An Interview with Erika Robuck

Please welcome Erika Robuck, author of the newly released CALL ME ZELDA (NAL/Penguin, May 2013), a novel of Zelda Fitzgerald.

13E Erika Robuck

Erika Robuck self-published her first novel, RECEIVE ME FALLING. Her novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL (NAL/Penguin), was a Target Emerging Author Pick, a Vero Beach Bestseller, and has been sold in two foreign markets to date. Her latest novel, CALL ME ZELDA (NAL/Penguin), was just released, and begins in the years “after the party” for Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Erika writes about and reviews historical fiction at her blog, Muse, and is a contributor to fiction blog, Writer Unboxed. She is also a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Hemingway Society.

13E Call me Zelda Cover

From New York to Paris, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald reigned as king and queen of the Jazz Age, seeming to float on champagne bubbles above the mundane cares of the world. But to those who truly knew them, the endless parties were only a distraction from their inner turmoil, and from a love that united them with a scorching intensity. When Zelda is committed to a Baltimore psychiatric clinic in 1932, vacillating between lucidity and madness in her struggle to forge an identity separate from her husband, the famous writer, she finds a sympathetic friend in her nurse, Anna Howard. Held captive by her own tragic past, Anna is increasingly drawn into the Fitzgeralds’ tumultuous relationship. As she becomes privy to Zelda’s most intimate confessions, written in a secret memoir meant only for her, Anna begins to wonder which Fitzgerald is the true genius. But in taking ever greater emotional risks to save Zelda, Anna may end up paying a far higher price than she intended….

I met Erika last year, around the release of HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, when I interviewed her for The Debutante Ball blog. She’s a wonderful person as well as an extremely talented author, and I’m delighted she’s joining us today for an interview about CALL ME ZELDA.

And so, with no further ado, on with the questions!

Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from your childhood?

I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland, which is a great setting for the mingling of past and present. Rather than tell you a story, I’ll tell you my first memory of loving books and understanding their power.

My father worked for a freight forwarding company, and used to find little treasures in boxes all the time. One night he brought home an old book for me with the cover torn off. It was JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, and it began my lifelong fascination with the power of stories to transport. I always felt that book wanted to come home to me, and I still get that way when searching for new reads in bookstores.

Your new novel, CALL ME ZELDA, focuses on the turbulent life of Zelda Fitzgerald and her relationship with Anna Howard, a fictitious nurse Zelda meets at a psychiatric clinic in 1932. What inspired you to tell Zelda’s story, and in particular to focus on the relationship between Zelda and her nurse?

Reading over and over again about a nurse living with Zelda on an outpatient basis, a nurse sedating Zelda on a train back to a psychiatric clinic, a nurse who accompanied Zelda during her travels to Alabama drew my attention to those on the periphery of the Fitzgeralds’ lives, and provided me with a reliable narrator to tell their story. I didn’t think a reader could trust Zelda or Scott to tell their own story, so I attacked the novel from the perspective of an observer with her own set of tragedies and triumphs. Scott’s short story “One Interne” further informed my character, because he wrote about a dark haired nurse who lived with Baltimore art students. Anna grew from these shadowy figures.

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?

I would tell my young writer self not to fear or shy away from the emotional heart of the novel. Real truths revealed through fiction are sometimes difficult to unearth, but they make all the difference in how readers connect to the text. True writing is worth the trouble associated with the task.

During your research for CALL ME ZELDA, did you discover anything unexpected or surprising about the relationship between Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald?

I found it surprising that Zelda accused Scott of having an affair with Ernest Hemingway. I know why she thought they may have dallied with one another, though I do not believe it was true. It was a real tipping point in Zelda and Scott’s relationship.

Do you have a favorite author or book? If so, who (or what) is it, and why?

POSSESSION by A. S. Byatt is the most perfectly constructed, told, and presented novel I’ve ever read. It takes place in two time periods, holds multiple points of view, and two distinct poet voices, and every ounce of it is fiction written by one woman. It is a tour de force.

What did you find most challenging about writing CALL ME ZELDA? How do you push yourself past difficult moments in writing and editing?

I found writing from Zelda’s point of view to be most challenging. She had such a unique style and outlook, that to capture her voice in the short essays she “writes” for her nurse meant I had to immerse myself in her writings—fiction and non-fiction—for weeks before I could attempt it. Though there are very few sections entirely in Zelda’s point of view, they were exhausting to craft. I hope I did her justice.

What is the last book you read, and why did you choose it?

I just finished Simon Van Booy’s short story collection THE SECRET LIVES OF PEOPLE IN LOVE. I chose it because I am contributing a short story to a forthcoming anthology from Penguin centered on Grand Central Terminal after World War II has ended, and I’m studying the form. Van Booy is one of my favorite contemporary writers.

Do you have a favorite scene in CALL ME ZELDA? If so, what makes it stand out for you?

My favorite scene in CALL ME ZELDA takes place in Bermuda in 1933, when Scott and Zelda took a trip to try to reconnect. In the scene, my fictional nurse Anna is awoken by Zelda in the middle of the night because Scott’s pleurisy, among other things, is driving her mad. The nurse encourages Zelda to go outside for a walk to calm her nerves, but Zelda ends up naked in the sea. Anna feels that she must follow her, and because she is not a good swimmer, and the current is so strong, Zelda ends up having to save her. When they get back to the beach, Zelda points to the water and tells Anna that the panic Anna has just endured is the way Zelda always feels. It represents a role reversal, and the dawning of true understanding and empathy on the nurse’s part.

Do you have any upcoming signings or readings?

I do. I’ll be at The Ivy in Baltimore on May 21st, Bethany Beach Books in Delaware on May 26th, and many more wonderful bookstores you may find on my website events page:

And now, the speed round:

Plotter or pantser?


Coffee, tea, or bourbon?


Socks or no socks?

Fuzzy, cozy socks.

Cats, dogs, or reptiles?


For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?


Thank you, Erika, for joining me today! I wish you and CALL ME ZELDA great success!

CALL ME ZELDA is currently available in print, ebook and audiobook formats. If you’d like to know more about Erika or her novels, please visit Erika’s website – where you can also read an excerpt from CALL ME ZELDA!