“The sea–la mar–was the best sea I ever drew. She was the great beauty who held the old man aloft. Who gave and who took–but who always provided. Who nourished, challenged, and taught him.” –Hemingway’s Girl by Erika Robuck
Last week, one of my most treasured friends in all the world accomplished something extraordinary. Her novel, Hemingway’s Girl, was published by NAL / Penguin Books. This friend is Erika Robuck.
Erika has long inspired me as a writer and as a friend. Her positive spirit and high professionalism have set her apart throughout the publication of her second novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. Over time, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Erika well, through writing together and sharing funny stories from our similar lives as moms of three sons. I am so thrilled to have her here to talk about writing and her newly-published novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. I hope her words intrigue you, and you’ll want to read her novel, too!
Jennifer: Thank you, Erika, for taking the time to chat about your new book, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. It’s been a busy time full of many rewards for the years of hard work, including being selected by Target as an Emerging Author Pick. Congratulations!
What influenced you to write HEMINGWAY’S GIRL? Is there a story inside the story that begs to be told?
Erika: There are so many stories within the story that it’s hard to say which wanted to be told most. Very simply, I love Hemingway, and I want to inspire people to read or reread his work. I find some of his stories beautiful and brilliant like THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, and other writings like TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT reflective of the darker, uglier aspects of his personality, but all have value.
Personally and thematically, I’ve long been interested in the relationship of the rich and poor, and in the mistreatment of marginalized members of society. I found Hemingway’s Key West a rich environment to explore those conflicts, and remind people about a forgotten place and series of events in history.
J: In HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, is there a character that you see pieces of yourself in, and how?
E: Ah, the hardest question! And so early in the interview.
The truth is that I am all of the characters. I’m Hemingway at thirty-six years of age. I’m a half-Cuban twenty-year-old maid. I’m a widow, a child, a haughty wife, a legless vet, and a boxer. I put on each character and try to fade away under the disguise, but I suspect I’m never able to completely disappear.
J: Quick: Can you name three of your favorite novels?
E: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Possession by A. S. Byatt
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Emma by Jane Austen
Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland
Wait—did you say only three? 😉
J: Which authors have influenced you, your writing, and your style?
E: Without a doubt, I’ve been under Hemingway’s intense instruction for three years, and he has left his mark. I’ve always found his prose appealing, and I’ve adopted and adapted some of his technique. Please don’t think that means I think I’m as good a writer as Hemingway; not even close. I just have an appreciation for declarative sentences, immediacy, and the special emphasis on what is left unsaid.
J: If (when) HEMINGWAY’S GIRL is made into a movie, which actors would you choose to play the main characters?
E: What a fun question! Very early in my own writing process I “cast” my books. What this basically does is give me an excuse to search the internet for days on end, looking at hundreds of actor photos and watching video clips. For me, this is a crucial stage of the process because it helps me to animate the characters.
From day one, Hemingway has always been George Clooney. His second wife, Pauline, is Juliet Binoche. My protagonist, Mariella, is Camilla Belle. Gavin, the boxer, is Ryan Gosling. I could go on and on.
J: Where do you write? Chair, desk, carpool line?
E: I wrote large sections of HEMINGWAY’S GIRL at a bookseller and coffee shop in downtown Annapolis called Hardbean. I wanted to emulate some of Hemingway’s process of writing in cafés, and I found it very effective for crafting bar scenes.
Most of my writing, however, is done on a laptop in my home office, surrounded by writing artifacts and photo books. I like to have Pandora classical music playing, and a warm cup of coffee within my reach. When I travel, I write in a leather journal in longhand. I like the feel and sound of pen on paper, but my handwriting is appalling, and I type much faster than I write.
J: Can you share your writing process? Do you plot, revise, draft? What is your favorite part of your writing process?
E: It begins with the birth of an idea, usually in the form of a haunting or an obsession. I get little signals (whether they are real or I just interpret them as such) about the subject I should be pursuing. Then I start the research. During the research stage I make timelines and decide how the characters I create will fit in to history.
I do not care for outline writing because while I write the first draft of the book—which is my favorite part of the process—I’m often surprised by where events take me. I feel like the characters pull me along, showing me what has to come next. If I plan too much, my writing lacks that fresh, open quality for which I strive.
After drafting, come countless revisions on my own, with my critique partners, and with my agent and editor. I don’t feel really good about a book unless I’ve written or turned over the material in at least ten drafts.
J: How do you do your research? Where do you start?
E: Research follows inspiration, and for me, inspiration almost always comes from visiting a place. I try to physically place myself along the path my subjects have traveled as much as my life will allow. The material in ten books can’t replace one hour in a house where a character lived, or a church she visited, or a beach where he played. It gives the writing authenticity.
I do, however, have three, young boys, so travel is not always possible. Phase two of research involves reading as many books and articles on my subject as possible, and looking at pictures of the characters from history or the places they lived. There is a special magic around hearing the voice of a dead writer on an audio clip read his or her work. Video footage is gold, but rare when writing about historical figures.
I take pages and pages of notes and collect papers for my files, which are very poorly organized and which cause me much self-directed anger when I’m looking for specific details for my writing.
J: Do you have a future project coming out? If so, can you give us details? What are you working on now?
E: Yes, I do. My second novel with NAL/Penguin, CALL ME ZELDA, comes out in 2013. I can’t wait to share more about it.
J: What is one fun thing that most people don’t know about you, but should?
E: I don’t know if anyone should know this, but the truth is, I kick ass at karaoke, especially if disco music is involved.
J: *I’m laughing and picturing you with the BeeGees and their Stayin’ Alive.* Great image.
What, in your opinion, is the best way readers can help an author to get the word out about a book they love?
E: The very best thing a reader can do to give a book legs, is recommend it to a friend. Genuine, organic, enthusiastic reader recommendations can do so much for books.
For those who are so inclined, online reviews are also very much appreciated. Readers really do check reviews before making purchases. I think it’s the next best thing to word of mouth recommendations.
And I must thank YOU for hosting me on your blog. You are so generous and I love that you are one of my first readers.
J: It’s a huge privilege to have you. Thank you, on all counts!
Do you have any advice to share, for aspiring writers, from your experience?
E: I know it has been said before, but KEEP WRITING. It’s all about the next book, not just because that makes publishers happy, but because it makes writers happy. If you are a writer and you continue working, you don’t place too much importance on any one story, you improve your craft, and you keep those writer muscles in shape.
You must keep writing.
J: Thank you, Erika! It’s wonderful advice.
“Robuck brings Key West to life, and her Hemingway is fully fleshed out and believable, as are Mariella and others. Readers will delight in the complex relationships and vivid setting.”
“Even if you weren’t a Hemingway aficionado, you’d love this robust, tender story of love, grief, and survival on Key West in the 1930s. But even Hemingway fans should agree that because of its strong heroine and writing, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL is a novel of which Papa himself would approve. Addictive.”
~Jenna Blum, NYT & international bestseller of THOSE WHO SAVE US
Visit Erika’s website or Facebook page to see more, including a gorgeous book video filmed in Key West at the Hemingway House and starring Erika!