Z.D. Robinson, proud father (again) and author of The Great Altruist joins us today to talk about his book and the journey that led to it:
I used to write a lot of stories when I was younger. In middle-school, my stories consisted of just a long paragraph devoid of good sentence structure and even a basic comprehension of grammar. And most of them were about lone Ninjas assaulting island fortresses. That's what I get for watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all the time. And that's what also happens when you come close to failing sixth-grade English.
In high-school, my grammar never improved and my stories were no less deep. Now they were about loner high-school kids saving their dream girls from government takeovers of the school. Really shoddy stuff.
Orwellian themes aside, it was at this time that I created my first solid characters. James and Genesis were born in my mind, but I had no idea how much these two people would influence my writing for the next eighteen years. Or how Genesis would even appear on occasion in depression-induced hallucinations. (More on that later.)
James was loosely based on myself, even though he displayed a lot more cool and poise than I did. He wasn't even like me; he was just a version of myself I wish I could be. No more was this evident than after my parents divorced and I came up with a story that would go on to figure prominently in my debut novel over a decade later. It was about a young man, again called James (mainly because I'm bereft of original ideas), and his quest to save his parent's marriage. How he was supposed to travel through time was a complete mystery. But the story - although about time-travel - was less about the method and more about the character interaction and the lessons learned. Think of a more dramatic version of Back to the Future.
I eventually came up with a vehicle for time-travel. I wanted the person to be tiny (think Tinkerbell) so that he or she could travel by James's side to provide guidance along the journey. When I decided the character should be a woman, I used the name Genesis. I didn't know how or why she should be tiny, although I was quick to decide she would NOT be a fairy. And I chose to follow time-travel convention by making her perpetually naked (the idea being that only organic matter could travel through the time-field displacement - think The Terminator). [Note: There's also a philosophical reason for her nakedness - something to do about her confidence superseding petty body-image conventions. That's the "deep" reason for it; the other is Freudian and probably self-explanatory.]
By this point in my life, I was married. I was diagnosed (inaccurately, I would learn years later) with bipolar disorder. The depression was so severe that creatively I was dead. But I had developed this kind, beautiful woman in my head that I would talk to like an imaginary friend while driving around for the cable company. That might sound really strange; and it was. But those "hallucinations" were quite mild and actually quite useful in getting to know her character. I don't recommend this to other writers, as hallucinating your feature character can lead dangerously close to John Nash-style schizophrenia. If you've seen A Beautiful Mind, you'll understand what an unproductive time that can be.
Eventually, a story came together. James was central to my book, but Genesis had a lot going on. I soon came up with an interesting backstory and additional adventures for her. And I compiled those stories into a novel about a selfless woman who uses her unique powers to help people fix mistakes from their past. It's not that original, and I'm sure the constant nudity of the protagonist may come off sophomoric and juvenile to some, but early reviews have shown it to be entertaining at least. And isn't "entertaining" the reason a lot of people read books?
While I write mainly for funsies, I take the story very seriously. Having grown up on Back to the Future and Peggy Sue Got Married, time-travel is a staple of my story-telling. Some people hate it because it's been handled so poorly in the past. I'd never say that my plots are hole-less, but if you like stories about naked people traveling through time (and shoot, who doesn't?) then The Great Altruist won't be a total waste of time.
Having completed a novel (and working on two presently), I can say I've come a long way since those early ninja and high-school peril stories. I also no longer hallucinate tiny, naked women. Writing about my parent's divorce was very cathartic (although I should add that the details in my novel are NOT based on any actual events.) I'm also the proud father of three young boys.
If you want to know who I really write for nowadays, I'd have to mention my wife. She reads all first drafts long before anyone else is allowed near it. If she doesn't like something, it goes. If she loves it - or cries while reading it - I leave well-enough alone and don't touch it again. She has a good BS detector and is very good at catching plot holes, so while not everyone may like my work, at least I know the most important person in my life does. And most importantly, she has a way of telling me something stinks without saying those words exactly. There is an exciting moment I look forward to when I ask her what she thinks of something she just read, and she pauses to frame her words. Those seconds hang in the air for what feel like forever. Little does she know it, but the next words out of her mouth will probably change the course of my career. When I consider that without her I might still be writing about ninjas, I can't think of better hands to be in.
The Great Altruist at Amazon.com