Saturday, February 4, 2017

Sitting and talking with Robin Stratton where we talk about Grand Slams, 1980's Massachusetts Clubs, Dire Series and Walking Erect

The other day I sat down with Robin Stratton, who is the CEO of Big Table Publishing, the head of The Newton Writing and Publishing Center and the publisher who accepted "The Thursday Appointments of Bill Sloan" and "Grand Slams: A Coming of Eggs Story". She also edits The Boston Literary Magazine.

The interview appears in Boston Literary Magazine, Writers in the Spotlight 
HERE but also can be read right here, below, in this blog

Welcome, Tim!
Hey Robin. Nice to see you.

Congratulations on your new novel, Grand Slams, which of course we at Big Table had the pleasure of publishing. For those who haven’t read it, can you tell us a little bit about it?
Well if you’ve ever worked at a restaurant, you’d understand these characters and if you haven’t you’ll find them amusing and endearing. The main focus though is on the two younger characters, each a year out of high school. One, the independent Sugar, works full time at Grand Slams while the other is working there during the summer on his college break.

I worked at Friendly’s for a while when I was in college. I stunk at waitressing. Do you want to talk about your experience of working at a restaurant between semesters?
I can talk about mine…(laugh). Back then it seemed like the summers lasted much longer, so for three long months it seemed like a brand new life, you had to fit it and become part of restaurant culture. During winter breaks it was more like seeing your friends and working a few shifts.

Yeah, what was up with summers back then? You felt like you had a huge chunk of time ahead of you! I could relate to so much of this book, and especially for someone my age, it’s a fun read. And since it takes place in the Boston, I knew a lot of the places you talked about... that dive in Billerica! I remember going there to see a band called Private Lightning. There was another band around that time... Rage, was their name. Did you ever hear of them?
Yeah, The Web Brook was one of the first places I would go when I moved to Boston. I was a fan of that dive. I think Private Lightning was playing when Woody and Bobby went there during the novel too. Some Pat Benatar covers, sure and some sugary originals—while you popped some back. I think you can find their stuff on youtube.

You were in a band at one time, right?
Which one?

Can you name any?
The Zippers, The Maytags, The Wake, Walking Erect, Country Roberto and the Durans—any of these ring a bell?

Walking Erect, Jim Gass, Tim Gager, Robert Mitchell, Glenn Reid and a different drummer every time

Ummm... no
So maybe I wasn’t, ha!—But that’s pages and pages of stories and tales, successes and failures. Funny, some people I knew in Delaware still see me as a music guy and know nothing of my writing. That experience helped so much with knowing promotion—it’s all the same-you need to make a big noise.

When did you move to Massachusetts?
In 1985, after I stopped playing music where the bands centered in Delaware, two years after graduation from the University of Delaware. I worked the summers at Denny’s, oh shit, now I’ve identified them, of well. I worked summers after my Sophomore and Junior years there.

We never would have guessed it was at Denny’s! ;-) One of your main characters, Kayak Kenny, had to be based on someone you knew, right?
Yes. I don’t remember what his real name was, but all he did was talk about the waitresses and kayaks. It was all kind of innocent and sweet, actually.

This novel takes place in the 1980s, whereas your other novel, The Thursday Appointments of Bill Sloan, takes place in the present. Did writing about the past impact your process at all? For instance, I find that when I am working on a novel that takes before there were cell phones I keep forgetting and I have characters call each other – then remember that we couldn’t do that back then.
I loved the process. Of course, I’m a bit sentimental but hell, I still miss the Tasty in Harvard Square and the Orson Wells Theater, Jack’s, TT the Bears. I loved remembering the types of cars my friends and I drove. The challenge was to try to keep the book within the correct year, for example, I researched The Red Sox roster and game by game log so that the game Keating and Sugar go to is an actual game around the exact date the novel took place. Also the music had being played in cars or the bands in the clubs had to exist during those years. I may have cheated with Scruffy the Cat but I wanted them to be the band at Jack’s.

I love hearing about the research you did for the Red Sox game. I’m not sure I think that most writers would take the time to do that.
They should. A reader with knowledge of your subjects will notice, then your book loses validity for that reader. Negative word of mouth possibilities do a writer no good, so don’t be lazy.

Good advice from someone who is well known around the local scene... actually for a while you were mostly known as a poet, but one day I think I overheard you say that you’re not planning to write any more poetry. Did you say that, or did I make it up, or what?
Ha. I say a lot of things, like I’ll never go to Mike’s in Davis Square again. I am planning on just writing longer work, but you never know when a poem hits—then I’ll have to write it.

You are also a great supporter of the local literary scene. Can you talk a little bit about your venue, the Out of the Blue Gallery?
Well it struggles, first of all. It has a high rent. I started Dire Literary Series in 2001 at a small gallery on Brookline Ave, which became the small gallery on Prospect Street, which became the large gallery on Massachusetts Ave. Tom Tipton has been there owning and overseeing it the entire time. He’d make, and the place would make great material for a novel. Funky, welcoming to all, sometimes to a fault. People that struggle, that are desperate, which you can find at a setting like that can be unpredictabl—and have been historically so. Tom glues all the readings, the music and the mental components all together to make it work. If only people would buy more art.

What about other venues in the area—what’s the scene like for an author trying to promote a novel?
There are readings nearly every night. There are great independent bookstores---the Dire Series still is perhaps the only independent fiction/poetry series in the area. Others have popped but, but it’s hard to start something and to keep it going because at times, interest wanes or venues die, or hosts get sick of it all. Independent small press writers have a tough time, honestly, as bookstores want and need big names, big sales to make the evening worthwhile. It’s business. It makes sense. At Dire, we can be more fun—that’s how I’ve always looked at it.

Yeah, you have to. If you go into it thinking you’re going to get rich, you’re in for a big disappointment.
I know it’s not about that but it’s about people and connecting.

So what’s next for you?
I’m tossing ideas around in my head for a few novels and I have manuscripts or flash fiction and poetry which are already done. Let’s see what happens.

Where can we buy copies of your books?
Go to your favorite store and look, ask them to order it for you, and of course all of the usual on-line suspects. Better yet, e-mail me and I’ll set you up—mail you one or we’ll meet under a bridge and make a suspicious deal. That is if you want to be shady. Books: the new crack (laughing).

Ha! Maybe if we made reading illegal, more people would do it! Hey, Tim, thanks SO much for stopping by. I’ll be seeing you around!

Always willing to talk, Robin. Thanks so much.

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