This week I am doing an author interview with Robin Reardon. I fell in love with her book, Waiting for Walker, and posted a review of it on the Recommendations page of my website (http://billmathiswriteretc.com/recommendations/) and on Amazon. Robin tackles tough issues in a balanced, informational and captivating style that keeps me turning the pages. I love her motto: The only thing wrong with being gay is how some people treat you when they find out. She has written a number of books. I recently finished the one she references in the interview, AND IF I FALL, and found it well written and on target. It also kept me turning the pages.
Introducing Robin Reardon!
1) Can you describe your current book in 6 to 10 sentences?
The summary of AND IF I FALL on my website is nine sentences, so here goes:
Jude Connor’s rural Idaho hometown is a place of strong values and high expectations. For those who fit into the local church’s narrow confines, there’s support and fellowship. For those who don’t, there’s ostracism in this life and damnation in the next.
Jude wants desperately to be saved—to believe with the fervor of the charismatic Reverend Amos King, whose sermons are filled with brimstone and righteousness. But every time Jude thinks he’s found the right path, there’s a fork in the road, and Truth seems to be in a different direction.
As much as Jude craves the certainty the church offers, he finds himself at odds with it. Without intentionally rebelling, he befriends Pearl Thornton, considered an unrepentant heathen; he craves the support of Gregory Hart, whose church standing is questionable; and the feelings he has for his friend Tim Olsen make him fear for his own soul. But then Reverend King offers Jude sanctuary, special guidance, and a path into the Light.
Will Reverend King be able to help Jude preserve his place in heaven? Or will the reverend’s own demons cause hell to swallow them both? The answer lies in Jude’s willingness to follow his own path—even if it leads him far from everything he’s known.
2) What was the impetus to write it?
I get a lot of story ideas from real-life situations. In this case, although this is not Ted Haggard’s story, he inspired my work.
Haggard went from being the celebrated “Pastor Ted” for the 9,200-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs (and founder of the World Prayer Center and the Christian Information Network), to total disgrace. Often showing off his wife and children, he used his literal bully pulpit to denigrate homosexuality and marriage equality in several ways, including influencing legislation in Colorado.
Then everything changed. In November of 2006, saying (essentially) that he could no longer tolerate the hypocrisy, a man named Mike Jones alleged that Haggard had been paying him for sex for the past three years. Although Haggard initially denied this relationship and any homosexual activity, he eventually admitted that he was “guilty of sexual immorality” and that he was “a deceiver and a liar.” Later, further allegations of homosexual activity involving Haggard surfaced from within the church itself.
This is rich material for a writer, and I couldn’t resist it.
3) What were the hardest parts or issues in writing your book?
I had to tread a fine line between letting readers in on Pastor Amos King’s secret (which is also Jude’s) while keeping Jude in the dark until I wanted him to see it. It should come as a surprise to Jude but not to the reader.
4) How long did it take to write it from first word to publishing?
It took me a little over a year to complete the story. It was originally released in 2013 by Kensington Publishing, where my first six novels were published. The title Kensington gave it was THE REVELATIONS OF JUDE CONNOR. The lead time from the completed manuscript to public release was well over another year, which pushed the total time to over two years. This is one reason I’ve chosen to move to independent publishing; I can begin to promote a book before I finish it, and once it’s ready I can launch it at any time. It also gives me the freedom to use the titles I want and the cover images I want, which is what I did for AND IF I FALL.
- How many drafts?
I don’t really do drafts. I write, and if I get a little bogged down I go back and read what I’ve written as a launching pad for the next stretch of writing. I edit at every point along the way, including reading aloud.
5) Are you a full time writer?
When I started writing novels I was a full-time communications manager for an international financial institution. I would often write late at night, and now that I’ve left the corporate world behind and can (and do) write during day, after midnight is still my most productive time.
- Computer or pen & paper?
Oh, computer, absolutely; I already have carpal tunnel syndrome, so the keyboard is hard enough on me.
- Music when writing?
I almost always have music on, and each book will have its own pieces. For AND IF I FALL, I was heavy into Alison Kraus and Cheryl Wheeler. In fact, the character Gregory Hart was inspired by Wheeler’s “His Hometown.”
- Coffee or tea? Booze?
If I write in the afternoon, I often have green tea in cold weather or iced tea when it’s warm. At night? Let’s just say I’m a huge fan of single malt Scotch.
- Did you outline the book first or write it by the seat of your pants?
I once had a writing coach who insisted that an outline must be completed before writing “Chapter One.” She was excellent for me in many ways. But I found that the more I know about a story before I begin, the harder it is to write.
I don’t really like the “seat of the pants” label. All my stories are in first person, and some are in present tense. My main character (MC) tells his story through me. It’s a linear process, and the twists and turns often surprise me. When I wrote my second novel, THINKING STRAIGHT, there was a point at which I wrote an event in, and then everything bogged down. So I leaned toward the screen and asked my MC, “Taylor, what’s going on? Where did I go wrong?” He reached his figurative hand out of the screen and led me back about two scenes. “Here,” he said; “This doesn’t happen.” And he was right. The story line flew after that.
6) What else have you published? Where?
AND IF I FALL (or, that is, THE REVELATIONS OF JUDE CONNOR) was originally my fourth novel under Kensington Publishing. They published my first six novels, actually, and then I went “rogue” (indie) and released my last three novels, including the re-release of AND IF I FALL with the title I wanted. I also have a short story I donated to Brent Hartinger’s Real Story Safe Sex project and a novella that was written for a collection that benefited The Trevor Project.
For all my stories, I work according to my motto: The only thing wrong with being gay is how some people treat you when they find out.
7) What do you do to make your characters come alive and convince readers that the emotions are real?
I think it helps that I always write in first person. I can easily get into the heads of my characters, and what happens next is their life. That’s real. I also think it helps that I can be a surprised as the character by what happens in the story.
When I started writing, I had read works by several other authors in the genre. The stories varied widely in terms of reality; some were sugary sweet, some were over-the-top melodramatic, and some were outright erotic. I decided to start writing about gay teens, and I vowed that the boys in my stories would be real boys. My first novel opens with a wet dream, but any sex in any of my books is something I see as realistic for the characters in question, and none of it is what I would call either erotic or gratuitous. It’s just—you know, real.
8) What drew you to writing so frequently about the intersection of religion with LGBTQ+ characters?
I was raised to have a profound resistance to injustice. When I saw what LGBTQ people—several of them dear friends—had to go through to be taken as human beings alive on the face of the planet, it horrified me.
For my entire adult life I’ve been fascinated by comparative religion. I see divine figures (God, gods, Goddess, goddesses) as metaphorical entities we create in our own image. I believe everyone, whether they’re doing so consciously or not, is seeking a bridge between the mundane and the divine, between the physical and the spiritual. Whatever else this bridge looks like, I see it as divine love.
But too often, supposedly religious people get caught up in the devilish details of a religious practice and act as if they know what their god wants, when in fact they’re merely creating an authority figure whose views match their own. The poet Gerald Massey wrote, “They must find it hard to take Truth for Authority who have so long mistaken Authority for Truth.”
The truth of scripture is that all of it, in any religion, was intended for a particular group of people in a specific time and place, and while it might have been applicable for those people, it might or might not apply today. For example, we now know that sexual orientation is a function of the hypothalamus; it is not a “preference.” We no longer believe that all the essentials for a new human life are contained in male ejaculate, so we no longer see “wasting seed” as tantamount to murder. It is no longer necessary to have seven or eight children to ensure that there will be two or three still alive to take care of us as we age; we now can save money for ourselves, and we have a health infrastructure that no one alive when any scripture was written could have conceived of. The reason people condemn homosexuality today is another example of creating their god in their own image, with their own prejudices and judgments.
The Reverend Dr. Laurence Keene said, “There’s nothing wrong with a fifth grade understanding of God, as long as you’re in the fifth grade.” I guess I want people to use the brains their god gave them and realize that (quoting Rabbi Irwin Kula), “It’s about love, and it’s about connection, and it is no more complicated than that.”
9) Do you work with a coach or an editor?
Once upon a time I foolishly believed it would be easier to write a short story than a novel. So I started there, took an online course, and then worked with a writing coach. What I realized was that if someone could write a really good short story, they could probably write almost anything. The training honed my writing skills like nothing else could have done. From consistent point of view, to active vs. passive voice, to incorporating expositional material, to good character development and differentiation, to economy of wording, there was nothing like short stories to get me ready for novels.
I worked with an editor (whom I paid personally; publishing houses don’t often do this work any longer) on my first few novels. The most valuable takeaway was that if there was a spot in my story that I read though quickly because I knew it wasn’t great but it wasn’t too bad, the editor would find it and say, “What’s going on here?” I learned to face those problems rather than just read really quickly to get past them.
These days I have an arrangement with a fellow author whose work I particularly admire. He and I read each other’s close-to-final drafts and offer insights.
10) Please list three of your favorite books.
The first book I have to list would be Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. Anyone who doesn’t believe that one’s gender identity is, foundationally, second only to species in how we define ourselves would change their mind after reading this book.
Next would be The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. The underlying themes here are deep and intense: the human longing to understand itself; our inability to see what our own assumptions are, let alone understand how someone else’s might be different; our compulsion not just to believe in a god-like power but also to find it.
The third book I’ll mention here is The Once and Future King, by T.H. White. This is the story of humanity. On the surface, it’s a story of Camelot: of a noble king, the beautiful queen who loves him, and the self-effacing, powerful soldier who worships him. And for a good portion of the book, it seems like a story you might read to children. The delightful scenes where Merlin the magician transforms the boy king into different animals, so that he learns what it means to be human, present lessons in humility and generosity I keep with me today. The contrast between the Questing Beast and the Holy Grail—one comedic and earthly, one celestial and sacred, and both retaining their meaning only as long as the objects are unattainable—contains lessons for everyone. But it’s also a story of betrayal, of self-delusion and false dreams, and of what happens when we draw lines between what’s yours and mine, between what you are and I am, and when we isolate ourselves from each other by any of the various means at our disposal. It’s a story of what happens to love when we try to divide it.
11) Any advice to aspiring writers?
Yes. Write. And read. And write some more. Read what you’ve written, aloud. Read it again. And again. Don’t ignore those rough spots; if they’re not perfect for you, they’re not ready for anyone else. And learn to love editing; it will be your best friend.
Any time you hear that in order to write well you must do X, Y, or Z, try them, by all means. But if something else works better for you, do that instead.
Write what you love, whether anyone else will see it or not. Don’t limit yourself to that tired maxim, “Write what you know.” If you want to write about something that interests you, educate yourself, do the research for the details and the subject matter. Because what you know, really—what’s worth writing about—is already in you.
12) What’s coming up? What are you working on now?
I’ve never done a series before, so I decided to create one. I don’t like reading a series that’s just a very long book divided into sections, with each ending in a cliff hanger until the last. So each of these three books will stand alone, though reading all three will be more rewarding.
The stories revolve around Nathan Barrett, a college-aged gay man who learns more about himself, about the world, and about what’s important with each book. And each one centers on a different hike. The series is called A NATURAL MAN, and each individual book will be named for the hike involved: On Chocorua (that’s in New Hampshire), On the Kalalau Trail (on the island of Kaua’i), and On the Precipice (in Maine’s Acadia National Park). I don’t have a release date yet for On Chocorua, but I hope to be able to announce that soon.
13) Where can your books be purchased? How can readers find you?
My books are available “wherever books are sold.” Print copies can be ordered from Amazon or through any brick-and-mortar bookstore. Digital copies are everywhere: Amazon, iTunes, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc. Libraries and bookstores can order my later work through IngramSpark.
I’m on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/robin.reardon) and Twitter (@therobinreardon) as well. And I love to hear from readers!
A few buy links for AND IF I FALL