Joshua S. Robinson grew up a math and science geek and still works full time as a systems engineer, but found that writing offers him a much-needed creative outlet. His short story “The Messenger” won first place in the 2012 WV Writers genre fiction category. “Last Letter” is his first publication. He lives in Morgantown, WV, with his wife, Anna.
Have you ever written a ghost story before?
Before “Last Letter,” the only other ghost story I remember writing was a short piece from seventh grade or so. In that story, the ghost of a murdered man lured his killer into the woods for revenge.
Since “Last Letter,” I find that ghosts pop up quite a bit in my story ideas when I’m brainstorming or freewriting. Typically they aren’t malicious or harmful; I’m more interested in how a ghost can convey truth to the living, providing some insight about the world or the person.
Have you ever seen a ghost or experienced something paranormal? If so, what?
Unfortunately, no! I’m certainly open to the experience, though. The closest thing to a paranormal experience I can claim is occasional deja vu.
What inspired you to write “Last Letter”?
First, I owe Karin Fuller a shout-out here. I met Karin at my first WV Writers conference in 2011, and I was telling her about my frustration with the novel I was working on. She suggested I try writing some short stories, and when submissions opened up for what would become Fed From the Blade, I took her advice.
As for the story itself, I honestly can’t remember. I think the story chose me. I knew from the beginning that I wanted it to be set in a small Appalachian town, and the idea of a heartbroken, blue-collar main character grew out of that. I wanted to write a love story, but I wanted it to be a little unusual. Once I figured out that there had been a fight and the girl had died before they could reconcile, the story just took off.
How has the reception been to your story? What kind of remarks have you received?
Just being selected for the anthology was a huge honor! I’ve received a lot of positive comments, and I find it really interesting how some people read it as a ghost story while others read it as a tragic romance. I like when people say they found it both sweet and sad, because that’s exactly what I was going for.
How long have you been writing?
I think writing is something I’ve always enjoyed, but I didn’t get serious about it until recently. I grew up playing a lot of video games, and for many years I wrote down ideas with aspirations of making games. I eventually came to realize that what I really wanted to do was tell stories.
So about three years ago, I started working on an outline for a contemporary fantasy story that had originated from a game idea. I planned to write a draft during National Novel Writing Month, but a couple weeks before the event started I literally woke up in the middle of the night with an exciting new idea. I ran with that, churned out an 80,000 word draft, and discovered that I really love to write!
What other genres do you like to write?
I’m kind of all over the place! It really just depends on the day. Most of my writing tends to fall back toward romance of some kind, whether it’s funny, sweet, sad, or paranormal. Sometimes I lean toward darker stories, too. Lately I’ve been trying some poetry, as well.
Who inspires you to keep sitting at the computer and writing creatively?
My wife, Anna, is incredibly supportive of my writing. She both inspires and encourages me, and she’s the first to read everything I write. I’m very lucky to have her in my life, and she’s the reason I like to write stories about love overcoming all things.
I’ve met some incredibly talented friends through WV Writers, Morgantown Poets, and other groups/workshops. Being around other writers fills me with positive creative energy and enthusiasm to keep going, even when I’m in a slump.
And then there are all the characters living in my brain who keep nagging me to finish their stories!
Are you a native West Virginian? Does where you’re from influence what you write?
I am a native, and I’ve lived in northern West Virginia all my life. I believe all personal experience influences my writing. Most of my inspiration comes from taking my own experiences and amplifying them or asking questions. If Anna and I hadn’t gotten together in high school, would we have found each other later? (I like to think so!) If I had grown up in my hometown as it is now, and not as it was 25 years ago, how would I be different?
West Virginia is unique and diverse and interesting. We cherish her beauty, take pride in her resilience, and empathize with her strife. We have a rich culture that appreciates and celebrates storytelling as a way of bringing us together. Those of us who have been lucky enough to live here know these things, and I want that heritage to come across in my writing.
Write to this prompt:
You decide to take a stroll in a cemetery, just to observe the names on the tombstones. You come upon one with the name “Joshua Robinson” engraved on it. Who do you think was that Joshua and what kind of life do you imagine he had?
( I’m going to deviate slightly from the prompt to draw from a real experience.)
I pasted the link into the instant messenger window, along with the words, “Check this out! So weird!” Then I clicked the button that whisked the message away, through the great and magical Internet to Anna’s computer screen.
Anna replied a moment later with, “Ok…?”
“Look at the wife’s name,” I sent back.
“Ew, that’s creepy!” she said, followed immediately by an inquiry as to how I found this bizarre information. I explained that I had been taking a break at work, and while surfing the web I stumbled upon a grave finder website. It was obviously meant for people doing genealogy research, but being the weirdo that I am, I searched for my own name. It didn’t surprise me to find quite a few results, but one struck me as particularly interesting.
In a cemetery in Reading, PA, a husband and wife rest side by side: Joshua S. and Anna M. Robinson. Joshua was born in 1867, Anna in 1874, and in 1894 they had a son, Charles, who lived only three months. Joshua died at age 40 in 1907; Anna, at age 87 in 1961.
I told Anna I’d like to go see that marker sometime, and I couldn’t seem to get any work done as I was completely distracted thinking about this couple. Specifically, I wondered how they might be similar to or different from my wife and me. Joshua was seven years older than Anna, so they obviously weren’t classmates. I imagined them meeting at a church picnic or some similar function. It’s entirely possible that he fell in love with her in a horse drawn carriage, just as I did with my Anna.
The picture on the website showed a relatively fancy looking monument, so I assumed they were comfortable financially. Maybe Joshua worked for the Reading Railroad. I imagined him in an office, working long hours on freight contracts, wishing to be home with his beloved Anna.
He died young, and I wondered what caused it. Maybe he worked himself too hard and had a heart attack. Maybe there was an accident in the rail yard. Or maybe he was sick all his life, and that weakness was a contributing factor to their son’s brief life.
I imagined lying on my deathbed with Anna beside me, talking about the wonderful experiences we shared, comforting each other over our grief. I told her not to worry, that she’d be all right. Her tears coated my cheeks when she leaned down to kiss me goodbye, whispering that she’d always love me.
I shook my head to bring myself out of the tragic scene. We aren’t them, I thought. And they’re not us. I wondered why I was so intent to project myself onto this other Joshua. I considered my own mortality, and realized that I was hoping for these deceased Robinsons what I hoped for Anna and me: a life filled with love and happiness, with shared dreams and laughter, and without regrets.
“I love you sweetie : x,” I typed into the messenger window.
Anna responded immediately with, “I love you too, joshers :*.”
I smiled, took a deep breath, and got back to work.