Interview with Robert P. Hansen

Published 2014-04-11.
When did you first start writing?
I first started writing poetry when I was in high school. Most of it I ultimately threw away, but the practice of writing ballads helped me to develop a lyrical mindset. I started writing fiction in my early twenties. Between them, I designed adventures for my local group of dungeons and dragons, which became a kind of precursor to the fantasy stories I would later write.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first stories to have a significant impact on me were probably the "Three Boys" series ("Three Boys and a Tugboat", "Three Boys and a Lighthouse") and the work of Edgar Allan Poe (particularly "The Raven" and his more macabre short stories, like "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Cask of Amontillado"). However, the author that has had the greatest impact on me is Robert A. Heinlein. I read almost all of his books in the late 1980s, and they sparked my imagination and led me to read other masters of science fiction.
Actually, what impacted me the most was watching a television program. The first one I remember seeing (though not the first one I saw) is the horta episode of _Star Trek_, and I have little doubt that that program (and Spock in particular) shaped my later interests.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
This is a difficult question for me to answer, since I don't really have favorite books that I have read more than once. There are too many other books out there, and I would rather read them than return to the ones I've already finished. Still, some of the more memorable novels I've read are Heinlein's _Podkayne of Mars_, _Red Planet_, and _The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress_; Frank Herbert's _Dune_, and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's _Dragonlance Chronicles_ trilogy. These books are all quite different from each other, of course, but they have a few things in common: Complex plots and believable, interesting, somewhat unusual characters experiencing an opportunity for growth.
What do you read for pleasure?
It depends on how you define "pleasure". Since I teach philosophy, I have derived a great deal of pleasure from reading complex philosophical texts; however this reading is generally not what I would call recreational. What I read for recreation (enjoyment without purpose, you might say) is primarily science fiction (now) or fantasy (when I was younger). However, I generally don't read for recreation, and the books I've recently completed were mystery novels, since I am developing my skills for writing mystery stories. I also occasionally read poetry, but usually only in small doses.
How do you approach cover design?
At right angles? It depends upon the text. For the poems, I try to have an image that reflects the thematic nature of the collection, rather than selecting images related to a single poem. For collections of stories, I generally look for a memorable signature moment from the title piece and build an image around it. As for the novels, it depends. Novels are long-term projects that frequently develop a life of their own, and I try to have the image reflect that life, if possible. It was fairly easy to do this for the cover for _The Snodgrass Incident_, since the storyline is centered on a trip to Enceladus and NASA had a public domain image that worked well with it, but my current projects are likely to be a bit more complicated. Finally, I only start with a general idea for the cover, not a finalized one, and then let the cover designer (my sister) play with it, so every cover is a collaborative effort.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I got tired of the tedium of submitting my work for publication -- especially with the poetry. Most publishers don't pay for poems, and it takes a lot of research to increase the prospects of getting them published. Even then, the high-quality literary publishers generally accept less than 1% of the submissions they receive, so there's a lot of disappointment. The smaller presses often don't survive very long, but their acceptance rate is usually considerably higher than the established markets. They also can have a long response time. At least with the collections I've published, I don't have to submit any of the poems or stories anymore! Of course, there's still the new work that hasn't been compiled....
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
Aside from having the advantage of growing up in the U.S. and the educational opportunities it has provided, I don't think where I grew up has had nearly as much influence as when I grew up. I am a child of the late 70s and early 80s, and many of the books I read were used paperbacks from the latter parts of the Golden Age of science fiction, when there was still a great deal of optimism for the future of humanity. It was also a time of great social and technological change (the first personal computer I saw was in school in 1981), as evidenced by the development of special effects in motion pictures and television.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I'm working on three books right now, and each of them are major rewrites and expansions on stories I wrote about twenty years ago. They are fantasy stories, reflective of my interest at that time, and it's been an interesting experience to see how poorly written they were. However, I liked the plots and characters enough to rewrite them. Now, I'm going through the revision process, adding in description, a few more scenes, and checking for technical glitches.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
At present, I don't have one. I read on my laptop.
Describe your desk
I don't have one. I sit in my recliner with my laptop on the end of a bookshelf that I've never assembled.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Can't answer this; I'm just starting out on the process and haven't figured out marketing yet.
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