ABOUT THE AUTHOR
James E. Robinson is a professional songwriter, musician, author, counselor, and speaker. His songs have been recorded by major artists in Country, Christian and rock music, and he has recorded three CD's of his own: Prodigal Song, Clean, and Healer of the My Heart. Jim has written numerous #1 inspirational hits, including songs that have been adapted into major choral arrangements and performed in places of worship worldwide.
In 2003, Jim published his first book, Prodigal Song: A Memoir, which garnerd high acclaim. Midwest Book Review called it a "moving and life-affirming portrayal, spiritually rewarding and reader inspiring."
Jim and his wife Teresa are co-founders of ProdigalSong Ministries (http://www.prodigalsong.com/). Combining music, speaking and educational workshop presentations, they travel and perform in churches, treatement centers, schools and correctional facilities throughout the country. Jim and Teresa and their two children, James Bryan and Mary Ruth, live near Nashville, Tennessee.
THE FLOWER OF GRASS
by Jim Robinson
ABOUT THE BOOK
John Allen had come back to say goodbye. But he was too late; there would be no atonement.
John Allen returns to his home town after the death of his alcoholic, abusive father. He has been gone for 16 years and has become a successful writer, but with major addiction problems of his own. Now he struggles to make amends with his careworn sister and dropout younger brother -- and perhaps, to pick up the pieces with Jessie, the love of his ife; the one who said she'd wait forever.
But Jessie has grown tired of waiting for the letters that ceased to come and the man who didn't return, and has married. At what cost might their love be rekindled?
An exquisitely written, passionate and thoughtful novel, The Flower of Grass is a classic love story framing deeper themes of mortality and passing time, the true nature of faith, and the delicate balance of human relationships.
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1. This is your first book. Congratulations! What gave you the inspiration for this book?
Thank you! My wife and kids and I were visiting my father-in-law, Bryan Haislip, at his home in North Carolina. Bryan (or "Baba" as we call him) is one of my favorite people in the world (I married WAY over my head, in more ways than one!). He is a wonderful poet, and one night he read aloud a poem written for my wife, Teresa, way back when she was seven years old. For some reason, this short piece acted as a sort of emotional catalyst, and I "saw" very clearly the entire basic shape for the novel. There's lots of autobiographical content in the book, so in many ways the core of the story had been with me forever. But the poem just crystallized many of the thematic elements... all of it flowed into my head, how I could use my own life experiences as an authentic starting place to create new characters and to shape the novel. I open the novel with Bryan’s poem, and it was a real honor to be able to do that.
2. How much of your own experiences influenced your characters? What aspects became traits that are theirs and theirs alone?
I've always been told to "write what you know." This book is certainly what I "know." The small Tennessee town, the river, the people and their customs, colloquialisms...and certainly the dysfunctional family dynamics, addiction issues…all this comes from personal experience. The name of the town in the novel, Tranquility, was the original name of the settlement that would eventually become my home town of Camden. And John is without a doubt a reflection of me when it comes to his undying romanticism and internalized fear and loneliness. But once the book got started, the town and everyone in it truly took on their own identities; I was by no means telling the exact story of my own family, but rather drawing from my own experiences to infuse the story with authenticity, while allowing it to "breathe" on its own. Tranquility ended up being a much smaller, dying town than Camden is in reality. Though John is certainly someone I fully understand, he isn't me, and his father certainly was not my father, etc.
3. What themes exist in The Flower of Grass that you hope the reader sees? Are there any themes that weren't overt but developed as the story progressed?
You know, that's a wonderful question, I think, because one of the most amazing aspects of the creative experience, at least for me, is how God teaches me things during and throughout the process. As I said before, the poem acted as a sort of creative catalyst, but my own life experiences had already created the story within me; I just needed a frame for the painting, so to speak. All I've ever observed or been taught, by God and life and people through the years, fell onto the pages once I started writing.
I suppose the thematic elements were all in my head at the beginning, to some extent, but it wasn't until the characters began to fully breathe that God allowed me to see the subtleties...the beauty and innocence of youth, and youth as a fleeting thing, mortality, the power of faith and love, the yearning for relationships and the importance of family in forming for us what healthy relationships and intimacy look like.
God sent me the title very quickly, too, in 1 Peter: "For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass; the grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away." I thought The Flower of Grass was the perfect metaphor for the brevity of human life, and of earthly transience, etc.
Honestly, for me every creative experience that ends up being worth a hoot usually carries with it a large degree of surprise, both for me AND the characters! I'd like to say I was deep enough to have planned out all of the little emotional lessons that I think now reverberate throughout the book...but in truth, many of them came to me after the fact. So both the characters and their creator learned a lot throughout the story, about each other, and about themselves. Really, both of the main characters in the book learn a lot about what is temporary and what is truly of value in life...and the truth perhaps surprises them both.
4. What were your most difficult parts to write? Your favorite?
It's hard to pick a single favorite scene...in a way, the scenes all have a certain seamlessness to me, as if I wrote the whole book in one sitting (which, of course, I did not!). I enjoy writing descriptive passages, because I enjoy reading those kinds of works. I love the older classics that are shamelessly florid in their use of language. I happen to love a lot of things that have supposedly gone "out of style" with modern readers, things like head-hopping and omniscient point of view, etc. Frankly, I don't think most readers care much about our rules or lack thereof. They want a good story, with compelling characters.
I'm very much interested in the internal motivations of my characters; I suppose part of that comes with my love of psychology and counseling. I want to know the interior person...and one-dimensional characters bore me. No one I've ever met in real life was one-dimensional. But you find those people all the time in books. So, in my novel, the majority of scenes involve only one person; I did this to emphasize the inherent loneliness of the town, the characters, the story itself. The most people in any scene together at one time is three, and those scenes are relatively brief.
I love the scene with Preacher, because with that character I was able to access a kind of human time machine; his dementia-induced jumping back and forth through time and memory served as a great way to underscore the themes of earthly time, love and loss, hope and healing.
And I love writing dialogue too. I really enjoyed the exchanges between Ellen and John; I thought it was fun having such a young character like Ellen, a teenager, dispensing much of the wisdom. She was wise beyond her years, while John was immature for his age in the way of most addicts.
And I guess the most difficult scenes to write were also some of my favorites; the final conversation between Joey and John was hard for me to get through. They discussed things like loss and faith, and more specifically abuse and abandonment and addiction…even suicide. All of these issues are a real part of my own life story, my own family dynamics. So it was both tough, yet healing.
This was the first novel God had been planning for me all along. It served as a sort of catharsis for me, by the time it was done, and helped me deal with some of my own lingering issues. So the book was both difficult AND therapeutic.
5. When is your next book coming out and what is the story?
I'm really only in the early stages of my second novel, and it's actually a story I began before The Flower of Grass decided rather stubbornly to be born first! So I'm still a long way from having a novel ready for a publisher to publish...or reject! I'm hopeful, though, that I might have something in the way of a rough draft done by the end of spring next year. I do know that all my work will probably in one way or another deal with the internal intricacies of human emotions...the unique struggles that occur when flesh conflicts with spirit.
I'm fascinated by human behavior, and that explains why I love my work as a therapist. As an artist I find myself more interested in the interior motivations more than the external acting out. I think the next novel will present many more challenges for me as a writer, in some ways, because I will need to create people and places and dynamics from more foreign "soil," so to speak. I'm looking forward to that challenge.
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Thank you, Jim, for being in the spotlight with us.
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