Barsky Brings to the Table a Sumptuous Treat in Hatched

 

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It comes as no surprise that first time novel writer, Robert Barsky, spent 8 years researching and writing his latest book, Hatched. The novel combines intrigue, money and cooking, a seemingly unlikely combination, but one that has proven to have all the right ingredients.

Barsky, a professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, has authored 8 books. His non-fiction is known for its immense depth and discussion of intense subjects including international law, human rights, migration, language theory, literature, and Noam Chomsky. His current novel has proven to be nothing short of the same level of meticulous preparation he is known for. Barsky brings to the table a sumptuous treat in Hatched, and has quickly become one of Sunbury Press’ current bestsellers.

Robert, thank you for talking with us. Hatched is quite different from your previous work. What inspired you to write this novel and what was it like moving from more serious topics to something light and fun?

I quite literally dreamed up this plot while on my honeymoon with Marsha, 9 years ago, on the isle of St. Bart’s. I turned to her one morning and said “You would not believe the dream I just had, it was like a film! I dreamed that….” and then it was gone, I couldn’t remember a thing. Then, suddenly, it all came back, and poured out of me. I was excited, and spent the next 8 years researching and writing it, finding out amazing details relating to the plot as I went along, including, of course, details regarding Fabergé eggs.

Hatched has so many wonderful layers to it, including a Fabergé egg inspired restaurant. It’s such a specific vision. Where did that idea come from?

Eggs were part of the initial dream, and Fabergé eggs became part of the story from the earliest days. They represent perfection, intricacy, beauty, and the very height of what human beings can create. At the same time, though, they are a metaphor for indulgence, excess and the vast distance that existed in Czarist Russian times between the aristocracy and the people of Russia. I don’t remember exactly what made them central to the novel, but it may be that they were already there, in my subconscious, at the time of my dream….

Over the course of 8 years, I imagine you had many ideas come and go. How did you weed through all of your ideas to solidify the current story? What advice would you give to emerging writers?

I followed the narrative, and would work on it tirelessly, rehearsing new scenes, and then tinkering with them as new revelations came to light. It was as though the story already existed, and I had to pay careful attention to document it all correctly. I remember one scene, for example, that takes place on Long Island, when Jude’s truck has broken down, and, in one of the many coincidences of the novel, he is picked up by John, the owner of Fabergé restaurant. In the car is Tina, who oversaw the kitchen, as well as two characters in the backseat, fooling around. I had to keep looking and looking at that scene, and one day realized that one of the guys in the backseat was “the new guy” who had been working in the restaurant before its collapse. When I realized it, I felt that I was seeing the obvious, but it was also something that had evaded my attention for months. I think that emerging writers would do well to take that kind of time in order to consider the details of their stories, because I’ve come to believe that we as authors know much more about the story than we realize, and we need to give it time, like fine wine, to open up.

The intrigue of your novel stems from former college roommates who are planning to counterfeit billions to shake up the U.S. economy. Do you feel that your previous work on Chomsky inspired this story line?

Noam’s Chomsky is indeed a constant inspiration, and has been for decades. He wasn’t there in the dream, although he has been in many of my dreams, but it’s sure that his work and my own work deriving from it has inspired me on all sorts of levels. So when I asked the question, why do these three roommates wish to effect change in US Treasury policy, answers had to have some relation with their desire for a “good society”, something that I believe runs through Noam’s work, from A-Z.

I heard that you have experience cooking. Did you train professionally or are you the official cook at home?

I did train professionally, starting at the very bottom. I was working in Cape Cod as a construction worker, very difficult work, for $3.35/hour (in the early 80s). I was living with friends in Nickerson State Park, all summer long, and we were all cobbling together enough money to live, as well as sufficient savings to help out with the cost of college. Each day, I drove by this gorgeous restaurant called The Joy of Dining, in my dump truck, and one day I got up the nerve to stop and ask for a job. I was asked to come back the following day, and as my first task the owner asked me to cut a vegetable, probably a zucchini. Anyhow, I displayed to him immediately that I knew nothing, and so he started me out as a pot washer. Over the next few summers, he sunk deeper and deeper into debt, and as a consequence, he trained and promoted me for higher tasks, culminating with my being employed as a sauté chef. He was SO exacting, fastidious and meticulous that I felt each day that I was learning important things for my life. But it was torture, in a sense, because he was also uncompromising and demanding. My training with him served me well. I also worked in Switzerland as a bartender the year after graduating college, and my training was crucial to surviving there as well, since I was working in an extremely fancy hotel. Since those years, I’ve kept up a strong interest in cooking – and my wife is a superb cook, much better than me!

What kind of research did you do for this novel? Did you spend time in restaurants, for instance? What did you learn during that process that supported your characters or locations?

I did tons of research for this novel, including of course drawing from my experiences in restaurants, in Cape Cod, Montréal, and Verbier. The areas I needed the most help in, though, were related to counterfeiting money, and here is where serendipity, my favorite thing, played another important role. I invited a scholar to work in our Vanderbilt Bandy Center, and she in exchange invited me to give talks in Milano. One night she told me that I was “busy,” and that she was going to take me somewhere. We drove for around an hour, to a warehouse area, where she introduced me to her father, who wanted to show me his collection of Italian motorcycles. I myself drove a Moto Guzzi at that time, and now drive an Aprilia, and so was treated to 100 motorcycles, from 1914-2014, all Italian. Amazing! When he was done starting all of them for me, he invited me upstairs to see his factory; as it turned out, he is in the business of making…MONEY! He is one of the three printers involved in the process of making the Euro, as well as other currencies worldwide. He showed me a bit of the process, and even gave me a key tool to printing numbers into the bills. Unbelievable!

Your professional history is as impressive as your books. You’ve been a professor at Yale, McGill, Toulouse, and University of Edinburgh, to name a few. Have these years of travel and cultural immersion created experiences that you draw upon when writing? Do you foresee those experiences impacting any of your future fictional work?

Indeed, all of these experiences impact my work, my writings, my life. I’ve noticed that when I meet people I can usually guess when they’ve traveled a lot (or read a lot); there’s something about putting yourself “out there,” as it were, in different settings, different paradigms, that changes us. Some of my travels, to Rwanda, Burundi, Morocco, and China, have been very exotic, very difficult, I suppose, which again helped me to imagine my own world differently. I’ve been tempted to write a novel that involves extensive travel, particularly after Hatched, which for the most part occurs in one building!

As a writer with a strong non-fiction background, were you inspired by real life events and people when writing Hatched?

I was indeed, yes; my own roommates in college, my cooking experience, what I learned about financial markets in my early (bizarre) investments in the silver market (in the 1970s), what I learned as a visiting professor at the Toulouse School of Economics, and of course ideas about how people live, love, interact, in the so called service industries, and beyond. Notice, though, that it has NOTHING to do with universities; Jude said that he learned everything as a mover, at Asphalt University. I love that.

What kind of transition was it going from writing non-fiction to fiction? Is it something you hope to do again?

I do indeed look forward now to the next one, I loved it, it was like a sumptuous dessert, a delectable diet of pleasure and imagination.

Back to food. Who doesn’t love to talk about food. What is your favorite dish to eat, to make and of course, what is your favorite way to prepare eggs?

Funny thing about eggs, which I think I learned in that restaurant. The owner and head chef at the Joy of Dining was a tyrant, an impossible, difficult perfectionist, but he was also someone who made food we’ve all eaten, like sunny side up eggs, or omelets, or lobster, and he did so in ways that were so mind-blowing that you were made to feel that you’d never tasted those dishes before in your life. That remains the kind of food I like best, and so I especially LOVE to eat out in China, in Italy, in France, where the knowledge of the ingredients, and the preparation of the food, is so incredible. At the end of the day though, I suppose that caviar (another egg), and amazing handmade Italian egg noodles are among my favorite egg dishes, along with custard, and a perfect omelet, and lobster eggs, and.!

Being from Montreal, does Poutine make your top 10 comfort foods list?

No, it is on my top 1,000, except for when it’s freezing cold (-30 or so), and I haven’t eaten for a week. Then it would be pretty high up there!
robert-barskyHatched is available for sale through Sunbury Press and where books are sold.

Rommel’s Genuine Suspense Leads Him From the Page to Hollywood

Keith Rommel is an award winning author of 13 novels, and award winning screenwriter of upcoming films The Cursed Man, The Lurking Man and The Sinful Man. His writing had been called “horror for the curious mind,” and “thinking mans horror.” It has garnished awards such as best novel of the year to 5 star Readers Favorite awards.

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Interview with Susan Kiskis

The film version of his novel, The Cursed Man, has already won two awards, semi-finalist in Cinefest and finalist at the Terror Film Festival for Best Screenplay. It releases this month. We had the opportunity to ask Rommel some questions about his writing inspiration, his upcoming film and what’s next on his to-do list.

The first book in your Thanatology Series, The Cursed Man, has been adapted into a movie and set to premier on Halloween. What drew you to write The Cursed Man and when doing so, did you know it would be part of a series?

I actually had no idea. Upon completion of writing the novel The Cursed Man, I had decided I wanted the story to continue. Without any clear direction of what was next, I spent many nights staying up late, searching for a series name. As one might notice, without clear direction, naming something that has not yet been created was quite difficult. Thanatology, the series name, merely came to me after I decided that I should describe the series by its theme.

You co-wrote the screenplay for The Cursed Man. Was that your first time writing for screen? What was the process like for you and how did it differ from writing a novel?

I had dabbled in screenwriting and comic book script writing in the late 90’s as merely an interest. Unfortunately, none of my original writings exist, but thankfully some of my know-how remained.

The process of writing a screenplay can be a simple one, or complex, depending on the text it’s being adapted from. In the case of The Cursed Man, or most any of my novels, I write from a theatrical point of view. Short punchy dialogue with brief descriptions to keep the stories moving quickly. This makes adaptation a little easier. Where I ran into trouble was shrinking the story down to fit onto screen. This means some of the things people are familiar with in The Cursed Man novel, will not be on screen, due to timing and pace. When writing a novel, you have the freedom to explain and express without limitations. In screenwriting, you have 90-110 pages with a lot of centered, confined margins. Movie dialogue eats up a lot of those precious pages.

Thanatology is a study of death, death practices and the terminally ill. Was that a guiding post for this series?

Absolutely. I’ve always had a fascination with death. I would probably consider it to be more of a fear than a hankering to see a corpse; that kind of grosses me out. This fear has allowed me to write magnificent stories throughout the Thanatology Series that send a very powerful message about life. Yes. Life is hard. And there is so much drama around us. But, if you were given a chance… a second chance, or a way to show others that what you did in your life leads to something that might be tragic, horrific, have a long-lasting impact on everyone around you, wouldn’t you like to receive that message?

Also, a small tidbit about the Thanatology Series, that most people might not know, is that every story in the series, that is currently available, is based off of someone’s real life events.

When did you start writing and was the goal always to write books?

I started writing when I was in my early 20’s. To be blatantly honest, I was in modified classes in school and struggled with a reading comprehension disability. I couldn’t string a sentence together to save my life.

I’m an avid reader of comic books and that helped me with my comprehension problem. I loved Stephen King and Anne Rice stories and always found myself nose deep in one of their novels.

I think, in a strange sort of way, that was the beginning of my training to learn how to write. When I began to think about publication, I wanted a pulse to find out what others thought of my writing. I joined the Critique Circle online where other writers comment on your story and help guide you. There were two big things I had to learn about other writers while I was there. 1) Most writers really want to help. 2) The advice you get is not always good.

What drew you to writing horror, or more specifically, about death?

It is purely driven by my fascination and fear. I actually don’t categorize my writing within the Thanatology Series as horror. I like to classify it as psychological suspense, thrillers. I think people have pigeonholed it as horror because of the psychological torment my characters go through. I’d classify my other novels, White River Monster and The Devil Tree, as horror. Ice Canyon Monster is an educational thriller suspense. I write in these other categories to give myself a brain break from the complexity of the Thanatology Series.

Since we are in October, and it revolves around all things haunted, is Halloween your favorite holiday?

Halloween is a fun holiday to me. I love to see the kids dressed up and creating a sense of neighborhood friendliness that has changed much since I was a kid. I would have to say though that Christmas is my favorite holiday. It reminds me of my father who passed away 7 years ago. 

O.K. I have to ask. What is your favorite horror film and what makes a good horror story?

My favorite horror film would have to be JAWS. Is that even horror? If it’s not, when I was a kid and saw that, I didn’t want to go anywhere near the ocean. I kind of still have the image of a stinking shark biting me and dragging me out to sea.

And what makes a good horror story? Suspense! Lots of it. Not cheap scares, but genuine suspense. Capture that, like in the movie The Sixth Sense, and you’ve hit a home run.

Is there anything overdone in this genre?

Cheap scares. I definitely try to avoid that at all costs. I also feel it is extremely important to come up with unique ideas. I feel when people learn of Alister’s plight in The Cursed Man, or Sariel in The Lurking Man, or even Leo in The Sinful Man, they’re going to find out these situations are unique. I refuse to put something out that doesn’t offer something to the reader.

When does your film release and how can people see the film?

The film releases this Halloween at the Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills, CA. The film will be shown in the other Laemmle Theaters and showtimes and dates will be announced soon. I’ll post those announcements on my website.

Any other news you’d like to share with fans?

That they can expect to see The Devil Tree on the big screen, too. I’ll also be co-writing another movie with James L. Perry, the producer and director of The Cursed Man, based off of one of his ideas. He’s looking to film sometime in 2017. I’ll announce more as things become more solidified. 

The filming of keith-rommelhis 3rd novel, The Sinful Man, is set to begin early 2017.

The Cursed Man, The Lurking Man, and other novels by Keith Rommel, along with tickets to the premier of The Cursed Man, are available at sunburypress.com

You can find out more about Keith Rommel on his website keithrommel.com