Holly Robinson

Holly Robinson
Location
Massachusetts, USA
Birthday
December 03
Bio
Journalist Holly Robinson is the author of the novel Sleeping Tigers and The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter: A Memoir. Visit her web site at www.authorhollyrobinson.com.

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Salon.com
Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 8, 2012 9:16AM

Why Writers Need Readers: Not for the Obvious Reason

Rate: 18 Flag

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked if I'd like to participate in his “Books, Authors, and Wine Tasting” event. I had just published my novel Sleeping Tigers, so I said yes. I wasn't expecting to sell any books, really—I hadn't started marketing the novel yet, and this was the kind of event where the authors sit at tables displaying their wares, like a craft fair, while potential readers wander around with glasses of wine.

As I lugged my box of books up the icy driveway that night, part of me was longing to be at home, sacked out on the couch and reading or watching TV. Imagine my surprise, then, when one woman, and then another, and then a third—twelve in all—found my table and excitedly said, “This is the book I was looking for!” as she picked up a copy of Sleeping Tigers and, miraculously, bought it.

“Really?” I asked in shock.

One of the women explained that there were two book clubs attending the event, and the members had all agreed to read my novel. Then she leaned forward and confided, “I've had breast cancer, too. That's why I want to read your book.”

She told me her story, then, of her diagnosis and surgery, of her recovery and good fortune to have survived the ordeal. Then she walked away, my book in one hand, a glass of wine in the other, held aloft like a torch.

The stories that many of the women told me as they stopped by my table lingered with me for a long time. We talked about breast cancer and motherhood, travel and books, husbands and jewelry, among other things. Afterward, as I toted my empty cardboard box back to the car, I was reminded again why being a writer is the most spectacular pursuit in the world: as you share your own stories with others, readers share their lives with you in return.

Of course there is a part of every writer that longs to be on the New York Times bestseller list. We would all love to make enough money from writing to put our kids through college, or even to put a dent in the grocery bill. More important than that, though, is our longing to connect with readers on an emotional level. Hearing someone say “I loved your book” is a great thing, but it's even better when a reader takes the time to say why: “My best friend is like your main character, only she's a tap dancer,” or, “You made me laugh because my mother used to cut my hair like that, too.”

After I wrote The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter, a memoir about growing up with a Navy father so obsessed with gerbils that he started raising them, I was stunned to discover how many readers had parents who were chain smokers. It was equally surprising to me how many people grew up with fathers who raised animals. I heard from one reader whose father hatched parrots in the basement, and another whose dad had tropical fish tanks in every single room of the house. Now, three years after that book was published, I still correspond with a thirteen year-old reader who is as passionate about horses and reading as I was at that age, as well as a woman in California who by now feels like a sister to me.

The point is that writers lead solitary lives. I work in a barn behind my house, usually in a flannel shirt and sweatpants. I finally get dressed and put on makeup (sometimes) when it's time to collect my son from school. Otherwise, I see few people and live inside my head, my fingers spinning stories on my laptop, never knowing if my plots and characters and settings will ever reach anyone beyond my best friends.

For most writers, every book takes months, even years, to write. We don't know how, or even if, that book will ever be published in the end, but something compels us to keep going. That “something” is the reader. In this age when so many bookstores have gone under and few books are reviewed in print, book bloggers and social media have become our lifelines. They let us reach readers, and we are forever grateful that they exist. Meanwhile, we'll keep seeking avenues to meet readers in person, especially the ones who aren't afraid to carry a glass of wine around as they shop for books.

We write, because we want to open our hearts and share our stories with you. We hope you'll do the same with us.

 

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Comments

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I love the way you think. And feel. And write.
I am always curious about the needs of other writers, and it has never ceased to frighten me that I write for some of the same, and some very different, reasons.
I no longer know why I write. My sister asked me this question three times today, each time I skipped a beat and transitioned to another subject. You're a good mom for putting on makeup to meet your kid. I'd just baseball cap and sunglass it.
Nicely put. I too am a solitary writer and when I went on a book tour in 2005 I absolutely loved it. But even more I loved getting back to my solitary life. That's just the way it is for some of us.
This was a great post. Even though I am not working on a specific book now, I have numerous smaller projects and feel the isolation. I think it is wonderful all the responses you got from your readers. RRRRR
Maybe novels were the first real interactive media, only nobody calls them that.
So interesting, isn't it, to ponder why writers write, when it's unclear whether we'll ever share our work? Especially in this tricky publishing market...I was so shocked when my agent called last week to say that Penguin had made an offer on one of my novels that I literally had to lie down and hyperventilate. Thanks for your thoughts. And I'll have to invest in a baseball cap, definitely--quicker than makeup!
Interesting post. A solitary life on the one hand and a need to share on the other--it sounds almost like a yin-yang.

Good luck with your books.
I was moved beyond words, because it’s also about me: I write, I write alone, I write in the underurbs of Kampala, Uganda, and there aren’t people even on the internet to talk to about what I am writing. It’s not a novel, although I could now write a major three-part saga based on my writing. What I am writing is the story of the people of “Asian” (Indians from India) descent in Uganda that had lived there for a century after building the “Uganda Railway” (the Lunatic Express) from Mombasa to Kampala to secure the source of the Nile for the British and stop slavery and were expelled brusquely in 1972 by the dictator President for Life Field Marshall Idi Amin Dada. They opened up the country to international trade – cotton, coffee, rubber, hides and skins – by collecting the produce in small quantities and selling back goods in everyday demand – sugar, salt, kerosene – their profit the gunny sack in which the sugar came: after selling sugar by the cupfuls they then sold the sack and that was their profit. One person started a bus company with himself as the driver/conducter/mechanic. Invariably the bus would run out of petrol at the top of a hill (Uganda is very hilly in the south), when some passengers would descend and disappear into the bush, while he struggled to quickly turn the bus around to have the engine face downhill and the fuel run into the engine. Chug up the hill in reverse, a quick straightening beyond the crest of the hill and then put the bus in “free” and let it roll to the petrol station in the valley. Stuff of legends and mini-series’s. It’s stories in people’s own words about how their ancestors’ life was, where did they go when they were expelled in 1972, what do they do there, what do they do back in Uganda, because 1,500 of them (out of 80 thousand) did return. It’s for the most part about the expulsion, when on the whim of the dictator they were given 90 days to quit Uganda – 90 days as a favour since the Asian dukawallahs (shop-keepers) used to give farmers 90-day credit to tide them over the pre-harvest months. It was a harrowing time. I lived through it when I had returned to Uganda to collect data for my dissertation at Stanford. I knew this was history in the making and kept notes. I returned to Uganda in 05 and started collecting material for “something” on the story in the libraries, contemporary newspapers and through interviews. The real work started at the end of 07. It’s been 12/7 for 4.4 years now. I enjoyed it, but more than that it was something I had to do otherwise that story is lost forever, because people who still have memories of their pioneering grandfather and of 1972 are past 70 years. If I didn’t write it, it’s lost. It went beyond 1111 pages on 11.11.11. I shall stop at 1222 – this year! It’s the 50th anniversary of Uganda’s independence and 40th of the expulsion. The demand is at the most 2x1222 readers, but I did it. It’s coffee-table, in three parts, still a wrist-breaker but sure to be a blockbuster in the context that one-third of potential readers bought/read it. Any more from the Salon world? Who knows! I think it'll be noticed - I mean someone sits down for 5 years and writes .75 million words has to be acknowledged. But as the James Taylor song says, "I just don't know who to send it to." Self-publish it'll've to be.
I wish you well, really, as a native Bostonian, I wish you well. But, this monumental non sequitur tells me beware:
"After I wrote The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter, a memoir about growing up with a Navy father so obsessed with gerbils that he started raising them, I was stunned to discover how many readers had parents who were chain smokers."

Whoa.

I too write in my jammies. It's a lonely biz.
Love the point of view. It mirrors my own to a large degree. I can't stop writing. I have this urge to share ideas, points of view and stories. And, for as much as I write and talk, I am a really good listener -- when I purposely practice doing so. I could use more opportunities for that.

--r--
Perfection. I'm ordering Sleeping Tigers today!! :)))
Write on ....
.........(¯`v´¯) (¯`v´¯)
☼•*¨`*•.¸.(ˆ◡ˆ).¸.•*
............... *•.¸.•* ♥⋆★•❥ Peace and ♥ L☼√Ξ ☼ ♥
⋆───★•❥Have a Lovely Day ☼ .¸¸.•*`*•.♥ (ツ)
Thanks for the support! It's so lovely to know that you're all out there. And you'll be pleased to know (if you didn't read the last post) that I just sold a novel to Penguin...keep knocking on doors, and one will open!
Holly, this made me not only want to know your writing process, that ethereal dig that we seem to find ourselves mired in, but the essential drive to connect our self with real meaning. Guys need to know these stories as much as women -- as my mom had struggled through breast cancer, nobly, for over twelve years. I have dazzling, even sedate, pink ties. When that time comes, I wear it with the same pride that I would suiting up to play competitive sports or venture into what must be realized.
I will get a copy and spread the word. You sure connected with me, just a struggling novelist that knows what it's like to go into that mine each day, knowing the near silence, that something behind your heart tells us that there are important matters we need to let in,
find its light.
Holly, this made me not only want to know your writing process, that ethereal dig that we seem to find ourselves mired in, but the essential drive to connect our self with real meaning. Guys need to know these stories as much as women -- as my mom had struggled through breast cancer, nobly, for over twelve years. I have dazzling, even sedate, pink ties. When that time comes, I wear it with the same pride that I would suiting up to play competitive sports or venture into what must be realized.
I will get a copy and spread the word. You sure connected with me, just a struggling novelist that knows what it's like to go into that mine each day, knowing the near silence, that something behind your heart tells us that there are important matters we need to let in,
find its light.
well done. Best of luck with the book!
I don't write novels, only blog posts, but I'm always emotionally affected by readers who take the time to share their stories. It connects us to other people and deepens our understanding of the human experience. Sharing stories goes back to prehistoric times. It's part of what makes us human.
I accidentally clicked onto your blog, and was surprised to realize I had purchased (and read) one of your books last year, "The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter". As I believe we are where we are supposed to be, here I am.

I so agree with this blog. Today I was looking over a wonderful book of photos and one of a kind writings put together after my husband died, to commemorate his life. It was done by a group of writers, most of whom he had not met, but who had come to know him through a blog I wrote. I realized once again how far and wide a writer is able to reach. We are very fortunate.
Thanks for capturing so many of my own thoughts.
Thank you for sharing your life as writer, very inspirational.
I think genuine writer don't need readers.Long ago great French writer Flaubert wrote "If writer expressed what he want say neatly in his book , he don't need a single reader also"
Before printed book era.great Marathi poet Tukaram wrote"Who went Provence to Provence to tell about my poems?It carry on by winds, my father[GOD] was so great Am I not afraid now to tell the truth"Modern writers are needs readers because they are became international call girls dancing tune of market, their literary agents became touts who suggest them what market needs.Recently V.S. Naipaul wrote recently if my agent told me write on this topic I will[ At the age of 80] write.From this we must know how writer are make themselves commercial l commodity. How can any one expect from them truth. Tukaram wrote one of his poem "For truth or untruth I trust my mind and not obey what majority says"
Can any modern writer confidently make this kind of statement?
I can so relate; and at least you remember to pick up your son. I once left my daughter at school (by accident) until 5 p.m. twice in one week while meeting a deadline for my publisher. Eek. And I remember the time that a woman traveled from South Africa to St. Louis for a conference to obtain an autograph (and party like a rock star for four days, of course) for my first novel. I'm not a bestseller, and quite frankly, I haven't written fiction in quite some time, but I now earn a living writing and readers are, on a per-click basis, my lifeline.
Dear InThisDeepCalm,
I love your comment below...and I love picturing your closet of pink neckties! To everyone else, too, these comments continue to affirm for me that writing may be a solitary act, but is transformed in the process of connecting with readers in the most profound ways.
Nice to make your acquaintance. I like your writing style very much. I am a nature photographer and writer. I live in Maine on the coast. I'm listening to the surf as I write. Sounds idyllic, yes? It is. However, it's also deeply lonely, especially in the winter. My readers who put comments on my essays on my blogs and sometimes buy my photos (http://robinrobinsonmaine. com) keep my connected in a very rich way. They keep me moving forward and honing the crafts. I am so thankful for each of them I can't begin to say. They keep me alive. Congrats on the EP, Rated with RRR
Dear Robin (you must be related to me in some way!), I just went on your web site and saw your fantastic photos. Great post, too. I was really laughing at the end! I know that part of Maine well--one of my favorite places to write, actually. My grandmother lived there for many years. Thanks for finding me!
I made lasting friendships after posting chapters online (now deleted into the oblivion of the web), and over two years later, still keep in touch with many of the people who read those chapters.

I write for my readers, but before that, I wrote for myself. I can't not write. Writing has always been my best form of communication. I use it to process emotions, events, and other things, but I also use it to entertain and evoke emotions in my readers.