Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Novel Road Interview: Robin Becker

    

  Zombies! Look past age old prejudices. The blank look on a Zombie's face is merely a different way to ask for a hug...

BRAINS by Robin Becker     My guest today knows her Zombies. Robin Becker, author of "Brains: A Zombie Memoir", has written a novel that transcends the stereotypical zombie-trope. Through Robin, we FINALLY have a Zombie that cares... 

  Robin Becker is proud to have grown up in Hackensack, New Jersey, even though she left at age 18 and never looked back. She has lived in Philadelphia, Austin, San Francisco, Baton Rouge and Kirksville, Missouri. In the spring of 1987, she lived for three months in a 1972 Volkswagen Microbus, traveling across the land like a punk-rock Jack Kerouac. In 1994, she spent nine months backpacking throughout the Middle East and Eastern Europe. In 2000, she received her MFA from LSU. 

  In addition to writing, Robin plays sloppy guitar and has been in a slew of girl bands

Robin currently lives in Toad Suck, Arkansas, with her husband Mark Spitzer. She enjoys cooking, fishing and teaching writing at the University of Central Arkansas.

Please welcome author and Grrrl Band rocker, Robin Becker


Image of Robin Becker
Robin Becker
Me: What was the first thing you ever wrote that told you “I can do this?”

Robin: The poetry I wrote in an undergraduate course in college, sophomore year. I specialized in a faux-confessional style influenced by Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds, and Charles Bukowski. My narrator was crazy for sex and drugs; she was slutty, self-destructive and dangerous--and she wasn't me. The people in class bought the persona, however. They thought I was the "I" of the poems and treated me accordingly. I'd totally fooled them. Ha!

Me: Give me a two sentence “Hook” that describes “Brains”.
Robin: Professor Jack Barnes is turned into a zombie during the zombie apocalypse, but he retains sentience; he can think and he can write. The book is his memoir, describing how he comes to accept and understand his new ontological state.

Go to fullsize imageMe: Compared to other Zombies, Jack Barnes holds the unique ability to think. How did you set the boundary of his intellect?
Robin: Jack's intellect knows no bounds. He can think about anything and everything--and he remembers his life as a human as well. His limits are physical, not intellectual. He can't talk; he can't drive a car or play the guitar. His mind is willing, but his flesh is not. He sends the command, but the nerves have been severed. That's the source of his angst, in fact.

Me: I liked your observations in an earlier interview of an evolutional progress to the historically fixed Zombie character. Do hard core Zombie-ists have a problem with “likeable” Jack? 
Robin: Some of the early reviewers weren't happy with a thinking zombie, but they were a minority. In fact, the most complaints came from posters in the comments section, people who hadn't read the book but wanted to weigh in on the rules governing zombies nevertheless. Those who actually read the book and who love zombies understand that I'm playing with the genre out of genuine affection. Jack's action are old-school Romero zombie: slow, shambling, hungry.

Me: Talk about editing your book. Also, how did you know when to stop?
Robin: I've stopped? It's over? Seriously, I knew it was ready to send to agents when I read it without making any changes. That was probably draft 15. But it went through a dozen revisions after that.
Go to fullsize imageMe: “Brains” would make one hell of a movie. Give your pick for the actors for Jack and his crew.
Robin: I am absolutely horrible at this! If Brains were optioned, I would not want to work on the film because I think in words, not pictures. In my mind's eye, Jack looks like a cartoon, not a person. So maybe he could be played by that stick man on the caution signs!

 Me:  This question, courtesy of Jeff Hall : “I'm a shortstory-ist. Writing a novel is like a crazy long marathon, only harder. How do you maintain a clear sense of that first passion that inspired you, throughout a lengthy word journey?”
Robin: Writing a novel is also like being married--sometimes the passion dies, but you still slog through every day because you're committed to the project. Some days you hate it; some days you love it; some days it bores you; others you can't wait to get it on. But every day you deal with it, look at it, commune with it. That said, if I had to choose between a book and my husband...um, I'd never have to choose so I'm not going to answer my own question. Basically, you need tenacity, some might call it stubbornness!
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Shark Zombie

Me: Tell us about your agent, and why the match is perfect?
Robin: My agent is the fabulous Janet Reid! She's a great match, because she's the shark. And zombies are like sharks. They're both at the top of the food chain, acting on instinct. All animal.

Me: Lunch with you and any Author you choose, from throughout literary history or today, and why.
Robin: Walt Whitman because we'd get naked in the wilderness and experience the cosmos together. Plus I dig his beard. Actually I see Whitman every day. He's under my boot soles, in the grass. He never died because there is no death.

Me: If you ever wrote a Non-Fiction book, what would the subject be?
Go to fullsize imageRobin: Rock and roll! I've been in bands since 1989--most of them loud, sloppy, irreverent, in-your-face and female. I've often thought about chronicling that experience in a memoir--and including interviews with professional and amateur grrrl rockers. But I much prefer fiction because I like to make things up. 

Me: Talk about your life experience and its importance to you as an author.
Robin: I've done a lot of stuff--moved to London at 18, lived in a VW Microbus for three months and drove out west, backpacked through the Middle East and Eastern Europe for nine months--but none of it prepared me to write. Flannery O'Connor said, "Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days." I believe that. A writer needs imagination, patience and the ability to be alone and quiet for hours at a time. That's all.

Me: Give me your definition of Zombie as a metaphor.
Robin: Zombies offer great metaphorical raw material for writers and filmmakers because you can make them a symbol for most anything: consumerism, addiction, contagion, consciousness, immortality, religion, ontology, desire, death. All the big guns are contained in waking corpses. That's why zombies will never die.
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