Bob Strother began his career in creative writing eight years ago, and has penned more than one hundred short stories and three novels. He has received several literary awards, including the 2012 Hub City Writers/Emrys Foundation Fiction Prize. His collection, Scattered, Smothered, and Covered, was published in 2011, and his novel-in-stories, Shug’s Place is scheduled for release in May, 2013 through Main Street Rag Publishing.
Bob’s stories in Scattered, Smothered and Covered lured me to places I really didn’t want to go to, but I followed his wonderful writing and was so glad I did. Now I can’t wait to visit Shug’s Place. Here is a peek into Bob’s Writer’s Window~Kim
KB-H:Please tell us a little bit about your upcoming novel-in-stories, Shug’s Place.
Bob: Shug’s Place is a working-class bar in mid-1980’s Detroit with a colorful and sometimes nefarious assortment of patrons. There’s a sharp, but obsessed female homicide detective, a former student radical on the run for her life, a hard-drinking PI who’s in love with his best friend’s wife, a pretty prostitute with a Kentucky drawl, a former Marine who’s always got Shug’s back, the Marine’s nephew, who has a penchant for finding trouble, and a group of old soldiers who take care of their own. And Shug? He’s involved with two dangerous women: one he’d kill for and one who might get him killed.
It’s largely a character-driven piece with shades of thriller, police procedural, and yes, more than a light touch of romance. I think there’s something there for every reader.
KB-H:What inspired you to write Shug’s Place?
Bob: I wrote the first story, “By Any Other Name” as a standalone piece. One of my writing colleagues liked it and suggested Shug could become a continuing character. Nine stories and 95,000 words later, Shug’s Place emerged as a novel-in-stories. The book also includes brief vignettes chronicaling the fictional history of the bar itself, beginning when it was built in the early 1900s up until Shug took ownership in the 1980s – something for those who like historical fiction.
KB-H: About your collection, Scattered, Smothered and Covered – I love the title! Do those words hold special significance, other than how one orders their hash browns? How did you decide which stories fit each section?
Bob: The title came from a story by the same name contained in the collection. The story was based on a couple of real-life, notorious characters, Ma Barker and her son, Fred, who stopped off at an all-night diner for a bite. The story groupings were the work of my editor, Anne M. Hicks, who also designed the book.
KB-H: Your characters cross gender, age, race, socio-economics . . . Do you have a favorite character or voice from the book?
Bob: It’s hard for me to pick out a favorite character from the book. I enjoy writing from an adolescent’s perspective, and from a female point of view. I’ve always admired the way Stephen King could do that, and the stories of his I liked the best are the ones with young people, often females, as the central characters. So I guess I aspire to emulate him that way, except with a bit less horror in the mix.
KB-H:Music – rock-n-roll, blues, country – plays a significant part in many of your stories. Which comes first, the song or the story?
Bob: That’s an interesting question, and the answer is both. I was watching an Elvis tribute artist when the idea for “Baby, Don’t Say Don’t” came to me. Dire Straits’ “Blues in Twelve Bars” inspired my story of the same name. Then sometimes, like in “Blind Billy’s Bayou” I go searching for, or make up my own lyrics to fit the story.
KB-H: What kind of mental prep or research do you do in order to capture such distinct voices? Where is your favorite place to sit and observe people?
Bob:Most of my mental preparation comes either from drawing on my own life experiences or from characters I’ve read about. I do read voraciously – typically more than fifty books a year. But it’s not easy to explain, even to myself, how that translates to the characters’ voices used in my writing. For example, Buchard McConnell’s voice in my story “Hungry” was inspired by the young female character in Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.
As for research, I try to do enough to make the story plausible, if not entirely accurate, for the reader. I once heard Lee Child tell his audience, “It’s better to be plausible than accurate.” I’ve tried to bear that in mind. I did do fairly extensive research for my story “Green Zone” about the Iraq War, and for all the location references in Shug’s Place, since I’ve never lived in Detroit.
Before I retired from my job, I used most of my time in (seeming endless) meetings observing others – sometimes just listening, other times writing creative, if not always flattering descriptions of them. More recently, it’s been bars, restaurants, nursing homes, and especially gatherings of extended family.
KB-H: What was the best writing advice you ever received?
Bob: When I started writing seriously, I wanted to do memoir. After a while, I came to realize that few if any people would be interested in reading it. But before that epiphany, I got some excellent advice from a very good friend and colleague. She said, “Just because it happened that way doesn’t mean you have to write it that way.” Thus began my career in writing fiction, and I don’t regret it for a minute. Now I can go back and make things turn out the way I want them to.
I don’t spend as much time writing now as I did a few years ago. In the last eight years, I’ve written over one hundred stories and three novels, so the ideas don’t come as readily as they once did. I’ve also been blessed with four grandchildren since then, so my “free time” doesn’t come quite as readily, either. But I attempt to write something every day, or at least do one thing related to my writing. At the peak of my writing effort, I wrote for four or five hours every day except Fridays, when I worked on submissions.
KB-H: Who do you like to read?
Bob: There are so many: Elmore Leonard, T. Jefferson Parker, John Stafford, Lee Child, Michael Connolly, Stephen King, Robert Crais and Sue Grafton, just to name a few. I keep a number of books queued up on my shelf. Currently they include Mad River by John Stanford, The Panther by Nelson DeMille, and As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson.
There are two recently published debut novels I found really intriguing. One is Lowcountry Boil by Susan M. Boyer, and the other is Lucky Bastard by Gary V. Powell.
Thank you Bob for letting us peek in your Writer’s Window.
Bob is also a contributing author to Southern Writers Magazine. http://www.bobstrother.net/ Over eighty of his stories have been published in more than two dozen literary journals and magazines, including moonShine review, The Petigru Review, The Macguffin and Children, Churches, and Daddies.
Bob has been a featured author on the Gulf Coast Writers Association website and in Southern Writers Magazine. He was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2008. Other literary awards have come from the Carrie McCray Memorial Awards program, the Writers Unlimited/Mississippi Poetry Society, and the Arizona Poetry Society.
Shug’s Place is available for early-order from Main Street Rag. I’ve already ordered my copy – How about you?