Writer Erika Robuck works from her home office in Annapolis, Maryland. Three boys delivered to school, van parked in the driveway, she pours a mug of coffee, lights a candle, turns on classical music, and writes.
"My desk is an altar to all my muses," she told Spine. "I have pine cones from Concord, flowers from Key West." After spending a few hours on the creative part of the authoring process, Robuck turns to research, social media, and administrative tasks.
Her peaceful writing practice works. Proof: Robuck's historical titles — including The House of Hawthorne, Call Me Zelda, and Hemingway's Girl — have garnered her prize nominations and spots on bestseller lists. Naturally, when it came time to tackle her next work of fiction, Robuck returned … to the hockey rink.
Robuck has been huddled rink-side at hockey events for eight years, since her oldest son started playing. Between him and her other two sons, she's also sat on the sidelines for football, lacrosse, cross country, gymnastics and basketball. "I've seen some crazy things," she said. And now she's writing about them. Her latest book, #Hockeystrong, follows two relatively sane parents as they fall deeper into the mad, mad world of youth hockey.
As factual individuals inspire her historical fiction, so too did the real world of children's sports push Robuck into satire. "There's a whole vocabulary. When my son asks if I saw him dangle that guy with the sick lettuce to snipe, I now know that means skate by the guy with the long hair to score a nice goal. I learn new words every year. It's a whole different thing."
Though Robuck's the writer in the family, her husband Scott and a troupe of talented comedic actors lit the spark that became #Hockeystrong. "We were watching the movie Best in Show and we were in stitches," she recalled. Created by mockumentary master Christopher Guest, the movie spoofs dog shows. The absurdity reminded Robuck's husband of youth hockey.
The couple discussed writing a screenplay together, but eventually decided Robuck should tackle a novel. Over a heady six-week period during hockey season, Robuck wrote the book, sometimes at home but just as often at the rink, surrounded by some of the very types she was satirizing. "It was a joy to write it. It also filled me with anxiety. There are a lot of situations that are really awful. But it was a completely different writing experience."
Publishing #Hockeystrong was also a completely different publishing experience from previous books. Agents and editors wanted more of what she was famous for: historical fiction. Erika Robuck writing satire? They weren't so sure. But Robuck was. She knows her audience — parents in vans and SUVs driving their sporting kids all over the place — because she is her audience. And she also knows self-publishing.
Robuck's first novel, Receive Me Falling, follows a historian on her quest to uncover the mysteries of an abandoned Caribbean sugar plantation. The writer received a lot of response from agents, but while several liked the book, they didn't like what they called Robuck's "lack of platform."
While she knew they were right about the platforms — "I had no blog, no website, nothing published" — she also knew many people who wanted to read her book. So she published it herself, under the name Elysian Fields Press. And people bought it. Enough people that when she finished her second book, Hemingway's Girl, she had what agents wanted: a good book and a platform.
Returning to her Elysian Fields Press for #Hockeystrong, Robuck chose "E. Robuck" as her nom de plume to set her satirical fiction apart from the historic. Now that she's launched the title, she's focusing on getting it in front of readers' eyes.
She's beginning her marketing efforts not only with her blog and the readers she had ready and waiting, but also with Facebook advertising that allows her to target parents who follow hockey rinks and hockey-related Facebook groups. Additionally, she's planning social media promotions and will be sending the book to rinks and pro shops in Canada, where hockey rules.
Beyond marketing the new title, Robuck thinks her writing future most likely holds a return to what she loves best. "It's probably a one-and done in satire," she said. "Most of what I'm interested in is historical fiction, but I won't rule out anything."
Find Erika Robuck online at www.erikarobuck.com and on Twitter @ErikaRobuck. For more from the crazy work of youth sports, follow www.facebook.com/hockeystrong, where Robuck posts humorous and information articles on sports parenting, plus giveaways and book signing news.
Join us in celebrating the enormous talent that goes into making books. Consider a small donation to our Patreon fund. Your support helps us provide you with an in-depth look at some of the book publishing industry's most creative people.
Spine Authors Editor Susanna Baird grew up inhaling paperbacks in Central Massachusetts, and now lives and works in Salem. Her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including Boston Magazine, BANG!, Failbetter, and Publishers Weekly. She's the founder of the Salem Longform Writers' Group, and serves on the Salem Literary Festival committee. When not wrangling words, she spends time with her family, mostly trying to pry the cat's head out of the dog's mouth, and helps lead The Clothing Connection, a small Salem-based nonprofit dedicated to getting clothes to kids who need them. Online, you can find her at susannabaird.com and on Twitter @SusannaBaird.