Monday, September 23, 2013
Words With: Robb Grindstaff
One of the joys of starting my own publishing company is working with talented writers and editors. One of my favorites is both. Robb Grindstaff was the copy editor on EBP's first anthology, Spring Fevers. In fact, he came up with its title, which served as the genesis of the Seasonal Anthologies series. One book I wasn't able to publish was his absolutely wonderful debut novel, Hannah's Voice. It's truly one of the most engaging and interesting novels I've read in years and I'm so happy it's found a good home and is helping Robb develop an audience. His next book, Carry Me Away, is due out this any minute now, and I'm looking forward to reading that too. Here's my little Q&A with Robb. Hope you get to enjoy it before you go buy his book!
You have extensive experience both as a writer and an editor of fiction and nonfiction. If you could only choose one, which would you choose?
That’s kind of like asking an artist if he’d rather paint or teach a class at art school. I’d definitely choose writing. Editing is a sideline, and something I use to support my writing habit. I found I was pretty good at it – it combined my lifelong love of fiction and my career in journalism into one area, and I thoroughly enjoy it. I love helping out writers, especially newer writers. But it doesn’t replace writing.
Hannah’s Voice, which I honestly think is one of the best books I’ve read in years, bounced around for a while as you tried to find a publisher. You finally sold it to Evolved Publishing and it was released earlier this year. What do you think held agents and larger publishers back?
Lots of things. Initially, it wasn’t good enough. That drove me to revise and rewrite (several times) and make it better. Then there was the beginning of the whole turmoil that traditional publishing is still going through. With the digital revolution in book publishing and the collapse of the economy in general, publishers and agents were taking on fewer books. As a business, they have to do their best to stick with what they think will sell. Hannah didn’t fit into any of the genres or categories that were selling, and I was an unknown “newbie” writer, which is a huge risk for a major publisher, even though I’d been doing this for thirty-plus years. Hannah isn’t paranormal or romance or YA or any of the genres that were hot in the market. No wizards or vampires or zombies, sorry. Just mainstream contemporary/literary fiction.
That’s one of the reasons I love it. Your second novel, Carry Me Away, is coming out soon, also from Evolved. What is that story about and how different, in your eyes, is it from Hannah stylistically?
In Carry Me Away, when a biracial teenage military brat learns her injuries from an accident will prove fatal before she reaches adulthood, she accelerates life to a manic pace to reach her goals. Eventually she learns happiness isn't found in academic achievements or lovers, but in family, friends, and faith.
It’s actually the first novel I ever wrote, several years ago. I also tried the traditional route for a couple of years, revised and rewrote it several times, and eventually shelved it as my first “practice novel.” After Hannah came out, I pulled Carry off the shelf and looked again. I could now see how much work it needed, but I still loved the character, the voice, and the story. So I reworked it again, having learned a lot about crafting a novel in the past ten years, and submitted it to Evolved as a follow-up to Hannah. They paired me up with a total of three different editors who helped me whip it into shape, and I’m finally excited about how it turned out.
There are a couple of similarities with Hannah. It’s in first person with a young female protagonist (Carrie). That’s about where the similarities end. Hannah doesn’t speak, Carrie doesn’t shut up. Hannah curses once; Carrie curses like a Marine by the age of nine. Hannah lives in a small southern town; Carrie grows up living all over the world in a military family. Hannah is a pretty serious young girl; Carrie can be serious, and she also has a morbid sense of humor. The story progresses into Carrie’s early twenties, and there’s more, shall we say, adult situations. As characters, Hannah and Carrie couldn’t be more different, although I bet they’d like each other if they ever met. I think Carrie captures the fear we all share – life may be over before we’re done with it.
You’ve published your own collection of Arizona short stories and been part of EBP’s anthologies from the beginning. To your mind, what are the pros and cons of self- and independent publishing? Do you prefer one over the other?
That’s definitely a question every writer has to answer for him/herself. I tried the self-publishing route with Sonoran Dreams, my short story collection, as a test. I learned that I’m not cut out for pure self-publishing.
With an independent publisher that provides excellent support and work on my behalf, that makes it the right fit for me.
Personally, I’m best suited for the old-school traditional legacy publishing model that doesn’t exist anymore. I could be Salinger or Hemingway – just put me in a nice apartment in Rome or a beach villa in the Caribbean and let me write novels while my agent, editor, publisher, and publicist handle everything else. I could be a great recluse. If there was an anti-social media site, I’d join, and I’d be darn good at it.