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Friday, December 31, 2010

Allison Pang Interview

A Brush of DarknessParanormal Romance is a growing genre. No news there. What does make the news is who is new and the way the quality of her work is raising the bar.  

   A marine biologist in a former life, Allison Pang turned to a life of crime to finance her wild spending habits and need to collect Faberge eggs. A cat thief of notable repute, she spends her days sleeping and nights scaling walls and wooing dancing boys....

   Well, at least the marine biology part is true. But she was taloned by a hawk once. She also loves Hello Kitty, sparkly shoes, and gorgeous violinists. She spends her days in Northern Virginia working as a cube grunt and her nights waiting on her kids and cats, punctuated by the occasional husbandly serenade. Sometimes she even manages to write. Mostly she just makes it up as she goes.

I am pleased to welcome Allison Pang to The Novel Road

Allison Pang
Allison Pang

  Me: Paranormal is a hot genre. It’s also highly competitive. How important is having a publisher like Simon and Schuster in your corner?
Allison: A lot of it can depend on the support and enthusiasm the publisher has for the book (and there are plenty of indie pubs that adore their authors and give them as much support as they can.) Even within a larger publishing house like S&S there are different imprints – and each one can vary as to how they handle things like marketing and publicity, but the publisher needs to know the best way to market that particular book, whatever genre it happens to be. The key thing is probably going to be distribution. A larger publishing house like S&S is going to have the resources to get a book out there in places that a smaller publishing house might not.

 Me: As a writer, clarity of idea is crucial to conveying a story. Some authors create a plot first, others create characters, then build a story around them. Explain your process and why.
Allison: I’m a panster at heart. I usually have a vague idea of how I want the story to end and that’s about it.  Even in my more “detailed” outlines, I generally just have an objective I want to have accomplished – i.e. Main characters find a body under a bed in chapter X.  (That’s about as detailed as I get. I don’t really care how they get there - I might have a couple of ideas for some characters, but usually I just throw them together in a scene and see what happens.) When I’m done, I smooth things out as I need to in revisions (or rewrite a bit.)

Dream EaterMe: You have four works in progress. Wow! How do you keep them separate in your mind?
Allison: Well, most of those were started before I sold – right now I’m only really working on the ones that pay me. But I don’t have any issue moving back and forth between them. Usually I’d work on one until I got stuck at some point. If it was something I would need to think about for a while, I’d backburner it and just slide over to a different story. I think part of this flexibility comes from playing in the Play by Post online writing games I’ve done for a few years. I’m usually running multiple characters in different settings (often at the same time), so switching between stories is very much the same.

Me: You’ve recently posted on your blog some of your marketing thoughts. Is it really ever to soon to start creating a buzz as a debut author?
Allison: Maybe not buzz about the fact that you exist or that you have a book coming out – but specific buzz about that book does need to be spaced out a bit or I think you run the risk of overexposure (especially if the release is a few months out.) Within the last few weeks before the release is when things should probably be geared toward heavy marketing – however, you have to remember that many of these blog tours and such are set up months beforehand, so a good plan is crucial.

Me: Talk about your editor and your experience in this crucial part of publishing. Did you mesh right away, or did it take time to get on the same page?
Allison: I was very lucky that Danielle and I meshed so quickly. I knew she loved the book and loved my voice and that helped quite a bit when it came to the revision letter. As long as I could explain my reasoning behind why certain things needed to be the way they were, she was fine with any decisions I made. In return, I had to trust her when she pointed out places that needed to be tweaked or rewritten. It’s an interesting symbiosis, but it’s fantastic when it works. (Plus, she sent me chocolate. J )

Me: Give me a two sentence “hook”, describing “A Brush with Darkness”.
Allison: I’m lousy at hooks. So here’s three sentences direct from the book that do pretty well:
I had a naked incubus in my bedroom. With a frying pan of half-cooked bacon and a hard-on. And a unicorn bite on his ass. Christ, this was turning out to be a weird morning.

Heart of the DreamingMe: You get to have lunch with any author you wish, from throughout history or today, and why?
Allison: E. E. Cummings, simply because  his poetry is about as close to perfection as you can get.

Me: Tell us about your agent and why you two are a perfect match.
Allison: She goes above and beyond for me, to put it simply. It’s a bit of a complicated situation as to how we got to work together and I won’t go into details about it here, but  I can say that I’m truly blessed by our working relationship. For me, communication is key. No matter how busy Suzie is, she always manages to find a little extra time for me, even if it’s just to answer a quick question via email. She is a phenomenal resource and a tremendous person.

Me: Before you had an agent and book deal. Talk about editing your work. How did you know when to stop before submission?
Allison: I’m not sure any writer knows. You write until you feel like it’s the best you can write and then send it out. If rejections or critiques come back and they’re all fairly similar, then work on those parts. After my first round of rejections, I took a look at the manuscript with another critique partner and tightened it up some more and then sent it back out. I also had entered into a few writing contests on the hopes that it would final and I could skip the slush pile (and I did win several, one of which led me to an offer of publication).

My PhotoMe: Can you tell us about your next novel?
Allison: It’s the sequel to A Brush of Darkness – I can’t really say too much about it at the moment without spoiling the first one, but it is the second of a confirmed series of three to be published in the next year or so.

Me: Publishing is going through an evolution at the moment. How has this or will this affect you?
Allison: The publishing world seems to be changing on a daily basis and everyone is affected in some way. It’s an exciting time with a lot of new opportunities and groundbreaking innovations – and a savvy author needs to be able to navigate these new waters with an open mind. As far as how it will affect me? Guess I’m just going to have to wait and see. J

Me: Life experience in the writing process. What advice can you give writers on its importance? 
Allison: Well obviously life experience is important to some degree (that whole “write what you know, research what you don’t” adage is certainly true.) To be a writer, you do need to make a commitment to writing – whether that’s a certain page count or word count per day or some other method, but it’s also important to get away from the keyboard, even if it’s to avoid burnout. Experiencing things first hand can give your work a sense of realism that you might not be able to capture otherwise and inspiration can come from anywhere.

Lisa Desrochers Interview The next, the next, the next... Who will it be?

   My guest today on The Novel Road has earned
every right (and then some) to the title of:

        "The Next Big Paranormal
               Romance author."

   Her novel, "Personal Demons", currently
climbing up sales lists, is garnering rave reviews
along the way.

  Released in September of this year, the book is already being re-printed in 10 countries! What makes her book unique, besides crisp writing, great characters, and action seldom seen?

  Well.... Actually who could ask for more, and if you do: Goodluck. "Personal Demons" has it all, and then some. First, a little about my guest...

    Lisa lives in central California with her husband and two very busy daughters. It was her oldest daughter's love of books that first inspired her to write for young adults. There is never a time that she can be found without a book in her hand, and she adores stories that take her to new places, and then take her by surprise.
   Growing up all over the country has inspired wanderlust and she loves travel, which works out well because she lectures internationally on a variety of health care topics. She has a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and maintains a full-time practice in California

Please to welcome, Lisa Desrochers

My Photo
Lisa Desrochers
Me: Your research ethereal for the most part. With the exception of locales and applicable science, where do you draw your event inspiration?

Lisa: My research for Personal Demons focused on angel and demon lore and hierarchies. The beauty of fiction is anything can happen, but I still wanted to ground my fictional heaven and hell in something that at least remotely resembled common belief systems. As far as the events that drive the plot, those all flowed organically from the characters.

Me: Paranormal Romance is a huge and expanding genre. Once the all but exclusive domain of vampires. Angels and demons are taking a large  piece of this market. Are there any other directions within this genre you’d like to go?
Lisa: I have a WIP that focuses on magic, which is also well explored in urban fantasy. But this manuscript has a little different take on it.

Me: Sara Barnett and Michael Nathanson are your audio book readers for “Personal Demons”. Talk about a debut novelist’s part in choosing the readers and what is was like to hear your work performed for the first time.
Lisa: One of the funnest (funnily enough, that’s not an actual word in the English language…but I digress) things about this whole publishing process was listening to audition tapes and choosing my readers for the Personal Demons audiobook.
   We got three audition tapes for each reader (Frannie and Luc) from Brilliance Audio. They came in on a Friday in July when we were leaving on a camping trip, so my whole family listened to them in the car and our choices for Sara and Michael were unanimous. I have to be honest and say that I laughed out loud several times while listening to the audiobook.
   The actors are just that…actors. It’s a dramatic interpretation of my work, with the emphasis on dramatic. My demon, Luc’s voice is very mellow in my head. He’s pretty cocky, being a Creature of Pride, so he really doesn’t stress too much. Michael’s Luc gets a little more worked up over things than mine does, but overall, I think they did a great job.

Me: Paranormal is a hot genre. It’s also highly competitive. How important is having a publisher like Tor Teen /Macmillan in your corner?
Lisa: I joke that my editor helped me make Personal Demons into the book I thought I wrote. It’s really important to have a solid editor behind your work. Professional eyes see things differently. Tor has been fantastic about getting Personal Demons onto shelves in all the major chains as well as several indies.

Me: You have three books, "Personal Demons", just released and two in progress Original Sin and Hellbent, all will be on the market by May 2012. You have mounting foreign rights deals, 8 or 9 countries at last count, for “Personal Demons”. Has it all hit you yet, or have you been too busy to watch your star rising?
Lisa: It’s been pretty busy, mostly because it’s happened so fast. I had my one-year anniversary with my fabulous agent, Suzie Townsend, after Personal Demons was on shelves. As a matter of fact, it’s been just a year since it sold. (Dec. 22nd) I wrote Original Sin in the two months we were on submission to agents with Personal Demons and have spent the summer in edits with that, and I’m in progress with Hellbent, as well being crazy with everything that goes into releasing a book. But…all that said, I have relished all the up moments, which include foreign sales. We released in Austrailia/New Zealand just after the U.S., and in Brazil last month. I have my German cover, and they re-titled it Angel Eyes. There are ten total foreign territories we’ve sold to.

Me: Talk about your editor and your experience in this crucial part of publishing. Did you mesh right away, or did it take time to get on the same page?
Lisa: Personal Demons sold at auction, and the primary reason we went with my seriously cool editor at Tor was because she was totally on my page with the manuscript. Every one of her revision requests made the book better. Both my revision letters for Personal Demons and Original Sin were pretty tame, and I love that she wasn’t afraid of Original Sin, which is much darker and edgier than Personal Demons.

Me: Give me a two sentence “hook”, describing “Personal Demons”.
Lisa: Frannie Cavanaugh is a good Catholic girl with a wicked streak and a unique skill set that has the king of Hell tingling with anticipation. She finds herself in the middle of a battle for her soul between Lucifer Cain, who works in Acquisitions for Hell, and Gabriel, the angel sent to protect her, and it isn’t long before Luc and Gabe find themselves fighting for more than just her soul.

View ImageMe: Tell us about your agent and why you two are a perfect match.
Lisa: Suzie totally rocks. Being a newbie, it was important to me to find a hands-on agent who had time to walk me through the process. At the time I signed with Suzie, she had just started agenting (now she’s kicking publishing butt and taking names) and she was very responsive when I had a question. She also has an amazing editorial eye and went through a round of revisions with me before we went on submission. But mostly, I chose Suzie above the other agents who offered on PD for no other reason than she loved my manuscript.

Me: Publishing is going through an evolution at the moment. How has this or will this affect you?
Go to fullsize image
At Fine Print Literary
everyone works
Lisa: If you mean e-publishing, I think it’s great. Readers of physical books will either keep reading physical books or switch to e-books, but they won’t stop reading. And, a few people who weren’t readers might actually start reading because there’s cool technology now. So anything that puts books in hands in a good thing.
   There are a lot of options for e-readers—self published and traditionally published books. I also think that’s great. As long as a reader knows the source, and therefore has realistic expectations, I don’t have a problem with them having choices.

View Image
Demon head
18th Century
Me: Life experience in the writing process. What advice can you give writers on its importance?
Lisa: I’ve heard writers joke that they had too happy a childhood, because they have nothing to write about. Honestly, other than shaping you as a person, and therefore influencing your writing indirectly, your own big life experiences don’t play much of a role.
     It’s the little experiences I draw on more often—something funny my daughter said; a backed up toilet; watching different reactions to being caught in the rain. Silly things.

Me: You get to have lunch with any author you which, from throughout history or today, and why?
Lisa: Ooo! There are so many I’d choose. JRR Tolkein, Pasternak, Steinbeck. If you’re going to make me choose one, I’d have to say Emily Bronte, because Heathcliff so deliciously warped, and I’d love to know her inspiration.

 Me: My recent interview with David Brown, of Atria Books, talked about the importance of having a social network to help promote your work. Talk about your personal efforts to “get the word out”
Lisa: If your book is one of the chosen few to get the “big push” from your house, it’s less important, but for most of us, I’m convinced it makes or breaks you.
    I started a blog before I was even agented. As soon as my book sold, I started promoting it on my blog. Even thought I knew I wouldn’t have ARCs until spring, I started a monthly Debut Contest, where the winner had a choice of one YA debut off a list of four that I provided or a signed ARC of Personal Demons.
    I’m shameless, I admit it. I would choose the four biggest buzz YA debuts I could find each month as the alternate choices to mine to draw their readers to my blog, and then I Tweet the heck out of it. Usually those authors, also being debut authors and wanting free PR, would re-tweet my tweets. I started out in my first contest in January with about 40 entries. That winner chose a book other than mine. From that point on, the contest grew every month until I was getting over 150 entries, and everyone from the Feb winner on chose Personal Demons. Anytime I’m near another author, I have them sign one of their books for me then I give it away with a signed copy of Personal Demons.
   I’ve given away 20 signed books (only half of which were mine) in the last three months. My blog has grown to almost 900 followers and I have almost 1600 Twitter followers who look forward to my contests. I just ran my first ever Original Sin ARC contest in conjunction with releasing the cover. I recruited nine awesome bloggers who have supported me and Personal Demons for months. I let them release the cover and ran a contest on my blog. They all got between 50 and 100 comments on their post and I had almost 300 entries. People love free stuff.
      I'd like to thank Lisa for taking the time out of her busy schedule and wish her all the luck in the world... Wait a minute, she doesn't need luck. Her star is rising, and it couldn't happen to a nicer person. All the Best, from The Novel Road

Owly Images

Jeff Somers Short Story

Me, blurry                                       His Rings Like Gifts

                                            By Jeffrey Somers

   We all stared at the gun, leaking smoke, wondering who'd fired it, drumming up all this damned noise. Even though we could see it in his hand no one dared look at his face; then we'd know. Guessing was better and didn't we have bigger things to worry about: The smoke and the blood and the old man cold and immobile before us? The sinking lights around and the haggard rough-edged sound of our breathing spun away, the echoes elastic. It started to seem like we were waiting for him to get up and dance, grinning red and wet at us. I sighed smoke.

   He didn't twitch, much less dance, but Eddie did. He jittered back, one hand stapled to his mouth, and skated into the shimmering china closet. His eyes pulled away from his face, trying to break free. The crystal unicorns and stained coffee mugs holding him up clinked hazardously, but nothing broke. Ted slummed over and pulled Eddie up, favoring him with silent, roundhouse slaps and snarling, wordless abuse. I left the job to him and listened to the crackle of dust in the air.

   I put a hand on Will's shoulder, stopping him from his careful retreat, and gestured. He grimaced at me with his yellow teeth and tried to explain but I shoved him forward and he shut up.

   We each grasped a frilly arm or a slack leg, pulling the old man taut between us. Someone asked me if I wanted that rare and I barked an answer, feeling sweat pop out on my brow as we lifted him and started to shuffle for the door, staggered and clumsy. Steadied, we made our way to the back, our breath in each other's faces, red skin sheened shiny and wet from the rain outside. They all had their mouths open; they suddenly all looked like strangled pigs to me and I couldn't help but smile. That pissed Ted off, so I swallowed it and stopped looking at him.

   At the back door we heaved the old man out into the pour, following reluctantly with shovels in hand. We dug half-heartedly and conversation dried up, replaced by the clink clink of shovels, and slowly we were surrounded by dark mounds. Deep enough, we pulled the old man in with us; he landed in a jumble and I got mad. Take a fucking care, I snarled, wiping muddy sweat from my face with a worn, calloused hand. He was a fucking corpse and with his watery skin and butcher-paper eyes our good will was all he had left.

   After, we sat by the grave and smoked dried-out cigarettes to clear our lungs. The mist started to roll in on its dusty sock feet, making us nervous. Ted got all superstitious about death and it got us all a little creeped out, his slow pleading waver fading into the ground to set root until next time. With chummy slaps on the back we pushed ourselves back into our jackets and ties and headed back to the dim silent house and the gummy blood on the floor.

   We could hear Rachel upstairs testing her hangover and I offered my new fellows a drink of whatever she had left behind her. I pulled off my jacket and draped it neatly on one of the chairs, heading up with my hands in my pockets to show no harm intended. My new fellows were all making noise and it was better that way, I suppose; the thick sounds filling the rooms and rising, buoying me up on hot air and soundproofing. It was healthy to have a ruckus behind me.

   As I rose her perfume filled the cracks between the noise and I could feel her light steps as they trembled on the floor.

   Despite the low warning moans from below, she seemed surprised to see me.

   Whirling in a small confusion of skirts she pointed a cigarette at me and smiled; we'd done this all before, in different ways. Her lips were smoky and so was her hair, and as she nuzzled my ear she whispered slow, slow over and over. I always tried to be, but it didn't always work. I tried to tell her what had happened but she kept covering my mouth with hers, my arms with hers, my legs.

   We woke up early, all of us, and cooked up great slabs of bacon in the blood-streaked kitchen. We were dried-out and edgy, in loosened, stale clothes and caky faces which cracked in the light. I had her perfume all over me and it made me thickly ill.

   Eddie and Ted argued over the money, spitting crumbs at each other and sipping coffee. Rachel watched them tight-lipped and sharp-eyed. It was impolite, wasn't something you argued about. I had left bloody streaks on her pale skin and bruises on her smooth legs and they made her look demonic with her sudden cat eyes.

   We all got ready to leave; it wasn't our house, after all.

   It took a while to gather everything together, we had scattered ourselves and forgotten most of it. Rachel showered as we searched and came down wet and sweet and rubbed pink by towels. Suddenly, she was too clean for the place, too clean for us. We sat around her with unshaven cheeks and yellowed teeth, dirt and blood on our clothes and hands, pushing through wire-stiff hair. She stayed away from us, now that she was sober. She looked at me like I'd left a film on her, a sneering look. I didn't mind. She'd be drunk again that night and we'd be friends again.

   As we left, a guffawing group of new friends, she stood in the doorway and smiled brutally after us. I turned just in time to see her close the door, and briefly wondered if I'd killed the right one of them.

Bryan Russell Flash Fiction

View Image                                    Reunion

                                     By Bryan Russell

      The two naked men nodded hesitantly to each other. They stood in line, not wanting to move. Neither were entirely certain how to hold themselves, but fatigue dulled nervousness, and accumulated fear overshadowed shame. This nakedness was just one more thing. They tended to hold their hands in front of themselves, out of politeness. Their ribs were clearly visible in pale, taut skin, the bones arching toward each other,
meeting in the hollows of concave chests.

 “Are you from Budapest?” one man asked.

 “Yes,” a second man said. “And you?”

 “Yes, I lived on Egyesules Street.”

  The second man blinked, a light kindling in his eyes. “Is it so? I, too, lived on Egyesules Street. Out past the park.”

 “We were near the boulevard. That’s where my home was. We had a beautiful garden.”

 “Yes, yes, I know the area. That’s strange. Do I know you?”

 “I don’t think so,” the first man said. “I don’t recall you, though I thought I knew most of the people on the street. Yes? My family was there for many years.”

 “Mine, too. Mine, too. How old are you? I cannot tell in here.”

  Everyone in this place became indistinct after awhile, features blurring, age creeping over each face regardless of years. Everyone here was centuries old, vast lifetimes washing quickly through their veins.

 “I am thirty-five. And you?”

 “I am thirty-six,” the second man said. “It’s so strange. I don’t recall you. And yet we must have seen each other, yes?”

 “So many years on the street. Playing as a boy. Playing football at the park. Many boys were there. Did you play?”

 “Yes, I played. I wasn’t very good. If I looked up I tripped over the ball. If I looked down, everyone yelled at me for not passing.”

 “I was pretty good, though not as good as my friend Bodo. He was a very good player. Very good.”

 “I remember him!” the second man said. “Yes, he was very good. I remember that. I remember playing with him. What has happened to him, do you know?”

 The first man looked away and said nothing. They were both silent for a time.

 “You had a garden, you say?” the second man said. “I must have seen it. Walking on the street, I must have passed it by.”

 “It was beautiful. I worked very hard on it. The garden was already very nice when we bought the house. I was struck by it. That is why I picked that house, I think. I had always liked the garden. Even as a boy, walking to play football. Isn’t it strange? You were there, too. Playing football. Walking past the garden. I think I improved it, though. The garden. I read a lot of books, taught myself. Every spring I would go out planting.”

 “Yes, I think I saw that garden. A beautiful garden. Was there a little stone wall? Yes, a little stone wall. And beautiful flowers.”

 “Thank you.”

  A guard walked by and the men stopped speaking. Their eyes followed the guard. The whole line of naked men quieted at the passing of the booted feet. The bare feet of the naked men stopped their weary shuffling, still as mortuary statues.

  The second man nodded slightly once the guard had passed. “I think I remember you. I didn’t recognize you at first, but I do now. Did you have an older sister? A sister named Myrta?”

 “Yes, that is me.”

  The second man opened his mouth to speak, but closed it, fearing the silence that would follow his question. He nodded, thinking of the street, the garden, the games boys played, the girls they admired. He could smell the roses, the blossoms on the little tree. “There was a tree,” he said. “You had a little tree, with blossoms. They smelled lovely.”

“Yes, that’s the place,” the first man said.

  The second man wanted to ask what kind of tree had blossoms that smelled so sweetly. He knew little of horticulture. But the guard was returning and the whispered voices were silenced.

 “Juden!” the guard yelled. “Jetzt, jetzt! Schnell, schnell!”

  The line started moving, the naked men shuffling forward.

 “It is good to see you again,” the first man said, his lips barely moving.

  The second man nodded. “Sholem.”

 “Schnell, schnell!” the guard yelled.

  The naked men walked into the chamber. The second man was still thinking about the blossoms. What were they? He would have to ask. The memory of the blossoms struck him so sweetly, so keenly, the fragrant taste of them hanging in the air. They would fall in graceful arcs, spinning slowly down to new resting places, gathering in pale drifts amidst the insubstantial ghosts of old petals. Petals, a spring snow atop the green, green grass.

Bryan Russell Interview

View ImageThe Novel Road Interview: Bryan Russell 

     In the deep, unknown reaches of a land far to the North there is... Ok, there's a lot.

    But here, on The Novel Road, I bring you a glimpse of the heretofore unseen. You'll experience, first hand, a genius so vast it tickles the edge of madness. (just kidding about the madness part)

    This interview begins with a town. Actually it starts with a building... Well, if you want to be picky, it starts with what was in the building - A Bookstore

    On any given day, there was a line of intellectually gifted people, standing in the cold, holding Moosebucks coffee cups. They all wore glasses, occluded by chill fog, and many struggled to keep their pipes lit. The leather patches on the sleeves of Tweed coats, well worn. All carried umbrellas, mostly because they all thought it was cloudy when they left their homes, that personal fog there from the start of the day. They share tales of skinned  knees from missing curbs. A scattered oath or two after a head bounces off the glass (from the general lack of depth perception) as each took their turn looking in the window of their ice bound Mecca... And for the person within.

   Ladies and gentlemen, Bryan Russell is here today, saving me you a trip North to the land of hockey, polar bears, beer and "Eh?"
   He is here, his store now a memory. Yet in his mind, his precious store will always be. Like many tales similarly told, a malevolent economy swept the spirit of 500 Ouellete Avenue, in Winsor, Ontario away.
   Bryan’s love of the written word will always be. His talent for writing is remarkable. Enriched by his time surrounded by great works, he puts his hand to pen. His BA and MA in English and Creative Writing, as well as his Bachelor's in Education, along with a smattering and scattering of his writings published are building him to a new day.

   As far as The Novel Road is concerned, that day starts here. Why here and now?

   If you look at my guest lists, you will find authors with combined sales of over 100 million books. You will also find a select group of debut authors that, for one reason or other, I have come to believe will be successful due to the qualities found in their work. Everyone has an opinion on what makes for a great book.

  Do I have a knack for seeing those that will step ahead of the pack? Maybe. Anyone want to argue the quality of Sean Ferrell’s work? I tell you now he is an author to watch as well as read.

   I have access to hundreds of unpublished writers. I picked only one to be here. He has no agent, no contract of any kind, and I tell you now. This is an author you will hear about one day.

May I introduce you to Bryan Russell…    

View ImageMe: What was the first thing you ever wrote that told you “I can do this?”

Bryan: It was a Halloween story I wrote for my class in grade seven: an evil Halloween spirit breaks into my school and murders my classmates one by one. Luckily I was a well-liked and well-adjusted kid, and so wasn’t sent for psychiatric counseling. Plus, I murdered myself in the story, as well, and most gruesomely. No one gets away! Who needs happy endings?
Anyhow, my teacher selected my story to be read to the class. But the important part wasn’t that selection, but the response of my fellow students – they loved it. They were so excited, so interested in waiting to see who would die next, and how… there was something incredible about that response. That I hooked them into the story and they needed to know what happened. They believed in the story.
It was a profound experience for a kid. I think that confirmed for me the possibility of being a writer. Not just to write something, but to write something for someone – an act of communication.
Plus, people like getting murdered. Who knew?         

Me: Favorite writing junk food?         
Bryan: I don’t really tend to eat much when I’m writing… too lost in the world, I think, and food takes me out of that. I’m one of those tunnel vision people. I will drink, though. Straight whiskey. Oops, I mean coffee. Oh, wait, I can’t have that, either. Milk. Milk… wait, I can’t have dairy. Water.  A cold drink of water. Yes, that’s what I have when writing. Preferably thawed from an iceberg.
View ImageMe:  In two sentences, describe your book or work in progress.
Bryan: After killing his father in an argument, Japheth Tagori is sentenced to a life of service as a soldier in the Legion – yet he cannot escape his past, as the brigands who worked with his father (a smuggler) want Japheth dead because of something he’s forgotten he knows – the destination of a cartload of gold set to fuel a rebellion. The rebellion, though, is merely a diversion, as a war between empires looms on the horizon and Japheth finds himself a pawn in a dangerous game, manipulated by the mysterious Ghost King even as his enemies seek his head – and as Japheth seeks to understand his own identity as a soldier.
Me: How strict are you when it comes to staying true to your outline?
Bryan: An outline is an outline – it’s the book, in the end, that’s important. I always try to do what’s best for the story, and if that means diverging from the outline, then that’s what I do. And stuff always changes, for me, with all the subsequent drafts – sometimes drastically.
I usually have some main events and an ending that I hold strongly to – but even there, well, there are no sacred cows. Sometimes the red pen is hungry and will devour even the finest of original ideas.
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Me: Lunch with you and any Author you choose, alive or dead, and why.
Bryan: I’d probably pick David Foster Wallace, though Tolkien would have to be in the running. I think they are the two writers who have influenced me most, and in different ways. Tolkien started it all – as a child, he got me into reading, and then writing. I consumed his books in endless loops.
Wallace was a little different – I read Infinite Jest when I was eighteen or so, and was blown away. “You mean, you can do that in a novel? Why didn’t anyone tell me?” A million new doors were opened by that book. I ended up studying a lot of postmodern writers, and used them as a springboard to all sorts of different things. And that sudden breadth of vision and understanding has been hugely important to me, and really helped shape me as a writer.
He died too young, sadly, and even though I never had an opportunity to speak with him, I did read David Lipsky’s Athough Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which is a memoir of a road trip the author took with David Foster Wallace – and reading it is sort of like overhearing a long rambling conversation with Wallace. It’s as close as I’m ever going to get, anyway.

Me: I have been offering a piece of advice lately regarding the… Gulp!... Query Letters. I've told a new author to avoid even learning about a query letter till his manuscript is complete.  Do you agree or not?
Bryan: I think both paths can work, though I lean toward not worrying about querying until the manuscript is ready. For some writers, doing it before can help – it can push you to clarify and focus your story, and keep that central conflict and drive of the story at the forefront. So, there are advantages. But there’s also a lot of risk. It’s very easy to get sidetracked and have all your energy flowing into writing a query, into endless angst and worry, resulting in a compulsion to dive headlong into the publishing world’s social media storm – sort of an online Bermuda Triangle for many writers.
Personally, I say write a great book – worry about the rest later.

Me: My favorite subject – Editing. Talk about editing your first book. Also, how did you know when to stop?
Bryan: Ha! The problem with my first book attempt (many long years ago) was that I didn’t edit it. Oh, I copyedited it, and smoothed sentences, and adjusted a few scenes here and there. But, really, I didn’t know how to edit, at least not for story, for structure and pacing and balance. Plot was a meandering construction, loosely understood.
It’s different now, where my novel has gone through many drafts and permutations. It’s vastly different from what I started with, and hopefully much better. And when to stop… damned if I know. It’s hard to change, I presume, once it’s in print.

Me: This question, courtesy of Jeff Hall : I'm a shortstory-ist. Writing a novel is like a crazy long marathon, only harder. How do you maintain a clear sense of that first passion that inspired you throughout a 200K word journey?
Bryan: 200K is too long! Sadly. My revisions would be much easier if that weren’t so. But, for me, I usually don’t start writing a novel unless I have a story idea that I know will carry me a long way. It takes a certain momentum to pull through a novel, page after page – the story needs a certain weight, a specific gravity. When that pull is strong enough, I simply can’t avoid writing the story. When it fills up my entire head, I know the story is ready to be written.
View ImageMe: You get a blank check to write about ANYTHING and guaranteed to be published. What would the subject be?

Bryan: Genocide.

Cheerful, I know. But I have a novel idea that won’t let go, even though I don’t think I’m ready to write that book yet – I’m not yet the writer I need to be. But in the future hopefully I will be, and hopefully I can write it – and hopefully it will mean a little something. In a sense, genocide is the dark shadow of the last century of human history. Writing this book would be my attempt to understand that shadow, to somehow try to come to grips with it. How do you understand human devastation? I’m not entirely sure you can, but perhaps the attempt is an important one.

I'd like to thank Bryan Russell for his time and energy
in doing this interview. Anyone wondering what
the artwork is about?Visit Bryan Russell daily at