What's Life Like When You're a Writer Married to a Writer? To Find Out, Rome Calls Chattanooga, choo-choo!

Couples engaged in the same occupation are rare and don’t always have a happy life together. It may be harder for writers than for other artists to achieve serenity in their life as a couple – perhaps because writers are more given to analyzing their feelings and expressing them into words. That can easily turn into a source of friction as famously happened with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, when she wrote The Mandarins, a barely concealed critique of Sartre and his group of existentialists whom she felt had cut her out.

Marsha Roberts, author of the best-selling Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer and...

...Bob Rector! 

His recently published book, Unthinkable Consequences, is steadily climbing the ranks of romantic suspense novels, are definitely an exception: I know from reading “Confessions” that they are very close to each other and have always been, including now that they are suddenly finding themselves in the situation of writers married to each other.

Yet, before they met, they had pursued completely different career paths. Bob had been into musical video production, documentaries and script writing. Marsha started as an operating room nurse but quickly became restless for adventure. She began to travel, using part time nursing to support her habit, and met Bob at the end of one of her journeys. He was directing the feature film, “Don't Change My World” at the time. She immediately became fascinated by the filmmaking process and became Bob's right-hand-gal for years. She worked herself up to the position of Producer which culminated in the production of Letters from the Front, a most unusual and arresting play written and directed by Bob, which toured the world with great success for 15 years.
Today, I am honored to interview them: Rome calls Chattanooga, choo-choo! 

Yes, I live in Rome and they live in America and we have never met anywhere else but on the Net. I see this as a unique opportunity to find out how Marsha and Bob have moved from a situation where he was the artist and she was the business manager to the present one where they are both writers.

Claude: Marsha and Bob, this is a question for both of you: for the first time in your life, you find yourself in the same line of work, writing books. And pardon my curiosity, how do you get along? Do you help each other? Do you avoid each other?

Marsha: I can't help but laugh when I read this question, Claude! We get along (as Forest Gump said) “Like two peas in a pod.” We are always there for each other and it would never occur to me to avoid Bob. He's too delightful to avoid!

Bob: We've always enjoyed working together. I think we bring out the best in each other. Traditionally, I've always been the writer, but Marsha has developed, through our mutual work, keen storytelling skills that I learned to respect. Marsha neglected to point out that for years she was an accomplished film editor and, as one of my blog posts points out, nothing develops story telling abilities like hours spent at the editing table.

Claude: Marsha, you told me that you are producing an audio version of your book. From your own life as a theater producer, you knew actors and I’m sure Bob, with his long experience in video production, could also help. How did that work out?
Marsha: First off, it was a delight to have Della Cole read my book. She starred in Letters from the Front for years and is also a dear friend. She is a top voice talent and she knew many of my stories from first hand experience. She also runs one of the top acting schools in the southeast, YourAct. The tricky part was in post production and, frankly, Bob saved my... well, he saved the project! He is a fantastic editor and finished the audiobook in style. It will be available through Amazon soon and I'm really excited about it!

Claude: I'm looking forward to hearing it! Bob, your book came out a couple of years later than Marsha's and you had ample opportunity to observe her working at book promotion. Were you able to profit from her experience?

Bob: Unthinkable Consequences was a project that simmered on the back burner for a couple of decades. Marsha's success with publishing and promoting her book was what convinced me to finally finish mine and publish it. By that time Marsha was already plugged into social media and I benefited from her experience.

Claude: I’d like to know how you organize your working life and whether you have advice for other writers: how much time do you devote to creative writing, how much to book promotion?

Marsha: I wish I could say I've found all of the answers in how to time manage promotion and writing, but I haven't. I'm still trying to wrangle the beast of marketing my book without it taking up every minute of every day.

Bob: We have both tried various approaches with e-marketing our books, some with success, and some without. It's a tedious and sometimes frustrating process because it's all new. And most of us at this point are making it up as we go along.

Claude: I am asking because book promotion in my own life is interfering with my writing, sometimes much more heavily than I would like. Do you ever feel any frustration, any desire to shut down the Internet?

Bob: I can answer that with two words: hell yes! But Marsha and I are in this for the long haul and we certainly know about long haul projects. Ultimately we're going to have to develop our own methods for marketing, just as we have in the past. How much the internet will be a part of that is still a question, but I firmly believe you should use all resources that benefit you in achieving your goals.

Marsha: Well said, Bob. I'd like to add that about a year ago I begin a process of trying to discern which activities on the internet were helpful and which were just time wasters. And I'm speaking here about the bottom line: selling books. Social media can give you the impression you are getting a lot done because you are posting and tweeting and sharing and it's all so busy, busy, busy! At the end of the day, does it sell books? If so, I continue to do it. If not, I move on. But, do I have time for writing? Not much.

Claude: Same here! I’d like to probe a little deeper into your working life as a couple, if I may. Do you discuss book ideas together? Do you read each other’s drafts and critique them? Do you even listen to each other’s advice and act on it (grin)?

Marsha: As Bob mentioned earlier, we enjoy working together and collaborate very well. Yes, we read each other's drafts and critique them. I can say without hesitation that my Mutinous Boomer book would not have taken the shape and form it did without Bob's input. We always listen to each other's advice and usually take that advice because we are working on such a level of trust. However, occasionally one of us will feel passionately about what we've written and the author always has the choice to keep it as is.

Bob: From the beginning of our relationship we had to learn to work together as pros first and a couple second. I did not want Marsha branded as 'the director's girlfriend' as the reason she was in the business. So I was very tough on her, tougher than I would have been on an employee, but she understood why and simply upped her game until she became well-respected within the business and us being a couple was no longer an issue. We still work that way and never allow personalities to get in the way. Our goal is to produce the best work we can. And neither of us has much tolerance for people who don't operate on this professional level.

Claude: I don't either! And it is natural of course for the two of you to collaborate. But are there things you would never do together?

Bob: I won't eat tofu with her. Marsha won't join me in spitting, belching and farting, but other than that, we both enjoy football and baseball, the great outdoors, time with our kids (grown!) and consuming adult beverages, preferably in exotic locations.

Marsha: Ha! True that! I'd say the only professional area that we operate separately is that Bob is a whiz with the computer and manages all our tech “stuff” and graphics. But, when it comes to making a call on a potential client or sponsor, it's me who walks through the door. Bob would hate it just as much as I hate dealing with computers!

Bob: That's because Marsha is like Sara Lee, nobody doesn't like her!

Claude: I’d like to know what writers have influenced you the most and why. Marsha, you wrote what is basically a memoir yet with a totally new twist – giving us an extraordinary sense of life seen from an unshakeable optimistic standpoint. Did you believe you were into something entirely different from anything you’d ever read or did you have a model in mind?

Marsha: Thank you, Claude, for those kind words about my book. Besides novels, I've always read books that teach about how to grow spiritually, everyone from Dr. Wayne Dyer to Deepak Chopra to the great Granddaddy of them all, Norman Vincent Peale. The Power of Positive Thinking is real and is a real force in my life. However, I had a different and more personal story to tell than a how-to type of book. Mine is very conversational in approach (quite female!) and, no I didn't really think about doing something entirely different. I was just telling my story as honestly as I could.

Claude: How did the word “parable” end up in the title? Was that your thought from the beginning or was “Confessions” the main idea? And I'm curious, will there be a follow-up to your “Confessions” or something totally different? I expect you still have a lot of confessions up your sleeve!

Marsha: My book started as The Parable of the Tomato Plant and as it grew into something bigger, it just didn't seem right to remove it from the title. My original idea was a series of vignettes that illustrated how spiritual lessons are part of our daily lives, if we take a moment to see them. When Bob read my first draft, he loved the stories, but he said he thought it would leave the reader frustrated because I had introduced so many interesting characters, but had not completed their stories as I moved on to the next vignette. It was then that the organization of my book took shape and “Confessions” AND “Mutinous” seemed appropriate! And, yes, I do believe I have another Mutinous Boomer book in me, but not just yet...

Claude: Any plans other than writing yourself, like reviving Letters from the Front? I’ve only read it but I’ve enjoyed it immensely, it’s a great play and I’d love to see it produced again. In our world tired of wars, that’s exactly the kind of play that needs to be seen.

Marsha: The reason I said I wasn't concentrating on writing another book just yet is that we have decided that it is time for Letters from the Front to be out touring military bases again and we intend to make that happen. Our audiences always described it as “from the heart” and “healing” as well as “incredibly entertaining!” With so many of our troops returning home after multiple deployments, they need something as positive and encouraging as Letters from the Front and we intend to be there for them and their families. We miss them and we miss the show.

Claude: Bob, you’re an incredibly versatile artist, from music videos to cartoons that you have drawn yourself – yes , I’ve seen your remarkable and very funny cartoon. I can't resist inserting it here:

(or you can watch it by clicking here) And of course, you've done film scripts and theater plays, and now a romance that is also a fantastic page-turner, it’s so fast-paced. The dialogues are superb which is of course what one would expect coming from a talented playwright like you. What writers, or should I say artists, do you consider as models to follow in your widely diverse endeavors?

Bob: The storyteller who has without a doubt had the greatest influence on me is Walt Disney. He understood character and plot construction and the workings of the human heart better than anybody. And of course he was a master showman. As for writing, from books with great scope and adventure I think Hammond Innes is probably the best and certainly influenced writers like Clive Cussler and Ken Follett. In the genre I've written in, Dashiell Hammett is the acknowledged master, followed by Earle Stanley Gardner and later by John D. MacDonald, who is my personal favorite.

Claude: I know that you feel like playwriting is not “fully appreciated” in the writing world – though I beg to disagree, I love playwrights and consider some of them as the greatest writers ever, from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller. I’ve been wondering why you feel that way. Have you had a particularly disappointing experience in the theater world and is that why you’re into novel-writing now? 

Bob: That's a complicated question and definitely hits a nerve. As you know, most of my background was in the world of films. So when I stumbled into the world of theatre, I was surprised at how ego driven it was and the amount of snobbery that was prevalent. Particularly towards someone who had not “played by the rules.” But since Marsha and I produced this play ourselves, we could basically tell everybody to go to hell, and did. The fact that our show was so successful only ostracized us further from the theatre establishment. So I was a little put off when I first joined ASMSG that playwrights were not included. As for writing Unthinkable Consequences, it was a project I'd tinkered with for years and finally decided to complete, but not because of my experiences in theatre. I just wanted to finally get it done.

Marsha: I'd like to interject something here, Claude. It would be difficult to describe to someone who hasn't experienced it the incredible impact that Letters from the Front has on its audiences. Why? Bob Rector. How he walks the audience into the lives and hearts of the characters is no less than genius, and I'm not exaggerating when I use that word. I've never been more proud of Bob than when the curtain went up hundreds of times to audiences that could only respond with standing ovations.

Bob: Okay, lets all sing together now: We belong to a mutual admiration society, my baby and me. Before we move on, Claude, I'd like to say something about playwriting that the painter side of you will appreciate. You are familiar with the challenge of painting with a limited palette. Playwriting is very similar in that you virtually have nothing more to work with than dialogue to develop characters and advance the story. I encourage all writers to try writing a play at some point because it will hone their storytelling skills in ways that will only benefit their novel writing.

Claude: I agree, good dialogue is key and writing a play is the way to hone that skill. Do you plan on a sequel to Unthinkable Consequences or are you ready to write something entirely new?

Bob: I have no plans for a sequel and very little interest. I've told the story, it's finished, and so am I. As for other projects spinning around in my mind, I'd have to live to be 500 years old to do them all.

Claude: I know what you mean, but I hope we'll soon see another one of your projects! Bob and Marsha, there is one thing that brings you together now, the world of indies and self-publishing: you’re both self-published authors. How do you feel about the world of indies, would you do it again or would you seek a traditional publisher for your next book?

Marsha: No question about it, I would self publish again and I will. Why? The big publishers are primarily interested in putting their money and time into established authors. I have seen quite a few indie author friends I've grown to know on the internet to get publishing deals. They end up working just as hard as the rest of us, marketing their books and trying to sell them, but splitting the sales with an agent and a publisher who are doing virtually nothing to promote them. This isn't an easy path. We are on the forefront here – the beginning of the way it will be done from here on. I'm glad to be in on the ground floor.

Bob: Marsha's right. This is a ground floor opportunity and that makes it both exciting and frustrating. There's lots of very talented and energetic people involved and I am inspired by them, and have made lots of friends. Who knows how the world of indie publishing will eventually shake out, but I know I want to be a part of it and maybe in some small way, help make the baby grow.

Claude: I'm sure you can help "make the baby grow" but like any parenthood, it is frustrating at times! Thanks so much for responding to all my questions. Just a last one before we close, and I take the inspiration for it from one of the author interviews you did, Bob: if money was no object, what would you do with your life beside write?

Marsha: Money no object? I love that question! I would have a home on Lake Como, be able to travel to wherever I wanted, make sure my sons had what they needed to pursue their dreams and insure that Letters from the Front was entertaining the troops and their families (and veterans!) for a long, long time. Besides that? I'd have clothes designed just for me, I'd have.... I guess you get the picture. I'm ALL about enjoying life!

Bob: We have known so many people who look at life as a contest that must be won. Marsha and I look at life as an adventure that must be lived. So if money was no object, I'd spend as much time as possible with Marsha at Lake Como and we'd make ourselves real nuisances dropping in on you and Giuseppe and drinking up as much of your wine as possible. Other than that, as Marsha said, just enjoy life and spend as much time with our family as possible.
And many thanks to you Claude for your valuable help as a beta reader on Unthinkable Consequences. You definitely helped me shape it into a much better book. We enjoyed doing this interview with you and wish you every success with the launch of your Forever Young series. 

Claude: Many thanks to you both, and Giuseppe and I are looking forward to drinking our Lake Trasimeno wine with you next time you come to Europe!

Bob and Marsha in Pompei, looking happy...not yet Lake Como!

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