Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Rob McCabe – I first met Rob at Rainbow Con in 2015 – he’s a sweet guy, and is one of the authors in the first QSF flash fiction book, Discovery.
Thanks so much, Rob, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Rob McCabe: I have always written poems or short stories since childhood. I discovered I was really good at it when I entered the low-residency MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Tampa where I was exposed the ways writers write by reading closely and analyzing published works and also utilizing the mentor workshop approach where small groups of fellow students and one published mentor would dissect submitted works each semester, thereby making all of us better writers through this process. I will be graduating in June 2016. It is a two-year program and by the end, I developed a lot of confidence and self-discipline to establish good writing habits.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
RM: I write free-form poetry which focuses on the Queer experience, family and love. I also write horror because I really love it. Some of my favorite writers in this genre are Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, M.R. James, and Poppy Z. Brite. The more visceral the horror, the more I enjoy reading it. I do love a good, old-fashioned psychological horror and ghost story which is why I love Jackson and M.R. James. Their strengths lay in subliminal horror for the most part. There is very little gore in Jackson, James, Poe or Lovecraft’s work. The psychological horror of the undescribed menace lurking in the shadows still has an effect on readers today because of their mastery.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
RM: I had two short stories published in the Summer-2015 issue of RFD magazine and one story in the book. Discovery published by QSF last year
JSC: What’s your writing process?
RM: If I do have a writing process, it changes constantly. Sometimes, if I have an idea, I will work on that idea until I have a first draft of a story. I will go days without writing, but I am always thinking about a story or stories and I let them percolate for a long time until I get back to writing. I have not made a lot of time for myself to write what I want to write because of school, but once I finish school, I will have a set time to write. Usually, early mornings or real late at night works best for me.
JSC: Tell us about a unique or quirky habit of yours.
RM: I love watching horror films from the 1960s to the present. I love classic sci-fi movies from the 1950s. I like to sing along with Broadway musicals and sometimes, I will shock friends by breaking out into song while walking down the street. I love sushi made with brown rice. I love Punk, Goth and Industrial music, but I also love Italian opera and Classical music too. I love to read a lot and depending on my whim, I can read nonfiction and fiction.
JSC: If you could sit down with one other writer, living or dead, who would you choose, and what would you ask them?
RM: Only one? That’s a very difficult question. I have so many favorite writers. I think I would choose Truman Capote. His writing is so beautiful, it hurts my psyche sometimes. I think I would ask him about his writing process when he was younger and how it changed when he got older. Another writer would be James Baldwin. I would ask him how he feels about LGBT issues which have recently taken place and I would love to have lunch with Dorothy Parker. Why? Just because.
JSC: What action would your name be if it were a verb?
RM: Rob: To steal.
JSC: What kind of character or topic have you been dying to try to write, but you’ve never worked up the courage?
RM: Memoir of my life. It has been a real eye-opener for me as I look back on my childhood and young adult years. Maybe someday, but the wounds are still festering and oozing and I need time to heal and forgive, but forgiveness and healing are slow in coming, so, even though I could give a tinker’s damn what my family feels, I can’t seem to get started because so much of memoir is one-sided (the author’s memory of events can be very skewed). Another genre I would like to tackle is writing a biography of a forgotten LGBT poet or writer. I love looking at original letters and diaries of people and see how they felt, what their hopes and dreams were, why their work slipped into the dark following their deaths. There are so many forgotten LGBT stories out there, I would never get bored.
JSC: If you had the opportunity to live one year of your life over again, which year would you choose?
RM: 1977-1978. My first year at University of Detroit before it joined Mercy College. I was on the Dean’s List and went to Oxford University in Oxford, England for the summer through a student exchange program through University of Detroit and Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. I also fell in love for the first time with a student in the Architecture Department. I was in the Theatre Department and he was my next door neighbor. We became lovers for two years before I transferred to Oakland University.
JSC: What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
RM: I just finished my MFA thesis—a novella and short story collection, called A Dish Best Served Cold & Other Stories. It is ready to be submitted to a publisher, but first I need to find one who will publish LGBT Horror. I am also finishing up a chapbook called, Closets are for Clothes, NOT People, and also working on two chapbooks, Mi Familia Loca, and Stories from the Night Museum.
And now for Rob’s current project book: A Dish Best Served Cold & Other Stories:
A DISH BEST SERVED COLD & OTHER STORIES focuses on the impact of unspoken secrets, the justifiable and brutal murder of a serial rapist by a small group of his victims, and the supernatural retaliation by the dead man against those who murdered him.
During a college reunion, a middle aged man faces not just the ghostly appearance of the young man who raped him, but also the re-acquaintance with a former male lover, memories of lies, deceit, and the realization that no crime goes unpunished. Unable to come to terms with his own homosexuality, he has married and raised two children. He lies to himself about his love for his wife, and following the reunion, he confronts his inner demons of guilt and fear and breaks free from his marriage, only to discover that no one is safe from the past.
The second half of the book focuses on the recent discovery of one of the secondary character’s short stories published after the character’s mysterious death. Together, these stories form an intriguing and terrifying narrative.
Being dead isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I mean, after I died, I waited for something big to happen; a flash of lightning, white puffy clouds, fire and brimstone or maybe a room with two other people forced to exist together forever like in Jean-Paul Sartre’s play, No Exit. But I experienced nothing…nothing. I found myself at first watching the police take away my body and traveled with it to the morgue where I watched, both fascinated and repelled, as the Medical Examiner did the autopsy.
Eventually, I followed my body to the cemetery and watched as my hypocritical younger brother, accompanied by his wife and their six daughters, stoically stood at my grave, making platitudes which annoyed the fuck out of me. I had clearly left in my last will and testament that I was to be cremated and have my ashes interred with John, my lover of more than 20 years. That under no circumstance was there to be a Mass or funeral service, but he had ignored even my last requests to make himself feel above me. I went to his ear and whispered,
“You son-of-a-bitch. Don’t you act for me. I know what you’re thinking. You didn’t come once to the hospital when I dying of cancer. And you never said any words of comfort to me when John died years before I had. You fucking hypocrite, you and our entire family had shunned me ever since I had come out and now? Fuck you and your platitudes, asshole.”
I don’t think he heard me, but as I looked into his face, I saw a darkness fall over it and I knew that he was going to be dead soon. I smiled at that thought and stepped away. After the funeral I stood by my grave, thinking, now what? Being dead and earth-bound was something entirely new to me and I didn’t know what to do or where to go.
I don’t know how long I stayed standing over my grave, (time as a concept really had no validity here), and I finally got bored just standing there, so I began to walk. I eventually found myself in Central Park, sitting near the playground watching the children play with such joy and innocence. I began to ask myself if I had been like that once upon a time. It appeared to be fall and the leaves had begun to change into fiery colors I hadn’t really paid attention to when I had been alive. Sitting on a green bench that needed painting, I saw a little girl about ten years in age who came over and sat next to me. She was dressed in a colorful dress covered with flowers and she wore a scent of lavender which was quite strong for my ghostly senses.
“Hello,” she said. Her smile was warm and genuine, yet I was quite startled by the fact that she could actually see me.
“You can see me?”
“Of course I can silly,” she laughed.
“I just can, that’s all,” she said in a matter of fact tone. “You’re a ghost, aren’t you?”
I couldn’t believe I was having a conversation with a kid who didn’t run away screaming.
“What’s your name?”
“David,” I said. “What’s yours?”
“How old are you, Amelia?”
“I’m ten. I’ll be 11 next October. My birthday is on Halloween, isn’t that fun?”
I nodded and smiled, although I was also concerned that her mother was nowhere to be seen.
“Where’s your mommy?”
She pointed in the direction of the playground to a woman sitting on a bench with a baby carriage.
I looked to where she was pointing. John and I had wanted kids, but we never got around to it. Especially at the time when we were thinking about it, that there had been no chance for a gay male couple to adopt children. When he died several years later, he had left me very well off. I had our apartment on Central Park West. I suppose I could have adopted a kid if I had really wanted to, but after John’s death, I didn’t see the need to. I looked down at Amelia. She was so trusting and beautiful with long blond hair, blue eyes and an enchanting smile. She was still smiling at me when she asked her next question.
“What’s it like being dead?”
I didn’t know what to tell her. You could certainly say one thing about this kid, she was direct in her questioning.
“You know what Amelia? I don’t know. I just don’t know. It’s like nothing I ever experienced while being alive. I thought that there would be a lot of answers to my questions. But so far, I haven’t had any answers at all. I am all alone and it hurts.”
I began to tear up. She looked at me and smiled.
“Don’t cry. Everything will be o.k.” She looked towards her mother who had looked up and had seen her sitting all alone. She called out and waved her hand to the girl. Amelia got up and started to walk away. She stopped and turned towards me.
“Goodbye David. I had a nice time talking with you.”
“Goodbye sweetie” I answered and waved at her as she ran to her mother. I watched them gather up their belongings and walk away. It was getting dark and even though I couldn’t feel it, I could see that people were bundling up and I remembered the cold snap in the air as autumn turned to winter. Since I had nowhere else to go, I got up and started to walk into the surrounding woods to explore the park.
I walked around a lot that night, looking at the moon dance across the sky and the millions of stars which I hadn’t really spent a lot of time noticing when I had been alive. It started to snow and the flakes fell like down from a feathered pillowcase. I continued to walk until I came to a fork in the woods. For some reason, I thought about Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken, whose lines suddenly came back to me.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
I stood a long time at that fork in the road—I began to feel what Frost must have felt when he had stood before his path and I wondered which one he would have taken. Would I find the answers to those nagging questions? Then it dawned on me. I was dead. I had all the time in the world to explore both paths. I laughed.
“You know what? I think I’ll hang around a bit. There’s so much to see, and do.”
After all, I thought, I could always try to find John another day. I think he would understand. Maybe he had done the same thing when he died. The night seemed to flow into day and I knew that no matter how long it took, I would see him again. And this knowledge allowed me the freedom to explore the fabulousness of the universe.
Rob McCabe has been an avid reader and writer since childhood.
“I remember my mother telling me that I was never alone when I had a book for a friend. She was right.”
Mr. McCabe’s work has been published in the Summer 2015 issue of RFD Magazine and his short story, Revelation was published in 2015 for Queer Science Fiction’s second annual flash fiction collection, Discovery published by Mischief Corner Books. Mr. McCabe also has written screenplays, two of which were turned into short films. Absolution and Fixated, which had their premieres at the Suncoast Film Festival in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2015. He has taken several online writing workshops through Gotham Writers Workshop and OneRoom Poetry and Short Story groups. He has also written several short plays, and self-published a ‘zine of his poetry. In June, 2016, he received his Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the low-residency program at the University of Tamp in Tampa, Florida. His creative thesis, A Dish Best Served Cold & Other Stories, is going to be sent out to different publishers this fall. Mr. McCabe is currently working on a chapbook of poetry, entitled, Closets are for Clothes, NOT People & Other Poems as well as a chapbook on his family, Mi Familia Loca and an ekphrastic collection of poems working title, Stories From the Night Museum. He makes his home in a small apartment in Gulfport, Florida in the Tampa Bay area.