Interview (& Giveaway): Robert Jackson Bennett, author of The Troupe

Today I’m thrilled to have the awesome Robert Jackson Bennett on the blog! Robert is the Philip K. Dick and Edgar nominated author of Mr. Shivers, The Company Man, and The Troupe (out tomorrow!!) If you’d like to read my review of The Troupe, go right ahead, we’ll be here when you get back. Anyway, he was nice enough to answer a few of my questions, and there’s also a pretty killer giveaway, so be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post!

Please welcome Robert to the blog!

You’ve got two frankly awesome books, Mr. Shivers and The Company Man (which has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award), under your belt, and The Troupe is coming up tomorrow (the 21st). Have you always wanted to write?
I think so. When I was about nine, I wrote short stories accompanying many of the Chronicles of Harris Burdick images. I can also remember rewriting movies or comics when I felt like they didn’t “do it right.” I think I realized I needed to be a writer when I would think up books I wished such-and-such would write, but they never did. So I would have to do it.

So, did you happy dance when you found out about the Philip K. Dick nom? Because I would have totally happy danced. And there may have been some squeeeing.
I believe I immediately asked my publicist if it would be okay if I said “holy shit” to her in an email. I think this to be a perfectly valid response.

There are some pretty big themes explored in your newest novel, The Troupe. What kind of research did you do for it, if any?
I did quite a bit of research, mostly because it was so fun. Vaudeville was an immensely popular period in American entertainment, and since many of its actors segued into movies fairly fluidly, there were quite a few famous people everyone wrote about, so their vaudeville experience got written about, too. It was actually immensely easy to do research about – the circuits made a lot of money, and things that make a lot of money get recorded in detail.

But theme and research are two different things. Doing research is getting the right tires on the car, and making sure its oil’s been changed and it’s all been properly checked; theme, however, is the road you want to drive it on, and where you are going to go. That’s something that often gets decided before you even choose which era or which characters you want to write about.

The Troupe also packs quite an emotional punch. Is it hard on you to write such emotionally charged material?
Not really. It’s actually quite exhilarating – at least, when you do it right. Taking an emotionally-loaded image or scene, and realizing it in the most effective manner, is probably better than most drugs, or at least I would imagine it to be, having never personally tried most drugs.

What are some of your biggest literary influences?
This is a terribly difficult question, I find. I can only cite those I like, and those that inspire me; but as to whether or not they’ve had any effect on my writing, or if my writing has any similarity to theirs, I’m completely blind to that.

I love John le Carré, Susana Clarke, Neil Gaiman, Nabokov, David Mitchell, David Foster Wallace, Madeleine L’Engle, Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, Cormac McCarthy… Mostly, I love authors who explore big ideas in interesting ways using interesting voices. I find that if an author doesn’t explore something I think to be “big” or important, I’m much less likely to like their work.

If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Well, I’m one of the people who finds themselves liking books the more they reread them – I like to look at the whole, and keep the whole in mind, as I explore something. So the initial surprise and intrigue of a novel has less attraction to me than to most, probably.

That said, reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for the first time was utterly wonderful. Never before has a 500-whatever page novel felt like a fifty page one. It was also the book that got me married, in a way. So there’s that.

What are you reading now?
I’m reading Pym, by Mat Johnson, about Poe’s one and only (and horrible) novel. It is an extremely amusing and enlightening look at American race through sort of a speculative fiction lens. It’s delightful.

When you’re not busy writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I have a ten-month old, so I have no knowledge of this “free time.”

Is there any news of upcoming projects or events that you’d like to share?
Sure. I’m putting the finishing touches on my fourth book, American Elsewhere. It’s sort of a mix between Twin Peaks and H.P. Lovecraft, about an ex-cop named Mona Bright who finds herself inheriting a house in Wink, New Mexico, a town nearly every map claims does not exist. Yet it does exist – and it seems queerly perfect, as if it’s been waiting for her for years, a home she never knew existed.

Of course, not everything is what it seems. Wink is a very different place – and soon Mona finds herself wondering how different she is, as well.

There is also a fun short story of mine about how to mix cocktails out of emotions in Broken Time Blues, an anthology of speculative fiction set in the 1920’s. I quite enjoyed that, and it was written while I was writing The Troupe, so it is a bit colored by that.
Keep up with Robert: Website | Twitter

About The Troupe:
Vaudeville: mad, mercenary, dreamy, and absurd, a world of clashing cultures and ferocious showmanship and wickedly delightful deceptions.

But sixteen-year-old pianist George Carole has joined vaudeville for one reason only: to find the man he suspects to be his father, the great Heironomo Silenus. Yet as he chases down his father’s troupe, he begins to understand that their performances are strange even for vaudeville: for wherever they happen to tour, the very nature of the world seems to change.

Because there is a secret within Silenus’s show so ancient and dangerous that it has won him many powerful enemies. And it’s not until after he joins them that George realizes the troupe is not simply touring: they are running for their lives.

And soon…he is as well.

1. You MUST fill out the form below (lots of chances for extra entries!)
2. Giveaway is for 5 copies of The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett to 5 winners
3. US/Canada ONLY
4. Must include a valid email address
5. You must enter on or before 2/27/12
6. Please see my Giveaway Policy.
7. Book kindly provided by the author and Orbit Books.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I totally agree about reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for the first time. What a wonderful book.

  2. Pingback: The penultimate day… « Robert Jackson Bennett

  3. Ditto on the Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell comment. Robert’s thoughts on it and the fact that he has a young child make me empathize with him even more.

    To answer the question, one of my favorite scary movies is The Ring, mostly because I had a strange experience after watching it. On leaving the parking lot of the movie theater I actually saw a little girl in a white dress (like in the movie) standing on the corner, and then when I got home I had a small black & white TV in my room like the one she had in the movie. I had to put it in the closet.

  4. My favorite scary book is Imajica by Clive Barker. It is not just scary, it is also deeply disturbing to me. I love it. 😀

    Also, The Troupe sounds amazing, and it went straight on my TBR list.

  5. I love these suggestions! Speaking of adding more to the TBR…:-D

  6. One of my favorite scary movie when I was younger is the Candyman and Children of the Corn. I’m sure upon watching it, it would still scare me.

  7. A favorite of mine is ‘The Thing’! More creepy than scary =D

  8. Have to second that comment Robert made about writing emotionally charged scenes. The provide the biggest thrill, charge, or whatever you want to call it when you feel like you’ve nailed it. Perhaps because if you’ve got it down, you get to vicariously live through the scene to, and it just gets all the nerves on edge and the adrenaline flowing. Honestly, it’s a hard feeling to beat as a writer anyway. Best of luck with the release!

  9. The original Black & White version of ‘Night of the Living Dead’ Scared the bejeezes out of me!!! It was great, a classic!!!

  10. Anything Stephen King scares me silly.

  11. This sounds magical and fabulous- similar to The Night Circus which I just adored!

  12. I haven’t seen it in forever, Pan’s Labyrinth. I loved how the real world and fairy tale elements mixed, and how both were creepy and twisted. I also love The Invisible. I don’t know if you could call it “creepy” exactly, but it is strange and awesome.

  13. This sounds like such a good book! You totally had me at “sort of a mix between Twin Peaks and H.P. Lovecraft”! My favorite scary book is The Stand by Stephen King! I’ve read it at least 3 times, and it’s not a small book by any means!

  14. I love Stephen King’s It and The Stand. I thought they were pretty scary. Please enter me in contest.

  15. Can’t think of a fave but the movie It really freaked me out when I was younger. Thanks for the giveaway.

  16. IT is my fav scary movie and scares me alot too. Thanks for the giveaway.

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  18. Angels and Demons

  19. I would definitely have to say The Stand had some pretty creepy elements to it. When the dead guy started talking to STU’s character in the CDC that was pretty creepy Swan Song by Robert McCammon had some totally creepy moments in it. Excellent book you should read it sometime if you never have.

    vbarton24 at gmail dot com

  20. The Stand is pretty much the high water mark for me.

  21. needful things, by Stephen King

  22. Elizabeth (BookAttict)

    It by Stephen King definitely tops my creepy scale as far as scary books go!

    elizabeth @ bookattict . com

  23. Stephen King is my favorite author probably although Dean Koontz also has some good scary/suspenseful books also.

  24. My favorite creepy, dark fantasy writers are H. P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos stories in particular. I love the cosmic eerie foreboding he conveys better than just about anyone. I also love The Silver John stories by Many Wade Wellman – the Appalachian settings and the spooky local folk lore and the regional dialect and the musical elements – unique, atmospheric – terrific stuff!

    Amy in NYC – life long lover of SF & F

  25. Pet Semetary by Stephen King has to be one of the creepiest books I have ever read.

  26. Such awesome book recs! You guys rock 😀

  27. That would have to be by Stephen King!

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