Friday, August 15, 2008

Meet James E. Robinson - Interview & Book Giveaway

It’s my pleasure to introduce author James E. Robinson. The Flower of Grass is his first foray into fiction. Let’s meet Jim!


THE BIO

James RobinsonJames E. Robinson is an award-winning songwriter, and a successful singer, producer, musician, author, counselor, and speaker. His songs have been recorded by major artists in country, Christian, and rock music, among them John Michael Montgomery, Restless Heart, The Martins, B.J. Thomas, Neal McCoy, Al Denson, Asleep At The Wheel, and many others. He has also recorded three CDs of his own: Prodigal Song, Clean, and Healer of My Heart. Jim has written numerous #1 inspirational hits; songs such as Be, Come and Fill This Place, and Healer of My Heart have been adapted into major choral arrangements and performed in places of worship worldwide.

A graduate of Christ Center School of Counseling and Addiction Studies, Jim also works as a professional Recovery Counselor in private practice in Nashville. Combining music, speaking, and educational workshop presentations, he travels and performs in churches, treatment centers, schools, and correctional facilities throughout the country.

In 2003, Jim published his first book, Prodigal Song: A Memoir, which garnered high acclaim. Midwest Book Review called it "a moving and life-affirming portrayal, spiritually rewarding and reader inspiring." Jim also publishes a monthly article on the Internet site Crosswalk.com. Other articles have appeared on CBN.com. These posts typically generate hundreds of Web site hits for Jim's ministry site: www.ProdigalSong.com and many new subscribers to Jim's e-newsletter list. For an inclusive list of Jim's articles, go to: http://www.prodigalsong.com/articles/index.html.

Jim’s debut fiction novel, The Flower of Grass, has been acquired by Lion Hudson/Monarch Books for 2008 release. He is currently working on his second novel and two nonfiction books.


THE INTERVIEW

JA: Your fiction debut is The Flower of Grass. Please tell us about it.
JER: My father-in-law, Z. Bryan Haislip, is a wonderful poet. Just a couple of years ago, when my family and I were visiting him in his home in North Carolina, he read me a short piece he’d written about his daughter Teresa (now my wife!) when she was only seven-years-old. Bang…the whole essence for the story of The Flower of Grass hit me like a bomb. The imagery of his poem struck a nerve deep in the heart of my own life story, and I “saw” pretty much the entire thing—Love, life, the quick passing of time…family, faith, the essential yet complex beauty woven into human relationships…the sadly beautiful state of being both flesh and spirit, all framed in a very simple love story that is really much more than a love story. I wanted to write a book that harkened back to the somewhat florid fiction of the twenties, thirties, southern writers who weren’t afraid to use the beauty of language to describe nature and life and relationships. It’s a very old-fashioned book, I suppose. I was somewhat amazed someone wanted to publish it! I’m very grateful to Tony Collins and everyone at Lion Hudson of the UK and Kregel in the U.S. for championing the book.

JA: You have quite a testimony. Would you like to share some of it?
JER: Well, it’s an interesting journey indeed, and difficult to tell briefly! But I grew up in a wonderful small town in Tennessee called Camden. I dreamed of being a writer and rock star, not necessarily in that order. My mother suffered from mood disorders and addiction, and when I graduated high school I tried running from everything—from my family, from myself more than anything—and ended up with a rock band out in Los Angeles. Things got rather rough, I lost nearly everything, but I somewhat miraculously sobered up almost twenty years ago. After that I was a staff songwriter on Music Row in Nashville for nine years, then began writing and recording my songs the way I really wanted them to be (my memoir, Prodigal Song, which tells my story in much more detail, is available at www.ProdigalSong.com, as are my music CDs). I also went back to school and became a licensed addictions counselor, so that my own life experiences might help others. The Flower of Grass is my first novel…but the truth is, I’ve dreamed of writing fiction ever since I was a little boy.

JA: How much of yourself went into the creation of this book?
JER: There’s a great deal of my life experience that inspired the novel; people who know me and my life story will be aware of lots of parallels. As writers we’re always told to “write what we know,” and the novel certainly reflects the land, people, and psychological/family dynamics that I am passionate about and work with in my counseling. But what some writers have said proved to be very true for me: Once the story began, and I’d created the characters, everything and everyone in the story took on lives of their own, identities unique to the novel and to the substance of the story. No characters are actually “based on” anyone…but are more “inspired by,” if that makes sense. I did indeed use my hometown of Camden as a sort of visual model for people and places in the novel; as a matter of fact, Tranquility was the actual name of the first settlement town that eventually was renamed Camden. But as the story progressed, all of the characters took on their own identities, personalities, etc. They became very real for me, and Tranquility became a very separate place from the one in which I grew up. In The Flower of Grass, Tranquility is a dying place, the kind of small town you often see in any number of areas throughout the country, with failing economies and empty town squares, decaying buildings, dwindling populations; Tranquility became a kind of metaphor for the fading of youth. My real hometown of Camden, though, is a very healthy small town, a wonderful place. My wife and kids and I live only about a hundred miles away, and go whenever we can to visit family and friends. It’s an enviable place to live, in a lot of ways. A part of me will always belong there.

James Robinson CoverJA: What do you hope people take away after reading The Flower of Grass?
JER: I felt compelled to tell an old-fashioned love story, in the style of some of the books I’ve dearly loved as a reader. It was only in the last fifteen years or so that my father-in-law turned me on to some older, Southern writers, many of them women. Great stuff. Although I knew I’d be breaking a lot of modern writing “rules,” I wanted to write a book that honored those kinds of works, because I simply loved the poetic language and visuals…some of the stuff would be considered “purple prose” these days, I guess, but I love it. There was a real sense of reverence for the beauty of nature and the southern landscape in those older books, a kind of romanticized passion for the woods and meadows and rivers. So I went with somewhat florid prose, lengthy descriptive passages, even some “head-hopping” and “omniscient point-of-view”…stuff supposedly out of favor with modern publishers and audiences. I’m very thankful for Tony Collins and Lion Hudson’s willingness to run with it. Because my hope was to delve into deeper themes within a simple love story, themes of faith and commitment, the wounds inflicted on us by life, by our own families…the delicate nature of human relationships, and the sometimes torturous duality of being human, of being creatures of both flesh and spirit. I think the book also turned out to be about our longing for youth, and the rekindling of the dreams of youth. I think lessons about God’s love always come through more powerfully when told within the framework of stories about how we humans love one another.

JA: What’s next for you in the writing arena?
JER: I have another novel started. I’m going to try a very different kind of work, more “modern,” if that’s the word. But I think that in everything I write, my fascination with human psychology will show through. I’m really more interested in the interior motivations, feelings, and thought processes of people than I am with their external actions. How characters respond to challenge, loss, emotional trauma, love…the internal searching for God, for meaning, connectivity, creativity. This is the stuff that will drive my characters, and hopefully give them depth and texture. I want to put real people into real-life situations, and then see how they deal with their fears, shame, etc. Real life is messy, and that goes for Christians as well as everyone else. I want to avoid easy, over-simplified solutions, and really look into the complex struggles of being creatures of both flesh and spirit.

JA: Besides being an author, you’re also a professional counselor, speaker and songwriter. Do you find your multiple callings dovetail with each other?
JER: I’m a busy guy. I am a therapist in private practice, I write songs professionally, I have a ministry…and most importantly, I have a wife and two young children. I try to be as physically, spiritually, and emotionally available to them as possible, because I have learned that without this sort of effort the family can be at risk. So in some ways, trying to wear as many “hats” as I do can be a real challenge. However, from a creative point of view, I see all the various things I do as being much more complimentary that conflicting. To me, everything I do is strongly related; counseling, for instance, is a very creative thing, in its own way. I think understanding human psychology, for instance, is critical to my desire to create multi-dimensional, complex characters. And I’m convinced that all my years of studying songwriting taught me invaluable lessons about the visual power of words, and the need for tight, evocative storytelling.

JA: What’s your idea of the perfect day?
JER: A shady knoll, a glassy lake, a fishing pole, a good book, temperature around 78 degrees...and no other humans for miles around. OR (and this is a much likelier scenario these days!)…me, the wife, and kids going wild in The Magic Kingdom.

JA: Who are some authors that inspire you?
JER: There’s a wide range here…I like so many different types of work. I’m a classics buff, but I really like edgy stuff, too. I’ll just throw out a few names: Cather, Miller, Hemingway, Shakespeare, Glasgow, Buechner, Dickens, Bradbury, Marquez, Welty, Fowles…oh, good grief…this is a hopeless task!

JA: Last but not least, how can people keep up with your latest publishing and ministry news?
JER: Two primary websites should do it: www.ProdigalSong.com is our primary ministry site; folks can sign up for our monthly e-newsletter if they like. And my author site is www.jameserobinson.com.

It’s been a pleasure spending time with you, Jim. May God continue to bless your writing journey!

WIN THE BOOK

If you’d like to be entered to win a copy of The Flower of Grass just leave a reply to this blog. I’ll pick a winner at random on August 22nd. Please leave an email address so I can contact you if you're the winner. (To prevent spammers from trolling for your email, please use this format with the brackets--you [at] yourmail [dot] com--or something similar.) Good luck!

7 comments:

windycindy said...

Sounds like a beautiful story. The book cover is striking! Please enter me in your always wonderful book drawing. Thanks, Cindi
jchoppes[at]hotmail[dot]com

Stacey said...

This is a beautiful looking book. And the story sounds lovely. Please enter me in the drawing, as well. Thank you.

stacey_dale[at]yahoo[dot]com

Smilingsal said...

I'd like to be considered for this romantic book; I'd like to find out what "purple prose" is!
smilingsal55[at]yahoo[dot]com

Brittanie said...

I would love to win a copy of this book.
treewaterduchess(at)yahoo(dot)com

tetewa said...

Include me in the drawing, this one sounds good! tWarner419@aol.com

Carolynn W. said...

Thanks for the wonderful interview. The book sounds great, please enter me, thanks!
carolynnwald[at]hotmail[dot]com

Jennifer AlLee said...

Today's winner is Brittanie! Thanks for playing everybody :+}