Robert Joe Stout Interviewed by Kevin Cooper

Posted on October 25, 2015


Kev’s Author Interviews Presents…

     Robert Joe Stout   

          Oaxaca, Oaxaca, Mexico           


A Short Bio        Author and journalist. Previous books about Mexico include Hidden Dangers, The Blood of the Serpent: Mexican Lives and Why Immigrants Come to America in addition to articles, reports, essays and creative nonfiction in dozens of print and online publications including The American Scholar, America, Open Democracy and New Politics among many others. He has served on human rights delegations, the board of directors of asilos de ancianos and the editorial staffs of newspapers and magazines.

A graduate of Mexico City College (now the Universidad de las Americas) he has won national journalism awards for news writing. Other books that he’s authored include the novels Miss Sally, Running Out the Hurt and Where Gringos Don’t Belong and two volumes of poetry A Perfect Throw and Monkey Screams. He currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Kev: What is your latest book called and what is it bout?

Where Gringos Don’t Belong

descargaEarly in the evening of November 25, 2006 George Bynum  leaves his Mexican novia among anti-government protest marchers in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico and returns to his apartment to finish a report for his employers. Before he can finish, his cell phone rings. “They’re attacking Killing..! They won’t stop!” his novia’s voice rings in his ears. He rushes out to try to find her. Blinded by teargas from a federal police assault he trips and has to be helped to safety. He and several others, including a young woman named Claudi Auscher, make their way back to George’s apartment. Claudi, who defines herself as “a Mexican Jew gypsy bitch” joins George in his efforts to reestablish contact with his novia who has been flown to a maximum security prison along with other innocent victims of the militarized purge. George and Claudi are fictional characters but the events in which they’ve become embroiled are based on the actual political and social upheavals that reverberated through Oaxaca from November 2006 through April 2007.

Kev: What is the main genre of your book?

Contemporary fiction

Kev: Who is your target audience?

Where Gringos Don’t Belong is a novel for persons over eighteen. The protagonists are young, socially aware, active and energetic, consequently will appeal to readers who have similar attributes.  .

Kev: Who or what influenced you to write it?

I came to Oaxaca as a journalist and witnessed police and military assaults on unarmed civilians. I later served on emergency human rights delegations to Oaxaca. The novel is an outgrowth of those experiences expressed through fictional narrative.

Kev: Did you do any specialised research for your story?

I interviewed persons falsely arrested, persons tortured, journalists, human rights advocates, teachers and many others in Oaxaca.

Kev: What challenges did you face while writing the story?

Maintaining a story line while not digressing into journalistic reportage was a challenge. Another was balancing the use of Spanish words and phrases to keep readers aware that the action was taking place in Mexico without including incomprehensible or confusing language. I wanted to have a straightforward narrative uninterrupted by flashbacks or aside so it was necessary to synthesize exposition with dialogue to keep achieve this.

Kev:  Who is the protagonist?

The protagonist is a young American teacher, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, thrust out of work by governmental repression of a populist uprising.

Kev: What would you say is the protagonist’s greatest weakness or obstacle and why?

Frustration and helplessness induced by the arrest and imprisonment of the woman he loves.

Kev: What would you say is the main antagonist’s greatest strength?

His determination to forge through the obstacles assailing him and to understand his situation nd the situations in which those around him are involved.

Kev: Could you provide a short passage from your book to give us a taster?

Fifteen or twenty protesters were pressed against the metallic barriers set up outside the Procuraduria as George, Thelma and the others approached. A uniformed official just inside the ring of Robocop-attired police shouted through a megaphone “Disperse! Disperse or you‟ll be arrested!” Thelma pushed through those milling back and forth to face him. Two reporters and a TV video cameraman edged in behind her.

No se pueden entrar.” You can‟t enter.

“How many have been arrested?”

“We don‟t have information yet. The processing isn‟t completed.”

“Merino, we have a right to know,” Thelma insisted.

“When they‟ve been process—” Where Gringos Don’t Belong / Page 37


“I represent three persons taken into custody. The law entitles them to have an attorn—”

Merino‟s megaphone barely missed Thelma‟s chin as he thrust it above his head.

“Disperse!” he shouted and whirled away. Shield-bearing Robocops siphoned past the barrier and pushed into the crowd. The cameramen tumbled backwards, bumping against those behind them. A robust woman lost her balance and fell; as she scrambled to regain her footing she grabbed a handful of pebbles and hurled them at the police.

Asesinos!” a hawkish man behind her shrilled; other voices caught up the chant as Carmela clutched George‟s arm.

Come on, come on,” he heard her choke as she tried to pull him away.

“We have the right..!” teenaged Lidia braced herself, legs apart, in front of the slowly advancing phalanx. “Pendejos!” she squealed as one of the Robocops slammed his shield against her.

George lunged to grab her as she fell. The cop‟s heavy boot banged his shoulder, knocking him backwards. Lidia screamed as the Robocop kicked again, then stumbled as a muscled gray-haired man lurched against him. Two Robocops pounced on the protester, pinning him against the pavement as George and Carmela tugged Lidia, screaming epithets, into the arms of several women who‟d taken a stand on the street facing the building. Where Gringos Don’t Belong / Page 38

George felt Thelma‟s fingers brush his shoulder—a brief gracias compañero—as she thrust past to demand that the Robocops release the gray-haired protester they‟d forced to his knees in front of them.

Did they hurt you?” Carmela yanked tangled hair away from her face.

“No,” George winced, despite the pain grinning momentarily

“We shouldn‟t…we shouldn‟t…” but flushed, coughing, Carmela couldn‟t complete the thought. Disperse! Disperse! vibrated against the crowd‟s asesinos! pendejos! hijos de puta! Half-a-dozen protesters shoved past wielding chunks of asphalt they‟d ripped off the alleyway.

“No! No!” Thelma shouted for them to stop as the tump! tump! of tear gas canisters being fired reverberated above them. Gasping, choking, cursing, the protesters retreated.

“I want to kill them!” Lidia snarled as she and the women stumbled away, George, Carmela and Thelma following.

“Welcome to beautiful Oaxaca,” Thelma coughed.

Kev: When you write, do write off-the-cuff or do you use some kind of formula?

Neither. I have a firm idea of what I want to achieve but as I write I work to let the characters develop with the situations in which they are involved. Often I go back, editing what I’ve previously written before continuing forward.

Kev: How do you deal with writers-block?

I’m a journalist by profession and a journalist has to meet deadlines, put words on paper, he or she has no time for writer’s block. I almost always have various projects going on simultaneously—fiction, poetry, nonfiction—and go back and forth from one to the other which keeps me from getting hung up on one thing, one problem. And I’m not averse to deleting what I wrote yesterday, or a month ago. The very act of writing, even if it’s hard or seems bad, triggers thought, cracks open new doors.

Kev: Preference for writing: Day or Night? 

Given my present circumstances it’s more convenient for me to write in the daytime but like any journalist if I need to get something done I get it done whether it’s day or night.

Kev: What is your process for editing your work?

As I mentioned I do a lot of editing as I write so a first draft is really a multi-draft and usually doesn’t take major revisions, although I do make cuts and additions, sometimes months or even years afterwards.

Kev: How do you come up with your book covers?

I let the professionals hired by my publishers do my covers.

Kev: Do you think the book cover is important?

Very important, that’s why I let professionals do them.

Kev: Which publishing platform do you prefer and why?

I prefer to read print books, consequently prefer to publish in that form, but I also have e-book novels available.    

Kev: Do you face any daunting obstacles during the publishing process?

Daunting? No, but a lot of small obstacles—editing, following styles, changed deadlines, pre-publication publicity. The greatest obstacles I’ve faced have occurred with getting copies of my books (I live in Mexico) and dealing with shippers, publishers’ rules, etc.

Kev: What methods do you use to promote your work? Social media, personal appearances, soliciting reviews.

Kev: Do you have any advice for new authors?

Answer honestly why you want to write/are writing. Because you enjoy it? Because you want to make money? Because you have something to say? Because you want to be famous? If you don’t know you’re probably going to flounder.

Kev: Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Monkey_ScreamsMonkey Screams, Future Cycle Press, 2015 (poetry):

23330510Hidden Dangers, Sunbury Press, 2014 (nonfiction)

Untitled attachment 00883A Perfect Throw, Aldrich Press, 2013 (poetry)

Running Out the Hurt front coverRunning Out the Hurt, Amazon Kindle, 2014 (fiction)

Why Immigrants Come to AmericaWhy Immigrants Come to America, Praeger, 2008 (nonfiction)

The Blood of the Serpent (Algora), 2003 (nonfiction)