Saturday, 24 March 2012


What is your name, where were you born and where do you live now?

My name is Holly Robinson.  I was born in steamy Tidewater Virginia and now live in the frigid northeast, an hour north of Boston.

Did you always want to be a writer? If not what did you want to be?
I never wanted to be a writer!  In college, at first I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, until I tried volunteering as a translator in a courtroom and saw how dull the legal profession could be.  Then I thought I wanted to be a doctor—you know, the kind that saves hundreds of people a day from deadly infectious diseases in some struggling country.  (I imagined myself in a vest with lots of pockets.)

When did you first consider yourself as a "writer"?
I first became a writer in college, when I had to take a creative writing course to fill an elective (I ended up a biology major.)  Once I started writing, I realized there was nothing I loved more.

Did it take a long time to get your first book published?
Oh yes!  Over 20 years!  I published a memoir with Random House first, about life with my dad, a gerbil farmer.  Sleeping Tigers is my first novel.

Do you work another job as well as your writing work?
I work as a freelance writer for women's magazines, and I'm also a celebrity ghost writer, mostly memoirs.

What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarise it in less than 20 words what would you say?
I'm in the odd situation of publishing two books simultaneously.  Sleeping Tigers is the story of a woman who survives breast cancer and learns to embrace more risk—and joy—in her life.  She saves her own life as she saves her brother's.  A week after self-publishing Sleeping Tigers, Penguin bought my newest novel, The Wishing Hill, to be published in spring 2013.  It's the story of two women who are connected in ways they never imagined.

Who is your publisher? or do you self publish?
I self-published Sleeping Tigers.  My memoir, The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter, was published by a division of Random House, and my next novel, The Wishing Hill, is being published by Penguin.  I guess you could say I've been there and done that!

Do you have a "lucky charm" or "lucky routine" you follow when waiting for your book to be accepted by a publisher?
Yes.  I literally blow kisses at the computer when I send my manuscripts to my agent.

How long does it usually take you to write a book, from the original idea to finishing writing it?
Depends on the book!  I have written books in as little time as six months.  Others have taken me up to five years.

Which of your books were easier/harder to write than the others?
They're all equally difficult, because I'm an incessant reviser.

What can we expect from you in the future?  ie More books of the same genre? Books of a different genre?
Sleeping Tigers and The Wishing Hill would both be considered contemporary/women's fiction.  The novel I'm working on now is women's fiction, but with paranormal elements.

Do you have plans for a new book? Is this book part of a series?
Yes, the new book I'm working on is the first in a series.

What genre would you place your books into?
My first book was a memoir—yep, my dad really was a gerbil farmer.  The next two are women's fiction.  I suppose the third will be considered a paranormal mystery or thriller for marketing purposes.

What made you decide to write that genre of book?
I'm always fascinated by relationships gone awry, and by the issues that women have to deal with in their lives—particularly the complications of love and family life.

Do you have a favourite out of the books you have written? If so why is it your favourite?
I think my memoir is my favorite book, still, because it was my first, and because I tried so hard to understand my father's mysterious obsession with gerbils.  I learned a lot researching that book.

Do you have a favourite character from your books? and why are they your favourite?
I adore the character of Karin in Sleeping Tigers, because she tries so hard to be tough, but she's really the ultimate romantic.  I also love Claire in my upcoming novel, The Wishing Hill, because she is such a straight shooter and so modest, but so passionate at the same time.

If you had to choose to be one of your characters in your book/books which would you be? and why?
I would definitely be Jordan—I'd love to go back to Nepal and San Francisco!

How long have you been writing?, and who or what inspired you to write?
The saying goes that writers are inspired readers, and that is definitely true in my case.  I have been an avid reader since age 5, and every book I've read has taught me something and inspired me in some way—even if I hate what I'm reading, I'm inspired how “not” to do something!

Where do you get your book plot ideas from?What/Who is your inspiration?
My book plots nearly always start out with a strong idea of place.  For instance, I really wanted to write about San Francisco and Nepal, and so I needed to create a character who would journey there from the east coast (as I did in my thirties).  I also am inspired by things in my own life; for instance, I'm a breast cancer survivor, like my main character in Sleeping Tigers, and my second novel has a story line that parallels my grandmother's life.

Do you have a certain routine you have for writing? ie You listen to music, sit in a certain chair?
I always need a cup of tea at my elbow, and a bit of chocolate.  Other than that, I can write anywhere, and I do!  I have five children, so I'm always looking for places to hide for a while.

Do you have anybody read your books and give you reviews before you officially release them?ie. Your partner, children, friends, reviewers you know?
 Yes.  I have a core group of five women friends, also fiction writers, who are wonderful critics and constantly act as my muses.

Do you gift books to readers to do reviews?

Do you read all the reviews of your book/books?
Oh yes.  And I learn as much from bad reviews as from good ones, if not more.

What was the toughest/best review you have ever had?
There was a terrific review of my memoir in the Boston Globe a while ago—the reviewer really saw something I'd been missing in writing the book, which was a deeper look at my parents' marriage.  However, it would have been tough to do that, since my parents were still alive at the time.

Would you ever ask a reviewer to change their review if it was not all positive about your book/books?
Never.  A reviewer should have free rein.

How do you come up with the Title and Cover Designs for your book/books?Who designed the Cover of your books?
If I'm with a major publisher, I work with the design team, and they give me several options which I can then approve or edit—though they have final say.  On my own, I suggested cover designs for Sleeping Tigers.  I was trying to get at the feel of a woman on a journey, so a woman turning the prayer wheel in Nepal seemed perfect—Jordan, my main character, actually does this in the book.

Do you choose a title first, or write the book then choose the title?
I write the book first, then look at major scenes or metaphors to come up with a title.  In the case of Sleeping Tigers, Jordan sees her breast cancer (as well as other challenges faced by other people in her life) as a sleeping tiger inside her that can always wake up again—she's terrified at first, then learns to accept that she must live with this.  We all have our inner sleeping tigers, right?

How do you come up with characters names and place names in your books?
All sorts of ways—people in my life, overhearing people on the street, TV, radio, research

Are character names and place names decided after there creation? or do you pick a character/place name and then invent them?
They happen at the time I invent the characters—though they're subject to change as the characters develop.

Do you decide on character traits (ie shy, quiet, tomboy girl) before writing the whole book or as you go along?
As I go along, the characters take on lives of their own, and pretty soon I'm just writing scenes as they unfold in my head.  Then I might go back and decide whether certain behaviors would be in keeping with the character I've created.

Do you basic plot/plan for your book, before you actually begin writing it out? Or do you let the writing flow and see where it takes the story?
I let the writing flow first.  Then, once I've completed a draft, I go back and do a story board on index cards to see if I have a reasonably compelling narrative arc.

How do you market/promote your books?
With major publishers, I work closely with a publicist.  With self-publishing, it's essential to keep blogging, tweeting, facebooking, interacting with wonderful book bloggers like yourself, etc.

What do you think makes a book a really good/bestseller ?
It helps to write a book that falls within a popular genre, like thrillers, mysteries, paranormal romance, etc—then you have a built-in audience.  Otherwise, you just need a really great story and the persistence to keep getting your name out there.

Have you ever suffered from a "writer's block"? What did you do to get past the "block"?
I have to say that I've never experienced writer's block, but I think that's because I have also spent so many years working as a journalist—I definitely know how to make the most of my few free hours a day for writing!

What do you do to unwind and relax?Do you have a hobby?
I love hiking, swimming, tennis—anything active and outdoors.  I often have my best ideas when I'm doing something physical.

Have you ever based characters on people you know or based events on things that have happened to you? 
Definitely!  Sleeping Tigers is full of bits and pieces of my own life as well as the lives of others, from the drifter brother to the people in Nepal, from the boyfriend who does the striptease to the musician doctor.  All of those elements are pulled from people I know.

Are there any hidden messages or morals contained in your books? (Morals as in like Aesops Fables type of "The moral of this story is..") 
I think there are always important messages an author is trying to convey.  In Sleeping Tigers, I would say that the moral is about living life mindfully and making choices that help you embrace joy, instead of running from risks that scare you.

Is there a certain Author that influenced you in writing?
So many!  Early on, I would say that mysteries like the Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew series taught me a lot about plot.  Later, in college, I became a fan of very dark fiction, like Paul Bowles—I learned a great deal about creating offbeat characters from Bowles.  Now I read more contemporary and literary fiction, and I love to find sentences with images that bring me to my knees—authors like Susan Straight come to mind there.  I also love mysteries.  My recent favorite is Toby Neal, author of Blood Orchid.

Which format of book do you prefer, ebook,hardback, or paperback?
I tend to read paperbacks and hardbacks in bed at night, and ebooks during the day, because they're easy to tote around in my purse on a single device!

What is your favourite book and Why?  Have you read it more than once?
Definitely Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton—I've read it a number of times.

Do you think books transfer to movies well? Which is you favourite/worst  book to movie transfer?
I think many books make great launching points for movies, but I never try to compare them—they're very different mediums, definitely.  Therefore I'm rarely disappointed.  My favorite book-to-movie transfer is probably Harry Potter; my least favorite would have to be Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I  could hardly stay awake, and I LOVED that book.

What are you currently reading? Are you enjoying it? What format is it?(ebook, hardback or paperback)  I'm reading the new Elizabeth George, Believing the Lie.  I started it in hardback, then had to take a trip, so I actually bought it as an ebook to take with me because I couldn't stand not finishing it, and it was so HUGE that I couldn't carry it onto the plane!

Do you think ebooks will ever totally replace printed books?
No.  I think we'll read most popular/commercial books as ebooks, but there will always be printed books that can't be duplicated electronically—I'm thinking gift books, coffee table reads, children's books.  For instance, I worked on Roots of Style, the terrific memoir by the designer Isabel Toledo and her husband, the illustrator Ruben Toledo, and I can't imagine wanting that as an ebook—it's too gorgeous as a physical object!

Do you think children at schools these days are encouraged enough to read? and/or do Imaginative writing?
That depends very much on the school.  Public schools are teaching more and more to standardized tests, so children are learning to read and write in a fairly formulaic way, but my youngest son went to a Montessori School and is now in a private school, and the teaching is much more creative there, as are the assignments.

Did you read a lot at school and write lots of stories or is being a writer something newer in your life?
I read constantly---and was often in trouble for reading when I was supposed to be doing something else!
Did you have a favourite author as a child?
Definitely Madeline L'Engle

Do you have a treasured book from your childhood? If yes, what is it?
I was completely transported by A Wrinkle in Time and, earlier, by Charlotte's Web.

Do you have a favourite genre of book?
Mysteries are my go-to for escape.

Is there a book you know you will never read? Or one you tried to read but just couldn't finish?
I really want to read Jonathan Franzen because he's always winning prizes here, there, and everywhere, but truthfully I find him too long-winded and a bit coldly academic as a writer for me to enjoy.

Are there any New Authors you are interested in for us to watch out for? and Why should we watch out for them?
Definitely watch out for Toby Neal!  She has published a terrific mystery novel set in Hawaii, Blood Orchids, and will be publishing more in that series soon—you learn all kinds of things about the underbelly of Hawaiian life, and the book has a terrific pace and cast of characters.

Is there anything in your book/books you would change now if you could and what would it be?
Of course—even now, I can pick up any book I've written and find ways to improve them!  I only ever stop revising my books when they're published.

What do you think about book trailers?
I think that I would never be able to afford to make one!

What piece of advice would you give to a new writer?
Find a group of like-minded writers whose comments are honest but constructive, and share your work.  You will learn more about writing from their comments, and from reading their work in rough form, than you will any other way.

Do you or would you ever use a pen name?
I never have, but sure, I would consider it, if I started writing in a completely different genre and needed a new identity as a writer.

If you could invite three favourite writers to dinner, who would you invite and enjoy chatting with?
Toby Neal, Susan Straight, and Terri Giuliano Long

Where can readers follow you?

Your Twitter details? @hollyrob1

1 comment:

  1. Oooo celebrity ghost writer, I have always wanted to meet one! Great interview