Dave Robinson on His Twenty-Year Project

Author Dave Robinson provides some insight into the process of writing his five-book series, Sweeney in Effable, which is the product of two decades worth of working and living. Here's what he had to say:

"I started trying to write these five book in 1997, when I first moved to Oakland and then San Francisco. At that time, the libraries didn't have the original translation of the Sweeney myth readily available, so I relied on Trevor Joyce's translation, The Poems of Sweeney, Peregrine. Later I read and reread Seamus Heaney's Sweeney Astray. There are several other well-known writers who reference Sweeney or use him as a character in their work--T.S. Eliot, Flann O'Brien, and recently I found that Neil Gaiman threw Sweeney in his great book, American Gods. I studied as many versions of the Sweeney story as I could find in the libraries and then on the Internet as they appeared. There is now instantaneous access to many different translations of the Sweeney legend, which is great for anyone who enjoys Irish literature and mythology.

"I write in bursts for hours and days--drafting, letting poems or stories sit for a time, reworking and rewriting for hours on end until feeling I've made progress or finished what I started. I take days, weeks, sometimes months off from writing. I wait to see what will come up next, staying open to cues and hints from my daily life that point me in the right direction for my writing. I use different forms and genres as a way to challenge myself and really to maintain a heightened, focused interest in what I'm writing. I leaned heavily, throughout these five books, on quality storytelling. My friends and family are truly wonderful storytellers, so I tried to get the cadence and pacing of oral storytelling onto the page.

"The core story of Sweeney--the insane, fallen king out in the Irish wilderness--struck me and stuck with me. It's still an important part of my life as a writer and person, now, 20 years later. I only began with the idea for one book in '97, but that slowly became three. During the writing of the third I had an idea for a fourth and final book that I couldn't turn away from. The fourth eventually was bumped to become the fifth, and then I wrote another fourth book and dropped it into place as it appears now in Sweeney in Effable. During those two decades of writing, I've lived in three states on two coasts, worked many different jobs, began and finished graduate school, moved back to New England, traveled as much as I could afford and became a father twice over. Reworking the Sweeney story through this whole time was a way for me to blend my imaginative, intuitive self with my practical self. It is really what Carl Jung calls "individuation." I adopted the story as my own and adapted it to modern times in order to explore my place in the universe. I knew I was doing a bit of that sort of thing when I started writing about Sweeney, but I didn't know how deeply his story would ingrain itself in me. Finally, working with the author and Jungian analyst D. Stephenson Bond during the past two years or so, I was able to fully grasp what I was attempting to do with the writing of these books. If you'd told me in 1997 that the books would become relics for my children--evidence of the best parts of me that I'll leave to them for when I am gone--I would have thought you were crazy. But this is what has come to pass and what is most satisfying to me. The fiction, photos, drawings and poems I created and published (with the wonderful and admired Loom Press), allows me to communicate what is most important to me to the reader. What the reader does with this communication is beyond my control, but working on it has been vital to me.

"If it wasn't for the support of my wife, the artist Anna Isaak-Ross (whose photography and design make the books sing, in my estimation), I wouldn't have finished. My brother, father and mother also helped me in many ways through the years so I could focus on finally finishing the project. Joan Ross (design), Jim Higgins (photography/editing) and Kelly Freitas (lead designer) have also been crucial in helping me complete this work. Fellow writers and friends, Matthew Miller, Kate Hanson Foster, Sarah McAdams Corbett, Fred Nutter, Jay Atkinson and Paul Marion were all incredibly supportive through the years as well.

"Lastly, I'll add that once I became a father, writing changed for me. It's more difficult and rewarding at the same time. And having finished this collection of books, plus the related blog <seawellmass.tumblr.com>, I don't know what I'll do next. It's a strange feeling, after 20 years of working on a project, to not know what to work on. But there it is: I don't know, and life goes on needing to be lived. Maybe it just doesn't have to be written about by me anymore?"

Robinson's Sweeney series, along with the first book, Sweeney on-the-Fringe, are available at <loompress.com>.

4 comments (Add your own)

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