I spoke to Robin Talley about her writing process, ahead of the publication of her debut novel, Lies We Tell Ourselves.
Robin Talley grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, writing terrible teen poetry and riding a desegregation bus to the school across town. A Lambda Literary Fellow, Robin lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife, plus an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. When Robin isn’t writing, she’s often planning communication strategies at organizations fighting for equal rights and social justice.
Lies We Tell Ourselves is an exceptional debut novel. Set in Virginia, 1959, it tells the story of two young girls, one black, one white, and their extraordinary journey through racism, oppression, and adversity.
I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this novel, and I absolutely adored it. It was hard to read at times, but it is absolutely necessary for us to understand just what people went through, and are still going through today. A beautifully crafted novel, Lies We Tell Ourselves made me angry and sad and hopeful, all at the same time. Linda’s character totally surprised me, and Sarah’s ability to remain strong in the face of such horrible adversity was impressive to say the least.
I wanted to know what inspired Talley to start writing.
It was reading the Baby-Sitters Club books by Ann M. Martin, and reading voraciously in general, as a kid that initially made me want to be a writer. I loved the idea that fictional characters ― people someone else had made up in their head ― could seem so powerful, so real. I wanted to try making up people like that myself!
She gets her ideas from all over the place:
Stories I read about in the news, that I hear from friends, that start out as alternate versions of other people’s stories, etc. For several years I’ve kept a running list of bits and pieces of ideas in a Google doc, and when I’m starting a new project I’ll go through the list and choose different elements to mix together. My list has hundreds of different entries by now.
Talley wishes she’d established relationships with other writers, and her advice to aspiring writers is to do just that.
No one else will understand what you’re going through, or be able to offer helpful suggestions on your work, as well as other writers who are at the same level as you or who are just ahead of where you are.
She also wishes she’d known that there is a big difference between giving yourself a deadline, and dealing with multiple external deadlines that have actual consequences behind them.
Her next YA novel, which is tentatively titled Unbreakable, will be published next autumn by Harlequin Teen.
[It] follows a teen couple — Gretchen, who identifies as a lesbian, and Toni, who identifies as genderqueer — as they struggle to stay together during their first year in college, despite the growing rift caused by distance and Toni’s shifting gender identity.
Talley is currently reading another 2014 YA release – The Only Thing to Fear by Caroline Richmond. She describes it as ‘a beautifully written alternate history story based on a fascinating premise’ and highly recommends it.
Talley will be at librarian and bookseller conferences this autumn, as well as appearing at bookstores, schools and libraries around Washington D.C. All the details of her upcoming events can be found on her website. You can also find her on Twitter: @robin_talley.
Lies We Tell Ourselves will be released in the UK on the 3rd of October. Find it on Lovereading.co.uk, the UK’s No.1 book recommendation site.