I’d like to introduce you to the forty-seventh interviewee in my ‘Meet the Author’ series. She is Robin Winter.
Hi, Robin! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer?
I started trying to tell stories before I could write, making ‘books’ of scribbled lines that I believed communicated the stories I thought about while scribbling. After I learned to read and then write real words, I moved quickly over into the frustrating world of writing. I think my first incredibly derivative novel was finished in eighth grade.
Your historical thriller novel, Night Must Wait, was published by Imajin Books in October, 2012. Can you tell us about it? What inspired you to write it?
I grew up in Nigeria for many of my early years and my family evacuated from the new nation of Biafra in 1967 when the bullets began to fly. Never really left that behind me, always felt a guilt debt for leaving, in that obsessive self-centered way a kid can cling to an impression. In college I became ever more annoyed that novels never had women best friends who acted like proper musketeers, thus was born the idea of sending my fictional women into danger in Nigeria. So I meant to have best friends working together in a war time, but the next thing I knew my characters started to try to kill each other, and I realized that made a far better story. I went with it.
You spent your childhood in Nigeria when your family went there to teach people how to grow food and raise protein. That must have been really hard. Can you tell us a bit about it? Has that experience affected your writing and/or your artwork?
Yes, I’ve always been an outsider, always feeling I owe a debt for the benefits I enjoy in my life, because after all where I am, to what family born, in what time, comes down to luck. I’m driven to work and produce because of my sense of unfair privilege. If I waste my opportunities, I will not forgive myself.
Your dystopian science fiction novel, Future Past, was published in May, 2013, by Eternal/Damnation Press. Can you tell us about the book?
I should explain that some of my novels, especially the science fiction, come from dreams. I dream I’m a different person. He or she is always in trouble, usually complicated and desperate, and I’m fascinated by the character. When I wake I have to do some extrapolation, almost detective work, to figure out why this person was in such a fix and how to get out of it. I’ve had whole movies spin out in my dreams, but usually there are lots of loose ends that I have to find and knit up. However, I have had the gift of great personalities visit me. Some come back more than one night.
Recurrent dreams were the origin of Future Past. I saw our future world. I saw floating cities upon a polluted sea, people eating extruded food paste in bars for daily fare. I saw them imbibing pure water the way the rarest wine is treasured now. I saw the war against fanatics being lost and one desperate man finding a way to win, and using it to save his Free World from defeat.
So there are sins and there are sins. How do you forgive a man who commits genocide? The rest of the book leaves that question open to the reader, I hope, but the man himself undertakes a long and sometimes horrible journey to become something new, a human being.
You’ve work with two different publishers. What is that like? Are their approaches and editing styles different?
I admit to some hesitation answering this question because I don’t wish to make odious comparisons. Each press has fascinating differences. All small independent publishers rely upon the author to craft a great deal of her own publicity and writer’s persona. All have their preferred editing practices. You want to assess these practices before you sign a contract. If a publisher prefers a particular style they will usually state so, for example Chicago Manual of Style is a common preference, and it’s simple enough to get your own copy. My advice would be, make sure that the policy in editing is to track all changes at every stage. Any deviation from that rule leads to errors and anguish. Some small presses hire professional editors out in the market to do editing – a fascinating idea since it means that the press itself doesn’t have all the editors under one roof.
I think anyone writing now should be prepared to present a public self. Consider how curious you are about the writers you love best, and try to satisfy that ‘wish to know’ for your own readers. Different publishers see the use of social media with different focus. Imajin Books believes that the Amazon Select program helps sales, and the free promo days are geared to give your book bursts of wide exposure. I think you should try whatever your press’ favorite methods are, but with this one caution. Don’t expect magic. The world of publishing is changing so fast that what worked even yesterday isn’t guaranteed success today.
Some of your science fiction short stories have been published. Do you have a favorite? Your husband is a scientist. What does he think about your science fiction stories?
My favorite story is always the one I’m working on now. But that aside, I might like my story about Blot the black cat who solves the mystery of who the third person in the house is. Horror Zine published that a few years ago. As for my husband the scientist, he’s my best reference and advisor on science, not only in my fiction but in my other career of painting. He can tell immediately if the slope of a hill is wrong for the type of substrate, and when I talk medicine with him–he knows the very basics upon which all medicine rests. He studies evolutionary biology. Ecology and climate issues, are all up his alley.
You are also an artist, and your oil paintings—under the name of Robin Gowen—can be viewed at Sullivan Goss Gallery in Santa Barbara, California. What kind of paintings you do specialize in? I’ve heard that some of your art shows are on You Tube. Could you give us the links?
I mainly paint landscape but also some figure. My styles range from fauve to photorealism with a goodly grouping of impressionistic sensibility in the middle somewhere. I once said to Frank Goss who owns and runs Sullivan Goss where my paintings hang, that it was like having a five-in-hand carriage, and I jump from one hores’s back to another depending on what style a particular subject demands. But the whole carriage and all the horses are always hurtling onwards, no one is left behind. There are three videos out there. The Corner of My Eye is the one with an interview with Frank Goss.
You have a literary agent. What is it like working with her?
Remarkable. You know how we’re all told that agents don’t edit any more? Well, in this case, they’re wrong. Toni Lopopolo is the most exhaustive of editors. I’m not saying I invariably agree with her, but she always has good reason for any change she suggests and she’s willing to fight about it with me. What happens then is that I see why a problem exists, and, I know that what I have written has a flaw. Then I find other possible solutions of which we pick our best option. Editing is a creative act, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. However, the writer is still the a writer, who gets final word on what does or does not go into the manuscript.
What is your favorite or least favorite part of writing?
When I am re-reading the final proofs I find my eyes tend to go out of focus. I’ve re-read the same text so many times it’s nearly impossible to see what is there, instead of what I remember!
Do you have a writing routine, a special place where you go to do your writing, or a certain time of day? Do you listen to music while you write, and if so, what kind of music?
I have a dark study, but really I write anywhere and anywhen. I try to write at least 500 words a day, but I usually double that. Much of this ends up in the recycling bin. I haven’t been listening to music much of recent, but when I do my taste varies wildly. Mostly the lesser-known Romantics, Raff and Berwald, come to mind, but I’ll also listen to movie music – Vangelis, then on some days Gilbert and Sullivan or Allman Brothers.
How do you get past writers’ block or distractions like the internet?
Would be nice to have a magic answer. I think writers block has one simple surface answer and that is to always be writing at least three books with three distinct problem sets and characters. Add a couple of poems to be editing and a few short stories, with a fall-back file of blog posts and you’re good.
The internet is a problem. I have to remind myself that the news will go on without me witnessing every half-hour’s change.
Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your book. Thanks!
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Robin-Winter/134172176713818
Website and Blog: http://www.robinwinter.net
LinkedIn and Goodreads: Robin Winter
Or check out the paintings at: