Welcome to the seven hundred and sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with debut novelist J Russell ‘Rusty’ Smith, courtesy of Book Marketing Services. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. Rusty is kindly offering a giveaway with this interview – see below for details.
J Russell ‘Rusty’ Smith has spent a lifetime fighting for a sense of moral justice, on both a personal level and on a broader stage. His experiences in the Vietnam War and his graduate studies in intellectual history and political theory allow him to bring both an intimate perspective and a scholar’s analysis to the writing of Longworth. Rusty is currently at work on his next two novels.
Morgen: Hello, Rusty. Welcome to my blog. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Rusty: I am currently based in the US, in Southern California. While I have always entertained the notion of writing, I really “found myself” during the writing of Longworth. I then decided that I would continue writing as long as I was able and had the time. Unfortunately, I have a company to run, thus I am writing much less than I would like.
Morgen: I didn’t start my creative writing journey until my late thirties and thought I was late to the party but then read that Mary Wesley had her first novel published when she was 74, and Barbara Cartland was still writing (dictating) her novels until her death at 99. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Rusty: I have only written the one book, but I am in the midst of two others. One of those, probably the next one to be published, is science fiction. The idea came to me in a dream / nightmare.
Morgen: An interesting mixture. Do you write under a pseudonym?
Rusty: No, I have not used a pseudonym and will not likely use one.
Morgen: It’s hard enough getting known as one name so I don’t blame you. You self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Rusty: I did it that way only because I could garner no interest from either agents or publishers. The discouraging part was the fact that I was dismissed without a single firm looking at my book.
Morgen: It’s often how it goes, but if authors do well online, there is more chance of them getting picked up, and marketing (guesting on blogs just one option) is a way to become more visible. Your novel is available as an eBook, how involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Rusty: My book is currently available in hard cover, soft cover, and eBook. While I do not read eBooks, I felt it necessary to offer it in that format, as so many read eBooks. I remain old-fashion enough to want to hold and feel my books, preferably in hard cover.
Morgen: 🙂 Most people do. I love my Kindle as it has a text-to-speech function and I love Mrs Kindle reading my books out to me. Do you have a favourite of your characters? If your book was made into a film, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Rusty: If I had to choose a particular character, it would be the protagonist, Carson Longworth. Regarding whom I would choose as the leading actor, I have not a clue. I suppose there are many who could play the role. Certainly a young actor with gravitas.
Morgen: If your book was audiobooked, whom would you have as the narrator?
Rusty: Excellent question. I would suggest there are several who offer excellent narration, though I tend to lean toward Peter Coyote. I have heard him in a few documentaries and he does an excellent job.
Morgen: I have hundreds of audiobooks but haven’t come across him yet but he sounds perfect. Which authors did you read when you were younger and did they shape you as a writer?
Rusty: I have been asked which writers my style tends to emulate and I honestly do not know. I have read fiction extensively and have not found a single author that I tend to follow. I want to say Steinbeck or, perhaps, Mikhail Sholokhov, but it might be pretentious for me to suggest I belong in that company.
Morgen: Ah, the classics. Did you choose the titles / covers of your books?
Rusty: I chose the title and collaborated on the cover.
Morgen: You mentioned working on two novels…
Rusty: Yes, I am concentrating on a science fiction novel set in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It is a very odd work as of now.
Morgen: Very odd is always popular. 🙂 Do you manage to write every day, or ever suffer from writer’s block?
Rusty: Fortunately, I have not, as yet, suffered from writer’s block, but that may well be because I am approaching this piecemeal. I cannot write on a daily basis, thus I am usually mentally prepared when I do sit down. The book in question, Longworth, was, for better or worse, written between the hours of midnight and 6:00AM. I seem to do my best work at night, though those hours are a bit much.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Rusty: Ideas seem to come to me out of thin air or in a dream, etc. When I can hopefully devote more time to my writing, I will have a better idea of where and when I will get my ideas.
Morgen: Ah yes, dreams / very odd. That does make sense. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Rusty: I tend to create my characters based on figures I have known over time. I have, however, created some characters out of whole cloth for the science fiction book I am working on now. We will see how that works out.
Morgen: It sounds intriguing. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Rusty: I do a great deal of editing myself. I tend to change things/ideas around as I re-read my work. That can also be very self-defeating, as the characters or the story can be transformed into something beyond that which was originally desired. Nevertheless, when I finished my book, I did submit it for editing, just to make certain any errors were caught… a second set of eyes, so to speak.
Morgen: Absolutely. I always pick up on something that my clients say they’ve been over and over, but then my editor does the same with my writing. Do you have to do much research?
Rusty: Yes, I tend to do a great deal of research. For example, while I lived through the era covered in Longworth, I still read everything I could get my hands on about that time period. Accuracy is critical for me.
Morgen: As it should be. If a reader picks up on just one thing, it weakens the credibility of the rest of the piece. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Rusty: I really don’t have an answer for this, except to say that first-person might not work for me. Third person (narrator) seems to work. And, no, I have not tried second person. I’m not sure how that would work for me.
Morgen: I love writing second person but it’s very much a marmite viewpoint; readers / publishers love or hate it. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Rusty: No, I have not written any poetry or non-fiction (except for “letters to the editor”). I am seriously considering turning the science fiction I am writing into a short story. Stay tuned for that one.
Morgen: Ooh yes, do let me know how you get on. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Rusty: I would hope that everything I am working on will see the light of day before I pass from this existence so, no, I do not think that.
Morgen: I have early pieces that makes me cringe but I do think there is a place for everything. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Rusty: Yes, as I mentioned above, I have received many rejections, not for the content of the work, but simply because I was unknown and the genre was consider toxic (Vietnam War). I would have understood if a publisher simply told me that the book was not good enough, or it was too controversial, or it would not sell. I was told nothing of the sort, however; only that my genre was not something they felt would sell, whatever that means.
Morgen: That’s strange because wars are often a topic. Clearly just the right thing for the wrong person.
Morgen: Having approached some, do you think authors are vital to an author’s success?
Rusty: I do not have an agent, but I have decided it might be a good idea. If only I could find one that would consider representing me. At first blush, it appears that agents can get to the “powers that be” whereas I might not be able.
Morgen: Never say never. I still live in hope. I referred to marketing earlier, do you do much (other) marketing for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Rusty: I am in the midst of working with a marketing group, Book Marketing Services, to try and get the word out about my book Longworth. Apart from that, I have done nothing.
Morgen: The start of an interesting journey, I’m sure. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Rusty: I believe writing to be immensely satisfying. I was pleasantly surprised to find out how good I felt when I was / am writing. I lament the fact that work / real life is getting in the way.
Morgen: Oh yes. Doesn’t it just. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Rusty: There are many, many schools of thought out there about how one should go about writing in any form. There are highly acclaimed schools (University of Iowa, for example) that purport to show one how to write. Having never attended a school specifically for writing, it might be hard for me to comment. However, there was one piece of advice that I took several years ago. I was reading something that I have long since forgotten wherein a writer stated that if you want to write, then write. Do not muddy the waters by “reading” too much into it… just do it. (Sounds like a Nike commercial.) That is what I did. I have read enough in my life to get the general idea of how a novel should flow and what it should look and feel like, thus I just started writing until the book was finished. That is what I continue to do now.
Morgen: I tell my students that it’s like painting or playing the piano; no-one would put you in front of a canvas or piano and expect you re/create a masterpiece. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Rusty: Not being much of a diverse cook, I would probably serve something simple like steaks, potatoes, corn, and fried onions. As to whom I would invite, that is much more difficult. There are some historical individuals whom I would love to meet: Aristotle, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Galileo are just a few. There are others I would enjoy meeting for very different reasons: Jesus, to dispel the notion that he was anything but a flawed man; Julius Caesar, to examine the basis for the unfolding of the Roman Empire; Hannibal, who may have been the finest general of all time given what he had to work with; Alexander the Great, for many reasons; Albert Einstein, to sit at his knee, as any true Philomath would; and many, many others.
Morgen: A strong historical influence. Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Rusty: Unfortunately, I am not involved in anything, because my time is limited. It has been suggested, however, that I write a blog or “letters to the editor” etc, but at the moment I am not involved.
Morgen: Perhaps some free time will emerge. Blogging can be time-consuming but having guests is a way of creating content with help. 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Rusty: Because I tend to be a loner and not one to care about what so and so’s daughter had for lunch yesterday, I shy away from social networking sites. However, my marketing team has suggested that I need to get on Facebook and Twitter in order to get the work out about my book. I acquiesced, they established sites for me, but I have yet to use either.
Morgen: “so and so’s daughter had for lunch yesterday” I like it. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Rusty: I think the future is bright for “good” writers. Unfortunately, we are being inundated by books that should not have been written. In my opinion, most of the books out there today, in any format, are much like what is served up to us on TV… garbage. There will have to be a way to sort through the bilge and get to the good stuff.
Morgen: That’s the downside of self-publishing (in that anyone can do it without any editing) but reviews show the talent. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Rusty: At this point, I am in the hands of my marketing team. As mentioned, I now have a Facebook page, I am on Twitter, and I have a website (www.jrussellsmith.info). I think that is changing mid-next year, but for the moment, that is it.
Morgen: 🙂 Thank you for joining me today, Rusty. Good luck with novels two and three. Hopefully we’ll meet again when they’re available.
And now a little about Rusty’s debut novel…
This is a coming of age story with the 1960s and Vietnam as a backdrop. It is a story of an individual who was not that dissimilar from many of his age. These folks were trying to navigate very rough waters during that time period. The good guys and the bad were not easily separable, yet all of them had to determine which side to come down on during the conflict in Vietnam. Not many were neutral. Most had distinct feelings about the War, particularly as it dragged on for years with no resolution. Coming of age for young people is not usually an easy thing, often fraught with perils. Many emerge with strong feelings, particularly during the 1960s (which I describe as roughly corresponding to the time frame of the Vietnam War). It comes down to how young folks deal with these feelings and the changes that they experienced.
And its protagonist…
Carson Longworth seem to have been born under a lucky star. Handsome and athletic, with a certain mystique that both intrigues the people around him and keeps them at a distance, he drifts through his high school years, focusing on music, dancing, dating, and having a good time. But while he is pursuing these easy pleasures, the world around him is changing. Carson leaves the warm cocoon of his family to go to college where he gets his initial dose of reality along with his first realizations that his peripatetic childhood has left him unprepared to relate deeply to the people around him. As the Vietnam begins to escalate, Carson is drafted into the Army, but instead decides to join the Marines. His experiences in the Marine Corps will begin to provide both the discipline he so desperately needs and the framework of domestic and international politics against which he will begin to rebel, defining and shaping his character in ways he could not have imagined.
While traveling form one duty station to another before leaving for Vietnam, Carson meets Kathy Wilkerson, a brilliant and beautiful young woman whose devotion provides the support and grounding that Carson needs in order to find his version of the truth. As a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, Carson will witness atrocities and absurdities that will reveal who he truly is: a formidably intelligent and ethical man with a need to understand the world and to stand up for what is right. Longworth is a unique coming-of-age story with a strong educational component, as well as a tender and inspiring love story. Broad in scope and beautifully detailed, Longworth is a deeply satisfying novel with thought-provoking themes that continue to resonate long after the last page is turned.
As Rusty said he’s online at…
- Webpage: http://www.jrussellsmith.info/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorjrussellsmith
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/j_russellsmith
And you can buy the novel from…
- com: Kindle, Hardcover and Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Longworth-J-Russell-Smith-ebook/dp/B00FWU1AL6/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1440514649&sr=8-3&keywords=J.+Russell+Smith
- Barnes&Noble: Paperback, Harcover and NOOk Book: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/longworth-j-russell-smith/1117110302?ean=9781478702832
And finally, details of the giveaway where you can win…
- 1st Prize: Kindle Fire 7” WiFi 8GB Black plus ebook or paperback copy of Longworth
- 2nd Prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card and ebook or paperback copy of Longworth
- 3rd Prize: ebook or paperback copy of Longworth
To enter, go to http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/cfd1de2826.
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