Thrillers seem to be on-trend right now—and maybe they always have been—but that puts author Rob Samborn in a good place. His debut novel, The Prisoner of Paradise, released in November, and so far, it’s garnering great reviews! Author Ruthie Marlenée wrote, “Not to be out shadowed by the historical and conspiracy thriller writing luminaries of our time, Rob Samborn shines as a brilliant debut novelist to watch for,” and Shanessa Gluhm said, “Spanning four centuries from Renaissance Venice to modern-day, Samborn invites his readers to unravel a vast conspiracy of secrets, murder, and trapped souls, in this rousing and thought-provoking thriller perfect for fans of Dan Brown.” High praise indeed. Everyday readers are also enjoying the book, and knowing that is what an author likes to hear. Launching a book around the holidays is exhausting, so I’m thrilled Rob had the time to answer these questions for me. Here’s to another year of Author Interviews!
Christina: Congrats on the publication of The Prisoner of Paradise, which is partially set in sixteenth-century Venice and involves art of Jacopo Tintoretto. Was it the era and location that made you want to set a book there, or was it the artist? Or something else? What inspired this novel?
Rob: Thanks, Christina! I love your blog and I’m thrilled to be doing this interview. The answer is a little bit of an “all of the above” situation, but it was Tintoretto’s artwork that was the inspiration for this story. I’m a huge fan of thrillers, historical fiction, fantasy, and Venice (and all of Italy), and I write what I love and want to read. Venice is a remarkable place; it’s one of the most beautiful and mysterious cities on the planet. A story is lurking around every corner so it’s only natural that I wrote a cross-genre book set there.
The Prisoner of Paradise revolves around Tintoretto’s masterpiece, Il Paradiso, the largest oil painting ever made, but it was actually different Tintoretto paintings, located in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, that were the original inspiration. Tintoretto’s paintings are so lifelike and imbue so much emotion. Many of his paintings are massive in scope and size, often with hundreds of people in them, so I started wondering who the models were (or if he used models at all). As the idea for a book about souls trapped in a painting germinated, I researched Tintoretto’s extensive work and discovered Il Paradiso, located in the Doge’s Palace. In a glance, I knew it was the perfect painting for the story. As I researched the room it was located in, along with the building and the history of the complex and the painting, the idea unfolded before my eyes. I visited the Doge’s Palace and Il Paradiso on my third trip to Venice.
Christina: Sixteenth-century Venice is a long way from the contemporary United States. How much research did you do to capture the place and time so accurately? Did anything in your research surprise you?
Rob: Indeed it is! I did an enormous amount of research, including taking a trip to Venice. Not only did I have to research 16th century Venice, but contemporary Venice, as well, since the book is dual-timeline. Current authors are incredibly lucky to have the internet at our fingertips. That said, I often found myself going down the research rabbit hole, as I know many historical fiction authors do. Since my book is also fantasy, it was very important to me to capture as much authenticity of the real world as possible, which I think then helps make the fantasy more believable. Sometimes I’d spend hours researching something like 16th century Venetian fashion when only a few words would make it into the book. What surprised me was that whenever there was something I needed for the plot from my imagination, a place, person, or event existed enough to the point that I could work it into the book with authentic realism.
Christina: The Prisoner of Paradise is the first book in a series. Did you set out to write a series, or did it evolve organically? What are some of the difficulties of writing a series?
Rob: It evolved organically, which was a remarkable experience. I originally wrote The Prisoner of Paradise as a screenplay, which was optioned by a production company founded by DreamWorks execs. Unfortunately, the movie was never made but after the option expired, I decided to adapt it into a novel. It was during this process that the characters and plot grew so much that the story begged me to keep going. Now that I’m working on book three, I can answer the second question with some experience.
There are two things I find difficult in writing a series: 1) continuity and 2) knowing when to stop. Book two picks up immediately where book one leaves off, so continuity is critical, even if it’s what the characters are wearing. I often have to go back to book one and double-check things. I don’t want my books to be one of those endless series—and it will have a definitive ending—but I can see how so many books and TV shows fall into this. It’s the characters, not the writers! They just want to keep living.
Christina: You’re also a screenwriter. Do you get the same satisfaction out of writing novels and screenplays? Do you approach each project the same or differently? Would you like to see this novel on the screen someday?
Rob: I often compare the two mediums to playing the same song with two different instruments. Screenwriting is almost like playing a song on the drums, whereas book-writing is like playing the same song on a huge cathedral organ. No disrespect to drummers (I used to play the drums), but there’s definitely another level of intricacy. I enjoy both processes and I’d say I approach the two mediums identically, from a character/plot perspective. The writing style, craft, dialogue, formatting, etc. is different, but at the end of the day, they’re both stories. So, for better or for worse, I do structure my books as if they’re movies.
Yes! As mentioned above, I would love to see The Prisoner of Paradise on screen. The original script was written as a feature film but now I’d prefer to see it as a TV series.
Christina: Your bio states that you’ve “been to forty countries, lived in five of them (including Italy) and studied nine languages.” What languages are you fluent in? Would you ever consider writing in another language? Do foreign languages inform your writing at all?
Rob: Currently only English but I used to be conversationally fluent in Japanese and halfway decent in Spanish. I actually did write a short children’s story in Japanese once, but my skills aren’t remotely good enough to write a book in another language. English is difficult enough. It blows me away when people are able to write books in languages that aren’t their native tongue.
Christina: I was intrigued by your blog post about Milla Chocolates, which you gave an A+ rating. Are you a chocolate lover? Which brand is your favorite? Do you prefer dark or milk chocolate? And though white chocolate isn’t really chocolate, how do you feel about it?
Rob: Ah, yes—I’m a chocolate addict! 🙂 I have a number of other chocolate reviews I’ll be posting, I just haven’t had the time with the book launch. I absolutely prefer dark chocolate to the point there’s very little milk chocolate I’ll eat (I’ll give Kit-Kats a break). It needs to be minimum 65% cacao. Milla Chocolates in L.A. is up there as one of my favorites, but there are too many to choose from. I’m also frequently trying new brands and flavors. I love artisan chocolate with exotic flavors that pop. And white “chocolate” is nice as a decoration. 🙂
Christina: What is your writing kryptonite?
Rob: Time! If anybody has a cloning machine, please let me borrow it!
Thanks to Rob for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.