If the name Robert C. Murray means nothing to you, it’s not your fault. His books are independently published and not well known… yet.. Hopefully, that will change. If the novel Mara’s Song and the science fiction collection, Astounding Adventures of the Improbable – are an indication of his skill, creativity, and abilities, he deserves more attention and sales.
Robert lives and works in Hagerstown, Maryland, where I lived and worked for the local newspaper for more than five years before moving down to Austin. His sister, Kate Mollo, is his editor and publicist, and when she asked if I would take a look at her brother’s two full-length books I agreed. Apologies to both for it taking me longer than anticipated to get around to doing so.
Mara’s song is written under a pen name, AK Moray. He explained, “I used a pen name for Mara’s Song because I planned at the time to mostly write science fiction and wanted to keep the two styles of writing separated. I probably won’t use the pseudonym again, even though I have projects in a few different genres that I am working on presently. The pseudonym is also a nod of thanks to my sister, she was instrumental in helping me get Mara’s Song together from an editorial standpoint”
First, though, let’s get to know him through this interview.
1) How did the story, Mara’s Song, develop?
My writing up until Mara’s Song had all been shorter-format stories that took place in a much more fantastic version of our own world (the stories that eventually found their way into Astounding Adventure Tales of the Improbable). I wanted to prove to myself that I could write novel-length fiction as well as craft a story that did not require me to conjure up any gadgets or aliens or monsters to move the story forward. To those two criteria I added the one piece of advice that everyone knows about writing: “write what you know”.
I took pieces of my own life, from childhood fantasies to adolescent longing to just striking out on my own to holding down a day job at a call center (my actual job at a call center was in tech support, but that meant I was able to interact with and observe the interactions of over 200 people every day), I mixed in a healthy amount of obfuscation (to protect my inspiration) and my own imagination, and began to write.
2) How would you describe the plot of this story?
The plot of Mara’s Song is a tale told across four acts, wherein a boy (Dan) grows up with friends and has adventures, a girl (Mara) has troubled upbringing and overcomes it. Boy (Dan) meets girl (Mara), someone from boy’s past (ironically) interferes and thus boy loses girl, and then the end happens(I don’t want to give it all away!) The first two sections of Mara’s Song occur contemporaneously, and even with all their action and melodrama they are yet character pieces (almost short stories contained unto themselves) that let the reader feel like Dan and Mara are people with whom she grew up. The reader has witnessed all that life has thrown at these two people and knows more about them than either do about each other when they finally meet (I guess you could consider them meeting a minor spoiler?)
The epilogue (“Coda”) feeds the part of all of us that likes to see people get their just desserts and then puts a button on the theme of the whole thing: that is, beyond the booze and guitars and video games and misunderstandings, Mara’s Song is ultimately about second chances and what you do with them; also, that some of us never make it far enough to get a second chance, whether by our own hand or The Hand of God.
3) The book begins with three boys in a band. Which of the boys are you most like?
Dan. He’s the older brother, and the guy with the ridiculous ideas and the great imagination. If Dan didn’t have friends and a little brother with access to musical instruments, I can see him turning to writing, first as a way to try and impress girls (which he does, more than once come to think of it), but ultimately as its own reward. Dan’s a bit more of a leader than me, though, and can play bass — my musical talents definitely do not lie in the realm of the stringed instrument.
4) Did you live – or do you live now – in Hagerstown? I worked for the Hagerstown newspaper for at least five years so it was fun to read the references to it.
You could say that I am a son of Hagerstown: I grew up in the South End and even took a semester of classes at our Hagerstown Community College (back when it was still a Junior College) between four-year schools and I moved back to Hagerstown after graduating college. Much of my family, including my parents, my siblings, my nephews, and various aunts, uncles, and cousins all live in or near Hagerstown.
5) I think I like the short story collection better with a great variety of topics and more humor. Which book was more fun to write, Mara’s song or the science fiction short stories? Which was easier to write?
I felt a greater sense of accomplishment when I finished Mara’s Song, almost as if I had validated myself as a writer because I had finished A Novel, but writing the Astounding Adventure Tales is definitely more fun (present tense because I’m working on more of them). When writing the Adventure Tales I can unleash my inner egomaniac, feed it the three decades of sci-fi consumption that is swimming around in my memory, and let my imagination pour out onto the page.
In contrast, for the straight SF novel series I’m working on, I made several outlines, wrote character sketches, did research (including Algebra to determine travel time between planets), wrote out the background story, and created a glossary for the terms and tech used while writing out the first draft. For the Adventure Tales, I come up with a concept (see my answer to #6), I skim over the most recent installment to gauge my Hero’s state of mind at the beginning of this new adventure, and I go from there.
6) Where do you attribute your ideas for your short stories? Would you classify them as science fiction?
The starting point for each of these stories, with the technical exception of “Night of the Rabid Squirrels”, has always been a company with which I was employed. It’s like being handed a box of random legos and told to make something out of them. You have all the pieces, it’s now up to you (me) to assemble them in a manner that someone else will want to read. The rest, as I said in my answer to #5, is 30 years of reading and watching and listening to science fiction, with all of those tropes filtered through my sense of humor and desire not to be sued for IP theft. I did have to make one change to “Interstellar Conference Call”: the original story had the various workers using high-tech “clipboards” with styluses, and by the time I dusted the novella off for publishing, everyone had a tablet or smart phone, and thus “futuristic clipboards with touch screens” doesn’t sound very futuristic any more, thus the upgrade to the gesture-based glasses. I think that worked out better for the story in the end, since my characters didn’t have to keep track of and muck around with a techno-brick every time they needed to access some information.
Great science fiction uses technology, natural phenomena, and far-off settings (distant times and worlds) to address concepts fundamental to the human condition in a way that straight fiction is not always capable of doing because of the restrictions of the times in which it is written. I could make some tortured analogies about my Hero’s opponents being representative of the ills of society and how we need to wake up and maybe be a little “crazy” so as not to be lulled asleep by Twinkies and Pro Wrestling (and maybe in ‘Interstellar Conference Call’, the insidious signal is just that), but mostly it’s just my twisted sense of humor that dreams up crazier opponents for my Hero to ultimately defeat for my own enjoyment. Science Fiction is a fairly broad term depending on who you talk to, but these definitely qualify as sci fi, if in a 1950’s pulp sci fi way. The more horror-focused stories of Something Gone Terribly Wrong (Rabid Squirrels, factory worker zombies, Robots Out To Kill Us All) still have a basis in science (biological disease, computer virus). “Dial 9 for an Outside Death” is Sci Fi only because of the gadgets employed by my Hero and because it is in the same Universe as the other tales.
7) Which is your favorite of the short stories and why?
I could say “Night of the Rabid Squirrels”, because it’s the first and without that completed tale I might not have stuck with writing at all.
I wrote the first draft of “Night of the Rabid Squirrels” on 3 sheets of legal paper while waiting for a friend to get out of class. I was watching a few squirrels bound happily around some trees outside the window and began to wonder what would happen if it all suddenly went terribly wrong.
I want to say “The Janitor” because I wrote that for a friend / mentor who was a big supporter and avid reader of these stories before we lost him to cancer, but “Dial 9 for an Outside Death” is the high point for sheer absurdity and fun, while “Interstellar Conference Call” (ICC), the novella sequel to ‘Dial 9’, simply continues along that same plateau of crazy and brings the tale firmly into the realm of sci fi. Interesting note: ICC is actually indirectly responsible for “Mara’s Song”. After writing that longer-form tale I saw the potential therein and the rest is not so much history as it is answered in question #1.
8) Would it be correct to assume that you, like the protagonist in these short stories, has worked for a variety of different employers?
Indeed. Whether by circumstance or choice, I have held positions doing (with the exception of the “fabric factory”) IT work in a few different industries. There have been other positions since I wrote ICC, and as I said in my answer to #5, there are more Astounding Adventure Tales in the works!
9) What do you think is the most important thing readers just discovering you should know about you?
Folks just discovering my work should know that I’m a reader, too. I read not only the Greats, but also a lot of Indie Sci Fi. I read for enjoyment and to see how others are doing it. There are so many good independent authors out there who are spinning amazing tales and largely doing it on their own, and offering their stories for a fraction of the cost of the Big Names. Some, like Hugh Howey and his “Silo” series, are getting the commercial recognition their work deserves after being successful independent authors. As a reader I therefore want to write not only interesting and fun stories, but stories that flow, like a river that you can float down gently without bumping into any rocks.