Compared to his 936 page novel The Mountain Shadow, Gregory David Robert’s 63-page final interview doesn’t seem too intimidating. But if you still don’t have the time to read it in between chapters of Lin’s adventures in Bombay, don’t worry: We’ve got you covered. Here, we’ve pulled our favorite 12 answers, including details about his favorite character and the TV shows he watches when he isn’t writing. Then, scroll down to enter to win the author’s edition of The Mountain Shadow, the sequel to Robert’s bestselling novel Shantaram. Our sister company Zola Books is giving away one signed copy with a special note from Roberts and 100 pages of bonus material.
On retiring from public life: “A nudge from the universe asked me a question. What do you want? What do you want? I’d never asked myself that question. What I like, sure. What I love, certainly. But never what I want. Once the question was asked for me, the answer became the answer to everything else. Family, and writing.”
On writing in the first person: “Pretending that we know, as an omniscient author, is a trick that provides wonderful entertainment, but it’s just a trick. The only perspective that remains true to experience is the first person narrator’s view, whose understanding at any one point in the narrative reflects our own human experience.”
On the TV shows he watches when he isn’t writing: “Boston Legal or The Walking Dead”
On embedding allegorical references in his novels: “You give people something to go back for. You reward a second visit to your book with different levels of appreciation, if they choose to play that game with you… In my case, if they wanted to engage more fully with TMS, they would buy copies of The Aeneid and The Epic of Gilgamesh and they’d find constant parallels.”
On killing off characters: “It’s a horrible thing, and sometimes extremely painful. I cried hard when a character died recently. The grieving was so fierce that I had to cover his pictures on my character wall. I’d lived with that character since 1988, when I published a story about him. It was a torment, letting him go.”
On his favorite character: “I always have a soft spot for Karla. You get a lot more Karla in TMS. You get to understand her crazy take on things a little more. Not all the way, of course, because there’s always a lot more of Karla to discover than she reveals. But I like her very much in this novel.”
On who he’d want with him on a desert island: “Jesus, Cleopatra, Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Spartacus, and Artemisia Gentileschi, just to make sure that they all had a safe island to live on.”
On writing longhand: “The pen allows certain extravagant flourishes than can’t survive the glare of a document page on a screen, and we leave them behind. But beneath those excesses, permitted by them, are strong lines that stand up on a screen, which might not have inspired such courage or quirkiness of thought in its rigidly controlled creative environment.
I like the pen, but I like the keyboard as well. The hand-written draft is only the first. All those that follow are on the screen, so no matter how you begin, you still spend the great measure of your writing time on the screen. In effect, the screen version becomes the real version of the novel.”
On the challenges of writing: “I think the four hardest things in novel writing are sex scenes, genuinely funny humor, natural dialogue, and profound thinking. If you get those four right, all you need then is a good backing track.”
On fan mail: “Men also wrote to me about love. Soldiers, cops, bikers, prison guards, serving prisoners, and security personnel wrote to me, saying they wanted to thank me for having a kind of tough guy hero who falls crazy in love. They said thanks, for saying it’s okay, because we love like that too, but we can’t talk about it.
Incidentally, when I was prison librarian, a long time ago, the most frequently borrowed books were collections of love poems, which the guys raided for love letters.”
On his musical talents: “As a punishment for my escape and 10 years on the run, the authorities put me in solitary for two years. When I was released into the mainstream of the prison, I thought that I’d survived well, and that the system hadn’t beaten me. Then I tried to sing, which I’d always done since I was a kid, copying Stevie Wonder’s voice singing “I Was Made to Love Her.” But I couldn’t sing.
I couldn’t hit the note. I couldn’t stay on key. I couldn’t get the timing right. I tried for weeks to sing, whenever it was the right time in the wrong place, but I couldn’t sing any of the songs I’d sung hundreds of times. I’d lost the spirit.
I left those solitary years thinking that the system hadn’t beaten me, but it had. I lost the spirit, and I couldn’t sing any more. Now, 23 years later, I’m beginning to sing again.”
On women in power: “I think the depictions of women are critically important. Advertising plays into a negative feedback loop, depicting women as seductresses, objectified lust, or trophy girlfriends. It’s way past time that the advertisers got their share of scrutiny.
The key to change, speaking as a man who has been subjected to propagandized images of women in magazines, on billboards, television and music videos since childhood, is in the presence of women in power, and in the administration of power.”
Enter below for a chance to win a signed ebook with a special note from Gregory David Roberts himself. The ebook is the author’s edition of The Mountain Shadow. This edition includes love poems between Karla and Lin, exclusive images from author Gregory David Roberts, alternate versions of the first chapter, 100 pages of bonus content, and more!
All prizes and samples are provided by Bookish’s sister company Zola Books.
Gregory David Roberts escaped from a maximum-security facility and spent ten years on the run, and ten years in prison. After the publication of his first novel, the bestselling Shantaram, he spent ten years working as an ambassador for charitable and social justice organizations, and as a philosophical consultant to leaders and philanthropic foundations. He retired from public life in 2014 to devote his time to family and new writing projects.