Today is the official release of HANNAH’S VOICE by Robb Grindstaff. To celebrate, Robb is here to talk to us about his book. He’s also provided an excerpt after the interview. But first, let’s have a look at the blurb for HANNAH’S VOICE…
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When six-year-old Hannah’s brutal honesty is mistaken for lying, she stops speaking. Her family, her community, and eventually, the entire nation struggle to find meaning in her silence.
School officials suspect abuse. Church members are divided—either she has a message from God or is possessed by a demon. Social workers interrupt an exorcism to wrest Hannah away from her momma, who has a tenuous grip on sanity. Hidden in protective foster care for twelve years, she loses all contact with her mother and remains mute by choice.
When Hannah leaves foster care at age eighteen to search for Momma, a national debate rages over her silence. A religious movement awaits her prophecy and celebrates her return. An anarchist group, Voices for the Voiceless, cites Hannah as its inspiration. The nation comes unhinged and the conflict spills into the streets when presidential candidates chime in with their opinions on Hannah—patriotic visionary or dangerous radical. A remnant still believes she is evil and seeks to dispatch her from this world.
Hannah stands at the intersection of anarchists and fundamentalists, between power politics and an FBI investigation. All she wants is to find her momma, a little peace and quiet, and maybe some pancakes.
Tricia: Welcome, Robb. Congratulations on the release of your book. Please, tell us a little about yourself.
Robb: My career has been in the newspaper business as an editor and media 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.
In addition to writing, I edit fiction and non-fiction books for authors, with clients from around the world. It helps that I’m fluent in five languages: U.S. English, U.K. English, Canadian, and Australian, plus my native language, Texan.
Tricia: When did you begin writing?
Robb: I remember telling my parents some wild tales early in my life. Mom had to explain the difference between storytelling and lying. Dad reinforced that lesson with somewhat sterner measures. So I started writing them down and labeling them ‘stories.’ That way, I could tell huge lies and get praised for them.
I worked for the high school newspaper and found a way to use words as an actual career, so I majored in journalism and English in college. Journalism could provide steady work until I became a famous and fabulously rich author.
After college, life took over. Marriage, children, a mortgage, and the career became more important. My writing fell by the wayside for twenty years or so. That was a good thing. I still wrote for my personal amusement. But I gained life experiences and a better understanding of human nature that gave me something to write about.
Around 1999, shortly after we moved to Japan, the writing bug bit again, and it bit hard. I threw myself into writing and learning everything I could get my hands on about the art and craft of creating compelling fiction.
Tricia: Can you tell us how you got the idea for HANNAH’S VOICE?
Robb: 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 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 basic theme that prompted the idea was the divisions and animosity in our country—political, religious, between major cities and small towns. I had written Hannah before anyone had ever heard of the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street. The novel intended to show this divide in our country at an absurd level. Unfortunately, the real world has surpassed the book in its level of absurdity.
Tricia: What was the most challenging aspect of writing your novel?
Robb: Once I started writing, I discovered three major challenges this idea had created. First, how do I write a novel where the first-person narrator, the point-of-view character, doesn’t speak? That was a huge challenge. It took me a few years to write this novel because Hannah stopped speaking to me at times—for months on end. That’s just like her to stop talking. When she’d speak again, I’d start writing.
The second biggest challenge was to tell a story aimed at adult readers, written in the voice of a six-year-old child.
The third challenge was to consistently maintain that character’s voice and personality as a teenager. While she naturally matured in her way of thinking, she still had to be the same character as the six-year-old in the first half of the book.
Tricia: What projects are you currently working on?
Robb: Presently, the goal is for my next novel, Carry Me Away, to publish in the summer of 2013, also with Evolved Publishing. In this story, Carrie is a bi-racial, teenage military brat who learns her injuries from a car accident will prove fatal before she reaches adulthood. She tries to cram a lifetime of achievement into an abbreviated time span. I think Carrie captures the dreams and fears we all share—life may be over before we’re done with it. She’s a charming, foul-mouthed, brash and vulnerable character who invaded my head and demanded that I write her story. Whereas Hannah doesn’t speak, Carrie doesn’t know when to shut up.
I’m currently writing Turning Trixie. Trixie, a single mom and the small town’s only prostitute, knows the winning lottery ticket in her purse is about to change her life. Trouble starts when she decides the rest of the town needs changing too. If all goes well, Trixie will hit the streets in late 2013 or early 2014.
Tricia: What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?
Robb: The biggest mistake I see aspiring writers make is to rush things. Artists spend years and years learning and honing and polishing their craft, and writing fiction is no different.
My advice is to take your time. Learn everything you can about great writing. Yes, learn the mechanics—grammar, sentence structure, syntax, punctuation. Learn how to structure the narrative arc of a story. Learn how to create a complex plot structure with sub-plots. Learn how to develop three-dimensional, compelling characters.
How do you learn to write compelling fiction? Read books on the craft of writing fiction. Take classes in creative writing. Join writers groups and share your work for critique and feedback, as well as learning how to critique other writers’ works. You’ll find by critiquing other people’s stories, you’ll constantly learn things to apply to your own writing.
Read, read and read some more. Read the classics. Read great literature. Read all the best contemporary writers in your genre. Read the best writers outside your genre. If you’re not reading the best writers and the best books, how will you know how yours compares? And you’ll learn from everything you read.
Write, write and write some more. Write short stories. Write flash fiction. Write something outside your genre just to stretch your boundaries. You’ll never learn to play tennis by watching it on television and reading books about techniques. You have to get on the court and start swinging a racquet. If you’re serious about becoming great at tennis, you’ll practice for hours every week for years. You’ll probably hire a coach. Approach writing the same way.
Finally, while taking this long view toward your writing career, never give up.
Tricia: That is certainly excellent advice. Robb, thank you so much for visiting with us. And thank you for sharing this wonderful excerpt…
With that one word, I broke my silence of a dozen years.
“I said I want the goddamn pancakes.”
Finally, I got what I really wanted. Not the pancakes, but some silence. Everyone else shut up. Finally.
I hadn’t decided to stop talking forever, or even for twelve years. I’d just chosen not to speak at a moment in time.
Sometimes decisions have a way of forging your future, setting a path before you that you must travel, even if you’re only six years old when you make the choice.
“Hannah, did you clean your room?”
Yes. I’d already answered Momma twice. I always answered the same question more than once, and always told the truth, so there was no need to keep asking, checking to see if I’d trip up and change my answer. Some kids are born with lies in their mouths, but I didn’t know how. Why make up a different answer other than the one I knew in my head or could see with my eyes? I remembered cleaning my room.
She could have looked rather than asking me three or four or twenty times. She always did that, whether about cleaning my room or brushing my teeth or studying my Sunday School lesson on Saturday night. She had to ask the same questions over and over.
“Hannah, I asked if you cleaned your room. Answer me. Don’t just stand there like you’re deaf and dumb.”
It wouldn’t do any good to answer her. She’d just ask again in a few minutes. Answering her wouldn’t make it any cleaner, but I wouldn’t get supper until she knew it was spotless. Every day I cleaned my room. Every day I used the feather duster and the can of furniture polish and the vacuum cleaner that was taller than me, even under the bed and behind the dresser.
Momma didn’t want the devil hiding in the dust under the bed. That was what had taken Daddy. Since Daddy was a Christian man, the devil couldn’t keep him, so Satan had put the dust in his lungs and made him go to sleep forever, leaving Momma and me alone. I kept the dust out of my room because I wanted to wake up in the morning. Mostly. Some nights I prayed to God to let me be with Daddy, but then I’d pray for forgiveness, because it wouldn’t be right to leave Momma all alone.
“Hannah, has the devil got your tongue? I asked if you’ve cleaned your room.”
I took her hand, led her down the hallway and pointed to my room.
“Oh my, what a lovely job you’ve done.” She leaned down and gave me a kiss on the forehead, her glasses falling off her nose and hitting me on top of the head. “Why didn’t you just say so?”
She hugged and kissed me and was very proud of the job I’d done.
“Such a good little girl deserves a special dinner. How about pancakes tonight?”
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