Friday Feature: Interview with Katherine Robb

Each week, the editors of Jenny Magazine sit down with either fellow literary magazine editors or past Jenny contributors for short interviews. This week’s interview is with Katherine Robb, a past contributor of Jenny Magazine.

Describe your first publication. Where was it, when, and what was the piece about? How old were you at the time and how did it feel?

I believe my first publication was a short story I wrote about fly-fishing when I was in junior high. It was published in the Portland Angler’s Club newsletter. My dad is a big fly-fisherman and he subscribed to this newsletter. He knew I liked to write and suggested maybe I send a story in to them. I remember feeling a little embarrassed actually when the story came out. It was kind of cheesy.

What inspired your piece in the Jenny?

I used to be a big runner and the story “City Year” was largely inspired by small moments I experienced while running in San Francisco. Eventually I figured out a protagonist so I could spin the moments into a larger, coherent story.

What got you into writing?

I’ve always loved to write. Growing up I wanted to be a writer, but it didn’t seem like a feasible career path, so I put all those dreams away and became a lawyer. Then, years into my legal career, I took an online writing class and once I re-opened the writing gate I wasn’t able to close it again. I was writing before and after work, on the bus to and from work, during lunch. I guess I was trying to make up for lost time.

What do you like writing the most? Is there a certain style you prefer?

I like fiction most and I prefer plot-driven fiction. I personally am not a big fan of heavy description, period pieces or fantasy, so correspondingly I don’t write any of that. Having a background as someone who’s worked 100-hour weeks and having friends that aren’t big readers, I think I try to focus on writing entertaining, easy/quick to read pieces that also have meaning. Of course, who knows if I’m successful at it or not.

What are your influences? Who are your favorite writers?

This question is hard for me. I’m not entirely sure who my influences are. I read a lot of mysteries growing up — pretty much every Agatha Christie novel — and I think that love of some kind of drama to solve probably influences my writing in some manner. I also like things that delve into the complexity of raw everyday human emotions. I tend to like certain books, but not necessarily a writer’s entire catalogue. I’m also really drawn to strong female protagonists, though to be honest, I still think the market is lacking in those.

I also really like short pieces — it’s often short pieces that stick with me more then novels: Nathan Englander’s “What we Talk About When we Talk About Anne Frank,” David Foster Wallace’s “Incarnations of Burned Children,” Tobias Wolff’s “Powder,” perhaps my favorite — ZZ Packer’s “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere.” I still love Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, which of course is told entirely through vignettes. Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation still has me reeling even though I read it months ago — could one call it a series of vignettes? I don’t know what to call it other than extraordinary.

What’s your proudest moment as an author?

Probably an essay that was published last spring in Gray’s Sporting Journal. First off, I actually got paid for it, which was very exciting. Second, they paired the piece with beautiful illustrative work, which elevated the whole thing to a new level.

How has your writing developed over time?

I think my writing has gotten subtler — less overwritten, less melodramatic, which are easy mistakes to make. And of course one has to always keep working at it, keep trying to make the writing clean and honest. I think the older I get, the leaner I like my writing. These days it seems like I’m usually striving to say something in the least amount of words possible.

Are you currently working on anything?

I just finished a novel. It’s a family drama rooted around a horrific crime. The novel opens at a parole board hearing, then goes back in time to tell the stories of all those sitting around the table at the hearing, along with one person who isn’t there. It’s inspired by an experience I had in law school representing someone at a parole board hearing, though it’s in no way his story.

What’s your writing process?

I try to treat writing like a job — do the work regardless of whether you feel like it or not and do it on a regular, steady basis.

What are you currently reading?

First I have to say, I’m so thankful for libraries. We need to keep funding libraries! I try to read a lot so I usually have a large stack of library books on my bedside table. Currently waiting to go back to the library are A Spool of Blue Thread and The Paying Guests. Still on the stand are The Bees, Annabel, How to be Both, and Outline. When I find something truly amazing, then I go out and buy a copy for my shelves.

Have you ever worked with a medium other than writing? Or collaborated with someone in another medium with your writing?

I’ve made a few very short films. For a while, I had this New Year’s resolution where I wasn’t eating animal products until I made or killed that product. So I made yogurt, cheese, etc. and then I had to get into the processing of meat. My friends kept urging me to blog about the experience, which I tried and hated. So instead I made a few videos.

I also took a film class thinking perhaps I’d get into that since at the time I lived in California and thought screenwriting might be worth pursuing. I like my film, “The Weekend,” but we weren’t allowed to use dialogue and I realized right away how important the actual words were to me. You can see all the videos here, although the video about chicken processing does have a YouTube content warning on it and the fishing one should have one as well — animals are killed, so don’t watch if you’re squeamish!


Are you a past Jenny contributor or an editor at a literary magazine and interested in an interview? Send us an email.

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