Book Nerd Interview
Rod has been a private investigator, a DJ, a comic book and game store owner and has degrees in criminal law, psychology and justice and risk administration, from Virginia Commonwealth University. He has done Masters work on a degree in Forensic Science at The George Washington University, as well as worked with the Occult Crime Taskforce for the Virginia General Assembly’s State Crime Commission.
Rod has written and edited for magazines like Starlog, Virginia Living, Virginia Business, Verve, and The Roanoker. He was managing editor of The Vinton Messenger newspaper and editor for numerous trade publications. He has done technical writing and has ghost-written political editorials and advertising copy. Both the politics and the advertising greatly honed his fiction writing skills.
He has been a writing guest at numerous conventions and writing conferences for many years. He is available for Bar Mitzvahs…
Rod began writing stories when he was 9 years old, selling stories and self- drawn comics to his mother’s beauty shop customers for a quarter a piece. That first quarter was the start of his road to Hell…
In a creative writing course he was selected for in 6th grade, Rod was told his SF/Fantasy writing was “silly trash” ( kinda true, but hey, I was in sixth grade…) but the lack of support from an adult “expert” made him feel like he couldn’t “really write” and he stopped writing for a few years. Thanks to the love, encouragement and support of his mom, Mabel, Rod started writing again when he got a typewriter for his 12th birthday. Thanks Mom.
You can write. Yes, you. You have a story, maybe a bunch of stories inside you screaming to be let out. Don’t let anyone tell you can’t write, or that your writing is no good. It’s good for you, good for the thing inside you that demands you get that story out somehow. Don’t write for praise, or for money, write for you, only you, and to hell with the rest of them.
He was once told by Elizabeth Taylor, he was “hot” and once told by George Takei he “looked terrible” ( he did). He watched a man die in the electric chair, investigated homicides, pissed off politicians and located missing children. The CIA told him to “clean up his act”- this was one of his proudest moments.
In his spare time ( which he has damn little of these days), Rod enjoys reading, hiking, shooting, gaming ( mostly tabletop RPG or board games, but some console), comics, researching the weird, spending time with his amazing kids, and long, thoughtful, walks in the rain…OK, the last one is crap, but the rest is true.
He lives in Roanoke Virginia with his children: Jonathan, Emily and Stephanie, Three cats and two dogs.
Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
RSB: Yes, there was, and I can still recall it. I was nine or ten and I would read a book or a comic, watch a TV show and want to know what happened next. I'd make up stories and I started drawing and writing comics on loose-leaf notebook paper. I had to spend most of the summer with my mom at her business during the summer, and a pad of paper was my playground. I would bind the comic pages together with old bread wire ties through the holes in the paper and then my mom's customers (she was a beautician and owned her own business) would buy them from me for a quarter. So, yeah I knew I wanted to tell stories since I was a kid and I guess became a paid writer at age nine. Hahahaha!
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
RSB: I'll try to answer this one- I think it's really subjective, but I do think Storytelling is vital to being human. We live in the cave of our senses- the world is what we experience and we are born and die alone in our skulls. Storytelling is a way to bridge that lonely gap between the self and the other. Stephen King called storytelling telepathy, and it really is! It's our way of trying to tell someone else not in our skulls what we feel, what we think and what we dream. I truly believe that storytelling is a form of magic—it allows you to show people places and things they have never experienced, change their hearts and minds and alter their way of thinking or seeing something. Plus, everyone has a story in them, everyone.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
RSB: Hahahaha! Actually I'm usually my own worse critic. Wow, you are tossing tough questions at me...I love so many books. I have to say a book that had a huge impact on me as a kid and traveled with me in life was William Goldman's The Princess Bride. That book was recommended to me by a few of my older friends when I was in high school and dealing with all that that entails, and it helped me through so many thing and taught me so many lessons- one of the most important was to face darkness and pain with humor and of course that “life's not fair, it's just fairer than death.”
I am also a huge fan of Hemingway. The Sun also Rises was a powerful book for me as a young writer. Hemingway's strength to me, as a writer, was his economy . He could covey oceans of pain and regret with a simple sentence. Having a favorite book is kind of like having a favorite sense, or limb—you'd miss any of them if they were gone. How's that for a non-answer answer?
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
RSB: David Coe (aka, D.B. Jackson) is a wonderful writer and a great human being. A few years back at DragonCon, I got to him and then at several events over the next few years we got to know each other a little better. Dave is great guy.
We were talking about my concerns and nervousness about my second book coming out and Dave told me when people asked him which book of his was his favorite, he had decided it was his second book, because that was when he finally knew he could do this—could write books and have people respond to, and enjoy them— the first wasn't just a fluke! Those kind words have stuck with me when I have doubt. When you sell a book it's against such impossible odds and sometimes you worry it was just dumb luck the first time around, but when you do it again, and again, you come to grudgingly see that you can do this, that it's in you. I owe Dave for that kindness and wisdom for so much more of the same over the last few years.
In your new book; The Shotgun Arcana, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it and why they should read your novel?
RSB: The Shotgun Arcana is my second novel set in the weird little western town of Golgotha, in the late 1800s. Golgotha is a mining town where everyone has secrets, and supernatural forces from many different cultures, religions, and mythologies all hold an uneasy truce. Both Shotgun, and my first book, The Six-Gun Tarot, are full of action, suspense, horror— including a bit of my own take on the works of H.P. Lovecraft— and just a lot of genre-bending fun! I'm also very proud of my cast of characters and I think your Book Nerds would like to meet them.
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
RSB: I think I'd like to see my mad scientist, Clay Turlough, meet some of his inspirations, like Capt. Nemo from Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Professor Cavor from Wells' the First Men in the Moon and Sherlock Holmes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Jon?
RSB: I assume we're talking about Jon Highfather, the sheriff in both The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana, not my son, Jon, who the character was named after. If you asking about how I created my son, that's a whole different kind of interview—hahahaha!
Jon Highfather was originally going to be the hero of the story. Jon, not Jim Negrey, was the figure struggling to cross the 40-Mile Desert. However that version didn't do it for me—I wanted a gateway character to lead readers into the story before they were introduced to the ensemble of characters. Jim became that figure in the books.
I was determined to make a traditional western that broke as many of the rules of westerns as possible, so I made Jon a classical, handsome, Caucasian, square-jawed, steely-eyed, western hero, and threw in a dark and tragic past (which you find out more about in Shotgun Arcana), and a good, unflappable, sense of humor so he wouldn't be a complete stereotype, and then worked as hard as I could to take the focus off him in the book, while still making him a strong character people care about.
I get a lot of good feedback on Jon. People like him, care about him and want to know his whole story. And, yes, there is a reason for his “unkillable” reputation that you will find out about one day, if I get to keep writing Golgotha tales. I like Jon Highfather. I think he has shown me that a man can overcome darkness within, and without, and retain a core, a code, honor and humanity. I'd love to write a Jon-centered novel down the road.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
RSB: Not always, but many times. It's “How are you?” A causal, pleasant lie is often preferable to a harsh, unpleasant truth. I tend to answer, “I'm good. How are you?”
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
RSB: Summer of 1988...I think??? I was bouncer at a bar in a hotel in Richmond Virginia, called “Fannie's”...Classy! Ah, the adventures I had. One of my college roommates, Tim, was a bar-back there and he recommended me for the job. I got my snout broke once in a brawl dragging a coked-up patron out the door, on my last night of the gig I got in the middle of a gun and knife fight, and I had neither. Good times...good times.
Who was your first girlfriend?
RSB: Her name was Lisa Simmons and we were in 2nd grade. She had coal black hair and bright blue eyes you could see across the room. Her smile made suns weep; her smile was Pandora's Box.
She moved to the area mid-school- year and for some weird reason she picked gawky, bad teeth, hair never combed ( yes, I had hair once...) me as her paramour by sending the infamous “I like you do you like me...Check this box...” note. We became the Sid and Nancy of Glenvar Elementary School. This was the beginning of my long string of relationships with beautiful, slightly unhinged, and dangerous women. I regret nothing. We lasted two weeks.
Tell me about your first kiss
RSB: Lisa Simmons, by the coat closet the last day of school before thanksgiving break, with the candlestick. We got busted, got time out and a note sent home. Totally worth it.
When was the last time you cried?
RSB: “I'm good. How are you?”
Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
RSB: True love with heartbreak—any day. And believe me, they hurt like hell, they scald you, they scar you, they do their damnedest to kill you. And you haven't truly lived, haven't been a human being, until you've had that experience.
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
RSB: The one I was born into. The late 70's and early 80's were a great time to be a kid. I feel sorry for kids now. The world seems so much more sinister, cynical, and constraining. Kids seem in a race to lose their innocence and their hope. I loved growing up when I did.
Top Ten List
Things you would change about your high school years if you could go back in time.
2. Started working out and running instead of waiting till college
3. Helped my mother more.
4. Asked some of the beautiful “popular” girls out. I think, now, that some of them might have said yes.
5. Tried to actually give a damn about my classes and grades instead of just coasting by.
6. Re-thought the 8th grade porn 'stashe.
7. Spent a little more time in my interior self, instead of working so hard to hide from it.
8. Worked harder at the job I held in high-school.
9. Given more of damn about everything.
10. Learned to play a musical instrument.
R. S. Belcher’s debut novel, The Six-Gun Tarot, was enthusiastically greeted by critics and readers, who praised its wildly inventive mixture of dark fantasy, steampunk, and the Wild West. Now Belcher returns to Golgotha, Nevada, a bustling frontier town that hides more than its fair share of unnatural secrets.
1870. A haven for the blessed and the damned, including a fallen angel, a mad scientist, a pirate queen, and a deputy who is kin to coyotes, Golgotha has come through many nightmarish trials, but now an army of thirty-two outlaws, lunatics, serial killers, and cannibals are converging on the town, drawn by a grisly relic that dates back to the Donner Party…and the dawn of humanity.
Sheriff Jon Highfather and his deputies already have their hands full dealing with train robbers, a mysterious series of brutal murders, and the usual outbreaks of weirdness. But with thirty-two of the most vicious killers on Earth riding into Golgotha in just a few day’s time, the town and its people will be tested as never before—and some of them will never be the same.
The Shotgun Arcana is even more spectacularly ambitious and imaginative than The Six-Gun Tarot, and confirms R. S. Belcher’s status as a rising star.