Episode 47 – Entropy with Robert French
Robert P. French was born in Oxford England in 1944. Early on he developed a love of working with computers. As you will learn, he lived within 40 miles of the first 5 computers in the world.
He obtained his first software job in 1963 and never looked back. Well, not back, but as you will learn, he did find new directions along the way that greatly advanced his career and took him along different life paths.
Today he is the author of, thus far, seven books in the acclaimed Cal Rogan series. Robert’s life story is fascinating and by any standard unstoppable.
About the Guest:
Robert French is a software developer, turned actor, turned author. He is the writer of the seven (so far) Cal Rogan Mysteries, crime thrillers about a drug-addicted ex-cop who fights his way from living rough on the streets to being a much-sought-after PI. The series, set in Vancouver, Canada, reflects the best and worst of the city. He is passionate about having the right words on the page and with every new book, his goal is to make it better than the previous one. Robert was born in Oxford, England and was brought up in the East End of London. His fascination with computers was born from his love of science fiction, especially Asimov’s I Robot books. At age 26 he emigrated from the UK to Canada “for a couple of years” and his been here ever since. At age sixty, he started a transition to writing and after many false starts he published his first book seven years later. His loves are his family, science, language, certain elements of philosophy and craft beer
About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.
Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.
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UM Intro/Outro 00:00
Access Cast and accessiBe Initiative presents Unstoppable Mindset. The podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. Hi, I’m Michael Hingson, Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe and the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book, Thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion unacceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by accessiBe, that’s a c c e s s i capital B e. Visit www.accessibe.com to learn how you can make your website accessible for persons with disabilities. And to help make the internet fully inclusive by the year 2025. Glad you dropped by we’re happy to meet you and to have you here with us.
Michael Hingson 01:22
Welcome to unstoppable mindset. And today. Wow, this is a fascinating way to introduce someone we have a software developer turned actor turned author. I don’t know what to say to that except Robert French. Welcome to unstoppable mindset.
Robert French 01:38
Thank you very much, Michael, I’m delighted to be here.
Michael Hingson 01:42
We’re going to have to get into this software developer and all of that. Robert and I have had some interesting discussions, among other things, talking about computers. Robert was born in 1944. I was born in 1950. But when Robert was was born, and for a while there were a total of five computers in the world. And they were all within 40 miles of where you were born in England, right?
Robert French 02:07
That’s correct. Yeah. Yeah, they were to Bletchley Park,
Michael Hingson 02:12
ah, probably used for decoding or something.
Robert French 02:16
That’s right. Yes, they were under the care of the famous Alan Turing.
Michael Hingson 02:21
Right. And, of course, we’ve got a few more computers in the world than that today. But I remember when Robert and I were talking, I pointed out how both of us grew up in a time when a disk crash was really a disk crash. This were these large 16 inch platters that you would place into a disk drive and the heads would flow over the disks a tiny, microscopic amount above the disk. But if something messed up, and the head dropped onto the disk drive, it tore it up, and it made a wretched noise.
Robert French 03:02
Yes, and all your data was lost?
Michael Hingson 03:07
was immediately and totally lost. Absolutely. It’s, it’s pretty amazing. Well, tell me a little bit about about you and growing up and so on and how you got into the whole business of software development and such.
Robert French 03:23
Well, yeah, it was interesting. I was born in the East End of London, which is like the dodgy End of London. I was born actually in Oxford, but brought up in the East End of London, which is the kind of dodgy End of London. And my parents sacrificed quite a lot to send me to a good school, where I became fascinated with mathematics and wanted to become a mathematician. Then I started reading science fiction. And the idea of computers came up and I got fascinated with the whole idea of computers. I made a decision. That’s where I wanted to place my career. Rather than being a mathematic mathematician and working in kind of esoteric arts. I thought I’d rather do something practical with computers. And so I became a computer programmer and did that for for a lot of years, almost 50
Michael Hingson 04:30
I remember Isaac Asimov’s UNIVAC
Robert French 04:35
I actually worked for the company UNIVAC at one point in my career. Yes, I do.
Michael Hingson 04:42
It’s one of my favorite Isaac Asimov stories. And I heard about it long before I actually was able to read it because it finally got put in a in a readable form for me, was the ultimate question. You’re familiar with that?
Robert French 04:55
Michael Hingson 04:56
And and of course It was it was, what was well, what was the question? I was trying to remember. Oh, it had to do with entropy. When entropy doesn’t expand anymore, or when does it? Yeah, first, when does entropy reversing think it was. And, and the story goes that there was the UNIVAC and it progressed and became more powerful. And eventually it lived in hyperspace, and was an all encompassing computer. And every time anyone asked the question about whether entropy could be reversed, the computer always answered, I don’t know, I don’t need insufficient data to know the answer to the question. And finally, at the very end, the computer said, I have the answer. And the answer to the question was let there be light.
Robert French 05:51
Yes, that’s the nice a great story. A couple of other as in life stories have inspired me. But one is his robot series. Yeah, the AI robot. That was one of the things that made it made me want to be a programmer. He vastly underestimated the time it would take for artificial intelligence to emerge. He missed it by about 50 years, but still pretty good. But another one that really interested me and inspired me was I forgotten the name of the the actual book, but it was about the planet Aurora, where people didn’t ever didn’t meet in person. But they projected images of each other holographic images of each other. So if you wanted to go for a walk in the woods with a friend, they would walk in their words, you would walk in yours, and each of you would have a holographic image of the other one walking with you. And in some ways, that was the precursor of the internet.
Michael Hingson 07:02
Sure. Yeah. Sure, well, and in with iRobot, and the series, of course, the three laws of robotics, he is very, very creative and clever about what robots could do and couldn’t do. And then of course, there were a few times that the laws got circumvented. And it turns out it was human error and turn instructions to the computers or to the robots and so on.
Robert French 07:28
Yeah, the the three laws of robotics, it’s interesting that there are lots of discussions these days in the world of artificial intelligence, about the whole issue of how do you control artificial intelligence, and how you might put the three laws of robotics into into effect. So a lot of people are concerned about artificial intelligent intelligence running amok.
Michael Hingson 07:55
Right. Well, and, and just the whole lack of discipline and a lot of what we do today, of course, today, yeah, everyone wants everything immediately. And they want everything and they want their so called freedom, and they don’t recognize, which is what the laws of robotics at least addressed. They don’t recognize their own responsibility to freedom.
Robert French 08:14
Mm hmm. Yes. So there’s the old adage, you have no rights without duties.
Michael Hingson 08:23
Correct. So you got into software development, love to learn a little bit more about that.
Robert French 08:28
When I started on, obviously, mainframe computers, it was this was in my first job was, I started my first job on January the 11th 1963. And the first computer I worked on was, of course, a mainframe because they were all mainframes. And I worked for years on mainframes, I emigrated from England, to Canada in 1971. The original plan is I’d go to Canada for a couple of years and work and then maybe go back to England and now 51 years later, I haven’t gone back to England, or not to live anyway. And, you know, I graduated through the mainframes worked on many computers, then worked on PCs and I had one of the early luggable computers, which was an Osborn computer. And I just worked on mainly I did some, I had during my career I had some jobs in marketing and in in product management, but and in but mainly I still my love was always developing software. I just I loved working on the development of piece of software and then what seeing people use it being happy with it. That was that was a great motivator for me?
Michael Hingson 10:01
Well, of course, you’ve seen so many different kinds of advances much, not just the whole physical issue of computers and so on, going from the big huge things that were programmed by patch boards that you would just plug into slots and systems that we talked about. Well, I, I was a student in Palmdale High School, and was a lab assistant for our physics professor. And one day, he asked me to take some time. And he had these big patch boards, he said, Just take all the wires out of the patch board, which was a major struggle into themselves. Because there was a lot of fun. But, but computers have progressed physically. So now of course, one of those patch boards wouldn’t even be of small fraction of what goes on a chip.
Robert French 10:56
Oh, no. When I think back to the mainframe days IBM’s I think last large commercial computer was the 371 58. Yeah, I believe my iPhone is orders of magnitude more powerful than that machine, which cost $2 million, or there abouts.
Michael Hingson 11:22
I remember at UC Irvine, we had an IBM 360. And we had a PDP 10.
Robert French 11:29
Yeah, they were great machines, those PDP 10 machines, as long as you didn’t cut your fingers on the paper tapes. Yes.
Michael Hingson 11:38
And as long as you were careful about putting the duct tape in the right way, yes. Well, so now of course, the other part about computers is how software has advanced. And as you said, the iPhone is magnitudes more powerful than the 370. And we we started hearing even in the mid 70s, about computers learning what we now call artificial intelligence, I worked with Ray Kurzweil, as he was developing the original Kurzweil breathing machine. And the thing about the breathing machine was that it also did learn and you could start scanning a page with the computer, of course, scanning was totally different than you have to build up a page of text, line by line with a camera, literally scanning each line then moving down a little bit and scanning the next part until you got a whole page as opposed to just taking a shot. But as it scanned and as you read, the machine really did learn something about the text and the print and re had done the what at that time, were probably very simple, but still steps to allow the machine to learn to read better is the more you read a book.
Robert French 13:04
Hmm, yeah, he because while he’s a genius, you’re lucky to have worked with
Michael Hingson 13:09
him. And of course, he went on and did other things after he sold Kurzweil Computer Products. But it still was very creative and clever to be able to have a machine, even then, that learned and as a user of the machine and then helping with the original testing and evaluation. As I read books with it, it was clearly obvious that it learned as it went along, it literally would read pages better the more I read, when I could go back and read a page that I had read and just see how much better it was after reading several pages.
Robert French 13:41
Yeah, it’s amazing, isn’t it? And now, of course,
Michael Hingson 13:44
it’s a whole different ballgame in terms of what artificial intelligence does and can do, and its availability. But it’s interesting to see how things are improving and getting better over time. And it will be fun to to really see what happens as machines learn and so on. I’m not a fan of Ray Kurzweil singularity necessarily. I’m not sure that we’re going to marry the brain and artificial intelligence together, although problem will try but I don’t know whether that will be a good thing or not. But I guess we’ll see.
Robert French 14:19
Yeah, yeah. Well, certainly, even if one can’t map the brain and download it to a computer, I could still see a possibility of a brain being connected to a directly connected to a computer and living inside a robot. Sure. So which is a pretty scary thought.
Michael Hingson 14:49
What were some of the last projects you did in terms of software development?
Robert French 14:54
The last the last major project that I did was a A system that would create would put all of an organization’s manuals, online and searchable. So the basic idea was, hospitals were a target market for us. The basic idea was that you could take all of your manuals as PDFs, and word documents, and JPEGs, and whatever you really wanted. And you put them all into our system, you just upload them to our system and create a structure for a set of for all of the manuals of your organization. And you could search all of the manuals in very sophisticated ways more flexible, even than Google searching. Yes, you could say things like, I want to find a document that has the word, heart, and catheter within five words of each other. And it would instantly present that document or documents to you. And it had all sorts of built in security. So you were only allowed to search for what you needed. But it meant that anyone in our hospital had access to all the documents that exists all the manuals that existed in that hospital. At that time, it was I it was a problem finding manuals, you know, people would spend an hour searching for a particular manual to do a procedure. So that was the last big project that I worked on.
Michael Hingson 16:42
And you said that the manuals typically were in like JPEG format or something like that.
Robert French 16:47
Usually they will Word or PDF. But you know, sometimes they would have JPEGs that were associated with the Word documents or the PDF documents. Of course, they couldn’t search the JPEGs.
Michael Hingson 17:03
Well, I was wondering about that, of course, today. Now, even more people are demanding that the documents are accessible. The Google, of course, had the large library of millions of books that didn’t inherit it, and they would put them up as pictures. And it took a court fight to get Google to agree and slash be compelled to put the documents up as accessible documents.
Robert French 17:31
Hmm. Yeah, that’s I didn’t know about that. That’s, I’m glad that I’m glad the court said that.
Michael Hingson 17:38
It’s all about inclusion, of course. And well, they are and, and other organizations are beginning to work on that. Now, of course, in this country, it’s not quite as stringent in Canada yet. But in this country of within the last month, the government has said that the Americans with Disabilities Act does apply to websites, because a lot of times lawyers have been making the case or trying to make the case while the ADA was passed before the internet. So how can websites be held accountable and responsible for being accessible? Clearly, the ADEA doesn’t apply. And a number of us have said, well, of course it does. Now, of course, the government has finally said, Yes, it does. But Congress still needs to stiffen the laws. And that will be another story.
Robert French 18:24
Yeah, yeah. Well, first getting Congress to move is not always easy.
Michael Hingson 18:31
Yeah, well, it says bad is will can entropy be reversed? And maybe the ultimate question will be the same, will have the same answer. So you worked with that until you were 60. So what was that? 2003 years or so?
Robert French 18:54
Yeah, yeah, it was about the company fails to get its last. Its last financing because of the burst of the tech bubble in 2003. And that’s when that’s when I started to think about other options.
Michael Hingson 19:13
So what other option Did you decide upon to reverse your entropy? Difficult? Or maybe to see entropy and larger growth? Yes. I don’t think that most people probably understand that that whole joke and it’s a physical basically, the laws that entropy can’t be reversed. And things are constantly expanding like the universe is constantly expanding. And you know, it’s like Murphy’s Law, which is if anything can go wrong, it will route around and then there’s no tools commentary on Murphy’s Law which was Murphy was an optimist. But But then the other one, which is the commentary on Murphy’s law that says once you open a can of worms, you can only put the words back in a bigger can. So yeah. So maybe it should be continued to expand for?
Robert French 20:07
Well, just on this subject of entropy, it’s probably one of the worst understood words by the general public. But what? Well, it was interesting. You know, whenever a company folds, the first thing that you do is start looking for contracting work, which is what I did, I got on the phone and started calling people. And this particular day, it was in March of 2003, I had finished talking to a bunch of people and I put down the phone. And I opened a Word document, because I’d had this idea in my head for quite a while. And it was about a strange plague hitting the Earth. It was kind of an apocalyptic sort of tale. And I started writing, this was about three in the afternoon, I started writing, and I just kept on writing. And suddenly, it was no one in the morning or something. And I just written for eight hours. And I’d written 1000s of words. And I thought, wow, this is the most fun I’ve had for a such a long time. And that’s how it all started. That book, I kind of ran out of steam on. So I started a different book. And the second book was going nowhere. So I started a book about an assassin. And it just wasn’t that book became boring. Though, I did use the opening chapters in another book that in one of my Cal Rogen books. Then finally I got an idea for a kind of a business thriller. But I had said in an area in which I had some experience, I were somebody I know was was conned by a, a venture capital company, or will they call themselves a venture capital company somewhere to novel based on that. And I actually finished it, it was the first thing I actually finished completely. And I was I was quite happy with it. I thought it was pretty good. So I sent out query letters to I think it was 70 Publish literary literary agents, and a bunch of publishers and got back 70 rejection letters and other things. Yes, exactly. And this was before the day that you could submit submit via the Internet. The publishing was really quick, I was really slow to adopt technology. So as luck would have it, I booked myself into a Writers Conference. And I thought, well, this book is good. I mean, it’s just I don’t know how to market it. That’s the problem. So I went to the Writers Conference. And the first day was the all the all the all the sessions were about the art of the art of writing. And
Robert French 23:27
I went, took those those courses, and realized the marketing wasn’t the problem. The book was the problem. And I it was just that I didn’t really understand how to write a book. I, I assumed because I was an avid reader, that I would be a natural writer. But as luck would have it at that conference, I met an editor who gave me a 37 page report on the book. And I decided that the book was a non starter. But through that, through that editor, she she was wonderful. And she mentored me through my first real book. And it all started because I was doing it contract in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, which is the dodgy area of town. And every day I’d walked past this alley to get to the to the the office I was working in. And this alley was full of drug addicts. And I remember saying to my editor whose name was Lisa. I said, Gosh, I go past this alley every day. And I keep thinking, how awful would it be to wake up in that alley, which was just awful, just terrible place? And she said, Well, who would wake up in an alley like that? And I said, Well, if it were a lawyer, yeah, that would be kind of ironic. And if it were a businessman, we interesting but then I thought well if you’re a cop That would be great. And so I have this idea of a cop waking up in a alley full of drug addicts covered in blood. And Lisa asked me a bunch of questions. And the first my first novel, which is called junkie, started to come together in my head. And she mentored me through that novel and the second one, and that’s grown into a series of seven books now,
Michael Hingson 25:26
are they self published, or traditionally published,
Robert French 25:29
this self published, I tried going the traditional publishing route, I got some interest, but I think my age was working against me, because publishers are more interested in people who are younger than I am. And who will have lots of books in them. So anyway, I, I learned about self publishing and took a bunch of courses and went that route. And now I think if a publisher came to me, and made me an offer, unless it was a really good offer, I don’t think I’d be interested.
Michael Hingson 26:06
But you, you now have seven books. So you’ve clearly established a track record, in the fact that you keep writing them. I’m sure it’s in part because you want to, but I would also suspect that you had success with
Robert French 26:19
them. Yeah, yeah. I’ve had some success with them. And, you know, somebody asked me, When are you going to stop writing? I’m 77. Now. So they asked me, When are you going to stop writing? And I paraphrase Charlton Heston and said, when they prize the computer out of my cold, dead hands, so I’m just gonna keep doing it. And one of the main reasons I do it is, over the years, I have established a mailing list of people who are fans of my my books, and the feedback I get from those people is just wonderful. It’s this, I’ve met so many wonderful people through this mailing list. And they are the people that that keep me going. When I have bad times. It’s those people who make me feel that I can still do this.
Michael Hingson 27:20
Do you publish through Amazon? Or where do you how do you publish?
Robert French 27:24
Amazon? Yeah, I went, I decided to go exclusive with Amazon. Because when I when I was publishing through Amazon, and Kobo, and Apple and Google, Barnes and Noble, I did an experiment with a couple of books and made them exclusive to Amazon. And they just did so much better. So I decided to go exclusive with Amazon on all the books. Can you
Michael Hingson 27:55
answer those when you’re publishing through Amazon? I assume it’s Kindle Direct Publishing? Yeah. Can’t Can’t you also make the books available from Amazon through other distribution channels and so on?
Robert French 28:09
Yes, you can. Yes. And Amazon will do that, too. Also, Amazon. Another reason for being with Amazon is that they also do the books in paperback, and in hardcover now. So I’ve got all of my books are in paperback and in large print. So that’s, that’s one of the things that Amazon does, which I like.
Michael Hingson 28:36
So have any of them been also produced in audio?
Robert French 28:41
Not yet, I really want to do them in audio. But I have a particular problem in doing them in audio, because the books are written in first person, present tense, from the point of view of multiple characters. So some chapters will be written from the point of view of a woman’s, for example, and some even from a child. And then they’ll say, there’ll be saying, man standing here waiting for cow, and he’s late again. So I need a woman actress to voice those, those chapters. So it means that in order to do audiobooks, I need to put together a team. Well, I did have a stint of acting. So I do know a bunch of actors. So I will do that at some point. But and hopefully soon, but right now, I’m just so busy that I can’t devote the time to it.
Michael Hingson 29:41
I’m thinking though that with the fact that you’re going through Amazon, it would be interesting to see if you could raise a discussion within Bada bing published through audible which is owned by Amazon because ANA has has produced they have done what they call audible originals, and they’re very capable and Do oftentimes use more than one person to deal with a
Robert French 30:05
book. Oh, I didn’t know that.
Michael Hingson 30:08
Oh, there’s a lot of that.
Robert French 30:11
So because my thought was that I would know how to edit audio and video, I thought of assembling the actors and getting them to read the chapters and then editing it into an audible book, which, you know, Amazon will let you do that. So they’re called Amazon, audible originals. Did you say, well,
Michael Hingson 30:36
audible originals are books that are not traditionally published elsewhere, but published through audible. Do you use Audible at all?
Robert French 30:46
No, I don’t. I’m not a I’m not an audio book.
Michael Hingson 30:49
That’s fine. We want to and it doesn’t violate the laws of robotics. But But in your case, I’m sure it would be called an audible original because it’s not published anywhere through traditional publishing, although the your books are so either way, though, they they do produce audio books, and oftentimes have at least two people reading it, if not more. I remember one that I read last year, you’ve seen the movie Alien? Yes. Yeah. Okay. So there’s a book called Alien shadows, which is another one where, oh, what’s the Gorny weavers character’s name? Yeah. And the cat? Yeah. Are, are they actually they were in suspended animation. And they’re brought out of suspended animation for something and they ended up fighting aliens again. And there are like about 10 different actors that are dealing with all the different characters. So I really think that it would be interesting to explore whether audio audible could do it and would do yeah, I’ll certainly look into that. Thank you. I would, I would think that would make a lot of sense to do. I do a lot of audio reading on airplanes. But nowadays, mostly not opposed to Braille. Because I believe that Braille is still the basic means of reading and writing that I have. My wife and I read books together. So we pipe them through the house. So whatever we’re doing, there’s a book going, usually TV, but a book. She’s learned how to listen to audio, and not fall asleep. So she That’s great. Yeah, it’s it’s really wonderful when a number of actors do it. And there are some actors that can do a number of voices. But I understand what you’re saying for your book. But I would definitely explore audio through audible and see what you could do.
Robert French 32:52
Yeah, I will definitely do that. Thank you,
Michael Hingson 32:55
it would make a lot of sense to do. Well, so you, you were an actor, while software developer, actor and then reader tell me more about that. Yeah,
Robert French 33:05
I, my first one, my first job when I was five, I wanted to be a cowboy. But my first job that I wanted to do is I wanted to be an actor. And my father probably quite rightly, taught me out and said, you know, with your mathematical ability, you should do something else. And actually, to some extent, he was instrumental in pointing me towards computers, or encouraging me towards computers should I say, but I always liked acting. I was in every school, my every play my school ever produced. And after school, I did a few acting, few plays and musicals. So in my 50s, I thought I’d like to try acting. So I took a tour course and went for auditions and found myself getting lead roles pretty quickly in local theater. And then I kind of realized I needed a better acting, a better acting coach. So I took lessons from Larry Silverberg, who was a wonderful, wonderful teacher, and he was in Seattle, and twice a week I would drive down to Seattle and do courses with Larry, and then I’d started doing a few movie things. Then, I just kind of realized that acting no matter how good an actor you are, in in the world of movies, it’s they’re always looking for a look. And I didn’t have one plus or didn’t have the one they wanted. Plus the the The movies that are made in Vancouver are all three American audiences almost all, and they needed people with American accents. And although I can do an American accent, it’s just not very good. So that so I decided that pursuing that as a profession was not a good idea. So I continued acting in local theater for a while. But once I started writing that just completely overtook, took all my spare time. So that’s when I stopped acting.
Michael Hingson 35:36
It’s always radio for the BBC or the CPC.
Robert French 35:39
Yeah. I wouldn’t mind doing radio. Yeah.
Michael Hingson 35:45
So you, so what’s your next book,
Robert French 35:48
The next book is was in inspired by a podcast that I listened to, I’m a bit of a podcast addict. And it was about a, an amazing, but quite evil woman who ran this cryptocurrency scam. And I thought that would be an interesting part of a book. And so that’s, that’s the next book in the Cal Rogen series that I’m starting to write. Plus, I’ve got another series of books on the on the development stage. And my protagonist has a 12 year old daughter. And so the next series of books will be her as a detective in the year 2040 2045, when she’s grown up, because in the current series, she’s got five years old. So I’m very interested in what the near future holds for us with robotics and artificial intelligence and the social issues that we’re facing and social media and cryptocurrencies and all of those things. So I’m very excited about writing books set credit, five years in the future.
Michael Hingson 37:10
Have you ever read any of the books by JD Robb the in depth series?
Robert French 37:14
I haven’t No, no.
Michael Hingson 37:17
So JD Robb, who is nor Roger, yeah, Roberts, has written a whole series there, the Eve Dallas series, and I think they’re now 54 or 55 books. And they start out in like 2058, I think, or 2057. And are very, they’re fun to read. There are some steamy parts, but that’s okay. They have absolutely captured what both me and my wife’s attention. So she doesn’t even want to read those piped through the house. She wants to read those on her own, but she wants the audio version. So we’re both now on book number 20 in that series, but they’re fun. And I’m sure that your take will be different. And that’s a good thing. So it’s a wonderful series to write. But she has been very successful with that.
Robert French 38:05
Oh, that’s great. Oh, definitely. I knew I knew that Nora had started writing books under the JD Robert, I didn’t know anything about them. So I will check out to the Eve Dallas series.
Michael Hingson 38:20
They’re all they’re all something in depth. And they’re fascinating the characters evolve and grow. And the whole series has been very fascinating to observe character, character development, and because she’s done with them, but I’m anxious to read yours as well now, so definitely get them out there and also get them out in audio, that’ll be a lot of fun for a lot of people, for sure. Actually, something that you might think about is there is a the Library of Congress has the National Library Service for the Blind and print impaired. And I’m sure there is an equivalent in Canada. They also use their own readers to record books, and it might be worth reaching out to them to see if they might be interested. I’ve not seen any that they individually record that have several actors, but nevertheless, it’s a fascinating thing, but I would still think audible would be the best way.
Robert French 39:19
Hmm, yeah, I will definitely look into that audible originals idea. That’d be great.
Michael Hingson 39:26
Well, tell me more about sort of your view about self publishing as opposed to traditional publishing and the differences in the values and so on.
Robert French 39:34
Well, I’m not a huge expert in traditional publishing. There. I know people who are both traditionally published and self published and generally prefer the self publishing side of, of their, their work. traditional publishing is going through some huge upheaval Almost, and they’re very, they’ve been very slow to react to the ebook market. And they, they just don’t seem to have got it. Their books, the one of the key things about the ebook market is books should be cheaper when they’re ebooks than in on paper. But frequently, the traditional publishers will have the ebook and the paper book at the same price. And it seems like they’re trying to grab all the money they can out of the marketplace before it’s lost to them. So now, they might well be wrong. But that’s, that’s a bit how I see it. If somebody came to me and said, I wanted to be an author, which way should I go, I would say if you’re going to choose go with self publishing, you have more control you make you make more money and midlist author with with a publishing house, doesn’t make a heck of a lot of money. But a midlist author, on KDP, with Amazon can make a very nice living. So I would I have become a big fan of self publishing.
Michael Hingson 41:27
And the more you learn how to market, the better you will be and the more successful you will be in it is true that with self publishing, you have to do more of your marketing. But even in the regular publishing world today, authors aren’t usually selected that can’t bring their own marketing skills and marketing presence to a book. They want you to have significant social media presence, newsletters, blogs, Facebook, and social media outreach and so on, that you again, bring yourself much less what they might do,
Robert French 42:10
huh? Yeah, gone are the days when you signed a deal with a publisher, went back home and started writing the next book. And they did everything?
Michael Hingson 42:20
Yeah, very much. So. So tell me about your writing process, your style, and so on.
Robert French 42:25
Yeah, it’sa bit weird,
Michael Hingson 42:27
which you talked a little bit about it, but
Robert French 42:30
goes with goes with my personality. I don’t do a lot of planning of a book, I tend to write by the seat of my pants as a pantser, as they say, so I’ll get an idea for a book. And I’ll kind of do a mind map of where I think it’s going and what it’s going to what it’s going to be like, and who’s going to be in it. And just, I don’t even always know how it’s going to end. But once I’ve kind of got got it settled in my gut, I just start writing. And I write and things happen. And now of course, I have a cast of characters who are in most of the books, and when they show up, they know, I know what to do with them. And it’s it’s a lot, it’s a it’s a lot of fun. And I frequently surprised myself, you know, I’ll be writing thinking that this chapter is going to end a certain way. And then somebody will say something, and it will trigger something in my mind, and the chapter will go in a quite different direction. Now this can be difficult, because you can write yourself, it’s write itself into a corner. And sometimes it takes a while to get out of it. But I always think if I can surprise myself, I can surprise my readers. So it seems to work for me. And I really like working this way. I did one time just for fun. Think about planning out of book, The wet. Some people know they know how many chapters it’s going to be what’s going to happen in each chapter. And I started to do that and my head exploded. I just couldn’t to couldn’t do it. So sorry.
Michael Hingson 44:24
Your characters are beginning to tell the story.
Robert French 44:28
That’s right. That’s absolutely right. Yeah, yeah. Sometimes you ask a question. And I’ll think, hey, what would be an interesting answer to that question that I just wrote down? And that might send something in a completely different direction. The other thing is sorry, gone. No, go ahead. But the other thing is that one of the things that I learned from the literary agent and author Don Masse is With every book should have tension on every page. And so when I’m not fixed in what has to happen in the chapter, I can make tension appear on a page by somebody giving a an odd answer or asking a question that nobody’s got the answer to. And all those things create tension, but they’re sometimes drive the story in a different direction. So that that works really works for me.
Michael Hingson 45:35
Does it sometimes surprise you when that happens? Oh, yeah. Oh,
Robert French 45:38
yeah. I’m constantly surprised. Sometimes, you know, at the end of a day of writing, I’ll, I’ll look at what I’ve written and say, Wow, that was good. But different.
Michael Hingson 45:52
Robert French 45:57
Oh, yes. Yes. Oh, yeah. Yeah,
Michael Hingson 46:01
probably must be depressing. After a while
Robert French 46:03
it is. I’m subject to depression as well. And sometimes writer’s block will be one of the triggers. But I usually get writer’s block, because I’ve let the storyline go in a really interesting direction. And have a really unexpected, you know, I’ve been working towards an expected result. And I thought, No, this unexpected result with much better, and then sometimes takes me a long time to re gather the strands of the story with this new element in it. And, you know, that can take, you know, a couple of days to work out. But yeah, it’s except when I’m in a long period of depression, writer’s block may last a day or so how do you get over it? What happens? Well, in the, in the short term writer’s block, eventually, something will click, you know, at some, you know, sometimes I’ll wake up in the morning and think something, wow, that might work in the book. And so that will happen. When I get into, you know, a long, longer period of depression, that writer’s block becomes semi permanent. And what gets me out of that is, I’ll end up going to my doctor, and he’ll getting some medication. So
Michael Hingson 47:31
until you allow yourself to relax and start to just really think about it again. Yeah, listen to your characters.
Robert French 47:39
Yeah, yeah. In a recent depression, something happened that helps quite a lot, is I woke up in the morning, and I was still half asleep. And I had this image of two women standing over looking down over the dead body. And I built a whole chapter in my mind about it. And as soon as I got up, I actually wrote down first 500 words of the chapter. And it was indicative of being in a depression because it was very, very dark. But I thought, you know, if I didn’t make it quite so dark, it could actually be an interesting start to a story. So things like that help stuff pops into your mind. And you think, Wow.
Michael Hingson 48:30
Well, I’m looking forward to checking out some of the books certainly, and I can’t end this without asking you, what kinds of thoughts and observations and advice you might have for people who want to write. Yeah, it’s
Robert French 48:45
interesting that you’re out, you should ask that I’ve just finished a guest blog post for a blogger in United Kingdom. And the title is what to do for an aspiring writer. And my advice would be that if you’re don’t think that you just you’re just going to be a writer, the chances are, you’re going to be a publisher too, and you’re going to need to be good at it and good at marketing too. But the thing that will distinguish you over the long term is good writing. So if you don’t have experience in writing don’t do what I did. Don’t assume because you’re an avid reader that you’re going to be a good writer. I spent I didn’t waste but I used up quite a few years writing when I could have done a lot better. So make sure you’re good. Writers Conference is a great thing to go to for aspiring writer, because they have courses which are given by actual published successful authors on how to write. You can meet agents, you can meet editors, you can meet publishers. But take as many courses as you can, on the craft of writing, read as many books as you can on the craft of writing, and just become a very, very good writer. Because at the moment, self publishing is what is the Wild West, but that’s not going to last forever. And the good writers will be the ones who stay in and, and rise to the top, they’ve still got to be a good marketer and publisher. But I think the key is to become a very, very good writer. And if you if you can go to somebody I know went to a conference, they met one of their favorite authors, and asked me author if they would become their mentor. And they say, yes. So that’s, that’s something that is always worth doing. Because if you have a mentor, I was lucky that Lisa, my editor became my mentor. And, you know, I could call her anytime and ask her any question about writing? And she would, she would tell me, so a mentor is really good if you can get one. Do you work with an agent today? I don’t work with an agent. Now. Now, it’s all self publishing. It’s all self publish. Yeah, but I do use Edison’s
Michael Hingson 51:29
and there’s a lot of value in editors, good editors are going to help you really bring out what is important and relevant about not just telling you how to rewrite something or whatever, I remember when we did thunder dog, we had a wonderful editor. And Chad said up front, I’m not going to try to rewrite this book, this has to be you and your story and your style. But what I need to do is to help you enhance it, to make it something that people will want to read and will connect with them. And he had some great suggestions about transitions and so on in the book. I don’t know whether you if you read thunderdog, or not.
Robert French 52:13
Yeah, it’s no, it’s on my list.
Michael Hingson 52:15
Well, one of the things that we do in Thunder dog is we start off with something that happened on September 11. And then we transition back to things in my life that that are relevant to that and taught me something that I could then use to that event. And then at the end of the chapter, we go back to that event, finish it and then go to the next chapter and do the same thing. And Chad said, Well, the problem is, I get lost with the transitions. I don’t know where I am, I’m suddenly somewhere else. The transitions are not very good. That’s a fair comment, as opposed to, well, you got to you got to rewrite all of this and all that. He said, The transitions aren’t good. So we we I actually spent a weekend working on the transitions. Once he taught me what that meant. And the transitions became, I think one of the better parts of the book, and others have said the same thing. And that’s, that’s one of the things that an editor should do is really help good writers become even better writers?
Robert French 53:14
Mm hmm. Absolutely. I had a, I had an experience with an editor. On my third book, Lisa, was involved in a couple of other projects. And she couldn’t be my editor for that book. And so I found another editor who was really, really wonderful. And the book I mentioned about the assassin that never went anywhere, the first chapter of that book was great. And I used it in the new book. And it was a long, long chapter. And it was a it was a flash forward. So you know, after that chapter, it flashed back 14 days to see how one got to that situation. And the editor said that chapter is way too long. And so I broke it up into three different chapters, and flashed, flashed back after each chapter. And it really, really worked. And just, you know, but just to know that the chapter was too long, that’s all she had to say, to make me fix it, which was really great and actually had a lot of other really good comments as well, where somebody was acting out of character, you know, would that person really do that? And I thought they probably wouldn’t. So,
Michael Hingson 54:48
yeah, that’s that’s the sign of a good editor. Oh, she was great. Yeah, yeah. Well, if people want to reach out to you and learn about the books and other things like that, how do they do that?
Robert French 54:59
They thing to do is to go to Robert P French.com. That’s my website. And if you first page is a list of my books, the book junkie is the first book in the series. And if you click on that, I’ll send you a free copy of the first book. So so if anyone’s interested in following up, that’s the way to do it.
Michael Hingson 55:28
And is that that’s the best way then to contact you, as opposed to email or something like that.
Robert French 55:33
But yeah, on my website, just click contact, and then then my email addresses, then people can email me,
Michael Hingson 55:40
and they can learn all about any social media that you happen. So
Robert French 55:43
yeah, I’ve got Facebook. So Robert P French offer?
Michael Hingson 55:49
Well, I really appreciate you coming on and giving us your insights and demonstrating that you, you took up challenges that came in your life, and you work through them, and even with depression, and so on that comes up, you’re able to, to eventually get past it. So don’t don’t stop doing that. You don’t want to depressed, Robert around.
Robert French 56:11
No one does.
Michael Hingson 56:13
But we’re really glad that you you came here and you’re talking with us. And I appreciate it very much. And so people can go to Robert P french.com. And get all the information and I hope they buy your books. Well,
Robert French 56:25
thank you very much. And thank you very much for inviting me onto the podcast. I really appreciate it. And just as an aside, I didn’t after our first conversation I did have I did go to accessibe.com. And it was really very interesting. So I’m glad you made that connection for me.
Michael Hingson 56:49
Well, I hope that you’ll use it to to get to work on your website, if you haven’t yet. I certainly will. Yes, it works. Well. Yeah, I was very impressed with the demo. Well, thanks for being here. And I want to thank all of you who listened today, I learned a lot and enjoy talking with authors. It’s fun to compare notes. And it’s also fun to talk about the good old days of computers and such things. So thanks very much for for doing that, Robert. And again, thank all of you for listening. If you’d like to reach out to me, it’s easy. You can go to www dot Michael hingson.com/podcast Michael Hingson is M I C H A E L H I N G S O N .com/podcast. Or you can email me and you’re welcome to do so at Michael M I C H A E L H I at accessibe A C C E S S I B E.com. And wherever you’re listening to this, please give us a five star rating. We really appreciate your ratings. And thank you very much for do that. So again, thanks for being here. And Robert, thank you for being here as well. Thank you.
UM Intro/Outro 58:02
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