Monday, July 8, 2024

The 40 But 10: Betsy Robinson


I had decided to retire the literary Would You Rather series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Today we are joined by Betsy Robinson. Betsy writes funny fiction about flawed people. Her novel The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg is winner of Black Lawrence Press’s 2013 Big Moose Prize and was published in September 2014. This was followed by the February 2015 publication of her edit of The Trouble with the Truth by Edna Robinson, Betsy’s late mother, by Simon & Schuster/Infinite Words. She published revised e-book and paperback editions of her Mid-List Press award-winning first novel, a tragicomedy about falling down the rabbit hole of the U.S. of A. in the 1970s, Plan Z by Leslie Kove, when it went out of print. Her articles have been published in Publishers Weekly, Lithub, Oh Reader, The Sunlight Press, Prairie Fire, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Salvation South, Next Avenue, and many other publications. Betsy is an editor, fiction writer, journalist, playwright, and former actor. Her website is

Why do you write?

When I write, I transcend myself and am writing from a greater ME. It’s always been that way—ever since I was a kid. Suddenly it’s not possible for anything to be the matter. As I grew up and learned technique and then became an editor, making my living editing other writers, I began to feel an even greater power—I became equally left- and right-brained. So I could switch from pure inspiration to the technical stuff of editing and making structure and honing sentences. I write because I’m the most ME when I write, and the most joyful.

Why I or anybody writes is something I address in The Spectators—pretty hilariously, if I do say so myself. As an editor, I have a lot of experience dealing with understanding why people write, and I’ve come to understand that that is a wholly different question from why people publish. And I think that’s worth addressing here: I publish because I want what I’ve written to connect to other people and have an impact. What that impact is is none of my business (see my answer to question 9).


If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

Enlightened beings have the power to live in both the incarnate world and the spirit world. I would like to be enlightened and travel effortlessly between my life and less dense life.


How do you celebrate when you finish writing a new book?

I don’t think I do celebrate. I’m just quietly very, very happy.


Describe your book in three words.

What we’re doing here. (I know that’s four, but even though I fancy myself a good editor, I can’t edit it down.)


If you met your characters in real life, what would you say to them?

I wrote The Spectators so I could meet my characters. I can’t say a lot about that without spoiling the plot. But I met them and said everything I needed to say to them and them to me. It was a wonderful experience.


If you could spend the day with another author, who would you choose and why?

I discovered three authors after they were already dead, and I’ve actually mourned the fact that I will never get to hang out with them, and specifically, I wish we could get together for an afternoon, and I would listen and listen and listen. They are Carol Shields (I’ve read three of her books), Alison Lurie (I’ve read three of her books), and Andrea Levy (I’ve read only Small Island). I think we’d all laugh really hard. Also, since I’m fantasizing, I wish we could meet at E. B. White’s house in Maine—he would host us and give us a tour. And let’s say that by the time we met, we’d already be good friends with long histories so there is no “getting to know you” time wasted. I just see us talking and not talking and laughing. And I’d do a lot of listening and staring in admiration.


What is your favorite book from childhood?

It’s a toss-up between the Eloise books by Kay Thompson with illustrations by Hilary Knight and the Pippi Longstocking books by Astrid Lindgren. I read them all multiple times and the willful, strong super girls that were Eloise and Pippi made me feel wonderful about being a girl.


What’s the one book someone else wrote that you wish you had written?

I never could have written it, but Stoner by John Williams may be the most perfect novel I’ve ever read . . . four times and counting.


Do you read the reviews of your books or do you stay far far away from them, and why?

Somebody recently asked me if I was afraid of what people would think when they read my new book, and I was so surprised. The thought had never occurred to me. I do read reviews because I’m curious, even though I know people’s reaction is none of my business (see my answer to question 1). Even though I’ve let go of my book by the time people react to it, what I’m curious about is the people who write their opinions of it—what they think, why they think what they think, what makes them angry, what they love. If a review is mean or inaccurate (as in, basic details of the book are misrepresented), I stop reading. There’s no point. But I’m so curious about people, so if they react to something I’ve written, and I know what I’ve written, to hear what strikes them is absolutely fascinating and revealing.


What’s the one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?

That everything would get so much better as I got older.


This is what you get when you mix apathy, shamanism, Buddhism, esoteric Yogic traditions, quantum physics, the power of DNA ancestry, and cluelessness with a small band of older women negotiating chaos in New York City in the era just preceding Trump.


Part love letter to NYC’s Upper West Side, part an ode to friendship between a writer and her creations (reluctant psychic protagonist Lily Hogue and her loner friends, with guest appearances of real and fictional historical events and people, from Bernie Madoff to Paul Simon to terrorists), The Spectators’ cast of characters battles the problems of foreknowing disasters we cannot control and being part of an uncontrollable human herd.


September 3rd on sale 

available for presale now


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