Robert A. Black, Novelist for middle-grade readers
Frequently Asked Questions

Where and when were you born?
September 21st, 1964, in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Where do you live now?
I've lived in Southern California since 1992.
What was your family like?
I'm the oldest of three kids. I have a brother who's four years younger and a sister who's six years younger. We all went to a private K-12 school in Indianapolis, where our dad was principal of the high school and our mom was a math teacher. The whole family went off to school together each morning!
Do you have a family of your own now?
No, it's just me. However, I do have three nieces and a nephew to go visit, and that's always fun to do.
What do you do in your spare time?
I've been singing in my church choir since 1993, and I'm also the choir's archivist and webmaster. In addition to our normal Sunday services, we've also performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and recorded a CD with a jazz composer who writes music for us. I also like to go hiking in the California hills. And being from Indianapolis, I'm a big fan of auto racing and the Indiana Pacers.
Did you want to be a writer when you were a kid?
I was making up stories even before I learned how to read and write. My first one was a picture-story about Captain Kangaroo and his friends going to the Moon. When I was in middle school, my friends and I tried making up our own science fiction series, but our efforts never really went anywhere. I'd always assumed I'd have a career in science or engineering or computers, or something like that, and didn't try writing "for real" until I got to college.
What were your favorite books when you were a kid?
I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy, including A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle and The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. I think my favorite, though, was Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl. It certainly influenced the way I write, especially the way I handle point-of-view in my stories. There was also a non-fiction book, The Trouble with Tribbles, which was David Gerrold's account of how he wrote for the original Star Trek TV series when he was only twenty-two years old. I used that book as my guide to becoming a TV writer myself.
How did you become a writer for You Can't Do That On Television?
First of all, I was very lucky. You Can't Do That On Television was made at a TV station in Ottawa, Canada, so I didn't have to face nearly as much competition as I would have faced in Hollywood. But even then, I had to watch the show enough to figure out its style, write my first script and contact the producers about submitting it. And do a lot of waiting while they reviewed my work.

(You can find out more about You Can't Do That On Television on the Real Life Channel page.)
Why did you switch to writing books? Which do you like better?
I was trying to get into Hollywood as a script writer when I moved to Southern California, but things didn't work out - and what I learned through all my efforts was that I didn't want things to work out. In Hollywood, a script is almost never produced just as the writer wrote it. All sorts of people make changes - sometimes good ones, but sometimes bad ones - and the writer can't do anything about it. So even though it's thrilling to see people performing your work on television, all in all I think I like books better, because they give me so much more of a chance to tell my stories my way.
Where do you get your ideas?
Rancho Cucamonga. There's a nice little shop just off the freeway.
No, I mean really.
I find ideas everywhere - or sometimes they find me. There isn't really a single answer to that question. Stories are happening all the time, in your own life, in the lives of the people around you, and across the world in general. Being a writer means learning how to observe all those stories that are going on, because that's when your imagination starts taking those stories apart, changing them around and putting the pieces together in new and different ways. Pay attention to what's happening around you, and start asking yourself questions about what you see. That's when the ideas start showing up.
Do you ever have an idea and then lose it?
I've probably lost more ideas than I've kept. Fortunately, there are always more. And I've had some ideas come back after being lost in my head - sometimes even years later.
How do you develop a style?
You don't. Not on purpose, anyway. All writers start out by mimicking the styles of writers they've read and enjoyed. Little by little, their own styles emerge. But there are no shortcuts - if you try to force yourself into a style, it'll look fake and you'll end up frustrated. Just be patient and keep writing. Your style will develop on its own.
Do you have any other advice for a beginning writer?
Most authors will tell you to read a lot - and that's good advice. Books are food for your imagination. Through them, you can start to learn how words and ideas go together, and how authors make their stories work. Also, though I know a lot of writers will think this is blasphemy, I think you can learn a lot by watching television. Really watching it, not just turning it on while you eat potato chips or chat online with your friends. A well-written movie or TV show can teach you a lot about dialogue rhythm and story structure, but you've got to be paying attention. I used to draw up all sorts of diagrams outlining the TV shows I watched.

The other important thing for all writers to do is write. A lot. Keep journals, work on scenes or short stories, write letters to people - there are all sorts of possibilities. In some ways, being a writer is just like being a musician or an athlete. If you want to be good, you've got to practice every day.
If I become an author, will I get rich?
If you do, write back to me and tell me how. I could use the advice.

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