Robert J. Emery's Blog

My so-called writing career has taken more than a few twists and turns along the way. As a young man, writing was something I enjoyed. I didn’t understand why back then and I still don’t today. It wasn’t until after my 4 years in the Air Force, when I landed in the advertising business writing radio and television commercials, did I begin writing screenplays, which eventually led to my career writing and directing motion pictures and television documentaries.


While I was producing and directing a series for the cable network Starz/Encore, I wrote a screenplay titled The Truth. It was picked up for production, but the deal eventually fell through. An author friend of mine suggested I turn the screenplay into a novel, which I did. It was published with the title In the Realm of Eden. A few years later, unhappy with that version, I rewrote it, changed the names of all the characters to distance it from In the Realm of Eden, and published the book in 2017, this time with the title The Autopsy of Planet Earth. It was just short of 600 pages and went on to win four book awards including Book Talk Radio’s Book of the Year, and the reviews were great. Unfortunately, it sold miserably. I was told by several people the book was too long and that people were reading shorter books.


Publisher Lisa Orban, editor Jane Southern, and a few others convinced me to re-release the novel in two volumes, which I recently did through Indies United Publishing House. Time will tell if more readers are drawn to the novel.


Writing lengthy exposition is not my forte. I guess that goes back to my screenplay writing days. If you have ever worked on or seen a screenplay program, you know it is about setting the location and whether it is night or day. Beyond that there is very little text that supports action and lots of dialogue with a sprinkling of motivation for the actors here and there. Beyond that bringing a screenplay to life is left to the director.


As for exposition, Steven King is the master. I love his stories. However, as much as I believe him to be a master story teller, he does go on and go to the point of distraction at times. Too many words to get the point across. On the other hand, we all have our own styles of writing, so why am I picking on Mr. King? I should be so successful!


I’m a firm believer that dialogue needs to express motivation and if written correctly should explain what the character is feeling without the author having to explain it. I try to follow that rule. Hence, not a lot of exposition. I did break that rule by writing my novel Midnight Black in the first-person stream of consciousness. The entire story unfolds in the protagonist's head—he is the narrator of the unfolding story. It was an enjoyable challenge, although I’m not sure I would try it again.


I do not do outlines of my books before beginning writing. Even though The Autopsy of Planet Earth remains the same basic story as The Truth, I revised and expanded it quite a bit. So much so that I changed all the character’s names and treated it like a new story—the next thing I knew I had this big book of nearly 600 pages.


When I begin a new novel, I know the beginning, the end, and my primary characters. Beyond that, the rest of the story and supporting characters are created as I go. When I finish a scene, I stop and think about what my characters would do next, what is their motivation for doing it, and what new characters may come into the story at that point. Page by page, chapter by chapter, that is how I build my first draft. For me, it’s an exciting way to write because I often surprise myself with what I come up with. If I had written an outline beforehand, I might tend to follow it too closely and that would be a mistake. I prefer keeping my options open about where the story is going.


I’m obsessive about writing dialogue the way we speak. There are a lot of there’s, it’s, isn’t, wanna, aren’t, haven’t, didn’t, don’t, etc. In Autopsy, I had a central character who dropped the -ing’s on all words ending in -ing. It added to his crusty character. I try to give all of my characters some trait that separates them from other characters which allows readers to create a better mental image of each character.


I refuse to use colons or semi-colons. I won’t do it you can’t make me! I believe colons and semi-colons belong in non-fiction books where language is supposed to be correctly used. Of course, the writing police want to take me to the woodshed for this, but I outrun them at every turn.


As for the general rules of writing novels, there aren’t any, at least for me there it isn’t. I remember reading author Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I loved the book. But if you have read it, you know that he broke just about every format and punctuation rule. So what? That’s what he wanted to do and bravely did it. The Road became a bestseller and a major motion picture.


I leave you with Chapter One from The Autopsy of Planet Earth as an example of how I try to open a novel with a big question mark; what happened that I don’t know that will lead me to the next chapter.


That’s it, read on.




The year is wherever your Imagination takes you


November 2nd, Foja Mountain Range, Papua New Guinea


As they boarded the single-engine Cessna Skymaster at Papua New Guinea’s Jackson

     Airport, ominous dark clouds were rolling in from the West. On board was Dr. B.D. Sanjaya, a prominent archaeologist with the Indonesian National Centre for Archaeological Research, and his assistants, Timoty Budiman and Reza Darmali. The flight took them 6,000 feet above sea level to a remote dirt airstrip in the Mamberamo basin just below the mist-shrouded Foja Mountain Range in Papua’s eastern province. There they switched to a twenty-year-old Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter piloted by an elderly Indonesian man whose craggy face and stoic expression resembled a rough-cut stone sculpture. They took off in a light but steady rain.

     An hour into the flight, Timoty shouted over the din of the engine. “You’re sure you know the spot?”

     Dr. Sanjaya held up a hand-drawn map and shrugged. “This is all we have to go by.”

     Soon they were skimming the treetops over the remote Birds Head Peninsula. The jungle below looked ominous and all but impenetrable, raising the question, would they find the designated clearing.

     Reza was the first to spot a small smudge of open ground about a quarter-mile ahead. “There! I see a clearing just beyond those trees!”

      The old pilot glanced at his copy of the map. Smiling, his eyes went to Sanjaya, who gave the pilot a thumb’s up. Once over the open area, the pilot cautiously circled the spot three times before attempting a descent in light fog. Down the narrow chute they went until the skids gently settled on the soggy ground.

     The light but steady rain continued.

     As they removed the last of their gear from the aircraft, something caught Timoty’s attention. A short, elderly, dark-skinned man, sporting a full white beard, appeared from the edge of the surrounding forest. Under his rain slicker, a multicolored print shirt hung loosely over khaki shorts. In his right hand, he held a menacing two-foot machete.

     “Dr. Sanjaya, we have company.”

     Sanjaya followed Timoty’s gaze. “Ah, that must be Bayu.”

     Reza spied the machete. “You think it’s our guy?”

     “Never met him. He sent me this map with these coordinates and said to meet him here on this day at approximately this hour.” Sanjaya glanced at the handwritten map and grinned. “Pretty good directions.”

     Turning to the helicopter pilot, Sanjaya raised a hand above his head, made a wide circular motion, and pointed to the jungle. The old pilot acknowledged with a disinterested nod and lifted the helicopter skyward. Within seconds he was over the tree line and out of sight.

Something caught Timoty’s eye.

     The man Sanjaya had identified as Bayu trotted toward them while calling out in his native language. “Salamat Sian, saya teman. Dalton! Apa Kabar, Dr. Sanjaya?”    

     Sanjaya waved. “Saya baik-baik saja, terima kasih.”

     Bayou approached and enthusiastically shook Sanjaya’s hand. “Saya ialah Sanjaya.”

     Reza scratched at the back of his head. “I don’t recognize the dialect.”

     “Not many do. It’s specific to the local Kweba tribe. Bayu is their chief. He welcomed us and I introduced myself.” Sanjaya motioned to his assistants. “Reza, Timoty.”

     Bayu smiled and half-bowed. “Reza, Timoty.” He tapped his chest. “Bayu.”

     “Dimana adalah kebun hutan?” Sanjaya said. “I asked him where the secret place is.”

     Pointing to the jungle tree line, Bayu grinned. “Pintu musuk lewat sana.”

     “Okay, gentlemen. We follow Chief Bayu.”

     It was slow going through the dense primeval forest. Bayu slashed at small bamboo trees, thick thorn-covered underbrush, and menacing low-hanging vines. An hour later, after slogging through muddy streams, dodging the occasional snake, and swatting at swarming insects, they broke through to a small clearing thick with fog.

     Bayu tapped Sanjaya’s arm and pointed to the dense jungle. “Di luar kabut adalah keajaiban tempat.”

     “He says the Magic Place is through there.”

     “Doesn’t look too inviting, B.D.”

     “No, it doesn’t, Timoty. Stay alert.”

     They followed Bayu into the fog. Bugs and flies swarmed around them. The more they swatted at them, the more aggressively they attacked. But oddly, the further they advanced the fog the rain began to dissipate, the insects vanished, and the humidity and temperature dropped to a comfortable level.

     Bayu abruptly stopped and listened. From this position, they could hear the faint sound of rushing water. Bayu motioned for them to wait, then took a dozen steps forward before stopping again. Raising both arms to eye level with his palms face up, he said, “Ini adalah tempat qaip!” Then in halting English, “The… magic… place.” He turned and waved to the others to join him.           When they reached his side the fog and mist beyond was completely gone.

     What they saw left them speechless.

     There in the middle of this primeval forest was either a grand mirage or something very real that should not have been in a remote Indonesian jungle.

     Dr. Sanjaya sucked in a quick breath, “Oh my god!”

     Timoty and Reza stood dumbfounded.

     There were no words to describe what lay before them.