Matlacha's Robert Macomber

by Ann Marie O'Phelan

At the moment, Robert Macomber is off to sea again. He is somewhere along the East coast of South America working on his next book. As an award-winning maritime writer and lecturer on historical and contemporary maritime subjects, he takes interesting, exotic and culturally eye-opening voyages to various parts of the world, then uses his experiences to assist with his writing and lecturing on maritime history. In addition to his travels, he does an impressive amount of research beforehand, including everything from speaking with Washington naval officers, to pouring over old maps and historical data. Because of this combined effort, he produces books that are historically-accurate and written from a real-life perspective.

Growing up on the Florida coast as the son of a sailor, Robert learned to love the sea and how to sail its waters from his father. He has, in fact, won over twenty-five trophies and awards for his offshore sailing throughout the years in Florida, Mexico, and the Bahamas.

Robert still makes his home on the coast of Florida on Matlacha Island, where he was generous enough to offer his time to me on the verge of his latest trek to South America.

When did you first start writing and what was it you wrote?

I've been lecturing for 20 years on maritime subjects, then I started writing 13 years ago when folks suggested I put down my information on paper.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A teacher or admiralty lawyer.

So, if you weren’t a writer..?

I’d be a teacher.

Who inspired you first to write?

C.S. Forester, the author of the Horatio Hornblower series.

Who inspires you now?

Randy Wayne White has been a large inspiration for my fiction work, as well as a good friend. Also, George MacDonald Fraser, C.S Forester, Herman Wouk and James Michener have all inspired me.

How do you get inspired?

My voyages are inspirational, as are the cultural experiences that go along with it.

I noticed that your writing room is filled with maps and diagrams and outlines. What kind of research do you conduct?

I do a lot of academic research—for months on end. I read lots of reference materials like memoirs, period media articles, government reports and historical books. I then go to the places that I will be writing about, I meet the people, experience the culture and then come back and write about it.

Where do you do most of your writing?

I take notes on my treks. When I return, I work in my writing room at my bungalow on Matlacha Island.

Do you keep regular work hours?

I do. I generally work Monday through Friday from 8:30am–4pm. While on a freighter, I’ll put in 10–12 hours a day.

Do you ever get writer’s block?

I’m very lucky. I don’t get it. By the time I’ve done all my research, I know what I have to do. With 60–80 lectures a year, plus my travels, finding enough time to write is my obstacle.

What do you love about writing?

I love the challenge. I love meeting interesting people from various cultures all over the world. I love the various experiences I’ve been able to experience such as being a guest novelist on the Queen Mary 2, wearing a coat while standing at the equator, and enduring my African test of manhood—it was literally me and a cobra in a face-off.

It looks like you won.

I made it through and the experience will be in my next book, An Affair of Honor.

I understand you didn’t come up with that name.

Actually, I held a contest to name the book. I received 377 suggestions from nine different countries. The winner from Virginia was written in as a character in the book. He chose to be a disgruntled person with a heart of gold.

Speaking of heart of gold... I also understand that you help Habitat for Humanity?

I conduct workshops and donate all of the proceeds to them. It’s a great organization.

What do you hate about writing?

I don't like some of the egos I've met in the publishing world. It's an extremely frustrating business.

Well, you do have a sword don’t you?

If the egos get bad enough.

Do you have a motto that you live by?

Onward and Upward!

What do you like to do besides write?

I like to sail, travel and mellow-out.

You’ve traveled extensively. What’s your favorite food on the planet?

Fried Grouper. Actually, broiled with lemon, lime, orange and butter—West Indian style. That and chocolate cake.

Any advice for getting started on my first book?

Write about what you know, for an audience you understand. In sailor’s terms, it’s called ‘Eyeball Recon’. Plus, make sure you get it edited by someone you trust. Remember that this is a business so stay professional. Don’t take rejections personally.

Is there anything else you want to say?

I’m not Peter Wake. (one of the main characters in his novels whom his readers often think is based on himself.) •

from the March-April 2006 issue

Macomber relaxes on the deck of
his Matlacha Island bungalow.
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