Elizabeth Robinson discusses The True and Outstanding Adventures of The Hunt
Where did your idea for the book originate?
My sister changed my life, and I felt compelled to tell the story of how she
did that. I'd always been interested in questions of faith--how can you believe
there is meaning in life, or in God when terrible things happen to people? Her
defiant optimism, even in the face of lousy odds, was amazing to me, because I
had always been pretty cynical and pessimistic, and that became the structure
within which I began to write.
Since the novel is based on the true story of what happened to you and
your sister, why not write a memoir, why write a novel?
I fictionalized the story because I have been a screenwriter for some time,
and after the restrictiveness of writing screenplays, I wanted to be free to
discover things and let the story lead me. So, for example, while I did work on
a script of Don Quixote, it never got made. But the themes in Quixote echo what
I wanted to write about, and it has been a historically impossible movie to get
made in Hollywood. So I decided to make it the one the protagonist is trying to
produce. I also chose to write a novel so that I could write things the way I
would like them to have been--there was some wish fulfillment, like the nasty
letters to annoying colleagues and arrogant doctors.
Have you always wanted to be a writer, and what led to the publication of
this book, your first novel?
I wrote my first short story when I was eight, and I won some prizes in
junior high and high school. In college I lost my nerve and my focus, and I
became overly concerned with making money, which led me to study economics, and
eventually to the movie business. But my heart was always in books. My first job
in film was actually related to publishing--I scouted books for studios to adapt
for the movies--and I loved reading four or five books a week.
The last movie I produced was based on a book, and after it was over I had
saved enough money for a year. I finally decided to put everything into this
long-deferred dream of mine--to show the same grit my sister showed. I decided
if I couldn't sell this story in a year, at least I would have really tried, and
at least there would be this testament to her fight. Near the end of the year I
was in the process of preparing myself for waitressing again when I got the
check from Little, Brown--I had $300 left in the bank at the time.
Why did you decide to write the story in letters?
Writing in letters was my biggest worry, because I know it is not exactly in
fashion anymore, but I have always been a big letter writer. There is a special
intimacy and anticipation in correspondence. It is a very focused dialogue
between two people, and there is also built-in suspense. I was reminded of this
when my mother sent me an envelope of old letters I had received when I lived in
Paris in my 20s, and reading through them I became engrossed to find out what
happened--the natural gaps between the letters became an inherent drama. Letters
also offered a familiar modularity--in screenwriting I thought in terms of
scenes, and in the novel, I thought in terms of letters, which made it
manageable to me.
Since your book is based on such an important personal story, what are
some of the things you hope to learn or take away from the experience of having
The novel was my own wish fulfillment, not only to write the angry letters I
had always wanted to write to doctors, etc., but also to create a character I
would like to be more like in some ways. I wanted to create an intimacy with my
sister and events, and to spend more time with her by writing about her.
Ultimately I hoped to find something beautiful in the inexplicable tragedy of
her life, and to believe that she felt this way too. Finally, for me it was a
way of truly saying goodbye.