Spotlight: Robin Gainey -- Get the Story on the Page


Robin F. Gainey grew up in a household full of pencils, erasers, Underwood and Royal typewriters (one of each), and cases of liquid paper.

Raised by her author-grandmother and an extended family of eleven women and two men, there was always something to write about, much of it hidden from the naked eye. Throw in a secret side of the family recently revealed and we now have a multi-volume saga with a predominant theme: Transformation. 

“Write what you know” is mostly what Robin does. And, what she doesn’t know she makes up. It’s fiction, after all…

What project are you currently working on?

Now working on two things at once: a stand-alone screenplay and what I hope to be the final edit of my third novel, slated to finish both by early spring.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing your most recent book or working on your most recent writing project?

The messages writers convey in each novel are most often messages designed for themselves.

"The messages writers convey in each novel are most often messages designed for themselves."

How does it feel to send LIGHT OF THE NORTHERN DANCERS out into the world? Have your feelings changed since JACK OF HEARTS was released?

Letting go of that final galley is the worst. I don’t think it will ever change. Maybe trite, but the book truly is like a child. At some point you must let it go, knowing it will never be perfect. If perfection existed, why keep writing?

Has your writing process changed since you finished LIGHT OF THE NORTHERN DANCERS? What do you do now as a writer that you didn’t do or wouldn’t have done before?

My process changed after the first novel, JACK OF HEARTS. I used to re-read the chapter before, every time I started the next, and get caught in editing.

Now I right through to the end, never going back until that last page. What may lack in continuity at times, is made app for in speed.

Get the story on the page, then craft the words.

What do you consider your biggest writing success right now, at this very moment?

Having LIGHT OF THE NORTHERN optioned for a limited TV series. It’s a great validation that my story touched people who are willing to work very hard to bring it to life on the screen.

The adaptation process is not for authors of faint heart, however. LOTS of changes to the story; additional characters and story lines; different ending. All come with valid reasons.

I have learned to step out of the way. My goal is to get the story on film. What screen version is as good as the book, anyway?

What challenges or fears do you face in your writing routine and what steps have you taken--or do you take--to overcome them?

My challenge early on was discipline.

Bryce Courtney taught a workshop I once attended who said that the most important aid to writing was “Bum-Glue.” Sit down and stay there. Write even if you don’t know where the story is going. It almost always knows the way even if you don’t.

The other best advice came from Dorothy Allison, whom I was also blessed to have as a teacher. She said, “Remember, darlin’, no writer is born with the knowledge. Get out there and learn!"

"Success happens only if you feel it will." 

If you could go back 10 years and give your future writing-self one piece of advice, what would it be?

SUCCESS HAPPENS ONLY IF YOU FEEL IT WILL. Sit down, put those fingers on the keyboard, and take a breath. As Nietzsche said, “The hardest thing is to begin."

What were the highlights of your editorial work with Free Expressions or attendance at a workshop? How would you describe its overall effect on your professional/creative trajectory?

The Free Expressions Workshops are the very best you can do for your writing. Thoughtful critiquing, a staff clearly invested in the author, and the instruction, supreme.

Don Maass is one of the very best instructors available. Run, don’t walk, to the next workshop. You’ll never regret it.

What advice do you have for writers in terms of seeking out editorial services or determining what workshops or conferences would best suit their needs?

Word of mouth is the best informant for workshops and conferences. Ask those who’ve attended. Look for reviews. Editorial services are an absolute must. Writers fall in love with their words. A non-biased intermediary must be enlisted.

My experience is that you get what you pay for on this note. That being said, a distinction exists between line editing and story editing (character, chapter, and story arc) and development.

Again, research reviews for certain editors, ask for references, and query those references. Don’t throw money at someone you haven’t investigated.

"Writers fall in love with their words. A non-biased intermediary must be enlisted."

What does your dream writing retreat look like?

Luck enough to already have been discovered: my boat in Canada, three months a summer, mostly alone. WRITING HEAVEN.

What outside hobbies or interests feed your writing?

Already mentioned: I boat.

My third novel is partially set on a boat up in Canada. Also, I am a chronic walker, about five-to-seven miles a day. Clears the mind allowing ideas to enter. I spend a lot of the walk speaking to my assistant, Siri, recording my thoughts!

BONUS QUESTION: If we didn’t ask you something that you wish we had, what would it be, and how would you answer?

What do you think is the “why” of story-telling?”

Each generation benefits from those tales once told around ancient campfires: did you hear the one about the guy who wandered into the woods and night?

Stories have very literally keep humanity alive…or at least aided in Natural Selection. ;-)


What are you currently reading?
IMAGINE ME GONE by Adam Haslett

If you could enter the world of any novel, which would it be?
GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST by Gene Stratton Porter. An old but a goody. The mystical wood!

Do you write to music, or do you prefer silence?
I make up a playlist for each novel as I plan the outline. Helps me get out of the now and into story.

Is there a specific food or drink that fuels your writing?
Caffeine in various forms…never discount dark chocolate….

You can find out more about Robin at her website,  She's also on Twitter as @caesarsdog tweeting as Shimoni, the canine hero of her first novel.