Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed Robert Carlyle Taylor, about his writing and his debut novel, The First Robot President (read the review here).
Robert Carlyle Taylor, also known as Bob Taylor, was born and educated in New England. His parents were both teachers, and he developed an interest in literature at an early age. Although he aspired to be a writer, he put that ambition aside for a stable job, first in retailing, then in banking, and finally in the Federal government. He retired from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in 2018 after a forty-year career that included nineteen years in SBA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., and ten years as SBA’s Area Director for Government Contracting in Fort Worth, Texas. The First Robot President is his first published novel.
You may read a sample from Chapter 1 on his website: https://www.robertcarlyletaylor-author.com/.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Although I read many books as a child, I really discovered the power of language in my sophomore year of high school when I read John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, a modern American tragedy. From there, I moved on to other great American writers, including Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury remain two of my favorite novels.
What does literary success look like to you?
I hope to be widely read, but this is a great challenge for a new author, unless they are a celebrity, because of the number of new books that are published every day (in case you were wondering, it is over four thousand). To achieve recognition, I am entering my novel in contests, and I have already picked up several awards, including one gold prize and one silver. I was also honored recently in the 2021 NYC Big Book Awards contest as a Distinguished Favorite.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Quite a bit, actually—and more than I need to do, considering that my novel takes place five hundred years in the future and that all “facts” are based on supposition anyway. I researched as much as I could on the Internet and made phone calls to verify details. For example, I called the U.S. Congress and verified the name of the building and the room number where the Small Business Committee holds its meetings, and I verified the names of restaurants in the District of Columbia and Virginia where characters in the novel dine. All of these details may change in five hundred years, of course, but I hope the story will seem more believable to people who live and work in Washington, D.C., or to people who have ever visited the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
Do you find writing therapeutic?
Yes, indeed, and in more ways than one. First, the process of writing takes the writer to another place, mentally and spiritually, the same as reading an engaging novel. The problems of everyday life disappear. Second, writing a book gives meaning to my life, especially because I am retired. I have a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing a novel?
Like many writers, if not most, I start with an outline. I had a fairly detailed outline of The First Robot President with many of the significant scenes already written in draft before I began writing the novel in earnest. The hard part was connecting the dots. I knew what would happen in the first chapter, what would happen in the second chapter, and so on; the challenge was filling in the remainder and writing the transitions in a way that would hold the reader’s attention.
How many hours a day do you write?
When I am actually writing a book (at the moment, I am not), five hours seems to be about right. I arise around eight o’clock, take my breakfast to the study, and begin writing while I drink my coffee and eat my muffin. I will continue until noon or 1:00 p.m. Then I will spend a couple hours after lunch reviewing what I’ve written and revising it. I find that putting fresh content on a blank page is best done in the morning when my brain is clear.
What is a common trap for aspiring writers?
Not seeking input from beta readers, editors, and proofreaders. I was guilty of this myself, and the first edition of The First Robot President contained many mistakes. The worst part of it was that my friends were the ones who bought the first edition. Very embarrassing! I will always employ some combination of beta readers, editors, and proofreaders on my future endeavors.
How often do you read?
I try to make time for reading every day, but only a few pages at a time. I envy the younger me who could read for hours without taking a break. Nowadays I read for 15 or 20 minutes at a time, several times throughout the day. My goal is to read at least half-a-dozen books this year, hopefully more than that next year.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
A little of both. I try to be original, but I have adopted an easy-to-read style that makes my books readable for both younger readers and college-educated adults.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Entering The First Robot President in the 2021 Readers View Reviewer’s Choice Awards. The entry fee was reasonable, and I not only received a gold prize but also a free book review. I quote an excerpt from the book review on the back of my print editions and also in my ad blurbs.
Do you read your book reviews? Do they please you or annoy you?
Yes, I read all of my book reviews. When they are favorable, they reinforce my enthusiasm for writing; but when they are unfavorable, they can be hurtful. Recently an Amazon customer described my dialog as “horrid” and said it read “as if a third-grader had written it.” I took comfort from the fact that a professional reviewer had said earlier that my skill in writing dialog was one of my strong points.
Would you rather read a book or watch television?
These days, as when I was young, I prefer to read, but I watched more TV during my working years. There is actually an abundance of worthwhile content on the tube if you take the time to find it. The documentaries by Ken Burns—the most recent one on the life of Ernest Hemingway—are a good example.
Tell us some more about your book.
The novel begins in the year 2484 and introduces Thomas Jenkins, a Washington lobbyist who purchases a robot wife—a high-end model with an exceptional I.Q and an interest in politics. The robot’s political ambitions eventually land her on the Green Party’s 2520 Presidential ticket as the Vice-Presidential candidate. The Green Party wins the election, but soon afterwards the President is assassinated and the robot becomes President. While the novel is entertaining and parts of it are very funny (my gold prize was for humor), behind the satire is a serious message: the planet Earth will not support the current growth rate of the human species forever.
What inspired the premise of your book?
A few years ago, I saw a short video of a robot—designed by the Japanese, as I recall—that looked and talked exactly like a real human being. It happened to be a female robot, and the inspiration for Esmeralda in The First Robot President began to take root. You can read more about this in the first blog I posted on my website: https://www.robertcarlyletaylor-author.com/blog .
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite?
The novel contains fourteen chapters, and I have more than one favorite. My short list would include Chapter 6, “The Committee,” which describes Esmeralda’s experiences as a member of Congress; Chapter 8, “The Debate,” in which Esmeralda debates the Democratic and Republican Vice-Presidential candidates in the U.S. election of 2520; Chapter 13, “Geneva,” in which President Jenkins (Esmeralda) attends the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and engages with the other world leaders; and Chapter 14, “Murphy’s Law”—but I can’t say anything about Chapter 14 without spoiling the plot. As I point out in my afterword, possibly the most thought-provoking statement in the novel occurs in Chapter 13 when Esmeralda tells the Prime Minister of Great Britain, “A robot can be or do anything that a human being can be or do.”
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
The novel is really about the future of humankind and what we need to do now to ensure our own survival.
What’s next for you?
Right now I am focused on promoting The First Robot President. I wrote it to be a stand-alone novel, so it doesn’t require a sequel. For my next book, I am considering another sci-fi novel in a different setting or a non-fiction book. I will make a decision later this year (in 2022) and begin working on the next book the following year.
Categories: BookView Review Interview
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