Help me welcome Robin Martinez Rice, author of the historical novel IMPERFECTA (January, 2013)
Robin Martinez Rice was born in Oakland, California many moons ago. She earned a degree in Psychology at Mills College and her Masters of Sciences degree in Counseling/ School Psychology at Cal State Hayward. After many years as an Educational Psychologist and Marriage Family Therapist she retired to follow her dream of writing. Robin has family roots in Northern New Mexico. She has traveled back to the Southwest many times, as the magic of this place invaded her spirit. Her writing ranges from mystical tales to children’s fiction. She is currently working on a new book – Hidden Within the Stones- the story of the Crypto-Jews of Northern New Mexico. Robin lives in Northern California with her husband, their Boston Terrier, three cats, and eight chickens. She has successfully launched two children and is not suffering from empty nest syndrome.
In 1923 fourteen-year-old Perfecta makes the decision she won’t be perfect any more. A face-off with her father, Primitivo, the sheriff of the small Northern New Mexico town, seems to do the trick. But what now, with her mother never leaving the rocking chair at the front window and her father ignoring her? Surely even their harsh Catholic God doesn’t think that dancing, smiling and laughing are sins? But Perfecta knows that falling in love with the twenty-two-year-old blue-eyed Presbyterian Isaac Martinez is a sin. When Isaac leaves for California, she promises to wait for him. But has she escaped one prison only to be trapped by another?
And now, on with the questions!
Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from your childhood?
I was born in Oakland, California and grew up in the East Bay (that’s San Francisco Bay). Things were great in the old days. Kids could take the bus anywhere for 5 cents, although bus fare for adults was around a dollar. It was safe enough so that we would go to San Francisco for the day, visiting the zoo or the original Cost Plus.
I remember when the first mass transit was built. BART – Bay Area Rapid Transit. I was in high school and a friend and I went out to ride it. You could ride for 45 cents if you got off at the same station you got on at. Our mothers said we could ride to the end of the line but “don’t get off anywhere and don’t talk to strangers.” First we rode south to Fremont. Then we headed north, where the train turned around at Richmond. On the way back from Richmond a man came and sat facing us, even though the train was empty. By this time we were pretty tired of riding and he made us nervous. Nudging, Yvonne, my friend, we exchanged glances which mean “How do we get away from him?” Just then he raised his hands, formed his pointer fingers and thumbs into a circle and twisted his arms so that his fingers rested on his cheeks and the circles were around his eyes.
“I see you through my magic glasses.” He leered at us.
Screaming we jumped out of our seats and raced to the end of the train and into the next car.
To this day, forty years later, whenever we see each other, Yvonne and I put on our magic glass, speak in an eery voice, and die laughing.
What inspired you to start writing?
I come from a family of story tellers. From the time I was very young I heard many family stories. When I finally learned to read (first grade in those ancient times) I began to dream in written story. I mean literally. It was as if my dreams were printed on the wall next to my bed.
Fast forward to college and a few creative writing classes. Followed by twenty-five years of writing psych reports. When I finally retired I knew the time had come to put my stories down on paper. I was hooked after the first paragraph, but I soon found out that there was a lot more to writing a novel than just telling a good story. The journey has been wonderful.
If you could go back in time and share one writing lesson with “new writer you” before starting your first manuscript … what would that be?
Go to a general workshop, one which talks about ALL aspects of writing, publishing, marketing and more. Get an overview so that you can do things correctly right from the start. There was a lot of “re-do” in writing Imperfecta. Even simple things, like not knowing the correct way to format a document for Kindle, led to having to do things twice. Much better to know what you’re doing before you start.
Your new novel, IMPERFECTA, is set in small-town northern New Mexico in 1923. What inspired you to choose this place and time?
Tierra Amarilla, the town in Northern New Mexico, is the the town where my father and my grandparents were born. Imperfecta is loosely based on my grandmother’s life and many things in the story actually did take place in this town. I still go back to visit. In fact, I have a book signing scheduled there on May 23, at Three Ravens Coffee House. The area is filled with the mystical voices of the southwest and it is a great place to be creative. The reason I will be back there is that I am writing another book which takes place in Tierra Amarilla.
Do you have a favorite author, book, or genre? If so, who (or what) is it, and why?
Geraldine Brooks. I love everything she has ever written, but People of the Book is my favorite. I love books that are non-sequential. Books that alternate between periods of time. I also love books that focus on human relationships and fears, rather than pretty prose or descriptions. Throw in a little bit of a political message and you have me hooked.
Your novel features a young Catholic woman named Perfecta, who must choose between the family and faith she grew up with and the man with whom she hopes to grow old. What was your favorite aspect of writing a novel with such a deep and emotional conflict? What did you find most challenging?
The biggest challenge of Imperfecta was cutting down my original 150,000 word manuscript! I am never at a loss for words.
I worked as a Marriage, Family Therapist and Educational Psychologist for twenty-five years. This profession gave me insight into people. I think that we all struggle with emotional conflict, and my own comes out in my writing. Many of my friends and family who have read Imperfecta say they can see me in the character. I love the act of taking conflict and showing that, even if not completely resolved, a person can learn important lessons from the trials of life.
Do you have a favorite scene or section from IMPERFECTA? If so (and if you can tell us about it without revealing any spoilers!), what makes that scene stand out for you?
My favorite scenes are the scenes with ravens. This is because when I was traveling in New Mexico researching for the book, Raven truly became my totem. Every where I went ravens came to me. Even in the form of a magazine article about ravens in my motel room and a PBS special on TV the one night I watched the tube. After a long journey through the Southwest, I knew when I got to Tierra Amarilla I wouldn’t have any internet access. But when I arrived there was a new coffee house . . . aptly named Three Ravens. . . complete with internet and mocha. Just as the Raven guided me and became magic, so he did to Perfecta.
We all need a totem. It has been a great journey for me to have Raven to guide me. If you don’t have a totem, I suggest you get one.
What is the last book you read, and why did you choose to read it?
I read about twenty books a month. I choose books for a wide variety of reasons. Although I seldom read non-fiction, the last book I read was To the End of the Earth: A History of Crypto-Jews in New Mexico by Stanley Hordes. He is a professor in New Mexico who is the expert voice on the conversos and crypto-Jews, the topic of my next book. I read it for research purposes, but it is a pretty cool book.
How did you push yourself to get past difficult moments in writing and editing IMPERFECTA? Do you have a favorite place to write or to edit your work?
I have been writing for three years. I am happy to say there have been NO dry periods. Because I work on several things at once, if I get “stuck” I simply switch to a different piece of work. Because of Susan Spann’s great workshop on writing a business plan, I stick to a schedule. I write nearly every day, for a minimum of three hours. I also have planned hours of marketing, maintaining my website and more. I can do “busy work” when not inspired creatively. I have actually completed the first draft of five novels, and the first two books in a planned series for children. But those are FIRST draft only. Revision is not as much fun. I have found the being organized by having a bulletin board with important facts about my characters greatly reduces what I find most frustrating- remembering what I said the first time around. What color was her horse, where did he work, type things.
My favorite place to work is a yurt in Ukiah, at the top of a mountain. Fortunately for me, this place exists and is owned by one of my best friends, so I can go there whenever I want. No internet, phone or TV, just a beautiful room with a view of a pond and the mountains.
Do you have any upcoming signings or readings?
April 23: Placer High School Auditorium – One Book One Community – Author Book Signing
April 27: Gold Country Writers Spring Book Affair, Placer Arts Building in Auburn, 1:00-4:00
May 4: Cinco de Mayo Festival in San Francisco, Delores Park 10-6
May 23: Three Ravens Coffee House, Tierra Amarilla 1-3
And now, the speed round:
Plotter or pantser?
Yikes! I don’t know what this means? I’m guessing do I stop and think or am I impulsive? Hmm . . . plotter, with occasional bouts of pantser.
Coffee, tea, or bourbon?
Socks or no socks?
Socks that don’t match.
Cats, dogs, or reptiles?
I’m married to a veterinarian. All of the above and a few more thrown in.
For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?
Navajo fry bread tacos rock!
Thank you, Robin, for joining us today and telling us about yourself and IMPERFECTA. If you’d like to learn more about Robin, you can find her at her website, and you can watch the YouTube trailer for IMPERFECTA here. You can find the book on Amazon, at Harmony Books in Nevada City and through The Book Seller in Grass Valley, California.