Robert Burns has been writing serious short fiction since the dark days of August 2020. A writer in many genres, his stories have appeared in numerous online publications as well as several print anthologies, including a fantasy story focusing on novel characters, a piece of noir detective fiction, and the first chapter of a historic novel currently in the works.
Readers can also find his work online at www.robertcburns.wordpress.com.
An avid reader, Robert writes full-time from his home in Richmond, Virginia.
What inspired you to start writing this book?
Boxcars, the novel, is a work in progress based on a short story I wrote by the same title. A version of the first chapter was named a finalist in a competition and was published in an anthology of “Compelling First Chapters.”
I’ve always been fascinated by the Great Depression era of United States history. There are any number of lessons we can learn from that time period. Lessons about hope, resilience, and the power of the human spirit. Lessons we can apply to our lives today.
Tell us the story of your book’s current title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
The title grew organically from the main character’s odyssey riding the rails west in search of work and self in the Pacific Northwest. There’s a bit of a play on words in the story as well.
Describe your dream book cover.
Black and white, shades of gray. A man sits in a boxcar, staring at the desolate landscape racing past the open doors.
If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?
Lots and lots of Tom Waits.
What books are you reading (for research or comfort) as you continue the writing process?
I’ve been enjoying Erik Larson lately. I just finished The Devil in the White City. A couple of other books I’ve read recently are The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings and Self Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon. I love reading “debut novels” for inspiration!
What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?
I was trained as an architect and still keep my hand in that profession occasionally, although I am writing now full-time. A little-known fact about myself is that I spent several years training and handling my Shetland Sheepdog, Ayden, in the sport of canine agility. He was a great athlete and together we earned several agility titles and won many ribbons in competition.
Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?
I decided I wanted to try creative writing when I first read the work of Vonnegut and Salinger in high school. Kurt Vonnegut was my first real writing crush. His blend of voice and story is fantastic, and so creative! Walker Percy is another in the long line of southern gothic writers who inspire me. The crisp and clear use of language to weave a tale is absolutely brilliant. As an architect, I wrote technical pieces, but didn’t really write creatively in a serious way until the 2020 pandemic shutdown. What else was there?
Where is your favorite place to write?
My office overlooking the neighborhood.
Do you have any writing rituals?
Nah. Just put my head down and write.
What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?
My perfect reader is naturally curious and seeks a nuanced tale that gives them an “Aha!” moment of hopefulness at the end. I want readers looking for vivid storytelling and poignant, relatable, characters. I want to immerse my readers in an era defined by struggle, but ultimately celebrates the indomitable resilience of the human spirit. I want them to get lost in a compelling tale of loss, resilience, and the transformative power of love, reminding us that amidst the chaos of the Great Depression, true connection and healing are always within reach.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.