Author Erika Robuck Reveals The Reasons Behind Writing A Novel About Edna St. Vincent Millay

Fallen Beauty cover finalHere we go again, folks! Today we have my friend, Erika Robuck, author of historical fiction featuring strong female protagonists and real historical figures. She’s written about Ernest Hemingway, Zelda Fitzgerald, and now, Edna St. Vincent Millay. What’s fascinating is that Erika’s books don’t feature the “famous person” as the primary main character, but the main characters are strong women in the inner circle. The fictional inner circle! And if the interview isn’t enough to pique your interest in all Erika’s books, below is a book trailer for FALLEN BEAUTY, her latest novel that launched just two days ago (on my son’s birthday, no less)! 

Erika is a magnificent writer and eloquent speaker. Please welcome back Erika Robuck to WFW!

Amy xo 

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Writing Words and Book Banter With Author Erika Robuck

I think this is one of the most fun interviews I’ve done for Women’s Fiction Writers.  Why? Because not only is author Erika Robuck a friend of mine, but she bounced right back at me with questions of her own. We were discussing how authors who write historical fiction are sometimes just perplexed at how authors who write contemporary fiction come up with their stories and how the reverse is equally true. How do writers of historical fiction intertwine fact and fiction. And all the research?  And that’s what we’re discussing in today’s volley. I mean, interview. 

Erika’s latest novel, CALL ME ZELDA, was released on May 7th. It’s  a big part of the Zelda Fitzgerald craze—so you’re going to want to jump on this bandwagon and read about Zelda after her days in the limelight. 

Please welcome Erika Robuck to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Writing Words and Book Banter With Author Erika Robuck

Amy: Writing historical fiction, the way you do (with such skill) means taking a real person from the past, real places, events, and times, and fictionalizing them. Meaning, you take creative license, tweaking the truth for the sake of the story you want to tell.  I find that fascinating!

Who was the first person (historical or otherwise) who sparked your imagination enough to make you decide to write a story about him or her?

Erika: My first historical inspiration came when my husband and I were thinking of planning a trip to Nevis in the Caribbean.  A friend told me it was paradise, and as I read about the history of the island, I was fascinated to learn that this tiny place of which I’d never heard was known as the ‘Queen of the Caribees’ for its sugar cane production, and that Alexander Hamilton was born there. Observing the way the slaves were treated on the island led Hamilton to become an abolitionist. Then I read about a haunted plantation there called Eden Rock. This rich and intriguing history inspired my first self-published novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING.

As one who writes historical fiction, I’m in awe of writers of contemporary fiction. Where do you find your plot and inspiration?

Amy: It’s usually a question I want to answer that leads me to the idea for a novel. For THE GLASS WIVES the question is “what makes a family?”  I also sometimes note interesting people or situations and think they’d make great stories.  So that saying, “Be careful or you’ll end up in my novel” is totally true in my case.

To me, research seems daunting. What’s your favorite part of the research process?

Erika: I’m a research junkie. It feels like amateur detective work, and I’m always pleased when the story that wants to be known asserts itself in my searches. My favorite part of the process is visiting sites where my characters lived years ago. From the Hemingway House in Key West, to Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald’s haunts in Baltimore, there is nothing like walking the streets and paths in the present to transport me to the past.

I write about real and imagined people from the past. Do you ever use real people to inform your characters?

Amy: I do, but not in the way most people think. For example, one day when my daughter was in junior high, I was waiting in the carpool line and the woman in front of me got out of her car. She had on a long skirt, boots, and a either a leather or wool coat (I forget). But she had the kind of vibe I imagined that my character Laney would have, so I thought of that woman whenever I wrote about Laney.  I do have a friend who is sprinkled into both Beth and Laney in the book. We’ve been friends for over twenty years, she was one of my early readers, and I’m sure she doesn’t realize. And that’s the way I like it, even though it was all good things sprinkled in.  I’ve decided that if people I know want to see themselves in THE GLASS WIVES, I hope they’re flattered by what they see. If they’re not flattered, then they probably have some soul searching to do! 😉

I look around me for characters. You look into the past through research for yours. How do you organize your research? Or do you not?

Erika: I do organize my research. I take copious notes from site and archive visits and my readings, and once I know the exact time period I’ll represent, I make timelines. Though I write fiction, it is important to me to stay as true to the history of my known characters as possible.

Do you use any story structure models or outlines? Do you know how your book will end once you get started?

Amy: I always know the beginning and the end. It’s that darn middle that gets tough, isn’t it?  But that’s the fun of writing fiction, you can take your characters on whatever journey you want to take them on to get them to the end!  Right now I’m working off an outline for book two, but I already have gone “off track” so to speak.

Do you have criteria for people you write about, or is it just however it, or whomever, strikes your fancy?

Erika: Place was my initial inspiration: the Caribbean, a visit to the Hemingway House in Key West. From Hemingway, I’ve been led to Zelda Fitzgerald. From Zelda and Scott to Edna St. Vincent Millay… All research roads seem to lead naturally to others.

Amy: Are there ever readers who don’t realize you’re writing fiction?

Erika: I’m clear on jacket copy and in Reader’s Notes/Guides that I insert a fictional character into the history. I haven’t yet come across any confused readers, though I’ve been flattered to hear people say how real characters become to them.

I sometimes think it is a prerequisite for writers to feel misunderstood. What is the biggest misconception the non-writers in your life have about your job?

Amy: I think “regular people” think it’s easy to write a book. I know people don’t understand the amount of time that goes into it, and that’s okay, I don’t understand medicine, law, or how to be a chef.

Who have you not yet written about that you’d like to (unless that’s a secret)?

Erika: I have to admit that I have a little post-traumatic stress about discovering that there were so many novelizations of Zelda Fitzgerald coming out around the same time, so in the name of superstition, I will respectfully punt the question back to you. What is the subject of your next novel?

Amy: Oh, aren’t you tricky! The novel I’m working on now is about a blogger who gets all caught up in the lies she tells online, making it hard for her to distinguish between her real life and her online life. She takes a job based on those lies, which only digs her in deeper.  When I look at the bigger question posed by the novel, it’s really about those “life lies” some people tell—or even lifelong secrets people hold close . What makes that happen, and what has to occur to make someone come clean and deal with the repercussions of their actions. 

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Erika Robuck self-published her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING. Her novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL (NAL/Penguin), was a Target Emerging Author Pick, a Vero Beach Bestseller, and has been sold in two foreign markets to date. Her next novel, CALL ME ZELDA (NAL/Penguin), publishes on May 7, 2013, and begins in the years “after the party” for Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Erika writes about and reviews historical fiction at her blog, Muse, and is a contributor to popular fiction blog, Writer Unboxed. She is also a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Hemingway Society.

Author Erika Robuck’s Journey To Publication Takes Her Back In Time As She Heads For The Future

My path crosses with Erika Robuck’s in so many places that I truly don’t remember where or how we first met! What I do remember very well is how I felt when I read an early copy of Hemingway’s Girl. It’s an incredibly vivid fictional account of a young woman who works for Ernest Heminway in 1935 Key West.  I felt transported to a time and place I’d never been, and I felt like I was looking inside the life of a famous author through the eyes of someone else. While this is not a book about Hemingway, it does circle around him and the character plays a major role, while not being the main attraction. The main attraction is Mariella, the Cuban-American maid.  It’s a book you don’t want to miss. And Erika has three more books on the horizon — there is just no stopping her — and I couldn’t be more pleased for her, or more proud to know her. And lucky me — I will meet Erika next week at a reading near Chicago. So, photos to come! 

Please give Erika Robuck a warm welcome to Women’s Fiction Writers!

Amy xo

Author Erika Robuck’s Journey To Publication Takes Her Back In Time As She Heads For The Future

My love of writing began when I was seven. I composed a terrible play about a king who falsely accused a jester of stealing his crown. It was just one page but very poignant, I thought. Then I moved onto poetry and song writing. After two awful novels—one in middle school and one in high school—college brought a lot of angst-filled short fiction and essays.

About ten years ago when my first son was born, the novel again surfaced, demanding my attention. My son’s naptimes allowed me regular blocks of time to devote to writing, and I completed my first novel about a haunted, Caribbean sugar plantation, called RECEIVE ME FALLING. After several years of revisions and rewrites, I started to query agents. My query letter had almost no relevant biography. I had no publishing experience or web presence of any kind. I received some requests for partial and full reads of the manuscript, but I kept getting rejections that had to do more with me and my lack of platform and experience than the novel itself. I also heard from more than one agent that novels set in two time periods by first time writers were very difficult to sell, but to please consider submitting in the future if I wrote another manuscript.

In the meantime, some friends of mine in book clubs asked to read the book. My husband encouraged me to self-publish. At first I dismissed the suggestion. There was, at the time, a heavy stigma against writers who self-published and I didn’t want to make any mistakes in my writing career. My goal was always to get a traditional publisher. I started to think more seriously about it, however, when I read an article about a woman who self-published with great success, and went on to get a contract with a traditional publisher. My book club friends continued to ask for the book. Finally I decided that I’d self-publish, see how many sales and reviews I could get, and hopefully, find my way to a traditional publisher.

I’m very happy with my decision. RECEIVE ME FALLING sold well and I got many good reviews. I also started blogging, guest blogging, reviewing books, and attending more conferences. I wrote a new novel set entirely in 1935, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, and worked with both a writing partner and critique group throughout the process. I received a scholarship to the Breakout Novel Intensive based on the first fifty pages of the book, and at the conference, received the feedback of a panel of editors that helped propel my manuscript to a new place.

My beloved book clubs started asking for the new novel, but I felt strongly that a traditional publisher would take it. I decided to try to pitch agents. If the response was strong I’d try the traditional route. If the response was lukewarm I’d consider rewriting it and self-publishing again. With HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, 95% of the agents I queried requested a partial within a week of receiving the letter. 50% of them asked for a full read. One of them asked for an excusive read, which I very politely refused. Ultimately, I chose Kevan Lyon for her quick response time, our rapport on the phone, her vision for the book, her love of historical fiction, and her enthusiasm.

We spent a couple of weeks putting the final polish on the manuscript and then Kevan started querying. I again received a very positive response from the publishers, with many requests for full reads. In the end, we accepted NAL’s offer for a two-book deal, and HEMINGWAY’S GIRL just came out on September 4th, 2012.

There were many times along the journey when I wanted to quit, when my skin wasn’t thick enough, when it felt like I was spending too much time and money on a hobby that was making me frustrated and difficult to be around when it wasn’t going well. The odds often seemed impossible.

The support of my family and friends, tribe building through social media, and plain stubbornness finally helped me reach my goal. I am thankful every day for all of the support of the writers, bloggers, reviewers, book clubs, friends, and family who encouraged me.

And now, in the wise words of one of my Breakout Novel editors, the work begins.

* * *

HEMINGWAY’S GIRL is the story of a young woman in Key West who takes a job as a housekeeper for Ernest Hemingway to support her widowed mother and save for a charter boat business. She finds herself caught between an unexpected flirtation with the writer and a relationship with a WWI vet and boxer working on the overseas highway. Storms brewing in her relationships come to crisis as a hurricane threatens to destroy the Keys and all those she holds dear. From the bars and boxing rings of Key West to the Bahamian island of Bimini, Hemingway’s Girl explores the worth of the individual, the gulf between the classes, and the boundaries of human hunger.

Erika Robuck was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland. Inspired by the cobblestones, old churches, Georgian homes, and mingling of past and present from the Eastern Shore, to the Annapolis City Dock, to the Baltimore Harbor, her passion for history is constantly nourished. Her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING, is a best books awards finalist in historical fiction from USA Book News, and her second novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, was published by NAL/Penguin in September of 2012.

Erika is a contributor to popular fiction blog, Writer Unboxed, has guest blogged on Jane Friedman’s There Are No Rules, and maintains her own blog called Muse. She is a member of the Maryland Writer’s Association, The Hemingway Society, and The Historical Novel Society. She spends her time on the East Coast with her husband and three sons.

http://www.erikarobuck.com

Guest Post: My Publishing Journey by Author Erika Robuck

We’ve discussed many times how women’s fiction is a broad umbrella.  For me, there’s a lot of historical fiction that fits nicely underneath — and that I love to read.  So, no, not all historical fiction fits the bill — but when it does — I love it (note to self: time to find more historical fiction authors for WFW). 

Erika Robuck has a great online presence and that’s how I found her. I knew that Erika, and her upcoming book, Hemingway’s Girl, were perfect for Women’s Fiction Writers.  I’m also hoping Erika will come back once HG hits bookstores and libraries in 2012!

Please welcome Erika to Women’s Fiction Writers!

My Publishing Journey

by Erika Robuck

My love of writing began when I was seven. I composed a terrible play about a king who falsely accused a jester of stealing his crown. It was just one page but very poignant, I thought. Then I moved onto poetry and song writing. After two awful novels—one in middle school and one in high school—college brought a lot of angst-filled short fiction and essays.

About ten years ago when my first son was born, the novel again surfaced, demanding my attention. My son’s naptimes allowed me regular blocks of time to devote to writing, and I completed my first novel about a haunted, Caribbean sugar plantation, called RECEIVE ME FALLING. After several years of revisions and rewrites, I started to query agents. My query letter had almost no relevant biography. I had no publishing experience or web presence of any kind. I received some requests for partial and full reads of the manuscript, but I kept getting rejections that had to do more with me and my lack of platform and experience than the novel itself. I also heard from more than one agent that novels set in two time periods by first time writers were very difficult to sell, but to please consider submitting in the future if I wrote another manuscript.

In the meantime, some friends of mine in book clubs asked to read the book. My husband encouraged me to self-publish. At first I dismissed the suggestion. There was, at the time, a heavy stigma against writers who self-published and I didn’t want to make any mistakes in my writing career. My goal was always to get a traditional publisher. I started to think more seriously about it, however, when I read an article about a woman who self-published with great success, and went on to get a contract with a traditional publisher. My book club friends continued to ask for the book. Finally I decided that I’d self-publish, see how many sales and reviews I could get, and hopefully, find my way to a traditional publisher.

I’m very happy with my decision. RECEIVE ME FALLING sold well and I got many good reviews. I also started blogging, guest blogging, reviewing books, and attending more conferences. I wrote a new novel set entirely in 1935, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, and worked with both a writing partner and critique group throughout the process. I received a scholarship to the Breakout Novel Intensive based on the first fifty pages of the book, and at the conference, received the feedback of a panel of editors that helped propel my manuscript to a new place.

My beloved book clubs started asking for the new novel, but I felt strongly that a traditional publisher would take it. I decided to try to pitch agents. If the response was strong I’d try the traditional route. If the response was lukewarm I’d consider rewriting it and self-publishing again. With HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, 95% of the agents I queried requested a partial within a week of receiving the letter. 50% of them asked for a full read. One of them asked for an excusive read, which I very politely refused. Ultimately, I chose Kevan Lyon for her quick response time, our rapport on the phone, her vision for the book, her love of historical fiction, and her enthusiasm.

We spent a couple of weeks putting the final polish on the manuscript and then Kevan started querying. I again received a very positive response from the publishers, with many requests for full reads. In the end, we accepted NAL’s offer for a two-book deal, and HEMINGWAY’S GIRL is due out in September of 2012.

There were many times along the journey when I wanted to quit, when my skin wasn’t thick enough, when it felt like I was spending too much time and money on a hobby that was making me frustrated and difficult to be around when it wasn’t going well. The odds often seemed impossible.

The support of my family and friends, tribe building through social media, and plain stubbornness finally helped me reach my goal. I am thankful every day for all of the support of the writers, bloggers, reviewers, book clubs, friends, and family who encouraged me.

And now, in the wise words of one of my Breakout Novel editors, the work begins.

* * *

HEMINGWAY’S GIRL is the story of a young woman in Key West who takes a job as a housekeeper for Ernest Hemingway to support her widowed mother and save for a charter boat business. She finds herself caught between an unexpected flirtation with the writer and a relationship with a WWI vet and boxer working on the overseas highway. Storms brewing in her relationships come to crisis as a hurricane threatens to destroy the Keys and all those she holds dear. From the bars and boxing rings of Key West to the Bahamian island of Bimini, Hemingway’s Girl explores the worth of the individual, the gulf between the classes, and the boundaries of human hunger.

Erika Robuck was born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland. Inspired by the cobblestones, old churches, Georgian homes, and mingling of past and present from the Eastern Shore, to the Annapolis City Dock, to the Baltimore Harbor, her passion for history is constantly nourished. Her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING, is a best books awards finalist in historical fiction from USA Book News, and her second novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, will be published by NAL/Penguin in September of 2012.

Erika is a contributor to popular fiction blog, Writer Unboxed, has guest blogged on Jane Friedman’s There Are No Rules, and maintains her own blog called Muse. She is a member of the Maryland Writer’s Association, The Hemingway Society, and The Historical Novel Society. She spends her time on the East Coast with her husband and three sons.

www.erikarobuck.com