Interview by Tod Mesirow
The extended interview with Tom Robbins was originally recorded on camera in 1994 for a film that has yet to be made made. The film is about a has-been novelist and his would-be muse. The plan is to include interviews with actual novelists–John Irving, Tom Robbins, etc.–talking about their work.
The Animated Transcript
Tod Mesirow creates and runs television shows under his Robot Body Inc. banner.
I think when I’m 80 years old, 85, hopefully, I’ll be pushed around in a wheelchair by a red-headed nurse with panty outline. She’ll make me little tequila sunrises and I’ll read my complete works then. Then, I’ll decide whether I think I’ve done something good or not. I’ll reserve my judgment until then.
Tell me how you write because I know Remingtons have played a focal point in some of your past books.
I owned an electric Remington, briefly, but we had a turbulent relationship. It made so much noise, it hummed all the time, it was like it was looking over your shoulder, egging you on, wanting you to work at a far faster pace than I am capable of working. Plus, it was ugly, some strange off-blue kind of teal color. Eventually, I just took a 2-by-4 and destroyed it. I work now with pen and paper. That’s my favorite way to write. I love the way the ink sinks into the wood, soaks into the wood pulp. There’s something about that process that’s so organic. I’d like to go back to the raven quill, actually, dipped in lizard blood or something. Write on orange butcher paper.
I started writing when I was 5 years old. I would dictate stories to my mother, and she would copy them in a scrapbook. If she changed anything to make it, in her opinion, better, I would throw a tantrum. I can’t remember exactly the first thing I wrote, but one of the stories, was about a pilot whose plane crashed on a desert island, and the only other life on the island was a brown cow with yellow spots. The cow had… to survive, had taught itself to eat and get nutriments from sand. I guess, I’ve always been interested in adaptability and taking whatever life hands you and running with it.
First I think I was interested in the stories, and later on, I became more interested in the language itself, so the stories became almost secondary, but it was kind of a background music for my life. I had a stick, and I used to go out in the backyard and fantasize, often aloud, and I would tell these stories. I would beat the ground with the stick. And then even today when I get excited about an idea when I’m writing, I often will pace the room, and I’ll slap my legs. I’ve always been too ashamed to talk about this bizarre behavior, but I was telling my paramour about it and she said, “Well, you were drumming,” and that hadn’t occurred to me before. That’s exactly what I was doing, was drumming out the story, setting up a rhythm behind the story.
There’s not a word in one of my books that hasn’t been gone over 25, 30, 35, 40 times. I read every sentence over and over again and rework it, not particularly looking for a more shining truth, but looking for the right rhythm. It’s like compulsive hand washing or something. Words on a page can hypnotize you if the rhythm is right.
I never outline. I don’t work from an outline. I have no idea where the book is going. I mean, even two-thirds of the way through, I don’t know how it’s going to end. If I knew how it was going to end, I probably wouldn’t write it. I finish the book so I can see how it’s going to end. I write that first sentence, and if it’s the right first sentence, it leads to the right second sentence and three years later you have a 500-page manuscript, but it really is like going on a trip, going on a journey. It’s a voyage.
When I finished my second book, I looked in the mirror, and I was all pale and wan and emaciated and bags under my eyes, and I said, “What you need, Tom, is a trip up the Amazon.” Three days later, I got an offer to take a trip up a river in Africa. It wasn’t the Amazon, but it was close. Ever since, whenever I finish a book, I go off and have some kind of adventure. Having had an adventure in my writing chair or on my writing sofa, an internal adventure, then I need to balance that off with an external adventure, so I’ll go tramping through Africa or whitewater rafting or float to Hawaii in a martini shaker or something.
Rafael Iriarte And Rosendo Pesoa”Libertad”
Cooper-moore “(H) Banjo Arba Minch Garden”
Fly Lazarus Fly “Street Lights”