I really liked this book!Rob Heinze’s novel, Old Dirt Road, is a suspense/horror novel that draws inspiration from the work of Stephen King. (Buy it here on Amazon)
In the novel, Eddie Glenn discovers that the dirt road behind his house (sandwiched between the housing tract and the highway) holds a scary secret. When Eddie is out on a walk with his dog, he finds a construction sign on the dirt road that says, "End Construction." Only, someone crossed out "Construction" and wrote "Life." YIKES! Eddie’s dog is not interested in investigating further. In fact, the pooch is flat out scared! Eddie begins to think there is something to this ominous warning when a bee crosses the sign and drops dead.
Eddie begins to test his theory, throwing various animals into what he calls "The Great Gulf." Some animals die instantly. . . but some of those boogers come back! When Eddie discovers that one of his friends isn’t really such a nice guy, be begins to ponder how he might send him on a one way trip into The Great Gulf.
Here is my interview with Rob:
Talk Stephen King: Hey, thanks for agreeing to this conversation. Your book was great! Tell me a about yourself.
Rob Heinze: Thank you for the compliment. I worked hard on OLD DIRT ROAD and worried that it would fall short with readers. As for myself, I am 30, father of two and a business owner in NJ. I started writing at the age of 19, but somehow always wanted to write because I had this active imagination. I always wrote horror, too, though I started out writing “sword and sorcery” type horror. When I first read Stephen King, at the age of 20, it was like a revelation. I felt like I was already geared and lubricated to write horror, but reading it from the master was a shot of adrenalin. I read everything King wrote in about a year and a half (this was back in 2002) and wrote constantly, every day, usually forsaking friends and a social life for the joy and compulsion of writing. I struggled with trying to break into the business for six years. I secured four NYC literary agents, connected to about a dozen editors, wrote revisions to some older books on specification for these people, and ended up with nothing but a bad case of frustration.
So I basically gave up and focused on starting a business, family and getting a house. I returned to writing just this year, when I discovered that anyone could self-publish and have their books on Amazon and iBooks and NOOK for free. I wrote a book called THE SWARM in about 8 days, spent a little time on revisions, and put it on sale. It went on to sell like 11,000 copies in the first six weeks and continues to sell anywhere from 500-1,000 per month, mostly on NOOK devices. I have been reinvigorated by this, and so I wrote OLD DIRT ROAD a couple months ago and now we’ll see what happens with it.
TSK: Your novel, The Old Dirt Road, is a twist on the Stephen King novel, Pet Sematary. You reference Pet Sematary twice in the novel itself. What is it about this book that makes such a deep connection with you?
RH: PET SEMETARY is the scariest book I have ever read. It was one of those books where I kept hearing noises in the house while I was reading it. There are only four (4) books that really induced that level of terror in me. They are Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNGINT OF HILL HOUSE, King’s THE SHINING, THE STAND and of course PET SEMETARY. PET SEMETARY ranks at the top. King’s use of language and prose really unsettles the reader, coupled with the omnipresent power working against the character (see the quote at the beginning of OLD DIRT ROAD for one of my favorite dread-evoking scenes in the book). The book gets below your defenses without being gory or violent. It’s the sort of helpless, you-can’t-win-because-something’s-working-underneath that is the key ingredient of every nightmare. We all want to believe, as humans, that there is a God (or gods) and that someone is watching over us. PET SEMETARY erases that possibility. I explored that concept in OLD DIRT ROAD too. I also think PET SEMETARY is a complicated book with a lot of hidden meaning. Overall, it’s a book about secrets and how they can destroy us. Here is a link to a post on Stephen King’s discussion forum where I expound upon that www.stephenking.com
TSK: You reference both Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King. Obviously you have a love for both. Okay, tough question –which one is your favorite?
RH: I think King is my favorite because he has a tremendously larger volume of work, and I can relate to his characters more. Poe was a tremendous word-smith, though, as is evident in THE RAVEN. I wish he had lived a less troubled life and churned out more work. It would also be cool to see what he might do with today’s computers and word processing technology. I am not sure if his power would have translated into the novel form. There are a great many writers who seem to be gifted to create short stories, but who cannot sustain the energy of the story for a full novel (Ray Bradbury comes to mind).
TSK: Do you have a favorite Poe story or poem?
RH: I like the CASK OF AMONTADILLO from Poe. It’s referenced heavily in OLD DIRT ROAD.
TSK: Were your four main characters, Eddie, Nancy, Sal and Marie based on real people – or are they drawn directly from your messed up imagination?
RH: Every character I write about is based on observation, or hybrids of people. I can say that Eddie, the main character, is as close to me as any of my characters. Much of the book and Eddie’s thoughts after discovering the spot at the end of the dirt road reflect my thoughts. Nancy is very close to my wife. Certainly Eddie’s view towards her is the same view I have towards my wife. OLD DIRT ROAD ended up being a love story, which I’ll talk about later in another question, though it might not seem like it. Sal Rosse and Marie Rosse are based on a hybrid of observations and past acquaintances. It’s sad to say that there are still a fair amount of men who want control—total control—of a wife or girlfriend and I knew people like that in my youth. Almost every “bad male character” in my writing is based off of one person I knew.
TSK: Okay, let’s talk God. . . in the novel, Eddie doesn’t believe in God because of the chaos of the end of life zone. Does Eddie’s beliefs reflect your own?
RH: I want to correct you on that. Eddie questions his belief in God after he finds the spot at the end of the old dirt road. I think more importantly, the concept of chaos being so easy while construction, love and order is so hard really makes him question God’s existence. Eddie has a thought in the book that gravity created the universe and holds everything together; therefore, gravity is God. In the same thought, there is talk about “quarks” often.
Quarks are part of particle physics. It is theorized that quarks (and there are a few different types theorized) exist at the sub-atomic level. That is, you can take an electron, neutron or proton (the three components of an atom) and look deeper to find that they are made up of “quarks”. It’s theorized that even quarks have gravitational pull. For instance, in proximity to each other, quarks might pull together to form a neutron or electron, and then other quarks do the same and you have an atom. I use the term quark to describe Nancy and Eddie, and how they met through gravitational grace. And since Eddie believes gravity is God, the fact Nancy and him came together is evidence of God. And the fact that she continues to stay with him is evidence to him that God exists…because God is gravity. Phew!
Hopefully that’s not some wild, confusing stuff! OLD DIRT ROAD ended up being pretty complicated, sort of like PET SEMETARY, and I wanted it to be that way with the story readable as a weird, scary story. I do believe in God personally.
TSK: You said in the introduction that you almost didn’t finish the novel. Why? Also, what caused you to press on?
RH: The novel got me depressed. I was depressed writing it because it has that something-working-below-the-surface theme, where you feel that no matter how hard you work or how persistent you are, you will lose (this pretty much mirrors my efforts to break into publishing). I felt depressed even at night or in the evenings, when I was writing it. I was going through some stuff too, and a lot of that is reflected in the book. I pushed on because I felt the book was a love story to my wife, but mainly because I wanted to know what was going to happen.
The best part of writing fiction for me is that I get to see a movie for free. It really is like that. I got front row seats, the theatre’s empty, and I’m revved up. I wanted to know what was at the end of the dirt road and what would happen if a person went passed the End Life sign and into the Great Gulf. I wanted to know why the sound of the highway haunted Eddie, and was there any connection to the spot at the end of the dirt road. It might seem strange to say that, but I rarely every know what will happen at the end of the story I’m writing, and often I’m just as surprised as readers when I get to it.
TSK: That is actually really sweet! You mention "quarks" several times. What made you think of "quarks" as an imagery? Did you study physics?
RH: I don’t study physics, but it was one of my favorite classes in college and I have a nerdy habit of watching the Science Channel constantly. I love the concept that no matter how much we contract or expand our explorations into the universe (either looking further, or looking deeper into atoms) we keep finding another layer. Whatever put us here doesn’t want us to find out, that’s for sure. It’s like chasing a dark shape down a tunnel that keeps getting narrower and narrower or wider and wider.
TSK: When you write, do you run with an idea, or do you outline ahead of time? What was the writing process for the Old Dirt Road like? How long did it take you to hammer this one out?
RH: I don’t write with an outline. This might be why I can’t get published. Every agent or editor is always talking about “plot” and “character development” but the concept that either is essential to writing a good book is stupid. After all, how many people do we know in life that change? There are some that come to points in their life where they make decisions, or their focus shifts, but overall people’s personalities, the way they react to situations, etc…don’t change much from when they’re children. Also, I know King is a proponent of “non-plotted” books.
I usually have a well-rounded idea in my head, which has been building and has made some connections to other things. Like the inspiration for OLD DIRT ROAD was initially seeing a construction sign that said “END CONSTRUCTION” on a highway, except the word “construction” was all faded. I thought, what if someone played a joke and wrote “END LIFE” instead? Then I thought, what if it wasn’t a joke…what if it was a warning? Months later I remembered my grandparent’s house (which is pretty much the same as the Glenn’s house in the book) and how they had this old construction road. It was all dirt and grown over, and when I was probably 6 or 7 (maybe even younger), I remember my grandfather walking me down it but we always stopped at one spot because there was this huge patch of overgrown grasses. I always wanted to know what was beyond those grasses. I started with that and wrote the book in about 2-3 weeks, then spent another month or two revising and rewriting.
TSK: Who’s been your biggest encouragement in the area of writing?
RH: My biggest encouragement is difficult to say. My wife is reluctant to say “go to it”. After all, I am the only bread-winner and there are two kids. I approach writing (and everything else) in my life with an “all or nothing” view. It’s not enough for me to write a couple hours a day. When I am working on something, it usually consumes all my mental power and energy and I let everything else slide. After I got diagnosed and treated for ADHD, this has toned down a bit and I have more control, but it’s still there. I have always seen writing as what I was meant to do, and would someday be successful at it. But my inability to understand the desire of editors and agents, and to conform to what “they want” and not what I feel “compelled” to write makes even encouraging myself difficult. In fact, after I finished OLD DIRT ROAD, I have written a thing and feel no desire to. I am pretty upset THE SWARM didn’t break into the widen business. Though I will mention that a very well known literary agent read OLD DIRT ROAD and said I needed to change some things (mostly make it longer). I gritted my teeth and gave it a shot. It’s the first time I really pushed hard to write something per another person’s comments. We’ll see what happens…
TSK: What future works do you have on the horizon? Any partnerships with Mr. King?
RH: Stephen King doesn’t even know who the hell I am, but if he wanted to collaborate, I’d have to think about it (just kidding). No, I have sent excerpts of my book, THE SWARM, to his office…hoping that the 1 in a million chance he’d read it would be in my fortune. That was four months ago and I’m pretty sure it was tossed by his assistances with the other thousands of similar things the office gets. I have the hope of someday talking to Mr. King about his craft, his writing, and sharing some of my experiences with creating as well (not that mine would hold any value to him). I also have this unlikely fantasy about Mr. King doing the introduction to my first “officially published” book of short stories. We can dream, can’t we?
TSK: King refers to his fans as "constant reader." You have a more – unusual term: "Celestial Sea Wanderer." What in the world is a Celestial Sea Wanderer?
RH: The first book I published was called SKETCHES FROM A CELESTIAL SEA. This was self-published. It’s a book of short stories. I started marketing this book, and THE SWARM, through Facebook. I have a page called SKETCHES FROM A CELESTIAL SEA. I guess it’s supposed to mean an otherworldly sea, or sea in a strange galaxy. Almost all of my stories are imaginative, so I thought it’d be cool to call my readers “Celestial Sea Wanderers”. I like to imagine walking the shore in the dusk, seeing dark shapes washed ashore and wondering what they are. To me, these flotsam and jetsam of some other world’s ocean are my idea, inspiration and gifts. I hope to find some more soon.
TSK: That’s cool! Hey, thanks for taking the time to do this! I hope you sell a billion copies of The Old Dirt Road and hook up with Stephen King someday!
Check out Rob's books here:THE SWARM
SKETCHES FROM A CELESTIAL SEA
THOSE OF LIGHT AND DARK
OLD DIRT ROAD