Entertainment industry veteran, author, and speaker Robyn Stecher chatted with Digital Journal’s Markos Papadatos about her memoir, “Just Who We Are: My Story of Grit, Grace and Identity.”
The memoir documents her 38 years as a talent agent representing Tony, Emmy, Golden Globe, Academy Award, and Peabody Award nominees and winners as well as her journey navigating divorce and raising her son Daniel who was diagnosed with an unidentified rare genetic anomaly. The memoir also follows Stecher as she picks up the pieces and finds love again. The book will be released in June.
What inspired you to write this memoir?
An agent who read my first book, “There’s Something About Daniel,” which chronicles the first 15 years of my son’s life, commented that he thought my writing was very moving, and the story was compelling, but he wanted to know more about me- the “woman” and the mother I had become.
I had an irrevocable spiritual connection with my son who was born with a rare syndrome, and faith that kept me going. He wanted to know more about me and suggested that if I wrote another book, to consider putting the focus there.
It took me some years- as that first book was published 11 years ago, but I was ready to dig into the bigger picture. Memoir is a tough genre, especially if you are not “famous” or a “celebrity” but this didn’t deter me. I love to write, and I believed that I had stories to tell that could inspire others, but more importantly, when I thought of my readers, I wanted anyone who read it, to have an experience – not just of my life, but quite possibly see themselves in me, in my family and in my journey. Through their lens, perhaps their aspirations were attainable, or their view richer with options and choices that might have seemed like dead ends.
There is no prescription, no one way to “get to where we are going” or to do it “right” but how we get there really matters. I embrace the belief that our stories unite us, make us stronger, and that we live our whole lives to share what we have learned. I didn’t want to glorify my stories or box them away either, I couldn’t make them any neater, and some were very messy. I lived my stories to offer them to others. I wanted to tell the truth about my life so far, believing that in the truth of who we are lies our ability to love deeply, live richly, and travel together empowering each other as we keep discovering who we are.
Was it a cathartic process to write this book?
I didn’t realize how much the theme “self-invention” had played in my life. In this book I was looking back on decades and re-creating different periods and chapters. I stayed focused on being as truthful as I could be. I also realized how I “kept going”. I never gave up. Sometimes I was unconscious, and on auto-pilot, just powering through, but I was not happy in that state of being. I worked at being more present, conscious, compassionate and grateful.
As I was writing, I discovered how much I had grown since some of those experiences which had occurred many years ago, and sometimes I thought- wow- I really wasted days, months even years of my one precious, precious life worrying or stressing about things I see now from such a different perspective.
Most of what we worry about never happens and usually what does happen in life, at least the unexpected things, no one can be prepared for. I am better equipped now with state-of-the art tools and my navigational equipment has been upgraded a few times. I was not writing to have a public catharsis or process what I had lived- I had done that work already. I didn’t need a public to be my confessor. Writing for me is a form of self-expression, and I believed others might be inspired.
I learned through writing this book, I am far more capable than I knew I was at any given time, and like the metaphor of Dorothy’s ruby slippers, I had all I needed right there, inside me, and possessed exactly what I needed to have more of what I wanted, even now, when I may still doubt myself, or not realize my own creativity or power.
How does it feel to be an author in the digital age? (at a time when streaming and technology are so prevalent)?
Amazing! I always loved to read and loved books. I love owning and holding books in my hands. I love to read full-length stories. While I appreciate the lack of time, attentiveness, and the shackling many people feel to a technology-driven, multi-tasking world, I feel connected and focused when I read a book. It is an accomplishment when I finish reading it. Sometimes I even miss the characters I’ve been “living” with while I read it.
To be a writer one must be in the process of writing. When I write, I am immersed in it. I don’t think technology and the love of writing and wanting to publish are mutually exclusive. There are so many more opportunities because of technology. I honestly don’t let it distract me. When I graduated from college, being published was an elite experience, reserved for people who had “lived” and whose work had “something important to say.”
Young writers were rare and mostly excluded. Not the case now, “the digital age” has made so much content publication possible no matter one’s “age,” or experience. I think writing now can be inclusive of all kinds of creative opportunities for writers.
Many streamers option material from books- and have dedicated development executives specifically seeking books to option. An example of that is the “Hand Maid’s Tale.” A runaway streaming hit based on a book written in 1985! That is only one of so many. It is an incredible time to be an author- I still believe in the power and magic of writing books and I love bookstores.
What do your plans for the future include?
I am certain I have another book in me. This one will be fiction. Eleanor Roosevelt said, Do one thing that scares you every day!” It would scare me to foray into fiction, as I consider myself an essayist and memoirist, but I would like to write a young adult work of fiction- a love story. Post my very reclusive “Covid” months- I would like to travel.
And I wrote a bunch of essays during the Covid months I might like to pair with some of my photography. I have been privileged to have a long career in the entertainment industry and I’d like to honor my son by being more of an advocate for representation of atypical persons across all media.
Were there any moments in your career that helped define you?
Two that stand out. When I was 23, I was unemployed, about which I was very embarrassed, and I was attending a lecture at my alma mater, NYU – I dressed in one of my hallmark suits- thinking it made me look like I was “someone” and I caught the attention of a talent agent. When he asked me what work I did, I lied. I that told him I was a tv producer. I didn’t even know what a tv producer did.
I think he liked the self -assured way I tried to pull it off and figured I might be useful as his assistant. So,he offered me a job. 40 years later, I am an executive and still in the industry. Moral of the story: put on something that makes you feel good about yourself and believe, no matter what your circumstances, that you are worthy.
Second one: Many years later, an established, very successful client left the company. I felt responsible for this even though it had nothing to do with me. I couldn’t imagine how I’d make up for the financial loss. I was ruminating on it and called the founder of the company to share the bad news. “Why are we talking about this? This guy isn’t even your client anymore. Find someone else to talk about.” He was short and clear.
Within a month, I had the opportunity to sign on a fairly developmental talent whom I really believed was going to be very successful- he rose quickly and meteorically to a level of achievement, far surpassing the client who left. Moral of the story? If you create an echo chamber for the losses you suffer, you will remain at a loss. If you create the space for something new to happen, it will.
What is the title of the current chapter of your life?
“Just because the path isn’t clear, it doesn’t mean you are lost.”
What does the word success mean to you?
Doing what I want, for as long as I want, when I want, with whom I want and where I want.
What would you like to tell our readers about your book? (what’s the one thing you want them to get out of it)
The book is in part dedicated to my parents who encouraged me to be me, and in part to my dear friend who taught me : Don’t be afraid. Be yourself, walk in the truth about your life, and the universe will meet you. Most of what feels terrifying is just a nudge into the way forward. It’s exhilarating, what happens when you let your imagination lead you to what think is not possible. And tell your story, you might change a life!