An Interview with Robin W. Pearson: Faith and Southern Roots Run Deep
I first met Robin W. Pearson some years back at a friend’s home. Later, we briefly attended the same writers’ group before she moved from New Jersey back to her beloved South. When we met, she was working on her first novel. I’ve been so excited to watch her journey unfold as she became an award-winning debut author last year. Enjoy this interview with Robin about faith, life, and writing.
TGC: How and when did your “I’m a writer” moment happen? Was it a lifelong dream or something that evolved over time?
RWP: I’ve enjoyed a love affair with words since I was little, whether it was poring over a book, writing poetry, or completing essays in class. I even tried to write a book in elementary school. When I started working in school editorial at Houghton Mifflin, I thought I’d found my calling—I’ve always been deadly with my red pencil—and as an editor, I could create and recreate material. Also, it was a career I could pursue from home while raising a family. But then Family Digest Magazine reached out about twenty years ago, nurturing a seed, an “I want to be a writer” dream I didn’t know God had planted in my heart until I saw my byline. Not long after, I started writing A Long Time Comin’.
TGC: Congratulations on the January 2020 release of your first novel. How was the story born? How long did your novel’s journey take from inception to bookshelves?
RWP: When my oldest son was a baby, I started writing down family stories, history, and traditions. It was something about looking into his little face…I wanted to make sure my family’s future was firmly connected to its past. Those real stories birthed my work of fiction and gave life to my main character, Granny B. A mixture of so many family members—my grandmothers, my parents, aunts, etc.—captures their stoicism, faith, love of family, pride, and determination.
My first book, A Long Time Comin’, took quite a bit of time to travel from the laptop to the bookshelf because I didn’t work consistently on it. Also, I had lots to learn about and do—raising children, moving, homeschooling, not solely writing.
TGC: Are you a discovery writer, or do you outline and plot your stories ahead? How (if at all) have you tweaked your preferred process over time? Why does this method work for you?
RWP: The answer to both questions is “yes,” I’m a pantser and a plotter. When I wrote A Long Time Comin’, I didn’t know where the story was going, just the characters and their ages. And even those changed. I plotted more with ‘Til I Want No More, briefly outlining chapters because of the book’s structure and diving deeper into characters’ motivations and personalities. I still didn’t know where I was going though. Now that I’m writing my third book, I’m writing with a specific structure and ending in mind, though I work in discovery mode.
TGC: I know you have a second book in the works and are contracted for two more. How does this commitment to produce on a deadline affect your writing practice and process?
RWP: ’Til I Want No More releases February 2021, and I see that learning how to produce on deadline is as much a work in progress as my next book. I worried it would sap my creativity because typically, the most random things inspire me. Yet, God is taking me to depths I wouldn’t have explored if left to my own spontaneous devices. Word counts and deadlines can squeeze the best out of me if you ignore the blood, sweat, and tears.
TGC: As a traditionally published author with an agent, is there any advice/wisdom you want to share with writers considering this route?
- If you believe this is how you’ve been led to publish, stick with it. A “no” may mean “not this,” “not now,” “not this way,” or “not for you.” Turn a deaf ear to naysayers and listen to what God has to say about His plan for your life. David had to kill a giant and hide in caves for years before he reigned as king.
- Don’t compromise your work or your values, but be willing to change, edit, and learn.
- It’s a subjective business, often guided by what professionals think will sell, what they can market. Find your voice and use it. Cling to what you believe and who you are in Christ, personally and professionally.
- Find an agent who represents who you are, and (s)he’ll connect you with the right publisher.
- Some heavy lifting awaits once you sign that contract, so build those faith muscles now!
TGC: Which authors have most influenced you as a reader and writer? Which of their works in particular have deeply impacted you and how?
RWP: Bebe Moore Campbell, Stephen King, Liane Moriarty, Francine Rivers, and Maeve Binchy, all gifted storytellers, have all impacted me in such different ways.
—In Brothers and Sisters, Campbell puts fictional faces and names on real events, settings, and emotions. Her lyrical, authentic writing includes people of all cultures and backgrounds. Hearing Songbird gasp as she read her Christmas gift, Campbell’s What You Owe Me, informed me that I’m going to love that novel just as much.
—I’ve read King’s The Stand: the Complete and Uncut Edition, at least twice. He writes amazing dialogue and puts you smack dab in his battle between Good and Evil, what we engage in daily, yet not quite so blatantly. Reading the book twice tells you how good it is.
—The Husband’s Secret introduced me to Moriarty’s work, but her Truly, Madly Guilty is my favorite of hers. She introduced me to the idea of upmarket fiction, that curious blend of literary and contemporary. The way she develops her story makes you turn the pages to discover the answers to those questions.
—A Voice in the Wind led me to edit A Long Time Comin’ long after I thought it was finished. The way Rivers imparts biblical truth in her fiction…! It inspires both the reader and the writer in me.
—Finally, it’s hard to pick one Binchy novel I love most though I don’t fancy some as much. Her stories meander until the last page, though their lives don’t seem “over.” She explores the value of the everyday, shows the commonalities within the disparate lives of her characters, and inputs great meaning in small details. There’s no “happily ever after” in her endings, yet they satisfy.
TGC: As a Christian writer, how has your faith informed your work and decision-making as an author?
RWP: My Author and Finisher inspires every word. Every word. God gave me the family I’ve come from and the family I have, the motivation and the means for my writing. I use my fiction and blog posts to relate biblically based themes and messages.
At first, I didn’t know much about Christian fiction. But my faith grew along with my knowledge of the industry, and I decided to focus on finding a Christian literary agency. God led me to Cynthia Ruchti with Books & Such Literary because Ruchti aligned with my faith and values (and crazy sense of humor) and would point me toward the right publishing house. How amazing, to work with people who pray for me, who get me in the most important ways! Who send me pizza and flowers…I mean, who does that? It’s an incredible gift.
TGC: As an African-American writer, what do you hope to convey to a wider audience about your cultural identity and experiences through your work?
RWP: I don’t consider my race or culture an adjective. It’s part of who I am. Just like other writers, I want to connect with and enlighten readers through my stories.
TGC: Full disclosure – I’m in awe of you and what you’re able to accomplish on a daily basis. How do you balance your incredibly busy life as a homeschooling mom and devoted wife with your writing career?
RWP: Full disclosure: I’m a mess. There is no balance. Every day, the scale tips dangerously in one direction or another, depending on the need, the emergency, the deadline, the assignment, who’s asking, or how much sleep I get. The only “how” is God—not even my faith in Him, because that weakens and lets me down, and I nearly drown in my anxious thoughts. It is God Himself. He has blessed me with Hubby and my peeps who are extremely creative, intelligent, and tech-savvy; a supportive publishing team with Cynthia Ruchti and Tyndale House; and an amazing writing community. And on a practical level, God also designed me to be a night owl, so I get much done in those wee, “third-shift” hours.
TGC: If you could sit down for a cup of tea with any of the characters in either of your novels for a heart to heart, who would it be and why?
RWP: I’d love to sit down with both Elisabeth from A Long Time Comin’ and Vivienne from ’Til I Want No More and swap stories about our strong-willed children, specifically our daughters, who drive us nuts and to our knees. We three could discuss our own regrets and missteps and encourage each other along this fulfilling, yet challenging path of mothering. But I’d serve coffee with lots of sugar and cream, not tea.
Thanks to Robin for taking the time to share her thoughts. I’ve preordered her next novel and can’t wait to read it. The first one was excellent!
A bit more about Robin W. Pearson:
Robin W. Pearson’s writing sprouts from her Southern roots, her faith, and the love of her sweet husband, seven children, and her dog. In her twenty-five-year editorial career, she’s corrected grammar up and down the East Coast. Both her Christy Award-winning debut, A Long Time Comin’, and her second novel, ’Til I Want No More, have earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Follow @RobinWPearson on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and RobinWPearson.com to read about her adventures in faith, family, and homeschooling.
You can purchase Robin’s novels at Amazon.com by following this LINK.
With Love and Gratitude,
Tracy G Cooper
Tracy is a New Jersey writer who loves Earl Grey tea, spending time outside, and painting. She lives with her husband and children in a home where birdsong and rainstorms provide the soundtrack for her creative life.