How long have you been writing stories and novels?
Randall Sobien: I made my first serious attempt in my junior year of high school. As might be expected of an angsty at least semi-goth teenager, the main character was a vampire in a medieval fantasy setting. I knew the characters I wanted, I knew the setting I wanted, I knew the visuals I wanted, and I knew the ending I wanted. The tricky part was everything in between. I cringe a bit looking back at it... you can only write so much about a tortured pretty boy looking edgy and cool. In my senior year, I came up with another idea that I actually still pick up and work on every so often... sort of a heavily fictionalized autobiography. I also sometimes revisit the characters from the attempt on the medieval fantasy vampire story. Some of them I still find pretty interesting and worthy of stories.
What are your influences? Who or what inspires you?
Randall: My list of influences is pretty diverse - Neil Gaiman is a huge one for me, I'm also a fan of David and Leigh Eddings, James O'Barr, and Shakespeare... Hamlet and MacBeth are my two favorites of his, though I also have a soft spot for Romeo and Juliet, in particular for Mercutio and his monologue about dreams.
I'm also heavily influenced by movies and music. If a song really resonates with me, it often finds its way into my work in some way. Think of bands like the Cure, Depeche Mode, Oingo Boingo, Thrill Kill Kult, and even Delerium.
Last, but not least... I am an all around junky for good ghost stories, particularly allegedly true ones. My favorite author on that subject being a Victorian era one - Elliott O'Donnell.
What can you tell me about your novel "The Mirror House"?
Randall: When Renee and I first started talking to each other through a dating website, one of the first things we found out that we had in common was that we both were writers. With that, we began sending each other bits and pieces of our unfinished work. I know I liked hers, and apparently she liked mine enough to start dating and eventually marry me. She's described my own style as being visual, rich, and dark.
Among the unfinished work she sent me was a sort of backburner project that she wasn't overly attached to and had only finished maybe about one third of what is now the finished book, but I loved it and begged for more. That project was the Mirror House.
What was it like to co-write with your wife? What was the writing process like for this book?
Randall: It started off with me reading and giving suggestions, followed by more aggressive editing. I was putting the pressure on her to finish this project because I loved it, and being a relatively short novel, it could be a good one to get her in with an agent and a traditional publisher, who generally don't like especially long novels from a first time author.
Eventually, I found myself making larger suggestions, and I would even write backstories, or write parts from another character's perspective (which can be found in the bonus materials in the back) to give her a creative nudge. At this point, we figured it was turning into a joint project, and I did my best to earn that co-author credit, having entirely written the prologue, and re-written other pretty major sections.
By this time, my wife had already chose the self-publishing route for her first novel to be completed - Echoes, a sort of mystery/thriller that starts with a newborn baby being found in a movie theater restroom. With her already being familiar with that process and really not wanting to have to write a bunch of e-mails begging agents to look at it, we ended up going the self-publishing route for this one as well.
Do you create art with a specific message? Or do you prefer art for arts sake?
Randall: I think realistically, unless we're talking about something like a Jackson Pollock painting, all art has some kind of message. It's just a matter of what kind of message.
Having said that, most of the messages in my work tend to be introspective. I'd like to compare it to perhaps a song by the Cure, or a Shakespearean monologue. Left to my own devices, that's likely what I would stick to in the form of ghost stories, urban fantasy, and perhaps science fiction. But, I have a couple projects right now that are dystopian fiction with more direct political messages.
If I feel strongly enough about a particular subject and that I can offer a perspective that is powerful and not done to death, I do write with more direct messaging. My wife, having read what I have so far of the dystopian fiction projects has pointed out that forced military service seems to be a common theme.
What is your creative process like? What tools and methods do you use to write your novels?
Randall: Well... honestly, I wish I could borrow my wife's creative process. She has completed novels of her own. As for myself, I tend to have a hard time not being a perfectionist on what should be a first draft. I do have some finished work of my own in the form of short stories, but not yet any finished novels.
But... what seems to help me is either the background noise of perhaps a familiar movie that I don't have to pay close attention to - some of my best writing has been done with Monty Python in the background. I've also taken to making music playlists for projects and even for individual characters in the projects. I also like to have something cold to drink, usually iced tea. Aside from that, when I don't actively have a computer in front of me, I do a lot of daydreaming when I'm doing my normal day-to-day stuff. I also zone out a lot to music that I really like while I'm daydreaming.
How long have you considered yourself a libertarian?
Randall: Hmm... I remember the day in my government class when we were all given voter registration cards. We weren't really encouraged to be in one party over the other (pretty sure that Democrat and Republican were the only party options on the card at that time), but we were encouraged to choose a party, else we wouldn't be able to vote in primaries. Despite this, I marked "independent." This would have been, I think, in 1999. The Lewinski scandal was pretty fresh on my mind, and it really didn't make either of the two parties look good to me. Later, I would come to favor the Democrats somewhat, but not enough to where I could register as such in good conscience.
It took me awhile to warm up to the libertarian movement, as the loudest people I encountered who called themselves libertarians were those who found the Republican party just a bit too warm and caring. I later encountered, somewhat deeper in, people who seemed more human. People with real compassion, which has always been very important to me. Then seeing my state's old governor, Gary Johnson, being nominated by them, I began to give the movement a more serious look. One hold-out issue for me was their stances on labor issues, like the minimum wage... and it did take awhile before someone could explain it to me in a way that I could begin to accept, especially having worked for particularly nasty large companies. The last thing I wanted was for them to have more freedom to give me crap wages, crap hours, and crap working environments. For them to keep me on an even shorter leash.
I came to realize though that the leash they had me on was put in place by government regulations... that the regulations allowed and in some cases even seemed to encourage the horrid work conditions and lack of job security. Giving someone a crutch isn't kindness if you're the one who tripped them... and in many cases, the government's intervention on labor issues is just that.
I began to consider myself more and more libertarian, and became increasingly disgusted with the Democrats whom I had previously sympathized with, that disgust peaking perhaps with the 2016 elections. It was shortly after these elections that for the first time, I officially aligned myself with any party. I changed my registration to Libertarian and began paying member dues. A few years later in 2020, I even found myself running for the NM State House of Representatives as such - something I never would have guessed I'd be doing.
What do you think the role of art should be in the libertarian movement?
Randall: Something I frequently mention around Black History Month is that yeah, while it's important to acknowledge contributions of black scientists and social leaders, the thing that really brings people together is art. Think of the music in the black communities (I'm a fan of good jazz), think of the entertainers, think of the food. It was like one great big party that fewer and fewer people wanted to miss out on. If you can laugh, smile, and dance with someone, you can sit down and have a beer with them. If you can sit down and have a beer with someone, you can talk with them. If you can talk with someone, you can understand them and be understood. You can learn that you had more in common with them than you might have imagined.
Good art is a powerful way to get any message across. I would say that everyone has at least a few opinions and ideas that were shaped by movies, by their music, and by literature. On the other hand, I'm also remembering going to a talent show held by a cultish church that a family friend encouraged a parent to send me to when I was a high school freshman. One thing I remember hearing often before musical acts was a disclaimer: "try to pay more attention to the message than the music." If that has to be said, chances are that the only people the message is resonating with are the ones who already believe it.
When using art to get a message across... well, one should focus on the art first. Art is in a very real sense its own language, and when one becomes fluent in it, their message will be in it. Being its own rather profound language, any successful movement really won't survive without art.
To paraphrase Emma Goldman, "I don't want to be in your revolution if I can't dance."
Where can people go to find your novel "The Mirror House"?
Randall: It is self-published through Amazon, so that would be the best and most likely place.
If you live in the Albuquerque area, we'll sometimes leave a copy in the mini libraries, and perhaps Page 1 Books or other local bookstores that will buy them... but, we're rather shy about marketing and salesmanship. My wife, E. Renee Sobien, also has a number or other books published through Amazon, which I encourage you to check out.
You can find some of my short stories on DeviantArt, user name desert-druid.