Connecting Texas books and writers with those who most want to discover them
Each week Lone Star Literary profiles a newsmaker in Texas books and letters, including authors, booksellers, publishers.
Kay Ellington has worked in management for a variety of media companies, including Gannett, Cox Communications, Knight-Ridder, and the New York Times Regional Group, from Texas to New York to California to the Southeast and back again to Texas. She is the coauthor, with Barbara Brannon, of the Texas novels The Paragraph Ranch and A Wedding at the Paragraph Ranch.
Author C. Robert Cargill of Austin is the screenwriter of the Sinister films and was one of the writers on the Doctor Strange movie. He wrote for Ain’t It Cool News for nearly a decade under the pseudonym Massawyrm and served as a staff writer for Film.com and Hollywood.com. Sea of Rust is his third novel.
Native Texan C. Robert Cargill lives the life many writers dream of — with Hollywood and New York successes and an Austin address. But he's worked hard and paid his dues along the way, as he explained in an email interview with Lone Star Lit. this week.
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: First of all, happy belated birthday. I understand that you were born Sept. 8, 1975, in San Antonio. You grew up in the Alamo City in the seventies and eighties. What was that like, and how did it inform your writing?
ROBERT C. CARGILL: Though born in San Antonio, I was a military brat and moved around the country until I ended up back in SA when I was fourteen. I did however spend the ’90s there, where I was immersed heavily in the poetry and literary scenes. My first semi-professional job was at a literary magazine named The Sun Poetic Times, and my first time in print was an editorial printed both in the San Antonio Light and the Express News when I was fifteen. I cut my teeth on a lot of poetry readings and learned an awful lot from the luminaries on the scene at the time.
According to your bio, you’ve been a waiter, a video store clerk, a travel agent, a camp counselor, an airline reservation agent, a sandwich artist, a day care provider, a voice actor, and a freelance writer and film critic. How did your big break in writing screenplays come about?
The long story short is that I was a film critic for a decade, and Scott Derrickson had become a fan of my writing. He began emailing me and we became fast friends. One weekend we ended up in Las Vegas at the same time and decided to get together at the Mandalay Bay. Over drinks I pitched him the idea for Sinister and [he] flipped for it. We sold it to Jason Blum a week and a half later and Scott — who had read the rough draft of Dreams and Shadows — asked me if I would write it with him. We’ve been working together ever since.
Your path to writing a novel actually came after writing your first screenplay. Would you tell our readers how you landed your first novel contract?
Once Sinister sold, word got out that I had a novel that I was looking to publish. I got my manager, David McIlvain, through Scott, and Peter McGuigan approached my David asking to read it. He became my agent shortly after. When I was in New York later that year shooting Sinister, Peter set up meetings for the book, and Diana Gill ended up picking up the book for Harper Voyager. So for those playing along with the home game: the book got me the writing gig that got me a movie deal that got the book published.
In 2013, Dreams and Shadows was published—your first novel. Would you tell our readers about it?
It’s an Austin-based urban fantasy novel that dips its toes into horror every so often. It’s the tale of a boy who makes a wish that will haunt him for the rest of his life. It’s the first of a three-book series, the second being Queen of the Dark Things.
In late 2014 through much of 2015 you were working again on a screenplay — this time for Doctor Strange, based on a Marvel Comics character of the same name, produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It was released in the United States on November 2017, grossed over $677 million worldwide, and was met with positive reviews from critics. It also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects. What was it like to be a part of creating an international cinematic success?
Surreal. I started my professional writing career in 2001, and Doctor Strange came out in 2016, so for a decade and a half all of my work had a certain cult status to it. Ain’t it Cool News, Spill.com, and Sinister were all very successful, but certainly not household names. It was incredibly weird to go from having to explain my projects to people asking about my career, to making something that most everyone has heard of. The best part though is seeing the kids who fall in love with it. I’ve been a film fan all my life and have always wanted to make an adventure that would mean as much to kids as Flash Gordon and Star Wars and Battle Beyond the Stars meant to me, and I’ve met or received letters from a number of kids who have conveyed exactly that. That’s the big win for me.
This past week (Sept. 5, 2017) your latest novel came out — and the reviews for Sea of Rust are stellar. How would you describe your latest book to our readers?
It’s a post-apocalyptic robot western. It’s set thirty years after the war that wiped out humanity, and the robots left behind face an even greater threat than us. Each other. It’s a fast-paced adventure that ponders what it is that makes us human and what legacy we’ll leave behind when we’re gone. All while delivering an all the Robot Pew-Pew that you want from a fun science fiction novel.
You live in Austin. Do you find it easy to work in the movie and publishing industries from Texas? What suggestions would you have for those who'd like to work in film or publishing, but would prefer to stay in the Lone Star State?
I have it pretty easy because my Hollywood writing partner lives in Los Angeles and is able to be the face in our meetings while I phone or Skype in. Without that, it would be significantly harder to work on studio projects as I do. In terms of publishing, that’s the easy one. You can live almost anywhere and publish books. And Texas is a fine place to do that from.
You are so productive! What is your creative process like? How is it different from screenplays to novels?
I usually write between two a.m. and seven a.m. Sunday through Thursday, so I work a standard five-day week. The rest of the time I spend working out what it is I’m going to put on the page when I do. I lead a pretty quiet life in North Central Austin, which makes it easy for me to do all the headwork necessary to put words to page. And in the middle of the night there are no e-mails or phone calls or breaking stories on the news to distract me from cranking out my day’s pages. A lot of people find my schedule a bit weird and off-putting, but I get lots done and Austin after dark is a pretty great place to live and work, so it’s worth having to explain it to people when they wonder why I don’t do morning meetings.
What's next for you? New movies or books in the works?
I have a short story collection titled We Are Where the Nightmares Go due out next year, an independent film about the last days of Ted Bundy we hope to be shooting next summer, and I have a couple of other projects in the pipeline I’m eager to talk about — hopefully sooner rather than later.
Last question: You first got started in the entertainment business as a reviewer with the pseudonym Massawyrm. What's the story behind that? Inquiring readers want to know.
Ha! That’s gibberish made up by some ex-roommates. After a short stint of living with a complete madman, I ended up homeless and some friends took me in for a few weeks while I found a new place. A few weeks turned into a few months, and I ended up spending six months living in a two-bedroom apartment with seven other guys. Everyone had nicknames, and that was the one given to me late one night. It was a joke, but it stuck, and when the house techie set me up with an email address, he did so under the name Massawyrm. That was the email address I used to email my first movie reviews to Harry Knowles, so that was the name he used, and the name stuck. In retrospect, had I known I would still be using it almost twenty years later, I would have asked for something different. Though it is nice to always have my name available on every digital platform I use.
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Innovative worldbuilding, a tight plot, and cinematic action sequences make for an exciting ride through a blasted landscape full of dying robots. —Kirkus Reviews
Sea of Rust is modern, smart fiction that belies it's majesty with a light touch. One of the science fiction books you should read this year. —SF Book Reviews
Read it for the Mad Max style robot on robot action and the full on nature of the story, stay for sense of loss, the gorgeous prose and the unforgettable yet somehow re-affirming bleakness. Recommended. —Starburst magazine
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