Creativity is a flame.

I’ve often told people, and experienced myself, the way that flame can be fanned and strengthened by some people and damped and stifled by others. Keeping the flame alive is something every artist has to do, and it’s so much easier when surrounded by other people keeping their flames going.

But some people aren’t just fellow flame carriers, their hand protecting a wispy and delicate wick. They’re torches themselves. They pass, and sparks fly off and ignite others.

I met someone like this in the most wonderful way—she bought Blood Orchids randomly, and loved it. Being the generous and flame-fanning person she is, she referred me to her agent, who read and enjoyed all three finished Lei books, and has offered me representation and another shot at selling the Lei Crime Series to a publisher.

That is wonderful and I’m apprehensive and excited. I’m trying some things you’re going to be hearing about in the days ahead to give Orchids more exposure and sales numbers. But that’s not the real excitement I have. It’s in finding a friend like this, whom I connect with on so many levels.

Finding a new friend is like a needle in a haystack—it is the “luck” you hear about, and you can never, never have too many. I have many wonderful writer friends, and I treasure each of them. But a few, a precious few, really challenge us. By standing a step above us, reaching down a hand to help, they take our work to the next level.

They are creative DYNAMITE.

Let me introduce you to some dynamite named Holly Robinson. She is a professional writer with a published memoir, the delightfully quirky Memoirs of a Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter, a fabulous self-published women’s fiction Sleeping Tigers, and another novel coming out from Penguin in May, The Wishing Hill.

Holly’s warmth, generosity, talent and passion have ignited my writing and opened doors for its future. Holly is a creative torch, and her talent and kindness are catching.

Holly Robinson

Welcome to my blog, Holly!

What kinds of creative friendships have you had, and how have they affected how you interact with other writers?

You're so sweet to invite me to your blog, Toby.  If I could just figure out a way to transport myself out of chilly New England and visit you in Hawaii, this would be the perfect friendship…

I know just what you mean about there being something unique in a creative friendship such as ours, one where two people find so much inspiration in each other that the energy crackles red hot.  I picture a mini fireworks display sparking over the nation every time you and I even exchange an email.

I've had a few truly creative friendships, and I treasure each of them.  I was very lucky early on in my career to make friends with the award-winning novelist Susan Straight.  We've been fanning each other's creative flames for 25 years despite the fact that we live on opposite coasts.  Sometimes this takes the form of exchanging manuscripts and critiquing them; other times, it just means talking about books we love, our kids, or even our dogs.  She has helped show me that there is creativity in everything we do, whether we're writing a novel or cooking dinner for people we love.  It's just a matter of taking risks and opening your heart.  Since then, I've found other creative friendships not just with other writers, but with painters, sculptors, and weavers as well—it's amazing how inspiring it can be to work across mediums.  Their generosity has helped me be generous toward others.

What are some of the risks a person runs in being a “creative torch”?

Occasionally—very occasionally—you meet someone who wants to douse your flame—either out of envy or out of need.  Once you recognize what's happening, it's essential to run in the other direction.

I've had an almost mystical experience of the right people coming into my life at the right time to move me along in my creative development, and I've been one of those people for others. Has that happened to you?

Definitely!  The summer before senior year in college, I was house sitting for a professor who lived across the street from a woman writer.  The writer would send her kids off to camp, then sit on her back deck and write.  She looked so at peace with herself, yet completely energized as well.  Later, this woman became my professor in graduate school and got me through all seven volumes of Proust, never minding that I had a scientist's training and knew nothing about literature.  She made me believe in myself—and in the possibility of a writer's life.

Because I had a science background, I opted to pursue an MFA in creative writing so that I could read some of the classics and offer my stories for critique in workshops.  Some of those workshops were horrible, as people shredded stories (including mine) without mercy.  But I met Susan and another writer, the poet Laurie Kutchins, in my MFA program, and both of them not only championed my writing, but led me to California, where I ultimately set part of Sleeping Tigers.  Later, when I was a tired single mom and despairing of ever publishing a book, I was lucky enough to meet another poet, Emily Ferrara, whose circumstances were similar to mine.  We vacationed together with our kids and eventually began carving out mini writing retreats—she's the only one I know besides me whose idea of a good time is writing for ten hours a day in a remote Vermont cabin!

(Uh. That's my idea of a good time too, Holly! Glad to know I'm not alone)

Now I count a handful of fantastic women writers among my closest, most creative friendships, and we keep each other going through having our work rejected or accepted.  Most importantly, we help each other see the best in our own writing.

What's your secret to being a successful writer in this changing marketplace?

Ignore the marketplace while you're writing.  Then put yourself out there when you've got something finished, and just keep knocking on doors.

Sleeping Tigers is very much a novel of a woman deciding to fully occupy her life, and experience it deeply. What situations have you had that awoke the “sleeping tiger” within you, and made that a message you wanted to share with others?

I came up with that metaphor because, like the main character, I had breast cancer.  Writing this book helped me understand the complex emotions I felt when, as the mother of young children, I faced the prospect of mortality and discovered that, given how brief our time might be on this planet, each of us must embrace every possibility for living a rich and worthy life.

Is there anything you want to add on the subject of fanning creativity into flame in yourself and others?

In addition to having companion torches burning around you—I picture yours as one of those giant Tiki torches on the beach, Toby!–I would say that fanning creativity in yourself often demands that you seek out silence.

Sometimes it's only by separating yourself from the daily noise and crowds that you can find where you've dropped your embers and gently start rekindling them again.

To fan creativity in others requires helping them not only find the right words, but explore their own hearts, so that they can freely, joyfully transform their imaginations into great stories.

Thanks so much, Holly! Check out her book, Sleeping Tigers, here:

Jordan O'Malley has everything she ever wanted: a job she loves, a beautiful home, and a dependable boyfriend. When her life unravels after a breast cancer scare, Jordan decides to join her wildest childhood friend in San Francisco and track down her drifter brother, Cam, who harbors secrets of his own. When Cam suddenly flees the country, Jordan follows, determined to bring him home. Her journey takes her to the farthest reaches of majestic Nepal, where she encounters tests–and truths–about love and family that she never could have imagined. Funny, heartbreaking, and suspenseful, Sleeping Tigers reminds us all that sometimes it's better to follow your heart instead of a plan.

Visit Holly's website for more information!



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