Some of you might remember the Hugo Award-winning science fiction and fantasy blog SF Signal, run by John DeNardo, and its dedication to all things genre-related. In its nearly 13 year run, SF Signal was a leader in creating quality content geared towards fans and creators alike. In its final two years, I was blessed to be able to run a monthly column on the site in which I interviewed talented self-published authors including Rob J. Hayes (winner of Mark Lawrenceâ€™s 2017 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off), Matthew Mather, David Simpson, Luke Smitherd, and more. The Indie Author Spotlight was designed to bring attention to independent authors, as well as introduce under-the-radar authors/genre fiction to readers.
Itâ€™s been over two years since SF Signal closed its doors, but thanks to Empress Eve and Dave3, the Indie Author Spotlight has found a new home at Geeks of Doom! I couldnâ€™t be more thrilled to begin this journey anew at GoD, a geekdom site that Iâ€™ve had the pleasure of calling home for over five years.
For the first Spotlight, Iâ€™ve had the honor of interviewing the brilliant Robert J. Duperre. Continue below for more on the author and to read the interview.
My first introduction to Duperre was back in 2012. After having read multiple novels by fantasy author David Dalglish, I came across a collection of horror short stories titled The Gate. The book featured a short by Dalglish, but the majority of the fiction was written by Duperre himself. I devoured all of the stories within the collection, as well as those within The Gate 2. In fact, to this day, one of my favorite short stories comes from The Gate, and is called â€œSins of Our Fathers.â€
For whatever reason, I never read any of Duperreâ€™s novels â€“ that is, until now. When deciding to relaunch the Indie Author Spotlight, I had my sights set on Duperre, it was just a matter of which novel to begin with. I decided I would give his young adult modern supernatural fantasy series, “The Infinity Trials,” a try, beginning with book one, Boy in the Mirror. Let me tell you, Boy in the Mirror is so good! My only regret is that I am only beginning to read his novels now.
Well, that was a long-winded introduction. So without further ado check out my interview with Duperre below, and be sure to read his work when youâ€™re finished!
Geeks of Doom: Thank you for taking the time to chat about your writing with Geeks of Doom!
Robert Duperre: Thanks so much for having me! Itâ€™s an honor.
GoD: As a writer, youâ€™ve not only self-published some of your novels, but youâ€™ve also had some works published traditionally. Is there a route that you prefer more?
Robert Duperre: When I first began this journey seven years ago, I wouldâ€™ve said self-publishing all the way. At that time I was selling two to three thousand books a month and giving away so many thousands more. That was the early days of a brand new reading format, the â€œwild-west of ebooks,â€ as my friends in the industry say. Selling was relatively easy. All you had to do was write a good book, make a few well-thought-out and helpful connections, place a few timely ads, and you were off to the races.
My, how times have changed.
Selling is so much more difficult now. Algorithms are constantly being altered, which makes consistent visibility difficult. The market has been saturated, and retailers that were once profitable are now wheezing their last death rattles. (All save Amazon, of course.) It has all added up to making it a full-time job just to get your books in front of your readersâ€™ eyes.
I need to work a regular job to make ends meet, as I have never made enough through my art to risk going at it full-time, and likely never will. Just thinking about that fact makes me exhausted, pondering of all the time and effort I need to put into marketingâ€”a skill Iâ€™m still rather lacking in. Thatâ€™s why I look back on the books I have that were traditionally published with a sort of doe-eyed longing. While deadlines, extended timelines, and the lack of complete artistic control can be frustrating, there is something wholly freeing about being able to sit down, fire up a manuscript, and just write, with no other worries than that. I miss it. I long for it. Maybe Iâ€™ll get it back eventually.
Fingers crossed on that one.
GoD: What is the writing process like for you?
Robert Duperre: Really, my whole process isnâ€™t that interesting. I have ideas that Iâ€™ve been gathering up for years upon years, all either jotted down in a notebook or stored forever in my mental warehouse. When Iâ€™m ready to start a project, I peruse all those ideas, looking for the one that inspires me the most, and then latch onto that one and sit with it for a couple days, letting my thoughts run over the possibilities, mostly while at my day job. If it sticks with me, and if my excitement grows, then itâ€™s time for the second step.
Which would be writing a basic synopsis. During this time, the story always becomes clear, and I develop a mental timeline of what events need to take place. Then comes outlining. I type out the bones of all the different scenes Iâ€™ve imagined, which in turn causes me to think of even more scenes. With that done, I order and number them. The framework of the book is now in place.
(Side note to say: After the first couple chapters, I keep the bullet points in my outline vague. While I always reach the end point I want, the story almost NEVER gets there the way I intended. That allows me to not put too much thought or effort into something that might become useless down the road.)
As for the writing itself, it really is a solitary journey for me. I try to write at least an hour a day on regular workdays, and up to five hours on weekends/time off. I canâ€™t listen to music or have other distractions, as my concentration is easily broken, and I most certainly canâ€™t have other people around. Thatâ€™s partially because I have a tendency to speak dialogue aloud as Iâ€™m typing it, kind of an unconscious testing-out phase to see if it sounds the way I think it should. Early on, when my wife would paint while I was working, sheâ€™d give me odd looks whenever it happened. She said it was cute. To me, it was embarrassing.
GoD: Years ago, before delving into Boy in the Mirror, I had read some of your short stories and was amazed at how your characters imbued such natural truth and real-life qualities, despite elements of the supernatural, horror, and more impacting their circumstances (which is certainly the case for the first book in “The Infinity Trials” series as well). Where does the inspiration for your characters come from? What about for Boy in the Mirror in particular?
Robert Duperre: Itâ€™s funny you should mention my early short stories, as at that time, almost everything I wrote was either a way to try and exorcise personal demons (of which I had many) or a simple thought experiment to see how wackily I could craft a tale. In one of my favorite shorts, “Sins of Our Fathers,” the protagonist is an offshoot of myself, only one whose life had zigged whereas mine had zagged. Another, “Sullivan Street,” was also based on a childhood version of myself, a direct reflection of my misgivings toward suburban life. And this remained the case even when I started writing my first series of novels. Josh from The Rift was constructed from all the guilt, fear, doubt, and self-loathing that I carried with me throughout my twenties, when I was a young man who considered himself a writer, but couldnâ€™t get up the courage to sit down and, you know, write.
It was while writing that very series that I started to alter my thinking in regards to crafting and growing my characters. I had a tendency to keep things too close to home, populating my books with people from my everyday life, and that fact began to frustrate me. I might not have lived the most exciting life, but it was still a life rich with experience and numerous interesting periphery connections that I had never gone through the effort to further. Connections that had different stories than mine, stories that I could actually learn from, if I put in the effort to listen.
As someone whoâ€™s looked at himself as socially conscious and progressive, I always wanted my work to, well, matter. Yet even though I cared deeply, Iâ€™d never known enough about the plights of those different from myself to have the confidence to simply add those facets into a tale, never mind base a whole plot around such ideas. It was a slow process, but lending my attentive ear to hearing the stories of others, and taking the time to understand them, allowed my writing, and my understanding of character and purpose, to grow. My craft has become all the better for it.
In the case of Boy in the Mirror, and the whole “Infinity Trials” saga as a whole, my daughter Lily was the inspiration behind all of it. Two of the main charactersâ€”Jacqueline and Annetteâ€”are different aspects of Lilyâ€™s own personality, sectioned off and grown separately from one another. People are complicated, many parts going into creating a complete whole. And in taking those two specific parts of my daughter and implanting them with a life of their own, I was able to mold them into people who may have been similar in certain ways, but wholly their own people, with their own problems and ways of solving them. Not Polyannas, not Final Girls, not Mean Girls, not any one thing at all, but real, fleshed-out individuals.
Those are tropes we all know far too well in this kind of fiction, and really, part of my purpose in writing “The Infinity Trials” was to take certain tropes and flip them onto their heads, so that what you expect might not be what you get. Even the villains count in this regard. There needs to be a semblance of understanding there, some sort of compassion, in order to make them well-rounded and not caricatures. Real-life people donâ€™t fit into tidy little boxes. A great fictional character shouldnâ€™t, either.
GoD: Setting the supernatural aspects aside for a moment, you deal with â€“ in a tasteful manner â€“ some crushing truths of the real world in Boy in the Mirror (i.e. sexual abuse, privilege, and death) in ways that truly add to the growth of your characters. Are these topics difficult to explore, especially when placed upon your own creations?
Robert Duperre: Thereâ€™s a fine line you walk when writing about sensitive subjects: donâ€™t go far enough, and the point becomes bland and seemingly unimportant; go too far, and youâ€™ve created something that could potentially be considered titillating or exploitative. Thatâ€™s the reason why I give my wife any hazardous material I create before finalizing it. Sheâ€™s one of the most intelligent and discerning readers Iâ€™ve ever met. If she thinks what Iâ€™ve written is well done, pushing that line just enough without going over, then Iâ€™ve done my job.
And yeah, it can be extremely hard to put my characters through this sort of ringer. Mainly because to do so to them is to do so to myself. In order to craft a scene involving bigotry, hate, sexual violence, or any other sort of depraved (and unfortunately common) human tendency, I have to try and put myself in their place. I have to actively consider what it is theyâ€™re suffering, how they deal with the outcome, what kind of helplessness or anger or guilt they might feel while the acts are being perpetrated against them. And itâ€™s even worse the other way around. If Iâ€™m writing from the point of view of a racist, sociopath, or abuser, then I have to get in their heads too. Which can make me feel all sorts of dirty on the inside afterward, and brings about its own form of crushing guilt.
Even so, this is something that I feel like I have to do, regardless of how it makes me feel. I need to go to these dark places, simply because they exist. As I said earlier, I want my work to mean somethingâ€”to entertain, yes, but also to be illuminating in its own right. I canâ€™t turn away from the troublesome aspects of daily life because they might make the reader uncomfortable or trigger them, because I think itâ€™s important to always point out these unfortunate human traits, to call as much attention to them as possible. Iâ€™ve lived long enough to see how harmful for the victim it can be to ignore the despicable out of some Puritanical sense of politeness. I want my work to inspire others to not put up with it anymore, starting with my daughter. And if just one reader out there were to say they were thankful that I was able to recognize their plight, then it all will be worth it.
GoD: Boy in the Mirror provides some excellent world-building and foreshadows for events to come in the series. Can you tell us a bit about where the series, as a whole, is headed, and how many books you have planned for Jacquelineâ€™s journey?
Robert Duperre: Currently, “The Infinity Trials” series stands at four published booksâ€”Boy in the Mirror, Wolves at the Door, Lost in the Shadows, and Queen of the Dead. The fifth and final volume, titled God in the Girl, is still under construction. I was roughly a quarter of the way through that last book when I had to take a pause in my creative efforts eight weeks ago, as my mother-in-lawâ€™s health had taken a downward turn. (She has since passed away, unfortunately. She was a great woman. She will be missed.) I know the show must go on, however, and plan to resume the task of completing that book this coming week in hopes of a late October/early November release.
The interesting thing is, the rest of my career really canâ€™t begin until I finish this series off. In almost every way, “The Infinity Trials” isnâ€™t the culmination of a vision, but the birth of one. Jacqueline Talbot, the heroine of the series, is the central figure of a sprawling greater universe that Iâ€™ve been trying to suss out for literally decades. This series is about Jacqueline overcoming her personal demons and reaching her full potential, a literal coming-of-age tale with not only global, but universal stakes. And just as in real life, sometimes a person isnâ€™t meant to become everything they possibly could. Sometimes, mitigating factors dictate that reaching for the stars is reaching too far. Letâ€™s use J. Robert Oppenheimer (whom I purposefully named a high school after in the series) as an example. The development of the atomic bomb was the pinnacle of Oppenheimerâ€™s career, his crowning achievement. But how would the world be better off had his ambition not pushed him to create something he knew from the outset would make the Earth a far scarier place?
That, in a nutshell, is the culmination of Jacquelineâ€™s story. She will grow, she will develop her supernatural talents, she might very well become the strongest being whoâ€™s ever existed. Whether thatâ€™s good for the rest of those who call my little private universe home is something I can slowly expand upon throughout the rest of my career.
GoD: Do you have any other stories, outside of “The Infinity Trials” series in the works? If so, can you tell us about them?
Robert Duperre: As of right now, I have a novella connected directly to “The Infinity Trials,” titled Death Devours All Lovely Things, that Iâ€™ll be releasing shortly. The story is really just me indulging myself on the backstory of one of my favorite important side characters in the series, a vampire-type creature named Edwin. It was a fun and different type of tale for me to tell. I hope my readers find it just as fun.
Shortly after the last “The Infinity Trials” book is released, Iâ€™ll be re-releasing Soultaker, the first novel in a planned three-part series called “The Knights Eternal.” Itâ€™s a dark epic fantasy tale about three gun-toting knights of a holy order that traipse around a post-apocalyptic wasteland fighting demons and scoundrels. (And is also connected to Jacquelineâ€™s story, though those connections take some time to become clear.) Soultaker was originally published by Ragnarok Publications, and was doing quite well with them before the publisher changed hands and financial issues caused them to shelve their novel production. So that series is now back under my creative control, and has been on hold for quite some time. However, Iâ€™ve been itching to write that second novel for going on a year now; once Iâ€™m finished with God in the Girl, I plan on jumping right in and starting. It shouldnâ€™t take long. The outlineâ€™s already written, after all.
GoD: How can the Geeks of Doom community help support you?
Robert Duperre: Hm. I canâ€™t just sit here and ask the community to buy my books, can I? Nah, I canâ€™t do that. What I can ask is that they give my books a try. Download a sample. Check it out. If it works for you, pick it up. Leave a review. Contact me with your likes and dislikes, as I usually welcome any and all discourse. As a writer, I donâ€™t believe that I live in a bubble. The words and ideas of my readers are just as important to me as those of my contemporaries. After all, without readers, I wouldnâ€™t have a career to worry over, now would I?