November 8, 2005: Headlines: COS - Venezuela: Writing - Venezuela: Palm Beach Post: Venezuela RPCV Lucia St. Clair Robson has written eight books of historical fiction, including this year's Shadow Patriots - about a female spy during the Revolutionary War

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Venezuela: Peace Corps Venezuela : The Peace Corps in Venezuela: November 8, 2005: Headlines: COS - Venezuela: Writing - Venezuela: Palm Beach Post: Venezuela RPCV Lucia St. Clair Robson has written eight books of historical fiction, including this year's Shadow Patriots - about a female spy during the Revolutionary War

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Venezuela RPCV Lucia St. Clair Robson has written eight books of historical fiction, including this year's Shadow Patriots - about a female spy during the Revolutionary War

Venezuela RPCV Lucia St. Clair Robson has written eight books of historical fiction, including this year's Shadow Patriots - about a female spy during the Revolutionary War

After college - Palm Beach Junior College, University of Florida and Florida State - things got a little less down-home. Robson joined the Peace Corps, training at Berkeley, Calif., in the summer of '64. It was fun but stressful - the instructors kept getting arrested.

Venezuela RPCV Lucia St. Clair Robson has written eight books of historical fiction, including this year's Shadow Patriots - about a female spy during the Revolutionary War


Nov 8, 2005

Palm Beach Post

The writer came back to her hometown last month for her 40th high school reunion.

Although she had ignored the events for years, one's priorities alter with time, and so the reunions became a routine part of her life.

Then, her alma mater was known as Palm Beach High; now, it's the Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr. School of the Arts.

Then, she was "Loosh" to her friends; now, she's Lucia St. Clair Robson to her readers.

Robson has written eight books of historical fiction, including this year's Shadow Patriots - about a female spy during the Revolutionary War - and the paperback perennials Ride the Wind and The Tokaido Road.

Her novels are about strong women in other times and places - very other. The place can be the Old West, 18th-century Japan or Colonial America. The characters can encompass the Chiricahua Apache of the Trail of Tears or Osceola and the Seminole Wars.

Though her books are sometimes mistaken for romance novels - maybe because of those bold paperback covers featuring women - she has drawn praise from writers who know their history, such as Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry. Her books win awards, make the bestseller lists and, perhaps most importantly, keep getting reprinted.

Robson has seen and done a lot since she left South Florida - joining the Peace Corps, teaching for years and traveling the world, from Venezuela to New York to Japan.

But she remains a West Palm girl through and through, and the memories of a self-described "perfect child" pour out with little urging.

"It was a great place to grow up," she says. "West Palm Beach was wonderful then. No culture, but wonderful."

Her parents lived on Nathan Hale Road in the south end for nearly 40 years, and they signed her up for everything there was to do - tap, ballet, art lessons at the old Norton Gallery.

"I can still smell the paint," she says. "My mother taught me the bus schedule, and I made a habit of going down to the library in Lake Worth. I'd feed the pigeons and come home with a pile of books to read. I took accordion lessons, the 'stomach Steinway.' "

The family couldn't afford to go to movies at the Carefree, so they'd all pile in the car and head down to the Skydome Drive In, where the management would spray DDT during the movies to kill the mosquitoes (and, possibly, the patrons). Restaurants were defined by Morrison's cafeteria, and the tip would be a quarter.

While Robson was attending Conniston Middle School and Palm Beach High, her father, Bob Robson, ran a garden and pet store, at the corner of Southern and Dixie, known as Robson's Clip Joint.

"It was great to have a dad with a pet store," Robson says. "That way, we got bit by everything."

There was a pet monkey named Matilda, as well as the four Robson children, and their grandmother. (In his later years, Bob Robson would become the gardening columnist for The Palm Beach Post.)

Pam Ketter Browning, a classmate of Robson's who now lives in Sebastian and also became a writer, sees a great similarity between the girl she knew and the woman she knows now.

"I don't know that she's changed at all," Browning says. "When I read Lucia's books, I find so many aspects of her personality in every book. A love of music, an interest in other cultures and peoples, and a love of reading. I wasn't surprised she turned out to be a writer. She was a very good student, very artistic, very original in her writing. She could draw, too."

Other old friends see a person that time has naturally altered.

"She's much more outgoing now," says Tommy Riggs, who met Robson in the first grade and went all the way through high school with her. "It surprises me when I talk to her about the things she's been writing - the latest book about the Revolution. She's very into what she's doing, researches a lot of it, and it makes her seem more like a live wire than the girl I remember. The success she's had has done a lot for her; she has a lot of self-assurance."

As Robson grew up, there was a job in wardrobe at the Royal Poinciana Theater in Palm Beach, and an announcing job on an easy- listening station called WLIB, "playing crap like Ray Conniff," she recalls.

After college - Palm Beach Junior College, University of Florida and Florida State - things got a little less down-home. Robson joined the Peace Corps, training at Berkeley, Calif., in the summer of '64. It was fun but stressful - the instructors kept getting arrested.

After a Peace Corps stint in Venezuela, she taught in inner-city schools in Brooklyn. She married her college sweetheart, an intelligence officer in the Army. That lasted 15 years. In the meantime, Robson got a master's in library science, but giving talks about the relevance of Romeo and Juliet made her a little restless.

Then, she met the science-fiction writer Brian Daley and fell hard. Daley was a handsome, boyish Vietnam vet who wrote the National Public Radio adaptations of the first three Star Wars movies, as well as a batch of the early Star Wars novels. Though their writing interests would be divergent, it was love at first sight.

Daley's agent kept after Robson to write a book. She finally tapped out six chapters and sent it off. The agent responded with a phone call that began, "I just got your piece of trash today . . ."

He promptly sold it for $25,000 - very good money in 1979. She wrote the rest of Ride the Wind at night and on weekends. The fictionalized true story of an 1800s girl kidnapped by the Comanches, and who goes on to spend her life with them, was published in 1982 and is still in print.

Robson has been writing ever since.

"When I heard at a couple of the reunions that Lucia had become a writer," says Riggs, "I think I was surprised, but then I would be surprised at anybody that became a writer. That's such a talent; you don't see that bubbling up every day."

By one standard, Robson is very successful - there are the eight books; she has a strong fan base; Ride the Wind has sold 700,000 copies.

By other standards, she's mid-list and it grates on her that she's never been reviewed in The New York Times, though she's been on their bestseller lists.

"Everybody perceives me as a romance writer. It might be the covers. I don't like the covers, but I get overruled. It gets you perceived as low-budget, which means you don't get taken seriously."

Robson's novels usually derive from history; she looks for women with obscure but interesting lives, which means, for instance, that Marie Curie is out. But a story about female soldiers in the Mexican revolution of 1913, complete with bandoleers and Mausers - the subject of her next book, entitled Last Train from Cuernavaca - is perfect.

Acting as her own psychiatrist, Robson thinks this story pattern is because she values the unexpected in literature as well as life. "Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans, but that was his job. People who do the unexpected have to have physical courage as well as psychological courage."

Perhaps that's why someone trained as a librarian put herself out there, not merely as a handler of fiction, but as one of its purveyors.

She lived with Brian Daley for 10 years, until his death from pancreatic cancer in 1996 at the age of 49. She still carries his picture on a locket around her neck whenever she travels.

And her passion for her hometown is still there, as are the memories.

She remembers that the Carvel ice-cream store on Dixie Highway was the first place she wanted to go when she returned from Venezuela in 1966. (Before that, a corn-dog place occupied the building, and she used to enjoy watching them cook the dogs in the hot grease.)

But she doesn't like what's happened to the town and, beyond that, Florida.

"I love Lake Worth beach, and Lake Worth is still nice in places. But that beach isn't going to last. How long has John G's got?"

Once in a while, she thinks of leaving her house on the Severn River in Maryland, near Annapolis, and coming back home, but then something stops her, something called urbanization.

"I don't want to move here and find out my favorite places have been obliterated by condos."


Robson's best

Fans of her historical fiction range from Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry to former White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater. A sampling:

The Tokaido Road (republished this month):

Set in feudal 1702 Japan, it explores a young woman's difficult struggle to cleanse her father's besmirched name, and the adventures she encounters along the way on the perilous Tokaido Road. The book also includes many digressions on Zen culture and customs.

Ride The Wind (1985):

A thoroughly researched Dances With Wolves-like tale about real- life Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped by Comanche Indians in 1836 when she was 9 years old, and who stayed with them, eventually becoming the mother of a great Texas Comanche leader.

Shadow Patriots (2005):

A vividly detailed story of a Quaker girl-turned-spy for American patriots during the War of Independence, despite her attraction to an English officer.

More Robson stories

- The first time she tasted alligator in West Palm.

- Photos of her years living in Japan.

- How she ended up in a book with George W. Bush and Ross Perot.

Go to Robson's Web site: http://www.luciastclair

When this story was posted in December 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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