulating conversation inspires me. Books inspire me. Random observations, travels, and people-watching inspires me. I think at its core a published book is like an elaborate personals ad. You want to reach out to people like yourself and connect with them, even if they happen to live on the other side of the world, or a century in the future.
HNR: Favorite novel of all time, barring genre restrictions?
MR: That’s a near impossible question for me, actually, though I always love to get it because it challenges me to meditate on which of my beloved books were so because of that time period, or because of something more permanent (ideally, it’d be both). I have so many authors I love for so many various reasons, so in the interest of brevity I’ll cite the five novels that sparked the largest milestones in either my personal philosophy or artistic development, or both: It by Stephen King, Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch (non-fiction), Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, and Ulysses by James Joyce.
HNR: What was the first horror novel you read?
MR: I read pretty early the Alvin Schwartz Scary Stories series (man how I love its illustrations), but novel-wise, hmmm…..I used to read those Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine, but those were really just candy, although I’m sure they could impart a lesson or two in pacing. Stephen King’s Christine was the first true horror novel I recall reading.
HNR: Are you big on genre films? If so, what are some of the movies that have had a major impact on you?
MR: Being an Angeleno (an L.A. native), film runs in my DNA. I love good movies of all genres, but I’m most drawn to those that strive for originality and intellect. So I love all things Stanley Kubrick, Coen Brothers, Woody Allen, David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, and Werner Herzog. Some particular genre notables for me include 2001: A Space Odyssey, Eyes Wide Shut, A Clockwork Orange, Crimes and Misdemeanors, The Dark Knight, The Cabin in the Woods (hilarious, and it challenges us to tear down tired horror formula and start anew), The Matrix, Donnie Darko, Mulholland Drive, Wall-E, No Country for Old Men, E.T., Mean Creek, The Ring, Jurassic Park. I’ll cork it off here.
HNR: I understand that at the age of seven you wrote your first story, “Aliens In my Backyard”. That is quite impressive, displaying your desire to create and actually doing so at such an early age. Did you have familial influence to encourage you or was it just a fantastic imagination ready to be set free?
MR: I was very fortunate (and still am) to have full familial support, but I was never particularly influenced or prodded into writing. Stories just kind of spilled out of me. I wanted to be like the authors I was reading. Certainly it was my parents who first put a book in front of me, so that counts. But writing (and drawing) came as naturally as eating, or urinating. And sometimes as urgently.
HNR: Do you feel that you create your stories from your own personal experiences?
MR: I do, yes, but a lot of what is drawn from personal experience is either exaggerated or embellished, and often mixed in with things downright fabricated. More often than not, it’s always some personal experience that inspires an idea in the first place. But my brain is always running partially in day-dream mode, a tendency that as a kid probably made me seem irritatingly “special” to others. So ideas will also just spring forth from that background hum of brainstorming.
HNR: Your stories often deal heavily with psychologically flawed characters, an aspect I thoroughly enjoy. Do you believe your readers may find any difficulty in relating to these types of personalities?
MR: Some might, but I try to familiarize the strange personalities with ordinary surroundings, such as a small town, or the suburbs, or with circumstances that, while perhaps less mainstream, might prove interesting and accessible. Those who have felt or thought anything similar to such characters will see themselves in them, and I hope such readers might feel somehow vindicated, or less alone. Those with less empathy for these characters I hope will, if they have an open, imaginative mind, be prompted to consider new questions regarding themselves and their world.
I love provoking thought. Truthfully, I don’t have much patience for a story these days if there isn’t something deeper to consider about it. Escapist fluff just isn’t my thing, as a writer or reader. That’s why I love horror — by its very nature, it often confronts questions of reality, and explores our basest emotions. It goes for the marrow of existence.
HNR: Most people have favorite authors that influenced them, which ones have affected you? Both in a positive and or negative way?
MR: That’s another loaded one for me. My favorite stylists are Ray Bradbury, for his musical imagery, Kurt Vonnegut, for his wry, immaculate economy, James Joyce, whose text bursts with sensory flair, Clive Barker, with his gruesome yet elegant poetics, H.P. Lovecraft, whose archaic romanticism works so perfectly for what he does, Cormac McCarthy, for his thunderous atmospherics, Tom Robbins, whose passages overflow with innovative and humorous observation, and Raymond Chandler, who defines all of what is cool about noir. As with the movie question, I could probably go on and on. They’ve all left thumbprints on my own style. On the negative side, I think Jack Kerouac and the Beats caused a misstep in my development. The fault is not with them. More that, at the time, I was half-consciously trying to emulate On the Road’s existential mania. I failed, probably because the story in question did not necessarily call for such mania.
HNR: Based on what I’ve read you don’t seem to draw too much from gore, but rather delve into more subtle aspects of the psychological and the paranormal type of horror. Do you find yourself particularly drawn into that arena of storytelling? If so can we expect more of that in the future?
MR: I think I got a lot of the gore out of my system when I was a kid, making little movies and writing short stories littered with body parts and split blood. Admittedly, I still get a visceral, primal thrill out of writing some gory scenes, but I think that’s also because I use such scenes sparingly. Really, though, showing the enormity of our ontological ignorance, the depths of our own psychology, seems to me light-years more frightening than splintered limbs. I love things that are just “not right”, that shouldn’t be. Whether they are of mind or matter, or both, makes little difference. The strange relationship our consciousness has with the world makes for a more effective basis of fear.
HNR: I am aware that you are not big on outlining your stories, at least not in any formal manner. Do you feel that gives you more freedom in letting your story grow?
MR: Cormac McCarthy said people have asked him if he plots things out. “No, that would be death,” is his reply. “You can’t plot things out. You just have to trust in wherever it comes from.” I take to this view. While I’m less reliant on the ether as I used to be as a younger writer, I still let the story and characters take me where they will. I wouldn’t want to box them into anything at the outset, because I know that once I begin, more ideas will snowball, and present themselves as I go, and I want to be open and receptive to them.
HNR: Now about Skunk Ape Semester, I cannot speak much on the book, since at this point I have only read a teaser. But it’s been brought to my attention that this one basically relies on the paranormal as well for the horror aspect, am I correct in stating this? You seem to favor that type of storytelling, is that a fair statement?
MR: I’d say it is. Of my available books, Skunk Ape Semester is the least classifiably “horror”. There are frightful moments, but they come more from the human side of things than the paranormal. The story involves a road trip to America’s areas of strange repute, all of which are drawn from real life cases. So the characters camp out for Bigfoot, search for the Chupacabra, seek out vortices in Sedona, interrogate those who’ve had extraordinary experiences. I think as writer I’m more fascinated with the human reaction to strange things, the psychological or cultural ramifications, than I am with the actual strange things.
HNR: Not to be over looked is your story The Green-Eyed Monster, which was my first journey into your work. The title itself speaks volumes for anyone who is aware of its origin and definition, that being jealousy. When you first began to write this particular novel was the title already something you had decided on?
MR: It was, actually. The Green-Eyed Monster stretches back to my childhood. It had its first incarnation, title and all, as a short story for my 6th grade English class. Then, for the next fifteen years, it packed on many novelistic pounds.
HNR: The Green-Eyed Monster was certainly my favorite novel from you thus far. Where do you think the novel ranks in relation to your complete body of work?
MR: Good question. I try to make every book distinct, so as to make direct comparisons more difficult, to challenge myself, to defy expectations, and also because I enjoy artistic experimentation. I dislike ever feeling repetitive or stale. The Green-Eyed Monster I think is the most structurally original of my published titles. I don’t have any particular favorite, though. Each book exists in its own universe in terms of my affection for it.
HNR: I know Negative Space was just released. Is there anything you can tell us about this one? Any minor details you might be willing to share?
MR: It was inspired by my stint at art school, here in Los Angeles, and is what I would call a cerebral thriller with heavy themes of art, metaphysics and evolution. It’s also the second entry in two loose trilogies, that of the “Van Trilogy”, the first of which is Skunk Ape Semester, and the “Twilight Falls Trilogy”, the first of which is The Green-Eyed Monster. The thirds of each trilogy have yet to be finished.
So while Negative Space is its own beast, it also provides a stepping stone towards illumination — and ultimate completion — of prior works. Neither sequel nor spin-off, it exists in a genre ‘negative space.’ Sorry, couldn’t help it!
HNR: What kind of promotion are you doing for the new release?
MR: I’ve got blog reviews set up, and will be doing signings and readings around Los Angeles, especially in Venice, as a good chunk of Negative Space takes place there. My filmmaker friend Roy Ferre has also directed two fantastic book trailers: a teaser, which you can see here, and a longer, more substantive trailer soon to drop. Facebooking and Tweeting are integral, too, of course. It’s a slow, steady adventure.
HNR: Anything to say to those who have been supporting your work?
MR: Thank you. Also, thank you. And, finally, thank you. I’m infinitely appreciative of everyone who takes a ride aboard just one of my books, to say nothing of those who decide to take multiple rides. I hope I satisfied or enriched in whatever way possible, that I’ve added some unique flavor, dimension or perspective to your life, to the world. Or, I hope you just enjoyed the ride! And, by the way, thank you.
A big thank you goes out to Mike Robinson for sharing some time with us! Be sure to check out Mike’s Amazon page, there’s some good stuff available!