I recently read a great new novel about the changing tides of friendship with vivid and intriguing characters, Remember Me by Cheryl Robinson. I am more than a little honored that Cheryl Robinson agreed to be interviewed on my blog!
Read ahead for a interesting and wonderful interview.
Today is the last day to also enter a giveaway of one copy of Remember Me. For a chance to win, leave a comment on my review of Remember Me. For an extra chance to win, leave a comment on this interview along with your email address. Good luck!
LAG: Have you ever had a friendship like Mia and Danielle’s (best friends and then estrangement)?
CR: For my first two years of college, I went to an out-of-state university, and it was a slightly intimidating experience, especially my first year. During that time, I befriended a young lady who was from the area. She lived in my dorm on the same floor as I did, and we quickly became best friends. But toward the end of my freshman year, our friendship ended abruptly. There was nothing that either one of us had done to the other. It was just over, and I didn’t completely understand why. I had an idea, but I was confused as to why what I thought it may have been would affect our friendship. In retrospect, however, I realize that she’d been going through some things that year that were extremely difficult for her. And when I found out exactly what she was dealing with, I guess she may have been embarrassed. I just know that I think about her a lot. She was a lot of fun to be around, very smart, and she had such a kind spirit. I hope she’s doing well. I find estranged friendship interesting. I imagine most people have had a close friend that they’ve lost touch with or grown apart from. In the book, there was a particular reason for the estrangement, but often it’s just due to time apart and/or distance.
LAG: I love Mia and her vibrant personality. Was she based on anyone you know?
CR: Her high school experiences were based on my sister’s high school experiences. Most of the issues in the book that Mia dealt with at Our Lady of Glory in the seventies, my sister also dealt with at Our Lady of Mercy during that same time period. For example, the racist math teacher changing her test actually happened to my sister, and the teacher was eventually fired. Being pushed into the pool by the swim teacher who was frustrated at Mia for being so fearful of the water happened to my sister also. And then some of Mia’s college experiences also happened to my sister. (Side note from LAG - that is terrible!!!)
The adult Mia is completely fictional. She’s how I imagined Mia would grow up and behave, especially since the issue of social class weighed so heavily on her mind. She never felt good enough, because her friends’ parents had professional positions and money, and her parents were in the lower income bracket and worked blue collar jobs. Every child brought up that way wouldn’t necessarily feel the same way Mia did, especially since Mia’s parents made sacrifices to provide her with such a good education, but Mia longed for material things as well.
LAG: I really enjoyed your Detroit setting for the novel. I see that you live in Florida now (like Danielle). Do you often revisit Detroit? Are the restaurants you describe real? I admit I got hungry while reading this book and wanted to try them out!
CR: I haven’t been back to Detroit since 2008. I don’t really like to fly. My sister still lives in Detroit and so does one of my best friends, so I stay connected in that way. Yes, the restaurants mentioned in the book are real. I laughed when you mentioned getting hungry while reading my book, because I could relate. I got hungry while reading The Help. A caramel cake was referenced so much that I stopped reading and went online and searched for a bakery and ordered one. Ironically, I found the same bakery that supplied the cake to the movie set for The Help. It’s also the bakery I’m ordering the Red Velvet cake from for the book club giveaway that’s being sponsored by TLC Book Tours in September. So, if any of your readers are also a member of a book club, they should enter the contest.
LAG: I really enjoyed reading about “The Sophisticated Readers of Oakland County” book club. Is this a real club or based on a real book club? I’ve never been in a book club that large . . . or that sophisticated! Do you visit book clubs yourself?
CR: The Sophisticated Readers of Oakland County isn’t a real book club, and it’s not based on a real one either. But I do know of book clubs that are that large and even larger. Many book clubs these days have Web sites and sponsor annual literary events as a way for readers to meet authors, so I did keep those book clubs in mind when framing my fictional book club. I definitely visit book clubs, and I do a lot of teleconferencing with book clubs as well. I have a link on my Web site that book club members can use if they’ve selected one of my novels for their monthly read and would like to invite me to their monthly meeting.
LAG: Does it bother you that Publishers Weekly describes your work as “urban fiction?” Do you think literature featuring African American characters is unfairly segregated into categories such as “urban fiction” rather than just described as literature or “women’s fiction?” “Women’s fiction” itself as a category has also come under fire over the past few years. Do you have any thoughts on this?
CR: Literature featuring black characters is only segregated into “urban fiction” when the author is also black. The Help is not classified as “urban fiction” and two of the three main characters are black, nor is The Secret Life of Bees classified that way, and those are just two examples but there have been more. I don’t write “urban fiction.” The term “urban fiction” seems more fitting for authors who write a genre of fiction referred to as “street lit,” where the tone is often dark and focuses on drug dealing or some other form of the underworld, and profanity, sex, and violence are used to make the material feel more authentic. Unfortunately, a lot of black authors have been classified as urban authors when we’re not. And our books have been classified as “urban fiction” when they’re not. I’d prefer for my books to be classified as contemporary literature or just literature. As for Publishers Weekly, I would imagine they’re printing the author’s information that’s been supplied to them by the publisher.
As for the issue of “women’s fiction” I’m not sure which issue you’re referring to. I’m assuming it may be the one about the New York Times in which certain high profile women’s fiction authors stated that the New York Times prefers reviewing books written by male authors. If that’s the issue, I haven’t really thought about it as deeply as I’ve thought about the “urban fiction” issue. Being reviewed in the New York Times would be wonderful, especially if I was fortunate enough to receive a positive review, because my book would receive more attention, which would probably lead to a larger number of readers as well as a more diverse group of readers, and that’s been a goal of mine for a long time. But for me, I think I focus more on how my books are being promoted in general, starting with the book cover. The book cover I have for Remember Me was the first of my book covers that I really liked and felt was pretty. But honestly, I gravitate more toward books that don’t have people on the cover at all. If they show people, I don’t want to see their faces, because for me that’s all part of the illusion of the story by imagining what the main characters look like.
I really want books written by black authors to have just as wide of an audience and appeal as any other book. A great article on this very subject was written by Bernice McFadden. Here is the link for anyone interested in reading further. http://www.theroot.com/views/african-american-writers-marginalized-publishing-industry-practices .
LAG: What are you currently working on? I’d like to read more of your novels!
CR: I’ve written a total of seven novels so far; six have been published by Penguin/NAL Trade. When I Get Where I’m Going was released in 2010, and it centers around three estranged sisters. The story is primarily set in Detroit as well. Sweet Georgia Brown is another one of my novels about a humble housewife determined to become a household name. Georgia starts competing on the radio for ratings against her radio host husband. I’m also currently working on a new book that I’m so excited about. I’m always excited about a new storyline and new characters, but this one is very special to me for a few reasons; the first being that it’s a return to writing in first person. I haven’t written in first person since my second novel was published in 2005. Also, my next book is set in the Dallas/Fort Worth area instead of Detroit, and in a strange way, I feel like I’m relocating. I lived in the DFW area for four years and still have many friends there so it feels like home. I’m hoping that readers will find the characters in my next novel fun, quirky, honest, and real.
LAG: What are some of your favorite authors/books?
CR: I would like to say there are way too many to name, because I do feel like there are way too many for me to name. But I will name a few. Though I’ve never met her personally, Terry McMillan was an inspiration to me before I started writing and still continues to be. I also regularly read books written by Electa Rome Parks, Jennifer Weiner, Jodi Picoult, Harlan Coben, Connie Briscoe, and Kimberla Lawson Roby.
As for favorite books, there have been so many book that I’ve enjoyed. I read a lot on my Kindle. I loved The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips so far it’s been the only book she’s written. I keep checking to see if she’s releasing another novel any time soon. When I read The Last Child by John Hart, I couldn’t stop reading until I finished. I just had to know what was going to happen next. I also thoroughly enjoyed The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and the success she’s receiving from her first book is very admirable to say the least. Can you imagine having your first book become such a success? That’s what happened to my character, Danielle. It’s funny because I was given The Help as a gift in 2009, but I didn’t get around to reading it until a couple months ago, and the only reason I started reading it then was because I didn’t want to see the movie before I read the book. But as I was reading the book I kept wondering what took me so long to start reading it in the first place, because that’s how much I enjoyed it.
Laura, I wanted to thank you for reviewing my latest novel, Remember Me, and for extending yet another opportunity to meet the readers of your blog through this interview. Both have truly meant a lot.
LAG: Thank-you Cheryl! I throughly enjoyed Remember Me and am more than happy to spread the word about what a great book it is. I look forward to reading more of your books in the future! Thank-you for your thoughtful answers to my questions, you've given me more than one item to think about!