Thursday, July 24, 2008
An Interview with James E. Robinson and Book Giveaway
I welcome author James E. Robinson to my Authors-Helping-Writers segment this week. James E. Robinson is the published author of his very first literary fiction novel, The Flower of Grass. James has also self-published three other books over the past five years, and with a young family, and a love for music, theatre, film, cooking, and fishing he lives a busy life.
Q: Please tell us about your life in general, and how writing fits into it.
James E. Robinson: I’m a busy guy. I am a therapist in private practice, I write songs professionally, I have a ministry…and most importantly, I have a wife and two young children. I try to be as physically, spiritually, and emotionally available to them as possible, because I have learned that without this sort of effort the family can be at risk. I say all this to perhaps make an excuse…but I hope not; the truth is, I am not a very disciplined writer, but only because I don’t presently have enough writing time in any given week to do much self-disciplining! I crave more writing time…but, on the other hand, I see any time the Lord provides as a gift, and He has empowered me to write a great deal under considerable pressure. I’m willing to wait on Him, and see where He leads me with writing as part of my future. I have not been very involved in any meaningful way with groups, writer’s conferences, etc., but hope to become more so in the future. Certainly, I have so much to learn, and want very much to improve as a writer.
Q: Please tell us about the “acceptance call”.
James E. Robinson: I found out about my first novel deal with UK publisher Lion Hudson through my literary agents, Ang and Dan DePriest (the book will be distributed in the U.S. by Kregel). I felt happy, nervous, paranoid, thankful, doubtful, ecstatic, and generally confused. Then, finally, once the papers were signed, I gradually decided it must be true.
Q: In addition to writing your novels, do you work on other writing related projects?
James E. Robinson: I have a ministry, http://www.prodigalsong.com/, through which I speak, sing, teach, and counsel. I would love to write reviews (I’ve done a few) and generally be more involved with all things literary.
Q: What inspired you to take up fiction writing? Or, who inspired you and what did they say or do to help you get started?
James E. Robinson: I have loved fiction since childhood, and dreamed of being a writer all my life. I was always encouraged as a child to read, and to write. My grandmother was an early encourager for my creativity, as were my mother and father. I wrote stories at an early age, but then focused most of my creative energy for many years in the world of music and songwriting. Only in the last ten years or so have I undertaken writing prose with the intent of being published.
Q: Is there something unique or special about you or how you write that you would like to tell us about?
James E. Robinson: I think my life has been an interesting one, and God has provided me with quite an education in living. I’m a recovering alcoholic/addict, and spent many years on a rather colorful prodigal journey. I have been very lost in darkness, and God has shown me the way Home. Today, my interests in and passion for human psychology, theology, and art have now all culminated into a baseline for writing about life, love, faith…and I can see now how God has been preparing me for this work. I try to write about what makes the human animal tick…and I love exploring the layered complexities of the human condition.
Q: How long did you concentrate on learning the craft of fiction writing before you received your initial offer?
James E. Robinson: Honestly, I’ve spent little time learning the craft in any sort of formalized way. Mostly I’ve just read books…revered them, really, all my life. And books that have inspired me have stayed with me forever, in a rich, lasting way, perhaps more than any other art form. I consider it a great privilege and blessing to be called to write.
Q: If you’ve received rejections, how do you handle that process?
James E. Robinson: Well, I haven’t received many actual rejections, but only because I haven’t up to this point really submitted much to anyone. The Flower of Grass was my first attempt at a novel, and although it was apparently rejected by some publishers when first pitched by my agents, the deal with Lion Hudson happened very quickly. I realize this is unusual, and I know that more than likely the future will hold many rejections. But, as a professional songwriter for many years, I’ve come to understand that rejection is just part of the process. You can’t take it too personally. I try to write what I like, and hope someone else will like it, too. It’s the writing that drives me, though, not the competitive nature of modern day publishing. For the most part, I’ve found throughout my artistic career that I’m happiest—and probably most productive—when I just try to please myself. I think all art is prayer. When we are in His will, the stuff should flow, and the work will honor God.
Q: How long did it take you to write The Flower of Grass, and then sell it?
James E. Robinson: I began the novel in February of ’07, turned in a rough draft to my agents in late May, and had a signed contract by that Christmas. I would certainly like the luxury of taking more time to write and shop…but life is what it is right now! Perhaps God will provide for a bit more relaxed atmosphere for my next one.
Q: What is a typical writing day for you?
James E. Robinson: The Flower of Grass was written in short but intense spurts…I would attempt to get all of my other work obligations done in three or four work days, so that I could steal a day or maybe two to write. I would start as soon as the kids were off to school, then barely pause to eat. Believe me, I’m not necessarily recommending this! But I found that while the novel was in progress, I was “writing” it all the time in my head; I would think of things while driving, sleeping, eating, working…and then scribble notes and ideas onto any scrap of paper I could find. I ended up with stacks of scrap paper, post-it notes, church bulletins, you name it. The whole thing had a certain frantic, manic sense to it. I don’t suggest anyone else follow this “technique,” needless to say! But who knows…maybe it’s the way I’m supposed to write? Each artist will need to find his own rhythm, and work to whatever energy best gets him where he wants to go. Creativity is a tough thing to harness, I think. For me, finding a “zone” and then getting as much on paper as possible is the way I usually work. Then, of course, the real hard work awaits…rewrites!
Q: What does your publishing house expect of you with regard to self-promoting your novel(s)?
James E. Robinson: I’m really only now beginning to learn what all the self-promotion stuff is about. I’ve joined some online writing groups, and people have been most helpful. I have a website (http://www.jameserobinson.com/) and am trying to be as available to my publisher as much as possible. But I’m really still quite the rookie. I look forward to learning more as we move towards our release dates this summer.
Q: How did you decide when your manuscript was ready for your editor’s eyes?
James E. Robinson: Well, this first book all happened so fast, I wasn’t even quite ready to stop revising when my editor finally demanded that I “stop writing RIGHT NOW and hit SEND!” So, my publishers gave me little choice…I had to turn the thing in so that they could have books by the time they wanted them. Working with a professional editor was also a first for me, and very educational. Hopefully, my next book won’t need quite as much editorial, because I will be more aware of what’s going down on paper from the start.
Q: Do you have any further direction or thoughts that you care to share with weary authors-in-training?
James E. Robinson: As all the writing instructors say: “Read, read, read, and write, write, write.” Figure out what you like best, and what you write best. Realize that rejection is simply part of any creative process. Dedicate yourself to learning the craft, but never at the expense of your own authentic voice or artistic passions. Although I doubt this would be considered particularly good advice for a lot of folks these days, I nonetheless believe that, for some of us at least, writing toward our own passion rather than to any commercial “box” is the best way to discover our truest talents.
Thank you, James, for visiting and offering such great feedback. I wish you all the best in your ministry, and writing. Now's the time to hear some more about The Flower of Grass.
The Flower of Grass by James E. Robinson
Available in August 2008
Amazon.com Quick Purchasing Link
Christianbook.com Quick Purchasing Link
John Allen returns to his small Tennessee home town following the death of his abusive, alcoholic father. He has been gone nearly twenty years, living in Los Angeles where he has become a successful author, but also followed in his father's addictive footsteps. Now sober, he comes home to make amends-to his younger brother, also struggling with alcoholism, and to his older sister-for all the years he spent running away from their abusive family life, leaving them to fend for themselves while he chased after his dreams.
The most important person driving John's return, however, is Jessie-the girl he left after high school graduation, the love of his life, and he hers. They had promised one another their hearts, and John swore he would send for her to join him once he had established himself. But his desperation to flee from the brokenness and pain of his past, the nightmares that haunt him, and his desire for the "medication" offered by a world of fame and fortune cause him to abandon the town and everyone in it, including Jessie. Eventually, his letters to her stop coming.
Over time, she loses hope in John's return and eventually marries Tuck, a lifelong and ever-faithful friend. Now John returns, and Jessie is torn between her desire to be with him and yet be true to herself and her husband. To make things worse, her father has died and her mother is gravely ill.
John and Jessie must discover what remains of their love, and at what cost it might be rekindled. And in searching for something long ago lost, they find redemptive healing they could not have imagined.
The Flower of Grass (taken from 1 Peter 1:24) frames a classic love story around the deeper themes of passing time and mortality, the true nature of love and faith, and the delicate balance of human relationships. In seeking one another, John and Jessie learn that love can run much deeper than desire, faith can heal even the most broken of hearts, and time waits for no one.
Book Giveaway Information:
Please leave a comment with your augmented e-mail address if you'd like to be entered into a drawing for a copy of The Flower of Grass by James E. Robinson. The drawing will take place on Tuesday, August 5, 2008 at 9:00 a.m. Eastern time.
Winner Update: Carole is the lucky winner of James E. Robinson's The Flower of Grass. Congratulations!