Interview with Rutherford Rankin

Describe your desk
As far as composure, my desk is a hand-built desk. My husband and I built it together last winter during a horrible blizzard. I call it our sanity saver because during that storm we weren't able to leave the house for several days. Working on this desk kept us from going too crazy while we were waiting for the snow to melt or be cleared from the streets.

Organizationally, my desk is about half organized, half shambles. I tend to have things that I'm done working on well organized. If it's something I'm still working on, it's probably a little haphazard. However, if you ask me for something in a pile on my desk, I bet I can find it within a minute.
What's the story behind your latest book?
I actually got the idea for this book and started writing it many years ago around 2007 or 2008. I wrote a small percentage of the story at that time and then life got busy so I gave it up for a long time. I picked it back up around 2012 and started writing little bits here and there, but again, life got busy and I had to give it up. In January of 2016, I was looking through everything I had written and I just started adding to what I had already finished for this story. For some reason, this time, it stuck and by March I had the first draft.

I couldn't figure out why it had taken me so long to write this book when I already had most of the story and plot formulated in my head. I'm one of those people who believes everything happens for a reason and I wanted to figure out why life had gotten in the way of this story so many times in the past. I realized that it had a lot to do with things in my life I hadn't yet experienced.

This story is in no way autobiographical; it's fiction, after all. However, there are some aspects of the story that I absolutely could not have written eight or nine years ago because I didn't have the emotional understanding or feeling to associate with how the characters were feeling. I've gone through some things in my life, especially within the past few years, that contributed to some of the plot and emotion of the story that simply would not have been at hand before now.

I still believe that everything happens for a reason and this is one of those cases where, although it was frustrating at the time, makes perfect sense here on the flip side.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy of writing for me is taking a story or concept in my head that excites me and getting it on paper (or computer screen) to share with other people. I'm not totally naive; I know that not every reader will find my story compelling, nor will every reader connect to my story. However, I really do think there is an audience out there for every work and I really hope that when I write something it will resonate with whatever audience makes that connection.

When I was in college I was an education major and I remember someone saying once that if you're going into teaching for the money, you're in the wrong field for the wrong reason. I think that's true of writing as well. If you're becoming a writer because you think you'll get rich overnight and find immediate success, you're in it for the wrong reason. If you're in it because you want to share a story with others, then I think you're on the right track. If you're in it because you want to make a connection with your audience then I think you've got it figured out. I write because I love it. I may never become rich as a writer and that's okay.
What are you working on next?
I recently co-founded a publishing company and right now we're focusing on helping a few authors get their writing out there to share with the world. I find it very exciting to read a story that I know someone else has poured hours, months, or years into and knowing that it will fit in with our company's philosophy and catalog of work. I love writing, but I also love helping other writers get unique stories out there that other publishers might shy away from.

With that said, I am not giving up writing. I have several projects going on right now that I'm working on, most solo, but one a collaboration. I'm really excited about the collaboration because it's with a close friend I've known for a few years who didn't see herself as a writer at first but has blossomed into this amazing storyteller. I'm excited to see where that story goes and being a part of that process.

As far as my solo projects, I have three projects in progress. One is still in the very early stages and it's about a woman with severe agoraphobia and her perception of the world around her. Another in the very early stages is a sort of medical mystery story based around the concept of camping. It sounds strange, but if it pans out it could make a really interesting story.

The solo project I'm really about to pour my heart into, though, is called Morton County Fair. It's a story of rural America based in the 1930s. The main characters will be based on my ancestors who were alive at that time trying to get by in one of the hardest times in our country. I didn't get the chance to meet a lot of my ancestors because many of them had passed away before I was born or shortly thereafter. I've heard stories about their struggles during that time period as well as their generosity to others. Since I never got to meet them, I plan to take the stories I've been told and morph that into a historical fiction story of each family leading up to them all meeting together at the county fair. I think it will be interesting to develop those characters and make them into the people I never got to meet.
What is your writing process?
My process is truly all over the place. An idea for a book can hit me at any time and I usually whip out my phone and send myself an email so I don't forget it. However, not all those ideas are good. The thing that kind of lets me know if it's a good idea is if it sticks in my mind. If I'm thinking about it every day and getting new ideas for the plot, then I know I can write it and maybe find an audience. When I get additional ideas I email those to myself as well. If I never get another idea for the story, then I realize it probably wasn't a good idea in the first place and scrap it.

After I get ideas I start to think about the plot and the characters. I try not to look at pictures for inspiration for the characters because I think that really skews my creative side from trying so hard to figure out what this character or that character looks like. Once my plot is a little more developed then I'll start writing a few parts here and there to see if they fit well together. At that point, if everything looks good I start at the beginning of the story and write chronologically. I cannot write pieces here and there and try to piece them together in order. I really feel like I need to write the story in the order the reader will read.

If there are parts of the story I go back and take out I save them just in case they can develop into something bigger later. One other thing I do is keep a journal of random thoughts or memories I have. I like incorporating those into my stories somehow. A lot of times if I start getting writer's block I can look through that journal and find something that inspires me or fits into the story. With Fighting Against Gravity, that journal developed about a fifth of the scenes in the book at various points and I highly recommend that for writers who face block frequently.
Who are your favorite authors?
That depends because it sort of morphs over time. Let me break it down based on the period of my life and that will make it easier and it will make more sense.

Growing up I really loved anything by Caroline B. Cooney. I loved her thrillers and found them really compelling and unique. I also really liked all the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I've always liked reading about different time periods and I loved reading about what life was like at the time she lived.

During college, I was a Spanish literature major so I read a lot of Spanish literature and became a huge fan of anything with magical realism. Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude) and Juan Rulfo (Pedro Paramo) are two of my favorites as well as Rudolfo Anaya (Bless Me, Ultima).

For a while, I went through a big humor and comedy phase and fell in love with anything by David Sedaris. I truly wish I had the talent he does for telling a hilarious story anyone could connect to and find funny. His use of sarcasm won me over and he is one of those writers who you really feel like you became friends with as you read his work.
What do you read for pleasure?
It's funny because I tend not to read books or stories when I'm writing because I really fear I will subconsciously take something from something I've read and put it into my writing. I don't want to taint my writing that way and I don't want to plagiarize so I try to avoid reading any literature when I'm writing. During those times, I try to read something that will expand my mind by reading sites like BuzzFeed, Mental Floss, or other fact sites. I might also read a magazine here or there.

When I'm not writing I typically read things that are recommended by friends or something I saw that looked like it had an interesting cover and synopsis. I don't really seek out specific genres. I like to keep an open mind about what I read.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I actually grew up in southwest Kansas in a few different places during my childhood. My first five years of life were spent living in the country. Both of my parents and their parents and their parents and on down the line had grown up in the country because they were farmers, ranchers, etc. I loved growing up in the country because you had to use your imagination to make life interesting and find something to do. You also had so many more stories from your childhood than the kids who lived in town all their life.

When I was about five we moved to town and that was a really different experience. The town I grew up in, Satanta, Kansas, is very small. There are only about 1,000 people depending on the year, so when people talk about growing up in a small town of 100,000 people I tend to laugh at them because they really have no idea what small is and the real politics and experiences of a truly small town.

In a truly a small town everyone knows everyone, everyone knows your business, and there are few secrets. That meant that if you were different in any way from everyone else you kind of had a rough time. I certainly experienced that and it does show up in my writing from time to time.

However, I think the biggest way growing up in the country and in Satanta has had on my writing is that living in those places allowed me to develop a creative imagination. There honestly wasn't much to do when I was growing up. It was the days before everyone had smart phones, tablets, and Facebook. We didn't even have internet service in my house until I was a senior in high school. We weren't necessarily poor, but we had a big family and there wasn't much disposable income for things like video games or other luxuries. It meant that as a kid you played with actual physical toys and that often involved making up stories to go along with them. As I grew up that also morphed into writing stories for fun. The toys were gone, but the imagination and creativity were still there and I think that influences me every day in my writing.
When did you first start writing?
I don't know an exact time, but I do remember when I was in the third grade I asked for a typewriter for Christmas and I got it. It seems like a strange gift for a kid that age to ask for, but I wanted it because I wanted to write stories. I actually remember sneaking into my parents' room and looking under the bed for the Christmas gifts that were hidden there and seeing the box for the typewriter. I was so excited!

I remember writing stories on that typewriter too. I don't remember what any of them were, but that was probably when I first started writing. After that, I wrote stories off and on when I was bored. In high school, I had a few classes that really helped me develop more as a writer. The first was our sophomore English class, and our teacher, Mrs. Burrows, was a genius when it came to the mechanics of English. I know I still make a lot of grammar mistakes, but I'm glad I have a good foundation and she's responsible for a lot of that. During my senior year, her husband, Mr. Burrows, was my English teacher and he really gave us a lot of freedom as far as writing topics and genres. I did a lot of creative writing in his class and I think that really helped me develop that part of my writing.

When I was in high school I was also in yearbook class for two years and newspaper for one. That gave me a chance to do both writing and design and I will be forever grateful to Mrs. Hanson for that opportunity and for sharing her wealth of knowledge with us to make us better journalists and graphic designers. Journalism writing is very different from creative writing, but the goal of making a connection with your audience is still shared between the two. She encouraged us to make that connection in both writing and visual media and I really feel like it contributes to my work every day no matter what I'm doing.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
It's funny because I was just thinking about this the other day and I realized that I learned to read in one of those old "Dick and Jane" books. I don't know where it came from, but I remember finding it one day and taking it to my mom and sitting with her and having her help me sound out the words. I was so proud when I was able to finish that book. My mom really encouraged us to read when we were little. She would take us to the library because she knew how important it was for us to have knowledge and she knew books held that knowledge.

My mom would have made an amazing teacher and I think she actually did want to do that at one time. However, today she runs a school library and still encourages those school kids to read. She challenges them to read a certain number of books and she participates in the challenge. I think it's amazing because she's been influencing kids to read for as long as I've been around at least.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Truly and honestly, just the fact that I woke up. Every day really is a gift and we never know which one will be our last. Sometimes I forget this when I'm having a bad day, but karma usually comes around to remind me that my life isn't quite as bad as some other people's lives are and that I need to suck it up. I'm actually thankful for that reminder because it keeps me in line.

I hear stories about people staying in bed all day and I just can't imagine doing that. I can sleep in to a point, but at some point I have to get up and get the day going.
Published 2016-06-18.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.