In his new memoir, Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life, novelist Robbins takes readers on a journey through his life and writing.
What prompted you to write this book?
It was a feminine conspiracy. The women in my life—my wife, sister, agent, personal trainer, and yoga teacher—had been begging me for a long time to write down the stories I’ve been telling them for so long. So, I wrote 20 pages and gave those to them, thinking that would satisfy them. They wanted more, so I wrote another 20 pages. And they still wanted more. After I had those 40 pages, I figured I’d send them to my editor; he fired back a letter saying he thought we had a book.
And so you kept writing 20 pages at a time?
Oh, God, no. I write very slowly. I’m an intuitive writer and never write with an outline. The book took less time than I thought it would, but I’m not a storyteller—I’m a novelist. I’m interested in ideas, philosophy, and especially language. The challenge in this memoir was to tell these stories as closely to the way they happened as possible, and to keep the language lively and interesting.
What’s your approach to writing?
I don’t have a set of rules. When I’m writing a book, I’m in my writing room at 10 a.m. every day. My muse knows where to find me. When I’m working on a novel, I strive to write two pages a day, if the muse is good to me; if she has spurned me, it’s less than that.
How hard was it for you, as a novelist, to write this memoir?
When you’re writing a memoir you lose about 50% of your creativity. I mean, I felt like I needed to tell the stories in my life as they had happened, as best I could—some of these things happened so long ago. Writing memoir is akin to scuba diving: you’re looking for a pearl of great price, or maybe more than one of them. But you have to beware of the tentacles of that giant squid that is your narcissistic ego. My editor told me that a certain mysticism has developed around me over the years, so that these stories might shed some light on my writing and my life. I told him I hoped that people would believe these things happened to me, and he told me that some of this stuff is so nuts, even I couldn’t have made it up.
How did you come up with this title?
Tibetan peach pie refers to an object of desire. I think I did hear it in old shaggy dog story or Zen parable about the wisdom of always aiming for the stars, and the greater wisdom of cheerfully accepting failure if you only reach the moon.
You write in the book that you don’t think you hit your stride as a novelist until Jitterbug Perfume, published in 1984. Why?
I don’t know—it’s just a feeling I have. I don’t read my books after they’re published.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I had intended to become a novelist from the age of five. It was always in the back of my mind. It wasn’t until my college years, though, when I wrote a review of a Doors concert that I found my voice.