Interview with Richard Robbins: 'Make a high-level story outline, then individual chapter outlines, then just write' @RRobbinsbooks

Richard Robbins has always liked telling good stories, but it was not until his youngest child left for college that he was able to find the time to put them into print.  His first novel, Love, Loss, and Lagniappe was inspired by actual events in his life, and utilizes Richard’s Medical and Business School background to explore the journey of self-discovery after heartbreaking loss, while revealing the scientific basis for the meaning of life (You’ll have to read it to find out!).

Richard is currently working on his second novel, Panicles, a multi-generational story of the intersecting fate of two families and the price of fame versus the simpler pleasures of a grounded life.

Richard lives in New York City with his love and inspiration, Lisa, his wife of thirty years (and counting), near their beloved grown children.



Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  When did you come up with the idea to write your book?

The first story essentially chose me.  Early in our marriage, my wife was diagnosed with a significant brain tumor.  At the time, we had three children under 5 years of age.  Fortunately, she survived the episode, and after a recovery, has thrived.  However, I’ve never fully gotten over the effects of spending 8 hours in a waiting room, not sure if she was going to make it or not.  During that time, you can’t help but wonder what the future will bring.  Writing this novel was therapeutic for me, even if I found people walking by me in Starbucks wondering why there was a grown man typing with tears in his eyes.  I’ve been amazed at how many people, particularly men, have felt the need to express to me their loss and their emotions surrounding their loss after reading the book.
The challenge was to infuse the story with the appropriate optimism and humor, which I believe I’ve done. I look forward to hearing the reader’s feedback.  Advance reviews have been very gratifying.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

The most difficult aspect was, in all honesty, just starting.  My advice to other authors is to just get started.  Don’t worry about how long it will take you, or how long the book will be, or if it’ll be any good.  Just get going!
Make a high-level story outline, then individual chapter outlines, then just write.  Don’t be too concerned about quality, tense, or point of view at first, just put down your thoughts on the page the first time through.  Then improve the plot and technical points on each subsequent draft.
And finally, find a good editor.  They’ll help take care of the technical details.  Spending too much time on those details early in the process tends to stifle creativity.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

I submitted my manuscript to a number of publishers, and received a string of no’s.  But after a dozen or so no’s (some more encouraging than others), I received a maybe.  On further review, that publisher decided it didn’t exactly suit their audience, but they referred me to my current publisher, Evolved Publishing, and I’ve been very happy there.
So, brute force works!  We’ve all heard the story about how many times Harry Potter was rejected before it was published.  I make no pretense at being half the writer that JK Rowling is, but maybe I do have at least half her resilience.  
I believe there’s a role for self-publishing, and if my manuscript was not picked up by a publisher, I would have done so.  But I’m very happy with my publisher.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

I was surprised about how much help an editor can be.  For this story, there was not a great deal of plot editing, but during final line item editing, the number of changes was surprising.  Punctuation, tense, point of view issues.  Mostly issues that the reader may not have noticed, but it’s nice for the final work to be as close to perfect as possible.
I was also surprised at how emotional it was to first see the book in print.  Seeing it in hard copy made me feel like I created characters who did not exist in the world beforehand, like they were, in a way, my children, and as such there’s an emotional attachment to them.  I’m hopeful the reader will feel the same way.

Q: What other books are you working on and when will they be published?

My next novel is called Panicles.  A Panicle is a form of branching flower in which all branches come off one main stem, which feels like a metaphor for family lineage to me.  It’s a story of two families, one wealthy and powerful, one of more modest means, and their relationships to themselves and each other.  The story involves friendship, love, war, natural disaster, political intrigue, and a sacrifice which may change the course of history.
The fundamental question addressed is the price of fame versus the simpler pleasures of living a private, more grounded life.  This story will be longer and more ambitious, and there will be more humor, plenty of tears, and an ending you’ll never forget.  I’m looking forward to its release in Spring 2019.

Q: What’s one fact about your book that would surprise people?

That it takes a clear-eyed, science-based effort at explaining the meaning of life.  And that men seem to be unable to read it without crying.

Q: Finally, what message are you trying to get across with your book?

Life is full of great victories and devastating losses.  This is true for everyone, even if they’re not open to sharing their experiences. And the more people you love and care about, the more opportunities there are for each.  Embrace the journey as best you can, and rely on loved ones to help you though the bad times.
And go visit New Orleans.  Get off Bourbon Street and see the rest of The Quarter, the Faubourg Marigny, and Uptown.  And go hungry!
Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

This novel was written as an act of love.  First, to my wife, family, and friends, as well as to the cities of New Orleans and New York, which are as integral to the story as any other characters.  It’s my sincere wish that you, the reader, receive it as such, and that it brings you some of the joy and enlightenment that I’ve experienced from those who have been so loving to me. 

And a final thank you to everyone who has gotten in touch with me to let me know how the book has moved them, from reviewers to readers.  Knowing that the work has brought you enjoyment is the greatest gift you can give me.  If you choose to read the book, please let me know how you felt about it at   I’ll thank you for the input.

About the Book:

Life is good for Dr. Drew Coleman, a successful young eye surgeon living in Uptown New Orleans, and he knows it. Having met and married his beautiful medical school classmate, Kate, the two settle happily into the routine of raising their two young daughters.

Drew’s charmed life is soon shattered by devastating news, causing him to go on a ten-year transcontinental journey of self-discovery, during which he explores the nature of God and Man, the divine inspiration for many of New York’s landmarks and artistic treasures, and the relationship between the found and the lost souls passing on the street. He meets a number of memorable characters, including the young blue-haired runaway, Blue, who renounced her given name when forced to leave her Minnesota home with her girlfriend, Anna.

In time, he discovers and explains the scientific basis for the meaning of life, and is finally found, or finds himself, setting the stage for a bittersweet and memorable ending.


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