Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Robert Pobi

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Robert Pobi

Robert Pobi is the author of Bloodman (Simon & Schuster Canada), which hits the shelves today, March 27, 2012.

Bloodman is Robert's debut novel and tells the story of FBI consultant Jake Cole, a man who is able to mentally reconstruct crime scenes. In addition to Bloodman, Robert has an impressive three books slated for publication in 2012 and 2013.

Robert talks to Open Book about his upcoming projects, Jake's tattoos and what he learned from Oliver Stone.

Open Book:

Tell us about your book, Bloodman.

Robert Pobi:

There’s the old advice for writers that says to write the book you want to read. Bloodman is my take on the serial killer novel. I’ve read a lot of work in the genre but I’ve always walked away feeling that something had been missing from the formula - that I could bring a unique perspective to the table. And I’d like to think that I have done just that.

Bloodman is about a man named Jake Cole who returns to his childhood home after his estranged father — an important American painter — nearly dies in an Alzheimer-fueled accident. Not long after he comes back, a series of murders begin that mimics his mother’s death thirty years before. It’s about the past and the present and how human beings are not built to forget.


What drew you to this setting? Have you spent time in Montauk?


I was a teenager the first time I went to Montauk — my father took me there to fish, and I fell in love with the place. And kept going back. As I got older, I learned that a lot of the artists I loved — people like Peter Beard — were drawn to the place, and it’s easy to see why. There’s something special about that narrow isthmus of land. The sand. The Atlantic. The way the wind feels. The air tastes. Now I spend time there every fall and spring.


How would you describe Jake Cole? What are some of the pleasures and challenges of writing him as a character?


I guess the best description I could offer of Jake is that he’s a man who has pulled himself from the wreckage of his own past. Jake is very damaged — internally and externally. He’s an ex heroin and cocaine addict who woke up on the kitchen floor after a four month bender he doesn’t remember, tattooed from larynx to ankles in a passage from Dante’s Inferno. Add a pacemaker to the mix and you’re pretty much there. But Jake has a unique gift — he is able to look at a murder scene and recreate a flow-chart of the crime with the precision of a battlefield anthropologist — all in the blink of an eye. He says he paints the last moments of people’s lives. The people he works with say he deciphers the language of madness. I like to think that it’s a bit of both.

Also, Jake has a relentless determination to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences, and that was an easy quality to be attracted to. He believes that he’s fighting the good fight and it’s easy to get behind a man like that.

I guess Jake’s real saving grace is that he’s a family man. He’s got his principles and this self-imposed moral code. But there is not a line you could draw in the sand that he wouldn’t cross to protect the people he loves, and I think that’s where his humanity outshines the rest of what you see. There’s so much good in him.

As far as challenges go, the only real difficulty in writing him was in keeping the fear inside of him from taking over — the fear of his father, the fear in being back in his childhood home where so much bad blood had flown under the bridge. Every now and then I’d feel him shutting down and I’d have to put a stop to it. Talk him out of it. Ultimately, though, I think Jake and I got along pretty well. It was a pleasure working with him.


What's the best advice you've ever received as a writer?


It’s going to sound simple. Flippant even. It’s something Oliver Stone said: Writing = Ass in Chair. Everything you need to become a better writer is contained in that simple equation. A friend of mine was recently working on a follow-up to his bestseller and when he couldn’t write, he’d call me up and all I’d do is repeat that formula. We must have had the same conversation ten times in six months. When he finally put a fork in the book, he sold it in the mid six figures. When it came out, he had thanked me for the advice in the acknowledgments. But it turns out that he knows Stone so I told him to thank the source. I wonder if he has?


Is there a book you’ve read recently that knocked your socks off?


To be honest, I don’t have a lot of time for fiction right now. With all the deadlines — and with different countries exerting different contractual expectations on me — all I’ve had time for in the past year is research. So I’m going to say that Ken Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God is the current obvious choice — it’s a simple, thoughtful, well mapped-out examination of evolutionary biology. Fiction? I recently read a novel called Point of Impact — by Jack Curtis, (not the Stephen Hunter novel of the same name) and the opening is one of the most beautifully written passages I’ve ever read. I photocopied it and stuck it up on the office wall to remind me that when it’s done well, it looks so simple.


What are you working on now?


I’m doing the final massage on a manuscript called Deselected — I’ve got about ten days of work until I hand it off to my agent. I like to think of it as a novel that picks up where Michael Crichton’s work left off. It’s a book that looks at our place at the top of the evolutionary ladder and asks, What if that changed?

Robert Pobi dealt in fine Georgian antiques for 13 years. He has fished for everything that swims — from great white sharks off Montauk to the monstrous pike of northern Finland. He prefers bourbon to scotch and shucks oysters with an old hunting knife he modified on a bench grinder. In warm weather he spends most of his time at a cabin on a secluded lake in the mountains and when the mercury falls he heads to the Florida Keys. The critical response to his first short story (written when he was 12) was a suspension from school. Now he writes every day — at a desk that once belonged to Roberto Calvi. He has four novels slated for publication.

For more information about Bloodman please visit the Simon & Schuster Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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