Meet Robin Rivera
Robin Rivera has mastered the art of keeping a lot of balls in the air. She is a founding member and one-sixth of the blog team of http://www.Writeonsisters.com She holds degrees in history and has worked as a consultant, a museum curator, an archeologist and an educator. She knows way too much about WWII submarines and old Land Rovers. You can find her every Wednesday posting to her blog and on Twitter @robinrwrites. Here’s what she has to say about the birthing of a novel:
It occurred to me that before the labor and delivery of the novel, writers engage in a long wondrous courtship, the one where we embrace becoming passionate readers. We start this intimate process young, in my case as a child. I was lucky; I grew up the youngest in a large family of readers. My mother’s bedside table teetered under the weight of her nighttime reading material, mostly Michener. My eldest sister converted her walk-in closet into a library. My other sister perfected the repeated read, cracking the spines on her favorites until they practically turned to dust. If there was a spare minute in the day you’d find us scattered, one tucked into a crook of the backyard walnut tree (my personal favorite), one flat-backed on the sofa, one curled in an armchair. I could go on, but the point is they surrounded me with reading options. I didn’t need to go to the library or a bookstore to meet new writers. I could move from room to room sampling writing styles and genres, and I did, often flicking the pages of books my parents deemed inappropriate for my age. I was experimenting and searching for my literary soul mates.
The summer I turned ten, my brother brought home four or five brown paper bags bulging with novels. Classic crime spilled out of the bags, lurid pulp covers painting a colorful mosaic on the floor. We all prowled through this wondrous horde, laying claim to our favorites, and guarding them from our sibling’s thievery. That summer I started the most inappropriate of all my underage affairs, the one with Chandler, Fleming and Hammitt. Soon the Grand Dames joined the party, Christie, Tey and Sayers. I speed-dated my way through the genre’s best for the next ten years of my life. I lingered over the heroes who reluctantly rose to challenges, or who stumbled through life on good intentions, but poor execution. I worshiped the writers who tricked me with red herrings, teased me with cleaver clues, and threw me into tailspins with sudden reversals. But I fell in love with the authors who gave me endings I never saw coming.
Growing up on a steady diet of crime novels isn’t for everyone, but I’m convinced this long courtship, gifted me with some valuable life skills. For one thing, it turned me into a critical thinker, someone who scrutinizes and prods the facts. I’m never satisfied until all the information shards fit together in a logical pattern. I used this skill every day of my adult life as a professional historian. I tickled and teased facts into place, hoping to entice people into learning about history though my museum exhibits and magazine articles.
However, I didn’t realize the full impact of my old sweethearts on my writing style until I shifted my hand to fiction. It turns out I’m a writer obsessed with creating rough, defective characters. Classic crime taught me not to expect perfection; even the good guys embrace some sin. They drink, smoke and wallow in a host of mental conditions ranging from depression to chronic guilt. Their faults didn’t make them less heroic in my eyes, it just made them human. My old flames showed me why motive matters, and if you hide a few admirable qualities in your villains, you make readers ponder the human condition long after the book is closed. Now I embrace their example, and I marry it to my own work. Because of their influence, my fictional baby is about an art thief protagonist, with a philanthropist as the antagonist. I know I’d never be satisfied writing about beautiful happy people, because my first paramours were not fairy tales. I never wanted to read about unicorns and princesses. Well, maybe if the unicorn was a ruthless killer, and the princess was a tough-as-nails bounty hunter. Now that’s a mash-up I could get behind.
As I take a moment to reflect on the fussy infant I currently edit into the light of the world, I am grateful for all my book obsessions. I learned something valuable from each literary affair, maybe in ways I didn’t expect or understand at the time. Before I settled down to write a word, they helped me to arrive at this point in my life. Best of all, they fostered my deep affection for all writers. I respect and admire my siblings in ink, and I can think of no greater company to aspire to than the family of authors.
Thanks, Robin, for this glimpse into your writing life. Good luck with all your many projects.