Carolina De Robertis – Author Interview

It isn’t surprising that a creative soul would find solace and pleasure in the written word. Carolina grew up in three countries but she has always known she wanted to be a writer. She is celebrating the success of her first book (The Invisible Mountain) with her partner and nine month son in sunny Oakland, California and is hard at work on her second. Please enjoy getting to know this beautiful and talented author.

Moe: When did you ‘know’ you were a writer?

Carolina de Robertis

photo credit: Joanne Chan

Carolina De Robertis: When I was ten, my family moved to the United States and I tore through the Louisa May Alcott shelf in the public library, then vowed to dedicate my first book to her. I already loved reading and writing before that, but this was the experience that brought writing into full focus as my most cherished dream.

Moe: What inspires you?

Carolina De Robertis: The urge to express, however fleetingly or inadequately, the intricate, incandescent, improbable experience of being alive. The fact that books have fed and changed and opened me throughout my life, and I can think of few more humbling honors than to give back to the world of books a miniscule fraction of what it’s given me. The knowledge that the world is alive with stories—that people themselves are alive with stories—and all too often they go untold unless someone dedicates herself to the work of telling.

Moe: Every writer has a method to their writing. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

Carolina De Robertis: I like to write in long swaths of time, because the longer I write, the deeper I sink into the world of the book. I don’t answer the phone or talk to anyone or acknowledge the existence of my email. On the best days, I emerge feeling that I’ve discovered amazing and unexplored terrains. And when the story takes over and reveals itself to you under your own hands, when the words seem to flow from a place that is both within and beyond you, it is possible to wrap up a writing day with the thought, today, I have truly lived.

Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?

Carolina De Robertis: My first novel took eight years, all told, though I had a full draft four years in. My second novel is going much faster. I do both—write forward with an unbridled sense of adventure, and return to cull and sculpt and shape coherence out of the wildness.

Moe: When you sit down to write is any thought given to the genre or type of readers?

Carolina De Robertis: I care deeply about readers—I am one myself, after all—but I don’t think about readers while I write. I keep my focus on what wants to be written, on what seems to be coming forward from that mysterious entity we sometimes call the Muse.

Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?

Carolina De Robertis: I write freely. If I planned everything in advance and then adhered to it, I would bore myself—and then why should I expect anyone else to be anything but bored?

Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?

Carolina De Robertis: My first novel, The Invisible Mountain, is set in Uruguay and spans 90 years, so I traveled there three times in the years during which I wrote it. I did a tremendous amount of research.

Moe: Where do your characters come from? How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters?

Carolina De Robertis: The main characters in my first novel are loosely based on my great-grandparents, grandparents, and people of my parents’ generation in Uruguay. Once a real person provides the initial spark for a character, however, I find that fiction at some point takes over and makes them their own. As for myself: I continue to find parts of myself in my own characters, where I least expect them. This never fails to astonish me.

Moe: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?

Carolina De Robertis: I keep going. I keep showing up to the page, to freewriting, to the writing space, even if nothing is coming. I read books that inspire me, that open the creative fountain with the luminosity of their prose. I can’t stay blocked for long after an afternoon with Woolf, Joyce, Saramago, Borges, García Márquez, Lispector, Morrison, Faulkner…

Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?

Carolina De Robertis: 1) The publishing landscape has changed dramatically in recent years. 2) A huge amount of behind-the-scenes work, with many gifted hands involved, goes into getting a book into the hands of readers. 3) The publishing world is continuing to change dramatically.

Moe: What is your latest release about?

Carolina De Robertis: The Invisible Mountain traverses ninety years of Uruguayan history and culture through the eyes of three generations of women. From rural gaucho life and Italian immigrant experiences at the turn of the 20th century, to the revolutionary 60’s and the dictatorship that followed, I was hungry to explore and understand the legacies of this nation that is part of my heritage, a heritage both intimate and distant as I’ve never actually lived there. Having grown up in three other countries, writing this book was a way to write my way back into a connection with Uruguay—as well to connect with the grandparents and great-grandparents whose stories I’d listened to throughout childhood, and on whose lives the characters are based. I believe that novels can do this: that they can stretch your world open or knit it back together, or both, all at the same time.

Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

Carolina De Robertis: I read voraciously and obsessively. I also love to find new ways to make my nine-month-old son laugh.

Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?

Carolina De Robertis: Keep going. Go for broke. Follow your most ambitious, absurd, and spectacular visions, and trust that they have come to you for a reason. Don’t be afraid to work your butt off. Don’t be afraid to have fun—exhilarating fun—while you write. Read and read and read, especially authors whom you admire or who push you to think about literature in new ways. Don’t be afraid of messy drafts; that’s where the vitality comes in. Believe in Muses, however you might understand them. Make the time, steal the time, commit to the time. Get support, trust the process, or don’t trust the process but don’t get off the train. Whatever you do, keep going.

Moe: If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

Carolina De Robertis: I almost became a psychotherapist—I spent five years as a full-time rape crisis counsellor, and grew tremendously in bearing witness to people’s most intimate and wrenching stories. I could also have become a musician; I used to sing in choirs, play guitar and doumbek, and write my own songs, until my first novel demanded all of my attention. If it weren’t for writing I would make more music; but I have absolutely no regrets.

Moe: What is your favourite word?

Carolina De Robertis: Ineffable. Or: ecstasy. (And don’t they lead to each other, after all?)

Originally published 12/6/2009 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.

Visit Carolina De Robertis’s official website.

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