Robert Dean’s latest book, The Red Seven, is a bloodthirsty western that tells a tale of revenge as The Ghost hunts down the men who brutally murdered his family. Unnerving Magazine has had the pleasure of talking to Dean about the writing process and what comes next for Ghost.
Unnerving Magazine: What was it that made you start writing in the first place?
Robert Dean: The idea was implanted while watching Pulp Fiction. I was 13 in 1994, and all of the music, art, books, movies, and comics of the time came at me a million miles per hour. There was so much counterculture at the time, and I was a little sponge with a bowl cut and a skateboard. Once I was in high school, I was acing my English and writing classes while constantly daydreaming and overthinking my place in the world.
When I got the chance to write stories for my assignments, I poured everything into them. I loved writing even though I loathed high school. Not for the reasons movies would make you think, but because I felt like the curriculum had no place for me. I was an artistic kid stuck in a blue collar existence where no one grew up to be a writer; you worked the trades or just “got a job”.
I was a senior and so emotionally and mentally checked out. I never told anyone I wanted to write, but a teacher of mine took a gamble on me and let me into his Composition for College Writing class. He saw something in my and encouraged me to dig deeper, to give this thing a shot. With those kind words, I decided to go to school for writing. That was 17 years go, and I’ve been on a winding and strange road ever since.
Unnerving Magazine: What advice to wish you had been given when you first started out as a writer?
Robert Dean: If you want to write, get published, or just be read, then know it had got to be something you bleed for and agonize over. Know you’re in for a fight. It won’t be easy because everyone think they can write. It’s you showing them how much better you are at writing that same sentence that makes the difference.
Unnerving Magazine: If you had one piece of advice for aspiring authors, what would that be?
Robert Dean: Read a lot. Like, a perverse amount. You’ll never understand the cadence of words, how they flow and look and feel on the page, unless you read a ton of books. You shouldn’t even start writing seriously until you’ve read at least 200 books. Read all genres, grab anything you think you can steal little nuggets from. The best ideas come from people who can think about a lateral subject and breathe new life into a genre.
Practice writing. No one is born an awesome writer, and it takes a metric fuckton of work to get decent. I write every single day. Don’t rely on cheap attention getters when you can make the same points in your work by working your ass off to get it right.
Know you’re going to get rejected and it is going to suck. It never stops sucking, but you will develop a thicker skin because of it.
Lastly, know your emotions. There’s a difference between reading something that reads right, and reads true. Sure, right looks technically pleasing on the page, but reading something that’s emotionally true demands a response from the reader. You want to nail not how someone feels, but what it’s like to be in that position. There’s a difference between lonely and lonesome.
Unnerving Magazine: What is it about writing that you enjoy the most?
Robert Dean: At this point, writing is the cornerstone of my life. I don’t know how not to do it. I’m not sure if I love it or hate it because I’m just so neurotic about it. I am constantly thinking and obsessing over how I can be better, and when I end up nailing a project, there’s a real sense of accomplishment.
Unnerving Magazine: When starting a new project, where do you begin?
Robert Dean: I used to just write and let things go where they wanted. I did that with In The Arms of Nightmares – my first book – and the narrative path is super strange. But afterward, I started plotting stuff out. My approach is like an organized Jackson Pollack painting: I’ll agonize over what my next book will be about for a while, writing junk and hating it before moving on. Then, out of nowhere, I tend to get some idea, a kernel of the book I want to write. I try and plot out as many little notes, ideas, bit of conversation, et cetera, fully immersing myself into the plot over a few months. I find music, movies, and books that I think will influence me and then I collect everything and make a series of pages I print out and refer to as I’m writing the story.
Unnerving Magazine: Now let’s talk about The Red Seven. Based on your other writing history, this seems to be the first one I would consider as a “genre” novel. What made you choose to write a western?
Robert Dean: I think westerns are a cool genre that can tell any story of today. I love that there’s no technology to rely on – it’s just guts and wit. There’s something so unabashedly American about the genre and that it’s in our DNA as a country to desire freedom to roam and the freedom to make an immediate choice.
I’m sick of the genre being rubbed the wrong way so I just said, “Fuck it,” and wrote The Red Seven for people who didn’t think they liked westerns. I wanted it to feel like if Josey Wales, Kill Bill, and The Blood Meridian had a baby.
Unnerving Magazine: It’s a very visually written novel that takes the reading right into the heart of the Wild West. Did you have any specific inspirations for that?
Robert Dean: One thing that I’m extremely proud of is that my books don’t read like books. Sure, I can dabble in some McCarthy-esque prose, but overall, I try to keep the vibe like you’re watching a movie. It’s not something I’m trying to do, it’s just how I see the story in my head. It’s just my style.
Unnerving Magazine: Can you tell us anything about what comes next for The Ghost?
Robert Dean: When I get around to writing the second part of The Ghost Trilogy in 2017, don’t count on it being the same thing. Sure, it’s still got horses and bad dudes, but it won’t be nearly as optimistic. Think Empire Strikes Back.
Unnerving Magazine: Last question: If there was ever an adaptation of this series-to-be, who would you cast as The Ghost?
Robert Dean: When I wrote the book, I had Tom Hardy in my head; I wrote it as him, saying the lines. But now, I think Ghost could be a few different people. If you wanted to be bold, I’d love someone like Idris Elba. Otherwise, I’m a massive Elmore Leonard/Justified fan, so I wouldn’t argue seeing Walton Goggins as The Ghost. He’s got that charm as Boyd Crowder that killed me, and I’d love to see him in that compromised “hero” context. He’s always a villain, and I think in this way, he’d kill it.
The Red Seven is now available in eBook and paperback formats. Unnerving Magazine thanks Robert Dean for his time.