Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Words with... Robert F DeBurgh

Thanks to Robert F DeBurgh for this interview

What is your day job or are you lucky enough to write for a living?
Up until six years ago I was a commercial/airline pilot and flight instructor. I also spent 18 years as an examiner and counsellor for the Federal Aviation Administration. Due to a heart problem I had to retire from aviation and now write full-time. I also do some photo work for a local newspaper, and restore and sell a few classic motorcycles.

What books have you written so far?
My current published books are Riders of the Wind and Winds of Fate. Both are adventure novels set against an aviation background from the 1920s to the end of World War II.

What works in progress do you have?
At present I’m working on the third novel in the ‘Riders of the Wind’ series. This takes place in post-WWII China and follows my characters through some of the most horrendous terrain in the world: the Taklamakan Desert and the Kunlun Shan mountain range. I also have a semi-fiction book in the works, titled One-eyed Pete and Other Stories (mostly true) – tales of two wheels. This is a collection of stories from my motorcycling days in the late 1950s.

How long did it take you to write your book/s?
Riders of the Wind took almost three years, including a lot of research. This included tracking down flying examples of many of the aircraft mentioned in the book and, if possible, flying them myself. Winds of Fate took about 18 months, and included a trip to India to visit the old flying fields of WWII and the site of the siege of Imphal.

Do you write linear, or jump back and forth? Do you plan or write by the seat of your pants?
I tend to write mostly linear, but find it necessary to jump back and forth when the scene changes or when I have to put in a flashback.

Why do you write?
That’s a good question. I find that writing is sometimes very painful for me, especially novels. Magazine articles or newspaper stories are no problem. I do enjoy writing about little known events in history; for instance, the heroic Hump operation during WWII when the US supplied China with essential material by flying this cargo over the Himalayas from India. This operation was so dangerous due to the altitudes flown, weather and Japanese fighters that one could follow the wreckage of the cargo planes on the ground all the way from India to Kunming, China. This is known as ‘The Aluminum Trail’.

How long have you been writing?
Since I was in my teens. I first started writing for a local newspaper when I was 18, and wrote a sports car column for one paper and an aviation column for another. My first magazine article was published when I was 19.

Where and when do you write? ­ Do you have set times?
When I was writing Riders of the Wind, I wrote mostly at night. I’d come home from a flight, eat dinner, and go directly to the computer where I’d stay until 2am or 3am, working on the manuscript. Now I have the luxury of writing during the day.

Which character from your books do you like most / are most like?
I think that I like Phil Haley the most. He’s an old pilot and manager of the airline who is quite a father figure for the rest of my characters. I’m probably more like Charlie Cross though. He’s one of the main characters in my stories and reflects my personality.

What/who inspired you to write and still inspires you?
I was first inspired to write by my high-school writing teacher, who encouraged me to begin writing short stories and submitting them to various sci-fi magazines. I actually sold a few.

What do you think is the ideal recipe for a good novel or story?
Write about what you know. If you’re not knowlegeable in your subject area, your readers will soon pick up on the fact. Also, keep the action going and don’t let the reader get bored.

Have you ever based a character on someone from real life?
Definitely, Charlie Cross is based on my uncle, Charles A Cross Jr, who was a mail pilot in the 1920s and a pioneer airline pilot in the 1930s. Doretta Cross is based on my aunt, Doretta, who was a pioneer of women as pilots with the airlines and was a WASP during World War II. I wish I could say that the Forest Goddess was based on a real person, but unfortunately she’s just an Indian legend though the invisible tribes do exist in the Pantanal and the Mato Grosso.

Fave things: animal? food? drink? film? colour? band? song?
My favourite animal is the wolf – they are noble animals; intelligent and with a structured society.  
Favourite food would be pizza or maybe cheeseburgers. I’m not supposed to eat either of them.
My favourite film is probably Avatar, but I have so many films I like that it’s hard to choose the #1.  
Fave colour is red. I have no idea why.  
Fave band is Benny Goodman.
Fave song is the theme from the Broadway play Cats. Not the version by Barbara Streisand, but the one by Betty Buckley, the original singer in the show.

You’re walking in the forest and you bump into an alien librarian from Mars. He wants five book recommendations from you…
I would recommend The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway),  Johnathan Livingston Seagull (Richard Bach), The high and the Mighty (Earnest K. Gann),  The Little Prince  (Antoine DeSaint Exupery) and The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett).

Who is your favourite character from any book and why? 
Saint Exupery himself in his book Flight to Arras. I admire his courage in completing a reconaissance flight over Arras during the early stages of WWII; a flight that had little chance of a safe return and the gathering of then useless information since the French Army was in full retreat at the time. He did what he had to do and survived to write a novella of profound philosophy.

Who is your hero / heroine?
I think my real-life hero would be Jimmy Doolittle and my heroine would be Amelia Earhart.

Which book do you wish you had written?
Doctor Zhivago, a wonderful story set in the most turbulent times Russia has ever known.

Which three authors would you like to take to the pub?
Hemingway, Carl Marx and Machiavelli. Can you imagine the arguments after a few pints? We’d have to call the cops.

Are you published or self-published? What is your experience?
I’m mainly self published. Riders of the Wind and Winds of Fate are published in ebook format with Smashwords and in paperback with iUniverse. This is going to change, however, since I’m canceling my contract with iUniverse and will republish my paperbacks with CreateSpace.

How do you find the marketing experience? Any advice for other writers?
The marketing experience, for me, is frustrating, but I am selling fairly well. Just promote your work anywhere and any time you have the opportunity. Price your work to sell, but don’t give away the hours you spent writing your book; after all, this was time spent out of your life and you need to be compensated for it. If you have a message or philosophy to deliver to the reading public, then all well and good, give your work away free or for 99 cents, but if you want to make a living out of writing you can’t afford to do this. 

Do you have a blog? What do you blog about?
No blog yet, but it’s coming.

What other hobbies do you have?
I restore antique and classic motorcycles. I ride ‘em too.

What would you like to achieve in the next five years?
I would like to have five more novels in publication and perhaps sell the movie rights to one of them. I think Riders of the Wind would make a great film.

If you won the Lotto or a major publishing contract, what would you do with that dosh?
Buy a new house with lots of property and much more room, so I don’t have to write in the kitchen.

Complete one of these stories in 100 words or less…
I’m not good at this!

What question do you wish I’d asked and, of course, what is the answer?
Do you write poetry? Yes I do! In fact I’m working on compiling a book of poetry, to be titled Blossoms in the Snow. I was hoping to have it out for the Holidays, but it will now be after the New Year.

Book links:
Riders of the Wind: http://www.amazon.com/Riders-of-the-Wind-ebook/dp/B0055PN0UW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320764189&sr=8-1
Winds of Fate: http://www.amazon.com/Winds-Fate-Riders-Wind-ebook/dp/B0055PN0UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1320764189&sr=8-2
Riders of the Wind: a novel (paperback): http://www.amazon.com/Riders-Wind-Novel-Robert-DeBurgh/dp/0595228313/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1320764189&sr=8-4


  1. Great interview, Robert! I've downloaded a sample of Riders of the Wind! :)


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