Mara Valderran: You've said that you are a big fan of science fiction and fantasy, having been won over by The Hobbit as a child. When did you first start writing for the genre?
Robert Poulin: I dabbled with writing throughout my teenage years but eventually life happened and the dream of authorship slipped into the background. My love of telling stories didn't disappear though and I found an outlet in tabletop RPG games. I have a large group of professional adult friends who still roll the dice on the weekends and I've been a GM for almost two decades now. The desire to start writing again resurfaced with my discovery of urban fantasy. Jim Butcher's Dresden Files in particular have been a big inspiration and I've really enjoyed the many Youtube videos in which Jim. Butcher also has some great articles and blog posts about the writing craft. Urban fantasy inspires me because it's a genre where the familiar world collides with the fantastic and all kinds of cool and crazy mayhem can ensue.
MV: Every writer has a different process. What can you tell us about yours? Do you have a set time to write? Do you plot first, or are you more of a pantser?
RP: I am both a planner and a discover writer. The first thing I do is to think of my story in terms of a movie, I visualize and then write down the various action scenes that I picture. Every good action scene needs a cool environment/location. This is where my research begins, finding cool locations and reading all about them. After I've picked out the location, studied, and built them up in my mind, I let the monsters go crazy on them. Once all these cool sets and action scenes are built, it's time to decide what characters go into them and why the event is taking place. Once the characters are assigned their scene and a reason for the scene is established, I try to outline it all into the three act play format. After all this, I start writing. I am in no way constrained by my advanced notes and outlines; I have no problem straying from them and often do. In the end, my story might be quite a bit different from the outline, but all of the action sequences will be there as envisioned. The characters themselves are the most likely to change during the course of a story and I in fact do very little pre planning for characters, I let them evolve as they will.
MV: What are some of your influences as a writer?
RP: As stated earlier, I read and listen to almost everyting posted by Jim Butcher. I also listen to the Writing Excuses podcast done by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler. I've also been learning a lot about writing from Alexandria Stokoloff's blog and books about screenwriting tips for authors. I've learned the most however from just reading. I am a big epic fantasy fan; I love George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan. Aside from Jim Butcher, I love Illona Andrews's Kate Daniels series, The Hollows by Kim Harrison, and Patricia Brigg's Mercy Thompson series. Oh, and I shouldn't forget Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series. There are so many good stories and authors out there, it's really a great time to be a reader, and I feel like I learn something new after each book that I finish reading.
MV: You've been working for the North Country Center for Independence for thirteen years now. What can you tell us about the work you do there to enhance the independent lifestyles of people with disabilities?
RP: Independent Living Centers exist all across the US. They are non profit agencies that are consumer run (meaning that over 50% of Board members must be disabled) and heavily staffed by people with disabilities. The idea is that no one is in a better position to help other disabled people achieve independence than someone who's already been through the fire themselves. The ultimate goal is to empower people, to let them make the decision that affect their lives. For most of my tenure at NCCI, I was a disability rights advocate and essentially the communications specialist. I mobilized the grassroots in my area of NYS to move legislation in a direction that was beneficial to people with disabilities. Now I'm the Executive Director, which means I manage the staff, write reports, and make decisions for the organization. I've really been blessed to be part of such a movement of inspiring advocates and civil rights leaders.
MV: How do you balance your career as Executive Director for NCCI, your family, and your career as a writer now?
RP: It's not easy, but being personally disciplined helps a lot. I set Sunday's aside as my writing day and that's pretty much it. That doesn't mean that I don't do book related work at other times, but Sunday is the time specifically set aside for actual chapter writing. I leave things like research and outlining for weekday evenings. Saturday is a day of relaxing, aside from house chores that is. My work for NCCI does come ahead of my writing career but so far there really hasn't been an issue.
MV: What are some of the challenges you've faced both in life and as a writer who is legally blind? What advice would you give to others who might be in your shoes?
RP: I really appreciate that you asked this question. My blindness makes me a slow reader, this is particularly challenging during the revision process. I don't worry about reading what I write during the first draft, the goal is to finish the story. That all changes during revision, now I have to read the entire manuscript multiple times and make many adjustments. This means my revision process is slow and methodical. I am extremely lucky to have an amazing editor working with me. Patience is a virtue that you must master as a blind person, not only am I slower at everything I do but I am constantly waiting for rides or for help with certain activities. Being flexible, creative, and persistent are important characteristics that all people should develop and master if they can; these traits are an absolute must for a person with a disability if they want to succeed in life. Also you have to have a thick skin, don't let people's meanness hurt or deter you. You have to be trusting of others and not be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Accepting your limitations does not equal inability to do anything, having lofty dreams and working to achieve them is healthy for all people, disabled people should do no less. In a weird way, Wail of the Banshees is almost a metaphor for this; Veronika dies at the beginning of the book and soon discovers that death isn't a career ending injury, it's the beginning of her story. Having a disability isn't the end of the story, it's the beginning of a life of challenges, hopes, dreams, disappointments, hard work, and adventure, it's pretty much like anyone else's life.
MV: Wail of the Banshees is your first novel. What has the process of getting published been like for you?
RP: It's been very interesting and a lot of work. I went through a grueling eight month process in which I developed a business plan for Ghost Watch Publishing. The end result of that work was that I was able to secure a self employment grant from the New York State Commission for the Blind. The grant enabled me to pay for an editor, an artist, and interior layout and eBook formatting conversion. I've had a website built at www.ghostwatchpublishing.com and I've done some blogging and a lot of social media networking. Marketing is the trickiest part of this whole process, I've found that what works for some doesn't necessarily work for others. I read guides like How To Make A Killing on Amazon, which has a pretty straight forward set of marketing directions, but do they work for everyone that reads the book and follows the recipe? I know there's always a disclaimer about how a book has to be good, but my guess is that even a lot of good books get missed in the avalanche of novels coming out each day. I've learned that perseverance and patience are also needed ingredients in any plan.
MV: What sort of teases can you give us for your second novel, Death Toll?
RP: First off, if you buy Wail of the Banshees in either paperback format or eBook format, there is a full, action packed chapter from Death Toll in the back of the novel. Secondly, if you keep an eye on my book tour with Bewitching Book Tours, you will likely get a chance to read the prologue to Death Toll. I can also tell you that if you are a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos, you should be highly interested in Death Toll. There will be two new mainline supporting characters joining protagonist Veronika Kane in the second novel. The wizard of Philadelphia, Nathaniel Carter, mentioned once in Wail of the Banshees, will be making Veronika's unlife very interesting. Also joining the team is former CIA agent, Brianna Martin, were-ferret extraordinaire. And everyone's favorite crusading, foul mouthed detective, Frank Cooper will be returning in Death Toll. Lastly, I'll hint that there might be a scene in which a troll uses the Liberty Bell as a melee weapon against the forces of chaos...really, it could happen.
I want to thank Mara for giving me this opportunity to tell you a little about myself and about Wail of the Banshees. I really appreciated the fact that Mara didn't shy away from asking me questions about my disability and how it affects my work. I want to thank you, the readers, for reading through my rambles and I hope you'll give Wail of the Banshees a read. I won't promise you a masterpiece of literature, it's not. What I can promise is a big budget, summer, soda and popcorn kind of read.