I’m thrilled to keep finding authors who are willing victims for my fun-with-interview questions to fellow authors: This time, it’s multi-best-seller Russell Blake. He released An Angel with Fur this October, and my other Twitter buddy @JustinBog gave it a glowing review. Given the book’s high sales rank and glowing reviews on Amazon, I doubt @BlakeBooks really needs another promotional venue, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sneak in an interview as part of his release efforts.
1. Since your normal genre is thrillers, how did you adjust your writing style to produce what amounts to the memoir of a furbaby?
Good question. I just wrote from the heart, with a minimum of hyperbole, stressing honesty. It’s such an amazing story, and Lobo was such a brilliant subject that it was effortless. And also the hardest thing I’ve ever written, as the wounds were still very fresh. I can admit that there were parts I was blubbering as I wrote – it won’t be hard for readers to guess where. On the other hand, when I write thrillers, I go for breakneck pacing and evocative imagery, with twists and turns galore. The challenge here was to convey the essence of an incredible spirit in as candid and honorable a manner possible. Many of the reviews stress that this book is unlike the vast majority of animal biographies for its writing style, so I hope I hit a stride with it that resonates with readers. Foremost, I wanted it to honor Lobo, and not be cloying or strive to push emotional buttons with artifice. I just wanted to tell the story in a way that conveyed the wonder, hope, love, happiness, and tragedy of his time with us. Hopefully I got most of the notes right.
I never really thought about it much. I think it works best as a true story, so that’s how I wrote it. Otherwise I think it would have seemed soppy or sensational. I really wanted to just honor my friend and companion.
3. Has the success the book has achieved come as anything of a surprise, given the genre-jump?
It’s been #1 on Amazon UK in pet essays for months, and bounces around between #1 and #15 there. Most who are picking up the book have never heard of my thrillers, so I think the barrier is lower than one might expect. Again, write what you know, and in this case, I think the story is so compelling and heartfelt that it carries the day. The reviews express that, again and again. Lobo was a unique dog. And I believe his story is timeless, so it has a long way to go.
4. Does Lobo figure as inspiration for any past characters or sidekicks in your fiction?
Every time I write a dog into a thriller I’m thinking of him. Although I’ve never written in a dog like Lobo. It would never be believable, and I’d just get all mushy. Besides, it would then wind up being Lassie, as I can easily get carried away when it comes to pooches.
5. Do you currently live with any other furbabies? On average, how many do you live with before you worry about the ratio of skin to fur in the house?
I have three now, and have rescued any number since moving here. I am mildly allergic to dogs, but I’ve come to the realization that they’re worth the trouble for me, and allergy drugs are a small price to pay. I never worry about fur to skin. In my opinion you can never have enough, although when you tip the scales over 300 pounds of them as inside dogs, it can get, er, intimate.
A man after my own heart; when a pulmonologist told me I would have to get rid of carpets and pets to control my asthma, I found another doctor…!
6. What prompted you to support Amigos de los Animales Mazatlan, Mexico and RABMAD? Do you have any particular fundraising goals?
No. Usually when I make donations, I do it anonymously. I typically throw in some of my own cash too, as it’s a good cause and all the shelters here need the money in the worst way. In Mexico, the alternative to any of the shelters are trucks that gas the dogs on the way into headquarters. It’s a brutal place in some respects, and animals have it lousy here. I can’t see how even the hardest heart can spend any time at all looking at the pups and their conditions without feeling a stirring. With RABMAD, I was approached by another author, and it seemed like a good way to publicize the causes. Hats off to them.
7. How long have you lived in Mexico, and what made you decide to move there?
8 years. I retired young, having sold my business, and I always loved Mexico, so I thought it would be interesting to spend 6 months here and see whether I liked it full time. Turns out I did. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else now, other than maybe Argentina. The pace is relaxed, the cost of living is half of what it was in the States, and the people are warm. And the weather is heavenly – the water blue, the beer cold. In the end, it puts things into perspective and allows you to savor life rather than racing through it after consumer-drive goals.
8. You’re a proud indie author & have explained that for you, it all comes down to the numbers (income) and agility (speed to market) available that route. What would be your number 1 suggestion for a new indie author?
I’m Mister Buzz Kill most of the time. I tend to stress treating your writing as art, and then your self-publishing as a business, with editing your quality control and cover design your packaging, and to budget exactly as you would if you were starting up any other kind of business. Most don’t make their costs back for a year in any business I’ve ever seen, and self-publishing’s no different. I think too many go into it thinking this is an easy racket. It isn’t. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done. I put in 12 to 14 hour days when I’m writing, and a good 3 or so of those each day are for marketing – social media, interviews, updating websites, etc. So my advice would be write because you love it, and be unflinching in your pursuit of excellence, and then take that hat off and become a pragmatic, cynical bean counter on the self-publishing side, operating dispassionately and with realistic expectations.
9. Having written both fiction and non-fiction, which style do you prefer?
Fiction, hands down. It’s very easy for me to write non, but it’s not a lot of fun for me. I suspect that Angel, and my parody, How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated) are going to be my only non-fiction works. I scrapped a third I’d completed, so I can comfortably say I’ve done what I want in the non-fiction side.
10. You’re impressively prolific. How many books do you plan to release next year? Can we expect to see anything more about Lobo?
I started out Q4 saying I’d only release 3 to 4 books next year. Now I’m sort of considering more like eight thrillers, which may move up to ten if I get inspired. As an example, I thought King of Swords would be my final book for 2011, because I wrote it just coming off a trilogy (The Delphi Chronicle, still in editing), but then I got inspired to write a prequel to King because the character of the assassin was so fascinating to me, so I cranked out Night of the Assassin immediately after. I’m currently knee deep into The Voynich Cypher, a Foucault’s Pendulum type thriller I’ve been procrastinating about for months, and then I plan at least two sequels to King, a sequel to Zero Sum, two sequels to The Delphi Chronicle, and who knows what else. I get ideas, and then I just sit down and write em. My process is incredibly intensive, with seven-day weeks, from eight am to ten pm when I’m writing, so I can turn a rough draft in 14-21 days if so inspired. But I also drink my own kool-aid, and have a pro editor and copy editor for each polished draft, so I’m hiring the disciplines I need to turn out professional work. I’d put my thrillers up against the big names, and my reviews tend to agree.
As far as Lobo goes, no, I think his story is told. He will live in my memory forever, and I think that Angel is everything I have to say about it. It’s the best memorial I could have given him, and I’m very proud of the book. Anyone who has ever loved and lost, or owned a pet, will be touched by it, I believe. So Lobo is still touching hearts even now. We should all be able to say the same.
11. Why do you write?
I write because it’s the only way I know of to brush with immortality, and to touch others on a broad scale in a very individual way. When you write, you create a world, and make a pact with the reader, who has invested their trust in your ability to entertain them with competence and style. It’s as pure a transaction as I know, other than that between humans and pets. There’s no place to hide when you write, and you have to be, above all, interesting. So it keeps you on your toes intellectually, and enables you to be a sort of builder of universes, albeit modest ones on Kindles. There’s nothing better than when someone reviews your work, and says, wow, you moved me. That’s worth more than any money involved. So corny as it sounds, I write out of love of creation. I am a builder. I build worlds in my head, on the page. In life, there are producers and predators, builders and destroyers. Writing enables me to plant my stake firmly in the camp of building. In the end, that should be reason enough.