Yes! Just in time before the write-a-thon begins! It's another VP XIII Profile! This time I'm lucky enough to talk to Robyn Hamilton, and I think her picture speaks for itself.
Tamago: Why do you write?
Robyn: Really, I can’t imagine not writing. It’s what I do. Editing isn’t nearly as natural; I have to force myself, plan it, make time. But even when I get really depressed and defeated and everything sucks, I can’t figure out what I’d do with my time if I wasn’t writing, so I do it anyway. It’s the best way to make the voices in my head calm down, to write them down.
Tamago: What kind of genre do you like to write best in?
Robyn: The story I took to VP was an urban fantasy, but I didn’t really know that until I read it after it was done. The novels I’ve got lying around (I produce a lot of first drafts) are probably more Young Adult or Middle Years than anything else, though I know that’s not genre. I’ve got the karate zombie novel, which I sort of think of as science fiction (though my beta readers think I’m a bit light on the science), “Pampelmouse”, which is a Watership Down of feral parrots, “Toothbrushing Club” which has fairies, “St. Praxis” is steampunk(ish). I guess I haven’t really chosen.
Tamago: Do you consider yourself a novel person, a short story person, or both?
Robyn: I write both short stories and novels. I find short stories easier to finish, because they seem finite. Lately, most of my novels have been nanowrimo type projects. I like the working on something intensively, while I still like the idea (and can bear to think about it when I’m not actively writing). Otherwise, I tend to just fill pages without forward momentum.
Tamago: Talk to me about martial arts. Why do you study them? Do they help you with your writing in any way?
Robyn: Right now I feel like my writing is improving my martial arts more than the other way around, actually. Certain skills that I’m trying to learn in terms of putting myself out there and critting and things like that make it easier to teach and mentor people coming up, and also to accept that we all move and progress at different speeds. Apparently it’s not a race?
I like to do things that I’m really not good at, to test my limits, to get different perspectives on myself. One time I was screwing around in the dojo, and one of the more talented people said to me, “you’re obviously the most naturally athletic of your group,” and I thought, no I’m not, I’m the one who sits in the corner reading. But that’s not the what people who see me there see at all. My dojo is at the local YMCA, so it has a wide variety of people I’d never otherwise come in contact with.
Tamago: What kinds of advice would you give to a new writer?
Robyn: Put things out there. Let your friends read your writings. Submit. But also, take risks. There’s nothing more depressing than someone who finds what works, and keeps doing it over and over. Take risks, try new things.
Tamago: What kinds of projects are you working on right now?
Robyn: I thrive on externally-imposed discipline, so I’ve been doing a few of the Chuck Wendig flash fiction challenges. He posts a challenge most Fridays, and the story is due the following Friday. I don’t know what other people get out of doing that, but I get the chance to try to whip something into shape in a week. If I don’t have a finish date, I tend to let things languish, half-edited, forever. So I’ve been doing this – I try to do two weeks in a row then take one week off and use the same discipline in that week to work on “my own projects”, and then back to Chuck’s challenge again. In this way, I hope to learn some discipline about editing, and also maybe learn how to edit my own work. What seems to happen is I’ll write a first draft that isn’t half bad, and then I’ll start editing it, and completely ruin it and make it unreadable by anybody, and then return it, over five or six drafts, to something coherent again, I hope better than it was before. I hate the feeling that things slip backwards through the editing process, though.
I would never tolerate this in my day job. As a technical writer, I try to keep a document always a day from shippable – so, if I’m writing a new section, I’ll try to make it very clear to myself and my reviewers where the missing information, unedited sections, etc. are, and not drop things in random locations. With fiction, I’ll start moving things around and suddenly I have something that even I can’t figure out what I was going for. I wouldn’t say technical writing is easier than fiction, but I guess I have systems around it, and I need to learn to apply similar systems to my fiction.
Tamago: Tell me about a character you’re writing now. What do you find appealing about that character?
Robyn: Katalina is the main character in my zombie novel, “Not Cold Enough”. She’s 16, and a martial artist. Her parents are immigrants, doctors in their old country, who are shunted into much less fulfilling work in Canada. Katalina has to balance her parents’ expectations that she make more of herself than they have, with her own wants, needs, and desires. I read once that people immigrate not to improve their own lives, but to improve the lives of their children. That’s a lot to live up to.
Tamago: What did you find valuable about your time at Viable Paradise? What would you say to someone who is considering going?
Robyn: Viable Paradise provided me the opportunity to start to take myself seriously as a writer. If you’re even considering it, I think you should apply. It really provided me with a boost to how I see myself as a writer of fiction, even just getting accepted.
Tamago: Where do you see yourself as a writer in ten years?
Robyn: Still writing, definitely. I’ll probably still have a day job, but then, I like my day job, so that’s okay. I think in ten years, I should have gotten a few of these novels finished and published. I’d say at least three.
Tamago: What can readers find more of your work?
Robyn: There are a couple of pieces of flash fiction up on my blog (look under the tag “flash fiction challenge”). I’m on the Online Writing Workshop where I occasionally post short things. If/when I sell something, I’ll let you know (or more accurately, you won’t be able to get me to shut up about it).