BookView Interview with Author Chris Grant

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed author Chris Grant,  Hall of Fame sportswriter and author of Waiting ‘Round To Die, an outstanding literary tale about exploring one man’s quest for the meaning of life. (Read the review here.)

 Hall of Fame sportswriter Chris Grant has a daughter and a dog, both of whom reside in central Texas. He has published short stories, history articles, and true crime research, in addition to his journalism, which has been featured in newspapers from coast to coast. When not writing, he goes to punk rock shows, curates the baseball history website Letters From Home Plate, and dreams of running away to Iceland.

Who and what ultimately inspired you to write this book?

I feel like my life at the time was the greatest inspiration for the book. I was stuck in a broken marriage, to a person who refused to move, either physically or emotionally, and by the time I started writing, it was just so incredibly apparent how much this person was holding me back from having the type of life I wanted to have. In addition, I was living in a place—suburban USA—where I absolutely never wanted to live. Despite the fact I had all the trappings of what people tell you make for a successful life—a wife, a kid, a dog, a home I owned (with a pool, even), a car that was paid for… I just felt stuck. So I decided if I could not physically escape my situation, perhaps I could mentally escape it.

As I started, I began to consider who I would want on this particular journey with me and the only person I could think of was my uncle, Glen. Glen was a storyteller in Hawaii, an academic, collector of folklore, and historian. More importantly, he was my beloved uncle and my writing mentor. When he died in 2003, my will to pursue any sort of fiction-writing career really came to a screeching halt. I still wrote, as it was my job as a journalist, but I just couldn’t find the inspiration to dive back into fiction writing. It took a long time for that to come, and when it did, I knew he needed to be there with me. That’s why he’s in the co-pilot seat for most of the trip. Because it is where he belongs.

As a “road trip novel,” Waiting ‘Round to Die takes place in various locations around the US. Was it difficult to write scenes in so many different places and have them all feel distinct yet realistic? What was that process like?

It actually wasn’t that hard at all, because the narrator basically just goes to places I’d already been. That’s why I wanted to include the hotel and restaurant guide, because I had enjoyed traveling to all of these places and those were the hotels I stayed in and those were the restaurants I ate at. Granted, I wasn’t hanging out with Civil War generals, or my dead uncle, when I visited those places, but I have actually seen them. I think this made it easier, because I was just mining my memories for descriptions, etc. I remember when I first read On the Road I really wanted to know where Dean and Sal were going and I wanted to go there, too! So, when I wrote this (and rest assured Kerouac is a huge influence on me as a writer, especially when I was in my 20s), I wanted to make it as easy as possible for readers to follow the narrator’s path, if they so desired.

You have written pieces for various newspapers. How has your experience as a journalist affected your literary writing, and especially, has that experience had any influence on the writing of Waiting ‘Round to Die?

Sometimes I think being a journalist is a hinderance to being a fiction writer. When you work as a journalist you want to get the facts, get the information, to the reader in as concise a manner as possible and I think I have always been pretty good at that. Cutting out a lot of that language, however, is not always beneficial to a work of fiction. There were many drafts of this novel and I promise you the first one was nowhere near as long as the one that ended up in reader’s hands. I remember one of the first people to read an early draft asked if maybe I wanted to add a little more description to the locations, people, etc. That was actually a big help, as I think it pulled me out of my journalist mindset and helped me reconnect even more with the fiction writer I dreamed of being many years ago.

What was more important for you to tell this story: characters or plot?

I feel like this is a pretty character-driven story. The narrator is lost and he needs help. Where he goes isn’t necessarily all that important. Certainly not as important as the people he meets along the way. In theory he could have gotten on a boat and sailed around the world. Or done the same thing in an airplane. Or just wandered the streets of downtown Los Angeles, connecting with whomever he came in contact with there. These interactions with the other characters are what is key.

What life experiences have shaped your writing most?

My mother is a big book person. Her absolute favorite thing to do is to sit down and read. The same was true of my grandmother (my mother’s mother). They were the main factors that got me into a love of literature. Then, I think at some point in middle school, we were supposed to keep a journal and I thought the journaling was pretty boring, to be honest. The teacher eventually told us we could just make up stories, if we didn’t have anything to write in our journal, so that was what I did. My journal became a spiral notebook full of Twilight Zone-esque stories, rather than some sort of recounting of my day. And it was a lot of fun, so I kept with it. Well, at least until I took my extended break.

I have a friend, a fellow writer named Logan Ryan Smith, and every time Logan finishes writing a novel he remarks how he has created something where once there was nothing and I’ve really taken that to heart over the past few years. I truly enjoy the process of taking a blank page and making it into something.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Don’t give up. I wrote three novel-length manuscripts from the time I was 25-30. The last one was maybe the only good one. Glen liked it anyway and he was supposed to help me find someone to publish it (we were planning on going to the Maui Writer’s Conference) but that was right before he got sick and a year or two after that he was dead. As I mentioned, his death really had a negative effect on my desire to pursue writing. So I gave up about 15 years, when I could have been creating things. I suppose it led me here, which is a good thing, but I will never get back all that wasted time.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?

I would imagine the answer to this question is the same for the vast majority of writers: it’s getting published! I can sit down and write new fiction basically every day. I currently have about two-thirds of the first draft of a new novel finished. In addition, I have an outline for the novel I want to write after that laid out and I have notes/ideas for 2-3 more novels which might possibly follow those. For me anyway, the writing is almost the easy part. Finding a publisher, shopping manuscripts, that’s the hard part.

Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?

I have two favorites. The first is the scene on Santa Monica beach with the narrator and Glen. I think when I wrote that I got to say some things I felt were left unsaid and at least get them out into the universe. I believe this leads to it being, perhaps, the emotional linchpin of the entire story. My other favorite is the last chapter. Because it offers a glimpse of happiness or hope in the narrator’s otherwise bleak world. He is laying, bleeding, in one of the most desolate places on earth. If you have ever been in that mountain pass on Interstate 8 that leads into the Imperial Valley, then you know exactly what I am talking about. And he wants to die, but he’s not going to die. And his final thought (at least in the book) is of this magical, albeit completely ordinary, day he spent with his daughter. And like I said, I like it because I think it gives him at least a glimmer of hope for the future.

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