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Interview with Robert Hoffman

Robert Hoffman

He is originally from a town on Long Island called North Massapequa. He attended SUNY Oswego where he majored in Communications, a degree that it turned out he had little use for. He did however meet the woman who would eventually become my wife, the former Michelle Lindell. Rob and Michelle lived in the aptly named Flushing, Queens for six years before moving to a town called Clifton Park, New York. Rob became a social studies teacher and recently retired after 31 years. Rob had always been interested in becoming a writer and he began his blogging career as a contributor at the “Times Union” of Albany for six years. In this time Rob also blogged for a variety of online sites.

Blind Spot represents Rob’s first true attempt at writing fiction, and the experience Rob found both fun and exhausting. The character of Doug Kaplan, while not autobiographical, is sort of based on the best and worst of Rob’s traits. Doug is at times the guy Rob always wanted to be, and yet at the same time, Doug also represented the guy Rob was relieved to know he never became. The other characters according to Rob are combinations of people that he knew from his childhood, as well as college and work experiences.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
I ran for political office back in 2005 and let’s just say, I didn’t do quite as well as the people running against me.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
Yes, I developed a pilot for a reality television program with my writing partner David Kalish which is being shopped around as we speak. In addition, David and I are writing a screenplay for a movie. Also, I’ve started my next novel which will be a fictionalized version of the most unsettling surprise my wife received when she sent her DNA to get tested.

Q.3 What inspired you to write Blind Spot?
I had for a long time wanted to try my hand at fiction after writing countless non-fiction blogs for the “Times Union” of Albany. My brother who is a long-time English college professor, as well as former professional editor, and my editor for Blind Spot, had been giving me different classic works of fiction to read in order to increase my scope and knowledge when it came to fiction. I was inspired by the likes of Philip Roth, Kurt Vonnegut, and Gary Shteyngart. I considered a couple of ideas, but the idea of a put upon, middle-aged father of three who already had a lot on his plate, and now had to deal with a nosy and intrusive next-door neighbor that only he seemed to be bothered by seemed to offer a lot of plot possibilities.

Q.4 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
The most difficult thing about writing any character is trying to guarantee that they don’t come off as stereotypes, caricatures, or woodin and one-dimensional. While I may not have the women’s perspective, I do have a lot of smart and powerful women in my life and even if it didn’t look like it at the time, I was listening while they were talking to me.

Q.5 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
While it was a little disorganized at times, all I did was write out an outline of the ideas I wanted to explore, and a cast of characters, and then I just added or subtracted from both lists as I went on. I didn’t really know how the book would end, and I changed the ending several times, but I guess what I found was that the characters take you where you need to go.

Q.6 Is it vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing, tell us about your marketing campaign?
My marketing plan hasn’t been so successful. This is my first experience in the hellacious world of publishing. I am using a “Blog Tour Guide” later this fall to help me get reviews and exposure, but for me, it’s mostly been Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Instagram, I’ve also found, as weird as this may sound, that the trials and tribulations of a middle-aged, middle class heterosexual white male are is simply not the story that publishers and agents feel is worth their time, or money to invest in. 

I get the reason, but I do believe for married men and women with children ages 30+ this story would resonate. We all have parents that get old and have to be taken care of, we all struggle to balance our careers with our family obligations, we all suffer the highs and lows that occur in all marriages, and we all struggle to be the best parents we can be. The last thing we can afford is one more distraction and yet that’s what Doug Kaplan is faced within Blind Spot. I should think that this kind of saga would appeal to a lot of people.

Q.7 Is there, anyone, you’d like to acknowledge or thank for their support in your writing journey?
Certainly, everything that I have in my life that is good begins with my wife Michelle. She has always been supportive of my creative ventures. I also have a lot of friends and family like my brother David, nieces and nephews, and even co-workers who have been beyond supportive of my writing. The book however couldn’t have happened without my brother Mark who was my editor and voice of reason throughout the whole process.

Q.8 Who designed your book cover? How did you select him/her?
I designed the book cover and the man’s eyes which adorn the cover is my oldest son, Andrew. It was originally going to be my younger son Alex, but my wife decided he looked too young. Also, Andrew’s price was right.

Q.9 What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing your book?
I think one of the things that surprised me was how a book through its characters will take you in a certain direction as they evolve. I was also pleasantly surprised with my own acceptance of critical suggestions from not only the editor but from those who I had asked to read it for me. I think because I was so new at this, I was more open to suggestions. It’s not easy though

Q.10 If you could, which fictional character (from your own book or someone else’s) would you like to invite for dinner and why?
Well it depends if it’s a big guy, then it’s going to cost a fortune. I think maybe “Bigger” Thomas from “Native Son.” As a teacher, I hate to see potential thrown away, and you always have this optimism as a teacher that you can make a difference and save kids from themselves. I would love to meet Ignatius J. Reilly from “Confederacy of Dunces,” but I’d probably end up hating him after a while.

Q.11 What’s your writing schedule while working?
Well, now that I’m sort of retired and only teaching in the morning, I have more time to write, however, I haven’t found that it has made me more productive. My favorite time to write is when I should be doing something else that I really don’t want to do, like a chore or something, and so the writing seems more fun instead of work.

Q.12 How do you select the name of your characters?
They usually come from family members' first or middle names, or people I went to school with or worked with a long time ago. I like using friends and family because it’s my way of giving them a shoutout, although Karen in Blind Spot isn’t all that likable and Karen is also my sister-in-law, whom I like, but when I first created “Karen” she was smart and admirable, but that’s not how she ended up in the end. As it turned out, the name “Karen” has become an adjective to describe certain kinds of women so maybe it was a good name to use to turn somebody into a bit of a scoundrel.

Q.13 How long does it take you to write a book?
The initial start to finish was a little bit more than 6 months. However, by the time the re-writes and edits were done, it was closer to 18 months.

Q.14 What are the three things a reader can expect from your book?
Well, I think they can expect a few laughs, especially when we look at Doug’s college years, as well as when he’s mixing it up with Kelly’s family. I think they can expect to be surprised by several of the arcs that the characters go through, and I think they can expect the story and the people to be very relatable, especially if you are a middle-aged, married parent, I think you’ll see a lot of your own struggles, challenges, and quirks in the story of the Kaplans.

Q.15 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
When I was still teaching full time, I would get up early so I could make my lunch and have breakfast, and I would have about 5 to 10 minutes of downtime, and I would do a lot of writing in that short period of time, again it was probably because I didn’t want to go to work so I was inspired to write as opposed to getting in my car. I also like writing in coffee shops, it makes me feel like I’ve got something going on.

Q.16 How do you select the name of your book?
That came to me very quickly. The car I was driving when I got the idea of hitting somebody because I wasn’t being careful, the Toyota Rav4 has a huge blind spot, and it worked because the theme of the book is the personal blind spots that we all possess in regards to our own flaws.

Q.17 Do you read your book reviews? How do deal with good and bad ones?
Well so far I’ve only gotten good book reviews. I’m waiting for my toughest critic, my wife to finish the book because I know I’ll get an honest assessment from her. As a blogger, I had to deal with a lot of criticism, some of it nasty and personal, it bothered me at first, but then I kind of got a kick out of it. Good constructive criticism is so vital for me anyway as an aspiring writer, that it’s really the most valuable thing a person can do in order for anybody who’s trying to be a professional writer to continue to improve their skill.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
Oh my God, there’s so many. I think for me I always wanted to meet Tom Seaver, the great New York Mets pitcher, he’s my favorite athlete of all time, and I worshipped him growing up. Sadly he passed away this past year. I would have also loved to have met the great drummer from “The Who,” Keith Moon. He’s the reason I became a drummer as a kid, and I loved how carefree and uninhibited he was. I got to interview through Facebook messenger his fiancee, the woman he was going to marry before he died for a blog I wrote about him, and that was pretty cool. I’d also like to meet Pete Townshend, his music was extremely impactful on me growing up, and also Billy Joel, we’re both Long Islanders so I think it would be natural.

Q.19 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
I loved American Pastoral by Philip Roth, the disillusionment and raw emotions between the “hero” Swede Levov and his estranged daughter. That influenced the battles between Trudy and her daughters in my book, but also I loved Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart for its wild premise and storytelling. 
Nothing was off the table in this book, and it’s so brave in the way it speaks to the reader, nothing held back, I could only wish to be so bold. 

I also loved The Death of Ivan Ilyich because it was so sad and funny at the same time, and finally, Chances Are by Richard Russo. The story’s plot twist is so unexpected and so brilliant, it made me feel like it was the type of storytelling that I could never even approach. Which is true.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
The journey has been both fun and frustrating. Trying to get an agent or publisher to take you seriously has been frustrating. It’s not easy to stand out amongst the thousands of book submissions that agents and publishers have to sift through and therefore unfortunately they may not be giving your work the full attention that it deserves. I understand it, but one of my goals was to see if somebody in the profession would look at it and say, “Yes Mr. Hoffman, this is serious and professional,” that would have been better than actually getting an agent or publisher, not that my editor and one of his friends who’s also in the business sort of didn’t assure me of those things, but an outside viewpoint would have been nice. I have to say though, when I saw my book in paperback, it was thrilling and I was proud of that accomplishment.

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  1. Great book! True and funny! If you can laugh at yourself, you will find the book a very fun read and wanting more!

  2. Fun read. I feel like I know so many of the characters. It made me smile and cringe. Looking forward to you next work!