Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Monday, August 1, 2011

My guest this month - Linton Robinson

This is a rare occasion, so sit up.

Linton Robinson's name is well-known enough for him to be able to pick and choose where he appears. I am very glad he agreed to this interview. I hesitate when choosing a word to describe this denizen of the world's most important online meeting places. He has experience and know-how, and some very direct ways of sharing them. Linton does not suffer fools easily, so his reputation precedes him. I have asked him special questions: none of the commonplace routine questionnaires for this guy.

Please make Lin Robinson welcome...

Lin, we keep meeting on threads, blogs, writers’ sites and forums. How do you think authors benefit from commenting on various online meeting places – is it time well spent?
In my case frequently mis-spent I'm afraid.  I probably piss off more people than I sell and spend hours fooling around.  Of course, it keeps me off the street.  What's cool is that the opportunity is available.  If  there had been a way I could show my writing to professionals when I was in high school, maybe get some comments, I'd have fallen over in shock.  Now it's taken for granted.  (And the little mutts get sassy about it.)  If you're having fun and communicating with people you like to, how better to spend time?

I’ve read a few wonderful chapters in Mayan Calendar Girls – tell us a bit about the concept, and how the idea came to you.

Wow, twisty question for this book, and actually in dispute.  Not legally, thank God.  The whole thing started in Cancún, at what was either a writing conference where nobody went home when they were supposed to, or a short-term, time-shared writers' colony.  It's pretty much established that somebody at a party, where everybody was just messed-up enough, said you couldn't take the Mayan Calendar thing seriously because they didn't have calendar girls. I'm pretty sure it wasn't me, but at least three members of what came to be known as "Team 2012" are rabidly sure it was them, leading to hard feelings and a couple of food fights.  The concept is all in the title:  "Mayan Calendar Girls" says it all.

The real concepts of interest there are "team written"-- itself a long story full of recruitment, desertion, frantic groups shouting at somebody trying to bang out an episode we promised three days before and were getting flack for not having up, and people sneaking in and rewriting posted episodes -- and "weekly webserial" -- over one hundred chapters posted once a week and delivered to our growing number of fans online or by RSS feed, even cell phones.  Both are uncommon means of writing a novel, but both have some powerful advantages.

Your works are a fascinating colourful mixture of the exotic, the sensual, the gritty and the eccentric. Are you influenced at all by the visual arts?

Wow, thank you.  I was just trying for "completed".  I'm a very visual guy and am often impressed and inspired by visual input.  I don't really make any distinction between some masterful painting,  a beautiful landscape, a nineteen year old girl's butt on a website, or seeing a car run over somebody: it all adds up.  I often compile little portfolios of my characters, so I know what they look like: in fact sometimes the character becomes who he or she is because I saw "their" picture on the internet.  That said, I don' t like writing description and am not very good at it.  Why I like doing screenplays.

A really good example of how this can work was, again, at Mayan Calendar Girls.  Once the title had been uttered and everybody got wiped out enough to think that writing the book was a good idea, we were astonished by how much Mayan calendar cheesecake was out there. Take a look at the website.  The cover, by Robin Crandall, came up at some point and was very inspirational.  We'd been working on something kind of book like Wilson's Illuminatus -- lots of intellectual stuff, archaeological tidbits.  But that image caused us to swing towards "cheesecake rules".  You look at that picture; ancient stone calendar with that innocent, playful, tawdry chorus girl shot, and that's a lot of what the book is all about.  Girls of many cultures and skin tones: being cute, dashing around on adventures, losing their clothing a lot.  There are still serious elements, straight-out romance, Perils of Pauline, and political humor that's probably already dated (a danger for serials, by the way)  but that isn't just a cover slapped on the book, it was part of what made the book whatever the hell it is. The idea of writing a novel to "illustrate" a painting might be a little far-fetched, but I think it's legitimate.

What do you think drove the success of your Mexican Slang book? If you were starting it right now, would you do anything different?

Mexican Slang 101 has sold tens of thousands of copies and I think the reasons are pretty simple.  It's a book a lot of people want, but don't know it yet.  Another "title equals concept" thing:  you see the title and you know you want it immediately.  Or not.  Jessica Kreager's cover helps, but it sold well with no art at all, just grungy title type.  I used to try to make it look like something you'd buy out of a street hustler's opened trenchcoat.  It's also cheap.  It sells for the same "Five Gringo Dollars" now as it did in 1985.  Despite, let me whine, the fact that production cost has doubled. 
Also, it's pocket-sized.  Doing pocket-sized books is a pain in the heinie.  And none of the POD producers have quarter page sized formats.  But for a book like this, it’s worth it.  This is a great format for poetry, by the way--and the size makes it twice as thick.

If I was doing it different, I'd have gotten on the internet sooner (my first online sales were eBay, by the way -- which led me PayPal) and done it less beachbum outlaw.  I was just selling it where I happened to be.  The reason it has some sample trashtalk on the back with page numbers is so little Mexican kids could go up to gringo tourists, flash them the title, then show them the back page.  They'd start laughing, showing it to their friends, looking inside -- and they were hooked.  I think using back cover references to draw people into the book are a good, and little-used, idea.  I was way ahead of Amazon's "Look Inside" gizmo.  Way ahead of POD, too: I made 99.9% of those books on copy machines, sometimes doing only like six, dashing out to the beach to sell them and get enough money to print more and pay my hotel room.  I used to sell them in beach restaurants to pay for dinner.  Once I had them at the counter of a backpacker hotel, where they sold well enough to pay my rent -- subsistence with no cash changing hands.  I'm trying to be a little more corporate than that these days.
Did I mention it's cheap?  Maybe I should do an ebook for $0.99.

We all say that where a writer lives doesn’t matter these days, because of the internet and rapid communication. You live in Mexico – surely your location has affected the way you write, or what you write about?

In a lot of ways "where" doesn't matter much to me.  I was born in Occupied Japan--not even a country -- and went to twelve schools before I started getting kicked out of colleges and armies.  But it has a major effect on what I'm writing.  Don't people generally write about their environment?  I was laying out novels in Seattle, wrote "The Weekend Warrior" in San Diego (and if you think Mayan Calendar Girls is racy, wait until you catch THAT little bit of zaniness and surrealistic spinouts) and several books at the border, as well as the TV series that will spawn a trilogy of novels starting this fall.  Mayan Calendar Girls would have been pointless to write outside the Yucatán

I move around a lot and have lived less than half my life in the USA.  I find US culture weird when I visit there, frankly.  And the politics are boring compared to other countries I've written in.  On the other hand, they don't try to kill you for political writing in the US, and that's exactly what happened in Mazatlán. I'm hoping this Tijuana bigshot doesn't have me shot over that Borderlines series: he's been known to do it to other writers.

This could be a disadvantage, actually.  Writers who have roots and a sense of place have a niche they can work with, and hopefully can develop core readerships based on their region or city.  Or... Somebody writes about life on a starship or other dimension or ancient Rome and it just doesn't matter at all.

You have been around the traps a few times – how have your writing and publishing experiences informed the way you treat the business now, in 2011?

I just wish this whole paradigm had come along when I was younger.  I'm a solo type guy and actually kind of despise the people in Manhattan who make the decisions on what people get to read.  I was publishing my own underground papers in the sixties and seventies, my own lines of poetry in the eighties, Mexican Slang101 in the nineties.  I like to deal directly with the reader.  Nobody ever reads my books without liking them.  But nobody in the "industry" finds them interesting enough to, apparently, read past the first page.  So screw them.

And we can do that now.  You can sit in your apartment or trailer or cellblock or whatever and write novels, publish them, and make big bucks.  Get read all over the world, not just in stores.  The very potential to be able to do that is earth-shaking.  It completely eclipses Gutenberg:  it’s a revolution that writers are feeling sooner than readers, but it’s all coming.  Young writers are so lucky to have the opportunities available to them and should take full advantage of them.  Don't be swayed by any of the "real book fetishist" or "gatekeeper bait" niggling about this.  It's the most powerful thing that's happened to the written word in history, and the greatest thing for writers of all levels, period.

I see you have collaborated with writers and artists a number of times. How easy – or hard – have you found it to come up with a successful joint effort?

Well, I think I've said enough about the Mayan Girls Team to scare people, but another example is my "Imaginary Lines" with Ana Maria Corona.  It's always tickled me that people keep asking me "So who wrote what?"  I think it's pretty obvious that many of those pieces stem from stories of her Guadalajara girlhood, and some of the work stems from my own cynical investigations: but the thing is, collaborations are a blend and exchange.  Would it make sense for me to ask who was responsible for your last orgasm?

I think teamwork is going to play a LOT more of a role in my future work.  Team 2012 has another serial in the works if we can stop bickering and seducing each other -- and sooner or later we have to spring for the sequel -- which ties up the plot and the history of everything in general.   If I have huge hits with three books I'm preparing for print right now, on small presses, I don't know where I'd find the time to write the second book in each series.  I find myself getting more and better ideas lately, but less time and energy to complete them.  (This may be a general condition in men of my age, actually, but I'm talking about literature.)   I'm actively looking for young writers to team up with on projects.  People like Santana bringing out albums where they play with younger musicians got me thinking about that.  I have one long-term "dream series" that I would want to approach with a team of writers and researchers to do like ten novels spanning two decades.  I would REALLY like to do it, but have no interest in writing it myself.

A lot of things are changing, and I can see value in it.  There's no reason the author of a book has to be some auteur, any more than with films.  There's no reason for novels to be 100,000 words long: there is an epublisher called "40K Books" and I just converted a screenplay to a novel (in seven three-hour days) that runs 43,000 and will make a very nice ebook.  It will come out on a new publisher that specializes in screenplay novelizations.  I have no idea where things will be in a year, but the toothpaste is not going back in the tube and it's just going to get cheaper and easier for writers to reach readers.  I've said for years that in the future everybody will be an author, and nobody will make a living at it.  An exaggeration, but what if it turns out that way?  There's no problem with that: what's a problem is writing sitting around in a drawer, unread.

Thank you for spending time with us, Lin. 

Linton Robinson has been a professional writer for far too many years, in genres and formats that often make no sense whatsoever.  A lifelong self-publisher, he just thinks all these newbies are crowding the field and cramping his style.  After decades working with magazines, newspapers, catalogs, and whatnot, he exuberates to the new models in which he doesn't have to get along with anybody.
Most recently he was a member of the team that wrote Mayan Calendar Girls
See more, including videos, pictures, and meandering, at

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  1. ("...nice interview..." went the goblin, adding "...where I love the last bit about everyone becoming their own author now and not making any money out of it, perhaps that will leave only the real authors standing, those who write for the love of it then..." )

  2. Great interview! Lin Robinson is something else. We don't know what else, but definitely something original.

  3. Self publishing is evolving so quickly, that one can hardly keep up with the new models out there. Rosanne, you and Lin have both given so much valuable advice in the groups and forums. I've taken a lot from what both of you have to say.

  4. Karla - it's always a pleasure to see you. Thanks for your flattering comment. You and I are pretty similar, in a lot of things. I find you amazing, and your hilarious blog fun to visit.

  5. ozma914 - Thank you for liking my choice in guests.

  6. Lin, still the iconoclast, I see. Readers: he's been that way since we used to get high together in the back of my Seattle photo lab in the 1980's. Ooops, hey, I hope I didn't give anything away there, Lin...

  7. Sodium thiosulphate has that effect on some people, I hear. One tends to get fixated on fixative, Malcolm - is that it? People don't call that poison hypo for nothing.

  8. Wow, Linton...Rosanne is quite an interviewer. She actually made you look good!

    Just kidding. I like Linton. He doesn't BS. What you see is what you get.

  9. Hiya there Norma! This was the longest one I ever did - but Lin has plenty of experience behind him, and it's all interesting, yes!

  10. I found this interview unusual and stimulating. I shall follow your blog from Harrow. I noted Australia where we lived for the year 1978-79 ,in Canberra. We loved it and I have been since to relatives all over.
    I write children's books and adult life stories so I blog at as well as having a website at
    Your book look interesting. Could I find them here?

  11. Janebuttery - Linton is not your run of the mill author. His projects are as zany and attractive as his responses here.

    I'll get in touch with you through your blog and let you know where to get my books. thank you for stopping by!

  12. Roseanne,

    Love your blog site. And enjoyed your interview with Lin.


    Indeed you have led a very mixed and interesting life and it shows in your writing. It is always a pleasure to hear from you!

  13. Hello Lena! So glad you enjoyed it. I did too. And I agree that a varied life adds grist to the mill.

  14. Great interview and what an extraordinary man!
    Thank you for sharing him with us!

  15. Quite extraordinary, Sandra - I agree.

  16. I enjoyed reading this. I am normally too busy to spend my coffee break reading interviews, but this one held me. Linton once e-mailed me a critique on a screenplay I was working on. It struck a nerve regarding my style so I printed it and stuck it next to my desk as a reminder.
    Great stuff!

  17. Thank you Christopher - he certainly knows what's what.

  18. As one of Linton Robinson's victims on many Linked In discussions, I was deeply saddened when a friend sent me this link. What a poor choice for an interview, Ms. Dingli. There are so many writers better deserving of publicity than this anti-Semitic, hateful person. I've been in discussions with Robinson and witnessed first-hand his hatred of established authors, authors who have several works published and offered online with Amazon and other booksellers, but yet he condemns them for selling out. Check out Robinson's website. Lo and behold, there are two buttons offered to purchase HIS works online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. How contrary to rail against what he does himself.

    Ms. Dingli, you are a much better person, and a much better writer. This month, you simply showed poor judgment with your choice for interview. Shame on you for not doing your homework.

  19. Thank you for thinking I am a fine person, Anonymous. Who I have on my blog is of course my choice. Your opinion is as valid as any other's, and your judgmental views are also views.
    As the innumerable hits on this blog and other comments have shown, my guest is a pretty popular person. Thank you for coming to have a look - you have swelled the ranks.

  20. Love the interview Roseanne and Linton is always interesting and honest.Thanks for the insight into a colorful writer's life.

  21. (somehow the goblin disagreed with that anonymous poster there, saying "...well, if Linton Robinson was an angel,then the question would simply become one of whether an angel could offer a balanced opinion here, where perhaps it is a writer's imperfections now, and not their perfections then, that makes someone readable...", just that countless examples of fallen writers were to be found in literature now)

  22. Thank you, Desert Rocks!

    And I tend to agree with the goblin.

  23. Interesting interview! Very good points about blogs, commenting, and how virtual our lives and careers can be these days.

  24. What a shame to post an interview of someone who finds it necessary (enjoyable?) to disparage anyone who disagrees with his pontificating messages at LinkedIn. I've witnessed this man use foul language and bullying tactics to belittle and scorn many innocent LinkedIn group discussion participants. His egotistical and narcissistic rants are disgusting displays of hostility in a public forum against undeserving individuals. You should have selected someone better suited as an interview subject. But, I guess all that matters is ratings (hits). His ability to offer a "balanced viewpoint" is not the issue. I'm sure that Adolph Eichmann had a balanced viewpoint on some subject. The issue is promoting a man who delights in bringing his victims to tears. You have degraded your own blog by interviewing someone whose scornful disrespect for people in a public forum makes him LinkedIn bully of the decade.

  25. Okay, Anonymous - we heard you the first time. If you want to say things twice, you need to use a different style to make it more entertaining.