The Locked Room

Q. In many of your books, the story opens with a gentle introduction to something simple (beets or an amoeba) and ends up sounding sacred. How do you create this quiet invitation, where the reader is taken by the hand and lulled into the kingdom of the story? Once created, how do you sustain this intimacy?

A. There’s a sense in which every blank page is a locked room. Language is the tool with which I jimmy the latch. Imagination is the lantern by whose glow I search for the secrets inside. Intrigued though a little wary, the reader may tiptoe in after me. The task now is to avoid my awkward eviction or the reader’s hasty retreat. Usually that’s a matter of control:  a slow yet cheery deliberation, as in walking down an icy street on one’s way to a party. Other times it can demand a pitch next to madness.

In the first instance, the reader takes your hand because she’s begun to trust you (you with your beets and amoebas), and you know the terrain while she does not. In the second, she follows along because she’s now become complicit in your odd behavior and is a little afraid of what you might do if she lets you out of her sight.

Tom Robbins


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