The Strong Female Character(s) of Robin Epstein

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Robin Epstein
Robin Epstein

You may not hear about them all the time, but there are a plethora of incredible women in the arts, especially here in the Big Apple. Women who inspire, create and live out their dreams every day in their own unique ways. Women whom I would be honored to someday be in the same category with. They are writers, visual artists, playwrights, actors and musicians, and they are definitely women to admire.

One of those talented women, the sweet Robin Epstein, was kind enough to give me a few minutes of her time to let me pick her brain. Epstein is a New York City-based author of many works, including God Is In The Pancakes and So Sue Me Jackass. She has also published several children’s books with Scholastic, and oh yeah, she also teaches at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.

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Epstein was lovely enough to find some time out of her busy schedule to chat with me about what inspires her, writing for video games and, of course, feminism.

The F Word: First off, thank you for taking some time to speak to me today. Can you tell me a little more about your work?

Epstein: I’ve been teaching for almost 10 years at NYU, and in addition to that I write books. I used to be a stand up comedian in New York and eventually worked my way into television writing. I did that for a while in New York, Chicago and LA. I eventually moved back to New York, but I wanted to try other types of writing, so I did some newspaper work that eventually moved on to books. I met some people and was asked to do some video game writing, which was super cool and I loved doing that as well. I’ve written on a few shows on the Oxygen network before reality television was around, it was like a startup television show.

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The F Word: How did you get into TV writing?

Epstein: While I was doing standup, I went back to grad school for writing and got an internship at a TV/film/theatre production company. It was the same production company that had worked on Home Improvement. I started interning at this place and started as a writers assistant and eventually worked my way up from there.

The F Word: What made you want to pursue a career in the arts?

Epstein: I did improv in college at the same time that I was an English major. I didn’t know that being in the arts was a career choice; I didn’t know you could actually do that! While in New York it started occurring to me that I could actually pursue that, and I just went with it, threw myself out there.

The F Word: What is your favorite part about being a writer?

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Epstein: The actual act of sitting down and writing my own stuff, not having to write for anyone else. It was a joyous feeling to write my book.

The F Word: Can you tell me a bit about your creative process? How do you tap into that side of you? What drives you to get up every day and create?

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Epstein: A lot of it discipline. I’m also sort of driven by rent payments. Generally an idea will come to me and I almost always become possessed. The middle is always the hardest part, I usually have a beginning and an end. I outline very carefully before I actually start writing, and I always encourage everyone to start outlining.

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The F Word: Who are your favorite writers?

Epstein: I am a huge fan of reading so it’s hard. Phillip Roth is one of my old favorite writers, I wrote my thesis on his books. Karen Russell is one of my new favorite writers. I recommend one of her books Swamplandia! — its about Florida and a family that owns an alligator wrestling farm. She’s just so great; she’s my current obsession. Huge Scott Fitzgerald fan as well.

The F Word: Lets switch topics a bit, as you may know this column is about feminism, so I would like to know what feminism means to you.

GIITPEpstein: The imperative to treat men and women equally. I view it as the fight for equality. I consider myself a proud feminist, I embrace the word, I have never been afraid of it. Men and women have differences, but at the end of the day we are all equal.

The F Word: You wrote God Is In The Pancakes with a very strong female lead who faces a very difficult decision, and on top of it she is a teenager. Why is it important to you that there are these kinds of strong female characters?

Epstein: To me she was a character that I wanted to be friends with. In the new book I’m writing there is a strong woman as well, but I wouldn’t want to friends with her. For me it’s important that you can relate to the narrator; I like to be taken on a journey with the protagonist. I want that person to be strong and smart and have a smart moral fiber, a moral sense of the universe. I think that Grace has that.

The F Word: What do you feel is the most challenging part of being a woman in the field? Is it challenging?

Epstein: Yes it is, no question. Especially in different aspects of it. Women face issues that don’t align for men, certainly in television. Less so in book publishing, which is why I’ve gravitated towards it. Men are taken more seriously as writers and it’s crazy.

The F Word: Why do we need more women to be visible in the arts?

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Epstein: In order to have the voice we deserve. There’s no reason a woman should be taken less seriously than a man.

The F Word: If you could give a piece of advice to a young girl or woman who is trying to follow her dreams of being any type of artist, what would you say to her?

Epstein: I would say go for it. Just jump in and start doing it. The advantage of being in the arts is that you can just begin, there is no barrier to entry. Just do it. No matter how high up you are, it’s what we are all engaged in doing, making the arts. It’s the same work all up and down the ladder. You just have to begin, and remember everyone is struggling with the same stuff. If it gives you joy, just keep doing it. You are playing a long game, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

The F Word: I know in the past you have co-written books with both your sister as well as your best friend. What is your favorite part of collaborating with other creative women?

Epstein: Both experiences have been phenomenal, the great thing was that Renee (best friend) and I loved and respected each other, so we knew that we weren’t being critical of each other. We knew it was for the betterment of the project, and whenever we gave each other criticism we knew it wasn’t a personal attack. Because we were able to know that we had the right intentions, it was easy. We found ways to deal with it that were friendly. Working with my sister was incredible as well, and since she’s a lawyer, she was happy to let me work on the writing, which was great for me.

HEAR - EpsteinThe F Word: Any projects in the works?

Epstein: I have a book coming out in December titled H.E.A.R. A bunch of years ago I saw a story about a psychic lab at Princeton, something about it closing after so many years and I had never heard of it before. It turns out a lot of universities have psychic labs, and it occurred to me that this is a good premise for a book: ESP. What would happen if you put a few teenagers with powers in this sort of lab? So it’s sort of a teen drama, I’m hoping to pitch it to a television network.

The F Word: Finally, if you weren’t a writer what would you be doing?

Epstein: I think I would be a neurologist. Because of some unfortunate circumstances I started looking into brain stuff and it just completely fascinated me.