10 Questions with Robinne Weiss
Robinne is an educator and entomologist who has never been able to control her writing habit. She writes speculative fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her short stories have won multiple awards, and have most recently appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Magazine and the anthology Te Kōrero Ahi Kā, which won a Sir Julius Vogel Award. She’s published ten books, including a series of middle grade fantasy novels infested with dragons, a light-hearted urban fantasy, and some rather more serious non-fiction about insects.
When not writing, she can be found outdoors gardening or hiking. Robinne lives in rural New Zealand with her husband, two teenage children, and a cat who makes dragons seem like nice safe pets.
Tell us a bit about yourself! Where do you call home and what do you write?
My tūrangawaewae is the forests of eastern North America, but New Zealand has been home for the past fifteen years, and I’m here to stay. I live in rural Canterbury and write an eclectic mix of non-fiction, speculative fiction and poetry. My speculative fiction tends to lean towards science-heavy fantasy and biology-based science fiction. I’ve been writing a lot of climate fiction lately, too.
What drew you to that particular style and genre?
I suppose I like the freedom that writing poetry and speculative fiction provides.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write poetry. I published my first poetry in 1979, when I was 9 years old. In grad school, I used to finish my exams with a poem on the subject of the final essay. Given that my Masters degree is in Entomology, my professors thought I was a complete nut. During lockdown I wrote a poem a day and posted them on my fence for the neighbours ... I guess poetry is my native language—there’s so much leeway there to really play with language.
My speculative fiction leans heavily towards ecological themes, which reflects my 25-year long career in environmental education and heritage interpretation. I published a fair bit of non-fiction during that time, and it was only natural to incorporate those same themes into my fiction when I quit the day job to write.
What’s your best known work?
My most popular book is The Dragon Slayer’s Son. It’s a middle grade fantasy adventure set in modern day New Zealand ... with dragons. It’s the first of a series of four books, the last of which I published in April of this year.
[Dragon Homecoming is the final book in The Dragon Slayer series (ages 8-13).]
What inspired you to write it?
My husband is always tossing writing prompts my way. One day he left a note for me—a letter to a kid named Nathan telling him his dad (a dragon slayer) had been killed on his latest mission and Nathan was required to take his dad’s place in the profession. That letter became the inciting incident for the book.
Tell us about your writing process.
I’m a plotter at heart, but much of my plotting ends up thrown out the window because my characters have minds of their own, and they delight in foiling my plans. That and the dragons—pesky things try to ‘wyrm’ their way into every book I write. I’ve put screens on the windows to keep them out, but they just crash through. Makes a terrible mess on the carpet.
What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?
My first book, A Glint of Exoskeleton, is a middle grade adventure in which a girl who can talk to insects has to save the world from a hoard of mosquitoes who want to take over. While planning the book, I spent a lot of time researching the weaponisation of insects during WWII. Deliberate releases of disease-infected insects during the war killed more people than atomic bombs, but most people have no idea it happened. It’s seriously rich fodder for fiction!
What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?
In my adult urban fantasy, Squelched, the scene where my main character discovers she’s an anti-mage and ... Oh! ... I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about that…
[Squelched is Weiss's light-hearted urban fantasy released earlier this year.]
But seriously, I’ve led a fairly adventurous life—taught with a 2.5m long python, delivered goat kids during a dinner party, nearly killed by ants in Panama, shot at in Guatemala ... I’ve learned the hard way, you can’t put that stuff in fiction. It’s not realistic enough.
Who are your literary influences? In what way?
Barbara Kingsolver and Isabelle Allende are high on the list. Both authors are skilled at weaving life’s truths into simple tales. Allende is also a master of language. Her stories are positively poetic, especially in her native Spanish language.
What books are on your bedside table right now?
The Last Circus on Earth, by B.P. Marshall, and El Príncipe de la Niebla, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.
Last and most important, where can we find your books/stories?
My books are available from most online retailers. You can find links to all my books and some of my short stories on my website: robinneweiss.com/stories-and-books/
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