Author Robert J. Williams

Write and Author is interviewing Robert J. Williams, author of Strivers and Other Stories

Robert J. Williams was born in Augusta, Georgia. He is the recipient of four Larry Neal Writers' Awards given by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Educated at Northwestern University and the University of Georgia’s Grady Graduate School of Journalism and Mass Communications, he resides in Washington, D.C. where he has worked in digital marketing, advertising and web technology for over 20 years. He is currently at work on a novel.

What do you love most about the writing process?
The excitement of not knowing what’s going to be on the next page and the page after that. I write with a general sense of what the story arc is going to be but don’t exactly outline how scenes and plot points will be strung together. In that moment when a fresh idea hits me, I can write with no hovering pressure and it’s actually a lot of fun.

What are you currently working on?
I am working on a novel-length piece about a protagonist who meets and strikes up a friendship with a cousin at a family reunion in the South. Together they unearth and tell their family’s history with the help of a chorus of ancestors sharing backstories in alternating chapters.

What book has most influenced your life?
My writing life was most influenced by Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” I first read it in college for a literature class. Its framing story structure drew me into thinking hard about the ways writers can tell and contextualize stories, and why they decide to do it the ways they end up doing it. It also made me think a lot about the importance of setting, making place almost a character itself. Since much of my writing is set in the South just like that book, I feel I am writing in the same tradition as Hurston and often revisit passages for writing inspiration.

What is something memorable you have heard from your readers/fans?
I’ve heard that my writing is clean and simple. That’s what I want my writing to feel like. It often takes a lot of editing and re-writing to make writing feel “clean and simple.”

What is the toughest criticism given to you as an author? ‎
“This doesn’t work at all” or “this is just not interesting.” It’s a genuine and honest and perfectly fair reaction for a reader to have, but one that can cut deep. It forces you to take a dispassionate look at your work in the revision process which can be a good thing.

How do you market yourself and your book?

I built a website, use social media and have done a few readings, including one in my hometown Augusta, Georgia. Through my publisher, Washington Writers Publishing House, I’ve participated in book fairs, including one at the recent AWP conference.

Why do you write?
I like hearing and reading stories, so I write the kinds of stories I want to read. Growing up in the South when I did during the 70s and 80s, storytelling just seemed to be an organic part of many traditions, events and artistic expressions I was exposed to, whether summertime cookouts and other family gatherings, sitcoms on TV, story time at the library, gossipy long distance calls with relatives, parabolic sermons in church, Southern blues and soul music and early hip-hop. I didn’t start writing fiction until college, but I think that early exposure to storytelling in many forms pushed me to want to participate in the storytelling traditions surrounding me.

How often do you write and what is your process?
I work on something every day, even if it’s just moving punctuation around. Typically I revisit the last section I wrote and begin with an editorial review. I then write notes or a list of questions about what might happen next and why. Writing then becomes a process of trying to “answer” those questions or fleshing out the notes. Any lingering questions I keep around as possible future prompts or for inclusion in mini-outlines.

What writing advice can you give?
Produce. Create small goals and just continue to meet those goals to produce a finished product. Having a bad product is one step beyond having no product at all.

Can you create a short writing prompt?
A famous sports figure driving an expensive car gets into a car wreck with another famous sports figure driving an expensive car. Neither recognizes the other.

Strivers and Other Stories
by Robert J. Williams

Set between the 1920s and the present day, Strivers and Other Stories explores African-American and Southern voices reflecting characters striving towards their versions of the American dream. In 15 stories, we meet teachers and doctors, train porters and factory workers, soldiers and musicians; mothers, fathers, children and spouses; mentors and mentees. With a mix of humor and heart, satire and sentiment, this collection captures their everyday struggles for better lives and their hopes for promising futures.

Robert J. Williams