Our Member Interview Series continues with Robyn McGrath, author of Dolly! The Story of Dolly Parton and Her Big Dream (Little Brown/Christy Ottavino, 2022). Upcoming publications by Robyn are: There’s Always Room for One More (Simon and Schuster/Paula Wiseman, 2023), and A Mind of Her Own, The Story of Agatha Christie (Simon and Schuster/Beach Lane Books, 2024). Robyn works as a child therapist and is also the Regional Director-East for the Texas Association for Play Therapy.
Where did you grow up, and how did that place (or those places) shape your work?
I grew up in a town outside of Dallas. As an only child, I spent a lot of time creating my own imaginary worlds. I was great at make-believe and enjoyed writing stories, which were never seen by anyone. There were always books in our home; my mom was an avid reader, so I got to see the importance of reading. She would take me to the bookstore, and if I left her alone to browse for her books, I could take a book home of my choosing. It was a win-win!
Did you always want to be an author, or did that come later?
I always journaled and wrote as a child, but never really considered being an author. Teacher, dance instructor, nurse—those were the dreams I went after first. As an undergraduate, when I focused on reading education, that is when I realized maybe I could actually be an author one day. But it wasn’t until I had my own children that I became serious about pursuing work as a picture-book writer.
If someone were to follow you around for 24 hours, what would they see?
It’s nonstop for me. As a child therapist, I see clients several days a week. Between clients, I respond to emails, connect with parents, edit a current work-in-progress, or plan my social media. On days I’m not in the office, I’m meeting with my critique group or having coffee with a fellow therapist. At the end of the day, it’s time to make dinner, get everyone ready for tomorrow, and put the kids to bed. Then, and only then, once the house is quiet and everything is in its place … I can finally sit down and write.
How does your everyday life feed your work?
As a child therapist and parent, I can see children’s struggles, firsthand. Anger, anxiety, grief, and loss are some of the themes that find their way into my writing. I hope that a young child finds validation in their thoughts and feelings when they see characters experiencing situations and feelings that mirror their own. An added bonus of spending my days around children? I get to read lots of picture books!
Tell us about some accomplishments that make you proud.
In 2018, I was a finalist for the Austin SCBWI Cynthia Leitich Smith Writing Mentor Award, for one of my picture book manuscripts. And of course, selling my first picture book was a major milestone!
What surprises you about the creative life?
It’s a vulnerable endeavor! Opening yourself up to feedback on your writing takes lots of courage. However, the more you do it, the stronger you become.
When a reader discovers your work, what do you hope they find?
I hope they feel seen, heard, and inspired to follow their dreams.
She’s an inspiration for so many reasons! Dolly overcame lots of obstacles to get where she is today, and she did it with grit and determination. Plus, I truly love her ability to be the first to poke fun at herself—never letting anyone get “one over” on her.
What’s one of your most favorite Bilbliotherapy books?
The Rabbit Listened—there may be very few words, but the message is HUGE!
Would you rather play in the sand or run in the waves?
Run in the waves. I’m in always in awe of how much power the ocean holds and how tiny I feel.
If you could see through a child’s eyes again, what words or images first come to mind?
Acceptance. Dreaming. Curiosity.
What might be your most exciting place to camp with your cute camper?
Palo Duro Canyon—in a thunderstorm! Our entire trailer was shaking; the kids were crawling in our laps, and we tried to pass the time with games. Once we emerged, the lush greenery from all the rain was breathtaking.