RobRoy McCandless, who received a Bachelor of Science in Speech Communication from Eastern New Mexico University in 1996, has been a writer for over 20 years and published his fourth novel, "The Clockwork Detective," last spring.
The award-winning author, who was a 2015 EPIC eBook finalist and winner of the 2014 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Preditors & Editors Reader's Poll in urban fantasy, discusses how his time at ENMU prepared him for a lifetime of writing.
Why did you choose ENMU?
ENMU wasn't even on my radar, but they sent me a postcard that piqued my interest. I hadn't thought of a small university in a small town as the place for me, but the more I considered the class size, the professor-to-student ratio and the overall costs—even as an out-of-state student—the more sense it made. ENMU also had a reasonably diverse student body, which for a guy from suburban Utah was a powerful draw. When I found out that Dr. Jack Williamson, the "Dean of Science Fiction," had attended and sometimes still taught, I was sold!
How did you choose your field of study?
I bounced around a lot of different interests, including business, history, anthropology and psychology. It was really great to have that kind of flexibility at ENMU and to have the professors so accessible to discuss future goals. I was always interested in English literature, but I tended to gravitate more and more toward the communications department. I was taking public speaking, communication theory and audience analysis classes, and really enjoying the study and practice of communications. By the time I was entering my junior year, I was sold on a degree in speech communication with a minor in English literature. I've never regretted that choice, and I use my speech communication degree every day.
Which activities were you involved in at ENMU?
Because of the size of ENMU and its flexibility, I was able to participate in a wide range of activities. I was academically inclined and competed for the Speech and Debate team from my sophomore year through my senior year, where I made many life-long friends. I was also a member of the inaugural 1996 ENMU Cross Country team, and really enjoyed being part of the start-up season for the University. Nico Cameron from Student Academic Services (SAS) recruited me as an English and speech communication tutor, which was wonderful and where I met my future wife.
I'm sure I managed a couple of awards, but the one that really stuck out to me was the communication department's award. It was such a surprise to receive it. Dr. Timothy Ashmore, the acting dean, told me I needed to be present, but didn't tell me why. When he called me up, I was floored. At my graduation, he made a point of calling me over to shake my hand. Dr. Patrice Caldwell, Dean of Liberal Arts, also shook my hand. I know neither of them was just there for me, but it meant a great deal to have had their support.
Discuss your experience at ENMU.
To sum it all up, it was four-and-a-half years that influenced the rest of my life. There was a lot to love about attending ENMU and living in Portales. Chief among them, I met my wife at ENMU. Although we didn't date until nearly a decade after, she and I had a lot to bond over. We were both student athletes, and we were both tutors at Student Academic Services, where we worked together for several years. I provided her with a ride home for Christmas her first year, and she and I drove back together to attend an alumni volleyball game several years after our graduation.
Another major highlight was attending two different classes taught by Dr. Jack Williamson and Liberal Arts Dean Patrice Caldwell. The first was a science fiction and fantasy class, and the second was a creative writing class. Through those classes, I was able to meet both Connie Willis and Fredrick Pohl and discuss directly with them their publications. I will forever have received two As from the "Dean of Science Fiction" himself on my ENMU transcripts.
Speaking of Dr. Caldwell, while I only took the two classes that she co-taught with Dr. Williamson, I was so struck by her clarity and wisdom that I asked her to be my advisor. I don't think that I would have succeeded as well as I did both at ENMU and afterward without her. Dr. Caldwell also served as my academic instructor for a guided study to write my first full-length novel. Meeting with Dr. Caldwell in her office to discuss the various aspects of writing was incredibly influential to me.
While I enjoyed nearly all of my classes at ENMU, I remain deeply indebted to Dr. Timothy Ashmore, who was the acting Dean of Speech Communications during my junior and senior years. Dr. Ashmore's classes were some of my favorites, and I appreciated how accessible he made himself to students with questions. A few years after I graduated and was feeling somewhat lost, I reached out to him for advice, which he willingly and wisely provided.
What inspired you to become an author? When did you begin writing, and how did you become interested in writing historical and genre fiction?
When I was 11 or 12, I co-wrote a stage play with my friend Danny, called "The Day the Robots Made Time Stand Still." I still have the original copy on my shelf. Due to creative differences, it was never performed. But after finishing that, I knew that I wanted to keep writing. I also knew what kind of writing I wanted to do. I wanted to work with worlds where dragons can make an appearance. They don't have to show up, but the idea that they can? Please and thank you. I also like any world where a woman is as strong or stronger than most of the men around—not necessarily physically, although I do like female protagonists who can go toe-to-toe and sword-to-sword with anyone else. That made my preferred genre fantasy, but I'll take urban fantasy, science fiction, steampunk and historic fiction off the bookshelves.
Share with us your journey of publishing multiple books. Do you have plans for upcoming novels or stories?
Publishing, at least for me, has been a marathon. I've read of young authors, out of the gate, who catch lightning in a bottle and are offered the "Rich and Famous" contract. That has never been my road. You're supposed to be able to wallpaper your office with rejection notices. I could open up an interior design business with what I have available.
That doesn't make it all bad. On the contrary, I'm a much, much better writer now than I was in my ENMU days because I've gone through the process. I'm also a much better author now than I was when I published my first book, "Tears of Heaven" all the way back in 2013. After working with some fabulous editors and publishers, my last two books, "Company of the Damned" and "The Clockwork Detective," feel like I've hit my stride as a writer. I feel like I'm ready to do some real work.
Most writers tend to have a few irons in the fire at the same time. I'm no exception to that. I have a steampunk novella that will release early 2020. "Relics of Purgatory," an urban fantasy, and a sequel to "The Clockwork Detective" are in the works. There's also an audio version of "The Clockwork Detective," which should be releasing later this year.
What do you enjoy most about being an author?
There isn't just one aspect of being an author and being published that I find enjoyable. It's the entire package. From finishing a work and having that sense of completion, all the way through to discovering new fans and friends who were brought closer by the effort. It's all quite wonderful in different ways. From the technical side, I like the sense of accomplishment in finishing a first draft. I also love receiving the marked-up version from my editors. On the public side, I love the response I get—good or bad—from people who took the time to read my work and felt compelled to comment on it. I have a framed picture of fan-art that a young lady did of Aubrey Hartmann from "The Clockwork Detective." It symbolizes all the reasons that I enjoy being an author.
After ENMU, I moved back to Utah and took a temp position with GE. Because I had a degree, it only took them a day or two to find me a position. That actually became the stepping stone on my career path. GE was all about employee growth, and I was able to take advantage of that, and my university experience to join their marketing division as a proposal writer. Since then, I've created client-based proposals for everything from architecture and engineering, healthcare and now in IT solutions.
How did ENMU prepare you for your career?
By learning how communication works, and by extension, how to communicate more effectively, I was well and truly prepared for my career. The smaller class size, access to professors and the opportunities that ENMU provided through athletics, academic competition and campus activities—not to mention the friends that I made over the years—all contributed to my success.
What advice would you give to a student interested in becoming an author?
Go everywhere, read everything. No matter what genre you're going to write, it becomes so much easier when you have a large base of experience understanding not just how and why humans do what they do, but also the way in which other authors have tackled the problem of creating a realistic world and complex characters to inhabit a story. Writing is a lot like being part of a jazz ensemble—obviously, none of the notes are new, and even the tune may be one that everyone is familiar with, but how you take that make it your own, how you play your part, your riff on that theme, is what will appeal to readers and help make you successful.
What do you hope to achieve in your career?
Achievements as a writer—especially a genre writer—are tricky. One of my earliest goals was to complete a trilogy of books. I managed that last year with the release of "Company of the Damned." That was a wonderful feeling to have realized that goal.
Are you involved with any organizations or causes?
I volunteer coach speech and debate at a local high school. I've had the wonderful opportunity to interact with a very diverse group of students over the past twelve years, and see them grow from energetic and fascinated competitors into engaged and fascinating adults.
Tell us about your family and background.
I've been a writer both professionally and creatively for over two decades. I was born under a wandering star that led to a degree in communication and English with a focus on creative writing. I'm the author of the steampunk "The Clockwork Detective," urban fantasy "Hell Becomes Her," "Company of the Damned" and "Tears of Heaven," winner of the 2014 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Preditors & Editors Reader's Poll and a 2015 EPIC eBook finalist. My shorts have appeared in "In Shambles" (with Kevin J. Anderson), "Nine Heroes" and "Gears, Gadgets and Steam." I've been married for seventeen glorious years to the most amazing woman in the world. I continue to research and write historical and genre fiction, battle sprinklers and play with my three boys.
Who influences you? Who is your role model?
So many people. Through my writing, I've been fortunate to come into the orbit of a lot of wonderful folk who have been so supportive and inspiring. I would love to give them all a great, big hug and buy them a drink. There are some amazing people working in the field right now, making it such an exciting time. I'd love to meet Robin McKinley and Patrick Rothfuss and Nnedi Okorafor and George R.R. Martin and Elizabeth Lynn AND so many others and thank them for what they've done. They don't even know me, but they've had a huge impact. There are also a ton of past writers that have had a great impact on me: JRR Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, David Gemmel, Robert Jordan. Then, of course, there are the historical figures that you can only read about. It's part of the wonder about the truth of their lives, versus what we know—or think we know—about them that really intrigues me and feeds into my work.
Which awards have you received?
I was a 2015 EPIC eBook finalist and winner of the 2014 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Preditors & Editors Reader's Poll in urban fantasy. Steampunk legend James P. Blaylock called my novel "The Clockwork Detective," "My kind of book: a wonderful, fully realized, utterly plausible steampunk world with a dynamite plot, great characters and the best dirigibles this side of anywhere."
I've never stopped reading. It would be hard to find me without a book close at hand, no matter what the situation. Kindles have made this so much easier than when I used to carry around a Robert Jordan or JK Rowling tome.
I've never really stopped running either. I don't run as far or as fast as I did at ENMU, but getting out and covering a couple of miles every day is always fun. Every now and then I have time to run a local race, and that's a real treat.
Movies and now all the binge-worthy series entertainment has always been a hobby/obsession for me. It's harder to get out to the theater with three boys, and the prices seem somewhat outrageous. Streaming services have really opened this up, at least for me, and I don't feel like I have to see everything on opening weekend.
What is an interesting fact about you?
My father picked my name before he ever met my mother or really considered having children. He came across the name in a poem by Andrew Lang, and decided then and there he would have a son named RobRoy. So here I am.