MEET THE AUTHOR! Getting to Know Robb Grindstaff, Author of “Slade”


Robb Grindstaff
Evolved Publishing (2022)
ISBN: 978-1622532810

In addition to a career as a newspaper editor, publisher, and manager, Robb Grindstaff has written fiction most of his life. The newspaper biz has taken him and his family from Phoenix, Arizona, to small towns in North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin, from seven years in Washington, D.C., to five years in Asia. Born and raised a small-town kid, he’s as comfortable in Tokyo or Tuna, Texas.

The variety of places he’s lived and visited serve as settings for the characters who invade his head.

His novels are probably best classified as contemporary southern lit, and he’s had more than twenty short stories published in a wide array of genres. His articles on the craft of fiction writing have appeared in various writer magazines and websites, and one of his seminars was presented at the Sydney (Australia) Writers Festival. He also has taught writing courses for the Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers of Australia, and the Novel-in-Progress writers retreat.

Robb retired from the newspaper business in the summer of 2020 to write and edit fiction full time. He and his wife relocated to the beautiful Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.

Robb also edits fiction and non-fiction books for authors from around the world. It helps that he’s fluent in five languages: US English, UK English, Canadian English, and Australian English, plus his native language, Texan.

Robb Grindstaff’s books are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, and many other online retailers. They are also available in paperback, e-book, and audiobook.

Hi Robb, welcome to Reader Views! Tell us about your writing journey.

First of all, thank you so much for having me on Reader Views. I was ecstatic when my novel Slade won the Reader Views sponsored award, The Reader Views Reviewers Choice Award, with the Feathered Quill Book Awards program.

I’ve been writing about as long as I can remember. I told my second-grade teacher that I wanted to be an author.

I went to college planning to major in English so I could become a writer. But in a rare good decision I made as a teenager, I added journalism as a double major, figuring I’d need to get a day job until I wrote the Great American Novel and became a rich and famous author.

Forty years later, I retired from the newspaper business. But I never stopped writing fiction. Had a short story published now and then, but it was mostly a hobby, a passion that took a backseat to life: married, kids, a career, a mortgage.

In my forties, the fiction bug bit again hard, and I started on a novel. I realized pretty quickly I didn’t know what I was doing, so I dove in to study the art and craft of writing fiction. I’ve never stopped.

I completely rewrote that novel three times, along with hundreds of revisions and countless edits. While querying that novel to agents, I wrote a second novel, applying everything I’d learned and learning a lot more. Learning is endless in this enterprise.

I landed an agent, lost an agent (he left the business), and kept trying. My second novel was eventually picked up by a small press, Evolved Publishing, and then they liked the first novel too. I’ve been with them ever since, with four novels and a short story collection published.

What is Slade about?

Slade is an unlikely celebrity with a self-help book who becomes a reluctant spiritual guru to the Hollywood elite, spawning a cult he wants nothing to do with.

A car crash thirty years earlier left Slade Bennington severely disabled but with a new outlook on life. His book about overcoming trauma becomes a bestseller and a box office hit movie. Slade strikes up an unusual friendship with Schuyler, the six-foot-tall teenage actress who portrays his sister in the movie. She encourages him to continue writing, and his pithy musings about life spur a nationwide following of devotees who study his books like Holy Scriptures.

Slade becomes a counselor to the celebrity in-crowd-the Shaman to the Stars. While thousands adore Slade, others call him a Svengali or Rasputin-like character who controls and manipulates his clients.

One disillusioned fan spends years plotting revenge.

The novel is offbeat literary/satire that unfolds in a series of interviews with the main character and those who know him best. It’s a bit of an unconventional structure, with some dark humor and cast of quirky characters.

What was your inspiration behind the storyline?

As happens to me frequently, a character shows up in my head and won’t shut up. I just have to listen and start writing until the character tells me the story. That definitely happened with Slade.

I’m the guy who can fall asleep when my head hits the pillow. But one night I tossed and turned until three a.m. as this character kept yakking away in my head. I finally got up and started writing notes, afraid if I fell asleep, he’d disappear, and I’d forget.

How did you develop your protagonist, Slade Bennington? What motivates him?

I just listened and wrote. Gradually, he revealed himself and his story. Then, of course, I had to go back and do a lot of rewriting. It appears that he was motivated by the desire for deeper meaning because of his traumatic accident, to learn why he survived, believing there must be a reason. As he came to terms with life, he wanted to share what he’d learned with others. Then it all grew out of his control until he just wanted to go back to being an anonymous average guy, but by then it was too late.

Our reviewer noted, “The interview method creatively allowed a much deeper character-reader relationship.” What prompted you to write the story in this manner and how did it allow for this deeper connection?

There’s a piece of writing advice I’d heard years ago that recommended interviewing your characters as a way to get to know them on a deeper level. I’d done that a time or two, but found it wasn’t really something that worked for me. As an editor and writing instructor, I have recommended that as an option to other writers who were struggling to really get to know their characters.

But the way Slade came to me, I put my journalism hat on and sat down to interview him. I’d ask a question, then let him talk while I typed. He’d mention some other character, like his brother or his wife, so then I’d interview them. Each character revealed a little more about Slade and his story.

When I had compiled about 40,000 words of interviews, I thought it was probably time to start taking all that raw material and write the novel. But the more I looked at it, the more a crazy thought bounced around in my head. Could this work as a novel? Just a series of interviews.

I rearranged some interviews, added more interviews, edited a bunch, added in some extra materials, such as snippets from news stories and Slade’s books to add context and background. Then I sent it to my crew of highly trusted beta readers to find out if this could actually work, or if I just had a hot mess on my hands.

The beta team was unanimous: they loved it. So I went for it. Finished it in this nonstandard storytelling format and then seriously began editing.

What kind of research was involved?

Not a lot of research involved in this one, although I did have to research some of the medical stuff. This story emerged mostly from my creative and perhaps slightly off-kilter creative subconscious. But all of life is research for the writer. Whatever I’ve gleaned about human nature over the years went into this book.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?

This book was full of surprises. I often didn’t know what was going to happen next as I wrote. As I revised and edited, I learned things about characters and the story that I didn’t even know I’d written. Underlying motivations, hidden gems that I hadn’t intentionally or consciously included, and didn’t even realize what those bits revealed until later.

One of the biggest surprises to me is that the book, and the format, seems to work so well for readers when it violates almost everything I’ve learned and taught over the years about writing.

It’s almost entirely interviews with characters about events from the past – it’s nearly all dialogue, virtually no narration. It’s all telling rather than showing – characters talk about past events rather than experience the events “as it happens.” The biggest moments in the book happen off-screen, and then characters talk about it in interviews. I use almost no setting description and very little description of characters, just bits and pieces here and there.

One thing I did not learn from writing this book: Was Slade a genuinely good person or was he a manipulative charlatan? Readers assume that since I wrote the book, I must know the answer. But I don’t. Readers have to decide that for themselves. Or decide that it can’t be known since everyone has both good and evil, light and darkness within.

What kind of reaction to your writing do you most seek from your reading audience?

I want readers to connect with the characters on a deep level. I want readers to gasp occasionally while reading. I want to write books that the reader finishes, then has to stop and absorb everything that happened. And then I want them to have an overwhelming desire to go back and read it again to pick up on the clues, or just to spend more time with the character.

The other reaction I love, whether I’m reading or writing, is that gut-punch you didn’t see coming. It doesn’t have to be something big, although those are good too, but sometimes it’s just a minor detail that knocks the wind out of you when you read it.

What kind of feedback have you received on Slade?

Amazingly, it’s all been highly positive so far. No book is loved by everyone, so I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop. The feedback I mostly get is the “was Slade truthful or not,” or the reaction to those occasional gut-punches. For this weird book to have picked up a few book awards has been validating, the comments from readers have been pure joy to this writer.

You were in the newspaper business for many years. What prompted you to leave that field and start writing full time?

I started as a reporter, then editor, then went into the business side, then management, and wound up in executive roles for national and international media companies. But I’d also been writing fiction, as well as a side gig as an editor for about fifteen years. I decided to retire a few years early to concentrate on my writing, which was where my heart was. At that time, I’d published a dozen or so short stories and two novels.

By ditching the day job, I was able to expand my editing and writing instructor roles and spend a lot more time on my own writing. Since I left the newspaper biz, I’ve published two more novels and a collection of eighteen short stories (many previously published but a few new ones as well).

I’ve come full circle back to my first love – writing fiction. My editing and teaching gigs help support my writing habit.

Where do you get your story ideas?

I touched on this above, but they come from a variety of places. Most of the time, it’s a character that shows up in my head with a story to tell, and I just have to listen and write until it eventually comes out. Occasionally, the entire story from start to finish pops into my head in a single moment. I won’t know every scene, but I know the gist of the entire plot.

That’s what happened with Hannah’s Voice (2013, Evolved Publishing), the second novel I wrote but first one to land a publishing deal. I was in the car and the concept hit. I said it out loud to my wife so I wouldn’t forget before I could stop somewhere and write it down. Basically, a six-year-old girl stops talking because no one believes her. Then her church, her school, her community, and eventually the entire nation is ripped apart by her silence.

This also happened with my most recent novel, Turning Trixie (December 2022, Evolved Publishing). The character and the basic plot concept showed up in one single moment: a single mother and the only prostitute in the small Texas town knows the winning lottery ticket in her purse will change her life. Trouble starts when she decides the rest of the town needs changing too.

But most of the time, I just start with a character and have to listen and write until the story is revealed. Then I have a bunch of rewriting to do.

What does your writing routine look like?

It’s not very routine. I’ve heard the mantra that a writer must sit a butt in the seat and write every day. But I don’t. I’ll get into a story and write every day. Then I have to take time away. I’ve worked on novels off and on for years sometimes. I’ve taken months off, but when I do that, I’m constantly thinking about the characters and the story.

Other times, I’ll finish a first draft in a matter of weeks, or a short story in a single day.

I have turned our downstairs guest bedroom into my office, with a desk and bookshelves and all the usual trappings of an office, and that’s where I do most of my writing, usually in the early morning.

But in the evening, I might be sitting in the living room with my laptop, writing or revising or editing while my wife is watching TV or reading a book and my dog is napping.

Are you a plotter or do you just let things flow? Do your characters ever take off on a tangent you hadn’t intended?

Some of both, depending on how the story comes to me. If a story is revealed gradually, I will eventually go back and write a narrative arc outline as the story comes into focus. If the whole story comes to me, I’ll outline first. Or maybe write the first few scenes and then outline.

From there, I’ll use my outline as a map to get me from beginning to end. But sometimes the writing takes a detour, and I’ll let it go where it wants. I’ll decide later if I need to revise my outline to fit the new direction or just get back on the original plan.

Most of the time, those surprises are the best route. My beginning and end won’t change, but the route I take to get from Point A to Point Z might take the scenic route.

How have you grown as a writer since writing your first novel?

I’ve learned so, so much. And I learn new stuff every day, it seems. If I ever think I know everything about writing fiction, it’ll be time to put me in a home somewhere and let me wallow in my delusion.

I still read books on the art and craft of fiction. I read other writers, from great books to the manuscripts I edit that might become great books. I learn from editing other writers and I see how they did something really cool. Or, I’ll see something they’re doing that isn’t working and realize I’ve done that too. Then I have to study it so I can give some good advice to the client – advice that I too need.

What do you like to read and which authors have inspired your own writing?

A long list of writers over the years, but I’ll narrow it down to a reasonable few, knowing I’m leaving out some of my favorites: John Irving (World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany), Chuck Pahlaniuk (Fight Club, Rant, Diary, Choke, and many more), J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Anais Nin, Haruki Murakami, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Amy Tan, Flannery O’Connor, Edgar Allan Poe… Yeah, I could fill a page.

In recent years, I’ve gravitated to books by other southern authors, like David Joy, James Wade, and Robert Gwaltney.

What do you like to do outside of writing?

When we retired, we moved to a house at a lake. So yeah, I do some fishing, but not as much as I want. I take the dog on walks lakeside or off in the woods. Grill or smoke some meat and hang out with a few friends with good food.

I was once certified as an advanced scuba diver, but haven’t done that in several years now.

What are your plans for future writing projects? What are you working on now?

I always have something in the works. Right now, my main writing project is the next novel, still in early stages, tentatively titled For What It’s Worth. The logline is: Two powerful men. Two teenage boys. One dead girl. Sometimes secrets have a way of washing ashore at the most inopportune times.

My publisher also has asked me to pull together a series of books on the craft of writing compelling fiction, so that’s just a lot of fun.

You are also a fiction editor and have an insightful blog on writing. Do you teach the crafts of writing and editing and/or have any courses available for those interested in taking things to the next level?

My editing clients have included every level from established authors to newbies, including a few bestselling authors, agented and traditionally published, as well as million-selling independent authors. I edit a variety of genres.

I also provide writing coach and mentoring services to several writers, which includes coursework as well as manuscript analysis.

I’ve taught online courses for Romance Writers of America, even though I’m not a romance writer, and for Romance Writers of Australia, even though I’m not Australian. I’m currently teaching an advanced fiction course in Adelaide, Australia. My co-teacher, author and instructor Samantha Bond, is in the room with the students in person, while I’m connected by Zoom. The only drawback is that it’s at 2:30 a.m. my time, so I have to have a nap and then coffee.

This summer (June 2023), I’ll be an instructor at the weeklong Novel-in-Progress Book Camp in Racine, Wisconsin (between Chicago and Milwaukee), and I’m really stoked about that. That’s a top-notch writers retreat, and I highly recommend it to anyone working on a novel, whether you’re a published author or a novice wanting to learn.

Anyone interested can contact me through my website (link below).

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing, or about life in general?

My dad, who was absolutely wonderful, had lots of great advice for me about life. As a kid, some friends and I lined up some old garbage cans, took some scrap lumber and built a ramp so we could jump our bicycles like Evel Knievel. Dad said that wasn’t a very good idea, but he didn’t say no. When I came in the house a few minutes later, crying, bloody knees and elbows, he never said, “Told you so.” Just took care of me as needed, then asked what went wrong. I told him we didn’t build the ramp sturdy enough. He said, “Next time you’ll know better.”

“Next time you’ll know better” applies to so much of life and writing if we let ourselves learn from our mistakes.

Based on your experience, what advice can you give aspiring authors?

The best writing advice I’ve received, and I try to pass this on to other writers, is let yourself make mistakes (“Next time you’ll know better”). First drafts are never perfect. Your first novel will be far from perfect. Take on all the advice you can gather from beta readers, an editor, a writing coach, but know when to follow their suggestions and when to have the confidence in your work.

Is there anything else you’d like to add today?

Read! Support your favorite authors. Buy their books, leave reviews, tell your friends. Send a writer a nice note. You’d be amazed how much that will encourage a writer.


Robb’s website (Discover Robb’s books and learn about his editing services)

Robb’s Amazon page

A Writer’s Block (Robb’s Substack with tips and discussions on writing and editing)

Robb’s books on Evolved Publishing

Robb on Facebook

Robb on Twitter occasionally

Email: robb(at)robbgrindstaff(dot)com.

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