BOOK FUN MAGAZINE - FREE READ

NORA INTERVIEWS JIM ROBINSON



How did you start out your writing career? Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

My journey to becoming a published author of fiction has been a rather odd one. My earliest dream, I think, when I was very young, was of becoming a novelist; novelists were my first “rock stars,” and books were wonderful, worshiped things. To this day, I stubbornly cling to a kind of reverence for the written word…and I work pretty hard at avoiding too much immersion in the publishing business to the extent that it might permanently damage my na├»ve belief in books and writers of books as magical things. But I grew up in an alcoholic family, and though I never lost my love for literature, I got sidelined with music and dope and all sorts of escapist fare. I have a gift for music, too, and songwriting is an important part of how I creatively express myself. But it took many years before I got serious enough about my prose writing to actually set to work on a novel. The fact that my first attempt at long form fiction was published still astounds me.


How did you get the idea for your this novel “The Flower of Grass?

My wife and kids and I were visiting my father-in-law, Bryan Haislip, at his home in North Carolina. Bryan (or “Baba” as we call him) is one of my favorite people in the world (I married WAY over my head!). He is a wonderful poet, and one night he read aloud a poem written for my wife, Teresa, way back when she was seven years old. For some reason, this short piece acted as a sort of emotional catalyst, and I “saw” very clearly the entire basic shape for the novel. There’s lots of autobiographical content in the book, so in many ways the core of the story had been with me forever. But the poem just crystallized many of the thematic elements…the beauty and innocence of youth, and youth as a fleeting thing. Mortality, the power of faith and love, the yearning for relationships and the importance of family in forming for us what healthy relationships and intimacy look like…all of it flowed into my head, how I could use my own life experiences as an authentic starting place to create new characters and to shape the novel. I open the novel with Bryan’s poem, and it was a real honor to be able to do that.

Did you come up with the title “The Flower of Grass ? If not, what was your working title? What exactly does this title represent? What is its message?

The opening line of Bryan’s poem is: “The grace of grass growing she has” and my original working title for the novel was The Grace of Grass Growing. But I think at some point I did a title search or something, and found a novel by someone else with a too-similar title. Anyway, I soon found what I wanted, in 1 Peter: “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass; the grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.” I thought The Flower of Grass was the perfect metaphor for the brevity of human life, and of earthly transience, etc. Really, both of the main characters in the book learn a lot about what is temporary and what is truly of value in life…and the truth perhaps surprises them both.


I know that you are a musician – when did you start doing that? How did you make the leap from musician to author?

Well, both are really somewhat synonymous for me. I’m self-taught at both…both seemed to be a natural part of who I was from the beginning, providing ways to express myself, to communicate feelings. I learned early on that I could sing and write my heart better than I could speak it, and it’s really true to this day. Although there are obvious differences in the craftsmanship elements of songwriting and writing prose, the initiating creative energy is very much the same for me. I get in a kind of zone, and don’t come up for air until I have what I want. Of course, writing a novel is much more a process than an event; songs usually happen very fast for me, and although there are rewrites and tweaking, the actual time spent on finishing a song is minute compared to writing a novel. But during the initial creative rush, the two are more alike than they are different.


What was your favorite scene from your book “The Flower of Grass? Which scene in those books were the most fun to write? Why? Which was the hardest for you to write? Why?

It’s hard to pick a single favorite scene…in a way, the scenes all have a certain seamlessness to me, as if I wrote the whole book in one sitting (which, of course, I did not!). I enjoy writing descriptive passages, because I enjoy reading those kinds of works. I love the older classics that are shamelessly florid in their use of language. I happen to love a lot of things that have supposedly gone “out of style” with modern readers, things like head-hopping and omniscient point of view, etc. Frankly, I don’t think most readers care much about our rules or lack thereof. They want a good story, with compelling characters. I’m very much interested in the internal motivations of my characters; I suppose part of that comes with my love of psychology and counseling. I want to know the interior person…and one-dimensional characters bore me. No one I’ve ever met in real life was one-dimensional. But you find those people all the time in books. So, in my novel, the majority of scenes involve only one person; I did this to emphasize the inherent loneliness of the town, the characters, the story itself. The most people in any scene together at one time is three, and those scenes are relatively brief. I love the scene with Preacher, because with that character I was able to access a kind of human time machine; his dementia-induced jumping back and forth through time and memory served as a great way to underscore the themes of earthly time, love and loss, hope and healing. And I love writing dialog, too. I really enjoyed the exchanges between Ellen and John; I thought it was fun having such a young character like Ellen, a teenager, dispensing much of the wisdom. She was wise beyond her years, while John was immature for his age in the way of most addicts. And I guess the most difficult scenes to write were also some of my favorites; the final conversation between Joey and John was hard for me to get through. They discussed things like loss and faith, and more specifically abuse and abandonment and addiction…even suicide. All of these issues are a real part of my own life story, my own family dynamics. So it was both tough, yet healing.


What was your favorite book as a child? Why?



Gosh, that’s a tough one. When I was very small I loved all sorts of picture books, fantasy books. As I got old enough to start reading longer works, I fell in love with things like H.G. Wells and Robert Heinlein, lots of science fiction. I also liked some of the old books I would find all dusty on the family bookshelves…Tom Sawyer and The Arabian Nights and The Jungle Book come to mind now, but there were so many I’m no doubt forgetting right now. I loved, and still love, older English literature; I adore the beauty of language back then, the elegance and poetry of the way people spoke…Shakespeare, Dickens, Wilde, so many others… the clever banter and innuendo that has for the most part disappeared from our language today. Books were one of the ways I escaped reality. I suppose they still are. One writer who influenced me very much as a teen was Ray Bradbury. I still love his stuff; he has a truly original voice, and books like Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes really made an impression on me.


How do you have time to be a musician, writer, counselor? Which do you have the most fun doing and why? How do you find the balance in your life?

Honestly, I’m not sure I HAVE found any balance in my life! As a recovering addict, the “B” word is a constant challenge. I tend to overdo anything that makes me feel good…and this is often not a good thing! But I feel truly blessed that God has so graciously provided me with a wide “canvas” upon which to “paint.” All of the things I do are creative, and all of them are complimentary to the other. The one thing that is most dangerous for me is boredom…I can’t stand that. I need to be stimulated, and I enjoy recreating myself and my work, and always looking ahead to the next challenge. However, I must put certain things first these days: my wife, my children, my faith and family. I can’t be self-destructive with my gifts, the way I was years ago. I must temper my energy with a full understanding of creativity as a GIFT, and GOD as the Provider of these gifts. Counseling in particular can be very draining, but also very satisfying. But I have to be careful not letting that work empty me too much. So balance is key, and I guess the best I can say right now is that I’m workin’ on it!

Could you please share yout testimony with us?

Twenty years ago I was a fifth-and-a-half-a-day drunk and drug addict, with no house, no car, no hope. I had over time systematically destroyed virtually everything of value in my life. It’s a long story (I tell the whole thing in my memoir, Prodigal Song), but essentially I was a suicidal addict who should have died more times than I can count. One night, in 1989, I encountered the Jesus of my childhood. I was passed out on a dirty mattress in the storage room of someone’s apartment, and woke up before dawn with a sense of a presence with me in the dark. It was like five hundred pounds were suddenly on top of me, crushing me into the mattress. I saw all the things in life I would never have…a wife, kids, a sense of purpose, of meaning. How long this lasted I don’t know, but finally whatever had been haunting me came out with a howling and shuddering, and I fell into a childlike sleep. Some unknown days later, I found myself in a downtown homeless shelter, in an AA meeting. I had the shakes so bad I couldn’t pour a cup of coffee without spilling it all over the table, and the wrinkled hand of a seventy-something-year-old woman reached in and steadied the cup. And she said, “Looks like you could use some help.” That was nearly twenty years ago. I’ve been clean and sober ever since, by God’s grace. My wife Teresa and I now have a ministry that seeks to help those with addictions and mood disorders, etc. We want to help equip churches in becoming understanding, healing communities for the lost and broken: (www.ProdigalSong.com)

Is there a question you wish someone would have asked you but didn’t? If so, what was that question and could you answer it for us please.

Question: Why do you think God made mosquitoes, ticks, poison ivy, neckties, and math?





Answer: I have no idea.

How much of this story was based on your life? Past experiences? If any of it was about your experiences, was that difficult for you to write or was it therapeutic? Please explain.

I’ve always been told to “write what you know.” The Flower of Grass is certainly what I “know.” The small Tennessee town, the river, the people and their customs, colloquialisms ….and certainly the dysfunctional family dynamics, addiction issues…all this comes from personal experience. The name of the town in the novel, Tranquility, was the original name of the settlement that would eventually become my home town of Camden. And John is without a doubt a reflection of me when it comes to his undying romanticism and internalized fear and loneliness. But once the book got started, the town and everyone in it truly took on their own identities; I was by no means telling the exact story of my own family, but rather drawing from my own experiences to infuse the story with authenticity, while allowing it to “breathe” on its own. Tranquility ended up being a much smaller, dying town than Camden is in reality. Though John is certainly someone I fully understand, he isn’t me, and his father certainly was not my father, etc. This was the first novel God had been planning for me all along. It served as a sort of catharsis for me, by the time it was done; I felt almost as if the book wrote me, rather than the other way around, helped me deal with some of my own lingering issues. So yes, the book was both difficult AND therapeutic. Still, I think the next novel will present many more challenges for me as a writer, in some ways, because I will need to create people and places and dynamics from more foreign “soil,” so to speak. I’m looking forward to that challenge.

TOP THINGS YOU WANTED TO ASK JIM, BUT WERE AFRAID TO, SO I DID!

1.Star Wars or Lord of the Rings? Why?

This question is cruel. I can’t…I just…it’s IMPOSSIBLE!! I love them both. As literature, obviously, it’s Lord of the Rings. But if I get to play with a real lightsaber…

2.Would you rather fly somewhere or take a cruise if you had the time (and money wasn’t an issue)? Why?


Cruise. Love the water. However, since getting sober, I’ve yet to take a pleasure cruise. All the free booze just sounded a little iffy to me…


3.Have you ever or would you ever like to jump out of a plane? (with a parachute on of course). If so, why? If not, what crazy thing would you like to do? Why?


Back when I was drinking, I became more and more determined to do “brave” things. Some of these things I could tell you about, but some of them are better left unsaid. One involved hanging from a cropduster…but never mind. The real truth is, I was scared my whole life. Most addicts are. We try to do “brave” things to convince ourselves and others that we’re not cowards. But we really are. These days, I find myself less likely to do crazy stuff like jumping out of an airplane…but, I must admit, there’s still a streak of daredevil in me, somewhat subdued but alive and well. I think I’d be far more likely to pursue this wild streak if it weren’t for my wife and kids. I try to think of them first. Shorter answer: Yes, I would consider jumping out of an airplane; I can’t deny it. Maybe when the kids are old enough to jump with me… (My wife would NOT…she’s the only one of us with much sense, really).


4.If you could interview or hang out with someone alive or dead for a day who would that person be and why? What questions would you like to ask them?

Jesus. I’d ask Him if I could rest my head on His chest, and listen to His heart.


5.Out of all the characters you have read in books; which one would you secretly want to be and why?


Tono, the first-person narrator from the four short novels that make up The Book of Bebb, by Frederick Buechner. And, believe me, you’d have to read those books to even begin to know why in the world I’d pick him. I’m not even sure myself….but the books are brilliant. Okay, strike that. No one in their right mind would really want to be Tono. OK, how about this: First Mate Starbuck, Moby Dick (Ishmael had to work too hard…). That would have been one heck of a ride…


6.If you had to pick a show on TV to be a participate in which one would you pick and why?


I would want to be a guest “voice” on SpongeBob SquarePants. Because it’s the funniest show ever. I’ve also always dreamed of having a guest role on one of the Star Trek shows, preferably as an alien, but none of those shows are on any more. Dang it.


7.With gas prices getting really crazy everyone is wants someone one to invent an efficient way of getting around to where we need to go. Since you are an author with a creative mind I wanted to know which fuel efficient means of transportation you wouldn’t mind getting around in (given this is all fantasy in the first place – just having fun here). Which of the following ways would you choose to get around in.

a.You would much rather get around in the “transporter” used in the Star Trek movies and the TV show (which I call the “Beam Machine”) If you chose this one why?

As an admitted Star Trek geek, I’d of course love this mode of getting around…although the starship Enterprise itself would be even better. OR (see ‘d’ and ‘e’)

d.You would rather hang out with nature and walk around with the trees like the Hobbits did in Lord of the Rings? If you chose this one why?

I love the woods; more than any other place, the woods give me peace. (The ocean comes in second.)

e.If I have left out your favorite mode of future transportation please feel free to add it in here and why it’s your favorite?

I would ride on the back of my dragon, and I would wield a sword. I think I would name the dragon Patrick. For the starfish.

8.If you had the time and money to learn something new, what would it be? Why? (Ok, Dream here – let’s say that you will have the physical strength and coordination to do whatever it is you wanted to learn)


I would become an NFL quarterback (just long enough to throw one long touchdown pass before retiring), OR study painting from great masters in Italy (and if you’d ever seen me try to draw anything, you’d know just how BIG a dream this really is…)


9.What is the neatest place you have ever visited and why? What made it so neat, special or memorable to you?

Hmm…tough one. I’d say a tie between Italy and the Country & Western Restaurant in Camden, Tennessee. Or maybe Disney World. Or this strange place high above Denver where my friend Curley took me fly fishing. The wooded banks of the Tennessee River. A pub in east London, the name of which I have mercifully forgotten., Oh, I give up…


10.If you had all the time in the world (and just as much money ;) to do anything you wanted, what would you do? Why?


I would do exactly what I do now, except more at my own pace and rhythm; I would counsel some, then take a half year off from that and do nothing but write, then another six months to do nothing but fish and sit in the woods. I’d try to get still and worship more, while working and worrying less. I’d take my wife on romantic vacations, then come home and after a while take the wife and kids somewhere really fun. I’d read more books, write more books, and then read some more books. Then I’d go fishing.

I’m actually on vacation at the time of this writing, and I’ve been reading an old novel from my father-in-law’s library…Frenchman’s Creek, by Daphne du Maurier (I know, I know…what odd tastes for an old Tennessee boy…) In it, the French pirate says to the noblewoman: “There are birds to watch, too, and fishes to catch, and streams to be explored. All these are methods of escape.” How true, how true…

Thanks Jim for taking the time to be with us and share your thoughts and feelings. I’m excited about your first book.

Are there any comments you would like to make or final words you would like to leave with us?

To all my fellow writers…keep writing! And, in a flashing moment of uncontrolled, shameless self-promotion…PLEASE BUY MY BOOK!!

www.jameserobinson.com


All the Best to you. We look forward to the next time you visit my blog and more importantly when you visit the Mall of GA Life Way Store where you will not only be doing a book signing but you will be giving us a concert too!! I really look forward to that. I've been telling everyone.

August 30th from 1 - 3p.m. at Life Way Mall of GA store in Buford. See you there!!


Thanks! Blessings to you and your work and ministry, Nora.

Blessings to you too Jim on your wonderful Journey in writing and whatever else the Lord brings your way.

Thanks; see you soon friend.

Nora :)

7 comments:

  1. Wonderful, insightful interview Jim and Nora! Sounds like a book I need to read ...

    Hugs,
    Julie

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  2. Wow, great interview, Nora and Jim. Now I've got to go buy that book.

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  3. The book sounds wonderful. I'll have to pick it up. And I must say I appreciate a guy who can enjoy both Buechner and Du Maurier!

    Meg

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  4. "One-dimensional characters bore me." When I read that quote from Jim Robinson, my heart sang "yes, yes, yes!!" A Christian fiction author after my own heart. I'm really looking forward to reading his book. Thanks for the interview.
    angela roberts

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  5. Thanks for this interview. Love it. Hope to be at the booksigning.

    Big Blessings,

    Julie

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  6. Can't wait to review my copy when it gets here!

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  7. I have to say that I hadn't intended to buy and read this book until I read the interview. Jim sounds so witty and corky. I really enjoyed it. I'm going to try to be there next weekend for the book signing.

    Rachel Walker
    Lawrenceville, GA

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