Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lynette Latzko is talking with Richard Robbins, author of Love, Loss, and Lagniappe.
FQ: Both New Orleans and New York City are featured in your novel. What motivated you to choose these two distinct cities as the settings in your story?
ROBBINS: The novel is inspired by actual events in my life, particularly my years spent in New Orleans. This is fortunate for the story (as well as for me!), since New Orleans is such a unique and fascinating place. And even though the events which take place in New York are more fictional, my love and feel for that city is also evident. There are a limited number of critical characters in this novel, so it was important that each city become critical characters themselves. Come down and visit New Orleans someday, and get off Bourbon Street and roam the rest of The Quarter and Uptown. And come hungry!
FQ: Can you explain what the word “lagniappe” means for our readers?
ROBBINS: Lagniappe is an old New Orleans term, loosely meaning “a little something extra”. Sort of the amuse bouche of life. I believe it’s fair to say that Mark Twain expresses it better than I can;
We picked up one excellent word—a word worth traveling to New Orleans to get; a nice limber, expressive, handy word—‘lagniappe.’ They pronounce it lanny-yap. It is Spanish—so they said. We discovered it at the head of a column of odds and ends in the Picayune, the first day; heard twenty people use it the second; inquired what it meant the third; adopted it and got facility in swinging it the fourth. It has a restricted meaning, but I think the people spread it out a little when they choose. It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a ‘baker’s dozen.’ It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city. ... If the waiter in the restaurant stumbles and spills a gill of coffee down the back of your neck, he says ‘For lagniappe, sah,’ and gets you another cup without extra charge. - Mark Twain - 1883 - Life on the Mississippi
FQ: The main character, Drew, embarks upon a long walking journey to escape and find answers, among other things. Was there ever a time when you did something similar, and if you have, what path did you take?
ROBBINS: I have taken a much shorter version of this walk at very emotional times in my life, such as after the death of my parents, or after receiving other bad news. The brain takes time to sort through things, and in our increasingly hyper-connected world, I find that it’s not easy to “unplug” and let your brain work through its thoughts. But whether it’s a long drive, time spent alone in a dark room listening to music, or a long walk, the down time helps me to sort through my thoughts.
FQ: How does your wife feel about being the inspiration for writing this story?
ROBBINS: She’s used to it. She is the source of all that is true and beautiful in my world. She’s the mother of my children, creator of our home, and an endless source of encouragement, forgiveness, love, and understanding. Reading the story was understandably emotional for her, but in the end, she found it life affirming and uplifting. But once is fine. She’s happy that there are no characters based on her in the next novel.
FQ: What challenges you the most when you are writing?
ROBBINS: The main challenge for me was feeling comfortable expressing my deepest thoughts and emotions on the page where others would read them. There were three barriers to this. The first is that this being my first novel, I was not certain that it would be published. To open myself up and have friends and families (and my children!) exposed to my raw emotions in a work that never saw the light of day seemed questionable. The second is that many of these characters are based on people in my life, all of which I altered with some creative license, but are still identifiable. Therefore, I was cautious with how I made their characters behave.
These two barriers also limited my ability to describe the physical relationship between Drew and Kate. My editor asked, “Why are there no sex scenes between these two young lovers?” In response, I reluctantly added a couple of nods in that direction, but honestly, I don’t feel that the story suffers from the lack of explicit intimate scenes.
The final challenge was allowing myself to mine the darkest moments in my life and re-live the feelings of those times. I spent many an hour weeping in the corner of a Starbucks, drying my eyes before people started staring.
Overall, I give myself mixed grades in these areas. I feel that I have conveyed the feelings in an emotionally honest and powerful manner. However, there may still be times when I was too cautious. I’ve just finished the first draft of my next novel, Panicles. Since this story is not based as directly on my life, and the characters are more loosely inspired by actual people, I have been able to loosen the reigns a good deal more. It’s a fun, interesting, rip-roaring story, coming out next Spring or Summer.
FQ: In the story, Drew often daydreams and imagines that his younger self is looking into the future at his current self. What do you think your younger self (around age 18) would say about your current life?
ROBBINS: In the mind game Drew plays, which I often do, his younger version reacts to what he sees, which may not be what really exists. That’s a serious thought, and I want to spend some time on it.
Drew draws conclusions about his life from studying his current surroundings, which includes his home and his photos. But those photos are literally a snapshot in time. Have you ever watched television and had the screen freeze unexpectedly? If paused at the wrong moment, even the most beautiful actress can appear awkward, unattractive, or troubled. And a split second later, exactly the opposite way. Which is the reality? For photos, we curate the ones that express our chosen moments, but is that the reality, or a sanitized, idealized version of reality? This phenomenon is more present than ever with the rise of social media. As the saying goes, “Everybody’s life looks great on Facebook.”
And the beautiful home, how real is that? Financial overreach and foreclosures have torn families from their American Dream far too many times this decade, clouding the apparent reality.
So, what would my younger self think? When it happens to me, and I see photos of my wife and children, on vacations under sunny skies, I smile and feel blessed. But those skies weren’t always so sunny. It’s just that we put our cameras away during the storms.
FQ: One of the important themes in your story is “love at first sight.” Do you believe in that concept?
ROBBINS: Oh, most definitely, yes. I believe in it from an evolutionary, scientific, and romantic way. It may not be as simple or as strong as I portrayed here, but I am confident that it most definitely exists.
I believe the effect is multi-factorial, and exists on a spectrum. It may be stronger for some people than others. It very clearly depends upon environmental factors, meaning that you are more open to it at certain times of your life and in certain circumstances. A young person at a picnic may be more open to it than a middle-aged person running late for their train. And it can be suppressed when socially necessary. But I have no doubt that you’ve felt it. Otherwise you wouldn’t have read (or finished) my book.
FQ: In your biography it states that you have always had a love for telling good stories. Who are your favorite storytellers?
ROBBINS: My father and uncle were my model story tellers. My father was a judge, and possessed an open smile and booming voice, and could light up a room with his stories. His brother, my Uncle Buddy, was an advertising creative, and was part of the team that created many memorable commercial characters, including the Frito Bandito (would that one fly now?)
I’ve loved telling good stories, and often when something bad happens (missed flights, breakdowns by the side of the road), I’ll often say “At least we got a story out of it.” Add a little creative license, tighten it up a bit, and we’re good to go.
The scene in California in the mud baths is based on a real story. So is Kate’s fall into the mud on their first date. I’ll be quiet about the others…
FQ: I read that you will be releasing a novel entitled Panicles in late 2019, of which a sneak preview is included in your current book. Are you working on anything else right now?
ROBBINS: I’ve just finished the first draft of Panicles. The story follows the intermingling fates of two families, one wealthy and powerful, the other blue collar, through two generations of war, love, natural disasters, and family drama, leading to a fateful choice, a sacrifice which could change the course of history.
I have put it aside for a month or so to allow time for a few of my trusted readers to review and give me feedback before starting on the second draft. In the meantime, I may work on a short story to provide for free to subscribers to the mailing list on my website, www.Robbinsbooks.com
Each of my projects is a work of love, and I want to be certain that they bring joy and happiness to their readers. I am grateful for the time spent with my work, and am always happy to hear questions, comments, critiques, and suggestions from my readers.