Robert Pobi is the author of the thriller Bloodman, which as been described as “…a Sixth Sense-like take on Thomas Harris in his prime,” and his newest novel Mannheim Rex is about a lake-dwelling monster right out of the 13th century. He’s also hard at work on his next book, so I was really psyched when he took the time to answer a few of my questions about monsters, writing, and what truly scares him.
Please welcome Robert to the blog!
I had never read what I considered to be the definitive monster novel – there that old saying that dictates you should write the book you’d want to read. And no one had really tackled the particular legend I wanted to focus on. I had read about it in a lot of non-fiction books over the years; and examples of this particular beastie can be found in print as far back as 1577 (with an oral history that may go back as far as 1230). But no one had done a modern interpretation. That was too good to pass up.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
The best part of the research was visiting the Museum of Natural History in London – they have an unsigned seventeenth-century painting (given to the museum by an anonymous donor) of the creature in Mannheim Rex. Seeing it made me feel like I was continuing on the same road the artist had gone down nearly four hundred years ago; dipping into a forgotten chunk of our collective history, from a time when we believed in a completely different kind of monster than we do today.
Pope is one of those characters who was just there, waiting in his cruiser for me to unleash his madness on the world. I’d love to take credit for the way I agonized over him, and molded him out of the discarded pieces of all the failed human beings I’ve met along the way, but I’d be lying. Pope was an easy guy to work with because his operating system isn’t troubled by the usual flow-chart ends-and-means good-vs-bad equation that most of us have – he’s not bothered by morality. He’s a bad boy on a bad mission. And form the email I’ve been getting, it’s obvious the guy works – he scares the bejeesus out of everyone.
Speaking of monsters, what are some of your favorites (literary monsters, movie monsters, anything goes)?
I’m not sure we have enough time for this one.
A very early influence on me was an episode of a television show called Kolchak The Night Stalker – the episode was called The Sentry. The story revolved around a monstrous lizard/ creature living in the sewers and doling out bone-crunching death to anyone who was unfortunate enough to venture near its eggs. For years I thought about that show – it’s never been far from my mind as an early touchstone in what I now do. I recently re-watched the episode on the web and let’s say that my seven-year-old self was much less critical than the current version of me is. At the time I thought this was art of the highest form. Now? Not so much.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of those monsters that has always fascinated me. He works because there is a great sadness in him – he is malicious because he is miserable. If you look at Victor’s creation from the right angle, he is the prototypical serial killer – not born, but made. And after nearly 200 years, he still freaks me out. Quite an accomplishment.
And the big bad voodoo daddy of them all has to be the shark from the film version of Jaws – Bruce. I have seen that movie an easy 200 times – at my cottage I have an ancient Eisenhower-era top-loading VCR and a copy of that tape. When it’s a rainy fall afternoon and I’m working, the tape goes in and I start to write. Never fails to put me in the zone.
What are some of the biggest influences on your writing, literary or otherwise?
I had a reading disability as a child. Every evening from 7:00 to 7:30 I had to sit down with my mother and read – at the time it seemed to be the greatest punishment in the world. On Saturdays she’d take me to the library and I’d have to pick out a book – then we’d go home and I had to sit in my room and read. She was smart enough to warn me that she was going to quiz me. To me, this was on par with child abuse. But it got me reading, and it’s the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.
My ninth grade typing teacher was also one of those blessings in disguise. He wore Herb Tarlek jackets and Buddy Holly specs and was draconian with his discipline. Every day I sit down at my keyboard I remember that guy.
And there is a story I don’t tell very often. I was in college walking to the bus and talking to a acquaintance. We were discussing life post-school and I asked him what he wanted to do (typical undergrad question, I suppose). He flippantly said ‘novelist’ – and it was a light bulb moment for me. I had been writing short stories at home but up until then, the word novelist had been reserved for guys like Hemingway and Faulkner. Yet there I was, with some guy who was just like me, who had the brass to say that he was going to be a novelist. If he could do it, why couldn’t I? His name was James and I often wonder what happened to that guy. I’ve been thinking it would be great to find him to thank him for changing my life. Wouldn’t that be a blast?
You write the scaries, and you’re very good at it! What’s something that you find truly terrifying?
Same old, same old, I guess. Like when I’m alone on some lost little road in California I worry about some guy ramming my car off the road, then hacking out my jawbone with a hunting knife while I’m pinned under the vehicle and unable to defend myself – but that’s just the regular everyday stuff that I think all rational human beings worry about.
The stuff that really terrifies me – I mean scares me down to the roots of my teeth – is something like Darfur or Cambodia – when human beings unhook from the matrix and go screaming off the rails. That’s when you see the bogey man for real. And he’s a big bad dude who won’t take no for an answer.
Other top contenders? The over-fishing of our oceans. The large-scale over-pollution of the environment. All the hatred and murder doled out in the name of a god.
And heights. Did I mention heights?
Some of these might be classified as horror, some not – but to me they’re all in the same elevator car.
Jaws by Peter Benchley – great interplay between characters.
The Sphere by Michael Crichton – great psychological and physical claustrophobia.
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris – bite your nails to the elbows kind of frightening.
Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill – a road-film (I mean book) to end all road films (I mean books).
Duma Key by Stephen King – a haunting story of a man’s rebirth.
Dracula by Bram Stoker – a tortured love story.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever. Hands down.
What are you reading now?
Right now I’m in the midst of the final edit for my next novel – a book called River of the Dead – so nothing on the plate but edits, edits, edits.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
In the past thirty-six months there hasn’t been a lot in the way of free time but it looks like I’ve finally caught up – the writing and living balance is shifting. Fishing. Kayaking. Reading. Hiking. Painting. I’m a pretty good cook – I know my way around a kitchen. And I’m the kind of guy who’s always doing something with my hands – weird little projects that no one else would be interested in. Right now I’m cleaning and rewiring a monster nineteenth century Black Forest stag antler chandelier that I want to put in the dining room. The last project was built-ins for my office.
Favorite pastime? I have a little cabin on a lost lake up in the mountains and spending time there is the greatest reward I give myself – it’s a private little piece of water that never sees a motor boat. The fishing is killer and the sunsets look like they are Photoshopped.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Well, I could always talk about the next book, River of the Dead. Or the one after that, Deselected. Or the one after that…
Keep up with Robert: Website
About Mannheim Rex:
After the sudden death of his wife, famous horror writer Gavin Corlie retreats from New York City to a secluded house on Lake Caldasac. But his new life in the country is far from idyllic; when a thirteen-year-old wheelchair-bound boy named Finn Horn nearly drowns in the lake, Gavin discovers a startling secret: people in this peaceful lakeside community keep vanishing. Is the corrupt, Benzedrine-fueled town sheriff to blame? Or is Finn’s account of a lake-dwelling monster more than a near-death hallucination? Racing against time and Mother Nature, Gavin and Finn embark on a quest to catch a nightmare that seems to have evolved with a single frightful purpose: to feed on human prey.
An homage to the blockbuster Jaws and the classic American novel Moby-Dick, Mannheim Rex is a deep dark thriller that switches seamlessly between heart-warming friendship and heart-stopping action.