Interview with Russell Blake

What was your environment like growing up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was reading when I was two years old, and both my parents were readers who placed tremendous importance on literacy and use of language. Intellectual capital was always more prized than financial capital, so while we weren't wealthy, we were rich in the classics and in intellectual curiosity. That framed my perception of life, where to this day I'm more interested in the philosophical and the literary than in pop culture or money. I don't watch TV (ok, that's a lie, I have a DVD player and was addicted to 24, which was about the last thing I watched), so whenever I have downtime, I automatically go to a good book. I believe that to be a decent writer, you have to read. A lot. You are what you eat, so to speak, so if you don't feed your brain a healthy diet of good prose, you're starving your intellect.
When did you first start writing?
A decade ago, but it was crap. Actually, I had been writing non-fiction (brochures, ad copy, manuals) decades before, but that didn't really prepare me for creative writing. I wrote my first fiction 10 years ago, and after four drafts, realized it was awful and should never see the light of day. So I wrote another, and it wasn't as bad, but it still sucked. I thought I might have nailed it about 5 years ago, and shopped that effort, to be told when it got shopped that it was wonderful, but didn't fit with what the market was looking for at that time. Which pretty much confirmed what I suspected - that if you weren't writing about glittery vampires back then, you weren't on the radar. I decided to continue writing to improve, as opposed to trying to get a deal. Took me until about 3 years ago before I really thought I had a handle on it and had developed an interesting and distinctive voice - but then, what to do with it? I understood from my earlier foray into querying that I didn't have the temperament to spend years soliciting agents, and years more waiting for a deal, so when the self-pubbing revolution hit, a friend of mine suggested around January of 2011 that I consider jumping into the water. Took me until June of that year to work up the nerve, get a decent cover, get my first offering edited, set up a website and get familiar with social media. I've never looked back since, and consider it the first step in a new life. So far so good.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The latest is my BLACK series - featuring Hollywood PI to the stars, Artemus Black. He's sort of a noir anti-hero, has anger management issues, boozes too much, battles quitting smoking regularly, fancies himself a kind of Bogie but hits all the wrong notes and simply comes off as slightly deranged. I wanted to write something lighter than my usual conspiracy thrillers, something with a sense of humor that explored the detective genre, and this is my stab at it. Readers that like Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler and Michael Connelly will like BLACK. It's fun, fast moving and has plenty of twists and turns, and just enough literary oomph to satisfy the pedants among us.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Time and money. I saw that it might be possible to create a legitimate lifestyle business with enough novels out, and do so in relatively short time. I also had no patience to go the trad pub route. Submit, wait forever, maybe get a deal, then wait another 18 months to see your book in print. I figured that during that same 2 or 3 years, I could get at least 10 novels out. Wound up being 25, but hey, who's counting?
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Gets me on a host of platforms with one stop. It's worth the premium to have that convenience. I don't have the time to manage all the different platforms, so it's a convenience and time management thing.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Reader feedback. When I get emails saying that something I wrote touched the reader or made them think, or that they're recommending it to all their friends because it's something that resonated with them. That, the cash and the chicks. And the tequila. Can't forget the tequila.
What do your fans mean to you?
An author without readers is a lonely soul. It's a tough endeavor under the best of circumstances, but if you don't find an audience, it can feel like a largely pointless one. I've been very vocal about what we as authors owe readers: the highest quality product we can create, packaged and edited professionally, at fair prices. I think too often many beginning authors skip important quality control steps like editing or pro cover design, taking the readers for fools (I can't tell you how often I've heard, "Oh, I know there's a bunch of errors, but I'll get it edited once I've made enough money to make it worth it to me). I hate that, and it is the sign of an author destined for failure. If you don't place the reader's time as the most valuable commodity there is, and value it as paramount, you'll lose whatever audience you could have had and never get them back. Cutting corners is lazy, sloppy, and tells the reader that you don't care about them enough to do it right. They'll return the favor by not caring about you, or worse, sharing just how miserable your slovenly screed made them, far and wide. Fans are everything - you win readers one by one, and they're very hard to get, and very easy to lose. My philosophy is that when you ask a reader to read your work, you've made a bargain with them - they'll exchange their time and their money, for which they no doubt worked hard, for the absolute best you can produce, and nothing less. If you fail at that, you screwed them, and they have every right to feel robbed. Nobody has to read your book. It's a privilege to have readers do so, and one that you should treasure, not squander or take for granted.
What are you working on next?
Sigh. What am I not working on next? I'm storyboarding the mother of all action/adventure novels, tentatively titled Ramsey's Gold. I'm writing BLACK 4 as we speak, and plan at least one more Assassin tome and a couple more in my JET series. And I've got a couple of co-authored novels with talented bestsellers in disparate genres I'm going to try to get done - one's a NA romance with a NY Times Bestselling author of considerable gravitas we're targeting for spring, 2014, and the other is a romance series slated for summer, 2014 with a bestselling author who sells like lifeboats on the Titanic. And of course, my co-authoring with none other than the legendary Clive Cussler, the first installment of which should release around Fall, 2014. So it's a very full schedule, leaving little time for anything but writing.
Who are your favorite authors?
David Foster Wallace, whose Infinite Jest was the most remarkable novel of the last 30 years. James Lee Burke, who is absolutely my favorite living author and like going to church for me, or at least going to school, for his use of language, atmospherics, and character development. Frederick Forsyth. Ludlum, or at least some of Ludlum's stuff. Dickens. Cussler for his raw adventure. Connelly for Harry Bosch. Crichton for his storytelling. Stephen King for his straightforward approach to the language and the facility with which he creates worlds.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The alarm clock, and the sense that I need to write a lot of words before I sleep again.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Ha ha ha. Time?

Dancing for the tourist ladies off the cruise ship in my lime green man thong at Jalapeno Heat, where I'm a featured soloist in the all-male Boylesque revue that has their hungry eyes glittering like diamonds.

That, fishing, boating, playing with my pooches, and battling world domination by clowns. Frigging clowns ruin everything.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Word of mouth.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
In second or third grade. Scared the hell out of my teacher, who correctly branded me a freak from that point on. About demonic pigeons, as I recall. A troubled period of my life that lasted another 45 years.
What is your writing process?
I outline a single page, three paragraphs representing three acts - beginning, middle, and end. Then I create the first 15 chapter headings, which are single sentence summaries of the chapter, a la "Jet introduced, attacked, chased." Then I begin writing. I worry about the next 15 once I'm done with the first. As to hours, I get up, have breakfast, and by 8 a.m. am writing. I generally finish around 8 p.m. for dinner, or if I haven't made my word count, break for dinner and then keep going until midnight. And I have a treadmill desk, so I clock six to ten miles a day when I'm in a novel, alternating between it and a regular desk so I get exercise while I write. Oh, and I start at the beginning of the book, and write until the end. I've never understood those who can write chapters out of order. More power to em, but I'm very linear, and my brain doesn't work that way.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Probably something by Lovecraft was the first thing that I remember reading, and thinking, "Hey, I can write that."
How do you approach cover design?
I hire a pro, give him high concept, and then after three to five mock-ups, pick my fave and tweak it until it's right.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Perma-free of the first book in a series. And Bookbub for discounted novels, occasionally dropping a book to .99 for a day to broaden my reader base.
Describe your desk
It's a treadmill base, with a stand for the monitor and computer and keyboard. My other desk is just a desk. Both have 27 inch monitors. Any larger and I feel like I'm overwhelmed with the screen, and any smaller and I'm squinting. I have an Aeron chair for my regular desk.
Where do you see your career in five years?
A lot more books, and hopefully a lot more readers. Perhaps a trad pubbed deal for some of them - it's hard to crystal ball the future, but I could see my work doing well in airports, and there's only one way to get there. I have nothing against trad publishing, just as I don't view self-pubbing as a religion. They're both means to an end, and a smart man diversifies.
Published 2014-01-14.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

A Girl Betrayed
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 99,410. Language: English. Published: July 24, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » General
A college friend in trouble... ...a sinister plot where betrayal is the rule. Can Leah Mason untangle a Byzantine mystery in time to save her friend...and herself? In the follow-up to A Girl Apart, Leah finds herself enmeshed in a deadly conspiracy where nothing is as it seems, and the stakes are life and death. If you love Connelly, Grisham, and Kellerman, you'll want to read A Girl Betrayed
A Girl Apart
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 87,960. Language: English. Published: June 21, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » International crime, Fiction » Mystery & detective » Women Sleuths
A mysterious phone call. A deadly international conspiracy. A brutal killer who'll stop at nothing to keep the sins of the past hidden. When investigative journalist Leah Mason returns home to El Paso with her career in flames and her romantic life in tatters, things seem like they can't get any worse. Leah soon discovers she couldn't be more wrong. Fans of Patterson & Connoly will love it.
The Goddess Legacy
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 90,910. Language: English. Published: August 19, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Adventure » General
When Drake Ramsey and company get an invitation they can't refuse to embark on a treasure hunt in India, little do they know that it will be a headlong rush into danger that will take all their wits to survive. The third in the bestselling Ramsey's series is sure to delight fans of Cussler, Brown, and Rollins.
Jet - Ops Files II - Terror Alert
Series: JET, Prequel 2. Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 85,730. Language: English. Published: March 30, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Adventure » General
JET - Ops Files, Terror Alert picks up the story of Maya, the operative who would become Jet, on her first mission in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where she must race the clock to stop a terror attack that would change the world order. From a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author.
Ramsey's Gold
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 111,830. Language: English. Published: May 29, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Adventure » General
When a forgotten journal materializes decades after Drake Ramsey's father vanished in the Amazon jungle, Drake decides to follow in his footsteps and search for the legendary treasure of the Inca empire, hidden in the lost Inca city of Paititi.
JET - Ops Files
Series: JET, Prequel 1. Price: Free! Words: 74,900. Language: English. Published: April 21, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense
(5.00 from 1 review)
JET - Ops Files chronicles the early years of Maya, who goes on to become the Mossad's deadliest operative: the assassin known as Jet. From the West Bank to Tel Aviv to Jordan to Singapore to Indonesia, Ops Files is a breakneck adrenaline rush that will leave readers gasping.