Passages & Perceptions: Robert Herzog on ‘A World Between’ (Q&A)

Today, I’m joined by a denizen of discipline, Robert Herzog.

Robert is the debut novelist of A World Between (Story Plant), out earlier this year. He previously had stories and poems published in Solstice Literary Magazine, Toasted Cheese, Downstate Story Magazine, Straylight Literary Arts Magazine, and South Jersey Underground; Robert also made an award-winning short film, “Flights”. For more than thirty years, he has balanced his writing ambitions with family and entrepreneurial work in the worlds of energy, environment, digital media, the internet and health care; Robert calls A World Between “a testament to the power of perseverance”.

robert-herzog
Author Robert Herzog.

Praise for A World Between:

“It had me on the edge of my seat, quickly turning pages to get to the conclusion of the story. The plot had unexpected twists and turns and the characters were multidimensional and engaging.”—Book Bug

“Extravagant and entertaining.”—Comfy Reading

From the publisher:

Parts of the world have disappeared. For a while, nobody notices. Or cares. But as an increasing number of voids disrupt the fabric of reality, threatening the foundation of our world, they propel some of the greatest minds on the planet to determine what force, godlike or human, is behind the change. Now they must race to stop a dread emptiness before it leads to global oblivion. A breathtaking novel that thrills on both an epic and human scale, A WORLD BETWEEN is an adventure at the frontiers of consciousness, where fractal geometry, quantum physics, and politics collide to create a story unlike any you’ve ever read.

a-world-between

Now, Robert Herzog reveals to readers A World Between

John Valeri: What first inspired you to write A World Between – and how did you find the process of crafting a novel to compare to that of shorter works?

Robert Herzog: My tenth grade English teacher once put up two white chalk dots on the blackboard, and wrote “There is nothing between two stars.”  Which provoked thoughts that lingered – what is the meaning and substance of nothing, which does in effect exist, between all the stars, all around us.

Years later I was reading John Gribben’s book, In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat, the famous paradox in physics, is a cat in a sealed box with a radioactive isotope that has a 50% chance of being released and killing him alive or dead.  That got me thinking, about the duality of nature, about how matter could be waves as well as particles.  So what would it be like if the matter as we know it converted to its wave state?! What could cause such a phenomenon, and what would happen if it went unchecked.

Also, since the cat’s state is only fixed when it is observed, I got to thinking about how the relationship between the observer and what is observed is created, what could create that connection?

Writing a novel is exponentially more complex that writing a shorter work, there’s not a single line but many, that have to be interconnected, with information feathering in so that it becomes intriguing, ongoing elements that maintain suspense and tension, an extended dialogue with the reader, not a single focused conversation.  I loved it!

JV: You were a physics major until you read Nietzsche. Why did his work speak to you – and in what ways has it influenced your own creative output?

RH: I had thought physics was the way into understanding and explaining the universe, a bedrock of reality.  But Nietzsche said a fact was only a truth when subjected to a human value system.  That hit my Sixties mentality hard – those were definitely days when we were looking for truths.  So I shifted gears (ending up in political philosophy in school, embarking on a varied career that started with teaching public school and has always been concerned with the substance of what I was doing, it’s impact on others, why I now am working as the CEO of a health care company to help keep the elderly and ill out of the hospital).

So I combined my early love of physics with my somewhat less pure (!) experiences in government, politics and business, to create A World Between.  Those experiences also inform on a lot of my other work, stemming from the intensity of the questions we asked in the Sixties and ever since observing and experiencing my own passages.

JV: The premise of your book is that huge chunks of Earth are vanishing. How is this relevant, given today’s climate – and in what ways does your concept lend itself to an exploration of our perceptions of reality?

RH: It doesn’t take much searching to see how humanity is affecting our planet, and at the same time how reactions to that are so often filtered through narrow self-interests or preconceptions that fly in the face of reality. We just had the hottest summer on record and many people and politicians in this country still deny it’s happening.  The World Wildlife Federation recently reported a 58% decline in species in the last few decades. The glaciers are literally disappearing, as will islands and coastlines affected by rising waters.

Humanity already affects our physical environment, whether demons and despots causing destruction on mass scale, or narrow self-interests and preconceptions effectively doing damage.   My premise is an extension of these impacts, where consciousness, force of mind, begins having physical manifestations.  For the first time in history, consciousness has entered the picture that conveys our reality – imagine a printer for your dreams.  And whose hand is on the global remote control?

JV: You have a background in physics, philosophy, and politics. How do these areas of interest provide a good framework for storytelling – and what’s the key to balancing academics with entertainment?

RH: Well to be honest I was never much of an academic!  I’ve in a sense both lived my life and observed it, trying to capture and distill my experiences as well as thoughts, so that for example seeing the way politicians and bureaucrats initially respond to a problem you’d think they’d find chilling and imperative – how does it affect votes?  Funding? – reflects what I, indeed what we all, see.  How they act may seem irrational and crazy from the outside, but I’ve learned that internally people have their own rationales, and extrapolating those can be fascinating, if at times scary.

I had an early love for physics which has sustained interest (although I came across my old exam books recently and couldn’t make heads or tails of them, one equation after another).  Then I had experiences in various sectors – politics, government, business, as well as trying to write – all of which can be used to create full pictures of people, human nature and the environments they inhabit.  I think mixing in these different worlds, trying to navigate them directly as opposed to observing them, has given me particular insights into them and how to convey them to readers, which I also often do in my short stories.

JV: In your opinion, which is most important: people, place or plot? How can/should the three be used together to enhance one another?

RH: People have to be captivated by a story.  And a great story is generated by the essential natures of the people involved.  Think of Macbeth and Hamlet – maybe you don’t understand all the words! But still the essential nature of who they are as well as the plot of what they are involved in comes through.  Place contributes color, think of LA Noir, or in my book how elements of New York City play a role, such as when Susan looks down from a high point on Fifth Avenue to red lights directly in front of her but green ones further down, feeling them as “hopes undiminished that remain forever out of reach.”  Setting that in New York has a particular piquancy, it’s both the allure and the challenge of the City.  And of course there’s nobody quite like an NYC detective!

So yes, the three elements must reinforce each other like a good wine, balancing acidity, fruit and tannins.  Without the balance you may have an interesting piece, but not a fully realized work of art.  Like those big splash movies where the final hour is all semi-indestructible creatures destroying buildings around them, and plot, character and place all get lost in snazzy but meaningless computer graphics.

JV: Leave us with a teaser: what comes next?

RH: They say a first novel is usually autobiographical, but while there’s lot of my experiences in A World Between, I haven’t (yet) had part of the world literally dissolve around me.  I wrote AWB initially as a “practice” novel, to see if I could pull all the elements of a major work together, then lo and behold a wonderful publisher saw its potential.

So what’s next is my second novel, which is a bit what a classic first might have been.  It’s called Not Our Fathers’ Dreams, and is set in that strange aberrational America of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s, following a young man and his compatriots in a time of tremendous upheaval, when the basic rights of passage could prove fatal, and when he and others weren’t just seeking different answers, but were asking different questions.

There’s been a lot written, filmed, shown, about those times, of course, but the novel shows it from a very different perspective, in a sense the war at home as he faces the draft, lives and tries to teach in the turbulent, incredibly diverse lower Manhattan, and confronts challenges and responses that still resonate in our society.  The protagonist believes he is destined to “write words that will crack the condition of the world to reveal the undiscovered palace of his generation.”

He has a ways to go.

Hope readers join me on that journey!

***

With thanks to Robert Herzog for his generosity of time and thought and to Emi Battaglia, President of Emi Battaglia Public Relations, for providing yet another fascinating interview opportunity.

 

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