Author Interview: Robin Pond
The fascinating intersection of renowned Canadian playwright and novelist.
Robin Pond is a Toronto-based writer and playwright. His plays, mainly comedies, have received hundreds of performances and publication with Eldridge and YouthPLAYS and in numerous anthologies. One of his plays, The Retirement Plan, has been optioned to be made into a movie. On the prose fiction side, Robin’s mystery novel, Last Voyage, was published as an e-book in 2018. Since then, he has had numerous short stories accepted for publication in various magazines and anthologies and he is currently assembling selected sci-fi stories into a collection which he intends to publish under the title Future Developments.
Robin is also the author of the short story “TimeSavers” from Radon Issue 1.
You’ve had a fascinating trajectory as a writer. How has the literary landscape changed since your career began?
I think of my writing career more as a series of fits and starts than anything with any sort of trajectory. But in general, I believe the literary landscape has actually become much more amenable to individual writers than it used to be. For one thing, when there was no email or internet, the process of submitting work was much more laborious and expensive. The costs of printing and copying and mailing (with self-addressed stamped envelopes) could be quite prohibitive.
A writer now has access to a lot more submission opportunities. The market seems more fragmented and hopefully there is a much greater chance of finding like-minded editors and publishers than there used to be in the paper-and-ink era.
And the process of writing itself, using a laptop with word-processing rather than a manual typewriter, is much more efficient. I’m certainly able to produce more with cutting and pasting capabilities than I could correcting with liquid paper.
How does your background as a playwright affect your approach to writing prose?
A play is basically a story told through dialogue (plus action outlined in stage directions and brought to life by the actors). In prose, we can rely more on description of both the world of the story and the action which moves it forward. But a key feature of most stories is the way the characters interact, much of which can be shown through dialogue. Depending on the story, I often rely more than other writers on the dialogue both to demonstrate the relationships between characters and to move the action forward.
Is your play, The Retirement Plan, making progress in becoming a movie?
The stumbling block to making the movie is raising a few million dollars to fund it. I’m not involved with the business side of production and have no idea if progress is being made on this front.
I admire multi-talented people—playwrights who can also act, direct, and produce their own plays or writers who are also filmmakers and involved in every aspect of the production—but I also believe such projects can often be improved through collaboration, with different people with differing talents each focusing on what they do best.
Anyone who is ‘just a writer’, like me, has to accept a loss of control in optioning a script to a movie producer. I collaborated on the original screenplay but I am sure, if the movie does get made, it will end up being quite different than the original concept.
Do you find that being a playwright helps your dialogue writing in fiction?
Dialogue can be very instrumental in differentiating characters. We can differentiate characters in a number of ways, through physical descriptions—one is tall and one is short—or through describing mannerisms—she waves her arms around a lot when she talks—or simply through describing the actions of each character. But one of the best ways to differentiate is to have different characters sound different.
Playwrights, in developing a character, typically develop a sense of what that character sounds like. And I think this approach, listening to the characters rather than just putting words in their mouths, can also be very effective writing prose dialogue.
You are prolific in your production of comedic plays and mystery novels. Do you find yourself preferring writing comedy or mystery more?
I’m possibly a bit unfocussed in my work from a genre point of view. I like the challenge of attempting a lot of different types of writing. I’ve written in a number of different media, genres, and styles, including literary stories, parodies, some more experimental work, mysteries, and now speculative fiction (sci fi/fantasy/horror). I currently prefer writing the speculative fiction because it provides me a greater range in terms of premises and exploring interesting alternative worlds.
But I also prefer writing comedy, or at least stories with some comedic elements. I don’t consider comedy to be a genre in itself. Much of my work, whether it is mystery or literary or speculative, contains some level of comedy. The degree of comedy in any story will vary depending on the nature of the story, but especially with speculative fiction, I feel touches of the absurd fit very well with most of the subject matter.
Have you released your sci-fi story collection Future Developments?
I have continued to get a number of the stories from this collection published in anthologies and magazines but I have not yet submitted the full collection to many publishers. I toyed with the idea of trying to get an agent for this work but that did not pan out. At the moment, this project is on the back-burner while I write more stories and tinker with which ones to include in the collection.
How do you approach sitting down to write a new story for the first time? Is there a certain aspect that you build out first and then scalpel on the rest?
I always start with the basic premise, what the story is about, sort of a specific instantiation of theme. With short stories, once I’ve fleshed out the premise and have some idea of the characters and the scenes I want to portray, I just start writing. For longer stories, I find a more structured approach is needed, a storyboard or point form outline. But sometimes when I put the characters into the scenes unexpected things can happen and I have to rethink the premise and revise the plot and characters.
What advice do you have for newer writers starting out on the journal submission circuit?
Don’t get discouraged. You’ll likely receive multiple rejections, on average maybe ten or more rejections, for every acceptance. And for writers starting out your rejection rate may be much higher. The trick is to develop a thick enough skin that you can roll with rejections and continue to submit until you find that more enlightened journal which recognizes the brilliance of your work.
Follow your own lights. Develop your own voice. As a writer you need to be open to criticism, always working at your craft, trying to improve. But that doesn’t mean you need to emulate others. Publishers always say they look for something new yet ask writers to state what other writers their work most resembles. The best approach is to try to learn from everyone, not to imitate anyone.
Keep writing regularly. If your goal as a writer is to achieve fame and fortune you are likely going to be very disappointed. There are easier ways to become famous, especially in an era of TikTok and YouTube. And you can likely earn more as a barista than as a writer. But if you feel you need to write, even in the absence of tangible reward, then structure it into your life on a regular basis, along with your job and all the other important parts of your life. Set aside a fixed time to write. Make it an established routine.
Where did the inspiration for your Issue 1 story "TimeSavers" come from?
In developing the premises for my stories I often start with very large, general questions and then whittle them down to more specific circumstances. In the case of TimeSavers, the overarching question is simply, “What bits of our life are the really important parts?” The next question, bringing the story more into the speculative realm, is “What if we could merely simulate the unimportant parts, glossing over them, to focus exclusively on the important parts?” This provides the setting for the story. But of course a story only becomes an active story through conflict. The final question, “But what if the parts that are important to me don’t align with the parts that are important to my significant other?” then twists a utopian ideal into a dystopian horror.