Hana, a young Guatemalan woman who fell mute from a childhood tragedy, flees the brutal Civil War ravaging her country in search of a better life in the United States. Soon after arriving, she discovers she’s pregnant, and is banished from her new home and sent to live in a Mayan community in Indiantown, Florida.
There, she settles into a peaceful life of embroidery and raising her child, a daughter who turns out to be… different… and special—the kind of special that soon draws worldwide attention, for the better and worse.
When and where do you prefer to write?
I had the joy of fulfilling a dream I’ve had since college and moving back to New Orleans. This city has a wonderful coffee culture, beginning with its French Settlers, and continuing to the present day as one of the world’s leading ports for coffee imports. The city is full of charming independent coffee shops, and you’ll find me most days sitting in one, tapping on my laptop, and sipping coffee and chicory.
Do you have a certain ritual?
I need uninterrupted time to be creative, so I make sure to find a place to be alone, either upstairs in my office, or at a coffee shop. If I’m outlining, I sketch out the plot on a poster board, first in broad strokes, then progressively fill in the details. I then do individual chapter outlines, progressively more detailed, and keep those chapter outlines out when I’m actually writing the chapters. I really like to get in “the zone” and find that a few quality hours are more productive than a full day working in bits and pieces.
Do you like a drink or something to nibble on while you write?
Coffee, and more coffee. I try not to eat when I’m working. And did I mention coffee?
Do you consider writing a different genre or do you already do that?
My books are all considerably different, but I try to have some commonality in my work, and that commonality is that they each address a specific question, whether it be the price of fame, man’s search for meaning, or the nature of spirituality. And I find that family dynamics is the best and most relatable source of drama and tension, so I like to focus on that. Each work begins as a spark of inspiration, sometimes as small as exploring the relationship between a boy and girl who were best friends since childhood, and the story grows from that seed.
What is/are your favourite book(s)?
I loved Vonnegut as a boy, but who didn’t. And even though my work is incredibly different than his, and of course incredibly inferior, I was moved by his humanity, and hope to explore and convey that sort of humanity in my work.
Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?
My first book was highly autobiographical, so for sure that was the case there. My later books are much less based on people I know, although I like to use the first names of my friends and family members for characters. They seem to get a kick out of it, and so do I.
If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?
Tough question. I’ve always liked to work alone, but I have sort of a man crush on Bernardo de Galvez, who was Governor of Louisiana when it was a Spanish territory, before becoming Viceroy of Mexico. Although the history of the colonial Spanish was generally that of terror and intolerance, he was an enlightened leader, and a hero of the American War of Independence. I think he’d have some interesting stories to tell.
Do you take a (digital) notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?
I thought about doing that, but never did. There are times when I wish I wrote down some observation or clever line, but I find that creating in the moment is more enjoyable.
Which genre(s) do you not like at all?
Any genre done well can be enjoyable, but I am not a fan of horror or terror. I believe you can find suspense and conflict without that type of violence.
If you should travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you chose and why?
I’ve studied Spanish American history as part of my research about New Orleans, and would like to pursue that in more depth. Barcelona is perhaps the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen, and there are dozens of other Spanish cities I’d like to explore. Spain was the center of confluence of a number of different cultures, including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and while those histories may not have ended well, the mix of cultures created timeless beauty and unique culture.
Thank you, Richard Robbins and Pump Up Your Book
About the author
Richard Robbins’ novels explore the complexities of family dynamics to address important moral questions, while imparting a strong sense of location. His first novel, Love, Loss, and Lagniappe takes to the streets of New Orleans and New York City to explore the journey of self-
discovery after heartbreaking loss, while revealing the scientific basis for the meaning of life. His second novel, Panicles, covers the lives of two intertwined families in and around Washington DC, while addressing the price of fame and fortune.
His new release, The Tormenting Beauty of Empathy, follows Hana, a young Guatemalan immigrant mute from childhood tragedy, as her quiet life is upended by the birth of a daughter who turns out to be different. And special. The kind of special that soon draws worldwide attention, for the better, and worse…
Richard was named Louisiana Independent Author of the Year for 2020, and his works have won numerous awards, including the Feathered Quill Book Awards and the Readers’ Favorite Book Awards. He lives in New Orleans and New York City with his wife Lisa, near their beloved grown children.