Posts Tagged Robin Black
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan [Knopf]
–Egan writes with impressive attention to detail and possesses the ability to craft a unique, humorous and riveting portrait of two people invested in the challenging and ever-changing music industry.
The Dissemblers by Liza Campbell [Permanent Press]
–Through lyrical prose and stimulating descriptions, Campbell deftly transports the reader to Georgia O’Keefe’s New Mexico. She propels us inside an artist’s mind and twists a complex morality tale.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender [Doubleday]
–Bender writes exquisitely. The fairy-tale magic realism propelling this novel is charming and irresistible.
Solar by Ian McEwan [Nan A. Talese]
–crazy story told with McEwan’s brilliant style [simultaneously amusing and uncomfortable] about a physicist working with alternative energy sources including wind power and solar
If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black [Random House]
–exquisitely crafted, eclectic collection of short stories
City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris [Little, Brown and Company]
–Ferraris illuminates the varying levels of religious devotion and the status of women in Saudi Arabia from several viewpoints. It contains plenty of twists and thought-provoking cultural situations.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart [Random House]
–Shteyngart brilliantly describes a dystopian future with fantastically elaborate detail through emails, IM exchanges and diary entries.
This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper [Plume]
–Tropper has quickly become one of my favorite writers for his sensitive and often hilarious insight on relationships.
Small Kingdoms by Anastasia Hobbet [Permanent Press]
–beautifully crafted a complex, layered story about the abuse of a household servant in Kuwait. Moving from character to character and each individual story, Hobbet provides a rich background about life in Kuwait and the complex structure of the Middle East where class divisions remain strong, Americans and British are simultaneously despised and coveted, arcane laws and customs remain in place, yet Kuwait, compared to other Arab nations appears modern.
The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow [Algonquin Books]
–provocative and creative coming-of-age in the 1980s story. Blue-eyed, mocha-skinned Rachel is the daughter of a black GI-father and a Danish mother. The sole survivor of a Chicago rooftop tragedy, the 12-year-old ends up at her boozing and opinionated grandmother’s house in Portland, Ore.
Emily Hudson by Melissa Jones [Pamela Dorman Books]
–Jones has created a rousing feminist character in Emily. She’s outspoken and likely to shun conventionality. Emily’s a bit ahead of her time. Women are supposed to be married off by a certain age and then be relegated to the kitchen and drawing room, only to come out for parties and entertaining. And to be an artist at this time? It’s rather unusual and Emily certainly meets those who doubt her talents and capability to make it out there on her own, including her dear cousin William.
How to Survive a Natural Disaster by Margaret Hawkins [Permanent Press]
–astute family drama filled with betrayal, envy, lies, discord, tragedy and forgiveness. It packs a real punch and will stay with you for days after you finish its last page.
The Wolves of Andoverr by Kathleen Kent [Reagan Arthur]
–I really liked this novel for a number of reasons. It provides a detailed, rich description of daily life in 17th century Massachusetts. Smallpox travels through the town and I’m fascinated by infectious disease and how it’s contained. Kent takes the reader to England for its civil war. And the wolves? There are two kinds of wolves in this novel and they are sneaky and vicious.
An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin [Grand Central]
–Martin delves into the complicated New York art world and particularly into the life of art dealer Lucy Yeager. Like an Edith Wharton novel, this glitzy, posh scene has its nuanced participants and sinister underbelly.
Something Redby Jennifer Gilmore [Scribner]
–Gilmore instills equal parts cheerfulness and solemnity throughout this meditative second novel. It’s a superb reflection on the connection between external events and our psyches.
Most people consider lighter reads for summer reading. I have a bit of a mixed list culled from all the books I’ve read so far this year.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
–stands out from other novels with its delightful and richly woven central character Rose. The fairy-tale magic realism propelling The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is charming
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
–highlights the personal challenges, the zeniths and nadirs of the music industry both by those intimately involved and those on the fringes of the business.
This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
–What’s the worst that could happen when a family gets together to sit Shiva?
How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley
The One That I Want by Allison Winn Scotch
– will make you consider your own choices and inner peace.
The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl
–engulfs readers and transports us to times and methods gone by in the writing and publishing world and the rather seedy opium business.
The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes
–charming book about a spunky spirit who finds herself in a Dublin brownstone where she keeps track of the love lives of its residents.
It Could Be Worse, You Could Be Me by Ariel Leve
–Leve’s irreverent voice and bittersweet outlook mingle in an erudite, esoteric manner. Don’t be scared away by her brilliance and underlying charms. She will seduce you with this collection from the first page.
Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton
–Wharton is one of my all-time favorite authors and this novel is a great read for the summer. A couple pretends to be married in order to take an extended trip around the world staying at the homes of friends.
If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black
–beautifully crafted collection of short stories
Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield
–looking back at how music during the 1980s influenced Sheffield’s youth
Secrets of a Soap Opera Diva by Victoria Rowell
–winning combo of character and place: strong and talented Calysta & behind the scenes of the soap opera biz
If I Loved you, I Would Tell You This is an exquisitely crafted, eclectic collection of short stories by Robin Black. Diverse characters and Black’s unique style and an eye for the darker side of humanity spring forth from the page. Recently, I spoke with Robin about her writing process and her debut collection of short stories.
Amy Steele [AS]: What do you like about writing short stories?
Robin Black [RB]: In a way I think that there are parts of short-story writing that tap your brain like doing a crossword puzzle or jigsaw puzzle because you’re working within a limited space and every part has to be the right part.
I think novels, even though it shouldn’t be this way, are more forgiving in a way. But since I’ve written some stories that have done well and one novel, that is really bad, it’s easier.
AS: What are the challenges in writing short stories?
RB: The biggest challenge in short stories is compression and re-learning that. In novels, a lot of it is about expanding things and following possibilities. At least it is for me. In short stories you really are asking yourself, “Do I need this?” or “Do I want this?” or “Should I use this space for something else?” or “Is this really relevant to the story?” In novels, you can have these long digressions. My stories are long. I pretty much have forgotten how to write a story under 8,000 words.
AS: How does your teaching affect your writing and writing affect your teaching?
RB: My teaching makes my writing much better. I find teaching incredibly stimulating and exciting. Every time I read someone else’s story in whatever shape it’s in, I always figure out things about my own work also. I always learn. I think that for a lot of us that are probably not going to be in the student role anymore, teaching is just as good for that. I hope my students get a lot out of it. I know I do. And I do think being a practitioner helps in the teaching. The assignments I give my students really grow out of my own struggles which are ongoing. One weird thing about writing is you learn how to do it and you never learn how to do it.
AS: What do you teach?
RB: I’ve taught general creative writing classes, undergraduate and graduate level, and I’ve taught short stories. I do individual coaching and have done some weekend workshops where the points I’m teaching are very applicable to short stories or novels. I try to make it that whoever’s taking it gets something out of it. I also teach non-fiction. I write memoir essays. So I teach that as well.
AS: How do you decide whether to tell a story in first-person or third-person?
RB: That is one of the things I work hardest on and every story I go back and forth and more and more I end up in third-person. It’s always a question for me of how to tell the story best and what would be gained by having it in first-person because you lose a lot. You lose some distance. You lose some perspective. Most of the time, I feel that the central character is not the best person to tell the story. Usually they don’t have enough insight to do it. I don’t want them to be that smart, I don’t want to be that wise and I’m not trying to create an unreliable narrator. So I want a narrator who has a bit of wisdom about the situation.
AS: Where do you get most of your ideas?
RB: They’re not autobiographical. I’m not someone who goes through life and has things happen and thinks, “That would make a great story.” I actually really admire people who are able to do that because I’m not. Every story in there has some sort of spark of something that did happen to me. There’s a story about a neighbor and a fence [“If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This”] and there actually is a fence in my driveway. There’s a story about someone having electricity in the water and we actually did have our water electrified.
AS: Why did you want to tell that story about the woman and the father connection [“Gaining Ground”]?
RB: That’s one that I have no idea how exactly it came together although there are some autobiographical aspects in there. We did have electric water. My father did not kill himself. He died six months before that. I’m sure I was working through all kinds of stuff but for me the way that happens in stories is the way that happens in dreams. I can go back over them and see my obsession or my psyche but it’s all really changes and it’s really similar to dreams for me.
AS: The story, “If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This,” about a woman with cancer who has an inconsiderate, selfish neighbor who builds a fence that abuts in front of her house is told in an interesting style. How did you develop it?
RB:That one came about out of a real emotional impulse. Our neighbor built a fence that basically as in the story is in front of our front door. I couldn’t get over the fact that he could be that mean. I had this impulse to talk to him about it and then I realized that I didn’t care about him enough and I didn’t think he could learn anything. He was past caring. That was really wanting to talk to someone and that is why it is one person talking to another character. Emotionally there’s a lot of truth in that story.
AS: Can you talk about the woman with the prosthetic leg and the woman who was jealous of her [“Pine”]?
RB: That’s sort of a soccer mom story and I had one season of being a soccer mom. There was another mother there who kept inviting me to join support groups with her. It was clear to me that this was a woman who felt like there was something missing in her life. Again in that weird dream way, the way that came out in the character is that she’s literally missing a limb. But the way it started was someone who was in some way incomplete. Also, the people you meet through your children who are not necessarily a person you have anything in common with or would choose to spend time with but that’s part of the child-rearing years.
AS: What attracts you to writing about the darker side of people?
RB: I’ve always been drawn to how people cope to tragic situations. I grew up in a family whose grandmother was paraplegic. Around the time I went back to writing, I also had some losses in my own life. I think the stories for me were, in a way, trying to work it out and look at situations where people were grieving and write them into a more optimistic position.
AS: How do you decide which stories to put into a collection and what do you think makes a great short story collection?
RB: The reality of my stories is that they were not written to be read together. They were written over eight years and they were published separately. When I was writing them, I was not writing for a collection. I was writing each one to write the best story I could write. When I submitted a collection, I submitted the best stories I had. I wrote one more after I’d already submitted it. I have mixed feelings that they are in a collection. A lot of times I wish I could put a label on them that says, “Read one a week.” I didn’t write them to be read like a novel. I think in a way it does the stories a disservice to read them that way. I like that they are all together but I think that my collection would really benefit from people reading them [slowly] and [spaced out].
AS: What inspires you to write?
RB: I like to observe and share it. I want the words to be good because that’s the way to communicate. It’s that I saw something about the way people react and I think it’s cool and I want to describe it.
Robin Black is a graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. Her essays and stories have been published in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Bellevue Literary Review, and other publications. She lives in Philadelphia.
Title: If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This: Stories
Author: Robin Black
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (March 30, 2010)
Category: short stories
Review source: publisher
more information at Robin Black website
buy at Amazon: If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This: Stories
Monday, April 26 at 7pm—Eliazbeth Berg, The Last Time I Saw You
Tuesday, May 4 at 7pm—Pearl Abraham, American Taliban
Tuesday, May 11 at 7pm—Piper Kerman, Orange is the New Black
Monday, May 17 at 7pm—Meghan Daum, Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House
Wednesday, May 19 at 7pm—Sue Miller, The Lake Shore Limited
Thursday, April 15 at 7pm—Yann Martel, Beatrice and Virgil
Friday, April 16 at 7pm—Steve Almond, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life
Monday, May 3 at 7pm—Robin Black, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This
Wednesday, May 5 at 7pm—Chuck Palahniuk, Tell All
Thursday, May 13 at 7pm—Norris Church Mailer, A Ticket to the Circus: A Memoir
Concord Free Public Library
Thursday, May 27 at 730pm–Katherine Howe, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane