As I announced in December, I will be teaching a workshop on journalistic writing* at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference next month.
To gear up for that, I am featuring interviews and spotlights with this year’s presenters.**
Next up is historical fiction author David L. Robbins.
ABOUT THE PRESENTER
According to his Web site, the College of William and Mary alum quit practicing law two weeks before his one-year anniversary of becoming a lawyer. His father had stipulated that Robbins would have to pay him back for law school if he quit before one year; however, in a final act of negotiation, Robbins got his father to allow for the equivalent of a two-week vacation. Well done!
Currently, his fast-paced novels include: Souls to Keep (HarperCollins) as well as War of the Rats, The End of the War, Scorched Earth, Last Citadel, Liberation Road, The Betrayal Game, The Assassins Gallery, and Broken Jewel (all Bantam). His current work-in-progress is called The Devil’s Waters.
In addition to being an accomplished novelist and Latin classical guitar enthusiast, Robbins is the founder of James River Writers, a writing organization based in Richmond, Va. He also teaches creative writing at the College of William and Mary—his alma mater—and will be this year’s Advanced Fiction instructor at the 35th annual Southeastern Writers Association conference.
Although Robbins and I were unable to coordinate our schedules for an interview, here is an excerpt from an interview he did for James River Writers, which may offer a bit of insight in terms of what Robbins will be highlighting in Advanced Fiction at SWA in June.
JRW:You mentioned at your book release event that although you are adamant about not using back story, you did this anyway. When is it necessary for an established writer to break the rules and what caused you to do it here?
DLR: I’m adamant about pacing. Back story, dream sequences, narration, flashbacks, all of these and more are devices which exist on a plane not concomitant with the story itself. While the reader is ensconced in them, nothing happens to the characters in real time. No jeopardy, no progress, no action. No pace. So I recoil—usually. In Broken Jewel, I used a lengthy recollection—and I believe it is some of the most beautiful prose in the novel, to be honest—to express a father’s checkered history with his son. The entire passage is a bad idea that worked. This demonstrates that there are no rules in art, only default settings. It is necessary simply for a writer to have a working knowledge of the “rules,” so when they are broken, this is done with control and intent. I did it on purpose. That’s my only explanation.
JRW: When writing historical fiction, how do you keep history from controlling the plot so that the protagonist can do his or her job which is to instigate the action rather than react to events?
DLR: Design active protagonists instead of victims. Immature writers often rely on plots where their characters are buffeted by events, villains, heartless nature, or bad mojo. The key is to write a tale from the perspective of main characters who drive the action, not merely survive it. Do this, and you’ll never have the problem of a character being overwhelmed by history. In fact, if you’re clever, you can even invent characters who actually explain some bits of heretofore veiled history. So that’s how it happened! See?
For more information about Robbins, please visit his Web site.
*To learn about the workshop I’m teaching, click here.
**For more SWA Presenter Spotlights, click the appropriately-named category in the right-hand sidebar.