Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Author Interview: Erika Robuck

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Last week, Julie reviewed the wonderful novel, Hemingway's Girl by Erika Robuck. Today, we are delighted that Erika was able to do our Q&A.

GJR: Why did you focus on this time in Hemingway’s life for the setting of your novel? Why introduce Mariella into his life?

Erika Robuck (ER): When I visited the Hemingway House in Key West, I was struck by the personality of Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline, throughout the rooms and grounds. Where ceiling fans were replaced with chandeliers and old bar urinals were tiled over and turned into fountains, I could see the mark of a woman who had wanted to change a man, and I was fascinated by it. Then I read Hemingway’s essay about the deaths of the vets following the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, and I knew I had to tell their story. Mariella grew as a bridge between Hemingway and the veterans, between the haves and have-nots.

GJR: Mariella feels a strong pull towards Hemingway throughout the novel. What do you think it was about him that made women fall in love and cling to him?

ER: I believe Hemingway’s alpha male status was what made him so attractive. Wherever Hemingway went, he had command of the room. His physical size, good looks, vocal power, directness, and intensity were magnetic.

Mariella, in particular, had spent her life around fishermen at the docks of Key West, and had just lost her father. She was more comfortable around men than women, and lacked a strong male figure in her life at that time. Hemingway filled that need.
GJR: As we see Mariella fall in love with Gavin, her feelings towards Papa change. She begins to see him in a new light; albeit not always a good one. Do you think that seeing him through other people’s eyes, made Mariella open her own? Or do you think being around him all the time helped cultivate that change?

ER: I think that seeing Gavin as Hemingway’s foil highlighted all of Hemingway’s shortcomings. Where Gavin gave Mariella space and left her feeling empowered, Hemingway came on strong and left her feeling guilty. While Gavin worked to serve those around him, Hemingway used those around him in his fiction and to suit his purposes. With Gavin around, Mariella could not ignore Hemingway’s faults.
GJR: Did you find it hard to write Hemingway, since you were fictionalizing an American icon? How long did it take you to research him? Did you already know how you wanted to portray him?

ER: I was a little daunted at the task of animating Hemingway, so I tried to get to know him on every level and through every stage of his life through biographies, letters, journals, photographs, and most important, his fiction. I generally research for about four months before writing a word, and during that time, I get to know my subjects intimately enough to form their characters. How I wanted to portray him grew more complex the more I read about him.
GJR: Was there a secondary character you thoroughly loved writing? If so, why?

ER: I loved writing Gavin and John. I have tremendous respect and care for members of our armed forces and veterans, and those men really stirred me. Their ability to fight, their loyalty, and the way they have to try to live normal lives after coming back from hell fascinates and inspires me. I loved Gavin and John so much that they unexpectedly made cameos in my protagonist’s past as a war nurse in my next novel, CALL ME ZELDA.

GJR: Mariella owns this story but Hemingway was a catalyst for a lot of things, including her meeting Gavin. How do you think these things tie together? Could Mariella be the same person without having met Papa?

ER: As much as Gavin’s goodness highlights Hemingway’s dark side, he also reflects Hemingway’s better traits of loyalty, love of country and freedom, respect for veterans, yearning for authenticity, and courage. Hemingway is drawn to goodness in others because he wants to be good.

I don’t think Mariella would have reached her full maturity and appreciation for the path she ultimately chose without seeing another path in Hemingway. As much of a friend as he was to her, Hemingway was also a test of her own loyalty, authenticity, and courage.

GJR: Has being a big fan of Hemingway and his books, changed you as a writer and as a reader? If so, how?

ER: It has. Part of what I love about Hemingway is his clear, spare prose style, and as a “student” of his, I’ve nurtured that aspect of my own style. I am not comparing my writing to Hemingway, only mentioning that it is more natural to me to allow the reader to infer than to directly spell out my message.

There are many writers who have to delete thousands of words while revising. I’m the opposite. The first drafts of my work are like the bones. I add muscle, blood vessels, and skin as I rework the material.

As a reader, I enjoy many different styles. In fact, once I finish a story by Hemingway, I often visit one of Fitzgerald’s stories for balance.

GJR: Unless you are like Papa and don’t believe in talking about your current work, can you tell us a little about your next book?

ER: Unlike Papa, I love to talk about my work. My next novel with NAL/Penguin, CALL ME ZELDA, will release in 2013. It is the story of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald after the party years, and in the midst of Zelda’s psychological breakdown. It is mostly set in the 1930s and 40s, but also takes the reader back to debutante dances in Alabama, the Roaring Twenties in New York, the French Riviera, Bermuda, and Asheville, North Carolina. I can’t wait to share more!

GJR: How do you feel social media has helped publishing and/or reading in general? What about for yourself?

ER: I enjoy social media so much that it does not feel like work. Twitter has allowed me to connect with other writers all over the United States and the world to compare notes, learn craft, point out conferences, form critique groups, and provide moral support. Writing doesn’t feel isolating anymore with so many authors on Twitter.

Social media has helped publishing, because now book buzz and word-of-mouth recommendations have a much farther reach. I chat about books and reading regularly with people all over the US and the globe, and I get ninety percent of my pleasure reading recommendations from my Twitter feed.

An interesting detail to note, however, is that writers who go on Twitter only to promote themselves aren’t very successful. It’s about genuine connection. When good news happens, you share it with your friends, but I don’t recommend that people sign up for Twitter and immediately start linking to buy their book on x, y, or z site. That’s a big turn off.

GJR: You’re having an author get-together, dinner party.  Who’s on the guest list, which recipe would you grab, and why?
ER: If I could pick anyone, I’d invite A. S. Byatt (POSSESSION), Ian McEwen (ATONEMENT), Toni Morrison (BELOVED), Margaret Atwood (ALIAS GRACE), and J K Rowling to my dinner party. I would have it catered with a big Italian feast and lots of wine because I’m a terrible cook, and because Italian feasts with wine seem to inspire passionate conversation. Then I would eat, drink, and LISTEN.

Thanks to Erika for taking time to do our Q&A. Hemingway's Girl is out today!




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