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Interview with Robert J. Stava

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Robert Stava is a writer who now lives in the Hudson Valley just north of NYC, not far from that half-imaginary village he sets so many of his stories in, Wyvern Falls.  Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York State and after going to college for Fine Arts wound up making his career in advertising at Y&R and J. Walter Thompson in NYC. He went on to become a multimedia Art Director and later as Creative Director ran the 3d Media Group at Arup, an international design and engineering company before catapulting into the wild world of writing horror fiction.




Robert J. Stava Interview


Sci-Fi & Scary (SF&S): Please take a moment to tell readers about your latest book, The Lost World of Kharamu.

Robert J. Stava: Well, as one may guess from the subtle cover art, it’s a Dinosaur “The Lost World of Kharamu” is billed as the ultimate vacation: a cosplay experience for the ultra-rich where they get to play-out being in a classic 50s Universal Pictures (monster) movie while engaging – and killing – real dinosaurs. Set on a remote, refurbished island in the South Pacific and run by a Chinese tech company, MuTron International, the story takes place during the first beta-run of the park. Three expert paleontologists – Grant Taylan, Audrey Adams & Roma Banaji – have been roped in by one of the chief investors, American billionaire Allen Peyton III, to validate how solid the technology is behind the dinosaurs. Taylan is a bit of a hard-ass ‘Dino-hunter’ with a reputation for tracking down illegal relics traders, Adams a temperamental Australian and Banaji an esteemed Indian paleontologist stuck in a failing career. But even before the beta-run gets underway, things start to go terribly wrong, starting with a Russian illegal fossil trafficker and a bunch of Vietnamese commandos with a contract out on Taylan, courtesy of a psychotic ex-girlfriend. As an additional twist, there’s a rare plant rumored to be on the island that a German Pharmaceutical company is extremely interested in, due to its life-prolonging properties, possibly guarded by a Japanese survivalist (or his ghost) left behind when the island was abandoned as a base back in WWII.


SF&S: I suppose the comparison to Jurassic Park (albeit yours is definitely darker) is inevitable. Do you think your book will do the basic premise a favor in a way the recent movies have decidedly failed to? (Apologies if you’re fan of the recent movies!).

Robert J. Stava: I suppose others will have to be the judge of that! What I can tell you was I tried to approach it from an angle that leveraged my own personal experiences in life. Particularly the Natural History Museum in London, traveling to Southeast Asia and a hair-raising episode getting stuck in a major disaster in India. Also, a Texas billionaire I did work for once who’s now serving time in a federal penitentiary. What I did throw in there that the Jurassic Movies didn’t address was many of the recent discoveries in dinosaur paleontology, while dispensing with several of the myths it created. Raptors (best we currently know) had feathers and didn’t hunt in packs nor were extremely intelligent. That scene where it cleverly opens the door to the kitchen? Most likely it would have banged its head against the door until it knocked itself out, then the second one would have eaten it. Current bio-mechanic simulations suggest you could probably outrun a T. rex (wouldn’t want to test that, though) and we’re already in the process of reverse-engineering (raptor) dinosaurs from chicken embryos. Plus, there are all kinds of new species being discovered we had no idea about ten years ago. At the end of the day though, I largely side-stepped any effort to one-up any of the Jurassic movie franchise and simply went for action-based story aimed at having fun. With a plenty of black humor.


SF&S: The Lost World of Kharamu is not the first time that readers have encountered over-sized monsters from you. We were treated to them originally in Nightmare from World’s End. Do you think we will see more of these ‘beastly’ tales from you in the future?

Robert J. Stava: Absolutely no idea. I can say that the novel I’m currently working on for Severed Press – “Neptune’s Reckoning” – does involve something similar, though its more like “IT” on the high-seas. It ties in all that loads of conspiracy stuff out in Montauk, NY (where the novel is set) and there is a sea monster of sorts . . . so, a little yes and a little no.

SF&S: You have several works under your belt now. Do you think your writing style is set, or is it still evolving?

Robert J. Stava: It’s always evolving. Like any creative medium, it’s never good enough. I hope it’s improving. I’m an incessant reader – there’s always 4-5 books on my nightstand – but it’s a balancing between incorporating other writer’s good techniques while avoiding pastiche.


SF&S: You were involved in the music scene for a while as part of the band The Jag. How different is the experience of crafting a novel from crafting a song?

Robert J. Stava: Wow, you really did your homework! Well, in writing a song you try and tell a condensed story in a handful of lyrics and with a novel, you typically have over 90,000 words to bat things around, so there’s a lot more latitude. Plus, in the band I had the benefit of an excellent (and bluntly honest) writing partner who was good at keeping things stripped down and torpedoing my lamer ideas. In one sense they are the same, however: it’s all about telling a story. Ideally one that will pull your audience in and forget the rest of the world for a little bit.


SF&S: When exploring your website, I discovered that you also paint. The scenes are so far removed from the terror I associate with your books that I found myself a wee bit surprised! (Though in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been from what I remember of your By Summer’s Last Twilight.) What is it about landscapes that appeal to you?

Robert J. Stava: Ha! It’s like that old Roger Moore movie where he’s the head of a crack anti-terrorist organization who enjoys doing needlepoint in his spare time! Seriously though, I originally went to school for fine art and early on did a lot of illustration. Landscape painting is a form of therapy and I still love it – the smell of linseed oil, paints, turpentine, all while developing a world on canvas. Gives me my ‘Bob Ross’ moment.


SF&S: What was the book or movie that got you interested in horror? What was it about it that hooked you?

Robert J. Stava: Probably movies first – as a little kid I remember loving those old Hammer Films with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. I remember watching “Dark Shadows” on TV. I named my first goldfish after one of the characters. Horror comics too. But I have a distinct memory of reading “The Telltale Heart” in grammar school – they had this color-coded reading system based on complexity. That would probably be banned today.

SF&S: It is said that horror reflects the fears of the time that it is written in. What do you see emerging in horror over the next few years? (Especially now that the recent zombie craze is starting to die back a bit.)

Robert J. Stava: Right now we seemed to be obsessed with endless variants of apocalypse movies and monsters ‘with issues’, which is understandable given how the entire planet seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. But we’re also peppered with nostalgia horror shows like ‘Stranger Things’ (which I loved), which harken back to a time when things made sense. Or seemed to. Its all perception. Two thousand years ago the End of Days was a hot topic here in the West. Sure, it’s a crapshoot trying to guess the horror trend but based on what I’m seeing now some areas I would predict is more horror with female empowerment, more multi-cultural characters and from some sectors, throwbacks to what we look on as the ‘Good Old Days’. Which are a myth. There’s a pushback movement in this country right now that seems to be trying to bring back the America of the 1950s, while conveniently skipping how horrible that time was for a lot of people. And the environment. That’s a topic I’d like to explore.

My stories typically feature very strong-willed, independent women, because that’s all I knew in my family growing up, but I’m a little thrown off when I get readers who complain about it. You should have met either of my grandmothers: both would knock you into next week if you got in their way. And my mom? Forget it.

There’s another disturbing trend that I see in our society today, though, and would expect to see it reflected more in upcoming horror: the psychotic snap. We’re just getting into 2nd and 3rd generations of people on medications with like Prosaic and Xanax – is there a correlation to the rise in psychotic episodes in the news? It feels like it. Historically people have always been going nuts. But they seem to be multiplying, don’t they? An alarming aspect of this is the increasing lack of empathy towards each other and basic civility, along with the inability to deal with crisis or negativity. Throw in the polarization of society due to the internet – we’ve gotten really good at attacking people who don’t agree with our opinions and only associating with those who do – with an overwhelming amount of misinformation floating around and you’ve go a formula for a dystopian society going horribly wrong.

SF&S: How long does it take you to write a novel? From the initial idea to the finished manuscript.

Robert J. Stava: It varies. I’ve done some in five or six moths while others just over a year. Depends on what else life has on my plate.

SF&S: Are there any horror tropes you refuse to touch?

Robert J. Stava: Anything involving torture porn, gratuitous animal killings or overly graphically grotesque scenes. I’ve been in ER enough times with severe trauma where that doesn’t hold any appeal to me. Thematically I try and avoid vampires, zombies and apocalypses – they’re way overdone. Never say never, though. I confess have written one vampire short story. Only one, though.



SF&S: What is in the hopper for you now? Are you going to be publishing another book in 2018/2019?

Robert J. Stava: In addition to the novel I’m currently working on for Severed (see above) I’m aiming to get a bunch of my short stories together in an anthology, titled “Haunted Sketchbook”. Plus a trio of novellas published that I’ve been sitting on and the next novel in the ‘Wyvern Falls’ series. It’s already written (actually, its sequel is also done) and I’m pining to get onto finishing the seventh, which is already underway. I have a huge backlog of finished and unfinished material.


SF&S: This August a few of my close friends and I are hosting a challenge to promote women horror authors via the #LadiesofHorrorFiction challenge. So, I hope you’ll pardon me turning the focus away from you for a moment to ask who is your favorite lady of horror fiction?

Robert J. Stava: A difficult question. Anne Rice is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met (plus she earned big kudos by quickly answering one of my frustrated rants via email one day, giving me some excellent advice with it). She’s someone I admire for the way she plows through taboo subjects fearlessly. How she overcame adversity early in her career is something every aspiring author should heed. Most people don’t realize “Interview with a Vampire” sank without a trace when it was first published, and she was so upset by the negative response she didn’t write the sequel or any other horror for seven years. Her first publisher told she had no future as a horror writer. Angela Slatter is a maverick story-teller and world-builder, her fantasy-horror brings fresh energy and style to the genre. Near the top of the list, though, is Anna Taborska. Her short story collection “For Those Who Dream Monsters” is one of the best I’ve read in recent years. She really gets into original territory, including WWII History. I only wish she’d write more.


The Lost World of Kharamu book cover

Grant Taylan is an adventurer-paleontologist also known as ‘The Dinosaur Detective”, a polite term for what he really does: tracking down the more dangerous criminals in the dinosaur fossils black market and bring them to justice. Sometimes the hard way. His latest case is about to land him in the strangest situation of a lifetime: a 1950s horror film cosplay vacation on a remote island in the South China Sea. Known as “The Lost World of Kharamu”, it’s been developed by Chinese bio-tech corporation MuTron International into the ultimate immersive role-playing experience tailored to only the wealthiest clients.

With real dinosaurs.

On the resorts first major beta run, Taylan finds himself fighting Russians, Vietnamese commandos, dinosaurs and his ex-girlfriend in the ultimate vacation gone-wrong, where only the strongest, quickest – and the luckiest – will survive.

The Lost World of Kharamu: for those who dare.


Available at: Better World Books | Amazon | Kobo | B&N



Published inInterviews
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  1. Fabulous interview and another author to follow. Thanks, Lilyn!

    • My pleasure!

  2. Outstanding interview as always. Thanks for introducing me to an intereresting author I had not heard of. Keep up the excellent work!

    • My pleasure!

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