WIPs Conversation: Robyn Parnell on Her Work in Progress

Robyn ParnellIn a misguided attempt to summon the Muse, Robyn Parnell once saw the profile of the love child of Barbara Kingsolver and Chuck Norris formed by the dust bunnies underneath her computer monitor. She chugged a caffeinated beverage until the image faded. Parnell is an Author’s Guild and SCBWI member; her fiction, poetry and essays have been published in over ninety books, magazines and journals (several of which have not filed for Chapter 11 protection). In 2012 she got to practice her It’s-an-honor-just-to-be-nominated speech when one of her short stories was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Notable publishing credits include her juvenile novel The Mighty Quinn, her picture book My Closet Threw a Party and her short fiction collection This Here and Now; less notable credits are not noted in this notation. When not working on innumerable fiction projects Parnell rehearses her NEA grant refusal speech and considers obtaining whatever professional help is necessary to enable her to compose a more pretentious Author’s Bio blurb. For more information,  see: www.RobynParnell.net and  www.theblogimnotwriting.com

Robyn, in “The Assassin,” excerpted from your novel Looking Up, JD and Ciela are recovering in the aftermath of life, post-“incident.” JD is trying to attain a new “normal,” hence his fateful visit to Rivercrest. At what point do these scenes arise in the novel?

What JD and Ciela come to call The Incident occurs in the book’s third chapter. Before Cheryl’s death and Ciela’s peculiar injury (“The Incident”), JD regularly walked/hiked in Rivercrest Park. JD’s desire to return to a normal routine after Cheryl’s funeral (Chapter 14) is what prompts that fateful visit to Rivercrest (Chapter 15).

In the context here, there’s a lot of mystery surrounding prior events—who Cheryl was, how she was killed, Calvin’s relationship to her and others, etc. Is that the case as well for those reading the novel from the start? Did the pivotal incident occur within the pages or is it covered in backstory?

The readers of Looking Up get to be part of the in-crowd; i.e., one of the novel’s pivotal incidents occurs in backstory presented as “front story.” The novel opens with a scene in a hospital ER waiting room. Cheryl is dying, and her distraught husband confides Cheryl’s secret (her relationship to Calvin) to JD. In the next chapter the novel resumes or assumes a classic chronological narrative – the events described in the first chapter occur in the novel between chapters eight and nine. Thus, the readers are privy to crucial details which are hidden from Ciela, who is/was Cheryl’s best friend.

Told from JD’s point of view, his actions, or at least his intentions seem noble. Even after he disposes of Calvin’s body in the most macabre fashion possible, he’s resolute, perhaps bolstered by his wife’s conversation about the fallen officer and that some people matter more than others. It’s unclear, but could his actions in the park been premeditated? Is there a somewhat darker side to JD’s character than initially meets the eye?

Within the context of the novel it is evident that JD’s actions are not premeditated. JD is presented as, and indeed views himself to be, one of “the good guys.” The darker side of JD’s character is that which can be said to exist in any character, if you agree with the idea that, given the right circumstances, anyone is capable of anything.

After these scenes, what’s upcoming in Looking Up? Does the novel focus on JD’s secret and whether he escapes detection, the possibilities of JD and Ciela returning to a normal, happy life, or something else altogether?

The novel has several foci preceding and following The Assassin chapter, including how JD does (or does not) keep his secret and how Ciela tries to create a new normal, even as she inadvertently acquires a secret of her own.

What’s the current status of Looking Up? Completing it? Revising it? Seeking representation? Seeking publication?

I have completed and revised Looking Up (the final revision was completed ~ 6 minutes after I submitted this excerpt to you – only a slight exaggeration). As for the novel’s publication status, I am currently seeking representation, publication, supernatural intervention….

(Breaking news bulletin: I just received a request from a publisher who would like to review the novel).

Do you have other creative projects in the works or upcoming?

Oh, yes indeedy. I have what might be considered a mutation of the classic writer’s block, but my version ends up affecting me in a similar way: I get “blocked” not because I have no lack of ideas for new stories, but because I have so many, and choosing to focus on this one means setting the other ones aside….

I have a short fiction collection (The Reaper Chronicles) under consideration by a publisher, and am querying publishers and agents re other projects, including another short fiction collection (Shanti’s Jinn) and three children’s picture book manuscripts. Tending to the biz part of the writing business takes up much of the time I should be spending completing the outline for the second book (I can’t yet bring myself to use the word “sequel,” for some reason) featuring characters from The Mighty Quinn, my juvenile novel published last May by Scarletta Press).

Thanks, Robyn. Is there anything else you’d like to share with or explain to readers?

Nothing to share in general, although I am always happy to address specifics.

I’m thinking of that classic bit of advice, “Never complain, never explain.” As for the latter, I sometimes explain; as for the former, I believe the more you complain, the longer you live (or it just seems longer, to everyone around you).

And thank you, Roland, for your support for and interest in “works in progress.”

Read Robyn’s excerpt, “The Assassin,” from Looking Up, her novel in progress.