Meet Writer Robin Johns Grant

Robin Johns Grant has been writing fiction for years. For so many years, in fact, that she crowned herself The Queen of Perseverance and celebrates that fact on her blog.

To support her writing habit, Robin has made a living in a variety of ways: writing and editing for university publications; managing an office for a firm of private investigators; and working as a financial aid counselor. She recently made a major career change, going back to school to earn a Master of Library and Information Science degree and landing a job as a reference librarian at a state college.

Robin also studied in the Master of Professional Writing program at the University of Southern California. While there, she interned with Burt Lancaster’s production company and wrote a treatment for a teleplay. Her story Glass Houses placed as a finalist in the Ernest Hemingway First Novel contest. Her short story, “The Best New Year’s Kiss,” was published in an anthology titled The Other Side of the Doorbell.

Robin lives in Georgia with her husband, Dave, and Himalayan cat, Wendy.

Robin Johns Grant

Robin Johns Grant

•Robin, when I read the title of your blog, The Queen of Perseverance, I was intrigued. Upon learning how long you’ve been pursuing publication, I was amazed and inspired. Please share with us an overview of your journey. What do you write? How many manuscripts have you started? Completed? How many ideas are dancing in your head?

You know, if I were to name my blog today, I would probably call it The Long and Winding Road. I read so many published writers who advise us, “Just study the craft and work on your writing. Bit by bit you will improve. Then you will get published.” As though there is a straight path from start to finish. At least for me, I’ve discovered there is no straight path to publication and success in writing. I veer off to one side and God nudges me back the other way. I wander off into the fields and graze for a while, I get turned around and backtrack, I get lost. But I keep going!

When I was six or seven years old, I discovered that there were actually real people out there writing those books I was learning to read. I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life, because my head was filled with stories all the time. What could be better than writing those down and sharing them—especially if you could make a living at it? I’ve been writing stories ever since.

When my cousin and I were eighteen, we wrote a novel together, packaged it and sent it to a publishing company—and waited for our publishing contract to come back! I was a little shocked to get a rejection, but that was okay. I was young, and it was my first try. Of course that was over 30 years ago, and many, many rejections ago.

I’ve written six complete novels and started several others. Divide five novels into thirty years and you’ll see part of my problem. I can’t whip a new novel out every few months like a lot of other folks do—like a lot of folks advise you should do. Part of that is because I’ve had to keep my day job. But also, I can’t just sit down with a spreadsheet and mechanically create my characters and stories. I can do those things to clarify and organize things in my mind, but it takes me time to get to know my characters and what’s going on with them. The same way I can’t go to a conference or a party and walk away with four new friends. It takes me a long time to get to know someone, and that spills over into my writing.

Every novel I’ve completed to date has a love story at the center. But right now, I’m working on my first romance genre manuscript. My agent, Janet Benrey, recommended I try doing this. At first I balked, but it’s been good for me. I tend to be long-winded and since the word count for this type of novel is shorter than I’m used to, I’ve had to learn to focus and say things more concisely. According to my agent and several editors I’ve met, another problem I’ve had in getting published is that my stories tend to stray across genre boundaries. With this book, again, I’m learning to stay within bounds.

•Over thirty years! Wow! That truly is perseverance. What have been some of the highest highs you’ve experienced on your journey? How did you celebrate them?

My highest high to date was when Janet Benrey—who was then with Hartline Literary—called and said she wanted to sign me. I was on cloud nine. I had been going through some of my lowest times writing-wise, so it came at a time when I really needed encouragement. Plus, it was my first “official” success. I had finaled in contests, had editors request full manuscripts, had agents say they were interested in me. But Janet took the plunge and actually gave me a contract. I really hope I can make some money for her someday and vindicate her faith in me.

•Writing can be a solitary occupation. We spend many hours at our computers cavorting with our characters. The support and encouragement of other writers and authors can be such a blessing, especially when we experience the inevitable lows. Who are some the people who’ve come alongside you? What lessons have they taught you? How have they inspired you?

Several years ago, I was trying to sell my first novel in the secular market. I had been to a secular writers’ conference and had a really bad experience with an editor there. I decided that was it. Obviously, if I ever thought I had a calling from God to write, I was mistaken, and it was time to quit.

On the drive home, however, I started to cool down. I started wondering about Christian fiction, and about trying to target my work to a Christian market. So I stopped by a Christian bookstore and browsed, and decided to read Terri Blackstock. I was so impressed by the quality of her writing I decided to pursue this line of thinking more. However, after a few rejections from Christian houses, I was again at the point of quitting.

Then one day my husband asked me, out of the blue, if I had ever heard of Terri Blackstock. Turns out, she’s a good friend of one of my husband’s friends. We connected, and Terri was so encouraging, even saying she thought my writing was ready for publication. She referred me to Janet Benrey, who became my agent. And that’s why I’m still writing today! I’m so grateful for Terri and Janet—but can’t you just see God’s hand in all of that?

Another dear friend and mentor is Elizabeth Musser (whose books I highly recommend!) She’s also been encouraging about my writing and helped keep me going. One year we both went to the American Christian Fiction Writers conference and she took me under her wing and introduced me to authors and editors. She didn’t just introduce me, but would say something like, “Have you met my friend Robin? She’s written such a great book!” I’m very introverted and it’s hard for me to meet people, so having that support was priceless.

•Of everything you’ve written, which story is your favorite, and why? Are there aspects of yourself or your life in this piece? Did you include a theme that has special meaning to you?

This one’s a no-brainer. I told you my characters and stories grow over time! When I was a child, I came up with two characters: Jamie, who is a celebrity, and Jeanine, who dreams of meeting him—and does. I wrote stories about them when I was an adolescent. During my college years, I wrote a novel about them. I’ve rewritten their story several times. The latest version is called Glass Houses. It’s the book Terri Blackstock read a sample of, and the one Janet Benrey read when she signed me. It was a finalist in the Ernest Hemingway First Novel Contest several years ago. It’s also the novel the editor at the secular conference blasted so badly that I almost quit writing! Go figure.

As for whether it contains anything of myself or special themes, well, I’ve had my own crushes on celebrities through the years. Even as an adolescent, I thought it was so interesting, how I could feel that I knew someone so deeply because of seeing their movies or television shows—and yet, I really didn’t know them at all.

I loved Bob Crane in Hogan’s Heroes when I was a child. (Yes, I’m really dating myself!) Then he was murdered, and all sorts of ugly things came out about him. Another TV star I loved, Pete Duel, seemed so good-natured and happy. And he committed suicide.

Both of those experiences affected me deeply, and I started writing a story about a little girl who becomes obsessed with a fourteen-year-old movie star, to the point of being convinced that God has intended them to be together. He’s going to be the knight in shining armor who sweeps her away from rural Georgia and saves her from mundane life. Then, when she’s twenty, he does indeed come into her life. And it isn’t at all what she pictured. He has all kinds of nasty secrets, including a girlfriend who just died under mysterious circumstances. God may have intended them to be together, but it turns out, she has to save him.

•I noticed in reading your blog that you, like me and many other not-yet-published writers, wrestle with the aspect of following the “rules.” How do you balance the need to adhere to the generally accepted guidelines with the desire to remain true to your voice? What guidance have you received in this regard from those in the know, such as your agent and published writer friends?

This is a huge struggle for me. I don’t know that I have the answer yet. Most of the guidance I’ve received, from almost everyone, has been that my lack of rule following is what’s keeping me from being published. The big one is that I don’t adhere to strict genre guidelines, and my novels don’t pigeonhole into one genre. Then there are the usual things, like I should stop using omniscient p.o.v., show more and tell less, use simpler sentences, on and on.

I have tried very hard to listen to the advice and adjust my writing. Interestingly, though, the more I change to fit the rules, the less success I seem to have. The less excitement I generate in my work. I know my voice is not as unique as it used to be, and I think I’ve lost a lot of the rhythm and poetry of the writing itself.

At a conference recently, I pitched a novel to a well-known agent, who told me, once again, that I couldn’t use a certain plot development because it would make the novel “cross genres.” Instead, he suggested another plot turn, which has been used many times before and therefore would be familiar to readers of that genre. I came away dazed and confused. I frankly want to surprise my readers, to leave them wondering and breathless. Why would I want to give them the same thing they’ve read over and over?

My own conclusion I’m reaching is to try to listen to the experts and be flexible with your writing. But then, look at the results. Look at the feedback you’re getting. Not all advice is good advice. Not every rule is set in stone.

•And now a question just for fun. I noticed you’re a huge science fiction fan who has attended some big conventions—in costume. Cool! If you could be transported to the world created by a sci fi author or screenwriter, which would it be, and why? What character would you portray? Given the chance, would you change the outcome, or would you be content to experience the adventure as written?

My favorite over the years has been the Star Wars series. But would I want to actually live in that world? I don’t think so. Being a rebel and being hunted by the Empire is not for me! Definitely more fun to live vicariously.

It might be fun to be Elizabeth of Pirates of the Caribbean—but I would definitely make sure that when Will Turner comes home after ten years at the end of the last movie, the curse is broken and he’s home to stay for good! (Which is what the writers intended in the original script, but that got cut in the edited version of the film. One of the reasons I don’t want to be a screenwriter. Too many people can alter your story without your permission.)

It’s been great having you as my guest, Robin. And now, in closing, is there a final comment you’d like to make or a question you’d like to ask?

Since I’ve been on my soap box about “the rules,” I’d like to ask the writers and readers out there—have you read a novel that blatantly broke some writing rule and was all the better for it?

Learn More About Robin: Visit Her Blog http://queenofperseverance.blogspot.com/

Leave a Comment for Your Chance to Win!

I’ll choose a winner from those who leave a comment for Robin on 1/29 (and include an email address when prompted, which I don’t share), and will post the winner’s name on 1/30.

Jodie won and chose a Taco Bell gift certificate:

1) A $5 gift card from either Borders or Taco Bell (Keli’s Hangout 🙂 ),

Borders and Taco Bell Gift Cards

or

2) A Hallmark motivational bookmark made of metal,

Hallmark Metal Bookmark

Reads: "imagine . . . dream . . . reach . . . believe . . . achieve"

or

3) A set of 8 personalized note cards handmade by your blog host, Keli Gwyn.

Blog Drawing Prize - Personalized Note Cards

You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!

If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by your blog hostess, Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and January 31, making sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) You may enter once per post.

On February 1, Keli will choose one person who will have her choice of four covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your “firstborn” in your hands.

(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)

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About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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22 Responses to Meet Writer Robin Johns Grant

  1. Keli Gwyn says:

    Welcome, Robin. It’s great to have you here. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you better as we prepared for your interview.

    In answer to your question, I’ve read two debut novels recently in which the authors “broke the rules.” Both were my blog guests and have books that work very well, despite the fact that these authors told their stories their way.

    Linore Rose Burkard, author of Before the Season Ends, an inspirational Regency, used the omniscient point of view rather than third person. She also had a significant amount of backstory in her early chapters. But it works. Before the Season Ends is a great story, an opinion shared by many enthusiastic reviewers.

    Marcia Gruver, author of Diamond Duo, a historical inspirational set not long after the Civil War, used three points of view: the hero, the heroine and a very important secondary character. A number of the scenes are told from the POV of the secondary character, including scenes in which neither the hero nor heroine even appear. Diamond Duo wouldn’t be the same without this character, who plays a major role at one point in the story–and is just plain fun. This is another great book that works well despite the “broken rules.”

    Even though there are exceptions such as these, it is rare for a debut author to make a sale when s/he strays too far from what’s considered standard practice. In the case of Linore and Marcia, both have degrees in English and are excellent storytellers. They are the kind of authors who produce works that catch editors’ eyes. I’m now a fan of both of these talented authors.

  2. Hey, Robin! Great interview!

    Well, I know there have been books that broke the rules that I liked, but I can’t really think of them right now. But you can’t please everybody. I’ve learned that, if nothing else. 🙂

  3. Kristi says:

    Hey- great interview!

    Two BIG (understatement)series that broke the cross-genre rule:
    Harry Potter and Twilight

    Personally, I don’t see how any book can be truly classified as one specific genre. Don’t most books- the best ones anyway- have some romance, even if they are primarily western or sci-fi. Don’t romances contain suspense of some kind? Marketing- the cancer of the art world! ***sorry for the dramatics:)

  4. Robin, I thoroughly enjoyed your interview; I feel as if I know you so much better! I have, in fact, read some of your works and have enjoyed everything I have read. I especially enjoyed Jamie and Jeanine. You hang in there and I know there’s a best-seller in your future!

    As for the books that have broken the writing rules, since I am a Math Major, I am probably not the best judge of this subject.

    Again, great interview — and I enjoy your blog tremendously, Queen!

  5. Brittany says:

    Great Interview Robin! Your blog always encourages me in my writing (not just creativewriting but academic writing as well….it’s hard to get every paper done the way the prof. wants it and rarely happens!) and about crossing genres, ever read any of Dee Henderson? She is one of my absolute favorites and does a fanatastic job of creating a beautiful love story and leaving you in breathless suspense! Personally,as a reader, I would rather read a romance story that I can predict everything in the story….I could have written that myself why waste my time?! Keep doing it your way 🙂

  6. Felicia says:

    You’ve come a long way from your teenage rejection to having an agent and trying your hand at different genres! Part of the problem in the literary world these days is that there are simply fewer readers than in years past. Ours is a society of entertainment and with the advent of video games, online virtual worlds, and TV, reading books has fallen out of favor. Don’t let the muggles get you down!

  7. Robert says:

    Who wrote the “rules” anyway? I don’t think it was the consumer, was it?

  8. Thanks for the interview, Robin and Keli. I enjoyed reading it! It emphasizes the fact that there is no single road to publication that we can all follow. God has us each on our own path.

  9. Pat says:

    I am so impressed by your perseverance, Queen! You are quite an inspiration. Oh, and by the way, you’re one heck of a reference librarian too 🙂

  10. It seems like all the time I read books that break “rules”. I think the toughie is the cross-genre thing. Don’t see that too often.
    Wow, so you’ve met Terri Blackstock? How cool is that? Like Pat, I’m impressed with your perseverance too, and the fact that you take the time to write the book you want to write.
    I really want to start writing a new wip, but I wonder how good it’ll be if I just churn it out in a few months? If I went slower, maybe I’d write better? LOL Who knows.
    I’ll bet your romance will be wonderful though! 🙂 Congrats on having Janet as your agent!

  11. Robin, I read your blog all the time, and I had no idea your bio was that good!!!

    I love the premise of Glass Houses and how it came out of your own life. Sure hope that book finds a home sometime soon.

  12. Jodie says:

    Excellent interview, Keli. And you have a wonderful story, Robin! Many blessings to you for sharing. I have actually never thought much about crossing genres. I read books to read books. Genre? Who cares? What I want is a good story!

  13. Okay, now I know who’s going to be my go-to research person for the book I’m currently writing. One of the POV characters is a PI. You’ll help me out, won’t you, Robin? 🙂

    Great interview! My book that will release in September from Moody, The Familiar Stranger, stradles a few genres. It’s got intrigue to a certain degree, but isn’t an official mystery. There are themes of marital romance, but it’s not a romance. Half the book is from a female POV, but it has so far gotten a strongly positive response from men, making it not a women’s fiction. This is why I think I found my ideal genre: Contemporary Fiction. Broad enough to do many plots, narrow enough to let a reader know what he or she is getting.

  14. Your Royal Majesty,

    Thanks for a great interview, Robin. Though I’ve followed your blog for quite a while, I really learned a lot more about you. I guess that’s what an interview is all about!!

    I like books that have elements of different genres, but ones that blend together well. Not horror and romance!!

  15. Sue Mason says:

    Hi Robin,

    Wow. A lot of things about your story struck home. I also wrote a book in my teens which got rejected (quite quickly). Then I took a long time off (like 25 years) and then when I hit 40 for some reason the bug struck again.

    I totally understand the introverted part. And the crossing genres part. My first two attempts could not be put into one category. That’s when I decided to try Inspirationals and actually target one specific group. And I’m still enjoying it.

    Best of luck. [By sheer perseverance alone you deserve a best seller.]

    Sue

  16. Great interview, Robin. I’ve been right with you over the years myself and feel perseverance is my strongest attribute as a writer. Some of the best advice I ever read was to write what I liked. You have to be true to yourself. I’ve always failed royally when I tried to write to please the market. So good luck and with your mind set it will happen.

  17. I very much enjoyed this interview, Keli and Robin. Robin, I agree with so many things you said. Especially about rules. I want my readers to be surprised. Yes, we need to listen to critiques, but somehow we have to keep our own voice. I struggle with this too. I’ve especially been upset to hear again and again that American Christians don’t want to read novels that take place overseas (unless it’s Israel or England, Scotland, Ireland…) I guess I’m learning more about compromise–fight for what I really think is important and be willing to change things that are suggested when necessary. Blessings on you both, Elizabeth

  18. Laura Wilson says:

    Hi, Robin!
    Wow! I had no idea you’d been so industrious. Five or six novels! You go girl!
    As far as books that broke the rules, Elizabeth Kostova’s “The Historian” comes to mind. It has two or three story lines that take place over several generations all running simultaneously. Plus, it relies on mood, atmosphere/setting, and tension for it’s horror, not blood and guts. I also recently re-read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s “Watchmen” which astounds me every time I read it. It completely smashed the rule book for super hero comics, from the story line and the characterizations, to the color scheme! And it elevated comic books to graphic novels. It won the Hugo Award (THE big sci-fi award) and was the only graphic novel on Time magazines top 100 novels of the last century.
    Personally, the times I have endured formal training regarding writing or art, I come away with so many rules buzzing around my head that writing or drawing stops being enjoyable in any way. After the required formal writing course in high school, it was decades before I seriously started writing again. And after art school, I still could care less about drawing. Trying to impose all those left brain rules onto a right brain process, just leeches all the passion, fun, and creativity out of it. Now, I just write the type of story I’d like to read and figure that someone somewhere out there would like to read it too. I always know I’m in my authentic voice when writing flows.
    Whenever I get discouraged I think of how many years J. Michael Straczynski fought to get his space saga “Babylon 5” on television. Then how much he had to battle the networks to keep it in his authentic vision and voice. Another one that broke the rules with it’s long story arcs, but won awards. And he stuck with it and made it happen.
    With all the cross genre books and shows around today I’m surprised this is a problem. Detective fiction frequently crosses genre lines (Lindsay Davis, Barbara Hambly) as does science-fiction with shows like “Firefly”. For idiocy in marketing, please read Chapter 5, Kenna’s Dilemma in Malcolm Gladwell’s “blink”.
    Keep at it and don’t give up!
    Laura

  19. Robin Grant says:

    Thanks so much to everyone who has left comments so far. Wow, what great insights! I’m going to print all this out and keep it handy so that the next time I feel like quitting (and I’m sure there will be a next time)I can get some encouragement.

    Thanks again.

  20. Keli Gwyn says:

    Thanks to everyone who’s stopped by and left a comment for Robin. Great to see each of you.

    I’ve held the drawing, and the winner is Jodie.

    Congrats, Jodie! I’ll be in touch to see which of the prizes you’d like.

  21. Mary Morris says:

    Robin,

    Many writers don’t have their first works published until they are successful with later works. John Gresham’s A time to kill was rejected until he had his first hit. Just keep writing.

    The interview was great!

    Mary

  22. Kathy says:

    I’ve always thought you were an interesting person and now I know why. I’ve always loved books that broke the rules and I definitely don’t like someone telling me that I should love books that stay within boundaries. In this day and time we should think outside the box. I believe the term is “refreshing”.

    Keep it up Queen of Perserverance. I may be coming to talk to you about a project that’s been rambling around in my head.

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