Debut Author Q&A: Meet Rob Dircks

A funny thing happened on my way to an author event at the Seaford Library in Seaford, N.Y…. I got to meet some cool authors! (Imagine that!) One of those authors was Rob Dircks. I had the pleasure of being Rob’s tablemate that day, and we spent most of the time chatting books, publishing, and writing. I’m so happy to announce that Rob’s first novel, a science fiction comedy titled, Where the Hell is Tesla?, is available on Amazon. Below, Rob and I continue our chat about how this novel came to be. I wish him much success!

rob-portrait Name: Rob Dircks
Name of book: Where the Hell is Tesla?
Book genre: Science fiction/comedy
Date published: March 2015
What is your day job? For the past 20 years, my brother Dave and I have owned and operated a Long Island ad agency, Dircks Associates. Probably the most recognizable creative we did is the AOL CD — you know, 250 Hours Free? We did most of them. Now I write and design print and online communications, and do some photography/videography/audio for other national clients, such as AARP.

Your book has such an intriguing title. What is your book about? It’s a combination buddy comedy/fish-out-of-water story/sci-fi romp. A slacker security guard finds the lost journal of Nikola Tesla and talks his best friend into exploring Tesla’s secret invention, the Interdimensional Transfer Apparatus. They bounce from one misadventure to the next trying to get home until the existence of the entire multiverse winds up depending on these two unlikely heroes.

Why did you want to write this book? Ever since elementary school, I’ve been into comics, then sci-fi books and movies, and I’ve got this weird fascination with conspiracy theories. One day, I stumbled across this outrageous conspiracy theory article about Nikola Tesla — how he had secret journals that disappeared after he died, that the FBI took them, and that they contained plans for death rays and god-knows-what else. Maybe an hour later, I was still digging down this Internet rabbit hole, finding little scraps of hints and clues, this wonderful bottomless pit of Tesla intrigue, and I said to myself: What if he had something REALLY crazy in those journals? Like an Interdimensional Transfer Apparatus?

At the same time, I knew I wanted to write a comedy about a normal guy stuck in extreme circumstances. So at some random moment it all came together as “What if a slacker security guard discovers the lost journal of Nikola Tesla?” And boom. There it was.

What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book? 1) Carving out time to write. My “real life” is constantly tugging at me, to make sure I get my paid work done and satisfy my clients. 2) Marketing. Ironically, even though I’ve been in advertising for so long, I’m less “marketing-y” than I probably should be. So I find the mechanics of promoting my work very challenging. But I’m learning.

Did you conduct any kind of research in order to write this book? I’d love to say I traveled to someplace exotic to do research, but really it was almost entirely the Internet. It’s such an incredible tool for writers. I used Google street view to get a view from a street corner in New York City. I downloaded and read books written by Tesla from Amazon. I was on Wikipedia constantly, looking up scientific theories to (sort of) back up some of the concepts in the book.

Other than scouring the Internet, the other major research I did was contact Tesla’s last living relative, his grand-nephew William Terbo. And he’s this 85-year-old regular guy living in New Jersey! So I called him, and it was such a cool experience opening up a dialogue. Just hearing his story about meeting Tesla as a young boy, and the way he treasures and protects the memory of his great uncle, was heartwarming. And he KNOWS Tesla. As I wrote parts of the book, I’d snail mail them to William (no email, please!), and we’d talk about whether Tesla would say this or that, what his views were on things like alcohol or taking risks or whatever. William’s a great guy. And sharp as a tack at 85. You could write a book about him, he’s quite a character.

What motivates you to write? Growing up, I always wanted to make movies. But at some point, I said to myself, “In order to make movies, you have to be able to tell stories.” So I’ve been learning how to tell stories ever since. It’s extremely satisfying to tell a complete story, even a short one like a direct mail letter. And with every one I write, I get a little better. It feels really good to get better all the time.

Did you experience writer’s block? Sure. There would be days where nothing wanted to come out. And when you’re writing comedy, pushing harder definitely doesn’t make things funnier. So I had this ritual I would do: a quick meditation with music, then I’d think of a random word and in a separate file I’d force myself to write three jokes about that word, no matter how bad they were (and they mostly were). After about five of these mini-exercises, almost every time I’d be ready to dive right back into the story.

What a great idea! Overall, how long did it take you to write this book? About a year and a half. It didn’t start out as a book. I just sat down one day with these ideas about Tesla in my head and wrote an email to my brother Ken, as if it were coming from this slacker friend of his. To see if I could get him to laugh. Then I put it down, didn’t think about it for months, and moved on to a TV script for a sci-fi show, a real serious, cerebral thing. I had my other brother Bud read a third draft of it, and he said “Dude, why aren’t you writing comedy?” So I picked up the Tesla story, and it started flowing like crazy, turning into a book. But trying to fit it in sideways here and there between work took a year plus.

Where-The-Hell-is-Tesla-Cover-600x917Tell me about the publishing process. Why did you decide to self-publish? I’m always looking for better/more efficient ways to get stuff done. That’s my nature. So when it became obvious that my first book (Unleash the Sloth!) would be a lesson in rejection, I said, “Screw this — I’ve got the tools to do it myself.” I LOVED the experience. It’s really liberating, and the only rejection is readers either buying or not buying your book. And I’m an artist too, so I LOVE the production aspect of self-publishing – covers, interior, video promos, audiobooks, I love it all.

BUT… just putting a book out there doesn’t do anything, it just sits somewhere in the giant pile of other self-published books that are praying for a breakout like Hugh Howey or Fifty Shades of Grey. Although I sold a good number of copies, above average for a self-published book, I’m trying to get more intelligent about the launch of Tesla. I’ve even created my own little mini-publishing company.

What would you say is the biggest misconception about writing a book? I’m relatively new at this, so I’m not sure I’d be the best to ask, but from my experience? Lots of people who find out that I’ve written a couple of books will respond with “Hey, I have an idea for a book!” and I just know they have NO idea how much writing I’ve done to get to even the rudimentary place I’m at, and how much production knowledge you need to design a cover, and how much marketing savvy you need to get something off the ground (I’m still learning the basics of that one!). So it’s one thing to have a book idea, and it’s a completely different thing to make it happen and have some minimum level of quality.

What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? The flow sections. Definitely. After I’d outlined the entire story, there would be full days, or multiple days, where I’d just crank on a scene or two that just had “Something Happens Here” in the outline, and I’d feel funny and warm, and I’d be writing with heart. And I’d look back on that writing the next day and chuckle. It’s a transcendent feeling.

Do you plan on writing another book? Oh, yeah. Comedy again. Post-apocalyptic sci-fi. Another love story, but very different from Where the Hell is Tesla? And the kicker: it’s a musical. It’s called Can of Beans. It’s already outlined, and I should start it second half of 2015. In the meantime, though, I’m working on a smaller, goofy cookbook spoof called Recipes for Disaster: Eating Well… If You Survive The Apocalypse. Wow, I guess I’m into apocalypse stuff right now!

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