Small Stories by Rob Roy O’Keefe – Q&A and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Rob Roy O’Keefe. Leave a comment or ask the author a question for a chance to win a copy of his latest book.

What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?

Whatever advice I gave, I would follow it up with “Don’t pay any attention to anything I said. What do I know? I spend all my time sitting in front of my computer, subsisting on Wheat Thins and sparkling water, and shunning virtually all human contact so I can churn out as many words as I can in a day. Does that sound healthy to you? If you want advice, go talk to your auto mechanic. They’ll give it to you straight: change your oil and rotate your tires. Now those are words to live by.

What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

I’ll go with consonants. Don’t get me wrong, vowels are important too. However, you can still make a good guess as to what “wrtng” means without any vowels. But strip away the consonants and all you’re left with is “ii.” What are you supposed to do with that?

On a more macro level, I suppose pages are important, although now that I think about it, we could just revert to scrolls.

So yeah, I’m going to stick with consonants.

How do you develop your plot and characters?

I start with a concept. The plot, characters, tone, and structure all need to support the concept. For example, with my current book, Small Stories: A Perfectly Absurd Novel, the concept is literally outlined in the title. Yes, it’s a story about two characters whose surname is Small, but it’s also constructed in a way that allowed me to share small stories throughout, which, while connected to the plot and character development, could also stand on their own. As for tone, if you have the adjective “absurd” in your title, well, it’s quite apparent what you need to do.
By the way, did you notice I actually answered the question this time? Don’t get used to it.

Tell us something about your newest release that is NOT in the blurb.

One of the supporting characters is a potted fern. His name is Norman. He doesn’t say much, but even so, his presence becomes a catalyst for one of the more dramatic moments in the story.

For those who are wondering why he’s not more of a central character, there’s just not that match precedent for plants as leading figures. Sure, you’ve got your Ents, but other than throwing boulders, catching on fire, and carrying hobbits around, what do they really do? As for triffids, they’re kind of one-dimensional.

Are you working on anything at the present you would like to tell us about?

I’m working on the second novel in what I call the Small World series. The working title is Small Secrets: A Predictably Absurd Sequel. I realize however, that in keeping with my response to the question about plot and characters, being true to the concept means I can’t tell you anything about it.

I’m also considering a couple of children’s books and have the concept for a black comedy about climate change that I’m tentatively titling Oops: A Climate Apocalypse in Three Parts. We’ll see.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Here’s the scene. Eighth grade English class. We’ve been given an assignment to write a story with no parameters other than it must be four or five pages long and we have to read it in front of the class. It’s exactly the kind of anxiety-fraught situation that every 13-year-old dreads.

I come up with a weird story about a criminal whose conscience comes alive. Despite my shaking so much and stumbling over every word, everyone sems to like it. My two best friends accuse me of stealing the idea from a TV show – I think the Twilight Zone, a show I never watched.

Three takeaways: I can write, I hate standing up in front of a crowd, and Junior High School English teachers are sadists.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

How much I despise semi-colons. Yes, I said despise. There are two of them in my book, and the only reason they’re there is as a favor to a first reader who really likes them. Semi-colons are the embodiment of indecision. It’s like starting your car and shifting to neutral because you can’t decide what direction you want to go in. It’s like choosing none of the above in a survey. It’s like becoming a competitive speed walker. Stroll or run. For God’s sake, just commit already.

What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)?

How liberating it was. You have to understand that while I’ve always been a professional writer, the vast majority of my experience was with an advertising agency. Don’t get me wrong, it could be challenging and enjoyable, but you were always writing to fulfill someone else’s objective. When I started writing outside of that environment, poetry first and then prose, I felt completely unrestrained. I believe that feeling comes through in my book.

Have you ever eaten a crayon?

What kind of question is that? Who wants to eat a crayon after chewing on a pencil all day? Ow, splinter.

If you were stranded on a desert island and were only allowed to have five modern conveniences with you, what would they be?

If I had five modern conveniences on an island by myself, I wouldn’t consider myself stranded, I’d consider myself on a luxury holiday. Of course, one of the conveniences would have to be a wind or solar powered generator, but after that, it’s all fun in the sun. The only kink would be if the desert island wasn’t tropical. Five conveniences or not, being stranded on one of the smaller Aleutian Islands probably isn’t getting a write-up in Conde Nast.

Let’s round out that list just to drive home my point. Solar-powered generator, sailboat, fishing pole, microwave, and a good sun hat. Yep, I’m all set. Ouch, another splinter.

Tell us about a favorite character from a book.

That’s easy. Walt from my own novel. He runs the local Welcome Wagon and he’s one of the first characters we meet in the story. He’s insecure and riddled with anxiety, but he also has some surprising traits like sneezing in multiple languages (triggered by anxiety of course), he speaks fluent Latin, and is a top-flight debater.

Don’t tell the other characters what I said. I can’t have them getting angry with me as I need them for the next book.

Do you listen to music while writing? If so what?

I listen to Iron Man by Black Sabbath.

What was the scariest moment of your life?

Finding out that William Shatner did a cover version of Iron Man by Black Sabbath.

If you could apologize to someone in your past, who would it be? What makes you happy?

I’m combining these two questions because I know for certain that not having to apologize to anyone in my past would definitely make me happy. Do you know how much time that would take up? Sorry, Grandpa, I shouldn’t have sold your house while you were away on business. Sorry, Town Library Director, I know I promised to return that book after two weeks, but two weeks, two decades, what’s the difference? Yes, Mom, I probably should have told you I moved to Tanzania five years ago. My bad.

See what I mean? Apologizing is exhausting.

What would we find under your bed?

Um, the floor, I hope. When I was a kid, there was a time when I slept on the top of a bunk bed, so if that were still the case, I could say another bed. Absent the presence of a floor or the bottom bunk bed, the only remaining logical response would be a spinning vortex with gravity-defying properties likely generated by the confluence of wormholes and the anti-matter version of Chipotle. We get a lot of that where I live.

You have to be careful when you have a spinning vortex under your bed. It’s so easy to lose your socks. Then there’s the opposite problem: finding sox that aren’t yours. Like the other day, there was three pairs of argyle sox, and I never wear argyle.

Do you write in multiple genres or just one? If just one, do you ever consider straying outside your genre?

I don’t write in multiple genres, but I do write with multiple personalities. No, I don’t. Yes, I do. Are you two arguing again? Hey, keep it down you three. I’m trying to get a nap in here. Ouch, these splinters really hurt!

What is something that you absolutely can’t live without? (Other than family members)

Is this a science question?? Ugh, I thought I was done with High School. Can I be dismissed?

Could you ever co author a book with someone? If so, who would you choose, and what would you write?

Sure, I do it all the time. See my response to the previous question.

If you could spend a day with anyone from history, dead or alive, who would it be, and what would you do? What would you ask them?

Our ability to communicate is exceeded in importance only by our tendency to do it badly, so if I was going to spend a day with someone from history, it would be with whatever proto human started speaking in something other than grunts and gestures, and implore them to please, stop.

For all of the benefits of language, there are just as many, if not more, detriments – misunderstandings, fights, wars. No matter how precisely we attempt to communicate, no matter how many words we have at our disposal, there is always something missing, something that has to be inferred. And when that becomes all convoluted, you get the Jerry Springer Show.

I figure after subjecting the aforementioned proto human to a few hours of daytime television reruns, the whole language idea would disappear, and we’d all be communicating through charades right now.

A little tale of trial and error. Okay, mostly error.

Duncan and Maya Small have just moved to an out-of-the-way town filled with odd characters, quirky customs, and a power-obsessed local official who one day hopes to be declared emperor. Duncan is sharp enough to know something needs to change, and delusional enough to believe he’s the one to make it happen. The only thing standing in his way are feral ponies, radical seniors, common sense, and Duncan’s inability to do anything without a list.

Small Stories: A Perfectly Absurd Novel, is a tale of power, bake sales, manipulation, the Welcome Wagon, and diabolical forces at work in the shadows (mostly because they can’t afford to pay the light bill), although the Smalls soon discover nothing is at it seems. One thing is certain, however – there’s something funny going on.

About the Author: Rob Roy O’Keefe was raised in the Antarctic by a colony of emperor penguins, which explains both his love of fish and his intense anxiety when in the company of sea lions. At the age of 12 he left to go on walkabout, but upon learning that Australia was over 3,000 miles away, he took the more expedient route from Cape Melville, Antarctica to South America’s Cape Horn.

He wandered north through the Andes, accumulated an abundance of practical knowledge, such as how to convince a hungry condor that you are not carrion. He eventually stumbled upon the hut of an Incan shaman who took him on as an apprentice. After a decade of immersion into the mysteries of the unseen world, Rob departed, fully prepared for his eventual success in the fields of talking, commuting, and sitting behind a desk.

Today, Rob resides in New England’s Merrimack Valley, where he lives in a tree house made of Good Humor popsicle sticks held together by the discarded dreams of retired sailors.


Buy the book at Amazon.


  1. Debra Guyette says

    Thanks for the wonderful interview. I enjoyed reading it.

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