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
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.
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I have access to hundreds of unpublished writers.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…
Me: What was the first thing you ever wrote that told you “I can do this?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.