Today I'm showcasing a favorite author of mine Erika Robuck. Her novels Hemingway's Girl and Call Me Zelda were intoxicating and now she's back with another novel based on a real historical figure in Fallen Beauty about the life of Edna St. Vincent Milay.
For my review and Erika's previous interview about Hemingway's Girl Click HERE!
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A Conversation with Erika Robuck
Q. What inspired you to make Edna St. Vincent Millay the subject of your third literary-themed novel?
A. My studies of the Fitzgeralds for my novel Call Me Zelda led me to Millay. Two ofF. Scott Fitzgerald's Princeton friends, Edmund "Bunny" Wilson and John Peale Bishop, worshipped Millay, and their adoration of her reminded me of my interest in her poetry, which I first read in college. Wilson's moving obituary for Millay in his essay collection, Shores of Light, inspired me to learn more about the poet who had such an "intoxicating effect on people." It didn't take long for Millay to cast her spell on me.
Q. In the last few months, I've comes across several mentions of Millay. Caroline Kennedy has quoted Millay's "First Fig" in interviews and suspense writer Sophie Hannah has called Millay one of her five favorite writers. Are we poised for a Millay renaissance?
A. I'm intrigued by the idea of Millay's second renaissance, since it was her poem "Renascence," selected for an annual poetry anthology when she was just twenty years old, that initially made her a celebrity.
In Millay's own time, she sold out thousand-seat auditoriums on reading tours. Her adoring fans sent her endless correspondence about her poetry. Her collections were continuously being reprinted, and she was one of the first women to win the Pulitzer Prize. At her peak, Millay's writings made her approximately thirty thousand dollars a year, which would be nearly half a million dollars in the present day. Our time is rich with captivating women artists, musicians, and writers, and Millay is worthy to stand with the best of them.
I believe our culture is poised not only for a Millay renaissance, but also for a poetry renaissance. As our attention span constricts in response to the gadgets we use, poetry could supply a new consciousness with deep meaning in short form.
Q. Through the character of Laura Kelley, Fallen Beauty explores what it meant to be a
'fallen woman" in the 1930s, but in some ways Edna St. Vincent Millay might also be considered a fallen woman. Would you share some of what you hoped to convey in this regard?
A. I wanted to show how making judgments about people injects poison into communities, how frequently all is not what it seems, and how those who outspokenly oppose something that they see as corrosive are often battling aspects of the very behavior they denounce.
Through the women in particular in Fallen Beauty I wanted to explore how we seek fulfillment, what it means to be an "ideal" woman (if there is such a thing), how our desires can either help to build us up or destroy us, and how we can remake our lives after we fall.
Q. All three of your novels explore the idea of redemption in one way or another. Is that a deliberate choice, or a theme that cropped up without your being aware of it?
A. I believe it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said that writers have only one story to tell, so I suppose redemption is my story. My mission with Ernest Hemingway, Zelda Fitzgerald and now Edna St. Vincent Millay is to show their humanity through their fascinating lives in order to honor them and remind readers of their work. I like to read novels that offer redemption in spite of hardship, so it's only natural that I employ similar themes in my own fiction.
Q. You've now explored in your novels Ernest Hemingway, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Edna St. Vincent Milfay-all of whom were contemporaries of one another. From your current perspective, are there any commonalities you see in their lives and work, or any conclusions we can draw-however tentatively-about their relevance for our own time?
A. Commonalities I've discovered are the way they used real people in their fiction, often without regard for the feelings of those being exploited, though all three approached this differently. Hemingway fictionalized his experiences after he'd had them. Zelda wrote autobiographically, often exposing her own personality flaws and insecurities. Millay was in love with love more than she was with the people who received her brand of love, and she used those heightened emotions to inspire her poetry. In each instance, the writings seem corrosive to those involved, though the work is often brilliant.
As a writer, I'm interested in understanding the creative mind, and just what is necessary to make great art. I find that question relevant to any time. Stories are what help us make sense of and empathize with one another. Perhaps by studying the lives of others, we can learn from their mistakes. Millay often wrote about nature and the cycle of the seasons in her poetry, and used nature's lessons to comfort and instruct herself in love. History has cycles, and examining the past helps us to anticipate the future.
Q. Are you ready to share the subject of your next novel?
A. The subject of my next novel is a very private gentleman from a long time ago, who often felt isolated in spite of being surrounded by his loving family and accomplished contemporaries. I will not yet reveal his name, but I will say that through him, I will explore loneliness and, most certainly, redemption.
Erika's Tour Schedule
Launch Event at BARNES & NOBLE in Annapolis, MD
Luncheon at TBA (12PM) l
In conjunction w/ PAGE & PALETTE in Fairhope, AL
FOXTALE BOOK SHOPPE in Woodstock, GA (6:30PM)
Ticketed Luncheon at City Range (12PM)
In conjunction w/ FICTION ADDICTION in Greenville, SC
MALAPROPS in Asheville, NC (7PM)
PARK ROAD BOOKS in Charlotte, NC (2PM)
THE COUNTRY BOOKSHOP in Southern Pines, NC (2PM)
TURN THE PAGE in Boonsboro, MD (12PM)
ONE MORE PAGE BOOKS in Arlington, VA (4PM)
Panel and Author Signing
ANNAPOLIS BOOK FESTIVAL at The Key School in Annapolis, MD
GAITHERSBURG BOOK FESTIVAL in Gaithersburg, MD (lOAM to 6PM)