WHAT ABOUT BOB?
By Shannon Kirk
Back again for another Debut Spotlight interview, reporting live from Murderers’ Row on Election Tuesday. Thank goodness I had something else to focus on: interviewing Robert Rapoza, a shiny new thriller author.
Spotlight on the Row means Hot Seat. As in the past, if The Boss, E.A. Aymar, is crazy enough to give me the wheel, or the pen as they say, please know that part of this interview was on point, other parts, not so much, while other other parts might seem like I tortured poor Bob through some inane babble for babble’s sake. I would have allowed our interviewee to follow in the footing of the presidential election and veer way off the road of reality and just plain make shit up. But I got paired with Bob Rapoza, one of the good guys. The type of guy you’d love to actually run for office, so his answers were all, well, wonderfully sincere. I fact-checked him at 100 percent.
I rang up good ol’ Bob (Robert Rapoza signs his emails as Bob, so I’m going with Bob) and he was such a DAD! A sweet, home-by-dinner-time, awesome dad kind of DAD. On the phone, he sounds like the type of guy who might wear one of those red Ken Bone Izod sweaters and pick you up from school and take you for an ice-cream cone before your steak and peas dinner at the dining room table, just because you make him “so gosh darn proud.” That kind of DAD!
Bob’s debut thriller is titled The Vilcabamba Prophecy. And no, it’s actually not that hard to say. Only four syllables for the first word. It goes like this: Vilca – bamba. Bamba like the dance. Try it out. It’s easy. Sort of addicting actually. The Vilcabamba Prophecy is a 2015 Semi-Finalist in the Clive Custler Adventure Writers’ contest. In The Vilcabamba Prophecy we explore ruins of an ancient civilization hidden deep within the Amazon Jungle. It seems to have been uninhabited for centuries…or has it? So enters our protagonist, Dr. Nick Randall, an archeologist forced to the fringes of the scientific community, who wishes to prove that there is a hidden civilization deep in the Amazon that possesses an extraordinarily advanced energy technology. His break comes when a mysterious benefactor funds his expedition to find the lost city of Vilcabamba, which he believes holds proof that his controversial theory is true. Upon arriving at the ruins, Nick mysteriously disappears. Only one person can find him: his daughter Samantha Randall, who hasn’t spoken to her father in years. But Sam has competition, dark forces, who wish to obtain the Vilcabamba powers and control the world.
This whole story is so appealing to me right now. A solid action-adventure archeological thriller. I’m sold.
Now that we have all the stuff about Bob’s debut out of the way. Let’s, to use an archeological pun, dig up a bit more on Bob. As Bill Murray taught us in his intense psychological drama, What About Bob, there’s probably more to the man, right? So What About the writer Bob? What About the dad Bob? WHAT ABOUT BOB?
Bob has been a SoCal dude his whole life. Keeping with the red-sweater vibe, he currently works as a compliance auditor at Long Beach City College. I know what you’re thinking….snooze-town, nerd snort, auditor, zzzzzzzzzzzz. Well hold on, because I know these guys. I’ve worked with these financial auditors, and I tell you, they can be the dark shadow in the room that sneaks up and chokes your ass. So yeah, Bob in his red sweater, he’s a damn trick. Bob’s son calls him a “math cop.” Mmm, hmm.
So Bob goes on a vacation to DC one day with his family in 2012. Bob doesn’t have any writing in his background. No courses. No nothing. But he decides on this vacation in 2012 that he thinks he wants to give writing a try. He says to himself, “Bob, I got to try this.” So he buys himself Dean Koontz’ How to Write Bestselling Fiction.
The book was out of print in 2012, and it cost Bob seventy bucks (today, it’s about $140 on Amazon), but, he says, the darn thing sure helped him. As Bob read Koontz’ lessons, he outlined Vilcabamba, added flesh to the outline, and went from there. Bob found that writing was much like auditing in one respect: solitary. And he likes working like that. Still, writing is very different from crunching numbers and analyzing spreadsheet formulas. Bob is infectious in his enthusiasm over the writing process, “I got pumped and excited because [writing is] so different from what I do as an auditor.”
Once Bob finished with adding flesh to his outline in bullet form, he started “actually writing.” Bob got to about 10,000 words and thought, “There’s something magic about this.” When he got to 20,000 words, he thought, “My God, this is going to take forever.” Yep. Been there. Bob stuck with it and “just followed through.” After ten months, he finished the first draft, and after getting over that “great feeling,” he started “learning about editing.”
So, being as Bob is an auditor and only just recently added writing to his adult life (in 2012), what infrastructure of support did Bob have to help guide him, or give him feedback through this process? Who, Bob, is your toughest tough-love critic? Here’s where Bob taught me something I didn’t know. He found a group of beta-readers on Goodreads. Superfantastic people who offer up their reading time to give writers encouragement, but also, true feedback. I hadn’t heard of this before, but I’m going to check it out now. Bob found a match with a great beta-reader who has been “very positive, but very fantastic at finding errors and inconsistencies.” Bob’s second toughest tough-love critic, an English teacher friend, is a “great motivator,” who is “honest about edits.”
So why was I saying Bob is a capital D Dad, family guy? Here’s what Bob had to say when I asked what made him tick. “Well, [my family] is from New England and I’m a huge Patriots and Red Sox fan.” So, A. being from New England is obviously AWESOME. And B. Patriots and Red Sox make him tick—that’s classic, Americana Dad right there. Next, Bob went into how proud he is of his leftie pitcher son. “I’m middle of the road, middle class. My life revolves around the family. My wife and two kids.” Oh my gosh, Bob! Get this man a crate of red sweaters and a Cuban cigar and a case of port and a big plasma TV and the game on, and we’re good to go! He continues, “I wouldn’t say I’m an extremely interesting guy.” And to put the cherry on top of the cake for all you animal lovers out there: “People love my dog, Bandit. He’s my most popular thing on my website. He’s a mutt,” he says with a deep chuckle. “He’s a perfect example of false advertising.” Why’s that? Turns out, Bob and his family wanted a dog that didn’t shed, but ol’ Bandit, he “sheds a coat’s worth in a week.”
It’s okay, Bandit, just look at you, you’re so damn adorable, who cares about shedding?
This is all good stuff, because it’s authentic and true and more importantly, this is the “brand” of author Bob wishes to cultivate for his works. He wants to publish with a tag line “First Family of Adventure.” He believes his books are squarely PG-13, not too goody-two-shoes Mayberry boring, but safe family entertainment with just the right amount of grit, action, and adventure, swearing only when necessary.
Okay, I get it. I’m way into this as a consumer when looking for “safe” entertainment to watch and read with my son. But….I have to ask….um, Bob,…so, no sexy sexy? No R-rated window rattling from knocking the headboard against the wall? No 50 Shades of Nasty Time? No? Bob, he’s so classic Dad, responds, “I don’t want to wade into those waters…Writing explicit sex scenes…I don’t want to trip myself up.” As for violence, sure, there’s action and tough situations. But for Bob, when he’s watching certain movies and he starts wondering more on “how many bullets are they going to shoot anyway” instead of the plot, he’s outa there.
About your debut, Bob. How are you an authority on an archeologist main character? Bob offers a light-hearted laugh. “It sounded fun. Growing up as a kid, I liked In Search Of, narrated by Leonard Nimoy.” The History Channel’s alien show, Ancient Aliens, intrigues him. “A cool thing as far as I’m concerned.” As a father of a daughter, he also wanted to involve his family, so this is why Vilcabamba’s main character’s daughter has such a huge role. He wanted two protagonists. In his second book, The Bermuda Connection, the protagonist’s son plays a huge role.
“First Family of Adventure.”—Robert Rapoza
WORST POSSIBLE QUESTIONS FOR A DEBUT AUTHOR
Now for my second favorite part of interviewing a debut. The worst possible questions to ask them. These stem from similar questions I’ve been asked.
WORST QUESTION #1
So, in Vilcabamba, we know Nick Randall’s wife died trying to retrieve a relic, and Nick’s daughter, Sam, blames Nick. As such, one of the main sub-plots is Nick trying to reestablish a relationship with his daughter.
You must be trying to work out some personal issues?
With a chuckle, Bob answers, “Without a doubt.” Actually, he clarifies, no, the real gist is that family is important. He’s read a ton of fantastic authors, and he’s learned you need to have a different angle. His is family.
WORST QUESTION #2
What are the totally scientifically accurate facts and premises you have to support your theories of the Vilcabamba Prophecy?
Bob points to how the show Ancient Aliens questions technology that shouldn’t have been around in ancient times. He also points to research on archeological digs where findings don’t fit in the timeline. One such thing is a stone sarcophagus lid (Pacal’s Sarcophagus) that bears a resemblance to an astronaut reclining in a space capsule with flames coming from the bottom. Basically, Bob is pointing at old cave drawings and artifacts that within the timeline as we know it, cannot be explained. Bottom line: Bob is like most thriller writers, taking a kernel of a nugget of fact, or disputed fact, and completely exploiting that any which way he wants in fiction. He’s proving you don’t have to actually be an archeologist who finds an ancient city in South America to write about one.
Now we enter my favorite part of the interview, where Bob answers inane questions that mostly have nothing to do with writing.
Bob, what are your thoughts on the Brangelina Brexit?
They were a power couple and, therefore, I didn’t think they could last long. Sooner or later something had to give. I’m saddened….I had hoped they’d last as long as Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. But if Brad Pitt wants to star in Vilcabamba, he’s welcome. A fan suggested Liam Neeson or Pierce Bronson, but Brad would be okay.”
What is your favorite cheese and WHY?
That’s an easy one. Pepperjack because it’s spicy. My second favorite would be port wine cheese, because there’s wine in it. And my favorite wine is port because it’s fortified with much stronger alcohol content.
You watched Stranger Things, right, Bob? (Please don’t say no, please don’t say no, I really want to like you, Bob.)
Unfortunately, I don’t have much TV time.
NOOOOOOO! BOB NO!!!!!!!!
Can I redeem myself? Would it help if I go home tonight and watch it and report back? I’ve heard great things about it!
OMG, yes, okay. But Bob, I mean, come on. You have to get this done asap. Report back!
I will. Promise. Promise.
Darth Vader or Kylo Ren?
Darth Vader. Not even close. I love Darth Vader. (Side note, Bob included a mini-rant in his answer about the discrepancy of the size of the Death Star in new Stars Wars vs. Old. In my opinion, this Star-Wars-nerd mini rant redeems Bob from his Stranger Things gaffe. Mostly.)
Is Kylo Ren more for the ladies, you think?
Yeah, I’d say so. Dark, broody, ladies might think, oh I can fix him. Whereas, Darth Vader is just gone. (For the record, as a lady, I agree with Bob’s response.)
If Rey could be our next Commander in Chief, you’d be behind that right? Obviously?
(By God and ALL THAT IS HOLY if you don’t say yes, Bob, I swear to GOD I’m going to crawl through this phone line and make you say yes. Now, come on, Bob, let’s answer this the right way.)
[In a fabulous Dad voice and knowing chuckle] Oh yeah! Rey would rock as the next Commander in Chief! And I love her backstory of not knowing who her dad is. And she is a bad ass. I’d be completely down with this.
What about hotels and airlines that charge for WiFi?
I think that’s pretty lame. I’m going to draw a comparison…Take for example the ‘slim line’ seats on planes. Which is worse, the slim line seats or charging for WiFi? What’s next, standing room on planes? Let’s have some standards, guys. Next we’ll be standing on the wings, hopefully they’ll give you goggles for the wind.
Okay Bob, you’ve been a fabulous sport. Thanks for your time and the great fun conversation we’ve had. You get the last word. What is it that you want this international thriller writer community to know about you?
“I want them to know that it’s possible for people who have absolutely no writing background, no creative thing to lean upon, to try to put together a fascinating story and try to find their way in the writing world. People of all professions, a very diverse crowd, have done this. I was just an average guy who had a dream and followed through. This group of people has been cool and supportive.”
Interested in becoming a member of the International Thriller Writers? ITW offers Active and Associate memberships.