Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sleeping Tigers by Holly Robinson (Author Interview / Book Review)

Jersey Girl Book Reviews welcomes Holly Robinson, author of Sleeping Tigers!

Author Interview

Welcome to Jersey Girl Book Reviews, Holly! 

Before we get to the interview, can you tell our reader a little bit about yourself?

Thank you so much for including me on your wonderful blog! I guess the first thing most readers might want to know is that I am a failed doctor - as in, I headed off to college to study biology and become a physician. However, during my last semester of college, I took a creative writing elective to fulfill a requirement, and got so hooked on writing that I decided to put off medical school for a year. I promised myself that, if I didn't become famous, or at least published, in that one year, I would be sensible and go back to my first career plan. Ha! I became so addicted to writing that I couldn't dream of doing anything else. My husband and I have five children, and we live in a 1700's New England Colonial that's only a little bit haunted.

How long have you been a writer?

Professionally, about 25 years. But when I look back on my life, I realized that there was never a time that I was NOT writing - I kept diaries even as a young child. You know,the kind of diaries with locks that your brother loves to pick! 

Do you have a day job, or is being an author your career? 

My day job is freelance writing. Writing nonfiction is a very different thing from writing fiction, though - more like doing crossword puzzles, whereas writing fiction is a bit like making up your own songs in the shower.

What inspired you to become a writer? Describe your journey as a writer.

My biggest inspiration, truthfully, has always been reading other people's books. As a child, I was hooked on any books having to do with horses, like My Friend Flicka, and on a mystery series featuring a girl detective named Trixie Belden. But I never knew any writers growing up, so I didn't know it was possible to "become" one. To me, books were just magic vehicles that could transport me to other places. I always wrote, though - I was a prolific diary keeper - and, when I took a writing class in college, the words just started pouring out. Writing could absorb my attention like nothing else I did. I first started working as a freelance writer when my oldest son was born, because I wanted to stay home for a year or so, but the freelancing was so much fun that I never went back to working for other people again. I have been very fortunate to succeed as a magazine writer, so that I can pay the bills and work on my fiction a few spare hours (or minutes) each day. 

Please give a brief description/storyline about Sleeping Tigers.

Sleeping Tigers is about Jordan, a young woman whose health scare turns her life upside down. She ends up leaving her old life behind in search of her mysterious drifter brother, whose own secrets cause him to run away to Nepal. Jordan then makes the decision to track him down and bring him home - a choice that changes her life forever. 

What was the inspiration for this story?

I had a breast cancer scare when my youngest child was in kindergarten, and it really did make me reexamine the things that mattered most to me - it's the sort of face-to-face confrontation with mortality that makes you jettison the petty stuff and really try to go after your dreams. Plus, I had traveled to Nepal before my children were born, and writing this book was a way of revisiting that amazing country. 

How did it feel to have your first book published?

Random House bought my memoir, The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter, three years ago, and that was completely surreal. I always expected to publish a novel first! I self-published Sleeping Tigers because I was getting frustrated dealing with the big publishers. I'm really glad I did. I've had a lot of wonderful interactions with readers as a result of putting the story out there. My next novel, The Wishing Hill, is being published by Penguin in July 2013, so it will be interesting to compare that process to this one. 

Do you write books for a specific genre?

If you had asked me that question a year ago, I would have put myself squarely in the category of women's fiction. But I've just started writing a paranormal book that's a bit of a crossover - it's women's fiction, but there are paranormal elements. In fact, I have now frightened myself so badly that I can't go down alone into our own basement! 

What genres are your favorites? What are some of your favorite books that you have read and why?

My favorite genres are women's fiction, memoirs, and mysteries. My favorite books most recently have been Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - a really terrific, darkly comic book - and Wiley Cash's A Place More Kind than Home, a southern Gothic sort of mystery that knocked my socks off. Oh, and I also loved Wild, Cheryl Strayed's memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mom - it's one of the most emotionally honest books I've read in years. 

Do you have a special spot or area where you like to do your writing?

I have an office in the Civil War - era barn behind my house where I love to write. The beat feature of this office is the screened porch attached to it, so that I can write outside or in, depending on the weather. The porch overlooks my garden, too, so that I can go out there and yank weeds when I'm stuck. 

How do you come up with the ideas that become the storyline for your books?

Ideas are everywhere: stories your friends tell you, conversations overheard in the subway, newspaper headlines. I have no lack of story ideas - just the hours for writing them!

When you write, do you adhere to a strict work schedule, or do you work whenever the inspiration strikes?

As any artist who is also a parent knows, you can't wait for inspiration to strike, nor do you adhere to strict work schedule. You write or do pottery when you can, where you can, because otherwise you won't ever get anywhere.

What aspects of storytelling do you like the best, and what aspects do you struggle with the most?

I love describing settings. I think every book should have settings that add to the mood or understanding of the story line. I struggle with plot - for instance, too often I have my characters sitting around drinking tea when they should be out DOING something. I always go through my books and try to cull out those static scenes. 

What are your favorite things to do when you are not writing?

I'm a very active person, maybe because that helps settle my mind, so you're likely to find me hiking, biking, swimming, snowshoeing, etc. If I'm moving, I'm happy!

What is/was the best piece of writing advice that you have received?

Don't do it for anyone else but you. But, if you want to be published, keep knocking on doors until one opens. It'll happen. 

What is the most gratifying thing you feel or get as a writer?

I love reaching out to readers and having them come back at me with stories of their own.

How do you usually communicate with your readers / fans? 

Any way that I can! I use Twitter, Facebook, my blog, and email every week. But what I really love doing are reading and meeting with book clubs to meet fans personally.

Is there anything in your book based on real life experiences or are they purely all from your imagination?

I think that any writer who says that they make everything up is lying. We all take bits and pieces of our lives - maybe that story your Aunt Jane told you, or the guy you met at the gas station, or the color of your husband's eyes - and put it into our fiction. Writers are great at melding things together and exaggerating. 

What authors have been your inspiration or influenced you to become a writer?

Early on, I was greatly influenced by the novelists Edith Wharton, Henry James, and Willa Cather. I also love reading plays; I spent an entire summer reading Shakespeare's tragedies, followed almost immediately by reading all of George Bernard Shaw as a counterpoint, somehow. I'm hopeless at saying what, exactly, inspired or influenced me as a writer, because any great book, in any genre, motivates me to try something new. 

What is your definition of success as a writer?

Having the freedom and time to keep writing on my porch.

Are you currently writing a new book? If yes, would you care to share a bit of it with us?

My next book, The Wishing Hill, is in the final editing stages and will be published by Penguin in July 2013. I started that book by asking the question, "What if everything you knew about your life was wrong?" That led to creating a character named Juliet Clark, who gave up her life in California to follow the man she loved to Mexico and pursue her dream of being an artist. Now her marriage is over and she's alone, selling watercolors to tourists on the Puerto Vallarta boardwalk. 

When her brother asks her to come home and care for their ailing mother, a flamboyant actress with a storied past, Juliet goes reluctantly. She and her self-absorbed mother have always clashed. Plus, nobody back home knows about her divorce - or the fact that she's pregnant and her ex-husband is not the father. 

Juliet intends to get her mother back on her feet and return to Mexico fast, but nothing goes as planned. Instead she meets a man who makes her question every choice and reawakens her spirit, even as she is being drawn into an ancient feud between her mother and a reclusive neighbor. Little does she know that these relationships hold the key to shocking secrets about herself and her family that have been hiding in plain sight in her small New England town. 

Thank you Holly for visiting Jersey Girl Book Reviews and sharing a bit about yourself and your writing career with us! 

About The Author

Holly Robinson is the author of the novel Sleeping Tigers, a 2011 ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Fiction Finalist and a 2012 Kindle Book Review semifinalist, and The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter: A Memoir. Her new novel, The Wishing Hill, will be published by Penguin in Spring 2013.

Holly is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in a variety of national publications. She also works as a ghost writer and book doctor on celebrity memoirs and other nonfiction books.

Ms. Robinson holds a B.A. in biology from Clark University and is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

She lives in northern Massachusetts with her husband and their five children.


Book Review

Sleeping Tigers by Holly Robinson
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing
Publication Date: December 28, 2012
Format: Paperback - 258 pages / Kindle - 467 KB
ISBN: 1466404833
Genre: Women's Fiction

BUY THE BOOK: Sleeping Tigers

Book Description: 

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.

Book Excerpt:

I washed dishes while Karin cooked, taking a break to phone and text my brother. Still no answer. I hoped Cam hadn't left the country again without telling us; last year, I received a postcard from India just days after sending a birthday present to his address in Oregon.

After dinner, Karin insisted that I take a bath and relax. I started filling the tub and studied my face in the mirror. Karin's bathroom was wallpapered in tilting blue sailboats, and my face floated like a giant whit buoy among them.

Maybe Dad was right and I was on a downward spiral toward a raggedy, husbandless future. Should I have stayed with Peter? At the very least, I could count on Peter to come home for dinner on time. As an added plus, he always remembered to pick up the dry cleaning.

Over the past three years, our relationship had crossed one commitment threshold after another without stumbling: dating, engagement, then living together, a process that forced us to whittle down our glassware and linens to fit into a single apartment's built-in shelves.

As Karin saw it, I'd stepped onto a conveyor belt to matrimony, moving along without thinking because it was all so easy, and because I had celebrated my thirtieth birthday in a subdued state of panic three years ago, the month before Peter and I met. She was right. Yet, I already missed elements of my sensible life with Peter. Days with him were calm. Predictable. Sweet. Contented, mostly.

We played Scrabble and chess, held dinner parties, spent weekends exploring Vermont, talked about getting a dog. It was almost as if we'd already put our courtship, wedding, and children behind us, and were now companionable retirees in our golden years. Without Peter, I was afraid that I'd become that quintessential stereotype, the old-maid teacher with chalk on her sweater, ink on her upper lip, and seasonal dangling earrings - bats, candy canes, bunnies - to complement my embroidered holiday sweaters.

To distract myself from this dire thought, I read the labels of Karin's mind-boggling array of bath oils lining the shelves: Eucalyptus Dream, Peppermint Pep, Calming Chamomile. "What about Lascivious Lime?" I yelled at Karin from the bathroom, stripping off my clothes. "Got any of that?"

"Coming right up, Toots!" a man shouted up from the yard below.

I scrunched beneath the window and yanked the shade shut, then ducked into the tub. I settled for two caps full of Peaceful Plum.

"How do you look in red?" Karin popped in, dangling a sleeveless dress the size of tube sock.

"I'm not wearing that. I'm a respectable elementary school teacher."

"Doesn't mean you have to look line one," Karin scolded. "What were you planning to wear tonight?"

I nodded at my neatly folded khakis and t-shirt, which I'd left on the chair in the bathroom. She wrinkled her nose and plucked the clothes off the chair between two fingers, removing them from the room like a dead rat.


"Hey, yourself!" she shouted back. "I'll return these in due time. For God's sake, Jordan. You dress like a woman on safari studying elephant dung."

"What's wrong with that?"

Karin reappeared in the bathroom, shaking her head. "The only women in San Francisco who dress the way you do are the ones in the Marina, and they can't  help themselves. Trust me on this one. I'm going to hide all of your clothes until after the party. And promise me you'll use the condoms I'm putting in the pocket of your outfit."

"I will not have sex with a stranger!"

"They won't be strangers. Every single person at this party tonight will be a friend of mine." 

My Book Review:

"Each of us carries a sleeping tiger inside, and we can't predict when that cat will wake, stretch, and sharpen its claws. It is best to see the beast, acknowledge it and let it roam where it might, because only then will you know what you are truly capable of doing." 

After thirty-three year old Boston school teacher Jordan O'Malley had a serious health scare, it made her reexamine her life and decide to face the tiger's presence within her, and make changes that would reconnect her with her family and live boldly in the moment, instead of the orderly and carefully planned life she had been leading.

After breaking off the engagement with Peter, her boyfriend of three years, Jordan moves into her parents' home and takes off to California to spend the summer in San Francisco. When she gets to San Fran, she reconnects with her childhood best friend Karin, an operating room nurse, who tries to get Jordan to open up, live in the moment, and embrace new possibilities in her life. Jordan's younger brother Cameron, a drifter who had been incommunicado from the family since moving to Berkeley, California two years ago, has been on her mind but she is unable to get a hold off him. Jordan and Cameron finally reconnect, and she learns that her younger brother has some issues that he has a hard time dealing with: a drug habit, a drug addicted stalker ex-girlfriend, a baby daughter who he refuses to acknowledge, and a troubled past relationship with their father. When Jordan attempts to help Cameron, he once again disappears and Jordan embarks on a personal journey to Nepal in search of her brother, and it is in this mystical Himalayan mountain country that both Jordan and Cameron will find the answers to their issues and learn how to move forward in their lives.

Every once in a while a book will come along and weave a story that will simply captivate you and make you sit up and ponder your own life, for me, Sleeping Tigers is that book. This poignant and thoughtfully crafted story is told in the first person narrative by Jordan O'Malley, who takes the readers along for the ride on her personal journey to discover who she really is and what life really means to her, in addition to sharing her younger brother Cameron's story. This amazing and very moving story draws the reader in and takes them on a roller coaster ride, you can't help but feel the emotional pull as Jordan and Cameron learn to reconnect and deal with life's circumstances and what matters most in life.

Rich in detail and vivid descriptions, the author transports the reader around the globe to such beautiful settings as Boston, San Francisco, Berkeley, Hong Kong and Nepal. The author's attention to detail draws the reader in, just by closing your eyes you can visualize these locations lush with scenic views, sights, sounds and well-known landmarks. The author also provides the reader with wonderful flashback memories of Jordan and Cameron's childhood memories which enables the reader to understand the real issues that lies beneath the surface, and the reasoning for the personal soul-searching journey that the siblings embark upon.

The author has created a large variety of cast of characters who are realistic, complex and easy for the reader to relate to. These larger than life quirky characters each play a significant role that intertwines in Jordan's journey to discover who she is and what matters most in her life. I admired Jordan's strength, sense of responsibility and determination; I absolutely loved the free spirited best friend Karin, her antics kept me in stitches; I wanted to shake Cameron and tell him to just grow up; I loved Grace, Jordan and Cameron's mom, her visit to Cali reawakened her true self; and of course baby Paris simply stole my heart. I also really enjoyed the development of Jordan and David's relationship. There are so many supporting cast of characters that were equally engaging: I would be remiss if I didn't mention Cameron's quirky holy roller housemates: Shepherd Jon, Valerie, Melody and Domingo, their antics were very entertaining.

With crazy antics, engaging dialogue and interactions, really wonderful settings, and a thought provoking storyline, Sleeping Tigers is a powerfully compelling and entertaining read. Author Holly Robinson provides the reader with a beautifully descriptive story that will engage the reader to embrace Jordan and Cameron's emotional soul-searching journey. Sleeping Tigers is simply an amazing story that will resonate with you long after the last word has been read.


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