Author Robin Gregory’s first and recently published novel The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman sprung from a desire to bridge the Eastern and Western philosophies and spirituality. Inspired by her son, who is challenged with disabilities, the book, we learn, is set in Western America of the early 1900s. ‘Writing it was part of my own awakening process,’ begins Ms Gregory, speaking to the Literary Express in an exclusive interaction. She tells us that while this book of hers is the first fiction novel she has ever worked on, she has written creative non-fiction and articles for several magazines including Modern Literature, Ginosko Literary Journal, Massage Magazine, and Coast Weekly.
Writing as a Way to Process Life
The author, who also happens to be a well-known mystic, lets us know that she began writing at a very tender age. ‘I wrote my first novella in first grade. It was a jolly story about a horse, mostly drawings because I had trouble reading and writing. Later on, I started journaling, and wrote poetry and short stories just for myself. It was a way to process life. I never dreamed of being a professional writer,’ Ms Gregory, who also speaks French and a bit of Spanish, shares with us.
Talking about The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman, the member of the National Writers Association, Visionary Fiction Alliance, and Author’s Guild, who dwells in a little hamlet on the West Coast of the United States with her husband and son, says that the story depicts the time following the Native Relocation Act and mass immigration in the 1900s, which is when racism and bigotry begin to plague the country.
‘Hamburgers, air machines, and vacuum sweepers have just been discovered. But the world is not safe for anyone different, especially Moojie Littleman, a disabled, bi-racial boy with mysterious healing powers,’ she explains. She adds that through a series of misadventures, involving the desire to belong to an otherworldly clan of outcasts, Moojie is called to a great destiny. ‘If only he can survive one last terrifying trial…’ she trails off.
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Creating a ‘Magical Reality’
An admirer of magical realism, the author, who loves to watch movies and network series when she gets time off her busy schedule, tells us that in the tradition (of magical realism, that is) made popular by Gabriel García Marquez, Salman Rushdie, and Isabel Allende, a blend of historical reality and mythical themes can be found.
‘Magical realism is a fantastic way to portray life in its fullest sense,’ she says, quoting renowned American novelist Don DeLillo soon after: ‘When we see something, we are getting only a measure of information, a sense, an inkling of what is there to see. I don’t know the details or the terminology, but I do know that the optic nerve is not telling the full truth. We’re seeing only intimations. The rest is our invention, our way of reconstructing what is actual, if there is any such thing, philosophically, as what we call actual.’ She then asseverates that magical realism gives a method to embrace the paradox that DeLillo alluded to.
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From Pantsing to Plotting
Be that as it may, Ms Gregory shares with us that it took a whopping thirteen years for her to come up with The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman. ‘The initial years, I focused mainly on character development and was not clear enough on the main theme. The characters seemed to take on a life of their own. I must admit, they didn’t always behave as I wanted them too,’ she says with a laugh, adding that the book probably would have taken half that long to write had she worked with a more detailed outline.
‘Allowing characters to run the show is amusing, and can lead to several surprises, but, like unruly children in need of structure, they often wander out of the sandbox,’ she points out, confessing that writing from the seat of the pants made revisions about as fun as tooth extractions. ‘It might work for some, but I’ve changed my ways,’ she pronounces. ‘Now, I work extensively with an outline, paying close attention to character arcs, momentum, themes, and tone.’
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6,003 and Adding…
On being asked if she has any favourite authors, the author laughs and says that she owns a total of six thousand and three books. ‘I love reading different authors; however, in light of recent events, I was forced to consider which books to grab if we had to evacuate,’ she says, joking that she suspects the stacks are fused and holding up the walls. ‘But it came down to One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, my guru; 1958 Letters, by Joel Goldsmith, my other guru; and Mushrooms Demystified, by David Arora, in case foraging would be required,’ she says, adding quickly, ‘Oh… and one signed, hardbound copy of The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman to inspire mercy from invading aliens.’
On a ‘Personal Note’
As the conversation assumes momentum, the author, who has an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing and World Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, goes on to give us a glimpse of her everyday life. She tells us that she awakes by about five in the morning, and before tending to family matters, goes over the previous day’s writing, checking notes, revising, and revisiting outlines. If she can heel in another five hours of writing after attending to her household chores, it’s a good day for her. ‘But it’s never been a question of discipline for me,’ concedes Ms Gregory, who doesn’t feel education qualifies a fiction writer but strongly weens studying other writers and mingling with peers in a university setting is invaluable.
On whether she finds it difficult to juggle writing and other tasks, Ms Gregory divulges that it has been quite tricky getting stuff done with her husband and son at home during the lockdown. ‘For some odd reason, I’m the only one in the world who can find peanut butter. And where does all that dirty laundry come from every day? Why am I the only one who sees all those dust bunnies?’ she tells us with a guffaw, adding that she tries to balance writing, family, and household chores by deciding daily what is most important and letting the little stuff go. ‘But when push comes to shove, the guys grant me a lot of leeway. Once, when facing a deadline, I worked for twenty-six hours straight. My husband and son never interrupted, except to bring me food,’ she shares with us.
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Speaking at length about her works in progress, Ms Gregory says that book two of the Moojie Littleman trilogy entitled ‘Halfkin’ is in editing. ‘In Halfkin, dutiful, eighteen-year-old Moojie risks losing his life and his father’s approval when he goes in search of his first love in an alternate universe. It is a genre-bending tale of magical realism that falls somewhere between Dr Strange and Harry Potter,’ she shares with us.
She also tells us that she is working on the screen adaptation of The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman, with distinguished film producer and director, John Crye, whose film credits include The Way Back, The Prestige, Whale Rider, Memento, Donnie Darko. ‘I suppose these projects qualify me as a full-fledged author,’ she says.
On whether she has got any piece of advice for budding authors who lose motivation if their works don’t do well, the author says that she is not sure what ‘works don’t do well’ would mean. ‘Do you mean they capture mostly negative reviews? Or they don’t sell?’ she asks us, adding that she read once that an average indie novel sells ten a year and rarely tops hundred in a lifetime on Amazon. ‘It doesn’t matter how much social networking, marketing, and promo many authors do, this is the harsh reality,’ she says.
She then goes on to emphasise that for their books to be recognized and reviewed, authors must distinguish their works. ‘How do we do that?’ she questions, pointing out that multiple levels of writing must be well-crafted for a story to engage readers. ‘And that takes many revisions. By taking time to step away from a work in progress occasionally, by allowing time for it to ripen, we will be better able to distinguish it. No doubt, writing is an arduous task. And writing well requires a huge commitment,’ she explains.
Ms Gregory also feels that if an author’s books aren’t getting reviews, awards, or sales, it might be time to spend more energy on studying, participating in workshops, and looking a little deeper into our motives for writing. ‘If we’re after the golden ring, bestselling status, we could be sorely disappointed. Good writing is about the process, not results. We need to love that process! That begins with considering it as an expedition of self, an adventure into unknown territories that are deeply meaningful to us,’ she says.
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The Final Word
Asserting that a professional editor and a writing group—folks honest with feedback as well as lending encouragement—are invaluable, Ms Gregory states categorically that early drafts are almost always a mess. She says, ‘They lack clarity, evenness, interiority, and momentum. We need to be humble enough to listen to feedback and continually examine our motives as we venture along. I never let my work go until it has been thoroughly workshopped by my writer’s groups and passed through a good editor’s hands several times.’
As the conversation draws to a close, we ask if there is a thing or two that she would want to see changed in the world. Stating that that certainly is a timely question, Ms Gregory lets on that as a mystic, she never thinks in terms of changing the world. ‘When I see something disturbing, it is always a question of changing how I respond. If I am reactive, it makes me a victim. If I express grace while facing difficult people and circumstances, the world seems to cooperate with me,’ she pronounces, ending the interaction with one of writer G K Chesterton’s wonderful quotes: To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.