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Author Interview: James Robinson, Jr.

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Diane Lunsford is talking with James Robinson, Jr., author of Death of a Shrinking Violet: Nice Guys Finish First.

FQ: I’m not sure how I’ve gotten this far in life without the pleasure of reading one of your books. Thank you for the opportunity to chat today. You have a wonderfully witty way of writing infectious satire, and I have to ask, of the many titles you’ve written, which one was your personal favorite to pen (and why)?

ROBINSON: You are so kind. I’m not sure how I’ve gotten this far in life without someone like you reading one of my books. Of course, I paid you to read it. I was tempted to say, “I bet you say that to all the boys,” but I resisted. I hate to say it but…family is the worst. I told a cousin of mine that I had just written a book and that he was mentioned in it. I took the time to mail the book to him because, you know, he liked the feeling of a book in his hands. I never heard from him again. Oh well.

I have written 3 books of fiction and 6 books of non-fiction including one book about my father who was somewhat of a famous man here in Pittsburgh. My last book of 25 essays entitled, I Injured My Foot Doing the Mashed Potato: I Should Have Stuck With the Twist, was probably my favorite book because some of the essays still give me a chuckle. Yes, I laugh and I wrote the book. Isn’t it a bit strange to giggle at your own humor? Kind of like taking a step back and admiring your own artwork.

Anyway, one essay, entitled “Poker Night,” is one of my favorites despite that fact that it is probably considered extremely dark humor. I may be the only one who likes it. In the piece, its poker night in the depths of hell and Charles Manson and Ted Bundy are running the game. Adolph Hitler as one might expect, is cheating, continuing to be caught with 5 aces. However, the Fuhrer is getting karma bigtime. He is snatched up every hour or so by vengeful demons and hauled off to the gas chamber to be given a taste of his own medicine. Other evil entities such as John Wayne Gacy and Jack the Ripper are on hand. It’s humorous in a dark sort of way. I swear it is.

FQ: I enjoyed learning in your bio that your writing career began at age 45 when "…the Effects of Gravity kicked in…" Your humor drew me in immediately. Do you suppose much of your humor needed time to evolve and the magical age of ‘45’ was your moment to start capturing those ‘life experiences’ on the pages for many to read?

ROBINSON: Definitely. I tell everyone that I had to live to write the style material that I was destined write. I had to live and marry and have children and work alongside both kind and pain-in-the-butt employees. I wanted to be a writer when I was 22 but I was a babe in the woods in terms of experience.

FQ: In line with my previous question, if you were asked to write a book on "…one topic that requires some humor around it…" what would that topic be for you (and why)?

ROBINSON: I have two parents—one 94 and one 96—who live with my wife and I. Both suffer from dementia and, and my father suffers from a bad case of sundowners. You talk about someone who doesn’t know if it’s day or night, he’s one. My mother was having terrible bouts of anxiety until her geriatric physician prescribed the oft television advertised drug Cymbalta. Prior to the Cymbalta miracle, we were beginning to look around for nursing facilities, but the aforementioned Cymbalta performed miracles for her issues. So we decided to bring in home health care workers during daylight hours.

The costs are outrageous for either choice--$15,000 month for nursing facilities, $47.50/hr. for home health care. Getting old is expensive. Sure, I find myself changing my father’s soiled undergarments at bedtime but it’s a small price to pay.

FQ: Your take on Vampires was intriguing. I enjoyed your analogy toward "…somewhere along the line the modern vampire seems to have become hardwired to resist the power of the Church…" (pg. 123). It’s difficult for me to cite the plethora of examples you provide throughout your book with the sublime coaxing to think about what I just said… It is clear to me that you have a strong faith. Is there a time in your life when your faith was the saving grace to carry you through to a lighter time? If so, are you able to share that experience?

ROBINSON: During the last job I ever worked at age 58 (“remember, the only shrinking violet here is Jim Robinson”), I got so fed up with the job I simply quit, walked out the door without so much as an interview. Blasphemy! Such a thing was taboo when I was deeply entrenched in the work world. It was extremely difficult; I had always been told never to quit a job unless you had another job waiting and you had six months’ salary saved. I always figured if you said the words, “I need the money,” indicating that money is the only thing keeping you at that job, you’re screwed. But in this case, I stepped out on faith and trusted that God would lead me through it. (I wish God would help me sell more books.)

Author James Robinson, Jr
Author James Robinson, Jr

FQ: What is one of the most rewarding times you can recall on becoming a grandfather?

ROBINSON: As I said in the book, hearing them call me Pap is a rewarding experience. But one little thing I often relate to people is that it’s interesting to watch your grandchildren when they’re still young and they don’t know you from Adam and as they grow older and begin calling you by your new grandmother/grandfather elderly title. They don’t really get the connection at first but then they start to realize that their parents are at one level of the hierarchy then there’s these 2 older people above their parents who are really nice to you but you don’t see as often.

FQ: I thoroughly enjoyed reading your views on the many iconic movies you cited. How do you feel about movies that are being made today?

ROBINSON: I enjoy some of the movies being made today but it seems like they’re sequel driven with a few quality movies thrown in. And streaming has changed everything. I talk about Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s edition of A Star is Born in the next question, one of my modern-day watch overs. But my favorites now include several science fiction offerings. The Marvel movies: Avengers, Captain America, The Hulk, Iron Man, and their many sequels. The problem is, sequels abound and it’s profit driven. Movie moguls figure, “well that made money, let’s make another one.” I think we’re up to Scream VI and eight Friday the 13th , Jason movies. In the last one Jason took Manhattan. And there are now—are you ready for this—13 Jason inspired, Halloween films. When you make this many movies in the same genre they call it a “franchise”—like a grouping of hamburger restaurants.

FQ: In line with my previous question, why do you suppose Hollywood has this insistence to take old movies and reinvent them to fit today’s climate?

ROBINSON: Why not? Why not take an old movie like A Star is Born first made in 1937 with Frederick March, give it a fresh boat of paint, put Streisand in it and, unfortunately, Kris Kristofferson, and run it up the flagpole again in 1976. Unfortunately, that remake sucked.

But then in 2018, modernize again. Give Bradley Cooper a shot at acting and directing along with Lady Gaga. I’ve watched that one several times. The music and acting are much improved given almost 50 years of technology.

Prepare for the next version in 2075. I doubt if either one of us will be around for that one.

FQ: I spent more than thirty years in the ‘corporate arena’ and (finally) departed the madness three years ago. Now I do what I want to do and my days are devoted to working for a charitable organization that supports Veterans. I had to chuckle because I could relate when you described your ex-boss: "…was what most people would label as insecure. Insecurity—and its twin brothers envy and jealousy—is a terrible emotion to have to deal with when running amok, unchecked in one’s psyche…" (pg. 98) Do you think that type of personality equates to the young pup who was bullied one too many times growing up (and he/she finally gets to be the bully)?

ROBINSON: I don’t know if they become bullies, but it definitely has a profound effect on their psyche. Sometimes they never quite get over the trauma. This might be a bad example but on some of the old Maury Povich Shows (I talked about this in one of my essays) Maury would bring young woman on his show who was an unattractive girl in high school, bullied mercilessly by classmates—often by one bully in particular--but had transformed into a beautiful young woman in later years. As part of the he invited the tormenter to come onto the show to marvel at how the “ugly duckling” that he had tortured had turned into a beautiful swan.

Mostly, you could tell the bully hadn’t really changed much. You could tell he hadn’t made much of himself. Sadly, she may have had the last laugh but she carried the bully’s mean attacks around in her spirit all those years.

FQ: I could go on with many more questions, but I’ll leave it here. I want to thank you very much for the opportunity to read this treasure. My only hope is you are working on your next book and if so, could you share what we can expect next?

ROBINSON: A touchy subject. I started working on a 4th installment of the Johnson Family Chronicles, my fiction series, and I struggled mightily. I guess I got a little spoiled with the other three because, unbeknownst to me, they followed a certain formula. So I’ll be struggling with that and cobbling together more essays. Thank you very much for your kind words and for the interview. See you after the next book.

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