Throughout history, we’ve seen no shortage of the havoc and devastation that Mother Nature can unleash in the form of hurricanes, floods, tornados and earthquakes. It’s not just the immediate losses of lives and property that cause such heartbreak, however; it’s also the erasure of entire communities, landmarks and architecture that have endured the test of time, only to be wiped out in a matter of days – or sometimes mere hours – by forces beyond anyone’s control. Such is the crux of B.J. Robinson’s latest release, River Oaks Plantation, a historical romance that artfully intercuts between the lives of two intrepid women – one of them a new bride in the Old South and the other a very modern editor watching the aggressive floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina lay siege to her stately but vulnerable inheritance.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Let’s start with some background on who you are.
A: I’d describe myself as hardworking, dedicated, loyal, trustworthy, an avid reader, a passionate writer, compassionate, caring, organized, excellent keyboarder, great cook, gardener, short, animal lover, especially dogs, nature lover, lover of water whether it’s lakes, canals, oceans, or rivers, and a lover of listening to rain on a tin roof. I’m a lover of the Civil War era and antebellum period, plantation homes, and I love touring them.
Like most women, I’m a woman who wears many hats: mother, grandmother, wife, retired educator, reader, and last, but not least, writer. My passions are reading and writing. I live in Florida with my husband and pets, a golden cocker spaniel, golden retriever, and a cat. I’m a pet lover, animal lover, and I usually include pets in the novels and stories I write. Reared in Louisiana, I have a love for seafood, large oaks, old plantation homes, flowers, and rivers. Since I use life experience as fodder for my writing and create realistic fiction, readers may journey with me vicariously through summer vacation experiences as well as many other life experiences. I have been blessed with children and grandchildren, and Jesus is my best friend.
Q: So tell us how your journey as a writer began.
A: I started writing in elementary school when my teacher submitted a short story I wrote about my pet dog to a local newspaper, and it was published. In college, my first essay was published in another local newspaper, and I won first prize for a short story, and it was published in the university’s literary magazine.
I’ve been honing my craft and skills for over a decade, but I only started publishing my own work one summer. Before that, I had many short stories, poems, devotionals, and four novels published with a traditional publisher, Desert Breeze Publishing, Inc. out of California. Since then, I’ve published more short stories, novellas, and one full-length novel, River Oaks Plantation, which I feel is one of my best pieces of work, if not indeed, the best.
Q: Who are some of the authors whose work you most admire and whose storytelling skills may have influenced your own style?
A: I fell in love with Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind years ago, and I think I probably have a habit of beginning and ending writing in the omniscient point of view, frowned upon by today’s publishers. Most romance publishers want a single point of view, but I don’t care for novels written with only one point of view. I enjoy deeper work and want to get inside my character’s heads. Mitchell began her novel in the omniscient point of view. Perhaps that is why mine reminded some readers of it, but I think it’s more because it’s a Civil War novel and when readers think Civil War novel, they think Margaret Mitchell. I know I do.
I read Athol Dickson’s River Rising and loved it summer before last. Contemporary writers I admire include my former writing mentor with the Christian Writers Guild, Eva Marie Everson. I love all of her novels. She’s a Southern fiction writer, and I love Southern fiction. Chris Fabry’s Dogwood is another one I admire, and Lynn Austin’s All She Ever Wanted.
Naomi Musch writes historicals, and I love her Empire in Pine Series because I love the outdoors. I read The Green Veil and The Red Fury a couple of years ago, and they’re the type of books to stay with you after you turn the last page as Lynn Austin’s and Chris Fabry’s were. Eva Marie Everson has a Cedar Key Series set in Cedar Key, Florida, I loved, but her best book I’ll long remember is Unconditional. It’s another one that stays with you. It’s been years since I read Lynn Austin’s and Chris Fabry’s books, but I still remember them. I think it’s because I read so many deep novels that I can’t write single point of view ones. Not that I can’t, but I don’t like to because I want to write the type of book I enjoy reading, and I feel you give your readers a deeper, more lasting story when you write using multiple viewpoints.
Jerry B. Jenkins’ books have influenced me greatly. I read his entire Left Behind Series, and, of course, they stayed with me. His work influenced me to try to write a book using dual storylines because I’ve read some of his novels that are structured that way, and I loved them. The dual storylines provide a page-turner. I had a reader tell me that and another one say my novel stayed with her after the last page. That’s the highest compliment she could have given me. When one reader got the metaphor, was another.
Q: What’s your favorite genre?
A: I grew up on Nancy Drew mysteries, so I love writing books with mystery, intrigue, or suspense, usually all three. My favorite genre to write was inspirational romantic suspense until I got into writing historical fiction set during the Civil War and antebellum period. With it, I think I’ve found my niche. I love the old plantation homes and the time period.
Q: Tell us what readers can expect when they immerse themselves in River Oaks Plantation.
A: River Oaks Plantation is my favorite thus far since it has dual storylines that blend the past with the present and realistic characters. Readers love it, and I love it because it focuses on the Civil War era and Hurricane Katrina. It’s doing well and getting great reviews on Amazon. Here’s a short blurb: Two love stories. Historical romance during antebellum and contemporary times, cultural history and characters you’ll root for.
Q: Just curious, what governed your choice to use your initials instead of your first name?
A: Another author suggested it because it wouldn’t be obvious that I was a woman unless people knew me, but with Facebook that is pretty pointless.
Q: One of the obvious challenges for any writer who embeds historical elements in a work of fiction – be it the American West, World War II or the 1860’s – is to be mindful of 21st century “political correctness.” How did you address this issue in juxtaposing a contemporary story against the backdrop of a Southern plantation during the Civil War?
A: For the historical part, I wrote events that really took place, feelings, beliefs, and endeavored to put how both sides felt and the reasons why. As a good journalist, you’re taught there are two sides to every story. I think many Southern people were conflicted, and I tried to show this in my work. I didn’t set out to offend anyone, and I tried to write a good story, bottom line.
Q: Who’s your favorite character in River Oaks Plantation?
A: Maggie is my favorite because she illustrates that life on a plantation was not as romantic as people tend to think when they view beautiful antebellum homes for the first time. They often see the splendor, but people need to remember how most were built on the backs of slave labor and that the beauty on the outside often hides the heartache and pain. The plantation is the common thread that weaves the dual storyline together and a metaphor for the resilient human spirit.
Q: Several reviewers have drawn comparisons to Gone With the Wind. What’s your reaction to that?
A: It compares to the novel in that it’s about the antebellum South and the Civil War, but it’s set in Louisiana, not Georgia, and it’s a blend of historical and contemporary with dual storylines. Gone with the Wind was not structured the same way. I loved the novel so, of course, when readers compare it, I can’t help but feel I’ve done the job I set out to do in writing my own novel. My storyline is very different. I didn’t try to write Gone With the Wind. I wanted to write a novel about the Civil War set in Louisiana because I was reared there. I wanted to do my own thing, something different, and I feel I have. Maggie is no Scarlett, and Danny is no Rhett. My novel is a Christian historical romance, or Christian contemporary romance, but it’s not preachy and some readers don’t seem to have noticed. Instead, they get hooked on the dual storyline and can’t put the book down.
Q: What do you feel best differentiates Rivers Oaks Plantation from other historical romances?
A: The story structure has a dual storyline and blends the past with the present, historical and contemporary. One of my readers posted in a book group that I was one of her favorite authors because I was atypical. I guess that’s one way to stand out in a crowd. The book is different, but readers love it. Many say they can’t put it down.
Q: Tell us about the historical research that went into this story.
A: I spent much time researching via the Internet as well as reading books on the Civil War and antebellum period and touring plantation homes. I’ve toured Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana, which is the setting for my next novel, Romance Under the Oaks. I’ve also toured The Myrtles in St. Francisville among others.
Q: Do your characters ever do anything that surprise you?
A: Yes, at first I didn’t think Danny would decide not to keep working on the boat, but he did. In the beginning of the novel he took up for one of the slave women and later he saw his wife’s point of view, which I didn’t think would happen. I don’t plot other than general notes. Since I’m a morning writer and tend to do my best writing in the mornings, I usually put on a pot of coffee and let the words flow. Sometimes my characters have a change of mind or heart. Also, I had no clue I’d do the surprise ending the way I did until I got there.
Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work?
A: I didn’t attempt to with this one. I self-published through Amazon KDP because I figured no publisher would want to risk historical and contemporary blending, but I’m happy to say it works, according to my satisfied readers. You can tell from what they have to say in Amazon reviews. I didn’t think I’d sell a publisher on my idea of a part historical, part contemporary novel, so I took advantage of Amazon to see if the idea worked, and it sparked. Also, since most traditional publishers will no longer even glance at your work without an agent, I didn’t bother to submit.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: I’m working on Romance Under the Oaks, another historical romance set during the Civil War period. I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll go historical all the way or blend the historical part and contemporary again, but I’m learning toward a straight historical for this one.
Q: What would you like to say to your readers who follow you or may follow you in the future?
A: Thank you so much for reading and responding to my novel. I love feedback. Great reviews always make my day. Please know that in writing, I create works of fiction to carry my reader through a fictional dream, a way of seeing how others live and differ. If we were all carbon copies, it would be a dull, boring world. It is because we are unique that our world is full of diversity that makes it interesting. I respect your beliefs and opinions and hope that, in turn, you will also respect mine. I appreciate your support of my writing endeavors and value you as readers. Please follow my Author Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorBJRobinson and check out my Amazon author page to read about my new projects: http://www.amazon.com/B.-J.-Robinson/e/B007DNJIKU/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1