So You Wrote a Book? Robin Stratton

In Some Have Gone and Some Remain, Robin Stratton takes us on a retrospective, a slideshow of love, loss, nostalgia and hope. Simmering within these poems and essays is a sweet, simple and honest invitation to witness the many interludes that make up one human life.

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Nancy Stohlman: Describe this book in six words

Robin Stratton: Sad, funny, honest, bittersweet, raw, hopeful

NS: I really love the way you take the flash fiction form and weave it with poetry to create this flash/poetic autobiography. Where did you get the idea to do this?

RS: Most of the flash form pieces began as poems, but were such involved narratives (“And Then There Was the Time”, “A Tumor Not a Cyst”) that they just looked better structured as paragraphs, not stanzas. The two long pieces, “Moms” and “The Summer of Lizzie Borden” were written years ago, and were waiting for a home.

NS: Unlike memoir, that generally focuses on just one aspect of a person’s life, this feels like a true autobiography—a retrospective beginning in childhood and taking us on the up and down journey through many moments of a life. I imagine this could make you feel somewhat “exposed”, especially compared to fiction writing. Can you speak to this idea?

RS: “Exposed” is just the right word for how I felt. When I was writing the ones I feel were most revealing, like “It’s 4:30 in the Morning” and “Results”, I kept thinking, Just write, but don’t show anyone. I kept thinking how my brothers would feel, knowing some of these things that happened to me, or how much damage I did to myself, emotionally.

NS: I love the reoccurring You Men (Vol 1-5): it reminds the reader that romantic relationships are so often the highest and lowest points. You even dedicate a note of gratitude to all the former boyfriends in your acknowledgements. Talk about this.

RS: Wasn’t it grand of me to acknowledge how their criticism and bullshit helped me grow? All those years of trying out different men introduced me to different aspects of myself; what I was willing to put up with when I was in my 20s, versus my 40s and 50s. Looking back on my evolution was fascinating to me. I hope other people found it interesting, too, and could relate. By the way, thank you for blurbing the book! I have admired you for years, and that meant SO much to me!!

NS: Oh, you are so welcome, thank YOU! Now you publish both poetry and prose, and you utilize both in this book. Can you talk about your own crossover? Where are you most comfortable?

RS: I am not a poet, even though I would love to say I am. I love the visual of stanzas that lead to a kind of unconventional performance of the sentences, but getting it just the way I want it doesn’t come easily to me the way it does to real poets. My mind thinks in terms of indent-paragraph-carriage return. I so admire poets who can break up a sentence right in the middle; especially when it goes against a natural way of speaking and changes the whole presentation. I was happy with the way “Teen” came out… but you can see that most of my poem lines end where you would normally pause in a sentence.

NS: Speaking of crossover, you have published multiple books in several genres, including the novels Blue or Blue Skies and In His Genes, several collections including Dealing With Men and Interference from an Unwitting Species, and even a writing guide! How is Some Have Gone and SomeRemain similar and different from your other books?

RS: Some Have Gone is completely autobiographical, from start to finish, there isn’t a single bit of fiction in it. My novels, of course, have a lot of “me” in them, but I never ever write them that way; it just happens. I always laugh when someone tells me they just read Blue or Blue Skies and they “see” me in the main character – I had gone way out of my way to create a character who was the exact opposite of me: successful, rich, beautiful famous author. I never saw even the slightest bit of me in her until people started pointing it out, and I realized that all my vulnerabilities – about men, and about my loneliness after my friends got married and ditched me – came through in her.

NS: Some Have Gone and Some Remain is published by Big Table Publishing—I happen to have a sweet spot for BTP, who also published my own Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities—and you are the founder and the brains behind the whole shebang. Can you talk a bit about the genesis and evolution of BTP?

RS: Believe it or not, I started Big Table with the sole purpose of being able to include “publisher” in my bio when I submitted my novels to agents, because I thought it would make me sound impressive, and that was all I cared about. I thought I’d publish a few books, create a website, and so on. I never thought Big Table would be so big. It’s why I started Boston Literary Magazine, too – I never wanted to have a magazine, I just figured agents would say WOW, lookit her!

NS: BTP just put out several “Best of” volumes. Talk about these. What do you learn about your own writing from publishing others?

RS: Any writer who is in a group knows you can learn a lot from observing how other writers do it, either badly or well. When your ear tells you that something they’ve written is wrong, it leaves a trace in your memory (hopefully) that alerts you when you find yourself doing it too. So seeing raw manuscripts submitted to Big Table often demonstrates to me how a character or story line can be ruined by writing that’s sloppy or inconsistent. A lot of Big Table novelists are surprised when I tell them I love their book but they have to re-write the whole thing before we’ll take it. Sometimes I’ll suggest taking a character out, or completely changing the ending. Some resist, but most appreciate it. It’s why our slogan has always been “Work hard. Get published.”

NS: What advice would you give someone who is writing/wants to write a book?

RS: This advice has changed over the years. If you’d asked me this ten years ago I would have (and often did!) said, Keep going! Don’t give up! Now I say, Accept that you will probably not be on Oprah, make any money, or sell more than 200 copies of your book; you have to write with the single purpose of creating the best book you’re capable of.

It’s easy advice to give, and I often have trouble accepting it myself. But I lived it this past summer when I posted my novel In Love With Spring on my blog. I started writing it in the mid 90s, and it was a “current” version of Little Women – the four girls are sitting around talking about how John Lennon was just assassinated and Dad has walked out on them. I had a lot of trouble avoiding a Young Adult tone, and wrote it over and over and over. Suddenly a few decades went by and it was no longer current, it was nostalgic, and I knew I’d never find a home for it. I didn’t even bother to send it out, I just decided to put it on line and hope that people read it. I’m working on Volume Two, and there’s a real freedom to writing for the sake of writing, not submitting for publication. When all is said and done, that has to be why we write. If anyone wants to check it out, it’s here: https://www.robinstratton.com/blog

All of my books are available at www.robinstratton.com along with opening paragraphs of each novel and fun little promo vids. Parking is free, and on the weekends we have coffee and donuts! I’d love for people to stop by!

SOME HAVE GONE FRONT COVER

Robin Stratton is also the author of four novels, including one which was a National Indie Excellence Book Award finalist (On Air, Mustang Press, 2011), two collections of poetry and short fiction, and a writing guide. A four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she’s been published in Word Riot, 63 Channels, Antithesis Common, Poor Richard’s Almanac(k), Blink-Ink, Pig in a Poke, Chick Flicks, Up the Staircase, Shoots and Vines, and many others. Since 2004 she’s been Acquisitions Editor for Big Table Publishing Company, Senior Editor of Boston Literary Magazine since 2009, and she was Director of the Newton Writing and Publishing Center until she moved from Boston to San Francisco in 2018. Now she leads the popular “Six Feet of Poetry” and “Fiction by the Foot” series.  

Review of “Vixen Scream” in Boston Literary Magazine

   vixen cover finalThe Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories
       Nancy Stohlman
Pure Slush Books 2014
*
 How much are you getting paid to do this, he asks, a
crease in his forehead.
Enough to pay off my loans, I said as he begins to tattoo
the Coca-Colo logo across my face.
~ “Indentured”
These delectable shorts from Nancy Stohlman are sassy, sophisticated, sometimes sweetly naive, and always brilliantly ironic. From the woman who hugs inmates on death row and the sexy homunculus, to the pawned boyfriend, the missing penis, and the mermaid who is no longer a mermaid, we are scooped up and taken to the craziest, zaniest, most unimaginably strange places; and yet in each place you find human-ness… tender vulnerability, the need to please, or at least understand.
*
Do you feel old now? she asked.
I shrugged. Do you feel young?
We shared a soda as the Midwest rolled by.
~ “I Met My 20-Year Old Self in the Lounge Car of the Amtrak”
*
And then, of course, there is the fox… seductive, mysterious… the vulpes vulpes marking its territory with urine, its anal glands smelling of violets. Who can resist? Not you, if you read even one of the stories in this absolutely top-notch collection.Read original here