25 September, 2014

#Interview :: Holly Robinson, #Author of Beach Plum Island

Holly Robinson is a journalist, celebrity ghost writer, and novelist.  She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and has taught at both the high school and university levels.  A former magazine columnist and editor, she is also the author of several books, including the novels Beach Plum Island and The Wishing Hill.  Her articles and essays have appeared in The Boston Globe, The Huffington Post, More, Redbook, Parents and dozens of other newspapers and magazines. 

Website * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?
I think I was always a storyteller, starting when I was a child and my parents implored me to tell stories to my younger brothers to keep them quiet on car trips.  I made up fantastic tales—my favorite featured a talking bear—and I loved to read as well.  However, I didn't even consider being a writer until my last semester in college, where I was majoring in biology and planning to be a doctor until I stumbled into a creating writing class.  My life was transformed in that instant, and every job I've held since then has been in support of my fiction habit.

What inspires you to write?
Anything and everything!  Gossip, family stories, conversations overheard in restaurants, walking my dog through the woods, music...I think I'm always writing in my head.  I carry pocket journals for that reason, just in case some brilliant nugget manifests itself and I need to capture it on the spot.

How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
The kernel for the novel I published with Penguin this spring, BEACH PLUM ISLAND, is a family story.  My mom once babysat for a family and discovered a little boy locked in a back bedroom, apart from the other children.  The parents had specifically warned her not to go down that hallway and open that door, so they clearly didn't want the boy discovered.  I always wondered what his true story was, and finally created one to satisfy my own imagination and my longing for a resolution.

Is there some stories tucked away in some drawer that was written before and never saw the light of the day?
Oh yes!  I wrote six novels that all received agent representation and were rejected by editors at publishing houses.  Finally, I got frustrated and self-published my first novel, SLEEPING TIGERS.  It was a great experience, but two weeks after that, my agent sold another of my novels, THE WISHING HILL, to Penguin Random House, and I've been with them since.  I occasionally go back to those early novels, though, and lift favorite scenes and characters.  Everything you write is useful, if only for practice.

Tell us about your writing process.
Since I'm now with a publisher, my process is different than it used to be.  Whereas I once wrote the entire novel and tried to sell it, never mapping or outlining anything in advance, now I'm required to submit a synopsis of the entire story before the publisher will buy it and pay me an advance.  I resisted this idea—hated it, in fact—thinking it would rob the writing process of its magic and mystery.  But quite the contrary happens.  The synopsis is a liberating sort of blueprint, because I know where the story is going and the outcome I want ahead of time, so I'm free to play around with scenes as I move forward.  The characters still surprise me along the way.

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?
I think my favorite scenes all involve Elaine, who has been expressing her grief and fury over her family's chaotic situation and the unexpected reveal by her dad that there is a missing brother by acting out—she drinks, she hooks up with various men, and she says really outrageous things to people.  In short, Elaine does all of the things I would never, as a suburban mother of five kids, even think about doing!  I especially love the scene where she insults everyone at a funeral and then drives her car through the shrubbery on the front lawn.

What is your usual writing routine?
I take my youngest son to school, go out to my desk, and get started.  I make a living as a freelance writer, so first I write fiction for whatever time I think I have, then take a quick break (usually taking a walk) and turn to my nonfiction projects, which consist of magazine articles or celebrity ghost writing.  My workday ends at dinner time.  In the end, I probably end up spending a couple of hours each day on fiction.  I also take writing retreat weekends whenever I can, especially when I'm starting a new book. 

What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
Never give up.  Oh, and always leave off writing a scene in a place where you know exactly where you're going next—I even leave scenes mid-sentence sometimes to ensure that I won't be stuck when I go back.

Tell us three fun facts about yourself.
I have a blended “yours, mine, and ours” family of five children.  My father had a gerbil farm with 9,000 gerbils housed in our back yard.  (Don't believe me?  Check out THE GERBIL FARMER'S DAUGHTER: A MEMOIR.)  I love reality TV shows—especially dance competitions.

What do you have in store next for your readers?
My new novel, HAVEN LAKE, comes out in April 2015 and features a woman who raises Icelandic sheep and her daughter, a child psychologist, who have been estranged since the mysterious drowning of a teenager and a tragic suicide tore their family apart twenty years ago.  It's an emotional family mystery set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.

“Your brother should know the truth.”

These are the last cryptic words that Ava Barrett’s father says before he dies. But Ava doesn’t have a brother, as far as she knows, so how can she tell him the truth? She dismisses the conversation and dedicates herself to bringing her family together for her father’s funeral. This is no easy task, since her sister, Elaine, has been estranged from the family and still harbors resentment against their stepmother and half-sister, Gigi. Ava, on the other hand, is a single mother who sees Gigi as a troubled teen in need of love and connection.

Ava, too, could use more love in her life and finds it where she least expects it. But the biggest surprise of all is that Gigi holds the key to the mystery surrounding her father’s dying words, and joins Ava in uncovering a secret that rapidly unravels the very fabric of their entire family…