Russell Blake: Wow. Leading with a tough one right out of the gate. Of the thrillers, I'd have to say The Geronimo Breach. I got this idea to base a book on the most loathsome, reprehensible example of humanity, as the protagonist, and see if I could develop him so he stays true to his character, but the reader winds up rooting for him, and even liking him. That was such a challenge to pull off, and yet it worked. The other challenge was to sustain the mystery of the meat of the conspiracy until the last two or three pages, and have the reader not only surprised, but shocked and thoughtful. I like my conspiracies either so real they can't be distinguished from fact, or based on fact. I'll leave it up to your readers to decide which Geronimo is.
MWU: Aside from your main characters in each of your books, who is your favorite character and why?
Russell Blake: I think my favorite secondary character in any of the books is Sergei, from the Zero Sum trilogy. He's just the quintessential sociopath Russian mobster, but also has so many very human traits. He's not all bad, or all good, but rather can be good but is really, really bad. But he's apathetic which he is, and is murderous just as easily as he is gracious. He was fun to write, that's for sure.
MWU: What is one of your favorite chapters or scenes in each of your fictional books and why is it your favorite?
Russell Blake: Well, in Zero Sum, I think it's the second to last scene with Sergei and the villain, Nicolas Griffen, because of the imagery and the nonchalant menace inherent in the situation. In The Geronimo Breach, it's the opening chapter - a dream sequence in a dream sequence where the evocative images drip off the page, and the narrative establishes just how low the protag, Al Ross, really is on the human scale. In Fatal Exchange, it's probably the opening torture scene, because I wanted to write something that made you want to crawl under the bed and hide, and that was graphic, so you were in the room as it took place and puckering up, but still drawn to watch it. Although the mystery element of the who dunnit in Fatal Exchange has countless scenes I love, it's that opening torture scene that makes you uncomfortable, which was the goal. If you aren't wincing through it, I didn't do my job.
MWU: Is there a character from any of your fictional work that you feel like you could explore further and may like to go back to at another time and write about them again?
Russell Blake: Absolutely. Dr. Steven Cross (he changes his last name halfway through the book - long story) will get another book - I'm around 30K into that one as we speak. And I think Tess Gideon from Fatal Exchange could carry an entire series and deserves at least one more book.
MWU: How do you “stay in character” when writing?
Russell Blake: I work 12 hour days when I'm writing, so I remain immersed in the story. I write first drafts fast, so I'll do a first draft in a couple to three weeks, during which time all I do is write. It's easy to stay in character when you're that focused on just the story a short burst. Or at least it is for me.
MWU: Are any of your characters in your fictional work based on you or someone you know?
Russell Blake: Al Ross from Geronimo Breach is, but I can't say who or I'll never speak to him again. Or he'll never speak to me.
MWU: Given that you have written both stand alone fiction and series fiction, I wondered which was easier to write and why?
Russell Blake: Boy. I think the series fiction, because you already have the characters developed and don't have to bring the reader up to speed on who is who. The appealing part for me doing stand alone, which flies in the face of the whole, "Serialize a Character and Build Your Platform with Him/Her" mantra, is that I get ideas for books, and they generally wouldn't transition well to fit one of the earlier characters from my other books. So now I either have to change the story, which inevitably diminishes it, or simply express it as it comes to me. The latter is the purer form, so that's what I generally do. Having said that, The Messiah Cipher will serialize Dr. Steven Cross, because I sort of came up with the idea while imaging what happened to him after the adventure in Zero Sum ended...
MWU: How do you choose your titles for your books? Do you decide on them right away or do you let the story brew for a bit and then choose?
Russell Blake: Almost always, right away. Within the first day. And then I'll change it at least twice as I write. But mostly, it's the first idea that is the best one, even after all the massaging, and I generally revert to that.
MWU: If you had less than a minute to tell a perspective reader what they could expect from your books (you are at a trade show and someone has stopped by your booth) what would you tell them? Go….
Russell Blake: Ah, the elevator pitch. I write complex, breakneck-paced suspense/intrigue/thrillers with richly drawn characters based on conspiracies, where the imperfect protagonist is battling for his life against impossible odds. The conspiracies are so plausible they could well be fact, and I won't say which are or aren't, but by the end of my books, you're going "Holy Sh#t, could that actually be true?" while thinking, "The guy can write." Think Ludlum crossed with Forsyth with some DeMille seasoning and you've come close to nailing me.
MWU: I ask this question to every author I interview. Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, how do you cope with it?
Russell Blake: Not yet. I did once, on a non-fiction book I shelved, but thankfully once I'm in the story, it flows.
MWU: I always ask a published author what advice they would give to those of us still working away at their first novel, first draft?
Russell Blake: Don't worry about crafting every sentence as though it's gold. Get the story down on paper, and tackle the finer detail on rewrite and polish. Books are written in rewrite. And beware of echoes - those five or six favorite terms or words you seem to use every fifth page. And develop discipline. Writing is a habit, so if you're going to do it, be a writer and do it every day, whether for an hour or ten.
MWU: Over time, how much has your writing process changed and in what ways?
Russell Blake: Not a lot. I write a few paragraphs of "The Story" and then do single sentences for each chapter so I know how it's going to flow and where the beats will be, and then I write it. Although in my later stuff, the works in progress, I think my pacing has improved - I don't have to struggle as much on rewrite to get the beats to land where they should.
MWU: Is there anything you would like to say to new writers, new readers or current fans of your work?
Russell Blake: Yes. To new readers: the publishing world is evolving, and there are some articulate, compelling independent authors now self-publishing due to frustration with the established traditional model. Some of the stuff is awful, much is okay, but some is remarkable. It's worth taking a leap on an indie author if the work seems interesting and well executed - you could be discovering the next Steinbeck or David Foster Wallace before the world knows about them. Part of the joy of reading is to be swept away by the work, and there's nothing as satisfying as discovering something truly great and new that hasn't been adulterated by a committee to make it conform to this year's marketing plan.
To my current fans: Thank you for making this journey so interesting thus far, and thanks for the over 100 overwhelmingly rave reviews and all the glowing book reviews (memorialized at my website, http://RussellBlake.com) for my work to date. There's nothing better than hearing a reader loved your work. Nothing. So for that, thank you so much.
The synopsis for Fatal Exchange:
Fatal Exchange is a genre-melding race of a thriller that’s sure to delight readers searching for an exciting new voice in the action/intrigue realm.
Albert Ross is a malingering misanthrope – a boozing, chain smoking philanderer; shifty, lazy, cowardly, going to fat, and more prone to doing the wrong thing than any man alive. His purgatorial existence working for the State Department in Panama gets shattered when a routine errand becomes a race against the clock, battling adversaries for whom no price is too high to protect a secret that could topple the world order. As the body count climbs in a struggle with no rules, Al must face his own demons, as well as the myriad very real ones intent upon destroying him. The unexpectedly shattering conclusion of this richly drawn thriller is both topical and chillingly plausible, making for a roller-coaster action/adventure without parallel.
In this chillingly plausible scenario of a military/industrial/financial complex manipulating American companies for profit, Zero Sum pits entrepreneur turned investor Dr. Steven Archer against prominent Wall Street predator Nicholas Griffen in a conflict that raises troubling questions about our markets and our government. When ‘business as usual on the Street’ turns violent and deadly, Steven is forced to flee the U.S. and embark on a crusade to unravel a Gideon’s knot of intrigue.
As the body count climbs, Steven is plunged deep into a financial jungle populated by rogue intelligence agencies, Russian mafia factions, drug cartels, and corporate marauders. Assisting him in navigating the treachery are Antonia Donitelli, a passionate Italian publisher, Stan Caldwell, a heavyweight asset protection attorney, and a group of cyber-contacts with diverse clandestine and technology backgrounds.
Spanning the beaches of California to the boardrooms of Wall Street, from the hills of Umbria to the barrios of Buenos Aires, Zero Sum is a race against time for a man seeking revenge and redemption – whose survival jeopardizes a treasonous conspiracy at the highest levels of politics and finance.
Rescued as a puppy from an animal shelter in Mexico, Lobo’s saga is a life-affirming romp chronicling his growth, adventures and challenges. Featuring forty photos from throughout his life, An Angel With Fur is a must read for pet owners and animal lovers everywhere, and invites you to celebrate and share in the journey of a remarkable spirit who touched everyone he encountered.
At times hilarious and heartbreaking, it is a unique biography of an incredible dog, unlike anything you’ve ever read.
This post is part of a DECEMBER BOOK LAUNCH EVENT ---->> Join RUSSELL BLAKE and 9 of his author friends at WoMen's Literary Cafe's Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their eBooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!