by C.J. Darlington
Robin Shope Interview
"I read Island of the Blue Dolphins over and over again all summer long. I loved it so much and yes, it moved me to tears. I still have that book. The cover is bent. The pages are dog eared, even has my smudged finger prints and ten-year-old tears." -- Robin Shope
Robin is the Special Education Coordinator at the Denton County Juvenile Justice System for at risk kids by day. By night she is a romance and mystery writer. Holding four certifications in education, she and her husband Rick are former missionaries and once pastored a country church for six years in Illinois. She has been married for over thirty years and has two grown children, Kimberly and Matthew.
C.J.: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Robin: I decided to be a writer when my 5th grade composition teacher read aloud the best class essays, which didn’t include mine. The gauntlet was thrown. I considered it a challenge. I love challenges. Ms. E. held those prized papers in her hands as though they were jewels. Some of the stories made us cry, others made us laugh. Voila! I realized the power of words. I wanted that power. Of course I became frustrated when no matter how hard I reworked my paper, it was never read to my peers (writing rejections came early). However, instead of giving up, it made me more determined. That determination has served me well all my life.
The next year I changed schools. I worked weeks on my first composition before handing it in to the teacher, who I just knew would see my talent. This time I was accused of copying it from a book because “no one your age can write that well.” I counted that F as a compliment.
Fast forward to today. I am still in touch with many friends from those primary years. Recently a class reunion was held and all the teachers were invited…but no one knew how to contact my former English teacher. I am sure she wouldn’t remember me but what a joy it would have been to hand her an autographed copy of one of my books. Anyway, that teacher created a writer in me who loves to tell stories.
Were books a big part of your life growing up? If so, what books would you say influenced you most as a child?
I hate to say this, but I didn’t care to go outside when I was young. There were bugs out there. Spiders, too. We lived in Chicago but summered on Lake Delavan in Wisconsin. And let me tell you, there is nothing like a water spider. I shudder just recalling the size, colors, hair, and the huge webs I invariably ran into all the time. There was another outdoor hazardous object called oak trees. Acorns always bonked me on my head leaving welts. I was safer sitting on a screened in porch where I read Island of the Blue Dolphins. I read it over and over again all summer long. I loved it so much and yes, it moved me to tears. I still have that book. The cover is bent. The pages are dog eared, even has my smudged finger prints and ten-year-old tears.
Your latest novel, The Christmas Edition, is a departure from your usual mysteries. I hear there’s a story behind your deciding to write a romance. Care to share? :)
I do love writing mysteries and since I work with the court systems in education, I finally had a litany of willing experts at my disposal. About a year ago at this time, a change came over me. With so much sadness in the world, I found myself reaching for romantic comedies at the video store. I always felt good after watching one. I thought it might be fun to write a romance book. I went to the library and looked up best-selling authors and hauled two armloads of books home with me. I read and studied the genre for weeks, wondering how to say ‘I love you’ through actions, emotions, and thoughts without using those words. Thus, seeds for The Christmas Edition took root. At first it was titled The Christmas Gift, but my editor told me to think of new titles since that one was taken. Then the whole idea of an edition series bloomed. The Valentine Edition comes out Jan. 16, 2009 and in 2010 look for The Easter Edition and The Harvest Edition.
You’ve said on your blog that love is “a transformational power that can make us reach to the greatest pinnacle of our life or it can be our fatal flaw. This single emotion has a depth that is limitless.” Do you think this is why the romance genre is the most popular genre in publishing? Why?
I do think romance is the most popular genre. It is the one area that has consistent highest sales ratings. I think it comes from our primary need to love and to be loved. It's important to be understood, listened to, appreciated. Even when I write mysteries I include romance as a strong second line. I think many of us prefer the stories that include a personal element.
What was the hardest part about writing The Christmas Edition or its sequel The Valentine Edition coming in 2009?
I wanted to keep the second book fresh and unique while still connecting it to the first one with the same setting and characters. The Christmas Edition is about lost love, hope for the future, changing dreams mid-stream and saving a family run business. I wrote it from both the female and male POV, which was new for me but something I really enjoyed.
The Valentine Edition is about a bright journalism major whose dream job is working for the Chicago Tribune. To get experience, she reluctantly accepts a job with The Turtle Creek Newspaper. I wrote this one from two females POV. Unlike book 1, in this book the reader is let in on the secret. Only the heroine is kept in the dark. It makes you want to warn her not to trust that person or go into that room! (Music swells)
Several of your novels feature a small town newspaper and/or reporter. Is there perhaps newspaper work in your background or are you drawn to reporting for a different reason?
My real (happy) life began when at the age of thirteen we moved from the city to the country. Delavan was only about seven thousand in population and I think it’s still about that now. Only when Illinois residents migrate north during the summer months does the population triple.
I like the idea of giving my characters a cause to unite them. Newspapers are filled with fodder for story ideas. Everyday there is something new from the classifieds to the metro section, to the front page headlines. Okay, sports, too. It covers all the genres! My mystery series with Susan Wales had finished, but I didn’t feel done with the newspaper aspect. I felt I had more stories to tell about a small town newspaper. The challenge was how to tell it.
I was fascinated to find out your Dad knew Babe Ruth, as well as other famous folks. Did you get to meet any of them yourself or were they before your time?
Yep, to name a few more, my Dad was also good friends with Jack Dempsey heavyweight champion and Charles Schultz of the Peanuts cartoons. Every year at Christmas we received a personal card from him that he only produced for friends and family. I wish I still had those! Other names you may recognize are Laurel and Hardy. They made a movie promo at my dad’s restaurant, The Ivanhoe Restaurant. I had some stills framed on my wall for a while but now they are in the family album. Moving along to someone more modern is Dustin Hoffman. He made his first movie at The Ivanhoe in the 1960s.
The Ivanhoe used to be promoted as The Romantic Ivanhoe. It was built like a castle and the inside was Sherwood Forest. I played in this wonderful establishment on weekends, fancying myself a princess at the time. The Ivanhoe was badly damaged from a fire in the late seventies. The city sold it and now it’s a Binny’s.
The Ivanhoe (Binny’s) is in the latest Batman movie starring Keith Ledger.
My older brother had a prose theater next door to the restaurant and I was blessed to work summer stock during high school. No surprise my minor in college was theater. When I was little I wished to be a movie star or a missionary. Sometimes it’s just best to leave these things to God.
You’ve explained in your bio that at an early age you became very much aware of good versus evil. Was there a particular defining moment you can look to that especially taught you this?
I grew up with an alcoholic father. It was normal to me because I didn’t know anything else. I was shocked in middle school when I noticed other fathers didn’t drink and then disappear on their families for weeks.
One Christmas my father gave my mother a diamond watch. On the back was engraved I will always love you, Harold. That meant so much to my sweet, Christian mother. A month later the bill arrived. It was for two watches. Turned out my father had a girlfriend on the side. My mother was devastated. I felt betrayed. He had cheated on us all as far as I was concerned. We all loved him so much, and it didn’t mean anything to him. If I had my way I would have knocked on every door in Chicago until I found that woman and told her how I hated her. I was ten at the time. The memory still hurts. It’s part of my writing.
I brought the sting of that betrayal to The Valentine Edition. My heroine had to grapple with a similar situation in her life. Mistrust spilled over into all her male relationships. Thus my words you quoted earlier, love is a transformational power that can make us reach to the greatest pinnacle of our life or it can be our fatal flaw. This single emotion has a depth that is limitless, came from this book.
We are shaped by our experiences and thus shape the stories we write by the same measure. Two big reasons I married my husband were that he was a Christian and would always sit beside me in church, and he would never cheat on me. And there would only be Christmas gifts for me.
How did you yourself come to know the Lord?
My mother was a Christian. Every Sunday we went down the block to Sunday school. I always wanted to stay for church so mother would let me sit with an elderly neighbor while she took my brother and sister home for breakfast. I loved sitting in those hard old wooden pews and looking up at the stained glass windows. It felt so good and safe in there. I think it helped me write Joe’s conversion scene for The Christmas Edition. My husband, who is a former minister, told me that that particular scene was chilling and it moved him.
I remained close to God until something happened to me in college. I was assaulted and as a result blamed God for not keeping me safe. It took me years to find my way back to Him - but I did. Again, I use it as another layer in my writing.
What was the most memorable experience you had as a missionary?
My most remarkable experience was when Rick and I were in Tehran, Iran back in the late 70s, right before the Shah fled the country. We were on our way to India to hold a crusade when the airport was shut down.
Americans were being shot on the street. For safety reasons, we were taken to The Commodore Hotel where other Americans, from Bell Helicopter, were staying while desperately trying to find a way out of the country. The hotel was surrounded by military tanks to keep us safe. Businesses on both sides of the hotel had been burned to the ground.
It was Sunday. Go'n to church day. Rick said we had to go church because that is what you do on Sundays…no matter that there was a little revolution going on! In the middle of the service I had to use the restroom, which was in the basement, underneath the street. After washing my hands I tried the door. It was locked. I tried it again. The knob didn’t budge. I could hear gun fire on the street. Somewhere people were shouting my name and I hollered back but no one heard me. I began laughing because the whole scenario was kind of surreal…guns going off…people screaming and running for cover….and here I was locked in the bathroom of a foreign country. I prayed for help and then tried the door one more time. It sprung open just like that!
I found my husband and we held hands, running back the eight blocks to our hotel. As soon as we got into the lobby someone said there was one plane leaving the airport heading for India, just where we needed to go. When we got to the airport the plane was waiting for us on the tarmac ready for take off. With suitcases in hand, we ran up the back steps of the plane.
When we were in Afghan airspace, Russian migs appeared at both our wings and ordered the pilot to set the jet down at their military base in the desert. If not, then they would shoot us down. After a safe landing, everyone spent the night in a military barracks while the plane was searched. The following day we were allowed to go and made it into India where we held Christian crusades.
Now in business, Rick still takes the time to go on yearly missions trips but without me. I married adventure. He married a chicken.
What would you love to write someday but haven’t yet?
I would love to write an introspective novel about a woman’s journey of self fulfillment…not a mystery, not a romance. A journey.
Do you ever find it challenging to head to your keyboard every day? What do you do when the words don’t seem to come?
When the words don’t seem to come I try to edit what I have written. I work fifty hour weeks so I do not, cannot, write each day. I write like crazy when inspiration hits, and when I am on a deadline.
Where is your favorite place to write?
My favorite place to
write is in a lake cottage all alone by myself, but since I do not have
a lake cottage, and I am never alone, I write at home
in my dining room looking out at horses and cows standing on open pastureland.
I share computer space with my editor-n-chief (pictured at left).
We’d love to have a sneak peak into your next novel Wildcard. What can we expect?
The Valentine Edition is released January 16th 2009 and it’s a wonderful second book to the Turtle Creek Edition Series. But I am glad you brought up Wildcard. It is a return to my mystery writing roots with a strong romance line. It was so much fun to write! It releases early March 2009.
Blurb: What would happen if someone secured a microchip that could be manipulated to give his or her candidate the edge to win the next presidential election? Not enough votes for a landslide, but just enough to put their candidate over the top in a decisive win. The Wildcards are a group of maverick agents who want to take over the outcome of the next election for President of the United States. During Ivy Dillon’s last week as a Washington Intern, she and Ms. Geneen Waters, the secretary to the President of the United States, overhear a conversation about voting machines and missing software. Months later Ms. Waters body is found floating in the Potomac River. FBI Special Agent Ian Serby, who swears he will give his life to protect her, takes Ivy into protective custody. Ian is smart, sexy and seems to have a hidden agenda all his own. Will Ivy follow her heart and believe what Ian tells her about trying to stop the Wildcards or is he actually a member of the Wildcards?
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
My husband and I married in June 1977 and honeymooned at a Bible Camp in Virginia. The only vacant room they had was without an air conditioner and without a private bathroom. The twin bed mattress was so full of holes and wires that I slept on the floor.
My favorite candy in the world is Fanny Mae's creams.
When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?
Spend time with my family. I am so blessed to have my husband and our children, now grown. I just love being around them.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
Hummus and veggies!
Three things always found in your refrigerator:
Leftovers, milk, and fruit. (But I so would love to find that chocolate)
You’re next in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
Green tea latte.
What’s left unchecked in your “goals for life” list?
I am still best friends with my college roommate. We have a bucket list. One item is to see Phantom of the Opera on Broadway in NYC.
When was the last time you cried?
A few weeks ago when I saw a dear friend I hadn’t seen in a while.
Three words that best describe you:
Happy, hardworking, curious.
What’s currently in your CD player/iPod?
What If It All
Goes Right by Melissa Lawson
C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.