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Austin-Based C. Robert Cargill's Debut Novel, Dreams and Shadows, Is Getting Big Buzz

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The first run for debut author C. Robert Cargill's fantasy novel, Dreams and Shadows, is 40,000, an incredible number for a new writer. (In comparison, the first run of an upcoming book by Tolkien, the only one he ever wrote about King Arthur, is 50,000.)

We ask Cargill if he's aware of those numbers. "I hadn't heard that," he tells us. "Thank you for telling me that; now I'm terrified."

He goes on to say, "By the way, I pretty sure that's the first time somebody referenced me and Tolkien in the same breath."

The just released Dreams and Shadows, which is getting rave reviews and being called a brilliant debut, isn't the first success Cargill has had in the entertainment field. He spent ten years as a popular online film critic before turning to filmmaking. His first screenwriting project, Sinister, a horror thriller starring Ethan Hawke, was enthusiastically received by audiences last year.

See our review of the DVD release of Sinister.

Ironically, Cargill started off as a novelist. "The idea for the [Dreams and Shadows] first came to me in 1996. I was working on novels in the 1990s and that all went to crap very quickly. I put novel writing down, I told myself it was just for a year and then a decade went by before I got back to it. In 2008, I was getting fed up with the blogging world and where the Internet was going as far as a news and information source. I thought, 'I need to get away from this or I'm going to be treading water for the rest of my life.' "

Cargill picked up Dreams again. "I was working 68 hours a week, but I still managed to put time aside every week to work on this book and so I cranked it out over two years."

Dreams and Shadows follows two boys who live in a magic land filled with genies, wizards and fairies. The Austin-based author created a menacing universe filled with echoes of real world legends and tales. "Almost everything that we acknowledge now as fantasy, at some point was someone's religion. Genies appear in the Koran. 1,001 Arabian Nights came to us as adventure tales, but there were people who believed they were true. The same thing with fairies. These days we think of fairies as very Disney-fied, adorable little girls with wings throwing glitter all over the place. But in most lore, fairies were really terrifying things.

"I wanted to go back to that world. I didn't alter any folklore for my use. I took what readers already believed about the way the universe works and built on it rather than trying to create something completely new. I definitely did want to play around with that, at least that was the experiment anyway."

For the first several chapters of Dreams and Shadows, readers aren't sure who to root for - characters are shadowy at best - but Cargill says he wasn't afraid of losing his audience because of that. "Readers are very different from movie watchers, as a general rule. They're willing to accept things that you can't get away within a movie. It's very hard to make a movie about a truly unlikable character. It's more possible in books because ... even if you don't make them likable, you can make them interesting and that's enough of a reason to turn the page.

"By the time you get to the end, you'll definitely know who's good and who's not. But in the first few chapters I wanted to create a sense of menace and dread, to create a very scary world."

Although this wasn't his first try at writing a novel, Cargill says he was still surprised by the process. Becoming a successful novelist, he found out, is not quite what he thought it would be. "It's kind of like the idea that you have in your head of your dream girlfriend. In your head, you're thinking, 'Oh, it will be magical, it will be beautiful.' And then you have to deal with things that you never even thought of. Suddenly you're saying, 'Oh, my magical, beautiful girlfriend farts in her sleep.' There was some of that."

In Houston for only his second reading ever, Cargill is currently working on the adaptation of a movie version of a video game. He's also working on a followup to Dreams and Shadows with the same characters "that are remaining at the end of the book." It's a very scary world, he reminds us.

See C. Robert Cargill at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet. For information, visit the store's website or call 713-524-8597. Free.

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