What’s better than meeting an author-friend (for the first time) for pancakes on her pub day? NOTHING! Author Holly Robinson was nice enough to meet me while she and her husband and one of their kids were en route to a family celebration in Wisconsin! Since we email often and had recently spoken on the phone, we just picked up where we left off.
What you’ll learn about Holly below is that she is an endless source of energy and inspiration. I don’t think she ever stops. She’s a working freelance writer, ghost writer and book doctor in addition to being a novelist who just sold her second novel to Penguin! She’s also a wife and mom to FIVE kids. The great thing is that Holly is incredibly generous with her knowledge, and her enthusiasm is contagious!
Please welcome Holly Robinson to Women’s Fiction Writers! And now, pass the syrup!
Author Holly Robinson’s Passion Shines Through On The Page—And In Life!
Amy: Yay Holly! You’re finally here! I feel like I’ve been waiting forever! Congratulations on the launch of THE WISHING HILL! Can you give readers a quick overview of its premise?
Holly: Amy, I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am to be here! Thank you so much for inviting me to stop by. I’ve been following WFW for ages, and I’m so inspired by the other authors I’ve seen interviewed here.
THE WISHING HILL is told from two points of view—Juliet, an artist living in Mexico whose husband has just left her, and Claire, an older woman who lives next door to Juliet’s childhood home in Massachusetts. When Juliet is called home to help care for her mother, Desiree, a flamboyant actress, Juliet goes reluctantly. She and her self-absorbed mother have always clashed. Plus, nobody back home knows about her divorce—or the fact that she’s pregnant and her ex-husband is not the father.
Juliet intends to get her mother back on her feet and return to Mexico fast, but nothing goes as planned. Instead she is drawn into a long-running feud between her mother and Claire, her mom’s reclusive neighbor. Little does she know that these relationships hold the key to shocking secrets about her family and herself that have been hiding in plain sight. There is romance in the novel for both Juliet and Claire, but the central plot really revolves around love, trust, betrayal and how to forgive and accept the people you love after they’ve hurt you.
Whoa. As I write this I’m thinking it all sounds very dark and Dickensian, but it’s also a very comic novel in places—like when Claire is being pursued by an ardent suitor who’s over 70 but has the energy and sense of humor of a teenaged boy.
Amy: THE WISHING HILL is not your first book, but it is your first traditionally published novel. Can you tell us how that came about?
Holly: It was a complete accident! I have made a living as a freelance journalist, essayist and celebrity ghost writer for over twenty years. In that time, I also wrote five novels. I have a wonderful agent who tried very hard to sell them all. Finally, when he couldn’t sell my fiction even after I’d published a well-reviewed memoir, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter, with Random House, I got so frustrated that I decided to go the self publishing route. Two weeks after I’d put my novel SLEEPING TIGERS up as a paperback and ebook myself, my agent sold THE WISHING HILL to New American Library/Penguin. I literally had to get off the chair I was sitting on and lie down on the floor with the phone pressed to my ear when he told me the news. Penguin recently bought my new novel, BEACH PLUM ISLAND, which will be published in April 2014.
I have to say that I’m thrilled to be published traditionally, because I love my editor—she’s the smartest woman I know, and she pushes me to raise my writing to new heights. It’s also fantastic to have the marketing and publicity wheels of a traditional publisher turning on my behalf. However, self publishing is a lot of fun and gives you complete control over the process of putting your book into the hands of readers. The Indie publishing world is full of supportive people, and you can definitely find readers that way–especially if you write romance, mysteries, or other genres where books typically belong to a series. Self publishing also teaches you more about the business of marketing and social media than you could learn in an entire MBA program! Every writer should consider self publishing at least one book to learn what it takes to put yourself—and your book—out in the public eye.
Amy: Recently there has been a lot of talk about book covers, especially book covers for women’s fiction. Is the cover of THE WISHING HILL literal, metaphorical, or a little of both?
Holly: There is definitely a difference in the kinds of covers chosen for literary fiction, science fiction, women’s fiction, mysteries, etc., but why shouldn’t there be? People really do judge books by their covers. Even though I sometimes read on an e-reader, I still am attracted to certain covers because they’re interesting, beautiful, funny or appealing in some other way. I think of book covers as art with a message. For THE WISHING HILL, the cover is both literal and metaphorical. There is an actual scene where Juliet, as a child, goes to a hill covered in dandelions with both Desiree and Claire, and she calls it “the wishing hill” because it’s “a hill covered in wishes.” (That was the original title, but the editor decided it was too long.) It’s a metaphorical cover, too, in the sense that it gives that image we all have in our minds of wishing, as children, for lots of different things—many of which are impossible to have, but we fantasize about having them anyway. In this novel, Juliet, Desiree, and Claire all fervently wish for “perfect” families, which we all know is one of those impossible wishes shared by every one of us.
Amy: I know you’ve been fortunate to go on some writing retreats. When you’re not able to do that, what’s your writing/real life/ day like?
Holly: I literally write all day and often at night, too, because I make my living as a freelance writer. I have a lot of deadlines every week for articles, book chapters and marketing brochures, but I try to reserve early morning, at least two hours a day, for writing fiction (or making notes and researching a book, which is what I’m doing now.) I’m lucky that my children are all older now—the youngest is in high school—so that I can think unfractured thoughts during daylight hours. With five kids, that definitely didn’t used to happen!
Amy: For THE WISHING HILL, did you start with a story, a character, or a problem? Meaning, what lead you—or pushed you—to write this particular story?
Holly: The main idea for THE WISHING HILL came from my grandmother’s story. She was the oldest of five children, and when her own mother ran away with a much younger lover, leaving her children behind with their father, the family splintered. I can’t say more, or you’ll guess one of the key secrets in the book! But I’m always interested in the tensions underlying mother-daughter relationships, so that inspired a good part of THE WISHING HILL. Beyond that, I knew I wanted to write about living in Mexico, a place I lived and worked for a while, and this gave me a chance to contrast that vivid, colorful setting with New England, where I live now. I also wanted to write about women who were trying to make it as artists—Juliet is a painter, and her mother is an actress—so I was able to do that here. I think it’s important to create characters who are living their passions, because too few people are doing that in real life.
Amy: What’s your definition of women’s fiction, and does the label bother you?
Holly: I think of women’s fiction as any fiction featuring women as main characters who have complicated inner lives and complex relationships, where the focus is on how those women are going to resolve (or at least survive) the conflicts in their lives. I have heard (and seen here) how bothered some writers are by the label, like the wonderful Caroline Leavitt, but I’m not. I actually think “women’s fiction” is a useful term in the publishing business when it comes to selling books. Having been self published, I’m a pragmatist, in that I realize how difficult—and how important—it is to be able to put your book in at least one main “category” where readers can easily recognize it as something they’d like to try. Think of it as a grocery store aisle: If you’re shopping for cereal, you’re not going to look in the pet foods aisle, right?
Amy: Share your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction.
Holly: Write stories that you would love to read, and your passion will shine through on the page.
Holly Robinson is an award-winning journalist whose work appears regularly in national venues such as Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Huffington Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, More, Open Salon, and Parents. She also works as a ghost writer on celebrity memoirs, education texts, and health books. Her first book, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir, was named a Target Breakout Book. Her first novel, Sleeping Tigers, was named a 2011 Book of the Year Finalist byForeWord Reviews and was more recently listed as a Semifinalist 2012 Best Indie Book by Kindle Book Review. She holds a B.A. in biology from Clark University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She lives north of Boston with her husband and their five children.