Thursday, August 9, 2012

Utah Book Month Author Interview: Robison Wells

Today, I'm very excited to interview Utah author Robison Wells as part of our celebration of all things bookish in Utah!

Rob swept all of us off our reading feet last year with his YA dystopian-ish, science fiction-ish book Variant (Read my review here.) As you can see, this book is not easily defined by genre, and if you read it,  my guess is you will be like me and will be so very much looking forward to its sequel, Feedback, which comes out in October! The ending of Variant will be definitely going down on my list of most jaw dropping endings!

Rob has written three other books before Variant for the local market. You can read more about them below. Rob is also the brother (little I think... just barely) of the author formerly from Utah, Dan Wells, who you've seen me rave about often on this blog. They do a podcast together, which you'll want to be checking out for sure.

Here's all the online places you can find and connect with Rob:

Official Website and Blog
Do I Dare to Eat a Peach Podcast with brother Dan Wells

Of course, I started out my interview by asking Rob my favorite author question: Which five books are most important or influential to you? 

Here's what he had to say:

Five Most Influential Books:

·         The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain: Unlike a lot of authors, I was a reluctant reader growing up. In fact, I hated English class in high school and never self-identified as a reader. (And I have the terrible grades to prove it!) It wasn’t until college that my mindset changed. My mom had to go into the hospital, and I knew I’d be sitting in the waiting room being really bored, so I grabbed the nearest thing I could find as I hurried out the door: a copy of Huckleberry Finn. I was supposed to have read it back in high school, but I never did, but now I found myself with days and days of nothing to do. So I read it, and then I read it again, and then I read it again. I read it cover-to-cover three times in a week, and absolutely fell in love with it. It made me think that maybe I’d been wrong about reading all those years, and maybe some of that assigned reading was really worthwhile. I actually made a list of all the books I was supposed to read in high school and skipped, and I’ve gone back to read them all. (Some are still terrible: I’m looking at you, Ethan Frome.)

·         Millions, by Frank Cottrell Boyce: According to its Amazon info page, this book is for grades 5-8, which I think it absolutely ridiculous. This is one of the most touching, relevant, life-changing books I’ve ever read. It’s about basic values like kindness and family and friendship, but it’s also about very complicated issues, like the corrupting influence of money, and how to truly help the poor, and what does it really mean to be “good?” It’s the book that taught me that you can write for kids without writing down to them.  I’m not a crying person—I think this is the one and only book that has ever made me cry. And I was a thirty-something reading a “kids” book.

·         The Gun Seller, by Hugh Laurie: I don’t have a meaningful story about this book, except that it’s one that I’ve read and re-read more than almost any other. It’s a perfect study in how to get Voice right in your writing: It’s a suspense novel about conspiracies, terrorism, and murder, yet it’s manages to be one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.

·         In Search of the Old Ones, by David Roberts: This one is non-fiction, and I’m including it because it’s my favorite book about one of my favorite personal interests: anthropology of the Southwest. I’ve lived all over the Southwest, in Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, and I’m absolutely fascinated with the people and cultures who lived and continue to live there. I’ve made many trips to ancient ruins and to modern pueblos. I lived on the Navajo reservation. I’m in love with everything about those places.

·         Everything is Obvious (Once your Know the Answer): How Common Sense Fails Us, by Duncan Watts: I got my MBA in marketing, but being a writer I was always drawn to the psychological side of marketing; both writing and marketing are all about understanding how people make decisions. This book is my favorite on the topic of consumer (and personal) psychology. It is an eye-opening treatise on how our brains are poorly wired for many kinds of decision making; we’re a mess of logical fallacies and cognitive biases. Seriously, reading this book is almost a religious awakening: it shows how humans are not only crippled when it comes to making decisions, but we quite often can’t even recognize our own handicaps. It’s a book that makes you look at the world differently; it makes you want to be smarter.


Awesome list of books! And thanks for the fun explanations too! I love hearing all the connections authors have to their favorite books.

And now, a few other questions:

I think everyone assumes that Variant is your debut book, but I understand you have written others before that. Can you tell us about them?

Several years ago I wrote three books that were published in the local (intermountain west) market. They’re very different from my current books: the first was a romantic comedy and the second two were political thrillers. They’re all out of print, and while I’m proud of them I’m also kind of glad they’re not for sale. I think I’ve grown a lot as a writer, and I think if someone read Variant and then went back to read my first book they’d be pretty disappointed. (I’ve actually taught writers workshops using excerpts of my first book as an example of what not to do.)

I saw this question the other day and I thought it was great.... what food do you associate with or feel is a big part of your book? (Either Variant or Feedback... or both.)

I wrote Variant while I was not only unemployed, but VERY unemployed and poor. I always associate the writing process with peanut butter sandwiches, because it was both my breakfast and lunch during the whole writing process.

With Feedback, I think I’d associate that one most with Diet Coke. I drank a LOT of Coke during the writing of that book. I think I should have dedicated the book to the Coca-Cola company.

 Is it true that pretty much everyone who has read Variant and then later meets you at a signing, or wherever, say the very same thing... "how could you end it that way? What were you thinking? I can't believe how it ended!" or some other similar phrase? And.... are you getting sick of this yet or is it something you are completely enjoying?

I love it, because I’m completely satisfied with the ending. My favorite reviews say “I just finished Variant, and I HATE ROBISON WELLS SO MUCH! 5 out of 5 stars!” Granted, I know there are people out there who didn’t give it five stars, but I stand behind the cliffhanger. I like it because it recontextualizes everything you thought you know—it makes you question what you thought was real, but it does it in a very calculated way. Rest assured, there are absolutely answers that explain and—hopefully—satisfy readers’ questions.

 If I understand correctly, Variant and Feedback will just be the pair of them (what? no trilogy?) so what's the plan for you and books in the future? More in that genre? Something similar? Something completely different?

After I wrote Variant, I wrote the book proposal for a trilogy, only to realize that instead of having three books, I really only had two and a half books. So, rather than try to pad out a third with a lot of filler, I decided to just write two books and cram all the goodness into Feedback.

As for future plans, I just turned in my next book to my editor. It’s tentatively titled Blackout, and is scheduled for Fall 2013 release. It’s similar in genre to Variant: modern-day, real-world, but with a science-fiction twist. Sorry—no more spoilers than that. J

Do you and Dan plan to write something together someday? If so, what would it be?

Dan and I have never talked about working together on a project, and I don’t really foresee us doing anything like that in the near future. I don’t think I have the writing mindset to collaborate with someone: I’m too much of a loner when I write, cloistered in my office. I never like to even let anyone look at the first chapter of the book until I finish the entire manuscript.

That might change eventually, but for now I think we’re happy to just collaborate on marketing, with things like touring and podcasting.

Speaking of Dan, will you be continuing the podcast even after he moves to Germany?

Yep. We record the podcast over Skype, so him being in Germany shouldn’t be a big hindrance. It might change some of the topics, since we won’t be experiencing the same pop culture, but that’s probably a good thing.

 I would love to ask you all sorts of questions about your emotional health struggles, but mostly I find it fascinating and commendable that you've chosen to be so open and public about it all. Was this a conscious decision? Or did it just happen? Does it help to talk about it and joke about it so openly? Do you find that many people can actually relate to what you are going through? And... how ARE you doing these days anyway?

The reason I chose to talk about my mental illnesses publicly started mainly because I was tired of lying to people. When I was getting sicker and sicker (with panic disorder and agoraphobia) I’d find myself lying to my close friends about why I couldn’t go anywhere—I’d tell my writing group that the car was having problems, or that my family was sick, or whatever. Eventually, it got to a point where the stress of lying to everyone was just exacerbating the illness itself, and I decided to blog about it publicly. I was amazed by how quickly that stress was relieved (and I was also amazed by how understanding everyone was).

My second big mental-health announcement—that I had significant self-harm issues—was more about the therapeutic aspects of talking about it. I’d found so much benefit with my previous discussions that I just wanted to experience that again. (My psychiatrist also recommended an immersion-therapy approach, where I forced myself back into regular life. Talking about my illness was part of that.

Now, I’m kind of in a third stage, where I talk about it because I know that the discussion not only helps me, but it helps other people, too. After I spoke out about self-harm, I had many people email me privately and talk about their own personal demons, and how my story had helped them. So now I’ve taken to a sort of mental-health activism. I’ve met a lot of people who suffer in silence because they’re afraid of the stigma associated with mental illness. The more that I can talk (and joke) about mental illness, and be completely open and honest, the more other people may be willing to share their experiences and get help.

As for how I’m doing: I’m okay. Seeing a real, honest-to-goodness psychiatrist (rather than just my family doctor) was the best decision I ever made, and we’re making real strides. I still have good days and bad days (and horrible days), but overall I’m much better now than I was six months ago.

When will Feedback be released, so I can be sure to promote the correct date?

Feedback will be released on October 2nd, and the paperback of Variant will be released August 28th.

Finally a quick list of favorites:

Singer or band: Natalie Merchant
Food: Fried Chicken
TV Show: Breaking Bad
Movie: On the Waterfront
Place to visit: New Mexico
Restaurant: Elliott’s Oyster Bar in Seattle
Candy bar: Twix Peanut Butter

Thanks so much for participating in this interview, letting us get to know you better and helping us to celebrate Utah Book Month!


  1. Great interview and I learned so much. I applaud authors who have issues and tell the truth. Thank you :)

  2. I almost picked up Variant at the library's talk n swap, but I didn't!! I should have! I'm super curious about it now!

    No jelly on the sandwiches? Just peanut butter?

    I always wondered if Robinson and Dan were related. Thanks for mentioning that.

  3. I haven't had a chance to read Variant yet, but it's on my list of books to read.

    I really enjoyed this interview. I especially liked reading the question and his answer about his mental illness. I suffer from mental illness myself and talking about it is absolutely a good way to help. I'm glad he's found an outlet and can help others in the process.

    And, my husband loves Breaking Bad as well.

  4. Great interview! I was also one of those people who couldn't believe the ending of Variant. I actually got it from NetGalley & wondered if I wasn't missing some chapters or something. :) I'm kind of sad there will only be one more Variant book, but I'm sure I'll like the new series, too.

    I'm curious about that Everything Is Obvious book. I'll have to look into that when I'm in a non-ficiton mood.

  5. Oh, very fun interview! I like the questions you asked...even if it is making me feel like my questions suck. ;) I really need to get to Variant this month.

  6. Awesome interview! Such great questions and answers. And can we give Mr. Wells a giant hip hip hooray for recognizing that he didn't have the material for a trilogy and not padding out a middle book? That's great.

    (As an aside, I actually found a secondhand copy of THE COUNTERFEIT this week. I pledge to read VARIANT first!)



Related Posts with Thumbnails