Thank you to Robin for answering my questions! Robin graciously sent me all of her books recently. Truth be told, I couldn’t pick a favorite; they all sounded fantastic! Keep an eye out for my reviews of the books pictured below, and visit Robin’s website for the synopses.
When you sit down to write, do you know the genre first? For instance, you have flash fiction, novels, and chapbooks published. How did they become what they are?
I consider myself a novelist – growing up, I never wanted to be anything else. I never wrote a short story or a poem until just a few years ago, after I participated in an intense week-long writing workshop in Virginia. The instructor impressed upon me the importance of having short fiction published in on-line magazines as a way to establish credentials and snag the interest of an agent. So the very first short story I ever wrote, “Ma Writing” (which recently appeared in a gorgeous anthology compiled by the amazing folks at The Lascaux Review) was the first step in this strategy of getting my novel picked up by an agent. Ditto, the poetry. To my surprise, I found that I really enjoyed the shorter genres. They’re fun, they can be powerful and helpful when dealing with grief (I lost both my parents within six months of each other) and they take so much less time and still provide that deep sense of satisfaction when I know I’ve gotten it “right” the way my novels do.
Whenever I think about writing a poem I get really intimidated, like I’m not “cool enough” or “smart enough” to join others who identify as novelists or poets. Do you ever struggle with switching from fiction to poetry?
This is such a wonderful question!! If you hang out with me at open mics or at my poetry group, you’ll hear me mutter, “God, I could never write like that!” So yes, I do feel that I’m definitely not in the same league as serious poets. But you have to make the choice of whether you’re going to let that stop you, or you’re going to just keep doing your own thing. Since I love doing it, I just keep going forward, and accept that I will never be in the same category.
Many times writers find a creative niche and community. What do you think is yours? Is it hard to find a niche when you write in different genres?
I began seriously writing after I got out of college – I had the kind of parents who didn’t insist that I get a “real” job and move out, so I got to indulge in my dream; but back then, this is the early 80s, I didn’t know any other writers. Living at home, writing 10 or 12 hours a day, was very isolating. When I’d meet people and they asked what I did, I’d say “I’m a writer,” and they’d ask “What books have you written?” and I’d say, “I haven’t gotten anything published yet,” and they’d say how lucky I was to be able to live at home and do whatever I wanted. Non-writers never understood not only how much work was involved, but how lonely a life it was when your friends all got married and moved away and you could never afford to do anything because you didn’t have a job, all you had was this annoying persistent need to write. So the internet was a blessing for me because I was able to connect with other writers via writing blogs, and then when Facebook came along, I really plugged into the scene and became friends with hundreds of writers, most of whom are struggling with the same issues, or celebrating the same triumphs. So now being a writer is fun; to feel like you belong to a community, it’s like being part of a family, and it’s something I really cherish because I went it alone for so long.
Does your writing include any research? If so, why/why not, and can you talk about why you made that choice.
I am a writer who does a LOT of research for my books. I like to set a plot against a backdrop I find interesting. My first novel, On Air, is about a disc jockey, so I spent a few evenings at a radio station to get a sense of what the energy was like, in addition to the mechanics of how it works. Of Zen and Men features a woman who grows bonsai, so I made a couple of trips to this wonderful bonsai garden my mother had found, read some books to learn about the philosophy of bonsai, and then contacted an expert, who was incredibly helpful when it came time to write about the actual process. The most amount of research went into my third novel, In His Genes, which takes place in a biology lab. In order to understand a concept, I had to understand about ten background concepts first – it was a real challenge for me. I was lucky to have access to a couple of biology professors and a geneticist who all read the book, gave me feedback, and answered all my questions. I have called doctors, lawyers, and other professionals to ask questions. I’m a detail freak, and for me, research is fun.
How did you get involved with Boston Literary Magazine? What’s your involvement like?
Boston Literary Magazine was step two in my strategy of getting an agent; I figured if I was editor of a magazine, I would look more prestigious. In the spring of 2006 I called up my best friend and said, “Hey, want to start a magazine?” and she said, “Okay!” I didn’t anticipate the friendships I would make, or how many contacts would come of it. It got a LOT bigger than we expected, and even though each issue is hundreds of hours of work, it’s worth it. By the way, if anyone is wondering, yes, I did get an agent!
On your website it says you’re involved in several ghost writing projects. What is that like? How did you get into ghost writing? Have you ever been a ghost writer for the Sweet Valley Twins series, which I loved and read way too much of in the 90s?!
In the 90s I worked briefly in a bookstore and I tried to read a lot of the children’s / YA books in order to be able to recommend them to parents, and I read a few of the Sweet Valley Twins books. I can see how they’d be addictive! Re: my ghost writing projects. These came about every time I met someone who wasn’t a writer, but who had a good story that they had dreamed of turning into a book. Only two of them were paid gigs; the rest I did because I knew it was the only way the person would be able to get their story out there. It’s gratifying to make someone’s dream come true, but it’s a LOT of work for no money and no glory! A few years ago I made the decision not to do it anymore. Better to focus on my own writing!
Great interview. Thanks for sharing.
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[…] to thank Robin Stratton for sending me a copy of On Air in exchange for an honest review. You can learn more about Robin in her Meet the Writer […]