Friday, September 15, 2006
Interview with Robin Jones Gunn!
Betsy: Robin, let me first say thank you so much for visiting with me today! It's a true honor. I have to start with my personal favorite of your books - the Glenbrooke series. When you started writing the first book in the series, Secrets, did you have the slightest idea they would become as popular and loved as they are?
Robin: No! It was a definite shock. I was invited to write the first one about eleven years ago when Multnomah was setting up a line of inspirational romance. It was supposed to be just one book to fit into the line. It did well, so the publisher asked if I would do another…and another. (laughs) In my imagination, the characters were linked together by this imaginary town of Glenbrooke. When I finished all eight books, they made it into a series of its own. The books have actually had three different covers on them in all.
What was interesting was that the editor on the project kept saying the books just didn’t fit the format for romances, and that they needed to be made into a formula. I failed in fitting into the formula as they wanted me to, but it was truly to the benefit of the books in the end. They just told the story.
Betsy: My favorite in the series will always be Whispers, mainly because of the impact it had in my life personally. If you had to pick just one, what would be your favorite in the Glenbrooke series?
Robin: I, too, love Whispers, mainly because of the Hawaii setting. I just love Hawaii! But I really enjoy the essence of what happens in Whispers, where Terry has that all too common sense as a woman that there is no hope for her. However, she finds opportunity in her relationships and with God. The book shows that He is at work, even when we don’t see His hand. I love being reminded of that.
Betsy: I also really enjoyed Gardenias for Breakfast, an excellent story, though slightly different than your usual style. What inspired you to write Gardenias for Breakfast?
Robin: I took a trip with my daughter when she was almost twelve. She and I drove from Oregon to Louisiana and during that road trip it seemed that she and I were figuring out how we were going to relate to each other as mother and daughter. We were going to visit my ninety-two year old grandmother, like in the story.
When I was writing Gardenias for Breakfast, I hadn’t figured out all the angles on my mother/daughter relationship and I wanted to write a book where I could just make some imaginary characters and see how they handled the changes. In general, it was a book that I needed to write, on a personal level, because I was at that stage of my life in trying to figure out those pieces. I needed to put everything out there and look at it, even if it didn’t tidy up all the answers or give a specific direction.
Betsy: That's really amazing! I think that book gave insight to a lot of mothers and daughters alike. The Christy Miller series were also a big hit. Teens everywhere devoured them. I understand they are being released in hardback now?
Robin: Yes! It’s really been exciting. There are now four hardback volumes, three books in each one. This has opened up so many doors, because now the books are being placed in public libraries. It’s challenging to put a paperback in a library because you can only have them checked out so many times before they fall apart! Both the Christy Miller and Sierra Jenson series are now available in four volumes, each with three books in one.
I have been receiving so much mail from young girls that found one of those Christy Miller books for the first time and after reading them, realized that they hadn’t really given their lives to Christ. They realized that this was what was missing. I look back and think those books were written so long ago, but are still having such an impact!
People have asked if I had to update and redo certain areas of the book to incorporate today’s technology, and I did a little, but overall, we chose to keep the story the way it was and keep the focus on the friend relationships and the closeness between them. That’s what truly remains from generation to generation. It seems like every book is a surprise in some way!
Betsy: That's great! Well, your newest series, Sisterchicks, are perhaps some of the funniest books I’ve ever read! The amazing thing about them is that they appeal to such a variety of ages. When a new one is released, my grandmother, my mom, and myself all fight over who gets to read them first! Can you tell us how many more books in the Sisterchicks series there will be?
Robin: We’re taking it book by book, and the one that just came out, Sisterchicks in Gondolas, is going to be followed by a different sort of Sisterchick book, which will be released in October. It’s a devotion book, called Take Flight! I prepared that book with one of my own Sisterchicks, Cindy. We wrote it because we kept hearing from readers, asking for advice on what kind of material would be helpful for them to meet with another friend and open up discussions about the Lord, and discover what God is doing in their lives together. A lot of women were also wanting something fresh for their quiet time, so we looked at that and thought, ‘hey, this is a real Sisterchick thing – bible study and devotions together!’ We decided to make our own and make it specific to Sisterchicks! I think that’s going to be a great encouragement to a lot of women!
Betsy: I can't wait to see it! I understand that several of the adventures the characters in Sisterchicks stories experience are real life experiences of your own? Can you tell us about that?
Robin: Yes! It’s true! (laughs) When I started writing the Sisterchick books, the first one, Sisterchicks On the Loose, is very loosely based on an adventure I had with my best friend Donna. About fifteen years ago, she and I went to Finland. We loved to tell the stories about the sauna and all the crazy things that happened there.
When I started writing the Sisterchicks books I wanted to start with a real life adventure, and from there it grew to other adventures…like Hawaii. We lived in Hawaii for a while and I truly love it there! It was the easiest book to write. After that, my editor and I were actually given a cruise to Mexico, so we went and I wrote about the sombreros. We signed up to have massages and I had some kind of a seaweed body wrap and my entire back broke out – just like in the book! After that, the publisher suggested giving me a travel budget and sending me to some of these places for my stories! So, I actually got to go to New Zealand and Australia and Paris and Italy. It was a writer's dream! The crazy thing was that I would go to these places, and wild and wacky things would just happen!
I was preparing recently for another research trip and I asked a friend to go with me. She was excited at first and then thought “wait a minute, Robin…crazy things happen to you on these trips! I don’t know if I should go!” (laughs) For example, the scene in Sisterschicks Say Ohh La La where the taxi cab drove off with the luggage - that actually happened to Ann and I! I just show up and these things happen.
Also, about the Sisterchicks series - Five years ago my father had a stroke, and I traveled ten times to be with my parents that year. It was a 1,000 mile trip each time, and it was a really difficult season in my life. Every time I’d get on the plane I’d take a book with me and I’d start reading and they always ended up being these intense stories, where characters had difficult life situations. I could hardly finish the book each time, because that was my life! I wanted a book that would give me hope and encouragement and be a gentle voice during my rough experiences! I experienced that for a whole year and looked for books that would fill up my emotional well. Back then, laughing was such a bonus. That was all just before the Sisterchicks books were written. It played a big part in the development of that series.
I knew I wasn’t the only woman going through difficult times and needing encouragement. Where are the books that give us lightheartedness, fill up our emotional wells, and cause us to walk away with a sigh and a sense of realization that God is in control? I think there is a challenge for writers to come up with interesting topics or intriguing plots, and the burden to write at a more poignant, intellectual level…yet, at the same time, there is space on the market for books that are gentle and uplifting and sort of just come alongside and ease you through the difficult times. I never would have planned that or set out to say “I’m going to write these kind of books” but that’s what happened. That’s what I needed at the time.
Betsy: Robin, your books are always such a breath of fresh air. They’re fun, funny, inspiring, and yet, realistic. A reader can be certain by the time they get to the end of a Robin Jones Gunn novel they will have been deeply moved in some area of their life. I know that’s true for me. Do you get a lot of emails or letters from readers, describing similar experiences in their lives? How does that make you feel?
Robin: I’m constantly amazed and so humbled. The Christy Miller books are translated into Portuguese and doing well in Brazil. I am actually going to Brazil in November and I am invited to speak at four large youth events! It is so amazing to think that God chose to use these stories and fictional characters that become role models for teens in another country. As I’ve been preparing for this trip to Brazil and getting these events lined up, I can’t stop thinking of His goodness and plans!
When I was a teenager I wanted to be a missionary, and thought that was the best way for me to serve God, to go into these remote places in the world to tell those people about God’s love and His son Jesus Christ. As my life rolled out, God kept closing doors in that area and it was obvious that he had other plans for me than to go live in Zimbabwe. (laughs) I look back now and He’s fulfilled that desire in my heart and revealed to me that I am a missionary. But it is not me going to these remote places of the world, its my books! And now I get to go and catch up with them! That is so amazing to me because we don’t understand how powerful it is to be obedient to God and what He's asking us to do. So often we have such a bigger picture in a mind, or we get stuck with a sense of loss when things don’t work out and we lose our focus. We think “I thought I was going to do this or be this” yet God knows our hearts' desire. I never thought I’d be a writer. I never set out on that path and one thing just led to another, and here I am! It is so clear that God’s hand has been on this all along!
So when I receive mail and hear back from readers, it makes me laugh the happy laugh of “this is You, God!” For example, the situation involving a young woman who is going to be my translator in Brazil. When she was thirteen years old, she read the first book in the Christy Miller series, Summer Promise, in English and gave her to life to Christ. Later, she ended up working for the publishing house and being the translator for Todd and Christy “The College Years! She translated those books and now she’s going to be my interpreter. It’s truly amazing to see God’s hand at work.
Betsy: Wow. That really is awesome! Well, Robin, the pictures on your website, www.robingunn.com, are so hilarious! It seems like you tend to have fun no matter what you’re doing, or where you’re going. That upbeat attitude is reflected in your books, and I believe that is a huge part of what makes them so unique and creative! Can you tell us a little bit about your hobbies? What do you do when you’re not hard at work on another best selling book?
Robin: I don't know if this is really considered a hobby, but I love long conversations! I met a woman the other day for lunch and it filled me up! We had this long, wonderful conversation and that is so rare in today’s time! I think in our society we’ve forgotten how to do that! The Europeans still know how to linger over a meal and bring up deep topics and discuss uncomfortable things. They can still speak honestly, and cause your heart to break open right there on the table, through tears or laughter. It’s a lost art, truly, and sometimes when I sit down to write a book, I imagine the audience as being that one friend across the table. I feel that “okay, we have this time set aside for this conversation” and in a book, of course, it’s a one sided conversation (laughs) but it is still that feeling of “I’m going to open my heart and shine light on what’s there. Some things need to be picked out and thrown away, but other pieces need to be lifted up!” That’s important. That’s sort of the Sisterchick type of experience, when we have friends on that level and can share that vulnerability with each other. So, I love connecting with people!
And I love to travel and experience new things. Being able to have those kinds of conversations with people in remote places of the world has been extraordinary. It feels like that’s the eternal stuff. That’s what we’ll have in heaven – the time to tell our stories and together be amazed at what God has done. I also love to be outside and observe the seasons and what God has created.
Betsy: How do you handle the joy and stress of managing a household, writing full time, promoting your books, and being a wife and mother?
Robin: I don’t know that I do it very well! (laughs) Each season seems to change and just when you figure something out, there is a new rhythm that comes along. When our kids were small, I had to find time to write and so I’d get up really early in the morning, at three a.m, three days a week and I’d write from three to seven in the morning. During that time, the dog never barked, the phone never rang, it was quiet. At seven, I would have been able to be productive, and by then, everyone else was getting up and I had to switch into the role of being a mom and wife and housekeeper. I think with each season it has changed but what has remained the same is the fact that time to write does not magically appear in any schedule! It has to be carved out and protected. Over the past twenty years, that is the one question I hear the most from beginning writers. They can’t find the time to write. They want to write, and they know what their story is but they get frustrated that other people in their lives aren’t stepping back and making that space for them. Writing is a sacrifice. But the sacrifice needs to be mine, as a writer. I need to be the one to give up something. Watch less TV at night and get to bed earlier, and therefore be able to get up earlier the next morning and write. Things like that. You can give up hobbies or groups or clubs or volunteer projects. Bottom line is, you have to make that time to write. It doesn’t happen automatically.
Betsy: That's great advice, Robin. What other tips do you have for aspiring writers out there today?
Robin: I think that there is a lot of power in staying focused. One challenge with writers is that if you’re creative enough to write you probably have an imagination that is always spinning. So, for a writer to get anything done, that power in being focused has to be understood and honored. That means a beginning writer can not focus on the discouragement of criticism and rejections and competition. It’s easy to get that victim mentality. You have to step away from that entirely and into this place of being focused and being obedient to whatever it is that God has called you to do. I‘ve been doing this for twenty years now and I still have this challenge of “oh that’s another idea”! Keep a journal going all the time with ideas to come back to. But once you’ve made the commitment to work on a project, and put your hand to the plow, don’t keep looking over your shoulder, or you’ll get wobbly lines! Once you know what it is that’s burning in your heart, discipline yourself and be focused and obedient to whatever that is. Discipline and obedience are very hard for creative people, we like our freedom and ideas! But to get the work done, there must be the training that comes from that discipline. For many writers, it’s learning what it is that has to be sacrificed and realizing that you can’t do it all. Instead, think what can I do? And what can I give up? Writing is a lot of work. It never gets easier. Even after twenty years, you still have to force yourself to focus! And work to shape and craft those words. Respect the gift that’s been given to you.
Betsy: Is there one thing you would tell new authors NOT to do?
Robin: I think where I’ve gotten stuck is when I get disappointed, like when a book idea didn’t go anywhere, or a book didn’t sell well. Don’t get bogged down in the disappointments. There will be a lot of them! Don’t be shocked by your failure. Learn from it and go on. Had I understood that years ago, I would not have wasted so many hours in pity parties! The gift and the calling as a writer don’t go away. Even in the face of obstacles and all of the disappointments, you’re still gifted and called to be responsible to use your imagination and use your words. I’ve seen more beginning writers take one step forward, and then boom – they freeze, sometimes for years! They are not using their imagination and their words. They get stuck. And that cannot be. There has to be that step of maturity that says “okay, move on.” There’s part of a verse in Romans 9 that says “the gift and the calling of God are irrevocable”. The chapter as a whole is referring to being called into the body of Christ, but that one part stuck out to me and I wrote it on a card and kept it on my desk for years, because I wanted to remember not to get stuck! A bad review can’t take away the gift or calling. Nothing changes the fact that I am gifted by God to use words and I know I am called by God to tell stories. Writers need to understand it is a gift – it is not anything you did, it is all God! Writers would be so much more productive if they grasped that at the core.
My friend Sandra Byrd, a mentor for the Christian Writers Guild, once said to me, “They’re not rejection letters. They’re redirection letters!” I really liked that. It means it’s just not the right time and place!
Betsy: That is so encouraging! Can you tell us what’s on your desk right now? What can readers look forward to in the years to come?
Robin: I just finished writing a Christmas novella that will be published in 2007 by FaithWords. It is called Finding Father Christmas, and is set in England. I met yesterday with the woman in England who read the book and helped me get some of the British parts accurate. While we were talking, she got all teared up about the end of the story. It gave me such hope! She was supposed to just critique the book, but there was this place in the story where her heart really connected to our Heavenly Father and the realization that He has His hand on her life. I came away from that feeling that there is so much we don’t understand! We put the words on paper and we never know how it will touch somebody. I got really excited about this novella, because I think it will perhaps draw in an audience who don’t normally sit down to a full length novel. It opened up a whole new realm of possibility! And I’m also really excited about the upcoming devotional book, Take Flight, because it is going to be a great tool for women to connect on a genuine level. Nothing really happens until we get real and open our hearts. Take Flight is designed to help relationships with women along those lines. After that we’ll see! Lots of ideas! (laughs)
Betsy: Thanks for sharing with us today, Robin!
Read more about Robin Jones Gunn and check out her latest books at