Interview with Robert Steven Williams, author of ‘My Year as a Clown’

Layout 1ABOUT MY YEAR AS A CLOWN

Silver Medal Winner for Popular Fiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards.
With My Year as a Clown, Williams introduces us to Chuck Morgan, a new kind of male hero—imperfect and uncertain—fumbling his way forward in the aftermath of the abrupt collapse his 20-year marriage.
Initially, Chuck worries he’ll never have a relationship again, that he could stand in the lobby of a brothel with a hundred dollar bill plastered to his forehead and still not get lucky. But as his emotionally raw, 365-day odyssey unfolds, Chuck gradually relearns to live on his own, navigating the minefield of issues faced by the suddenly single—new routines, awkward dates, and even more awkward sex.
Edited by Joy Johannessen (Alice Sebold, Michael Cunningham, Amy Bloom), My Year As a Clown will attract fans of the new breed of novelists that includes Nick Hornby, Jonathan Tropper and Tom Perrotta. Like others in that distinguished group, Robert Steven Williams delivers a painfully honest glimpses into the modern male psyche while writing about both sexes with equal ease and grace in a way that’s both hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

A: I was a Senior VP in a division of EMI Music Group. I got into the biz because I loved words and melody, but with each promotion I was elevated further and further from the music. At some point I realized I might as well be selling toothpaste. That’s when I realized I needed to make a mid-career pivot.

I read. I wrote. I attended workshops, conferences and writers groups. I wrote more. I studied with Barry Hannah, James Houston, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Each became a friend and played important roles in helping me find my voice. Joy Johannessen, an editor who worked with authors like Alice Sebold, Michael Cunningham and Amy Bloom, also provided support and encouragement.

It still took 15 years to release My Year as a Clown. I amassed hundreds and hundreds of ‘no’s’ from the world’s very best publishers, agents and literary journals, some of the most obscure too. Despite these obstacles, I never stopped writing. Winning the 2013 silver medal for popular fiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards was great validation of the effort.

Q: Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

A: My Year as a Clown chronicles a year in the life of Chuck Morgan where day one is the spectacular, but brutal break-up of his 20-year marriage when his wife tells him she’s leaving for another guy. But the book is really about second chances, the opportunity to reinvent oneself, as well as reconnect with family and friends.

Initially, Chuck worries he’ll never have a relationship again, that he could stand in the lobby of a brothel with a hundred dollar bill plastered to his forehead and still not get lucky. But as his emotionally raw, 365-day odyssey unfolds, Chuck gradually relearns to live on his own, navigating the minefield of issues faced by the suddenly single—new routines, awkward dates, and even more awkward sex.

I wrote this book as therapy, as a way of working out what had happened in my own divorce. But I never entertained writing a memoir. I prefer fiction because you don’t have to worry about being factually correct, and yet, a fiction writer still needs to remain emotionally honest.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced writing it?

A: As I was saying in question one, having the courage to be honest is no easy task, and many writers cut corners, avoiding the stuff that really counts. Honesty is different from being factual. What happens to Chuck is a combination of stories from friends, acquaintances, even strangers, plus a splash of my own experience and imagination. The result is a fictional account of a man, humiliated by infidelity, trying to regain his footing.

I wrote My Year as a Clown in first person, present tense to give the reader that sense of being in the front car of a rollercoaster. This immediacy puts you in Chuck’s head. This meant providing an unfiltered connection into his thoughts and that can be disconcerting because of its visceral rawness. It also gave me the opportunity to play with the unreliable narrator—what Chuck is thinking and saying isn’t necessarily what’s happening. As the writer, my job was to misdirect at the right times, but also inject other points of view when appropriate through letters, emails and conversation to counter the impression created from Chuck.

As a writer, that’s huge responsibility: clarity about uncertainty and confusion.

Another challenge: the book follows the 2003 Philadelphia Eagle season and the facts of that season had to be accurate, as did the historical team references. The football parts helped me explore themes about loyalty and commitment, two big issues Chuck is questioning now that his wife has left with another man. Football also gave me the opportunity to delve into how a sports obsession affects relationships.

Q: Do you have a press kit and what do you include in it? Does this press kit appear online and, if so, can you provide a link to where we can see it?

A: I have a website that details all of my creative projects including a comprehensive section on the novel. You’ll find blurbs and the promotional video. There’s a section titled FAQs, where I address issues on faith, relationships, the rabbi weed (Chuck buys weed from a rabbi), and much more on how I created Chuck’s world. There’s also a tab with alternate book covers. Think of this bonus material as the second disc in a DVD.

Q: Have you either spoken to groups of people about your book or appeared on radio or TV? What are your upcoming plans for doing so?

A: I did numerous radio and press interviews nationally and locally (visit press page for some links). I also did a couple of book clubs and readings.

I’m a singer/songwriter and I often read from my book at those events because Chuck also wrote a song for the yoga instructor that he falls hard for in the book. I read for a bit during the show, then I play Chuck’s song. My site details a lot of the background on this. I should mention that the Irish singer/songwriter Declan O’Rourke produced the track and lent me his band to record it. Next year he’s going to produce a full album of my songs.

Q: Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

A: I’m sure an agent would be helpful, and I would be open to working with someone, but I stopped looking three years ago and focused on getting the book out myself. My Year as a Clown got the love and attention that most publishing houses don’t provide these days for first-time fiction authors because I assembled an experienced team to help, including Joy (editing). I also hired experts to do the digital conversion and cover. I have a great distributor: InScribe Digital. I guess my days in the music biz were useful when it came to figuring out this stuff. Winning the silver medal for popular fiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards was validation. We beat out University Presses and small publishing houses from around the world.

Q: Did you, your agent or publisher prepare a media blitz before the book came out and would you like to tell us about it?

A: I hired a publicist, a radio promo person and we did a great website and promotional video. Amazon choose my book a couple of times for holiday promotions. We’re now reviewing phase 2 marketing plans to figure out how to elevate this to the next level.

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

A: I’m completing The Sound of Money now, a story about a struggling songwriter that gets mixed up with the mob. I’ve also got some short stories looking for homes. As I mentioned, I’m looking at a new album next year. I’m also making a documentary about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time in Westport, CT back in 1920. I’ve lived in Westport for over 20 years and the town has a rich historical tradition dating back to the Fitzgeralds.

BTW: I set My Year as a Clown in Putnam’s Landing because another Westport writer, Max Shulman set Rally Around the Flag Boys! in PL (which was really Westport in 1957—Clown is Westport 2003). Incidentally, Rally was made into a movie starring Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman (both with deep roots here in Westport).

Q: Thank you for your interview, Robert. Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

A: You can find me at RobertStevenWilliams.com. You can also google Robert Steven Williams or My Year as a Clown and lots of links pop up. The novel is available wherever fine digital books are sold around globe. Here’s the US Amazon link.

robert3-300x197ABOUT ROBERT STEVEN WILLIAMS

Since leaving the music-biz executive ranks, Robert Steven Williams has put in his 10,000 hours. His first novel, My Year as a Clown, released on the indie imprint Against the Grain Press, received the silver medal for popular fiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards in 2013.
Robert was also a finalist in the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and was awarded the Squaw Valley Writers Community Thayer Scholarship. His short fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, The Orange Coast Review, and the anthology Tall Tales and Short Stories Volume II.
He was the executive producer of the critically acclaimed BOOM! Studios CBGB Comic series. He wrote story seven in Book 3. In August of 2011, the series was nominated for a Harvey Award for Best Anthology.
He’s attended Bread Loaf, Sewanee and the Squaw Valley Writers’ Conferences. He’d worked closely with the esteemed fiction writer, Barry Hannah.
Robert’s work has also appeared in Poets & Writers Magazine, Billboard, USA Today and LetterPress, a newsletter for writers. He is co-author of the best-selling business book, The World’s Largest Market.
Robert Steven Williams is also a musician and songwriter. In 2005 he released the critically acclaimed CD “I Am Not My Job,” featuring Rachel Z (Peter Gabriel, Wayne Shorter) and Sloan Wainwright. He studied songwriting with Rosanne Cash, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and several top country writers. The song, The Jersey Cowboy, was featured on NPR’s Car Talk. Robert was the subject of the documentary by Jason Byrd Round Peg, Square Hole.

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