A List of Cages: An Interview with Author Robin Roe
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If you follow my Food, Fitness & Fiction blog, you know that when I truly love a book, I love it deeply. I love it so much that I immediately want to interview (if not meet) the author, and I want everyone I know to read and love the book as much as I do.
A book I read a couple of months ago, A List of Cages by Robin Roe, was one that truly floored me. Hand on heart—that’s how I felt while reading it. My book club enjoyed it as well, though some found the subject matter to be particularly upsetting (it was). But for me, this book was everything. It was beautifully written with fleshed out, flawed, authentic characters. And the story was compelling, with a pace and structure that kept me turning the page. I loved the book so much I decided to write about it as part of my application to an MFA program.
Here’s a description of the book from Roe’s website:
When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian–the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years.
Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kind hearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives.
Roe was kind enough to answer questions about writing and the book via email. Here are highlights from our exchange.
EZ: Have you always been a writer? And what initially sparked the idea for A List of Cages?
RR: I’ve been writing since I was six or seven, and always dreamed of doing it professionally, but it never seemed like something I could do in real life. I was actually working on a memoir and getting in touch with experiences and emotions I had as a teenager when the idea for A List of Cages was sparked.
EZ: Did you have a specific process for writing this book or did that process evolve over time? And how long did the process take from creation to publication?
RR: Adam and Julian’s story came to me in a flood of ideas. I started waking up in the middle of the night, writing everything down as quickly as I could. In a month I’d written 70,000 words, although it was completely out of order and wouldn’t have made sense to anyone but me. I spent a year editing what I’d written, and another year after that working up the courage to send it out to agents. I’d never really shared my work before so I was terrified, but once I took that leap, it was a dream-come-true. I got offers from several agents, and my novel sold at auction in a two-book deal.
EZ: There are some very dark, devastating parts (and, thankfully, some humor to offset that). How hard was it for you to “go there,” and did you find yourself feeling very emotional while writing uncomfortable, challenging scenes?
RR: For Julian, abuse is such a fact of life that he describes it openly, the way he’d describe anything else. There were times that writing these scenes was difficult, but Julian doesn’t have the option to look away, so it felt important to stay with him during those moments. I also felt it was important for the audience. Julian may be alone, but the reader is a witness.
EZ: Do you have any writing routines or rituals that help you be productive/efficient?
RR: Before I begin writing, I find that it’s extremely important to journal or meditate or do something to clear my head. If my mind is too cluttered, there isn’t space for the characters to show up.
EZ: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?
RR: The best advice I’ve ever heard is to accumulate pages, not judgment. In essence, to turn off my inner critic, and be kind to myself.
EZ: Please share three books on your bedside table (or TBR list):
RR: Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow [here’s my interview with Glasgow about writing and her powerful, beautiful novel], Now Is Everything by Amy Giles, and The World as I See It by Albert Einstein.
EZ: What are you currently working on?
RR: I’m currently working on a contemporary YA novel. Like A List of Cages, it explores the psychology of the victim, but this book will also delve further into the psychology of the offender.
EZ: What do you hope readers will take away from A List of Cages?
RR: I hope people can release shame about experiences that weren’t their fault, and understand things may happen to you, but that doesn’t mean they are you. You can rise above your story.
Here are some reviews for A List of Cages:
To learn more about Robin Roe and her wonderful work, visit her website.
Here are a few previous young adult author Q & A’s on Food, Fitness & Fiction:
David Arnold (Kids of Appetite)
Julie Buxbaum (Tell Me Three Things)
Jeff Giles (The Edge of Everything)
Kerry Kletter (The First Time She Drowned)
Jo Knowles (See You at Harry’s)
Gae Polisner (The Memory of Things)
Andrew Smith (Grasshopper Jungle)
Charlotte Wang (Going Geek)
John Corey Whaley (Highly Illogical Behavior)
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