Born in Bucharest, Romania, Robert Carr fled the Communist regime at the age of twenty-four through Bulgaria and Turkey. After relatively brief stays in France, where he was granted refugee status, and then Israel, he settled in Canada. Trained as an engineer – a bachelor’s degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest, and a master’s degree from the University of Toronto – Robert worked in the aerospace field for many years. He was involved in the development of Canadarm – the robotic crane attached to NASA’s Space Shuttle – and of Canada’s robotic contributions to the International Space Station. Toward the end of his engineering career, he participated in concept studies for ESA’s Mars rovers. His new novel, Corby Falls, (published by Mosaic Press) is partly based upon his insider’s view of that world. He lives in Toronto with his wife.
Is Corby Falls modelled after a specific town?
RC: The fictional Corby Falls, some two hours from Toronto, was not modelled after any particular small town or village, but I had in mind a region like the Kawarthas (officially known nowadays as the City of Kawartha Lakes) for Millcroft Township. In fact, the actual Glenarm Road, in the Kawarthas, is named in the book as Miles, driving on it, approaches Corby Falls.
In an interview, Dennis Bock said, “Novels have this wonderful ability to create a mood that an attentive reader will feel and understand and want to stay in. The writers like Hemingway and William Trevor and Kafka are great at creating that sorrowful, grey, lonesome feeling as you read. Garcia Marquez dazzles with a sense of wonder and possibility. Colm Toibin suggests the pain of unexpressed longing. Write about what you’re interested in and don’t ever write with an eye to the marketplace. Read good books that mean something to you.” Do you agree with this advice to writers?
RC: Entirely. To begin with, reading good books is the only way to get a feel for what good writing is. For many of us, it’s slow osmosis. It must be very hard to write about something you have no interest in – probably like dating someone you have no interest in. I run away from Romania, the country I grew up under a Communist regime, and the first draft of Continuums, my first novel, was all about my getaway. And then I got bored with my own story. There were many books about such flights, and mine was notable, if at all, only because I decided to get drunk before the difficult moments came. (Yes, liquid courage.) So, I destroyed that first draft. The despairs of Communism remained there, in the background, and an escape like mine was briefly mentioned by a secondary character, but Continuums became a book about a woman mathematician and a famous mathematical problem. Now, I can’t think of a topic that’s less marketable.
What sort of research did you do for Corby Falls?
RC: I had to do a bit of research in defamation law (libel and slander), and about examinations for discovery. I tried to keep track of ESA’s ExoMars launch date. I also needed to refresh my recollections of ESA, CSA, Russian space companies, and the work I was involved with on the ExoMars rover initial studies.
You said you were involved in some initial studies for a European Mars Rover program / mission. What happened with it?
ESA’s ExoMars mission was much delayed. At the very beginning, the mission launch was contemplated for 2009, albeit somewhat optimistic. A more realistic date considered was 2011. At the time of this writing, January 2021, ExoMars has not been launched yet! The latest prediction for the now ESA-Roscosmos mission is around Sept 2022. From what I understand – and I haven’t properly followed it – many of the delays stem from immature landing technology.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading Corby Falls? Is there a lesson to be learned?
RC: I hope they’ll be entertained reading Corby Falls. I tend to shy away from words like lesson and theme. But if I’m forced to come up with a lesson, it’s a much-hammered one: that our paths in life are unexpected, fragile, non-linear, and fraught with unpalatable choices.
With unsolved murders and true crime being so popular in the 21st century how did you settle on the crime and placing the witness as a young person at the scene, etc. Did you have a variety of scenarios before settling?
RC: The crime in the book is by omission, not commission. It took place many years earlier, and the felon, Dr. Biranek, has died. Corby Falls is not a crime story or a whodunit. It’s the unexpected consequences of the crime becoming public that matters. How trivial remarks or quasi-forgotten incidents may have inexorable, overwhelming consequences. How non-linear (chaotic) our life can be. How one may be forced to make unethical decisions, how utilitarian arguments take over.
The idea came from an early draft of a previous novel of mine, A Question of Return. There, the crime story had little to do with the main narrative, and I soon dropped it. The complication of the huge bequest left by the criminal was added in Corby Falls. In an early draft of Corby Falls, Miles is with a friend when he sees what years later he realizes it was a crime. I then replaced the friend with his sister. What was most difficult was trying to convince a reader that Miles could indeed remember what exactly he had seen, since he had not realized its significance until much later. While not a sequel of A Question of Return, its main character is “remembered” in Corby Falls at length and fondly, and some secondary characters in the former reappear in the latter.