First Draft Episode #199: Robin Wasserman
Robin Wasserman, New York Times bestselling author of adult novel Girls on Fire, as well as young adult novels The Waking Dark, The Book of Blood and Shadow, Hacking Harvard, The Cold Awakening series, the Seven Deadly Sins series. Her next novel, to come out with Scribner, is Mother Daughter Widow Wife.
Links and Topics Mentioned In This Episode
Robin loved Diane Wynne Jones and Stephen King as a kid, particularly Salem’s Lot, The Stand, and It. (Robin wrote for The Atlantic about, “How Stephen King Saved My Life”)
Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer, mathematician, and astrologer, about whom Robin would gladly talk about forever. (And I would listen!)
Robin wrote her senior thesis about Dr. Timothy Leary, who co-conducted studies known as the Psilocybin Project, which sought to test whether psychedelics could cure the emotional pain of Western man. Leary was fired from Harvard when the ethics of his studies came into question, and went on to continue promoting the use of psychedelics as a thought leader in the 60s counter-cultural movement. Leary has written extensively about his philosophy, including in books like The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, his book with his partner in the experiments, Richard Alpert* (now known as Ram Dass); his autobiography, Flashbacks; and Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. Many have written about him, including The Timothy Leary Project: Inside the Great Counterculture Experiment, compiled by the archivist Jennifer Ulrich; and Timothy Leary: Outside Looking In by Robert Forte.
David Levithan, who has and does host a regular drinks night for New York authors of young adult fiction. Robin went to one of these gatherings and met John Green before Looking for Alaska won the Printz.
Kurt Cobain was the lead singer of Nirvana, the band that broke open grunge. Cobain died by suicide in 1994. If you’re interested in Cobain, or Nirvana, or the grunge scene generally, I personally recommend Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yarm, and the documentary Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen (about which Robin wrote, “The Art of Resurrection: Montage of Heck,” in the Los Angeles Times Review of Books).
The Satanic Panic was a phenomenon in the 1980s, wherein millions of Americans feared that an underground cult of Satan worshipers were practicing rituals and committing crimes. Robin particularly recommends Richard Beck’s We Believe the Children, which covers the phenomenon of, specifically, day care workers being charged with horrible accusations of child abuse. I’m obsessed with this phenomenon, and there are a ton of other podcasts that do a great job explaining it:
For a broad overview, the Stuff You Should Know podcast released an episode about The Satanic Panic
The Satanic Panic is a multi-part, deep dive into the phenomenon and many of the cases that came to define it (and their resources page isn’t to be missed)
The McMartin Child Abuse trial was one of the most massive and egregious examples of the Satanic Panic as a community-seizing exercise of hysteria. Both WNYC’s The Takeaway and Generation Why have devoted episodes to exploring the case. Documentary filmmaker Penny Lane (whose most recent film, Hail Satan?, is awesome) went on KCRW’s The Document to discuss the case, and the phenomenon.
Robin was inspired, in part, by an event of mass hysteria that afflicted dozens (of mostly high school cheerleaders) in LeRoy, New York, a phenomenon covered in the New York Times and Slate. Robin wrote about the phenomenon for the Los Angeles Times Review of Books (“Girl Trouble”), which is a non-fiction piece on the history of hysteria and a review of The Fever by Megan Abbott. Another book written about that phenomenon is The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas (listen to Kara’s episodes of First Draft here and here).
The West Memphis Three was another case of hysteria leading to false convictions, in which three men in West Memphis, Arkansas were held responsible for the deaths of three young boys. The trial was controversial, and the three convicted men were released after serving more than 18 years in prison. The case is covered in a modern classic of documentary filmmaking, a trio of docs that begins with Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills.
The concept of “kindred spirits” put forth by Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery led Robin to some dysfunctional concepts of female friendship as a young woman
Holly Black, who Robin calls “the queen of life modeling exercises” (listen to Holly Black’s First Draft episode here), asked her to write out what author she’d like to be. Robert Cormier and Neil Gaiman were among the many different answers to that question. Robin threw out that she’d like to be a cross between Michael Chabon and Joss Whedon.
What/If, the TV show that Robin wrote for, is now available to watch on Netflix!
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