Tell us something unexpected about yourself!
I was a diplomat for twenty-five years and lived in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. Most of that time I kept the fiction I wrote to myself, publishing a handful of stories and one nonfiction book about North America. The work was demanding, but it enabled me to retire at 50, which was my plan. Since then I’ve been free to write as much as I wanted, publishing another nonfiction book, over 100 short stories, and a novel.
How did you get into writing?
I realized I was a writer when I was fifteen. The urge to write emerged out of voracious reading, I’m sure. The books I read were “better than life.” The characters were more vivid than the people I knew; the descriptions made me see better with my mind than with my eyes; the stories went somewhere and took me with them.
What are your top 3 books of all time?
This is a very difficult question. The truth is that I don’t have 3 top books of all time. Some authors mean more to me than others. I’m thinking of Flannery O’Connor, Dostoevsky, Joyce, Chekhov, Updike, James. My real fantasy is to be able to read many different books at once somehow…be a river into which many streams feed. Too bad I have to take books one by one. Light in August by Faulkner thrilled me when I was younger. Flannery O’Connor’s stories sizzle. Ulysses made anything possible; there weren’t any rules anymore. I loved that. Writers who somehow fabricate entire worlds are the writers I value most.
Where did you get the inspiration for your current book?
She Receives the Night is a collection of short stories about women all over the world, of all stations, and all ages. The key idea is that women bear the burdens of life’s darkness so that everyone (themselves included) can enjoy life’s light. That idea took hold of me when I was very young, observing and being cared for by my mother, a nurse. She was the family’s strength, and I see that strength in women all the time, so naturally I wanted to explore it in my writing.
How long did it take you to write this book?
The story called “Birth” was written and published in 1997, so the answer is twenty years. One day I simply realized I had a cache of stories about women that would fill an entire book, so I picked and chose, and She Receives the Night emerged.
Have you got any writing rituals?
My writing ritual is straightforward. I write first thing in the morning and block out the world for three or four hours. Then I go to the gym, have some lunch, and go back to writing. I do this six or seven days a week. Part of my strategy is to be totally consistent and thereby avoid self-recrimination when I take a few days off to travel or for the holidays. People say I’m disciplined, but really, I’m just being me.
How important is marketing and social media for you?
It seems marketing and social media represent the keys to the kingdom.
Do you read your book reviews?
I do, sure. It’s interesting to see what other people think of my work. The reviews that really excite me are the ones demonstrating a clear understanding of what I am trying to do. That creates a connection of particular value to me.
What advice would you have for other writers?
You have to observe the world and yourself in equal measure and find ways to put your findings into writing…not talking about writing, not wishing you were writing…actually writing. Move the pen. Then move it again. Then revise and revise again. Writing isn’t easy. You have to have a thick skin and be your own most severe critic.
What are you reading now?
I’m reading The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. On one level it’s a conventional story about rich people enduring bad marriages; on another level, it’s a daring literary experiment driven by a totally unreliable narrator.
What’s your next step?
My next step is to get on with revising a long short story I’ve been working on. I think I’m going to include it in my next collection.
Follow Robert on Twitter: @RobertLeeEarle
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