Meet Rob Kaay…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Rob Kaay to drop by.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: You’ve worked as a professional musician. (Rob was signed with Columbia records in his twenties and was based in New York and Melbourne. He had an epiphany when he turned thirty, returned to Perth and started working on Silverbirch his dark urban fantasy novel). Rather than approach a traditional publisher, you went straight to self publishing. I know many traditionally published writers are re-releasing their backlists by self publishing. What was your reasoning behind taking the self publishing route?

A: As soon as I finished my first draft of Silverbirch, I sent out twenty query letters, with the first three chapters attached, to some of the biggest publishing companies and agents in the world.  I aimed high.  One of the bigger firms got back to me with an interest to see more of the novel once I had completed the second draft.  It gave me great motivation to work on the book some more.  The only problem was, once I completed the second draft, I could see the possibility of the company liking the book and maybe picking it up.  A scenario flashed before my eyes that resembled what had happened to my band in the music industry, our music being picked up by a major label.  A system controlling how, when and why my work was released.  That whole situation; where a massive corporation was in total control of my artistic expression, left a sour taste in my mouth and caused me to want to work solo from that point forward.  I was reluctant to hop on that merry-go-round again, so I didn’t bother sending the second draft.  I released Silverbirch; A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky myself and plan on doing that with all my music and books in the future.

With the upcoming sequel, Silverbirch; Fall of the Epicenter, I am currently editing the third draft and have no plans on showing publishers or agents.  I don’t care how many copies I sell, I have written the sequel exclusively for those people who have found and enjoyed the first book.

Q: While you were on the road touring your wrote two journals about this experience. (See here). About one of them you say ‘this is what it’s really like being in a band’. Are these journals the sort of thing you don’t want your mother to read?

Actually, they’re both about what it’s really like being in a band.  I didn’t write the journals about one specific band though.  I created characters based on a number of different people in a number of bands I’ve been in and/or supported.  The character of Robkaay however is heavily based around myself.

I deliberately wrote the books in a journal type format to give kids who are thinking of dedicating their life to being in a touring rock band an up close and personal spectrum of exactly what is involved.  From what it’s really like to take drugs, sleep with groupies and be drunk for weeks on end.  In reality, it’s a lot different than how cool it sounds.  There are dark moments when my character talks from inside a depression and can’t believe he has sacrificed a beautiful relationship for the sake of a small piece of delusional unattainable fame.

As for the second part of your question . . . normally, if you’re in a rock band and you write about what it’s really like, you don’t want your mother to read it.  However, in my case, my mum was the editor!  Every few chapters she would ring me and ask, “Is this a character you are writing or did this really happen?!”

Q: From doing these author interviews I know that about 75% of writers are aural – they play music while they write, some even go so far as to make up lay lists of certain types of music to get them into the zone for a particular book. (The other 25% are visual and make up folders of photos). As a musician you have a soundtrack that goes with Silverbirch (available here). Is this because the music and the story are so intertwined that you can’t imagine producing one without producing the other?

While writing Silverbirch, sometimes I listen to my own instrumental music, but mostly I listen to other bands.  I listen to lots of Trent Reznor’s instrumental stuff like Ghosts I-IV, the Fight Club soundtrack, Moby’s free instrumental music, instrumental Crosses . . . anything really, as long as it’s cool and dark . . . just as long as there are no vocals.  Vocals distract me. (Rob is giving away a free EP to accompany Silverbirch).

Q: Regarding your premise for Silverbirch you said: ‘I’ve always been interested in what causes people to do crazy things when they’re not in control of themselves, like when they’re drunk, on drugs, angry or sleep deprived. Obviously in a touring rock band, I saw a lot of people doing crazy things they couldn’t remember, so I decided to create a race of people called Silvers who were influencing our decisions. That’s pretty much how Silverbirch; A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky was born.’ Did you research psychology to help you with the building of the Silvers’ society?

Nope.  I’m just writing fantastical ideas as I see them in my mind.

Q: You are working on a sequel to Silverbirch. ‘I specifically went travelling last year to the Lake District and London in England and Jordan in the Middle-East and Egypt and visited the Mayan Ruins in Mexico to write the sequel. I learned as much as I could about what the Egyptians and Mayans believed and wrote most of the next Silverbirch on the road.’ What do you look for when you travel like this? Are you going to specific places to set story elements, or are you looking for the feel of the place?

With Egypt, Jordan and Mexico, I wanted to learn more about ancient civilizations and marvel at what they accomplished and wonder at how.  Some of the things these ancient civilizations knew and could build between 3000 and 6000 years ago blows your mind.  Especially when you’re there, seeing how they made everything happen without mechanical engineering or steel.  How the hell did they pile 4-tonne slabs of stone on top of each other to form the Pyramids of Giza, fifty stories high, without steel cranes?  It’s still a mystery.  Also, what happened to the ancient Egyptians as a race of people and what is the true meaning behind their hieroglyphics?

When I travel to places with as much history as this, I like to immerse myself in the environment and allow my imagination to ask me all sorts of questions that most people would deem as weird.  It helps to unlock story ideas and pathways in my wild imagination.

With other places, like London and Grasmere in England . . . I talked my girlfriend into specifically visiting London because I wanted to write about Nudge storming the BBC Studios.  With Grasmere, I heard they had an abundance of silver birch trees.  The BBC Studios and the town of Grasmere have become key locations in the next book.  I find that I can’t write about a place properly and make it believable unless I’ve physically been there.

Q: The art for Silverbirch is particularly nice. Are you also an artist, or did you hire a freelancer to produce this artwork?

I know, I like to do everything I on my own!  But no, I am super crap at drawing.  If you asked me to draw you a stick figure of a man with shoes on, I’m sure it would come off looking more like a twisted tree with roots sunk in two ugly pots.

Ken Taylor from Melbourne illustrated the ‘young Nudge holding the mushroom‘ graphic for A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky.  Dan Mumford from London illustrated the ‘female reptilian from Venus‘ graphic for the upcoming novel, Fall of the Epicenter.

Q: With your background in music, do you plan to do more cross-platform releases or ‘enhanced’ e-books in future?

As a musician and author, I am seriously looking to explore greater ways to tell a story in the future.  For now, other than releasing my stories in written form, I am also creating podcasts, writing most of the music myself.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

 I don’t think there is a difference just because a male or female writer has written something.  I think the difference comes from how different we all are as general Humans in the way we see the world.  How different we are all individually brought up in various environments with vast belief systems.  Everyone has something to say, regardless of gender.  If it’s interesting enough, lots of people will want to read the writing.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Not at all.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

First up I would dial in the year 3000 B.C. to Egypt.  I want to see how they built the pyramids!  Second, I would dial in 3000.  I want to see how technology advances in the future.  I want to know what will become of the people of Earth and whether Humans are still the dominant species!

Giveaway Question: If you could go back stage and mingle with any band in the last 60 years, which band would it be and why?

(Rob is offering a paperback edition of Silverbirch; A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky and two signed limited edition bookmarks and stickers to a randomly selected winner!)

Catch up with Rob on Shelfari

Catch up with Rob on Goodreads

Catch up with Rob on Linkedin

Catch up with Rob on Facebook

Follow Rob on Twitter @robkaay


Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Comics/Graphic Novels, creativity, Fantasy books, Indy Press, Music and Writers, Promoting your Book, Publishing Industry, Writers Working Across Mediums

29 Responses to Meet Rob Kaay…

  1. Melissa

    Great interview ,Silverbirch is a fantastic read ! if i could mingle will any band it would be the Doors .It must have been an amazing time for music and change in the 70`s and how great would it have been to talk to Jim Morrison .All kind`s of awesome .

  2. Melissa

    Yes it is Rowena !

  3. Sarah

    Great Interview. I love these series that you do because it really opens up readers to new authors they might not have heard about…plus you get fantastic give aways with fun contests! This is a tough one and I could answer so many different ways but honestly if I had to pick one band it would be aerosmith. They were the first band I ever saw in concert and I would love to see they backstage (sober of course!) 🙂

  4. Awesome interview, Rowena! Thanks Rob for all your insight and I was particularly interested in why you took the self publishing route and it makes total sense. Keen to get my hands on a copy of Silverbirch and your journals – they sound fascinating! I’m a bit of a frustrated musician and have been drawn to the industry as young as I can remember so I will be very interested in reading your journals and your novel and seeing the crossover from musician to author 🙂

    That’s a really tough question, Rowena – Over the last sixty years!!!! There has been an enormous amount of music in that time that has influenced and shaped me but if we are talking about going backstage and mixing with a band? Right in this moment it would have to be Melbourne band ‘The Cat Empire’ because they have such a mixed and diverse sound. Their passion for music radiates from every single member in the band. Every gig is electric and uplifting and I would really like to pick their brains on creativity, song writing, focus, and dedication to their craft – I believe I would learn so much from them about discipline, staying true to your passion and loving what you do 🙂

    • You’re welcome and I hope you enjoy Silverbirch. Yeah, I saw the Cat Empire a few times when I lived in St Kilda, Melbourne. Not normally my cup of tea but they manage to please all types of music listeners. Extremely talented musos and I can see how people love them.

      • Hey Rob, Yes, I def do love them and ADORE them LIVE. They are a charismatic bunch with true passion for music ♥

        Where you in the one band ‘Wax Tadpole’ during your music career or others?

        I loved your videos 🙂 ‘Tips for Musicians’ was very interesting and I was particularly interested in hearing about ‘streaming and subscription’ being the way of the future. I agree MOST radio stations suck but I would recommend Triple J for emerging artists as they have Unearthed and now an Unearthed radio station and it’s an awesome way for emerging artists to get their music out there. IMHO anyway 🙂

        I also loved your tips on ‘The Party side of being in a Band’ – I would reconsider changing the title and the perhaps the intro as I thought it was brilliant advice for all creatives. You spend a bit of time talking about how much time and energy should be spent writing stories, lyrics, riffs or whatever, every day – fucking brilliant advice and not just for ‘The Party side of being in a Band’ 🙂 Great advise for all artists!!!

        You and Adam at the end with the cigar cracked me up. Very useful vid and funny too and NYC how cool is that? I’m really keen to read your music journals too!

        Wishing you great success and keep up the good work 🙂

      • What I meant to say in my original comment was: ‘Would you consider changing the title of your video and the intro to include all creatives as it’s brilliant advice 🙂

  5. Thank you for this interview!

    I’m fascinated by the parallels Rob makes between worlds. I’m not sure that publishers are as controlling as the big bods in the music industry, but I fully understand the fear.

    It’s good to find someone who also has trouble with stick figures (I rather suspect, though, that Rob’s are better than mine. I not only cannot draw, but I can’t not-draw interestingly.

  6. cmkneipp

    Melissa said the Doors dammit. I would have chosen them. Short of that there are lots of second choices. Skyhooks is high on the list for Aussie bands, internationally maybe Alice Cooper and band who turned a concert into a theatre event.
    Great interview as always. Gives me some hope since I’ve taken the Self Pub route too.

  7. Thanks Rowena for the interview, your questions were really well thought out, and thanks guys for your kind words 🙂
    I’m loving all your answers regarding which band you would love to mingle with over the past 60 years. I have mingled with a few in my day, but there’s one band I would give anything to have had the opportunity to share a drink with backstage.
    I’ll tell you who early next week, once we’ve found a winning answer.
    Keep ’em coming!

    • Very keen to hear who your band would be. Over sixty years was a real tough question I have to say. Have you seen my music collection? Seriously there are so many musos I would love to have spent time with back stage. I’m so hopeless at these kind of questions because I LOVE music and books so much – it’s difficult for me to have a handful of favourites 🙂

  8. Jade Campbell

    Wow, what a fabulous interview Rowena ! I love the insights, more confirmation that all artists are curious inquisitive thinkers who respect and marvel at history & civilisations and that inevitably leads to fuelling the over fertile imagination. Good on you Rob for taking control of your future, there are many sad tales around from the past, of exceptionaly talented people who never received a fair cut from their endeavours- in all art genres.
    I was in a band eons ago – we only ever got to support band status, and it’s a hard and ruthless road. Ya gotta be brave and a bit twinkley around the edges to cope – much less survive.
    LAST 60 yrs . . best band? mmm too, too many good ones.
    Much as I love the Doors ( still have the old “Red” album from from 70’s)
    fav track: Hello- I love you. ( if ye ole memory serves me still)
    If we’re talking that vintage- I’d have to go for… drum rrrolllllllll
    Small Faces, still have “1lb Box” album – fav tracks Tin Soldier, Itchykoo Park. ( now haven’t checked albums recently.. but think I got correct info)
    Much later gotta go with Aussie Bands:-
    Masters Aprentices-Jim Keays = fav track : Living in a Child’s Dream
    Air Supply= fav. track : All out of Love
    Goanna= fav. track: Solid Rock
    Redgum= fav. track: Razor’s edge
    Jet- more recently, really thought had heard jpYoung reincarnate, then I remembered – duh.. he’s still around . ..
    Thanks for sharing . . and the interview..JC

    • You’ve got that right, Jade, about being in a band is a hard and ruthless road. That can also be said about self publishing 🙂
      Still, nothing can stop you writing if you love the story and the characters and are going to do it because you HAVE to . . . you want to see what happens next!

  9. What in interestsing thesis – that writers are mainly aural. That suggests that someone with a sound musical background, like Rob, is already primed for writing! I wonder if that’s universally true?

    • I haven’t heard that one before either Satima, but now that I think about it, it makes sense… Whatever triggers and works for your imagination is the main thing though, I reckon.

  10. Excellent interview and very interesting. Having known Rob for many years, I can attest to the fact that he is a very focused man – stubborn on his commitment to seeing it through his way! That’s something I admire in his character, music and writing. I enjoyed reading this particular insight, well done Rowena.
    To answer the quiz question… it would have to be Robert Smith from The Cure. This is a man who has morphed and changed his musical direction over many years since the 1970s while never “selling out” to the masses. He continues to create innovative music while remaining relevant and unique. To be able to deliver this throughout 30 years, on his terms, is a pretty special accomplishment.

    • Thanks Matty, this means a lot coming from such a well respected and hard working man as you.
      Although I never fully got into the Cure, I can definitely see what you love about them and their amazing front man Robert Smith. You’re right, he is always true to the music and his fans. And the music is haunting, in a good way. Actually, you’ve got me thinking I might have to have a re-listen to some of their stuff…

  11. Cherie Durbin

    Probably Casting Crowns. I love their wholesome, inspiring songs.

  12. Thanks guys, I hope you enjoy the novel and are getting ready for the second one – Silverbirch; Fall of the Epicenter. The winner is announced here –

  13. Thank you, Rowena, for asking the questions that everybody wants answers to. Rob, at my age I’m not easily impressed but you got my attention. We obviously write in entirely different genre but your views on doing it yourself match mine exactly. Creatures who live off of the efforts and accomplishments of others are called parasites but self publishing is freeing writers from the talons of the entrenched publishing industry. It seems that not only are we both writers but both are musicians. Once again in very different fields because my ability is confined to a fair job of playing the radio and sometimes a CD player. Someday maybe I’ll try an Ipod. I sincerely wish you great success with your writing and continuing fame with your music.

    • Thanks for writing, Jim. Man, you’ve got to get an iPod. It’ll change your life if you’re into music 🙂 I loved what you wrote about self publishing and not allowing people to leech off you. The internet is so powerful and people still are not fully grasping that. We are so lucky to live in this period of time. The internet has brought with it the ability to distribute art, music, books and film independently on a scale never seen before. I’m a firm believer that if you create something of substance and put it out there, people will want to connect with it. All the best, Jim.

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