Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Robin Black

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


Today I am honored to introduce Robin Black, author of the much-lauded short story collection If I loved you, I would tell you this. And I’m especially excited because the paperback edition is being released THIS WEEK (so as soon as you’re done reading about Robin’s writerhead, get yourselves to a bookstore and buy the paperback…you’ll be so happy you did).

Here’s a sprinkling of the praise that has been showered upon Robin for her first collection of stories:

“So deft, so understated, and so compelling . . . Fans of Mary Gaitskill, Amy Bloom, and Miranda July will feel like they’ve found gold in a river when they discover Robin Black.” — O: The Oprah Magazine

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“Each story…in this collection is a mini work of art….They teach life lessons and change the way you view the world.” — Irish Examiner

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“Black delivers real emotion, the kind that gives you pause….I want to shout about how just when you thought no one could write a story with any tinge of freshness let alone originality about childhood. . . about marriage…about old age, Black has done it.” — Alan Cheuse, Chicago Tribune

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So without further ado, here’s what the marvelous Robin Black had to say about her writerhead.

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

Like all the best monsters, my writerhead has more than one head. There’s Solitary Writerhead and then there’s Rude Writerhead. Solitary Writerhead happens—no surprises here—when I am alone. And I mean really alone. Solitary Writerhead will play hard to get if I know there’s someone else in the house be they never so quiet, be they never so hidden in another room. Solitary Writerhead involves a kind of agitated trance. Pacing, talking to myself, scribbling myself down dark tunnels that I then panic about being in. So I jump up. Pace. Start to do laundry. Say, out loud, “What else? What else?” Never finish the laundry. Back to the keyboard. Say out loud “What next? What next?” Then maybe a drawing pad. (Back to the drawing board…) Try to sketch out what I cannot articulate. Characters are circles or they are triangles. Arrows depict actions. Or maybe depict attachments. Time is a series of clouds. Now. Now. Now. Then this. Then this? Scribbles all over the diagrams depict frustration. (Mine.) Say out loud, “Who ARE these people? Why do I care?” Oh, and the TV is often on. But the clock stops. For hours. Then somehow catches up with itself too quickly so all of a sudden it is whatever time signifies The End. Not of the project. But of the time when I will be alone. So it’s time to be a person again.

Rude Writerhead happens at dinner with my family. Or on long car rides. When I want to be doing all of the above. But can’t.And so am rude. We discourage Rude Writerhead, but it does still appear from time to time.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

I have been known to weep. But that was some time ago. Over the decade or so that I’ve been writing more or less full-time I have gotten better about not punishing the person, dog or electronic device that has the gall to insist that I lead some kind of regularized existence and not just pace and mutter all day every day. So now I am, if anything, resigned to participating in real life. Though I do seem to remember some screaming back in the day…but I have repressed those scenes, much as with the pains of labor.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

For me, writerhead is like cooking, but instead of being the cook, I am the stew itself. It feels, at its most powerful, less as though I am creating something than as though I myself am being created. There’s an urgency about getting “it” right, an urgency that is so pressing that the “it” no longer seems to be anything like the words or the images or the story but me. This, this “it,” becomes necessary, will fix something, will set things to rights. I’m not sure any lesser drive could justify the struggle that goes on.

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Robin Black’s story collection If I loved you, I would tell you this (Random House, 2010) was a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Fiction Competition, a summer reading pick for O. Magazine, among Best Books of 2010 in The San Francisco Chronicle and The Irish Times, and the winner of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia Literary Award. Her essays and stories have recently appeared in Conde Nast Traveler UK, O. Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Georgia Review, One Story, and others. Robin lives in the Philadelphia area with her family.

To read more about Robin, visit her website. Or say hello on Twitter (@robin_black).

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Readers / Writers / Looky-Loos: Whatcha think? What takes your attention about Robin’s writerhead? What gives you pause?