Lifelong ambition: After writing 35 nonfiction books, author Bryan Robinson has completed his first novel, fulfilling a dream he’s had since he was 7 years old. Photo by Jon Michael Riley
Psychotherapist Bryan E. Robinson is a veteran author, having written 35 self-help and scholarly books on stress and workaholism over the years. His most recent such work is The Smart Guide to Managing Stress.
Only now, however, is he unveiling his first work of fiction, 12 years in the making. Limestone Gumption — which launches with great fanfare on Friday, March 7, at Malaprop’s Bookstore — tells the story of therapist Brad Pope, who returns to live in his hometown, a small community along Florida’s Suwannee River. When the abusive husband of one of Pope’s patients is murdered while diving in underwater caves, the therapist realizes that not all the demons from his dysfunctional family history are safely buried in the past.
Robinson says the novel was born when he lived on the Suwannee two decades ago. “I used to sit around the campfire at night and listen to tales about divers getting trapped in the caves and dying, getting wrapped in their guidelines like mummies. It intrigued me, and I started doing a little research about the cave divers. I thought, ‘I have to write about this.’”
“Once I got to Asheville 10 years ago, it started really coming together,” Robinson says, though the book took so long to finish “because of the demands of teaching, doing research, writing nonfiction and being in private practice.” The author, however, also found that “writing fiction is another world from nonfiction. I was teaching myself to show instead of tell, because when you’re writing nonfiction the whole point is to give advice. It is like another side of your brain, another muscle that you learn to use.” Robinson credits Tommy Hays and Vicki Lane of the Great Smokies Writing Program with helping him successfully make the transition.
The author says he grew up “with ink in my blood” and starting writing when he was about 7 years old. “I grew up in a really dysfunctional family, and I did it to get away from the craziness. I’d just go to my room and make up these history stories.” He now realizes that writing made him “feel like I had control over something I really didn’t have control over.” In many ways, Robinson has come full circle: The publication of his novel is the realization of a lifelong dream.
Limestone Gumption displays the author’s ear for colorful dialogue and boasts many larger-than-life Southern characters, earning it favorable comparisons to the work of Fannie Flagg and Pat Conroy. Robinson says he felt it was important to make the book entertaining, because “so many things we’re reading nowadays are so intense, and our lives have become so serious. I just think we writers have to lighten up a bit and make things fun.” A murder mystery on the surface, the novel is also “about a very serious topic: finding yourself. In therapy we call it the resilient zone we all have inside: how to meet life’s hard knocks with courage instead of folding or caving in.” That resilience is something all of Limestone Gumption’s characters must call upon.
Robinson has recruited many friends for the Malaprop’s event. Psychologist Matthew Alexander, who’s also a professional musician, will perform. Stephanie Wilder, who owns Chifferobe Home & Garden in Black Mountain and also works as a caterer, is supplying refreshments. Local businesses that Robinson patronizes will provide door prizes.
The community involvement in the launch party echoes one of the book’s themes: the way friends can come together to support one another and improve their community. This is important to Robinson because, to him, Limestone Gumption “is more than just my first novel: It carries a lot of sentimental meaning to me, because I’ve still got the 7-year-old kid inside who always wanted to do this, and now, in my 60s, I’ve been able to.”
WHAT: Launch Party for Limestone Gumption
WHEN: Friday, March 7, at 6:30 p.m. Ticket is included with advance purchase of the book at Malaprop’s.