Robert gave us a huge interview, so we’re posting the second part here. 🙂 (part one is here)
JSC: Do you use a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, why not?
ERD: E. Robert Dunn. My full name is Eston Robert Dunn. E. Robert Dunn came about by my literary agent (at the time) to ‘mature’ me… you see, I was 14, and E. Robert Dunn does not sound like a 14-year-old. Also, at that time, the entertainment business was very ‘specialized’. Actors acted. Writers wrote. I did both. I acted under Eston Dunn and began writing under E. Robert Dunn for that reason too. Those reasons do not apply in modern times, but after writing XX-amount of years under my pseudonym, to suddenly start writing and acting under Eston Dunn would eliminate my history under E. Robert Dunn and be confusing to those that know my author personae under the pseudonym.
JSC: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
ERD: Stay in NYC. Do NOT move to Florida!! Because of the AIDS epidemic of the 80s, everyone I knew in the entertainment business (including both my agents) died. I panicked and moved to Florida hoping for a fresh start (big fish, little pond). It was known that MGM Studios was moving a fully-operational studio to Fort Lauderdale at the time. I moved to be a part of that ‘move’. Well, that did not happen (like so many things in Florida) and I became ‘financially stuck’. The site for MGM became a gated community and MGM became a theme park in Orlando!
JSC: Do you ever base your characters on real people?
ERD: Yes, I do. I use not only my journals from my childhood/early adulthood, but also I record ‘outings’ with friends to review and possible use real life conversations, conditions, fears, etc.
If so, what are the pitfalls you’ve run into doing so? Well, not everything that happens in real life is ‘believable’ in fiction. I get feedback all the time with several of my plays with “People don’t talk that way”, when in fact, they do and they have. I am quoting 9 times out of 10 someone I know, a conversation had when I hear that feedback.
JSC: How long do you write each day?
ERD: I don’t have a ‘daily writing’ schedule. Partly because I have a full time job and two part time jobs to make ‘the rent’. My style is to ‘jot things down’ as I encounter them for use ‘later on’ when the muse hits me. But, I try to do at least 5 hours of writing per week.
JSC: Do you reward yourself for writing, or punish yourself for failing to do so?
ERD: I don’t have a punitive approach to myself. Since writing is not my primary source of income, I still treat it as ‘my retirement/pay back student loan’ fund. I write more for the ‘therapy’ of it, rather than the vocation of it. Now, if that situation ever changes (praying for that movie and/or TV and/or Netflex deal), then I may change my perspective.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews?
ERD: I’ve stopped. Since I generally disagree with reviewers POVs. I’m the kind of person that if a reviewer dislike something, I will love it. If they love it, I’ll dislike it.
JSC: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
ERD: Well, that depends. LOL! For my first 6 books, it took relatively short amount of time (<6 months per book) because they were based on storyline scripts I had submitted (but, were not used) for TV shows like SPACE: 1999, Battlestar Galactica (Original Series), and/or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. For Books 7 through 12, that has taken longer … almost a year per book (give or take a few months) because those were sequels on the world I had built for “Echelon’s End” and took longer to research and review … again, without a deadline, I tend to write, review, rewrite …
JSC: What do you do if you get a brilliant idea at a bad time?
ERD: I try to jot down the idea as best I can wherever I can, even a cocktail napkin.
JSC: Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
ERD: Science fiction gives me hope in a brighter future. When I was younger, I was interested in history, especially the American West. I found the trials and tribulations fascinating. The idea that people killed and/or enslaved people just because they were different something so far removed from my ideology that I had to know ‘why’! It wasn’t until SPACE: 1999 that I shifted my attentions into science fiction. Gerry Anderson had created a not-to-distant future where mankind had learned the errors of war and prejudice and had built a new, better integrated world. A world I would have found very comfortable living in as opposed to the tumult 1970s.
I also write comedic plays. I write usually of the present. I find the world we live in a dark comedy. The absurdity of what present society deems ‘so important’ as ridiculous. The whole smoke and mirrors and distraction politics away from what really is valued and important to our survival a species seem surreal. If I did not have a comedic POV, I think I would go crazy at how imbecilic the human race can be … how cannibalistic we are as a race, feeding upon each other instead of supporting and rising each other up to our highest potential. No wonder the aliens lock their airlocks as they cruise by our little blue marble in ambiguity.
If you write more than one, how do you balance them? The balance comes as I experience this human journey. I jot down what I observe and the write accordingly. So, if I see something that is just beyond belief – a comedic play comes out. If I see something concerning morality—a science fiction morality play emerges.
JSC: How long have you been writing?
ERD: Since the age of 14. I am not 56. You do the math! LOL!
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book?
ERD: Not in my books. I try to be as inclusive as possible. I will admit the trans-group is not as predominate as the gay and non-gay components of society.
If so, discuss them. For me personally, the trans-word is ‘alien to me’. I do not have any personal life-experiences with transvestites, transsexuals, nor transgender persons. I write what I know. I have had encounters within my life with the trans-world, but nothing that would give me the proper reference to articulate in literary form to project it correctly with all the respect needed.
JSC: Are you a full-time or part-time writer?
ERD: I am a part-time writer. I have rent and student loans to pay. How does that affect your writing? It does shift focus from time to time. And it does elongate the time I need to finish a piece. But, it serves as my therapy when needed to ‘get away’ from the rigors of a full time job with two part time jobs that have nothing to do with the Arts. I think that is one reason I founded two nonprofit organizations devoted to promoting, networking, and supporting artists (www.artsunited.org and www.WOWTv.org).
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
ERD: I think I am both. LOL! Since a plotter is someone who plans out their novel before they write it. And a pantser is someone who, “flies by the seat of their pants,” meaning they don’t plan out anything, or plan very little. I have done both styles. Depends on how the ‘ideas’ come to me and/or the situation I find myself in that allows me to do one or the other.
JSC: Do your books spring to life from a character first or an idea?
ERD: Mostly an idea. Then the characters come to life and take over. I become an observer and just write what I ‘see’. I do usually have an outline of where I ‘think’ the story ‘should go’. But, the majority of the time that outline for one book becomes one for an entire series.
JSC: How did you deal with rejection letters?
ERD: As an actor, I know rejection. I’m used to that. I read what is said specifically (if anything) and try to grow and learn if it applies. If the criticism is generic, I ignore and move on to the next submission. It kind of goes back to my POV on reviews and reviewers. Many a successful book franchise was ‘rejected’ by notable agents, publishers, and the like … only, to be eventually picked up and developed into a very successful, multi-leveled ‘product’. But, the heart of my writing is not for capitalistic outcomes. I write to write. I am a storyteller hoping that there are those that wish to hear my stories. If not, so be it. I am still going to tell my stories, if for any other reason … for me.
JSC: How long does it take you to write the first draft?
ERD: That is variable. A week to a month. It’s that whole write, review, rewrite loop.
JSC: What is the most heartfelt thing a reader has said to you?
ERD: There is a scene in one of my “Echelon’s End” books (no spoiler alerts) in which a mother has to bid farewell to her son at his gravesite. Many a reader has said how that ‘scene’ touch them, represented them. Even though it was a cathartic piece for me to deal with the multiple deaths I have had in my life, it was touching to see that such a scene was so universal for anyone who has experienced loss of any kind of a loved one.
JSC: What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
ERD: The ability to read! A writer is only as good as s/he is a reader. Having a sense of self. To be able to step out of one’s reality and view other realities. A sense of humility and gratefulness. Having a sense of humor and common sense helps, too. For me, these are invaluable tools towards writing. Grammar, spelling, sentence structure …all the ‘mechanics’ of writing are essential, but without the aforementioned you might as well be writing a technical manual.
JSC: What was one of the most surprising things you’ve learned in writing your books?
ERD: That characters come alive. They body and sinew and breath. They are not one-dimensional entities, but rather fully realized ‘beings’ borne of imagination that come to their full potential through your eyes. The experience is quite therapeutic. It has helped me see mankind and the world of today in a wider, more comprehensive way.
JSC: Where do you like to write?
ERD: I write (as much as possible) in my home office. Sealed away from phones and all other distractions.
JSC: What are your favorite parts of publishing?
ERD: See my work validated, but also the ‘birth’ of my creation. Then to see the connection and enjoyment of others interacting with that creation.
JSC: What are your least favorite parts of publishing?
ERD: The rejection, the time to get an idea from my imagination to ‘paper’ to ‘print’ to the public. Then there’s all the branding, marketing, advertising that goes into ‘getting it out there’. Being shy, it takes a lot out of me to ‘be there’ promoting whether on social media and/or live (as in conventions).
JSC: What advice do you wish you’d had before releasing your first story?
ERD: Don’t take everything personal. You are ahead of your time with your perspective. Be patient. Your story’s time will come … it may take 30 years, but eventually your perspective will become vogue and then you will thrive.
JSC: If you had a grant to write any book you wanted as a freebie without worrying about sales, what kind of story would you like to tell?
ERD: I’m telling it now via “Echelon’s End”.
JSC: How do you approach covers for your indie stories?
ERD: I try to request a pivot ‘scene’ within the story to be pictured on the cover.
JSC: What was the most valuable piece of advice you’ve had from an editor?
ERD: Less is more, but descriptive is priceless. Since I write science fiction and I am building a world that has never been seen or existed, perception is in the details.
JSC: Name the book you like most among all you’ve written, and tell us why.
ERD: That’s a difficult answer. It’s like asking a parent their favorite child. Each book is special. Book 1 introduces the World of Echelon’s End. Books 2-7 continue that history lesson. Books 8 & 9 reflect more of modern times and I think are more ‘relatable’ to what we as a society are experiencing in the now. Books 1-12 are character-changing and show how people can change over time. The arc of the characters and stories each have their ‘moment’s in all 12 of the “Echelon’s End” series books.
JSC: How do you combine all the different worlds of your life in your works?
ERD: I suppose where they are needed to fulfill a story’s plot. Humor when needed, seriousness as dictated, morality lesson overall.
JSC: What’s the funniest or creepiest thing you’ve come across while researching for one of your stories?
ERD: Just the absurdity of human nature … how societies change their minds over and over again on what is good or bad, divine or evil. The arc of the human experience truly is like watching a baby become a toddler, a toddler an adolescent. Just waiting for it to become mature and adult… I’ve seen the humor and creepiness in that observation.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for Echelon?
ERD: Book 1 is largely based on my journals from my childhood, when ‘coming out’ was not acceptable. When those you thought were your friends were the first to ‘cast stones’. Seeing family members, you thought loved you unconditionally, suddenly ostracize you. It was brought about the need for a more utopian society in which to live in. It is more a documentary of those around me saying they wanted such a world, yet lacking the mental and emotional maturity to create it. This book is also the combination of those storyline scripts I had submitted to SPACE: 1999, BSG, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century that did not get signed (for various reasons).
JSC: Tell us something we don’t know about your heroes.
ERD: What makes them tick? My heroes are from the comics, such as Superman, Wonder Woman and all about what made them into the ‘persons’ they became. The life experiences and losses that made them more ‘human’ than the humans they protected.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
ERD: Of course, I’d love for “Echelon’s End” to become all that it can become. From New York Times Best Seller to movie franchise to TV series. And, like any parent, I would extremely proud if any one of those milestones were achieved.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
ERD: The time in which it was written. Having openly gay characters in a majority gay society isn’t exactly embraced in the science fiction genre (there are children reading this!!).
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
ERD: Several artists have been involved in the cover design depending on the edition of the book(s): Guy Alec Avoth, Don Wallstedt, Christian Roque, and more recently William Green. With all, it starts with a conversation about ‘What is the book about’ and then going into what ‘scene’ best depicts the story within the book.
JSC: What character gave you fits and fought against you?
ERD: Initially, the character of Retho Capelsire. For, he was me. Book 1 – 3 are a coming of age for him, as was a coming of age for myself. And, when we go through that ‘change’ from child to adolescent were fit against each other over and over again as we mature from the ways of a child in preparation for adulthood.
Did that character cause trouble because you weren’t listening and missed something important about them? Of course. Retho is undergoing shedding his youth for adulthood. That process alone is wracked with conflict.
JSC: What inspired you to write this particular story?
ERD: It was therapeutic. I had a lot of anger and resentment to deal with to becoming healthy and wanting to stay living in this world.
JSC: What were the challenges in bringing it to life?
ERD: Holding a mirror up to oneself is never an easy process. There is a lot of ugliness within each of us… shining the light of enlightment on that darkness is never an easy process.
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
ERD: Again, Retho Capelsire. The arc of his relationship with himself, his parents, a changing world around him, and eventually his family and his beloved have been very eye-opening and relatable to me.
JSC: What’s your core motivation in this book?
ERD: I had a story, a morality-play to get out. I had a voice that needed to be heard on this topic… of gays in the future. Since we had no acknowledged past, no tolerance in the present … I had to speak about what I felt the future with ‘us’ in charge vs. ‘them’ would be like …
JSC: Are you happy with where your writer left you at the end? (don’t give us any spoilers).
ERD: Yes. Of course, there is so much more I would like my stories to go… love a cliffhanger!
JSC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
ERD: A Broadway/Hollywood actor.
JSC: If you had the opportunity to live one year of your life over again, which year would you choose, and why?
ERD: 34. That was the best year of my life. I was young, firm, thin, and full of life. I was invincible.
JSC: Tell me one thing hardly anyone knows about you.
ERD: I am crippling shy.
JSC: Tell me about a unique or quirky habit of yours.
ERD: I am detail oriented to point of self-doubt of doing something well. I cannot fail. I am a perfectionist that cannot stand the idea that I did not do my very, very best in anything I attempt to do. Hence the write, review, rewrite ‘thing’!
JSC: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
ERD: Yes. Books were my escape from the obsessive, limited existence of smalltown USA, PA.
JSC: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names?
ERD: Just one. My dog Shirley. She passed away 2 years ago.
JSC: What’s your writing process?
ERD: Just write. Review. Rewrite. Write some more. Review again (sometimes act out), Rewrite….
JSC: What other artistic pursuits (it any) do you indulge in apart from writing?
ERD: Just acting … and writing screen and plays.
JSC: What are some day jobs that you have held?
ERD: Everything from cleaning toilets to teaching aerobic classes. Currently, I teach massage therapy. If any of them impacted your writing, share an example. All have impacted my writing, whether as a commentary of society and/or characters I have encountered.
JSC: We know what you like to write, but what do you like to read in your free time, and why?
ERD: Science fiction … I love the future. I also read scientific journals/magazines to stay current (and sometimes for inspiration for a plot point), and biographies.
JSC: What qualities do you and your characters share?
ERD: Well, the Utopian POV for sure. Humans have the potential to create a perfect world tomorrow, if we so choose. But, because of our cannibalistic nature, we choose not too … this saddens me and the characters in “Echelon’s End”. How much are you like them, or how different are they from you? My characters are all aspects of my personality for sure… but, they come from a Utopian work lost, I on the other hand live in a dystopic reality wishing for societal harmony.
JSC: Describe yourself using… (a food, a book, a song, a movie, an animal, a drink, a place etc)
ERD: I am quirky for sure. An athletic nerd. Kind’a a Clark Kent. So, I suppose I am like the song “I Am What I Am”.
JSC: Do you have any strange writing habits or superstitions?
ERD: Not really. I just need privacy.
JSC: If you could create a new holiday, what would it be?
ERD: Human Appreciation Month.
JSC: If you were stuck on a desert island all alone with only three things, what would they be?
ERD: Shelter, Internet & food/water access, and my boyfriend.
JSC: What action would your name be if it were a verb?
JSC: What fantasy realm would you choose to live in and why?
ERD: I think I do very well in Asgard. Love me some Vikings!!
JSC: What fictional speculative fiction character would you like to spend an evening with, and why?
ERD: I am a HUGE fan of Superman … so Ka-el would be nice to have some Netflix and Chill time.
JSC: Which of your own characters would you Kill?
ERD: Well, the anatagonist race The Tauron.
Fuck? Marry? Major Nicraan Matasire
And why? He’s the combination of every man I have ever loved.
JSC: Would you visit the future or the past, and why?
ERD: The future for sure … not so sure about the past … humans have been very childish and adolescent so far it their development. Prejudice, hate, fear, and self-loathing abound throughout our history.
JSC: Star Trek or Star Wars? Why? Ummm. I enjoy both. The original canon of Star Trek (not the JJ Abrams ‘reimagined universe’) and its belief system that we as human can ‘get along’ and therefore join a greater community. Star Wars for its ‘in a galaxy far, far away’ mythos.
ERD: Ummm. I enjoy both. The original canon of Star Trek (not the JJ Abrams ‘reimagined universe’) and its belief system that we as human can ‘get along’ and therefore join a greater community. Star Wars for its ‘in a galaxy far, far away’ mythos.
JSC: What food(s) fuel your writing?
JSC: How does the world end?
AUTHORERD: By mankind’s own hand. We destroy ourselves through our greed and self-hatred in our pursuit of external gratifications.