Animal lover and writer Anitha Robinson is thrilled to create stories about animals and the environment. Her experiences volunteering with organizations like World Wildlife Fund and local animal shelters, along with visiting animal sanctuaries nearby and faraway, have inspired many story ideas. Anitha is the author of a young adult trilogy.
The first book, Broken Worlds, was released in 2014 by CBAY Books. Broken Promises and Broken Dreams followed in 2017 and 2019 respectively. Recently, Anitha created a KINDNESS IS EVERYTHING blog. She collects and shares uplifting stories of people showing kindness to animals and each other. Her hope is to inspire others or at least bring joy to someone reading her posts. Her blog can be found at https://anitharobinson.com/blog/.
She graduated from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario with a Bachelor of Commerce and went on to become a Chartered Accountant. Though accounting and writing seem like polar opposites, she has combined these two worlds by offering ‘Tax Talks’ to writers. Anitha lives on a hobby farm in Ontario with her husband, two children, and many animals. She hopes one day to turn the property into an animal sanctuary. Anitha is represented by Tanusri Prasanna of Foundry Literary & Media.
Anitha, thanks for taking the time to do have this conversation with me. I’d like to talk about your book BROKEN WORLDS, released in 2014, and your writing life so far.
Q. What kind of research did you do for Broken Worlds and how much time did it take? What are your sources, typically?
A. The idea for Broken Worlds came to me in a dream, or more accurately, a nightmare. Normally, when I wake up, the details of the dream are long gone and at most I’m left with a vague, fuzzy memory. Not this time. I clearly recalled the details of this nightmare—being alone at night, chased by two men, the sound of their footsteps getting closer. I was terrified when I woke up. I was taking a writing class at the time and it was my turn to share a piece with the class, so I started writing about the nightmare. At this point, there was no research. But as the story unfolded, the characters came to life, and the plot took shape, and that’s when I started to research things like the layers of the atmosphere, the colours one would see as they pass these layers, the sounds of the forest, to name a few. Research takes a fair bit of time and varies from project to project. I can’t pinpoint an exact amount of time. For this book, my main sources were the internet and my husband, who helped me with the medical aspects of the story.
But for my middle grade adventure story and picture books about endangered animals, in addition to the internet, I also contacted people who help save these animals for their input.
Q. Broken Worlds is written in the First Person, the voice being that of the protagonist Kalli. Why did you decide to write this book in First Person? And why Kalli?
A. I wrote it in first person, because I was writing about myself in the nightmare. This POV allowed me to express what I saw and felt.
Q. You chose to write Broken Worlds in the present tense, as the action unfolds. Why was this? Do you think this is a more satisfying approach to writing? Why?
A. I find writing in present tense heightens the tension. It allows the reader to experience everything with the character in real time. As this was a story filled with action, I felt it was the best way to write it.
Q. What is your approach to writing? Do you plot in advance, perhaps chapter by chapter, or make it up as you go along?
A. I started writing Broken Worlds ten years ago. At that time, I just wrote from the top of my head. There wasn’t a lot of planning. But with the second and third book, I started with an outline and plotted the story ahead of time. It changed a bit as I was writing, but the general trajectory of the plot remained the same.
Q. The surprise in the plot of Broken Worlds comes around the half-way point when Ellis reveals that he is different (spoiler alert!) Was this how you created your plot, or did you suddenly decide on this when you reached that point in the book?
A. From the start, I knew Ellis was not going to be the good guy he seemed. I wasn’t sure what that would mean exactly, until I had written a few chapters, and then it came to me—he had to be an alien.
Q. Do you have any tips for upcoming writers on how to get published, traditional or Vanity publishing?
A. If someone wants to get published there are a few things they should do. First of all, read a lot. This way you will discover the types of stories you like to read which should help you decide the type of stories you like to write. I love reading picture books, middle grade and young adult, hence, that’s what I write. Next, write without expecting it to be perfect. Don’t allow the need to be perfect to deter you from writing. Once the words are on the page, then you can go back and edit. Which brings me to my last tip—find a critique partner/writing group to give you feedback and help edit your story. Sometimes what you think you’ve said isn’t what comes across, and a writing buddy can help sort that out, among other things.
Q. Has writing gotten any faster and easier for you since 2014, considering you’ve followed up with two sequels to Broken Worlds?
A. Before Broken Worlds was published, writing felt like a guilty pleasure, because I was the only one who benefitted. I would fit it in between taking care of my kids, working, chores around the house. But after the book was published, I gave myself permission to write most, if not every day, even for 30-40 minutes. Broken Worlds took me almost four years to write, but I finished the first draft of Broken Promises, in eight months.
I wouldn’t say writing has gotten easier. I think I’m better at it, because I spend more time working at my craft. I attend workshops, belong to critique groups where I give and receive feedback, and I write most days.
Q. Is there a favourite among all the characters in Broken Worlds? Why is he/she your favourite?
A. If I had to pick just one character, it would be Sammy. Even though he died very early on in the book, he was very important to me. I felt protective about him and the difficult life he was forced to live at such a young age.
Q. When Kalli returns to her mother’s house, she is greeted by the smell of curry, onions and spices, an obviously very Asian environment. Does this relate to your background and childhood? If so, how?
A. My parents emigrated from India and it was often difficult trying to blend the two cultures—Indian and Canadian. Especially at school. Being a kid is hard enough. Most of us want to fit in with others, but when you look different, it’s almost impossible. I remember being teased and bullied about the colour of my skin and how my hair and clothes would smell like spices and onions. When I got older, I worked hard to douse myself in sprays and perfumes whenever I went out, hoping it would cover the scent of curry. But it was also a very familiar smell, it was the smell of home, so there was also a comfort in it. That’s the part I wanted to bring out for Kalli—the comforting, familiar smell.
Q. The planet Istriya in Broken Worlds is a bleak, dystopian world plagued with pollution and on the brink of collapse, both environmentally and physically. Do you see this as a parallel to our own problems on earth? Was this a part of your theme?
A. I do worry Earth will become like Istriya. Many humans are motivated by profit alone. They don’t look past their need for instant gratification and they don’t take time to consider the detrimental long-term effects of their actions. Earth is our only home, but we are not its only inhabitants. We share this planet with other species, and I don’t believe our needs are any more important than theirs. I believe it’s important when making a decision that we consider—what are the long-term consequences of doing this? What harm will this cause to other species? And is there another way, where the gratification may not be as quick or as large, but it is sustainable for us and other species.
Q. How did you arrive at the names for your characters in Broken Worlds? Is there a science behind this or are names chosen randomly? Is there a connection between names and characters?
A. The main character’s name is Kalyana Farris to reflect her parents mixed marriage. There was no science for choosing the names of the characters for my Broken Worlds trilogy. However, for the middle grade and picture books I write featuring animals as the main characters, I try and choose names that have meanings about those animals. For example, I wrote a picture book about a rhino named Faru. Rhino in Swahili is Kifaru.
Q. What was the greatest stumbling block for you in creating and writing for the character of Ellis—someone of the opposite sex?
A. Ellis was a complex character to write, and not because he was male. Initially, he was manipulative and determined to save his species. But there was also the part of him that didn’t want to cause harm to anyone. As the story continues, he struggles with the realization that his mother is not the good person he thought. He then must figure out a way to save both worlds, his own and Earth. But when it becomes clear he can’t save both, he has to choose, and that was a hard character arc to develop.
Q. Is there a central theme in your three books? What is it?
A. I would have to say there are two themes- is that allowed? The one theme is the effects of greed. The people of Istriya destroyed their planet to the point it became uninhabitable. They were unwilling to change their selfish ways and it resulted in the planet no longer being able to sustain their behaviour. The other theme is love and our need for it and what we are willing to do to find it and then keep it.
Q. If you were to pass on one particular piece of advice to an upcoming writer of Young Adult Science Fiction, what would it be?
A. This is a hard questions, because I don’t consider myself a science fiction writer. The story about Kalli, started as a nightmare, and science fiction allowed me the best vehicle to share it.
Q. Do you have a favourite childhood book? Please share the reason behind your enthusiasm for this book…
A. I love mysteries. One of my favourites as a child were the Meg Mysteries. I have fond memories of sitting on my bed and losing myself in the story.
Q. What other authors and books have influenced your work since then?
A. J. K. Rowling- because I loved reading the Harry Potter series to my kids.
Katherine Applegate- I loved how she brought Ivan to life in The One And Only Ivan. His character, his sad situation, it all just leaped off the page and wrapped around me. I was so desperate to help Ivan. This is the kind of emotion I aspire to create in my readers. I want them to fall in love and care about my characters, so they cheer them on.
Q. Is there a point in your life when you realized that you wanted to become a writer? Please share the circumstances with us.
A. I have always loved writing, but it was never something I considered pursuing as a career. Growing up, I think a lot of emphasis was put on finding a career that would allow me to be financially stable and self-sufficient, and in my family, the arts was never considered a viable option. I wish it had been. I wish I had looked into career paths that involved writing, instead I became a Chartered Accountant. I don’t regret it (well not always). Being an accountant allowed me to work from home when I had my children, so I could be with them. I was able to organize my work around their schedules. But writing was always a part of my life. I would write little stories for my kids. Eventually, I took a few writing courses, devoted more time to writing, and realized how much joy it brings me.
Q. Do you have a fixed routine when you’re writing, or do you wait for the muse to strike you?
A.I try and start each day with yoga. It’s a lovely way to clear my head and I feel good after. I’ve recently decided to cut back my accounting work back to about 10-12 hours per week. I try to get my work done first thing in the morning, so that I have the rest of the day to write or do other things I enjoy.
Q. All the world needs heroes. Tell us about some of the protagonists in your three books. Is there real-life inspiration behind them?
A. The inspiration behind Kalli (other than the nightmare) is all the young girls and women, who are forced to marry someone they don’t want to. It must be frightening to stand up against the pressure to do so, especially if your life could be in danger if you don’t do what is expected.
I feel so sad about the real-life inspiration behind Hadley’s character. She appears in the second novel. She tells her parents she is gay and their reaction forces her to leave her home. During my research, I read that the majority of teen runaways are LGBTQ. They are forced out of their homes because their parents, the ones who are supposed to take care of them, kick them out of the house, for being who they are. It’s heart-breaking.
Q. What is the most difficult part of YOUR artistic process in completing the cycle for one of your books?
A. I still work as an accountant and there are many chores to do around our house- so for me the most difficult part is fitting in the writing, making sure I allow myself time to write.
Q. Do you find the process of writing exhausting or energizing? How do you cope with the physical demands of the profession?
A. I find writing very energizing. I love days when I wake up, knowing for sure I get to write. I don’t find it physically demanding, because I don’t put pressure on myself to write a certain number of words every day. I write because I love it. I think putting pressure on myself would take away the joy and perhaps the creativity.
Q. Is your approach to writing one that encompasses a formula that might meet your reader’s expectation, or do you write to suit yourself?
A. I write about things I care about. I love animals, but since I can’t be like Jane Goodall, who is out there, physically saving the animals, I write about them. I hope my writing will help them in some way.
Q. Did you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people would know of? If so, can you give us a hint?
A. That’s a great idea. Maybe I should start doing this!
Q. What do you consider the mark of success for a writer? How does she know she’s been successful?
A. For me writing is my joy, my relaxation- it’s even a form a therapy. I lose myself in my stories when I write. It makes me happy- and for me that’s success!
Q. Assuming you always think there’s room for improvement, what’s your approach to becoming a better writer?
A. I continue to read, write, and edit. I also find critiquing other writer’s work helps make me a better writer. I can often see my mistakes in their work,
Q. What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?