Saturday, 30 September 2017

Diana talks to Christy K Robinson - author, editor, organist and jam maker extraordinaire!

I am sure that you are tired of being asked the usual questions that would be interviewers ask authors, so hopefully this interview is an interview with a difference and I have come up with some unusual questions!

Christy K Robinson is author of the books:
We Shall Be Changed (2010) Inspiration
Mary Dyer Illuminated (2013) Vol. 1 of biographical novel
Mary Dyer: For Such a Time as This (2014) Vol. 2 of biographical novel
The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport (2014) Nonfiction, topical, 17th century
Effigy Hunter (2015) Nonfiction, travelogue, medieval history, genealogy
Anne Hutchinson, American Founding Mother (2017) Nonfiction, topical, 17th century

First things first. I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!
“Christy, we’d love to employ you as one of our editors here at [magazine or book publishing company in California] at a decent salary, and offer you three weeks’ paid vacation every year in UK or Europe. What do you say?”  
“Heck, yeah! I can start last week.”
And then I could still research and write, teach piano to three or four kids a week, grow some veggies, and play keyboards for churches, but for fun, not scratching out a living.

If your latest book (Effigy Hunter) was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
I have actually mapped out Effigy Hunter as a PBS show, with a reporter (not me) doing stand-up shots in various cathedrals or ruined abbeys around the UK and Europe. I need to find commercial sponsors like travel agencies and airlines, a producer, video crew, etc., and I’ll happily write the scripts.

As for my fiction and non-fiction set in the 17th century, I’d love to see a multi-year TV series between England and New England about the first founders—not of the United States in 1770s, but of the founders in the 1630s. Their issues still resonate today. Lead role? This world needs more Colin Firths in it.

What made you choose this genre?
First, I’ve been a history lover since I was in primary grades, and then I subscribed to archaeology magazines for years. I helped my chronically ill mother with family genealogy in the 70s, and did a lot of it on my own after she passed. I created a six-by-nine-foot pedigree chart that hangs on my wall, and I stuck laser-print headshots of every ancestor I could find, next to their name. Like millions of other people, I can trace my lines back to some important people, and books had photos of their effigies, so they got copied and stuck onto the chart. Then I finally earned enough mad money to book my trips to UK and Europe, and after much research and not a few hunches, I became an Effigy Hunter myself. I passed on most of the touristy sites, but looked up old abbeys, country churches, and cathedrals. In my professional life, I’ve been a book and magazine editor since my university degree, so nonfiction and a topical format, rather than a character-driven plot, is my forte.  Even my novels are as close to truth as I can make them.

It’s difficult to assign a genre to Effigy Hunter, as it’s a locator and description of nearly a thousand effigies in the UK and Europe, plus stories about some of the people memorialized in stone. It’s travelogue, history, genealogy, photos, and a bit of a romp, as one reviewer put it. A search of the internet, Amazon, and various booksellers reveals that this is a unique book—nothing like it.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
If I’m working on a historical novel, I only need for characters to be born during my timeline! And in my non-fiction, I only require that they be dead (so there’s a burial place to write about).

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!) you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
Yes, in research for my biographical novels on Mary Dyer, I found that one of my secondary characters had a sister who was a transvestite. She was baptized a female, then disappeared from records (except for her portrait as a young man), then was buried as a woman with her same birth name, not a married name. She came from a very famous family in the mid-17th century, and I think they supported her and allowed her to live as a man. I’d like to make her a heroine/hero against child-traffickers, which was as terrible then as it is now. I do have two villains in mind, who were Puritan preachers as well as scoundrels. She never had children, but her siblings had descendants, one of whom is currently a member of the House of Lords. I’ve written to him several times, but no answer. I can’t afford time off my self-employment, or the travel expense, to go back to UK and sort out details.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
Conscious. By nine years old, I’d turn in school reports as if they were articles in a newspaper. No one taught me that. I just did it. Then the teacher published one of them on the purple mimeograph machine in the school office, and I knew I had a future in writing. I was a teen reporter for Arizona’s largest newspapers during my last two years of high school, and hoped for a career in journalism, either newspaper or magazines. My mother was my best writing coach, and she’d have me study an encyclopedia article, then rewrite it using a thesaurus. The best advice from a professor? Write to a specific audience, and even better, a face. That helped develop my “voice” as a writer. Editing and writing newsletters, magazines, websites, and other short-form was easy and fun, but writing fiction came very late. I have a vivid imagination, but I dread just making up a story.

Marmite? Love it or hate it?
Neither love nor hate. It’s OK. The real question is: Christy’s homemade fruit jams—merely delicious, or crack?  

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
Nope. No sound track. No favorite pair of jammies. No alcohol. But it’s almost impossible to write unless it’s after 9pm. I can research any time, but writing won’t happen earlier than that.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
I promise not to answer, except that I am never-married and childless.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
Historical research, digging deep in libraries and archives. *shivers*

Coffee or tea?
Depends on the country. Tea in the UK because your coffee is too strong, and your tea is smooth and mellow (Yorkshire Gold for me). Coffee in the US. My parents were from Minnesota, and Minnesotans are born with coffee in their circulatory system, so...

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
I have a rough layout in a Word document, and a detailed, multi-column timeline in Excel, and expand from there. I’ve been a magazine and newsletter editor since 1982, so I project several months ahead of today, and I’m always thinking of what will interest the reader: anecdotes that fit the facts, images, recent news that correlates to historical events, etc. 

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
Comic Sans. (Kidding! I hate Comic Sans. May the fleas of a thousand camels infest the armpits of the designer of Comic Sans.) Georgia is very readable. My editing clients lately have preferred Calibri in their manuscripts, but it’s dangerously similar to Comic Sans.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
The personal papers of the (real) characters of my biographical novels. I have high-resolution images of four of their business letters, but I want their notes, personal letters, a journal, the family Bible, etc. I don’t know if they exist, but I suspect there might be some detailed reports written by Mary Dyer’s husband, to Spymaster Thurloe in the 1650s, that would be in the British Library. Online, and transcribed, I believe I have found a letter from Cromwell to William Dyer, though Dyer’s name is not attached—the situation is unique to him.

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!?
Nope. My biographical novels were as close to the actual events and timelines as I could make them. But digging up stories for nonfiction Effigy Hunter was fun because I had to wonder: what grave sins did these men commit, that they had to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and pay for some big ol’ churches to be built to get themselves busted out of purgatory?

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
C’mon, I’m still researching my novels published in 2013 and 2014! (For my blogs, I tell myself.) As for research trips, yes, I’ve been to UK five times, and they were all about research—because research is fun. I took hundreds of photos on those trips that became valuable resources when I finally got around to writing Effigy Hunter. I put together a book trailer with those photos.

Also, I travelled to Boston and Newport in New England for concentrated research. I was gratified to find that my book-learnin’ and Google Maps street views were true to life, according to natives of the areas. I live in Phoenix, Arizona, thousands of miles away.  

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
Well, there was one fellow integral to the story that I tried to research, but he was so odious, even to his descendants, that only one man in 400 years wrote a very apologetic biography of him. He was still alive at the end of my novel because he killed my heroine.  However, I did carefully research the others, even the villains, so they wouldn’t be flat cartoons, but three-dimensional human beings. And of course, in the nonfiction Effigy Hunter, they all died. Every one. Not one lived to tell the tales.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
Lines are totally blurred in genealogy websites. Enthusiastic hobbyists will post and propagate all manner of mistakes and suppositions. However, I trust peer-reviewed journals, modern history books (but not Victorian ones), and census or military records. In some cases, I found information and made connections that no one in 400 years had thought of—but they happened. I wrote them into my books, and now, several years later, the fact/fiction border is blurry to me.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I’m such a nerd. Straight history far more than historical fiction. Biography. Science and political news.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
Whatever Indiana Jones would drink. I mean, Effigy Hunter is adventure travel.

Last but not least... favourite author?
I could give you my “least favorite author” if you hadn’t typed that ellipsis in there. But for a favorite, I think I’m going to go with the apostle, St. John the Beloved. (That handily avoids playing faves with the authors I’m privileged to hang out with.) I learned that people cannot be told enough times that they are loved. Loved by humans, loved by pets, loved by God, or loved by the “Universe.” They need to hear it. And John the apostle said it a lot. By the way, Diana, I love you and your humor.

More about Christy K Robinson, including her history blogs, at

© Diana Milne January 2017 © Christy K Robinson 2017


  1. "I hate Comic Sans"? Seriously??? Hahahaha

  2. Loved this interview - Christy, if you are as energetic in your books as you are here, I have to read your books!

    1. I am at that. Effigy Hunter is fun because I had fun doing the research, and though I'm a devout person in my personal life, I can be irreverent (but factual) about the folks who have been dust for 700 years. In my Dyer books of the 17th century, I lived in their heads for two years while writing, and was hopping with excitement when I found their original letters in archives.

      My books can be found on my Amazon author page, . I hope you enjoy them.