In the 1970s, Ursula LeGuin coined the term “social science fiction” to describe a subgenre of science fiction that, rather than focusing on the mechanics of technology or futuristic weaponry, instead explores the manner in which social evolution and a changing world impact human relationships. In 2012, author Robert Eggleton crafted an intricate examination of child abuse, poverty, and mental illness in his acclaimed novel Rarity from the Hollow and, in the process, penned one of the finest examples of the social science fiction genre. A semi-autobiographical tale of adventure, romance, pain and humor, the book has drawn comparisons to Robert Heinlein, Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams.
A children’s advocate for over 40 years, Eggleton previously worked for the West Virginia Supreme Court, for whom he investigated children’s programs, published models for serving disadvantaged children in the community instead of in large institutions, and worked diligently to reduce adolescent delinquency and child abuse. Today, he is a recently-retired children’s psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome physical and sexual abuse, and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel, and its release followed publication of short stories in Wingspan Quarterly, Beyond Centauri, and Atomjack Science Fiction.
Proceeds from the sale of Rarity from the Hollow are donated to a child abuse prevention program operated by Children’s Home Society of West Virginia.
What was your childhood like, and how did it shape who you are today?
Thanks, Candace, for inviting me to participate in this Ten Minute Interview and the opportunity to tell you a little about myself and my debut novel, Rarity from the Hollow.
Yes, I agree that our childhoods influence who we become as adults. My childhood could be regarded as having been filled with adversities, especially if put under a microscope by child development researchers: poverty, domestic violence, lack of access to medical care… it’s a long list. In my case, however, and in tribute to the resiliency of millions of children past and present, these researchers would have been presumptuous if they would have predicted a disastrous adulthood based on adverse childhood experiences. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As exemplified by a scene in my story — a prehistoric village occupied by peaceful vegetarians ravaged by an invading group of carnivores but resulting in the advancement of human-kind — adversity can have positive longer-term outcomes. In my own life, writing began as dissociation from harsh reality and grew into my favorite recreation. I’m not sure that I would have become an author if I would have had a rosy-cozy, middle class childhood filled with security, toys, after-school activities, and summer camps.
Despite disadvantage, I had a lot of positive influences in my family and community that established a framework of right and wrong – morality. Most of it was based on Christian values. I remember preaching a sermon to a congregation of twenty-five or so when I was twelve, a community church with electric guitars and drums setting tempo for its choir.
My grandmother never cut her hair because the way she read the Bible it was a sin for a woman to cut her hair. With a dark twist, Biblical interpretation was also incorporated into Rarity from the Hollow: Dwayne, an antagonist in early chapters, cites his religious views in support of harsh child discipline and domestic violence, values that he adopted from his grandmother.
The positive support that I received in my family and communities during childhood must have outweighed the traumas because, except for a personal anxiety issue that is relatively minor, I have had a great life. The impact of childhood traumas upon adulthood has been very well-documented. I believe, and I don’t mean to sound political, especially as we approach the 2016 General Election. I wholeheartedly support the concept that It Takes a Village to Raise a Child (1996) by Hillary Clinton. There is some political satire in Rarity from the Hollow, but it doesn’t advocate for anything specific or any candidate in particular: http://www.thebookcarousel.co.uk/2016/04/guest-post-mr-prump-is-not-donald-trump.html?spref=tw
While organized religion no longer plays a significant role in my life, its roots run deep and affect my thinking as an individual and as an author. I was an idealistic do-gooder in youth. That led to a master’s degree in social work and over forty years in the field of child welfare. Looking back, I blame my mother for not insisting that I go into something that paid decent wages. LOL. I had a great upbringing and have lots of fond childhood memories to cherish.
What made you decide to take on a career as a children’s advocate?
I worked hard labor while attending and until I’d graduated college – roofing, digging ditches, construction, painting… I was motivated toward a change in career paths. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college. Most members of my family never graduated from high school.
As college completion approached, my wife, Rita, and I began to talk about having a baby. I don’t know how many of your readers will remember, but there was a time when the date of conception determined if the health insurance would pay for the cost of the baby’s delivery. If the pregnancy was a preexisting condition it was not covered by health insurance.
In 1973, I went to work for our Department of Human Resources. It was an office job that involved determining the eligibility of applicants for public welfare. Since I’d grown up on welfare, commodities and food stamps, I was highly skilled in communicating with empathy and respect on this job, while also attuned to all the tricks to cheat the system. Because of this job with benefits, Rita and I had to be less careful about having sex. (Thank You Jesus! Just kidding!) One day in the middle of a staff meeting my boss interrupted the agenda to announce that Rita had called to tell me that she was pregnant. Well, I wasn’t worth a crap for the rest of that day. My son, Cameron, an only child, was born on August 1, 1974.
I was a great welfare worker, but I needed more – a job that presented the opportunity to make a more significant difference in the lives of people beyond their basic survival – to help folks find a path out of hopelessness. I transferred to our mental health department and began working with adolescent substance abusers who had been court committed to a residential treatment center. This was a facility secured by barbed wire fencing on its several-acre perimeter. The complexities of addiction became quickly apparent. The next full-length Lacy Dawn Adventure, Ivy, is based, in part, by asking the question: How far will a child go to save a parent from addiction?
After completing graduate school in 1977, I was supposed to return to the mental health department to work because it had paid for my tuition and books. Maybe it was fate, or God’s will, but our state departments had been consolidated during my last semester in school, including a change in offices. Nobody seemed to have the slightest idea where the file cabinet with the contract that I’d signed, an agreement to work off my debt, was located. So, I went to work with a group that was starting an emergency shelter for kids. It was called a “runaway shelter” but the truth of the matter was that it mostly housed “throwaway” children during a tumultuous time in American history – kids living on the streets.
It was there that I met Missy, a twelve year old child abuse victim who had been raped while living on the streets. She had been brought to the shelter by the police dressed in boy’s clothing and with short hair. We put her in the boy’s floor of the house until she disclosed the next morning that she was female. She subsequently disclosed so much more about her victimizations – and, nobody wanted this kid, nobody, not even the child welfare staff of our local department of human services because she would be to hard to “place.” So, Rita and I started a longer-term foster home for Missy and a few other kids similarly situated where we all lived, me, Rita, Cam, and six kids that nobody else wanted.
One heart string after another, thirty-six foster kids later, I had become so energized to address the systemic issues that were the contributing factors to why so many children had been discarded by society: poverty, abuse and neglect, substance abuse by parents, the courts sending kids off to large institutions to be forgotten, children bouncing from one foster home to the next, children involved in legal proceedings with no attorney representation, lack of funding, no accountability or data systems, institutional child abuse, mixing homeless children with adults in county jails… I went to work for a nonprofit agency, the one to which author proceeds from Rarity from the Hollow have been donated. I traveled around West Virginia establishing emergency children’s shelters.
In 1982, I was recruited by the West Virginia Supreme Court to work for an independent children’s advocacy committee. The Court had become fed up with the system’s failures to protect children’s constitutional rights, case after case. It complied with a Legislative mandate to establish a remedy. I worked there until 1997 when this Committee was found to have done such an effective job that the state Legislature closed it down. During this period, I managed dozens of investigations and was the primary author of dozens of nonfiction works about state child welfare services and systems. I knew that my job wasn’t nearly done despite the accolades of the state Legislature, so I continued to work in children’s advocacy. I recently retired from my job as a children’s psychotherapist for our local mental health center. Author proceeds from Rarity from the Hollow have been donated to Children’s Home Society of West Virginia where I worked in the early ‘80s.
Getting back to the original reason that I first became a children’s advocate, let me update your readers with some good news: Missy grew up, graduated high school, went to work, got married, had two daughters, now grown, and still calls us every now and then to say hello. Of course, there’s some sad news that I could share about my experiences as a children’s advocate for more than forty years, but I’ll skip telling you about that because it would just break your hearts. In hindsight, however, I’m so glad that Missy broke my heart way back then.
What were the most rewarding aspects of your career, and how did your time as a children’s advocate influence your outlook on life?
I have been blessed. Every aspect of my life has been rewarding, including those that felt less so at the time. My only regret is that I’ve never made enough money to help out my own family very much in that way. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing if I had a time machine and could go back to do so. Working as a children’s advocate influenced my view of resiliency. I have witnessed so many kids rise above devastating circumstance that my outlook on life is not, “this is awful, I’ll never make it through this one.”
Instead, optimism prevails and sustains my drive, including with self-promotion of Rarity from the Hollow.
How and when did you initially become interested in science fiction? Which novels and authors in the sci-fi genre had the biggest impact upon you and your writing?
Over the years, I’ve read within every fiction genre, but I’ve not purchased books until adulthood. I’ve worked to earn money for almost as long as I can remember but the money was needed for things outside of recreation, such as utilities and rent. My first “real” job was when I was twelve: cleaning and stocking shelves at a pharmacy. Minimum wage was $1.25, paperbacks cost about 75¢, a price that I considered extravagance at the time.
Drug stores once served as the only paperback bookstores in some towns. My store’s manager would let me borrow novels off the shelf as long as they were returned in same-as-new condition. That’s when I first became addicted to reading, a condition for which there is no known treatment.
I remember borrowing Glory Road by Robert Heinlein, the grandfather of modern science fiction, from the drugstore where I worked. I had already read about Heinlein during a lunch period in the school library. Over forty years later, this author’s determination and persistence to get his work published despite many prior rejections inspired me to not give up on finding a publisher for Rarity from the Hollow, and compels me to self-promote the novel to this day.
Heinlein addressed racial and gender issues in his fiction by using juvenile voice. This precedence helped me maintain my intention to incorporate social commentary by using adolescent voice in Rarity from the Hollow.
In the early ‘70s when I was in college, works by Ferlinghetti, a poet of the Beat Generation, and by Vonnegut, taught me how to enjoy my anger about political and societal issues. Their writings probably kept me out of jail, except for a few short periods of incarceration. Later, as a children’s advocate, my own anger management was essential to professionalism. I’ve reread these authors occasionally over the years.
As a writer, constructive incorporation of the child abuse theme into the narrative of Rarity from the Hollow was critical. Vonnegut was especially inspirational. His writings continue to help me turn my anger about kids being maltreated every day, day after day, into a novel that people may actually read because of its satire and humor.
Reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy and, more recently, the Harry Potter series reinforced my faith in the potential of adolescent morality and, therefore, the future of our planet. I became increasingly convinced that the savior of the universe in my story had to be a kid. After all, who would trust an adult to accomplish such an important mission?
Lacy Dawn in Rarity from the Hollow was written to be the perfect girlfriend for Harry Potter, except that she wouldn’t have given him a second glance because she already had a much better boyfriend, an android who didn’t need any spells to create magic.
In 1973, my wife, I mentioned Rita before, read Watership Down by R. Adams out loud to me when we were on our honeymoon. We camped across country from West Virginia to the west coast in a 1961 VW bus for a summer. After over forty years of marriage, the story is still such a sweet memory that this element just had to be incorporated into Rarity from the Hollow. Brownie, the family dog, was so sweet in my story that he was the only character with enough natural empathy to learn how to communicate with cockroaches, commonly relegated as the vilest insect on Earth, or on any other planet.
I’ve read, respected, and enjoyed the versatility in cross-genre and the use of humor by Bradbury. Consequently, Rarity from the Hollow is also tough to peg into a traditional genre. I’ve read and enjoyed the writings of Dean Koontz. He has been masterful and his stories have given me enjoyable nightmares, so the scenes involving domestic violence in Rarity from the Hollow had to be honest with no holds barred. Nora Roberts knows how to get me in a romantic mood. (Yes, older guys do read romance novels.) But, the romance in Rarity from the Hollow had to be built upon true love because Lacy Dawn, my protagonist, wouldn’t have been interested in romance built upon anything lesser.
My reading of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by D. Adams and Another Roadside Attraction by T. Robbins encouraged me to include less censored content in Rarity from the Hollow, as did the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics. These works bolstered my courage to speak honestly about controversial topics.
As plainly stated on its front cover, Rarity from the Hollow is a Children’s Story For Adults, and is perhaps reminiscent of the New Wave of science fiction during the ‘60s and ’70s, especially the writings of Ursula K. Le Guinn, except bumped up and out of the young adult genre.
What inspired the story of Rarity from the Hollow?
I’ve dreamed about having a novel published since winning the short story contest in the eighth grade. I started lots, but have mostly spent my life writing nonfiction – dozens of child welfare related investigative reports, service models, research, statistical reports…
In 2002, I accepted a job as a children’s therapist for our local mental health center. It was an intensive day program that served kids with mental health problems, many of them having been abused, some sexually. Part of my job was to facilitate group therapy sessions. One day in 2006 during a session, I was sitting around a table used for written therapeutic exercises and a little girl with stringy, brown hair sat a few feet away. Instead of just disclosing the horrors of her abuse at the hands of the meanest daddy on Earth, she also spoke of her hopes and dreams for the future: finding a loving family who would protect her.
This girl was inspiring. She got me thinking again about my own hopes and dreams of writing fiction. My protagonist was born that day – an empowered victim who takes on the evils of the universe: Lacy Dawn. I began to write fiction in the evenings and sometimes went to work the next day without enough sleep. Every time that I would feel discouraged, when I felt like giving up, I would imagine Lacy Dawn speaking honestly about the barriers that she faced in pursuit of her dream of finding a permanent and loving home. This girl inspired the creation of Rarity from the Hollow.
The cover of your book states that Rarity from the Hollow is “A children’s story. For adults.” In what ways is this book a children’s story?
Lacy Dawn is the protagonist of Rarity from the Hollow. She begins the adventure in the third grade and it takes until she has enrolled in high school for her to figure out how to save the universe: “…a broadly satirical look at the “alien” economics of consumerism and how a smart kid can find solutions to problems entrenched management have made for themselves.” — Tales of the Talisman, volume 10, issue 4.
The point of view, not exclusively, is that of her and her best friend, Faith, who plays a ghost most of the story after having been murdered by the meanest daddy on Earth. This story addresses adult issues: domestic violence, sexual abuse, poverty… through the eyes of a highly intelligent child millennia old.
What was the most difficult aspect of writing this book?
The third scene was especially difficult to write because tears would blur my view of the monitor as I reworked this scene of domestic violence toward harsh realism. Overall, however, and I’m still struggling with this issue as the editor works on the upcoming second edition – how much is too much? “…As a rape survivor… found myself relating easily to Lacy Dawn… style of writing which I would describe as beautifully honest. Rarity from the Hollow is different from anything I have ever read, and in today’s world of cookie-cutter cloned books, that’s pretty refreshing…taking you on a wild ride you won’t soon forget….” – http://kyliejude.com/2015/11/book-review-rarity-from-the-hollow/
On one hand, truth must prevail. On the other, readers appear to have been conditioned to comfort zones. There’s little point in writing a story that is not read, but there’s also little point in writing a story that has been told so many times before. I’m still working on the balance. So is the editor. Watch for the upcoming second edition! The goal is for it to achieve the perfect balance in comfort zones – enough harsh realism to threaten but not so much that it scares off prospective readers.
“…The author has managed to do what I would have thought impossible; taken serious subjects like poverty, ignorance, abuse, and written about them with tongue-in- cheek humor without trivializing them…Eggleton sucks you into the Hollow, dunks you in the creek, rolls you in the mud, and splays you in the sun to dry off. Tucked between the folds of humor are some profound observations on human nature and modern society that you have to read to appreciate…it’s a funny book that most sci-fi fans will thoroughly enjoy.” — http://www.awesomeindies.net/ai-approved-review-of-rarity-from-the-holly-by-robert-eggleton/
Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?
It’s not so much that I believe in extraterrestrials, and I watch the SyFy channel and its purported theories and evidence, as much as it is that I can not believe that extraterrestrials do not exist. In my personal, humble opinion, humans are so boring that an advanced species would not have much interest and, fortunately, Earth doesn’t appear to have much to offer with respect to marketable resources. This viewpoint was disputed in Rarity from the Hollow, however, because coal was identified to have immense power, such as to fuel spaceships with a little lump. Maybe that’s what would be needed to save the economic base of West Virginia where I live – an economic base built on coal mining, incorporated into the story – exports of our coal to extraterrestrials. LOL.
Now that you’re retired, what does a typical day for you look like?
I’m working harder, more hours, in retirement than ever before. When I had a day job, I would schedule breaks. Now, I seem to feel more compelled to write and to promote my fiction, often getting up in the middle of the night to finish a scene or an email… Of course, I take care of all the other stuff: cleaning, laundry, grass, gardening… I don’t want to sound neglectful. This, authorship, is no piece of cake. My schedule, however, is not set, so – almost no breaks.
What would you like to do that you simply haven’t found the time for yet?
In life, it seems that when one has the time, there is no money. And when one is working to make money, there is inadequate time. If I had a lot of money, I would pay for some company to promote my fiction. All big-time authors pay for promotions — high-salaried publicists. I don’t see anything wrong with it, except I don’t have the money. If I had more time, instead of promoting, I would write, write, and write some more – there’re so many stories pushing to get out of my head. I simply haven’t found the time to write and to promote, or to promote and to write…
What are you working on next?
I always have several projects in the works: short stories, a self-help guide for teens, an essay…. The next full-length Lacy Dawn Adventure is Ivy and asks the question, How Far will a Child Go to Save a Parent from Addiction? It’s literary sci-fi with a little more traditional horror than found in Rarity from the Hollow.