Interview with Robert Fate

Robert Fate has written scripts for network TV, screenplays for features, produced an indie feature, and as a sp/fx technician won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement. A Marine Corps vet, he studied at the Sorbonne in France, worked as a TV cameraman and an oilfield roughneck in Oklahoma, a fashion model in NYC, a sales exec in Las Vegas, and a chef in L.A. His wife Fern is a yoga enthusiast and ceramic artist. Their fabulous daughter Jenny is a senior at USC. They live in Silver Lake in L.A., and have a dog, four cats, and a turtle named Pharrell.

Welcome, Robert!

After four Baby Shark novels, you decided to write a stand-alone with a male protagonist. Why step away from something that’s working so well? And was this a nerve-wracking decision?

You know, Jackie, it never occurred to me that I was stepping away from anything. There was a story I wanted to tell, I’d finished Jugglers at the Border, and it seemed like the right time to do it. I am already at work on the next Baby Shark, an idea I’ve had for awhile about a grass widow who needs Kristin’s help. There may be some gunplay in this one––I can’t promise, but maybe.

Your question is interesting, though. I wonder how many other readers are concerned about a two-year pause between Baby Shark books? I’m crazy about Kristin, Otis, and Henry and the rest of the gang and am really looking forward to being with them again. Something has to be done about Henry’s loneliness, something more than dogs and chickens can solve. So, I’m thinking about that. And Kristin has to shoot more pool––lots of emails about that. And Otis had some big decisions to make at the end of Jugglers––how is that going to turn out?

Anyway, so, yeah, I’ve taken a little chance here by taking some time and telling a story off to the side. Will my readers accept it? We’ll see. Perhaps this chat will draw some comments.

Was it difficult to get into the head of a new character? Did you have to keep double-checking to make sure the voice wasn’t that of Kristin Van Dijk?

You wouldn’t think that would be an issue, but you’ve hit on something, Jackie. The biggest challenge I had with Erik Lamar, the gigolo, was to keep him from becoming too tough. Kristin learned to fight in order to survive, and she came back from her training as one tough cookie. Erik is not a tough guy. He’s a smooth operator who knows how to please a woman. When ruthless thugs confront him, he has to learn on the job or die. He’s clever and resourceful, but has some weaknesses when it comes to women.

Here is copy that may end up on the book cover – whether it does or doesn’t, it can give you a quick overview right now of what’s happening in Kill the Gigolo:

Gangster Al Foley has a grudge to settle and only the head of Erik Lamar will even the score. The Irish Mob is given an assignment: kill the gigolo. When the mutilated corpse of Erik’s friend, Freddy, is found dumped in the street, Erik gets the warning–what happened to Freddy is a Girl Scout demerit compared to what is planned for him. But first, they have to catch him. One step ahead of Foley’s thugs, the smooth-talking ladies man flies off to Mexico, thinking he has traded terror for a life of leisure with a rich older woman who likes bad boys like Erik. But it’s not so easy. Lies and deceit become his way of life in the tropics, and in no time losing his head to the mob becomes the least of his worries.

You’re moving to New York City for your new novel, a big change from Oklahoma. Can you tell us a little bit about “Kill the Gigolo”? And will it be set in present day or in the past like the Baby Shark series?

I used to live in Manhattan. I had apartments on west 8th in the village, and on 75th just off Central Park West during the sixties when I was writing stage plays and working as a fashion model to pay the rent. In the early eighties, when I was a writer for a daytime show for CBS (Search For Tomorrow), my wife and I lived in a garden apartment in Chelsea. I would love to have work that would take us back to New York. We were happy there and would return in a flash. So, setting the early portion of Kill the Gigolo in Manhattan was an easy task. After years of living there, it was a pleasure setting the scenes and creating New York characters.

Unlike the Shark series that is set in the 1950’s in Texas and Oklahoma, Gigolo is present day with cell phones and modern transportation. Writing Gigolo was a real departure from what I’ve been accustomed to writing the past five years, and yes, thinking for a man instead of a young woman was a tricky challenge. It was strange, as I mentioned before, to be writing a man who is not as tough as the woman I write for in the Shark series. But, as I also mentioned, he learns on the job.

There are scenes in New York, and in Boston, but most of the story takes place on the west coast of Mexico in a fictional location called Los Acantilados, where an enclave of wealthy ex-pats have their villas that overlook the ocean from mountainous properties carved from the jungle. It is in that environment that Erik faces his most dangerous challenges.

One of the biggest differences between Kristin, the protagonist of the Shark series, and Erik in Kill the Gigolo, is their worldview. Kristin may do some violent things––in fact, she often does violent things, but without exception, the bad things she does are against bad people and in the defense of good. Erik is a different animal. Though it is not his nature to be violent, he finds himself capable of that when it’s called for. Kristin is concerned about what she is and what she might become if she keeps killing, but Erik seldom concerns himself with the rights or wrongs of his lifestyle. He sees himself as a businessman, pure and simple. But his customers identify him in the manner most comfortable to them––as a friend, an escort, a date, or a hired lover––and the mob sees him as a target.

Here was the thing, Jackie, in order to write this character, I felt I had to understand how he operated. I wasn’t at all certain that I was so different from my readers – how many of us have met or even know that much about gigolos? My friend Bruce Cook says I should fess-up that I worked as one in my younger days. I deny that. But okay, what do we know? A gigolo is a man who is paid to please women, but besides being handsome and a good lover, what are some of the details of that occupation in a day-to-day sense? So, to deal with those unknowns, I created back-story, material that I knew would not end up in the book, but rather would paint a picture that could help me know my protagonist. Here is a tiny bit of the tons of back-story I created to help me write Erik Lamar, the gigolo:

Erik knows how to exchange glances with successful middle-aged professional women who recognize at once what he is about. Especially women flying into the city on business––brief visits that afford them little more than the time to “window shop.”

He knows where to be in order to be seen. Realists only may apply.

Most often, the ones interested in him are women accustomed to running the show. If Erik is something they want they record his number in their Blackberries.

As his database grows, calls from out of town have become routine from clients who invite him to meet them on their turf, usually at hotels near airports in their cities. Commonly, his business is conducted in an evening, and it is not unusual for him to catch the redeye home, but he never rushes. Hurrying will not gain him referrals. His clients set the pace.

“I’m a friend of…” referral phone calls invariably begin. “She says you’re sometimes over our way…” or something like that. But it never takes them long to get to the point.

There is a bravura shared by the women who come to him via referral. He is sight unseen for them. They are taking their friend’s word in reference to every aspect of the rendezvous they’re requesting, and there is no room for timidity. Arrangements and rules of play need to be spelled out and costs agreed upon.

The beginnings to the relationships with Erik, the “referrals”––as he makes note of them in his appointment book––are candid. What do they expect of him? What do they think they’re paying for? The quid pro quo nature of the deal. That is his opportunity to weed out the strange women with weird ideas. He doesn’t play games. He’s a bit old-fashioned, in that respect.

Erik is sensitive to a woman’s preferences and knows by her response when he’s pleasing her. Some are outspoken, of course, and make it clear what they desire. Those women are always the repeaters. They’re eager to get to know him better. A few back-to-back visits usually get that crazy need out of their systems, and they settle into a more rational schedule. His fees are such that unless a woman has a sizable amount of expendable income, seeing him too often can trigger the attention of their accountants. It is to everyone’s advantage for him to remain beneath the radar.

For Erik the out of town visits are bread and butter, like a doctor’s routine––see me again in six weeks or whatever, and with the repeats and the constant addition of new clients, his business is growing nicely. And, since the out of town work is virtually invisible to his Manhattan clientele, he never seems overbooked, or too busy, and remains credibly “fresh” to the more demanding.

Though this Gigolo character may not be the easiest protagonist to like, he does live an intriguing existence and his story is exciting to follow. He gets deeper and deeper into trouble in his attempt to avoid capture by the mobsters, and the people and situations he encounters while on the run are exhilarating. The story is noir in the classical sense, that is to say, the protagonist is unsavory, and those characters he takes up with along the way are not much better––in fact, most are far worse. Kill the Gigolo is crime drama.

My hope is that readers will enjoy the ride.

I understand that Baby Shark is going celluloid! Which book was optioned? Can you tell us about this process? And do you have an actress in mind for the role of Kristin? (Even though we all know that by the time Hollywood is done with it, the role will be played by Betty White.)

Baby Shark was under option to a Hollywood producer for eighteen months, beginning in the spring of 2008 and ending late in the year 2009. The producer, acting in good faith, attempted to garner financing during a very tough economic period, wasn’t successful, and decided against renewing the option. Another producer, who had shown strong interest in Baby Shark and was waiting in the wings, negotiated briefly for an option, but because of other commitments decided against going forward. So, as of this date, Baby Shark is available if the motion picture industry should come calling again. Having worked in the industry for many years, I was not surprised by any of the above. Seeing a book into film is a tough and tangled process. What a writer can hope for is the first sale. After that, things often flow with more ease for subsequent properties. However, selling to Hollywood will never be without the difficulties that define Hollywood. It’s just that it’s easier once someone has stepped up. “New” makes producers nervous––note all the sequels.

What are you working on next? And if “Kill the Gigolo” is as successful as the Baby Shark series, will you consider turning that into a series?

I believe Kill the Gigolo is a story that should stand on its own––no series is anticipated.

As mentioned above, another Kristin Van Dijk story will be next. When the widow of a long-ago friend of Otis’ shows up desperate for help, Kristin and the gang find themselves up against some heavy odds in their attempt to make something go right that has gone terribly wrong.

I have enjoyed working on a stand-alone, but I’m anxious to return to the world of Baby Shark.

Thank you for being with us.

And thank you, Jacqueline. It has been a pleasure visiting with you.

6 thoughts on “Interview with Robert Fate”

  1. Marilyn – Thank you for the invitation. I enjoyed my last visit to the San Joaquin sisters, even if that character Bruce Cook was with me – I'm sure he'll hear about this and begin whining – you may as well go ahead and ask him, too. Let's set a date. See what happens when you go to print with an invitation? Warmest best, Bob


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