CBR: I've promised never to ask the ever-annoying question: "How did you get the idea for this story?", but there is another I just have to ask even though you probably get it all the time... In your research for FAT CAT, did you personally submit yourself to Cat's diet and lifestyle to see what it would be like?
RB: Oh yes, oh yes. And sometimes that was great—giving up all the processed food felt SO good for my body—but sometimes it was awful—giving up all the processed food felt SO sad for my little tongue. Face it, in real life there are definitely times when you need some tortilla chips and salsa and a few (or a dozen) cookies--book deadlines come to mind. I don’t know how other writers write without the proper dosage of salt, fat, and sugar. But overall, writing FAT CAT—and really, doing all the research for it ahead of time and during it—ended up convincing me to make a huge, lifelong change to the basics of my diet. I ended up where Cat does in the book, which was a big surprise to me, because that’s not at all where I thought we were headed when I first started writing it. That’s what I love about writing books: I end up changing myself as often as I end up changing my characters.
CBR: On a related note, did you actually come up with any of the great recipes Cat develops (which, incidentally, made my own meals while I was reading look like plastic in comparison!)? Any you'd be willing to share with us?
RB: I did try a whole bunch of fancy combinations, all using basic, unprocessed foods like whole grains and beans and veggies and such. I cooked a lot as I worked on the book, because I wanted Cat to be able to experiment with foods, and it’s hard for me to write that if I haven’t lived it. But I’ve found that what I keep coming back to now, post-writing, are the simplest of meals: roasted potatoes with salt and pepper, big honking salads, fresh homemade bread, oatmeal and bananas for breakfast. Pretty exotic, huh?
CBR: One of my favorite things about your story is the element of relationships that you developed and the amazing job you did developing true-to-life, lovable characters. Did people you know inspire the characters of Cat's friends and family?
RB: I love that question! Because I’m sure a lot of writers can tell you that they love slipping in family members and friends—it’s so sweet to be able to spend the day with fictional characters based on people you already love. Cat’s best friend, Amanda, is named after my niece and has a lot of her qualities. But the friendship itself is based on my own friendship with the same best friend I’ve had since I was a sophomore in high school. I’ve always felt that amount of unconditional support from her that Amanda and Cat give to each other. I HATE snarky girlfriends, and it was such a pleasure to write a relationship that felt warm and accepting and true. As for some of the other characters, I’ve given a lot of them names of my friends and family members, and based a lot of them on people I know. It’s always fun to have those people read the book and see if they’re able to pick themselves out!
CBR: A question for those of us out here who pray to be writers someday... FAT CAT was your second book; was it more or less difficult to write than your first?
RB: I’m so glad you asked this. Because I’m one of those classic cases where I spent YEARS—so many years—writing and rewriting the same first book. I’d send it off, have it rejected, rewrite it, send it off again—so much time given to that one book, because I thought that’s all I could ever write. Then I went to a writing conference where the speakers talked about writing multiple books every year—and making a good living as a writer. Until then, I didn’t realize you could even write more than one book a year—that certainly hadn’t been my experience. So I came home all fired up to try it—to see how quickly I could write another book. I sat down and wrote one in 5 weeks. Then took a little break and wrote another one in 6 weeks. They weren’t great art—they never sold—but they did teach me that (1) I have more than one story to tell, and (2) I’m able to start and finish books. Maybe this sounds simple, but that was THE hugest breakthrough I’d ever had. It completely built my confidence that once I begin a book, I can actually finish it—and finish it within a reasonable time (rather than after years and years). This is all a long way of saying that every time you write a book, it gets easier in some ways because you’ve just built up your confidence again with the previous one. Each book has its own fresh challenges, of course, but it’s fun to try to grow your skills with each book, and to know that when you begin, you’ll be able to work through to the finish. You’ve proven to yourself that you can do that. And then when you are finished, you’ll have yet another novel to send out there into the world! It may or may not be the one that gets published, but that’s okay, because you’re going to go write the next one, and that may be the one that begins your career. You’re not hanging everything on just that one novel you keep writing and rewriting.
CBR: Are there any new projects you're working on that we can hope to see soon?
RB: FAT CAT comes out this October, then I just finished writing my new novel, which I’m hoping will be out in spring of 2011. It all seems too far away. Let’s not speak of it yet!
CBR: Lastly, are there any questions you always wish you'd be asked that you'd like to have a shot at here? :)
RB: Yes, as a matter of fact: “What would you like the aspiring writers out there to know?”
1. There is room for all of us, and if you have stories to tell, please tell them. Don’t give up!
2. Be kind to your fellow writers, both aspiring and established. Don’t give in to snark. Remember that there are actual human beings behind the books you’re reading, and if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. You may not understand that until you’re on the other end of a mean review or a comment, but trust me, there is such a thing as Writer’s Karma.
3. Read a lot. You’d be surprised by how much you can learn from reading how other people do it.
CBR: Thank you so much, Robin! We can't wait to see your book on the shelves.
RB: Thank you for this interview! What fun!