Erin F. Robinson holds an MA in English Literature and Creative Writing from California State University East Bay. She is the current Fiction Editor for Arroyo Literary Review. Her work has appeared in Ducts.org, The Autumn Sound Review, The Literary Yard, is forthcoming in Blue Hour Magazine, Century 121, and her magazine reviews have appeared in NewPages.com. While not writing or editing, she works as a court reporter in Oakland, California.
Erin’s story “Dreams in Steno” appered in Issue 2 Volume 1 Summer 2013 edition of Four Ties Lit Review. The following interview occurred via email in Mid-July of 2013.
“Dreams in Steno” is a great and story and very popular on FTLR. The humor you use is clever and sharp. Do you often use humor in your stories and if so what role do you feel it plays in your writing?
I do often use humor in my stories. I tend to use dry and cynical humor. Most of my writing is about characters being in an internal conflict, experiencing some kind of trauma or other difficulties. I will usually use humor with a secondary character to lighten up the story a little, and also to show that the secondary character is a person that can be relied upon for comic relief or comfort by the main character.
Your transitions are nearly seamless and your writing is crisp. Do you find that your work as an editor has shaped your writing or what you are willing to submit for publication?
I definitely think that editing has helped my writing. Being an editor on a literary magazine is especially helpful because I could read hundreds of manuscripts in one reading period, and after a while, the writing all starts to blend together. Then every so often the most amazing story appears in your manuscript batch, and instantly, from the first sentence, you know you are experiencing magic. That tells me that in my own writing, I need to work on hooking the reader, I need to learn to develop characters that the reader can become emotionally invested in, and I need to keep the reader interested in the plot until the very last page. I want my story to be the magic in the pile of manuscripts!
Who are you writing to / who do you see as your audience?
I mostly write magical realism, and more often than not, my stories have a historical fiction element to them, as well. I think I see my audience as young adult readers who are interested in suspending their disbelief for a moment and going on a ride with me to another world, maybe a hundred years ago, maybe in a country they’ve never been before, or in a world that is not familiar to them. So I would like to think that I appeal to the younger, imaginative mind.
For some writers they are simply trying to entertain their readers others want to make them think or challenge their reader’s preconceptions. Typically, what are you trying to accomplish in your writing?
Earlier I wrote that most of my stories have some kind of internal conflict that the main character is dealing with. Of course, the goal is to keep your readers entertained, but I would also like the reader to feel the conflict and to imagine themselves in the same situation and question the main character’s decision. In other words, I would like the reader to experience some introspection and self-reflection after reading one of my stories, wondering how they might have acted differently.
How / When / Why did you begin writing?
I began writing in high school. I wrote poetry and had it published in the school newspaper. Looking back at that poetry now, it’s weepy and atrocious! Years later I turned to creative nonfiction and fiction, and now I solely write that. I always kept a diary, from the time I was very small, and I always felt that writing relieved some sort of angst that I was experiencing. I still feel this way today.
What inspires you now to write? (Why is your genre important to you?)
I am inspired to write historical fiction and magical realism because those are the genres which I enjoy reading the most. I think the most exciting thing about reading historical fiction is knowing that most of it is really true, and that the most juicy stories are the ones you just can’t make up! I also love magical realism because sometimes things happen for which there is no explanation, and we must accept the mystery and mysticism of the universe, suspend our disbelief (like Samuel Coleridge encouraged) for a moment, and let the storyteller take us on a journey in which we don’t need to know all the answers.
Do you have a daily / weekly writing routine? Can you tell us about it?
Usually I will come up with an idea for a story, and I will jot notes down on scraps of papers, napkins, etc. Then I let the idea fester. I will collect all the scraps, sit down, and I will write an outline that moves through the main characters, the setting, the plot, so that the bones of the story are pretty much there in front of me. Then I will take another week to let it fester. I’ll usually bounce my ideas off of my husband when we’re walking the dogs. Then I will find a Saturday when I’m not busy, and I will write the story, usually in one sitting. It’s almost like I am possessed by a writing demon. When I’ve written my last word, I often don’t remember how I’ve arrived there!
Do you have any writing projects that you currently working on?
I am currently working on my first novel. It’s a story about the small town in which I live, once called Alisal, and it takes place during the Civil War. I would consider it mostly historical fiction, with a hint of magical realism, as the town is haunted by a beautiful ghost named Lily. The town folklore is that this woman was murdered in a brothel downtown, and she now wanders the streets, peering through the shop windows, and once in a while we get a glimpse of her melancholy face. My mission is to solve her murder and avenge it!
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Some of my favorite authors are John Steinbeck, Kate Chopin, Ernest Hemingway, e.e. cummings, Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Isabel Allende, and my most recent favorite is Junot Diaz. His Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is a perfect example of what I want to emulate as a writer: The fusion of historical fiction and magical realism.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
I still consider myself an aspiring writer, so I may not be equipped to give any good advice! But I would say this: I’ve been told many times by professors and fellow writers that you should write what you know. I agree with that to a certain point. No, I’m not an oil rigger in Texas. It would probably take years of research and hanging around oil riggers in Texas to really get anyone to believe a story I write about that. But I do have a grandfather who was once an agronomist, and I have been to Argentina many times. So I wrote a story about an Argentine agronomist guitar player. I had to do minimal research about vineyards in Mendoza and mostly just had chats over coffee with my grandpa about his life. I think the most fun thing about writing is the research you have to do that will make your story come alive, and talking to people is a great way to do that. So my advice would be to write what you know, but also to write about what you would like to know and enjoy the research.
If our readers want to see more of your writing where can they find more of your work?
You can find a magical realism piece about how my grandparents met and fell in love in Argentina in “The Guitarist’s Fortune” published recently in The Literary Yard: http://literaryyard.com/2013/05/04/story-the-guitarists-fortune/
If you want to see some of my flash fiction, you can read “Why We Do This” published in Century 121: http://c121poetry.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/why-we-do-this/. You can also read my creative nonfiction in Autumn Sound Review, a piece called “Human Condition”: http://theautumnsound.com/2013/05/01/human-condition/. I’ve also written magazine reviews that you can find on NewPages.com.
Thanks so much for being a part of FTLR and good luck in the future.