Photo courtesy Knopf
Roger Hobbs had barely graduated Reed last year before he landed his first major book deal for Ghostman, a brutal crime novel that hit shelves yesterday. The book is an unflinching, nightmarish trip through the criminal underground that focuses on an armed robbers race against a psychopathic killer, and it’s being swarmed with positive reviews (read our review here). So far, the rights to the book have sold in 13 countries, and Warner Brothers bought the movie rights. Which is to say, Hobbs success has been meteoric (and hopefully a defense of the liberal arts education). In preview of his talk at Powell’s on Wednesday, February 20th at 7:30pm, we couldn’t resist asking him about how he managed to balance a college degree and a novel, his hardcore writing schedule, and how Portland's perpetual darkness influences his work.

 

Culturephile: Ghostman has been incredibly well received. Did you expect such success with your debut novel? How have you been handling all of this?
Roger Hobbs:
Nobody expects something like this to happen on the first novel. Nobody. When I wrote Ghostman, I was living on one package of Top Ramen a day and sleeping on a love seat in an unheated apartment. I would walk to the library every morning, go down to the basement, stake out a place by the outlets, and write for 12 to 16 hours. At a certain point, I was only working that long so I wouldn't have to go home and freeze. This book's early success changed a lot of things in my life—now I have my own apartment, I live with my girlfriend, and I never go hungry. I travel all around the country and get to do what I do best—write.

Twelve to sixteen hours? That’s crazy. How did you balance school and writing a novel? Were there times when you wanted to give up on writing Ghostman, or alternately, times you thought about dropping out of Reed?
I never once considered giving up on either work or school. In fact, I had several other projects going while I was at college, and the work never bothered me. At Reed I wrote two novels, two spec television episodes, and a movie. I had an article in the New York Times as a freshman, then sold the film rights as a sophomore. Writing isn't a choice for me. I have to do it, or otherwise I'll go crazy. My coursework at Reed was a welcome break from my writing, and vice-versa. Honestly, I never really considered it unusual. Most of my Reedie friends worked just as hard, only at different things. We're a hardworking group.

What was your inspiration for this novel? Why crime fiction?
I got the idea for Ghostman the summer after my sophomore year at Reed. I was walking home late after a movie when I came across an armored car depot. It was a plain white unmarked building with rows and rows of armored cars parked out front. I sneaked up and touched a few, and my mind started whirling—what do you think I would need to rob one of these? That night I went home and wrote the first chapter of what would become Ghostman.

Portland is such a writers’ town. Does anything about the city contribute to your style of writing or your choice of subject material? The long winters or the rain, say?
The thing that I love most about Portland isn't the rain, but the darkness. Even when the sun comes out, it's never bright here. Nobody wears sunglasses. During the winter months, Portland is submerged in a perpetual twilight—and that's a fantastic atmosphere for a crime writer like me. I like to work at night to avoid distractions, and Portland's quiet, dark, industrial silence definitely helps me set the mood. I love listening to the trains at night, drinking coffee in the rain, and eating breakfast from a steamy food truck.

Darkness certainly sets the tone for the criminals in your novel, who are especially brutal. The Wolf's back story is told in great detail and definitely stands out. Wow you were able to create such dark, murderous villains? Do you consider yourself to be a dark person?
The main character of Ghostman is an armed robber. Since armed robbers aren't usually sympathetic heroes, I wanted to make sure that the bad guys would be the worst, most terrifying dudes I could imagine. They had to be clearly, dramatically, terrifyingly more evil than my hero. I was very strategic. I did a lot of research of famous criminals and criminal gangs and tried to pick aspects from the ones that scared me most. I don't consider myself a dark person, certainly, I just enjoy the thrill of a villain who is so smart or so crazy that the reader doesn't know what he's going to do next. I wanted to write a world full of guys like Hannibal Lecter and Anton Chigurh. I must have written a dozen back stories for the Wolf before I found one shocking enough to fit my purposes.

Tell us about your next project? There are rumors you are working on a sequel.
Yes, I am! I can't say much about it, though, except that there will be a few characters returning from Ghostman, and that the plot will have you flipping back through the earlier book for clues. I want the books in this series to fit together like puzzle pieces, and the sequel will do just that. The Ghostman ending is a cliff-hanger and you might not even know it!

 

For more on Portland arts and culture, sign up for our weekly On The Town newsletter, subscribe to our RSS feed, and follow us on Twitter @PoMoArt. Visit our Arts & Entertainment Calendar for our editors’ event picks.