Interview with Rudy Monaco

Do you remember the first book you ever read? When did you first start writing?
I remember a Little Golden Book when I was a pre-schooler, but the title is lost in time. My family gave me books at an early age and encouraged me to read. My two older sisters read with me and helped me learn. So, at an early age, I knew books were special, reading is important, but it can also be fun.

By the middle of high school, I was writing. I still recall something best forgotten published in the school paper. By then, I was a voracious reader, often reading a novel a day from our school library. Reading opened up a whole new world to me, and greatly expanded my comprehension and vocabulary. By then, I was well and truly hooked on novels. I remember reading everything from Agatha Christie, Alistair MacLean and Hammond Innes, to name a few.

In almost every job I’ve held since I’ve written something. From instruction manuals in IT, high-level board updates, to complex market research reports. I ran my own business doing the latter for several years. I’ve always felt comfortable using words.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up on a small dairy farm in country Victoria, the south-eastern state at the bottom of mainland Australia. It was an idyllic childhood, with my parents, two sisters and lots of animals. Looking back, it probably wasn’t idyllic for my parents, just a lot of hard work and heartbreak. Both were immigrants with little formal education, limited English and few skills, escaping a world of war and famine. The one thing they wanted for their kids was a good education, and in that, they succeeded. I’ve had a dream run compared to them.

My second novel travels to my hometown, set on a volcanic plain, the land of rocks and rabbits, and the scene of a showdown between the ABI and a notorious bikie outfit hiding a killer. Many characters in my books, like Britt Thomas, are immigrants, or of ethnic origin. That’s just me paying homage to my childhood and my heritage. But it is also the reality of life in Australia. We are a country of immigrants.
Why do you write?
Why do I write? It’s complicated. I could be just seeking attention, but I am relatively introverted in person. I did lose most of my hearing as a kid, so reading became my lifeline, a bulwark against the maddeningly ephemeral spoken word. What’s written down can’t be misheard and is harder to misunderstand. Written words are safe.

Growing up on a farm, books showed me the world I couldn’t see. Later, dedicated professionals and technology helped me to hear, and a tertiary education took me well beyond the farm, but the love of reading and the kinship of the written word have remained my constant companions. They helped make me who I am today.

I carved out my main career using words as tools to convey precise meanings. Mostly I wrote research reports and tried to make them interesting. In corporate life, I discovered a knack for analysing data, organising ideas, and presenting them well in written form. I’ve had a few careers in six decades until finally deciding to be a writer. It’s what I’ve always done anyway, and it just feels right.

I write all kinds of stuff. There are social issues I feel passionately about, so I write about them. Most never get published, but my friends might hear about them. I call these my ‘serious projects,’ and there’s more to come. Writing is how I hope to contribute to society.

Then there’s the fun stuff. Since high school, I’ve enjoyed reading fiction novels from a variety of authors. One day, I somehow convinced myself I could write one and set out to prove the theory.

People like different genres. I jokingly refer to mine as “crappy crime fiction”. It’s mostly crime, with action, drama, suspense, bad-ass vehicles, weapons, thrills, spills and a bit of romance. These are easy reads. Pick one up at an airport, read it on the plane, and happily leave for the hosties. They aren’t meant to be literary masterpieces, they’re just fun, writing for enjoyment, to tell a story, to entertain.

Here’s what you can expect. My goal is to write the best crappy crime fiction novel ever. I like the narrative sharp and the action fast. That takes a lot of editing work, which is frankly tedious, but I hope you enjoy the result. My characters often surprise me, so expect a few surprises too. I do try and keep it family friendly but be warned, I write for an adult audience. Just don’t tell the kids that!
What have you learned about the writing process? What is it?
My what? Oh, you mean that? It’s simple really - sit down and write. I don’t like calling it a process, creativity is so difficult to capture. Writing novels is a world away from writing market research reports. Now that has a structured process. Writing fiction novels involves making stuff up: How do you design a process for that? Having my dog curl up at my feet helps, as does listening to music while I write. I get my best plot ideas while I sleep, or whenever I go for a walk. I write at a desk, or in bed late at night, whenever and wherever I can.

I have been taking notes, the better to approach the task in future. The list of things to do goes for a page already, way too long, but I never want to formalise the process so much it becomes formulaic. It’s more of a checklist of things to consider. For example, I now google my new character names to see what comes up.

I’ve learned that first drafts are universally awful, and that’s OK. I know a draft should sit for a month before I review it, so it helps to work on more than one thing at a time. I know the editing process is tedious but very necessary. I know most grammar checkers are useful but not fool-proof. There are plenty of things I’m still learning.

I think my novels are improving. They’re more focused, better structured, easier to read. I wrote my first novel not knowing what I was writing or where it would take me. I let the story evolve and the characters direct the plot. It was exciting and scary, and the approach worked well right up until the end when I realised I had to wrap it up somehow and give it structure. The second and third novels have the same set of main characters, so they more constrained and planned. They’re also a bit different in tone, perhaps darker.

There’s something to be said for just sitting down and writing the first thing that comes into your head, then doing that for seventy thousand words. I’ll do it again sometime, but not every time.
Describe your desk?
My desk is a narrow built-in bench that runs the length of our home office. It has four sets of drawers, and two spots to slide your knees under, or for our dog to sit. There’s a built-in bookshelf on the wall above, with two lights under it shining on the desk. It’s not ideal, but it works. I use a custom PC I built myself, with a nice high-res screen.

I fantasise about a secluded writer’s retreat somewhere, either in the back yard (we live in suburbia), or a remote country property. Writing is such an anti-social pursuit: Just give me a quiet spot, a coffee machine, a computer and a dog, and I’m all set. I have tried to write in cafes on occasions but found it too distracting.
What's the story behind your first novel?
Outback Ice is my first novel, so it has a special place in my heart. When I started to write it three years ago, I wasn’t in a good place. I was unemployed, told I was too old to work, with health issues, and had buried my last surviving parent. My wife was busy with her career, so I’d just become a full-time house-husband by default. I needed something else to do, a way to use my mind, something fun and engaging. Writing fitted the bill, especially novels. In some ways, they were an escape from reality, and we all need that at times.

In Outback Ice, we meet Britt Thomas, crime fighter and door-kicker extraordinaire. She works for the ABI, a fictitious security agency. As the series progresses, we’ll learn a secret from Britt’s past that threatens her life. She might not be who we think she is!

Outback Ice has a unique Aussie setting, from the Nullarbor Plain to the Queensland Channel Country. We find Britt on an enforced holiday, driving a borrowed car on the Eyre Highway when a dust storm and an armed highwayman intervene. That’s her introduction to a new and dangerous ice supplier.

Britt and her team begin a major ABI operation to uncover and take down the biggest drug lab in Australia and bring its ambitious owner to justice. Along the way, Britt finds a story of love, struggle, and survival on a remote cattle station, as the covert mission seeks to find the truth and take down the bad guys.

I once drove across the Nullarbor Plain myself, so the first chapter of Outback Ice could be lifted from my travel diary. I did pick up a hitchhiker, but he wasn’t armed or an ice addict. Like Britt, I experienced the phenomena of velocitation, the occasional storms, and bird life bouncing off the car. Like her, I did the drive to recover from a hurtful event. I used a CB radio to keep in touch with the local truckies. Unlike her, I didn’t carry a badge or a concealed weapon!
Who’s your favourite character in Outback Ice?
I stumbled on Britt Thomas by accident and liked her so much I made her the focus of the book. But while Britt is the main character, it’s not all about her, and there are other characters I really like. The book tries to put a human face on crime, and central to that are the Warringarah crew of Nance, Nick and Bluey (with an honourable mention to Rusty the red heeler).

I really like Bluey the stockman. He’s a man in psychic recovery, an outcast, a drunk. Yet his loyalty, life experience, skills and trusty ute, save the day. I deliberately don’t give Britt and the ABI all the credit for the take-down in Outback Ice. Fighting crime, so many other things in life, is a community affair. It affects us all. Sadly, we bid good-bye to the Warringarah crew at the end of Outback Ice, but Britt Thomas and her ABI team will return in a new thriller soon.
What are you working on next?
I’m working on the follow-up to Outback Ice, the second Britt Thomas novel. It’s a new story set in Melbourne and country Victoria. Plus, I’m working on a few other projects of a more personal nature. I have four Britt Thomas novels in various stages of preparedness, and I’ll keep writing them for as long as I enjoy it. Then, I’ll write something else.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I love it when a plot comes together. That feeling that the reader will be just as thrilled as me. I know I’ve written something great when I read it back and it’s so packed with emotional truth that I start to cry. That’s happened on rare occasions, but I’m really proud of those moments in my novels. Knowing, or hoping, that they genuinely move people, hopefully in a good way.

I have a note to myself in my working draft. It simply asks: Is this my best work? It recognises that good writing takes both inspiration and perspiration. Whenever I publish something, I know it’s not perfect, but I want to be able to say it’s the best work I could do.
What motivated you to become an indie publisher?
Simple, I can do it from home. With my background, I have the tools and the skills, although I’ve had to learn a few new things. Mostly, I went indie because I didn’t know any professional publishers, and from what I’ve heard, trying to get published is soul-destroying. I just didn’t need all that negativity and angst, not now, not ever. Besides, for me it’s not about getting published, it’s about the fun of writing.

That said, is some hot-shot publisher ever wants to make me an offer, I’ll respectfully consider all proposals and respond appropriately. I suspect that should I ever be that successful that publishers chase me, I should still stay indie.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
What time? Are you kidding? I’m always writing or thinking about writing. I dream about writing and run scenarios in my mind while out exercising. My darling wife complains that I’m reluctant to go on holidays because it interferes with my writing. Recently, we spent four days away together at a country retreat where my hard-working exhausted life-partner slept a lot. I sat in the shade and proof-read a hard copy of Outback Ice with our doggie curled up nearby. That’s heaven on a stick for me. I also enjoy watching movies, woodwork, repairing PCs, nights out with the boys. But really, I like to write.
Published 2017-04-11.
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