Robin Stratton interview with David Alan Binder
Post date: Jun 1, 2016 1:17:15 PM
Robin Stratton interview with David Alan Binder
Robin Stratton has been a writing coach in the Boston area for over 25 years. She is acquisitions editor for Big Table Publishing Company, managing editor of Boston Literary Magazine, and director of the Newton Writing and Publishing Center. She is the author of a four novels, including one which was a National Indie Excellence Book Award finalist, two collections of poetry and short fiction, and a writing guide. A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she’s been published in Word Riot, 63 Channels, Antithesis Common, Poor Richard’s Almanac(k), Blink-Ink, Pig in a Poke, Chick Flicks, Up the Staircase, Shoots and Vines, and many others.
1. Where are you currently living?
Newton, a suburb of Boston, MA
2. What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?
I have learned that the only way to be a great writer is to take your time; slow down, don’t cut corners, and don’t settle for “just okay.” Writers know in their gut when something isn’t perfect... during the review process, they tend to skip over those parts. But no manuscript should be submitted (or self published) until there are NO parts to skip over. Writers have to listen to that gut; the gut knows. Sometimes when I am struggling with a scene, I realize it’s because I don’t know where the scene needs to go, it’s just something that popped up. Lots of times I’ll talk to other writers about why they think a scene isn’t working.
3. What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?
Not sure how interesting this is to anyone but me, but I ALWAYS have to determine what font to use for the title / chapter headings before I can write my own, or format someone else’s!
4. Tell us your insights on self-publishing or using a publisher?
I’ve been both. When I first self published back in the early 1990s it was because I couldn’t find a publisher (because I had not yet learned the lesson described in Question #2) and back then it was sort of shameful. I did everything I could to conceal the fact that I was self published by creating a realistic sound publishing company (Mockingbird Square) with a logo and everything... and cited my deceased grandmother as the owner, since she had a different last name.
a. Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?
I have been published by one fairly local publisher, Blue Mustang Press, and one place that is in the Midwest, Whiskey Creek Press. My current publisher (my own press) is located in Newton, MA
5. Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
As long as e-books sell, I’m all for it... I am not an e-book fan myself, but I have no problem with people loving them.
6. Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?
Not secret, just time honored... don’t send a manuscript out until you’ve workshopped it, read every single word out loud, and feel in your gut that it’s perfect. As I said before, if your gut feels uneasy about any scenes, don’t send it out. Also, accrue as many credentials as you can for your cover letter – try to get short stories and poems published in magazines so that you are officially a “published” author. Publishers look for authors who can sell lots of books. If you’re a recluse who hates to do any promoting, no one is going to offer you a contract.
7. How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent? Any tips for new writers on getting one?
I got an agent the same way you get a publisher – by following the tips in the previous question.
8. Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?
Absolutely join or start a writing group, and meet with them on a regular basis. Be open to feedback. Be willing to change something your writing partners say isn’t working. Read EVERY SINGLE WORD out loud. (No one ever wants to do this!)
I also think people don’t realize the HUGE importance of their first sentence. I’m shocked when I see some first sentences that are just truly run of the mill, without that immediate sense of intrigue, question raised, etc. I can’t tell you how many first sentences I have suggested changing. Writers absolutely need to recognize how much the first sentence matters. One of my all-time favorite first sentences appears in Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Pulitzer-prize winning author, Michael Chabon. If you go to Amazon and search for it, then do that Look Inside the Book you’ll see it. And you’ll see why I love it.
9. What was one of the most important things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?
I learned that some books simply take a long time to finish. My last novel, Blue or Blue Skies, took 20 years. The manuscript I’m working on now I started in the mid-80s during the Dukakis / Bush election year. I have never heard of anyone spending so many, many years on a book!
10. How many books have you written?
I have four published novels, two collections of poems and short fiction, and writing guide, and several published books that I was the ghost writer on.
11. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?
Great suspense happens when the stakes are high. Try to come up with plot twists that affect a lot of people on a very deep scale. For instance, consider a woman who discovers her husband has a second wife. Look at the way it gets worse if he has a kid with her, and worse still if the first wife was not able to give him children. Keep the hits comin’, I say!
12. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?
I love when people tell me they didn’t know how my book would end. I frequently lead readers down a path, then BOOM, that is so NOT where the story goes. That’s one of the elements I love in books I read over and over – in addition to great writing, of course.
The other thing I love is when readers tell me they stayed up all night reading my book because they couldn’t stop. That makes me want to dance in circles. And not to brag, but I do hear it a lot, with all four of my novels.
13. What are some ways in which you promote your work?
Facebook, book appearances, open mics, word of mouth.
14. What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?
Oh, great question! I think I have to say that one thing I do now that I didn’t do in the beginning (and wish I had) is: Make sure a manuscript is ready before accepting it. Sometimes I love an opener or I love the person who submitted, or I love the concept... and I offer a contract... then I sit down with the thing and realize it needs a ton of work, which is done by me; in some of my earlier titles, I did a major part of the writing. I’ve learned to be really sure about a book before I accept it.
15. What saying or mantra do you live by? [This question was changed so the answer may seem a little odd but it still works and I apologize but it is because of a dear friend.]
Years ago I was walking through a cemetery and I saw a stone and it had a quote by someone about the person who was buried there... you know, like a back cover blurb. I loved that idea! So I might want someone to write something really wonderful about me... I would love to be remembered as being helpful, supportive, enthusiastic, and a great writer and editor.
16. What are you working on now?
I meet every other Monday with a poetry group, and I am compiling a collection of autobiographical poems and prose... like most writers, I thought about writing my memoirs, but A) Who would read it? and B) I’m not dead yet. By putting snippets in poetry form, it’s been a blast to talk about the times that really changed me, or influenced who I became, without being tied down to having to write about every single thing that happened, the way you might have to in a full-length autobiography. Most of the memories are funny in a poignant way, but some of them are kind of painful for me to take out and look at. Some of them still hurt.
And as I mentioned above, I’m also working on a project I began in the mid 80s... it’s a modern rewrite of Little Women. That is, it was modern, back then! I decided to leave it in the 80s, and so now it’s a nostalgic piece. It’ll be two volumes, and it’s been really really fun making references to what was new then... MTV, anorexia, AIDS, drugs, and of course the sex!
17. Do you have a “regular job”?
I consider myself a writer first, a publisher second, and I also have a magazine and I run a writing center... but so little money comes in that I also work part time for my accountant. My dream is to not have to do that anymore.
18. Where can we find you online?
All over the place!
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