Mara Valderran: Your book is centered around the conflict between two rival writers. Have you ever experienced the "green-eyed monster" when dealing with another writerly friend?
Mike Robinson: Thankfully not with another writerly friend, no. I've certainly gotten flare-ups of it when hearing of another young author's success, either in the media or through personal channels. But there's no single writer I race to outdo. I almost feel like I'd want that, sometimes, but then I worry the competitiveness would drown the fancy and fun of just telling stories.
MV: I love that your blurb doesn't reveal to us who dies. Is there a reason you keep that bit a mystery to those just browsing?
MR: Yeah, it's funny. I wanted to both establish a sameness between John Becker and Martin Smith, as well as an intrigue of differences, that despite their odd similarity there were key variations in how far one of them was willing to go.
MV: What can you tell us about your process? Are you more of a pantser or a plotter?
MR: In the words of the drunk guy from Groundhog Day: "Uh...I think...both". For the most part, I try not to outline. I get a cool idea and start jotting down notes. While note-taking, more ideas form. I begin the story, and the story and its character(s) tend to organically feed on themselves, suggesting routes to take as I go along. About midway, the ending begins hinting itself to me. But it really depends on the personality of the book. I have sometimes done very broad outlines, if I feel stuck. I've definitely "micro-outlined", meaning I've plotted a certain chapter or passage that was giving me trouble, just so I could reassure myself with some feeling of objectivity and control. In general, though, plot outlining feels to me like a glorified connect-the-dots. It doesn't feel like I'm telling a story, just filling in blanks.
MV: How has your process changed since getting published?
MR: I don't think it's changed, actually. I've never had a writing schedule, though I write every day. I do have vague times of day I like to work. Usually I write longhand and well-caffeinated in the afternoon, then later that night I type it all up, using the opportunity to tweak and polish. Sometimes I barely revise anything I've scribbled. Other times I end up rearranging pretty much everything, wondering if I was half-asleep when I wrote that. Generally, I try for about 1500 words a day. Since being published, I have had to add marketing to the daily mix, but that's all part of the great journey.
MV: Every published author has a story of how they got published and what bumps along the road they hit. What's yours?
MR: I was first published when I was 12, through a story contest for the YA series "Strange Matter". At 19, I made my first professional sale to the Canadian magazine "Storyteller". Throughout my early twenties, I sold fiction to small-to-medium-circulation magazines, anthologies, and podcasts. I knew, though, that while racking up a short-fiction resume was unquestionably beneficial, it didn't have the clout it once did. Novels were/are the thing. So, over a period of 10 years, I wrote about 20 books, 7 of which ended up incomplete. Together, they were my self-instilled MFA program. I read voraciously, revised endlessly, and experimented with voice, style, structure and genre. I sent out innumerable queries, countless synopses, and the industry tide kept bringing them gently back to my shore -- rejection after rejection, some with heartening encouragement. But I was getting better, I knew I was, and had time enough to grow. Writing is wonderful because unlike other creative professions (singing, modeling, acting), biology is your friend.
When I was about 24, I joined GLAWS, the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society. The connections I made there, both personal and professional, helped in my growth and awareness as a young writer. At 28, I sold my novel "Skunk Ape Semester" to the small press Solstice Publishing. Not long after, amazingly, I got "The Green-Eyed Monster" into the hands of Curiosity Quills Press. But there's still so much more to learn, and almost too much more to read and write!
MV: Do you have a soundtrack that you write to or are you more of a quiet writer?
MR: I'm a quiet writer when I compose. When I edit, or when I type up what I've written, I'll sometimes have tunes pumping.
MV: What was the inspiration for The Green-Eyed Monster?
MR: As the germ of the story's been around since I was 11, I'd say that at first it was half a desire to tell a creepy story, and half an exaggerated "what if" scenario inspired by artistic competition I'd encountered in grade school, where other kids were trying to outdraw me. Yes, we would actually have "draw-offs". Despite its silliness, I realized how much the urge to beat others had sharpened my skills. I thought, but what if someone took it too far? When I grew older and started to novelize it, fattening up the premise with newly-learned ideas of philosophy and metaphysics, the interplay of the two protagonists fascinated me for its stark contrast of our "high" nature (making art, seeking the divine) and "low" nature (constant Darwinian competition). Through vicissitudes of inactivity and awkward drafts, that core idea remained strong, and saw me to the final version 18 years later.
MV: What are some of your guilty pleasures (TV, movies, books)?
MR: I will unapologetically say that one of my favorite movies this year was "Cabin In the Woods". Pure genius. It helped that I knew nothing of it going in, and thought it was just another horror flick. But I love old B-movies, and all the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and "Rifftrax" fare. I'm also a mild 80s cinema enthusiast. I'm not sure I have anything I'd classify a guilty pleasure on the literary or TV side. I do have weird music tastes. I may be the only one who still enjoys techno/trance without ecstasy, and certainly among an L.A. minority who loves old-time bluegrass music, which to me is real country. Not this glammed-up, poppy stuff sung by people sporting thousand-dollar boots and shiny cowboy hats.
MV: You were part of GLAWS (Greater LA Writing Society) back when it first began. Now it is one of the biggest writing societies in Southern California. What can you tell us about your experience with GLAWS and how it grew with the group?
MR: It has been an exhilarating process to watch, the unfolding of GLAWS as a formidable organization and community. Most of the credit goes to Tony Todaro, our resourceful and utterly ambitious president. I'm a charter member, but I didn't really get my hands in the nuts and bolts, though I aided in outreach and other things, as I still do. The clash of egos at the outset was interesting. Imagine a bunch of folks together on a project: too many people have their different opinions and little nabs at power. Now imagine they're writers. Oh man. But the troublemakers left and the good people stayed, and the group grew because of it, and because of their tenacity. I've met wonderful and helpful peers through GLAWS, and have recently had a chance to publish them myself through "Literary Landscapes", the group's official magazine, which I've been editing since 2011 now and which gives me a great front-and-center view of the 'other side' of the desk.
MV: What advice can you give to other authors who are looking to join a writing group?
MR: Make sure the group dynamic suits you. It depends, of course, on the size of the group, what genre or style is emphasized, etc. Finding a larger, more eclectic group allows for greater networking possibilities, as opposed to a small roundtable. But if you've found a suitable roundtable, by all means go for it. I think there are two different kinds of writers groups. A typical GLAWS meet consists of a fairly large audience that gathers for panel discussions or lectures involving authors, agents, editors or other important industry people, and networking occurs before and after. However, there are also critique group offshoots that have formed around a specific genre, so there's a Mystery Critique Group, a Romance, a Horror... you get the picture. I think when people envision a writing group, they see something like a critique group. And critique groups are great if you feel comfortable, respected and connected with your fellow writers. Just be vigilant about other egos elbowing their way into your work, or your confidence. Some writers love themselves too much, and some writers are insidiously tendentious. Watch for this, and ignore them, or just smile and nod -- unless they've actually said something useful. Remember: it's your work, not anyone else's. Go with what feels right for you, but do keep an ear open for reasonable input. If the feedback feels right, you should probably dig deeper, regardless of entailing revisions.
MV: What is ahead for you in your writerly future?
MR: Publishing-wise, Curiosity Quills is releasing two novels of mine in 2013 -- "The Prince of Earth", an existential horror story about a young hiker stranded in the Scottish Highlands, where she meets a malevolent force, and "Negative Space", a quirky art-themed thriller / character study that adds further dimension to the mystery of the town of Twilight Falls, introduced in "The Green-Eyed Monster".
Writing-wise, I'm currently in the midst of a third attempt at bringing to life what I, tongue firm in cheek, call my 'epic fantasy' novel. I imagine I'll probably only write one of these, and this'll be it. But it'll be big (and good, ideally). And I use loosely the term 'epic fantasy' because I want to discourage expectations of dwarves, wizards, magic potions, and dragons. This is more on the "Cloud Atlas" end of things, with multiple characters and a narrative that spans several millennia. It deals with the civilization we mythologize as "Atlantis", and their interactions with both prehistoric and modern human beings as a global event looms.