I’d like to introduce you to my eighteenth interviewee in my ‘Meet the Author’ series. He is author/editor Robb Grindstaff.
QUESTION: Hi, Robb! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. Can you tell us a bit about your background as a writer?
ANSWER: My career has been in the newspaper business as an editor and manager. We’ve recently moved to Wisconsin, where I’m the business manager for a daily newspaper. The newspaper biz has taken my family and me from Phoenix, Arizona, to small towns in North Carolina and Texas, from Washington, D.C., to five years in Asia. Born and raised a small-town southern kid, I’m just as comfortable in Tokyo, Japan, or Tuna, Texas. The places I’ve been so fortunate to live and visit serve as settings for the characters who invade my head.
I’ve had a dozen short stories published in several print anthologies, magazines and e-zines, and several of my articles on the craft of writing fiction have appeared in writing magazines and websites.
My debut novel is Hannah’s Voice, published this past January by Evolved Publishing. It’s not the first novel I’ve written, just the first one published.
QUESTION: Can you tell us a bit about Hannah’s Voice? What inspired you to write it? What kind of feedback have you received?
ANSWER: Unlike anything else I’ve ever written, the entire novel came to me in a single moment. The character, the storyline, her name, even the last line of the novel, all showed up in a flash. I was driving at the time—I promise I wasn’t too distracted. I didn’t have all the details and characters and events in my head until I started writing and let the story develop, but the basics came in an instant.
The feedback has been tremendous. While the story is set against a backdrop of politics and religion, it’s not a political novel. It’s been well received by people of all different political and religious views. It’s just a novel about how a little girl’s silence is interpreted, or misinterpreted, by people with preconceived notions and agendas.
What’s been most satisfying are the comments from many readers – not people I know – who have said the character, Hannah, has stuck with them for long after they finished reading.
QUESTION: You’ve finished writing a second novel and are working on two more. Will these be published by Evolved Publishing? Are the books related to Hannah’s Voice? Can you tell us about them?
ANSWER: The next book scheduled for publication with Evolved is Carry Me Away, which I originally wrote before Hannah’s Voice. It’s a story about a teenage girl who has been in a car accident and her injuries will eventually kill her, probably before she reaches adulthood, so she lives life at a manic pace to find meaning, happiness, and true love before it’s too late.
It’s undergoing a thorough rewrite – I’ve learned a lot about writing fiction since I first penned Carry, but I still love the character and the story concept. It just needed to sit on the shelf for a few years while I learned how to tell the story better. I also needed time to gain some emotional distance from it.
I’m in the process of writing the next novel, and have another one sketched out, and I hope they’ll also be good enough for Evolved to consider.
QUESTION: What has your experience with your publisher been like? Is it everything you’d hoped for?
ANSWER: In this ever-changing world of publishing, I’ve found a really good fit and a comfortable home with Evolved. I tried the traditional route for the first years of my writing – as most of us do. I landed an agent, lost an agent, weathered dozens of glowing rejections, won some writing contests, had some short stories published in anthologies, but never could quite break through. But self-publishing wasn’t for me either.
Today, there are many choices between the extremes of a major traditional publisher and self-publishing. I highly recommend writers take a look at that middle ground of small presses and indie publishers. They’re often more author-centric, and many of them put out high quality work and provide tremendous support for their writers. Professional cover design, editing, and marketing support are top-notch at Evolved.
QUESTION: You are also a fiction editor. Your editing clients include traditionally published, agented, and indie authors from around the world. Can you tell us a bit about the author/editor relationship? What do you like best about editing other authors’ work?
ANSWER: With my background in journalism (30+ years), and my love of writing fiction, along with studying the craft of fiction for years (ever since I was an English Lit and Journalism major in college in a prior century), a few years ago I discovered I had a knack for helping out other writers with the craft aspect. I started doing some editing for writer-friends, and they started referring me to others, and it grew into a small side business. When the self-publishing boom started, the editing turned into more of a full-time business. I took a couple of years off from the newspaper career and edited full-time while finishing up a couple of my novels.
The writer-editor relationship is critical. The writer must trust that the editor has his best interests at heart, and the editor must help the writer improve the writing and the storytelling while keeping the writer’s voice and the writer’s story. If your editor wants to change the story and change the voice, tell him to go write his own story. Ha!
QUESTION: How do you feel about the “rules” of contemporary writing: no adverbs, limited dialogue tags, show don’t tell, no head-hopping, etc.? In your opinion, how important are they to writing? Are there any that you particularly adhere to?
ANSWER: Rules? What rules? Sure, there are grammar rules and correct spelling and punctuation, but in the hands of a master (like Hemingway or Cormac McCarthy), even those are optional. As for the rest, anytime someone says, “Never do this, always do that,” I ignore them. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional adverb, well-chosen and well-placed.
That said, there are lots of really good tips and techniques for writing better sentences and crafting better stories. Most of the ‘never’ and ‘always’ rules originated from a kernel of truth. Many, perhaps most, novice writers overuse things like adverbs and adjectives, they haven’t yet learned the difference between showing and telling (and when to use each), and they head-hop all over the place because they haven’t learned how to tell a story. It’s all part of the learning curve, like mastering any other craft or art. So yes, all those tips and techniques are critically important to learn and to follow. When you’ve mastered the craft, you can choose to ignore one of the standard bits of advice when you know exactly what you’re doing, why, and what effect it will have on readers.
Picasso learned the basics first. He studied the masters and practiced his craft and his art for years before he broke all the rules, broke new ground, and created a whole new ‘genre’ of art. The most natural and gifted athlete in the world will train and practice basic techniques for years. Writing is no different.
QUESTION: What is your favorite or least favorite part of writing or editing?
ANSWER: Waiting to hear back from someone – an agent, an editor, a publisher, a reader. And the technical aspects like formatting, which isn’t my area of expertise, I find it too boring to learn, but it’s absolutely critical to putting out a quality product.
QUESTION: You also write articles on the craft of writing, publishing, and editing. Your articles have been published in magazines, on websites, and on your own blog site. Do you have a most popular article? Do you have an article that has made the biggest impact on readers? Do you get requests for articles about a particular writing topic?
Most of the requests I get center on some aspect of the craft of writing. That’s my forte, I suppose. The articles that have gotten the most readers, and the most requests for reprints, are two different three-part series. One is a three-part series on point of view (http://robbgrindstaff.com/2011/04/pov-part-1/), voice and perspective; the other is a three-part series on how to make your writing three-dimensional (http://robbgrindstaff.com/resources/articles/writing-in-3-d/).
QUESTION: What is the most important advice you can give new authors?
ANSWER: Most important advice:
1-Write, write, write – practice constantly; write short stories; write flash fiction; write four novels, then burn the first three and send the fourth one to agents or publishers. You will learn from everything you write.
2-Read, read, read – read famous authors, brilliant unknown writers, classics, contemporary writers who are breaking new ground, read the best writers in your genre, read outside your genre. You will learn from everything you read.
3-Study, study, study – study the craft of writing fiction. There are tons of great books, websites, and articles out there on how to improve your writing. Absorb the information, then when you write, write, write (#2), good habits will become ingrained as second nature.
4-Write some more.
5-Never give up – it’s a long haul, a lifelong marathon, not a sprint to the famous line.
QUESTION: What books or authors have most influenced you in your own writing?
ANSWER: I have a long, long list of favorite authors and books, but I think I can narrow the list down for those most influential to me personally:
1-Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer)
2-John Irving (World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and many more)
3-Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club, Rant, Choke, several others)
4-Dave Eggers (What is the What, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius)
5-Kurt Vonnegut Jr (Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions, many, many more)
QUESTION: Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your book. Thanks!
Robb on Evolved Publishing–http://www.evolvedpub.com/press/authors-e-h/robb-grindstaff/
Hannah’s Voice on Amazon–http://www.amazon.com/Hannahs-Voice-ebook/dp/B00B0PZ0WW/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367107619&sr=1-2
Sonoran Dreams: Three Short Stories from Exile–http://www.amazon.com/Sonoran-Dreams-Three-Stories-ebook/dp/B0086SBJ30/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367107619&sr=1-4
Robb on Facebook–http://facebook.com/robbgrindstaffauthor
Robb on Twitter: @RobbWriter–https://twitter.com/RobbWriter