Interview: Robin Palmer
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Current Song: Ready by Cherie
Once upon a time, Robin Palmer worked for Lifetime and lived in Los Angeles. Then one day, she wanted a change of pace, so she left the Lifetime life and moved to New York. Now, with the recent release of the novel Cindy Ella, she can add "published author" to her résumé. Rather than being a fantasy, the story is a contemporary comedy with a heroine who, like the author herself, would rather wear flip-flops than glass slippers.
Did you set out to write a modern-day Cinderella story without the fantasy elements, or did you simply start writing a story about a girl who didn't want to go to prom?
It was always going to be a modern version of Cinderella, but with an "anti-princess." I'm a bit obsessed with Carl Jung and around the time my agent asked me whether I had ever considered writing in the YA genre, I had been reading a lot of the Jungian scholar Marie-Louise von Franz's books about fairy tales as well as Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment. In addition, also at that time, my father had the DVD rights to Shelley Duvall's TV series Faerie Tale Theatre, and because I had been doing the marketing and publicity materials for him, I had been immersed in watching them. I just loved the idea of writing about reluctant princesses and the idea that while there might be a "happily ever after," it wasn't necessarily going to end with some prince charging in on his white horse to save her -- I wanted her to save herself first.
I would say that I'm a mix of Cindy and her best friend India. I'd like to think that I'm as Zen as India is all of the time, but the truth is I'm only like for the first 20 minutes after I'm done with yoga class. But while I can't necessarily get myself into that state of unconditional acceptance about every area of my own life at times, I'm really good at spouting words of wisdom to my friends about their lives. I would say that until I was 30, I was much more concerned with fashion and designer shoes like Clarissa and the Clones, but after I had my early midlife breakthrough and left the TV world to write, I quickly became a yoga-pants-and-flip-flops girl.
What went through your mind when you saw your book on the shelves for the first time?
It was utterly surreal. It was in Borders in the Time Warner Center here in Manhattan and there were five copies on the shelf. When I picked one up and started flipping through it, I was immediately transported back to my desk in my old apartment in Los Angeles and had all these sense memories of what had been going on in my life as I wrote each chapter. Honestly, I felt like a character in my own fairy tale -- my biggest dream in the world for such a long time had been to be a published author and it had finally happened.
The book has a number of tongue-in-cheek good-natured jokes about Lifetime and about Los Angeles. Tell us about your old job and your old stomping grounds.
For five years, I worked at Lifetime Television in the Original Movie department, where I oversaw the development of scripts and production of the movies. Obviously I wasn't curing cancer, but I'd like to think that I was supplying millions of women with must-see-guilty-pleasure TV fare for rainy weekend afternoons. But while the job was fun, and paid really great money, and I got to do things like hang out with ex-Charlie's Angel Jaclyn Smith who was my childhood idol, I eventually got sick of midwifing other people's creative children and wanted to birth my own. But one of the best things about being there for so long (other than the expense account) was that it really taught me how to craft and pace a story, which has really carried over into my own writing. Or so I've been told.
Now you live in New York. Do you plan to set a story there?
I'm sure I'll definitely write something set in New York down the line, but as far as the fairy tales go, they'll all be set in L.A. To me, L.A. is the epitome of make-believe and fairy tales, especially since its main export is film and television and people are constantly reinventing themselves. I've tried hard to make L.A. not just a setting in my books, but a character. Plus, since I lived there for 17 years, for good or for bad, it's wormed itself into my soul.
What are you working on now?
I just handed in my second fairy tale to my editor -- a retelling of The Frog Prince, which will be out in Spring '09. After I do my revisions on that, I'll start work on a third one.
Will the three stories be related in any way? If so, will there be a name for the trilogy?
They're all set at the same high school -- Castle Heights -- and there will be mentions of characters of one book in another. I like to call the series "Fresh Fairy Tales," although it's not official or anything like that. Obviously my hope is that I get to keep writing more and more of them. Maybe after a while I'll crossbreed them -- you know, have Cindy Ella start dating the hero from the still-as-yet-unnamed Frog Prince retelling.
Who is your favorite fictional heroine?
Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as I can very much relate to the feeling of having fallen down the rabbit hole. One of my favorite articles of clothing is my lilac Alice t-shirt.
I think highly of Alice as well. What are your ten favorite books of all time?
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Hours by Michael Cunningham
Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Demian by Hermann Hesse
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Ariel by Sylvia Plath
A Confederacy of Dunces by J. Kennedy Toole