An interview with Robin Stevenson, author of 29 books for young readers, including board books, picture books, middle-grade novels, young adult novels, and non-fiction for all ages. Hear about her experiments with narrative voice, her experience of losing and finding her way through most of the books she’s written, and the early days of her writing journey, when a short story unexpectedly morphed into a teen novel. 20 minutes. All ages.
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[1:20] Interview with Robin Stevenson
CA: Do you have any favourite plot twists…?
RS: … E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars,… Patrick Ness More Than This, …. Adam Silvera More Happy than Not… I haven’t written a book that I would say has a major plot twist.
[2:30] CA: …. Do you have any techniques that you use yourself for building tension?
RS: … tension actually is largely related to creating really believable compelling characters that the reader cares about. And then you know, whether the stakes are very high in a particular scene or smaller but more personal and matter to that character, I think you have tension because the reader cares about that character.
[3:15] CA: Do you have any advice that you might give to young writers who are sort of stuck in the middle of a story?
RS: … I get stuck in the middle of every single story. … That does seem to be part of my writing process. …. So it’s just a question of needing to push through that middle section and … at least getting a finished first draft before I make a decision about it. … when I go back and read it, the scenes that were really easy and fun to write are not necessarily better than the scenes, I had to grind out one word at a time, that felt terrible. … So not to give that self-doubt too much weight or too much power to actually stop me from finishing the story.
[5:40] CA: …You’ve written so many books, do you find that that helps…you know it’s part of your process?
RS: … it doesn’t make it any more pleasant or enjoyable when you’re stuck in it… it doesn’t seem to be helpful in the sense of figuring out a better writing process…
[6:20] CA: And do you ever write short stories?
RS: …When I first started writing I was writing short stories. … my first novel actually grew from a short story. … I hadn’t really planned to write for teens or, you know, thought of what I was writing as teen fiction. So I kind of fell into it. But loved it, and so just kept going.
[7:15] CA: Do you have any variance in how long it takes to do a first draft?
RS: … my books vary in length so that’s always a bit of a tricky question, … a board book or a picture book doesn’t take nearly as much time as a longer novel. … I’ve had some where the first draft I’ve written in two or three months, and others where I have rewritten it over several years. … But on average I’ve published about two books a year. …
[8:10] CA: Do you know when you’re writing whether it’s going to be middle grade or teen?
RS: … the age of the protagonist is usually fairly clear to me and that generally determines whether it’s going to be middle grade or YA. …. The one I’m working on right now is actually a little tricky because my protagonist is 13. …. I could go either way. …
[9:05] CA: Did you do a collaborative book?
RS: Yeah, I’ve done two. I did Blood on the Beach with Sarah Harvey. …And a collaborative YA novel with Tom Ryan called When you Get the Chance. … it’s now coming out in May 2021.
CA: And how did that process work? Did you have separate characters?
RS: We did, yeah…. We wrote with alternating chapters. … that takes advantage of having two distinct voices rather than having that be a challenge or problem.
[10:20] CA: Do you often write in first person?
RS: Most of my books are in first person. … I have one right now that’s in third person that I’m debating whether I should try rewriting it in first person….
[10:45] CA: You purposely experiment with point of view. Would you advise young writers to do the same if they’re not sure what narrative voice to use?
RS: Yeah. … Try writing some journal entries in your character’s voice or write a letter from your character to someone else so that you’re kind of in their head. Try rewriting your first chapter in first person …
[11:20] CA: Do you have any favorite narrators, narrative voices that are still stuck in your head?
RS: Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible is one that I often recommend because … the voices are so individual and so distinct that you can you can pick up that book and open it on any page and you can tell who’s speaking. …
[11:55] CA: Do you have any favorite settings from fiction…?
RS: … In my own stories setting generally is not a huge part of the book. …
[12:45] CA: And do you have any favorite fictional characters …?
RS: Too many to name specific ones…I think in terms of my own books, usually the character that I’m currently writing about… But certainly, you know, I’m attached to many of the characters that I have written about…although I’ve never gone back and reread any of my books.
[13:30] CA: And do you use your own children as characters?
RS: Definitely…I did two early chapter books, Ben’s Robot and Ben the Inventor …. I wrote those when my son was five or six, and lots of his interests and hobbies and favourite things made their way into those stories. …
[14:25] CA: Do you have any recommendations for setting or character exercises?
RS: I would link the two… For character, I would encourage people to do some side writing… writing letters from your character to other people, pretending that your character has a journal …free writing from that character’s POV …
[16:20] CA: Did you tell stories around a campfire as a kid?
RS: Not at all. I’m still not really a storyteller in a verbal sense….
[16:45] CA: And do you have a favorite scary story or scary movie?
RS: No. …I avoid scary movies. Books I have a little higher tolerance for scary. Not horror but… I like suspense. I guess one recent one that I really enjoyed was Station Eleven. …
[17:15] CA: You have no phobias?
RS: I really dislike flying …. But I wouldn’t call a phobia. I think it’s entirely realistic not to want to be 30,000 feet in the air.
[17:35] CA: Do you have a writing practice? Are there certain times of day that you write regularly?
RS: … I’ve always kind of worked around parenting. … And now of course, with the pandemic, he’s home, my partner’s working from home. I just fixed up the shed in the backyard … so that I have a quiet place where I can go in and write … I used to use coffee shops for that. …
[18:50] CA: That’s great. And that’s everything I need…. Thanks again so much. …
RS: A pleasure. Take care….
[19:20] Robin Stevenson introduces herself
RS: Hi. My name is Robin Stevenson. And I live on the west coast of Canada on Vancouver Island. And I write books for kids and teens. My books range from board books up through picture books and middle-grade and teen fiction, and also middle-grade and young-adult nonfiction. So I write in multiple genres and for multiple age groups.
[19:55] Find out more about Robin Stevenson
You can hear more creative writing advice from Robin Stevenson on Cabin Tales Episode 3.5: “Author Interviews about Inspiration”; on Episode 4: “Bad Things Happen,” about Plotting; and on Episode 8, “The Never-ending Story,” about revision.
You can learn a whole lot more about Robin Stevenson from her website at RobinStevenson.com.
[21:00] Thanks and coming up on the podcast
I’ll be back next week with leftovers from my interview with Kari-Lynn Winters, picture book author from Ontario.
Thanks for listening.
Host: Catherine Austen writes books for children, short stories for adults, and reports for corporate clients. Visit her at www.catherineausten.com.
Guest Author: Robin Stevenson is the award-winning author of 29 books for all ages. She lives on the west coast of Canada. Robin is launching three new books in 2021: a picture book, PRIDE PUPPY, a middle-grade non-fiction book, KID INNOVATORS, and a young adult novel, WHEN YOU GET THE CHANCE. Find her online at https://robinstevenson.com .