Q&A With the Author
1-On-1 With Robert L. Fouch
Where did you get the idea for “Christmas Carol & the Defenders of Claus”?
It just popped into this strange brain of mine one day. I thought, “What if there was a girl named Carol who LOVES Christmas, and everyone teases her and calls her ‘Christmas Carol’?” That’s how my stories start, with just the seed of an idea. Then I began to think about Carol and why she loves Christmas so much and how there might be a secret, mysterious reason for her Christmas obsession. The story took off from there.
Did you base some of your story on real places and people?
For the most part, no. When I first started trying to write stories, I did that sort of thing a lot more. But with “Carol,” I let my imagination take flight (literally, with the magical reindeer). However, the little town in the Dominican Republic that Carol visits is based loosely on the town where my wife grew up. I felt very welcome there, just as Carol does in the story. The Dominican Republic is a wonderful place, filled with lovely, warm people.
Do you speak Spanish?
Embarrassingly, no. Though I’ve definitely picked up some phrases here and there since marrying a Dominican. I can usually tell when my wife and mother-in-law are talking about me. And if I’m in trouble! My wife helped me with the Spanish phrases I used in the book.
How did you become a writer?
I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember and when it first occurred to me that I could actually write one of my own, the idea of that was thrilling. I’ve written a few grownup novels I hope to eventually publish. I just love words and the fact that you can create entire worlds with them. How cool is that!
What’s your “real” job?
I’m a journalist at Newsday, Long Island’s daily newspaper. I work as a page designer and copy editor and occasionally do some feature writing. One of my favorite parts of the job is writing clever (I hope) headlines to get people to read the stories. I’ve also gotten to interview a few really cool people over the years: Matthew McConaughey, Vince Gill, Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul & Mary), Matthew Fox, Carroll O’Connor, Kate Mara and lots of others. That’s one of the perks of the job.
What were your Christmases like as a kid?
Pretty awesome. My Mom’s not quite as obsessed with Christmas as Carol is, but she gives her a run for her money. My brother and I made out exceedingly well in the gifts department. Every corner of our house was decorated, and Mom always makes peanut butter fudge and potato candy (yes, candy actually made from potatoes; it’s delicious!) and tons of food. We’d listen to Elvis Presley Christmas music, eat a big dinner on Christmas Eve, and just generally enjoy spending time with each other. It’s funny, like most kids, I loved getting toys for Christmas. But that’s not what comes to mind when I think about my childhood Christmases. Being with my family is what I remember most fondly, particularly since I lost my Dad in 2016. That makes those memories even more special.
And how about now?
I still LOVE Christmas. We essentially have three celebrations, one at home here on Long Island, one with my Mom and my brother and his family in West Virginia, and another with my wife’s family in Manhattan. My wife’s Dominican family has adopted many of the American Christmas traditions, but there are some definite differences. Rice and beans are part of the menu – naturally! – along with other traditional Dominican foods. And after we’ve eaten and exchanged gifts, everybody clears out some space in my mother-in-law’s living room, and we dance! Merengue and salsa. My wife and I both dance (it’s how we met), so that’s my kind of Christmas!
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Petersburg, W.Va., which is nestled in the hills of West Virginia. I lived in Monarch Heights, which is a nice housing development up on a hill on the outskirts of Petersburg. And I used to spend hours and hours in the woods with my dog Boomer. Petersburg was a wonderful place to grow up – friendly and safe and beautiful. Though I’m now in New York and love being close to the big city, in my heart, I still think of Petersburg as home. And every time I cross the border into West Virginia and wind my way through those rolling hills, my heart feels a little bit lighter.
And you have only one sibling?
Yep, a younger brother, Todd, who loved going down to the woods almost as much as I did. We’re kind of like night and day, very different, and we used to argue a lot – as many siblings do. But we’ve always been very close. He’s a police officer who lives near Charleston, W.Va., with his wife and four children.
Any advice for kids who want to become writers?
This sounds silly, but write! Don’t worry if it’s not perfect when you put it on the page. I tell people I’m not all that great a writer, but I’m a pretty good rewriter. When I’m working on a story, I just get the words out, even if I know they’re not very good. Just let the words flow onto the page, and then you have something to work with. I actually enjoy the editing much more than I do the writing. Writing can be hard! It really makes your brain work. But the brain’s like a muscle: The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.
What are your favorite children’s books?
My all-time favorite is “A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle. I’ve probably read it 20 times, and I made sure to read it to my son when he got old enough. I adore “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (along with the rest of the “Narnia” series). Then when I got older, I was really into J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.” There has to be something seriously wrong with you if you don’t think Gandalf is one of the coolest dudes ever.
Will you be doing any book readings or signings?
Definitely. I’m hoping to set up an event in my hometown and at bookstores, schools and libraries on Long Island. I’ll post any events on this site under “news.”
Can fans of “Christmas Carol & the Defenders of Claus” get in contact with you?
I would absolutely love that! I’ve set up an author e-mail account (firstname.lastname@example.org), so don’t hesitate to shoot me a message (with your parents’ permission, of course). I’ll do my best to get back to you. And be sure and sign up for my e-mail list for the latest “Defenders of Claus” news.
So is it Rob or Robert?
I usually go by Rob. But I don’t mind Robert. Though come to think of it, my Mom usually only called me “Robert” when I was in trouble. “Robert Lee Fouch, you get over here right now!” And my wife calls me Robert. Hmm. I may have discovered a pattern there. Anyway, I just thought “Robert L. Fouch” sounded more writerly – if there is such a word – than “Rob Fouch.”
Finally – and this is perhaps the most important question of them all – is Santa real?