Vancouver Sun

Words from the heart of Spider’s web

‘ I just feel like I owe the field,’ says the Vancouver library’s newest writer- in- residence


The machine has already begun playing its message. It seems he’s been caught with his pants down. “ Inevitably, the moment you walk into the bathroom and sit down on the toilet, it triggers a little pressure switch that causes the telephone to ring,” he quips.

He’s in good spirits, all things considered. The American-born science-fiction writer and longtime Bowen Island resident lost his wife of 35 years — choreograp­her and writer Jeanne Robinson — to cancer at the end of May.

Tellingly, Spider, who describes himself as lazy, has spun 36 novels since his debut Telempath was published in 1976, the year after he and Jeanne wed.

But when his wife took ill, Robinson, understand­ably, hit a wall. “ I just couldn’t get interested in the problems of imaginary people I made up myself,” he says.

So Robinson applied to become the Vancouver Public Library’s sixth writer-in-residence, and got the four-month job.

“ I needed a source of income and I figured this would be it and, like always, Jeanne would help me, organize me, enable me and, from her sickbed, would still make sure that I got up in time and got to the gig.

“ Now Jeanne’s gone and I’m halfway wishing I hadn’t gotten into this and halfway glad that I did, because otherwise I’d have nothing to plug into.”

Wannabe writers will be grateful for the opportunit­y to tap Robinson’s vast experience as a published author: While the residency allows Robinson time to work on his next book, tentativel­y titled Orphan Star, he’ll also get to mentor emerging scribes and share his expertise with the community via readings, special events and the VPL’s first podcast workshops.

“ I feel like I owe the universe,” he says.

“ In the same way that I never pass up a hitchhiker because I owe the world around six million rides from the ’ 60s, similarly, an awful lot of writers dropped what they were doing to help me when I was getting started and have done the same along the way. I just feel like I owe the field.”

He adds: “ On the other hand, while I recognize that I have this responsibi­lity to the world, I’m sort of terrified to undertake it, because I have no idea how I do what I do. I don’t know how to teach anybody how to write, and that’s what they all want to know: How do I write and how do I find an agent?

“ And I can’t answer either question. … I was told when I got into this business that it’s the most ridiculous­ly easy profession you’ll ever hear of. All you have to do is stare at a blank piece of paper until beads of blood appear on your forehead.”

Sounds harder than guarding a sewer, his first job out of college.

“ There wasn’t anything for me to do except make sure nobody stole a hole in the ground,” he explains. “ I walked up and down an entire length of road, all night long, turning keys in a security clock I’d been given to prove I was there. And the rest of the time … I sat around reading science fiction.”

It was a genre he’d fallen in love with after a librarian introduced him to it in 1954.

“ My mom sent me to the library when I was six,” he explains. “ And the nice lady behind the counter — Ruth Seigel — sized me up and handed me a book called Rocket Ship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein. And if it wasn’t for that, I’d have a job right now. I’d be a gainfully employed member of society.”

In 2006, Robinson became the only writer to collaborat­e with Heinlein when he posthumous­ly completed Variable Star ( based on Heinlein’s 1955 seven-page outline). In 2008, he won the Robert A. Heinlein Award for Lifetime Excellence in Literature. And while the collaborat­ion with Heinlein must have been a dream come true for Robinson, it’s by no means his most memorable.

“ I have to keep rememberin­g that my great tragedy is that I was married for 35 years to the most amazing woman I ever met,” he says.

“ There are people with worse tragedies than that.”

Emerging writers interested in a one-onone consultati­on with Robinson must apply to be considered. Informatio­n is available at

 ??  ?? ‘ I just couldn’t get interested in the problems of imaginary people,’ Spider Robinson says of his writing during his late wife’s battle with cancer.
‘ I just couldn’t get interested in the problems of imaginary people,’ Spider Robinson says of his writing during his late wife’s battle with cancer.

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