Earlier this month, the Christian writing community lost a gifted writer, a joyful mentor, and all-round fun person. Sandra Robbins lived in Martin, Tennessee, about 15 miles from my home. In 2013, I interviewed Sandra for The Christian Communicator. The article was published in the November-December 2013 edition (first rights). I offer it in its entirety below. It is longer than most of my posts, but please read about Sandra and be blessed and inspired.
Sandra Robbins: A Writing Career That “Just Happened”
“I never wanted to be a full-time writer,” said Sandra Robbins. “It just happened. I wanted to teach music in public schools.” She entertained the thought of writing one book, maybe in her retirement. Who would have thought that, seven years after her retirement, she would have 18 published books to her credit?
Robbins, a native of Martin, Tennessee, majored in music education at the University of Tennessee at Martin. She took one English course on writing fiction. She liked it, but it was just a requirement. Her studies took a detour when she dropped out to marry Guy Robbins. His continuing education took them to Starkville and Jackson, Mississippi, and Memphis, Tennessee. They moved back to Martin when he took a position at the same college where they met.
When their four children were older, Sandra decided to finish her degree. “I knew our local schools did not offer music education, but I thought I could find a job somewhere,” she said. She graduated and began her job hunt. “That fall, after school started, I still had no job. I was working around the house one day, upset that I had not found a job.” She fell to her knees and cried out, “God, I want to be a music teacher, but, if you want to me to be a full-time mom, that’s what I’ll do.” She felt a peace she had not felt for months.
Soon, Sandra “just happened” to hear from a school superintendent in nearby Trenton, Tennessee. He needed music teachers. She took that job, later transferring to her home district when they added music, too. She earned advanced degrees in education and administration and became principal of the primary school. Meanwhile, she played the organ at church (and raised four children). Still, she wanted to write that one book.
Change of Heart
In the summer of 2005, Sandra traveled to visit family in San Antonio, Texas. While visiting downtown, Sandra had a heart attack. She was rushed to a hospital where a world-renowned heart surgeon “just happened” to be in the cath lab. He performed a stent procedure right away. “If I had to have a heart attack, I was in a good place for it,” she said. “It would have taken months to get an appointment with him ordinarily.”
Back home, Sandra could not go back to school that fall. “I was bored, so I sat down at my computer thinking I might start writing that book. Once I began, the words just poured out.” Knowing she had a lot to learn, Sandra launched into research mode and joined a critique group. Some group members were attending American Christian Fiction Writers Conference which “just happened” to meet in Nashville that year. Sandra’s doctor her gave permission to attend. Tracey Bateman, then president of ACFW, had agreed to critique the first chapter of Sandra’s cozy mystery, Pedigreed Bloodlines. Susan Downs was Tracey’s roommate, and she “just happened” to read Sandra’s chapter. Susan and Sandra “just happened” to meet at Cracker Barrel at breakfast before conference. From then on, Susan introduced Sandra to others with: “She’s going to be a published writer.”
Later, it “just happened” that Susan became an editor at Barbour Publishing. Sandra submitted Pedigreed Bloodlines, and it became her first published book. Sandra retired in 2006 intending to write full-time. “My family thought I was nuts,” Robbins said. Most people would agree. A retired person who has had a heart attack should just relax. But, Sandra felt God gave her this ministry. Her life experience prepared her for it—not to mention the things that “just happened” to point her in this direction. Music study prepared her for writing and re-writing, working to get it right. Teaching brought her in contact with hurting people, the everyday problems people face, and the role faith plays in solving them.
Sandra’s writing career took off when she was accepted as a client by Natasha Kern. “I was the coordinator for ACFW’s Genesis contest for unpublished writers, romantic suspense category,” Robbins said. The agent was one of the judges, and she “just happened” to notice in Sandra’s signature line that Pedigreed Bloodlines was an award-winner. She made a point of congratulating Sandra, who seized the opportunity. “By the way, I’m looking for an agent,” she said. They took a meeting and evaluated her work in progress. “She told me all that was wrong with it,” Robbins said. “I was surprised when she said she would take me as a client.”
Pedigreed Bloodlines was a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier award for excellence in mystery writing. Later works, Shattered Identity and Fatal Disclosure won the HOLT Medallion (Virginia Romance Writers). Final Warning was nominated for the Carol Award (ACFW). Columns of Cottonwood, a historical romance, was finalist for the Carol Award. In 2010, Barbour readers chose Columns as one of ten favorite historical romances of the year, and she was one of five authors readers chose as favorite new author.
Angel of the Cove won the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. It is a historical romance set in Cades Cove, a community that became part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Sandra’s first book, the one she worked on during her recovery, is now published. A Lady’s Choice is set in the early twentieth century with a heroine who becomes involved in the suffrage movement. A new suspense series, The Cold Case Files, takes place in Memphis, featuring places like Beale Street and Mud Island.
“I don’t really worry about whether my books will be best-sellers,” Sandra said. “I write the words God gives me. Some of them will fly, and some won’t.” She said her husband collaborates, giving opinions on story lines and characters. Her son is a police officer, and, when she’s writing suspense stories, he provides feedback, too.
When asked how she managed to be so successful so quickly, Sandra said, “God put the right people in my path at the right time.” It didn’t just happen.
Sandra’s obituary is online here .
Readers, did you know Sandra? Or is there someone else who as inspired you to write or encouraged you along the way? Share in the comments. Newsletter recipients, click on the title of the article to go to the site and scroll down to Leave a Reply.