Robin Frazier Oliveira is the incredible genius behind three amazing books. Her first book which is titled MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER was published in 2010 followed by her second book, I ALWAYS LOVED YOU in 2014 and her most recent book, WINTER SISTERS was published in 2018.
QUESTION #1:When and how do you start your day? What do you do to prepare yourself for a day of work and your morning routine?
I begin my writing day about eight in the morning. I look through my email to take care of any business details that might distract me from working. I look through my social media for fifteen minutes or so. Then, I open my work in progress and begin by reading what I wrote the day before, thinking about where the story is going, what I’m trying to show in a scene or narrative, and begin.
QUESTION #2: What do the day-to-day responsibilities look like to you, would you consider yourself strict or disciplined when it comes to do your duties?
I don’t think of the work as a responsibility except in that I have a responsibility to “show up,” pay attention to where the characters and narrative are going, and give the writing enough hours. I’m disciplined. I don’t believe so much in inspiration—which seems to come of its own accord—as I do in devoting a certain number of hours to the work. Banker’s hours, in essence. I treat it like any job. I put the hours in.
QUESTION #3: How often or how long do you spend in a day preparing for your work and how does it fit into your schedule?
See above. I don’t prepare, necessarily. I settle into a rhythm. My schedule is my writing, and I work my life around that.
QUESTION #4: What is your favorite part about being a writer? Will you continue to pursue this career in the near future or you have other plans?
My favorite part of writing is sticking with something long enough for a story to coalesce. That gives me pleasure. I came to writing after working as a CCU and Bone Marrow Transplant nurse and raising my children. Writing is my career now. I’m not going anywhere else.
QUESTION #5: How did you discover your passion for writing and how long have you been doing it? What benefits have you derived from it?
My passion for writing arises from a passion for reading, books, and libraries, which have sustained me all my life. The benefit I’ve received is self-expression at its most specific. Writing is who I am.
QUESTION #6: Who is your favorite author and what have you learned from him or her.
My favorite author? I’d have to say Jane Austen. It’s hard to find someone else who develops character and plot so precisely.
QUESTION #7: What book of yours would you recommend a person who hasn’t heard of you before?
I guess I’d start with my first novel, My Name is Mary Sutter, which is about medicine and nursing in the Civil War. I worked on that book longer than I’ve worked on any of my others.
QUESTION #8: If you had a chance to travel anywhere in the universe for free, where would you go?
In the Universe? I’d have to say, I’d love to know if there are other planets like ours, with a sustainable energy source and life forms. I’d like to know if it has been done better someplace else. That I’d like to see.
QUESTION #9: What does your writing process look like and what goes into your physical and mental preparations when you are developing a concept for a book?
This is hard to explain. Since I write historical fiction, a book generally arises from a forgotten piece of history. For instance, in My Name is Mary Sutter, it was that women became physicians out of their experiences volunteering or nursing during the Civil War.
In I Always Loved You, about the impressionist artists in Paris, it was that before her death Mary Cassatt burned all the letters that she exchanged with Edgar Degas, which gave rise to questions about the nature of their relationship. And in Winter Sisters, the compelling historical fact was that until 1886 (the date varies by state), the age of consent was ten. Historical fiction writers write between the gaps in history to create a story.
QUESTION #10: What was the worst mistake you made in your journey and how will aspiring writers prevent the same from happening to them?
I don’t think there are mistakes, and I don’t even think in those terms. Remember, writing is a self-starting journey. You have to want to do this. The only real mistake would be to not learn craft as you write. The other would be to not read. And the third is to wait for inspiration. Sit down and do the work.
QUESTION #11: What do you look for most in a plot and how do you achieve the results you want? What do you consider the most important part of a story?
The most important part of a story is aboutness, in other words, knowing what the story is about and what your characters want. Desire is the driver of plot. When a writer follows character desire, spontaneity bubbles up and new discoveries and directions can be made and followed. At the same time, story has structure. I follow this mantra, taught to be by Douglas Glover, the esteemed Canadian novelist: Given what the character wants, and given what has just happened, what does s/he/they do next? Plot is action, but action with motivation. It takes asking yourself along the way over and over: What does this character want? How does s/he/they go about getting it?
QUESTION #12: Are you happy about where you are as a writer? Do you sometimes want more attention or less?
I am happiest when I am writing. While I am frequently energized by events in which I get to meet readers, I do find the public side of writing daunting. I’m an introvert who enjoys reading and writing. I’m a former registered nurse who found the job a calling, because it meant private one-on-one time with people in need, whose needs I strove to meet. Craving attention, for me, undermines my sense of contentment and happiness.
QUESTION #13: What was the most exciting and exasperating moment for you in your journey and how have you coped with disappointment?
The most exciting moment for me was receiving news that I had I had one an award (The James Jones First Novel Fellowship) for my first book-in-progress, then entitled The Last Beautiful Day, which eventually acquired the title My Name is Mary Sutter. That was my first bit of validation in the writing process, and it was a joyful moment of relief that all the work I had put into learning the craft of writing was actually achieving fruition.
The most exasperating moments come when people don’t read deeply and/or make assumptions about who I am as a writer or about my motivations for writing a particular book. I find that exasperating because in a one way world like the Internet, there is no response that an author can make to more deeply engage with the reader.
QUESTION #14: What does success look like to you in this position? What new projects are you working on and when should we be expecting them?
I feel successful because I achieved the goal that I set for myself when I started writing. I worked as a nurse, then stayed home with my children for a while, and then it became a question of whether or not I went back to nursing or did something else. And I decided I wanted to try to write a book because I love books, I love reading and I wanted to try to make one. After writing on my own, seeking help in evening community college classes, followed by University of Washington extension classes, and then finally achieving an MFA, I did!
And now I’ve had the privilege to make three novels. Currently, I’m deep in the weeds with another, and I’m enjoying the process because the amount of plot threads and characters in this book are numerous. Trying to craft a climax that will be satisfying to the reader is giving me a lot of satisfaction. It always takes time to find story and I am giving myself the time to craft a complex novel. If I achieve that, I’ll be happy.
QUESTION#15: What do you see as the most challenging aspect of this job and how do you overcome them?
The most challenging aspect of the job is staying with a project. Tenacity is one of the most important characteristics a writer can develop. You have to sit down day after day sometimes not knowing what you’re doing, sometimes feeling frustrated about the way the writing is going, sometimes even being ignorant about what the characters are trying to tell you or where the plot ought to be going, or even tolerating the dissonance of wondering whether or not the book will even work.
Staying in it with all those conflicting thoughts going on in your mind is the most difficult, but also the most necessary aspect of this job And I overcome that by sheer endurance. Some writing days are good and some writing days are bad. I’ve learned to take emotion out of it—emotion about how I’m interpreting my work on the day is of absolutely no help to me. So, I show up and do the work, regardless of whether or not I think it’s going well. Because if I don’t show up, nothing will get done, and the goal will be even more elusive.
QUESTION #16: When how did you master the courage to share your skill with the rest of the world and what were the first reactions you received? How do you face the negativity and hate?
I don’t think I have ever mustered the courage to share my ‘skill,’ or at least my stories, with the rest of the world. The first reaction to My Name is Mary Sutter—apart from the early award for the novel as a work-in-progress—was from the woman who became my literary agent. She told me that she loved it, and she thought that I was gifted. Then she sold the book at auction, which in the publishing world is a pretty exciting event. She sold it to a wonderful editor who stayed my editor until her recent retirement. But when the book came out, two hours before I was to speak at my first event, I was lying on my bed with the covers pulled up to my chin, because I was so afraid of exposing my work. to the world.
You work for a long time on a novel and it’s very hard to expose yourself, especially for an introvert. Each time one of my books is published, I feel exposed and that’s not a comfortable position for me. There have been negative reviews of the books, of course. However, for the most part there are positive. My husband has helped me a lot. He forbids me to read the negative reviews, because like most humans, once you’ve encountered them, all you hear are negative words instead of the many positive words. What I know about my work is that I’ve approached it with hard work, integrity, thoroughness, and as much creativity I can muster. It’s really hard to write a novel; it’s hard to put your heart on the line and let yourself be seen. So any courage is rooted in all the hard work that you’ve put in. That has to stand against any negativity or hate that comes your way
Rank the various characters in your book:
- The most annoying and most likely to get killed by you.
Well the most annoying character would be the most horrible character I’ve ever created and that would be Garrett Vanderveer in Winter Sisters.
- The one you might have a relationship with, that is if they were real.
That would be a Mary Sutter. She would be my best friend for the rest of my life.
- The most adventurous or badass.
Also Mary Sutter. the most ****** woman that ever existed
Rank your stories:
I. The one you enjoyed writing.
That’s like trying to say which of your children is your favorite. They’re all my favorites.
II. The one most likely to get an award.
My first book received several awards.
- The story you’ll never give up if your life depended on it.
The one I’m writing now.
QUESTION #19: What promotional method or practices did you use to promote your book? Which ones did you find the most useful? How did you get so many people interested in your work?
Penguin Viking has publicists, which is wonderful for authors. I leave that publicity business to the professionals.
QUESTION #20: Do you ever consider luck, your gender, ethnicity or race as a helping factor in your success?
I believe in hard work. I believe that success will come or not come based on the words on the page and the story you’re trying to tell. Given that, do male novelists receive more attention? Absolutely. Are people of color discriminated against in publishing? Without a doubt. Is that frustrating? Maddeningly so. We can’t always train the world’s gaze where it ought to go, but given the momentum behind the recent protests, I believe this will be changing. I keep my head down and do the work, with as much integrity as I can.
Sadly, we have come to the end of another great interview such an inspiring personality. it was a great honor getting to work with her and i am anxiously waiting for the release of her new book.
I am a fifteen year old book addict and writing enthusiast from Ghana in West Africa. I love potato chips and jelly, pizza too but not so much. If you want to know more about me, you can follow me on other social media platforms. Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter!!!!