Author Robyn Harding on the dark corners of high school life, bad hair days, and pain-free writing.
By: Margaret MacKinnon-Cash Published August 11, 2017
Vancouver writer Robyn Harding’s new book The Party hit bookshelves (and e-Readers) this summer. The novel tells the tale of a 16th birthday party that spirals out of control. I had the privilege of promoting several of Robyn’s previous books (The Journal of Mortifying Moments, The Secret Diaries of a Soccer Mom, and Mom, Will This Chicken Give Me Man Boobs?) and, as a mother of a soon-to-be teenage girl, I was eager to catch up with Robyn and learn more about this latest novel.
MMC: What inspired you to write The Party?
RH: My own teenaged children. My husband and I had to discuss substance use with our kids and set boundaries. But I learned that many parents still follow the adage: “They’re going to drink anyway, I’d rather they do it at home.” I started to think about the risks of this parenting choice. What if something terrible happened to a child who was drinking in your home? Or what if your child was hurt while drinking at a friend’s house? How would this affect everyone involved: the parents, the kids, the entire community?
MMC: The book deals with issues of peer pressure and bullying – some of the darker corners of high school life. Do we see any of your high school experience reflected in the book?
RH: Thankfully, I never experienced anything as cruel or devastating as what takes place in The Party, but I relate to Hannah Sanders. As a teenager, I did well at school and followed my parents’ rules, but I flirted on the periphery of trouble. I was never quite brave enough to be a full blown bad girl (I was too scared of my mom), but I wanted to be one! Hannah is not unlike I was, she just took it too far. With devastating results . . . .
MMC: I’ve been to the Bay-area several times, and love it. What compelled you to set the book in San Francisco?
RH: When I wrote my first novel, back in 2003, I set it in Vancouver where I live. I submitted the manuscript to every literary agent in Canada, but they all passed. I submitted to agents in New York, and I got one! My agent suggested I relocate the story to an American city because (sadly) it is much easier to sell a book to a U.S. publisher if it is set in America. Now, I often set my books in U.S. cities. I pick one that feels like Vancouver – the weather, the lifestyle, the politics. I’ve spent some time in San Francisco, and have friends who live there. I also think it is a beautiful and aspirational locale.
MMC: Have your children read the book? If so, what was their reaction?
RH: My kids are tough customers! I gave them The Fault in Our Stars for Christmas one year. I’d heard so many good things, but they hated it! They found it overly sentimental (so did I, when I finally read it). So, I was a bit nervous to give The Party to my kids. My daughter took the book on a school trip to Japan. After a few days, she texted me: “It’s good, Mom.” Phew! My son just read it, too. He really liked it, but he said the characters made him feel angry.
MMC: What was the hardest scene to write?
RH: The scene where Ronni Monroe reaches the end of her rope and attempts suicide was tough. I didn’t want to write it, but I knew it was what the story needed. As a mom, it was even harder writing it from Lisa Monroe’s perspective.
MMC: Where there alternate endings you considered?
Yes! I had wrapped up the story in a neat little bow. Everyone learned a lesson, everyone went on with their lives. But my editor wanted an ending with more edge and a darker twist. So, I rewrote it. It’s a disturbing way to end a book, but I think it works.
MMC: If you could tell your high school self anything, what would it be?
RH: Don’t get that perm!
MMC: Do you create an outline before tackling a book or do just start writing?
RH: I create a rough outline but I allow myself the freedom to stray from it. In the end, the writing always takes over, and the manuscript goes where it needs to go.
MMC: What was the best piece of advice you have been given?
RH: I was lunching with a writer friend, (Eileen Cook), and I was feeling frustrated with the publishing industry. She said, “As writers, the only thing we can control is our writing.” I realized that I needed to evolve as a writer. If I wanted the publishing industry to respond differently, I needed to create different material. I might not have written The Party if not for Eileen’s advice.
MMC: Does writing exhaust you or energize you?
It exhausts me. I love it, but after a few hours of writing, I am drained.
MMC: Where is your favourite place to write?
RH: When I am writing a lot, I suffer from shoulder pain, neck pain, back pain . . . so I move around. In my tiny office, I have a regular desk and a cardboard stand-up desk. I use both for a few hours but often end up with my laptop on the couch in the living room. My favourite place to write is wherever I can do it pain-free.
MMC: What’s next?
RH: I’m working on a novel inspired by Karla Homolka, the serial killer who has served her time and is now a married mother of three, living in a new community. I’m exploring themes of retribution, redemption, and forgiveness. And I’m confronting some hard questions: Can people really change? Do they deserve a second chance? And can you ever outrun your past?
Margaret MacKinnon-Cash is principal of MMC Public Relations, a marketing and communications agency working with authors, publishers, lifestyle clients and socially conscious enterprises. Margaret has managed over 500 publicity campaigns for some of the world’s foremost thinkers, novelists, business and government leaders, media personalities, entertainers, and celebrity chefs. She lives in Vancouver, BC.
Eight authors contemplate the year ahead
Published January 20, 2017
It’s well into January. I’ve now dusted off from a hectic holiday season and the uncharacteristic winter conditions that had us fair weathered Vancouverites shivering and shovelling for weeks on end (so long icy sidewalks!). After the crazy, disheartening year that was 2016, it’s time to begin anew.
Easier said than done, after all today is the US presidential inauguration. However, rather than get lost in doomsday scenarios, I’m focusing on what good the new year may bring. For inspiration, I turned to my literary community and asked a few authors with whom I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years to tell me what they were most hoping for in 2017.
Here you will find expressions of hope and sentiment, optimism, realism and resilience. Just what the doctor ordered.
“I truly wish that the world can find the grace, the humility, the depth and the droll, dry wit of my dear late friend and the hero of us all, Leonard Cohen–to steer us through a life that brings nothing but surprises and curious grace notes.”
Pico Iyer, essayist and author of several books including Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk, The Global Soul, Abandon, The Man Withiin My Head, and The Art of Stillness.
“2016 left my children frightened for the future. So, for 2017, I offer not a hope or wish, but a commitment: I will help my kids to recognize that the future is a glowing, malleable ball that they hold in their hands right now. Everyone has the ability to form that wonder-filled ball into the shape we want it to be. Fully understanding that simple truth makes every one of us more powerful than any comic book villain or super hero.”
Gail Anderson-Dargatz, author of Spawning Grounds, Turtle Valley, A Rhinestone Button, A Recipe for Bees and The Cure for Death by Lightening. gailanderson-dargatz.ca @AndersonDargatz
“Since my new novel, The Chosen Maiden, set among the dancers of Ballets Russes, will be published in January 2017, I’m hoping it will find its readers. On a less personal note: may wisdom and a spirit of generosity never desert us.“
Eva Stachniak, author of The Chosen Maiden, Empress of the Night, and The Winter Palace. http://www.evastachniak.com @EvaStachniak
“My wish for 2017 is to embrace all the fun, silly, laugh out loud moments and really enjoy them. Because life’s too serious, not to laugh at it with those you love!”
Jennifer Cox, travel writer and author of Around the World in 80 Dates @MissJennifer
“At the end of the coming year, in October 2017, House of Anansi will publish my fourth book, Kids In The Hall: One Dumb Guy, the first authorized biography of the seminal Canadian comedy troupe. It’s an exciting time for me, and I love my life as a writer, musician, and recently, photographer, but as a Canadian with US Citizenship, I am entering the New Year in mortal fear of what Donald Trump and his henchman will do to the America that I have worked so hard to be a part of. My only solace is knowing so many great Americans who are not going to go backwards and certainly not going to go quietly. Peaceful resistance is now a necessity, and it is my singular hope the world stays intact and sanity prevails, but every day will be a call to activism.”
– Paul Myers, author of A Wizard a True Star: Todd Rundgren in the studio and It Ain’t Easy: Long John Baldry and the Birth of the British Blue @pulmyears
“I wish for a moment to catch my breath between new brewery openings so that I can actually update my book, Craft Beer Revolution, and have it be reasonably current. Beyond beer, I wish for continued health and happiness for my family, friends and myself. I predict the new year will be a special one — 2017 is a prime number and 17 is my favourite number to boot. I’m ready for it!”
Joe Wiebe, author of Craft Beer Revolution www.thirstywriter.com @thirstywriter
“My wish for the new year is to witness all our small kindnesses swell into a revolution of radical caring.”
Theo Pauline Nestor, author of Writing Is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding her own Voice (And a Guide to How You Can Too) (Simon & Schuster). Blog: https://writingismydrink.com/ @theopnestor
“In 2017, I hope to continue to help people bridge that gap between eating their traditional North American diet and healthier options with whole foods, plenty of vegetables and flavour, but never compromising taste. It’s the best way to prevent illness and disease.”
Carolyn Hemming, author of Sweet Goodness, Grain Power, Quinoa Revolution, and Quinoa 365 – The Everyday Superfood. http://www.PatriciaandCarolyn.com
May these wishes come true. After all, if there’s one thing 2016 taught us is that anything can happen.
What is on your wish list for 2017?
Margaret MacKinnon-Cash is principal of MMC Public Relations, a marketing and communications agency working with authors, publishers, lifestyle clients and socially conscious enterprises. Margaret has managed over 500 publicity tours for some of the world’s foremost thinkers, novelists, business and government leaders, media personalities, entertainers, and celebrity chefs.