If ‘Revenge’ is a dish best served up cold, then the recipe for great horror is to make sure you deliver up your entrees when they are still alive! That’s what Todd Russell does in Fresh Flesh, his novel about a beautiful, shipwrecked woman who washes ashore on a mysterious desert island and is saved by a man who is not what he seems.” It’s with great pleasure that I now welcome today’s author-interview subject: Todd Russell.
Todd, what got you started writing?
I don’t remember specifically what got me started, but I’ve been writing since a very young age. In the fourth grade when I helped the teacher create story starters. They were like writing prompts on steroids.
How would you define your genre, and what do you find most compelling and challenging about writing in it?
I’m a cross-genre writer. Horror is my base, but I also love stories that would fit in with the old Twilight Zone and Night Gallery shows. I’ve been told by some readers that I write psychological thrillers, so I’ve used that to describe some of my work. I enjoy reading and writing stories with characters readers can connect with, care about, root for and against. I also like a good dose of action, rather than stories that take too long to get to the good stuff.
It can be challenging at times working with a pesky first novel draft because I often have many concurrent story lines that intersect with a central theme. Sometimes the connections aren’t clear even to me until I’ve gone through several drafts. I suppose if I used outlines more often, I’d save myself some rewriting effort, but I love experiencing the organic evolution of a story.
Where does your inspiration come from? And what’s your writing process?
A lot of things in life inspire me. Anything that creates a strong emotion in me—positive or negative—could inspire a current, future or past story.
My workflow these days is I get up and write a short story. After that’s done, I’ll do some general housekeeping and then, if there’s time, move onto my novel work-in-progress until lunch time. If I can get in 1,000 or more words, great, but I don’t have a specific word count goal. After that, I will often shift gears and do rewriting and polishing of future works, write blog posts, hit the various online groups and boards. If I feel like I’m not getting anywhere productive, I will go read. I try to spend almost as much time reading as writing new material every day.
In August 2011 I started writing a short story every day (minimum 250 words). As of this writing I’ve written 101 stories over 100 consecutive days. In November, I wrote over 50,000 words in the first draft of my second Fresh series book. Although I won’t know how much of that first draft is good until after it’s done, settled awhile, and I come back to it, November was a productive month. It would be awesome if I could get into that sort of rhythm at least six months out of each year, but my 2012 goal is to have at least three months like that.
When did you know you were going to be a writer? Was there a specific incident or triggering incident? And if so, what was it?
Balzac had a simple method for staying focused and churning out copy: He chained himself to his desk and consumed endless cups of coffee? What’s your technique?
I drink tea. I use the same teabag for each full workday and refill as needed.
How long does it normally take you to write a book? Tell us about your books in print and any current projects. What are they about and where did the inspiration come from?
I log the times and dates for the first drafts of my novels. The first draft of Fresh Flesh took about three months which has been about the average for all my novels to date. Then, throw in a month of settle time and a month or two of rewrites and back and forth with the editor. I’d say the whole process takes around six months of actual time. I could probably squeeze that into four months in a pinch. Someday it would be cool to try and complete a novel in 30 days. Write the first draft in a week, let it settle for a few days and start rewriting, get it to an editor week #3 and back to polish week #4 and have it proofed, formatted and published before the end of the month. It sounds like a crazy, fun challenge.
My first book is Mental Shrillness, a collection of ten short stories. Nine of the ten are flash fiction and the last “The Illusion” is 7,200+ words. The stories all deal with some type of mental condition and come with author’s notes. They were written and posted to writing contests at keyword: novel at AOL in the mid to late 1990s.
My second book is a psychological thriller, horror novel entitled Fresh Flesh about a woman who shipwrecks on a mysterious island with a man who is not what he seems. It is the first book in the Fresh series. I have titles for several more books in the series and have the first draft of Fresh #2 about two thirds done.
Third came Flash O’Lantern: 13+ Stories, a young adult short story ebook-only release, which contains fourteen Halloween-oriented flash fiction stories all written and posted to online writing contests after August 2011 as part of an ongoing story streak. All of the stories in the collection were first-place winners. There is a code in the book that leads to two other stories on my website also written during the same era.
What is the biggest challenge you faced, in writing Fresh Flesh?
I don’t remember any challenge writing the first draft. During rewriting some scenes needed more detailed research, but I enjoy that part of writing.
Do you have a favorite passage from your book? If so, would you share it with us here and tell us what is it about it that has such special significance for you?
I have several favorite passages. Rather than trying to pick a single one, let me encourage readers to follow me on Kindle.Amazon.com. I highlight and make notes on all my books there.
What writers have influenced you the most in your writing career and in developing your writing style? What, specifically was it about them that captured your attention and imagination?
Poe, Lovecraft, King, Robert McCammon, Bradbury, Serling and a bunch of other writers. Serling, who is best known for his Twilight Zone work was a master of the character portrait. He was able to draw poignant character using few words. Ray Bradbury’s description powers are matched by only a small few. King? What can’t King do? Robert McCammon instills hope in even his darkest fiction, which is a delightful ingredient for any writer. Lovecraft? He made you fear the things you couldn’t see. I dig that kind of horror. The kind that lurks around the corner, under the bed, inside the wall, closet and darkness outside. Poe would take you on a guided tour of horrors, often with breathless! dialogue! skills! I will never tire of reading great stories like The Tell-Tale Heart.
Why did you choose to take the Indie route in publishing your books? How satisfying has it been so far? And what lessons have you learned about indie publishing that you’d like to share with others?
I don’t feel like I’ve chosen one path over another. Assuming the deal is right, I’m open to all forms of publishing, including republishing my existing work with a small press or traditional publisher someday. I still have a literary agent and interested in traditional publishing alongside other forms of publishing, so I will continue to pursue that option with some future novels.
I’m still learning about indie publishing. It has been very satisfying learning process. If I could go back and start over in March 2011, I’d spend more time working on new material. I wasted several months figuring out technical publishing stuff when I should have been writing new material. I’m fortunate to have a few already written novels I can put out and I would like to stay a couple novels ahead. This way I’m always working on a new first draft, have another book being rewritten and another that is ready to be released and making the rounds with advanced review copies. Since August I’ve been more focused on writing new material and feel like this will benefit me in 2012 and beyond. The hopper is being filled 🙂
What book-marketing efforts have you found to be most effective?
I agree with those saying the single best marketing you can do is write the next book. With each new book, I’m seeing an overall improvement. So work on getting more good books out there. That’s my #1 marketing plan: write and publish more good books.
One of the best things I’ve done so far has been a local, in-person book signing. I paid $10 for a booth at a bazaar and sold autographed books for two days to complete strangers passing through. I had a screensaver on my laptop setup with my book covers and answered questions about the books. I gave away these cool mini-bookmarks with Fresh Flesh to those who bought books in person. I’m going to do a limited run of those bookmarks with each new novel in paperback. I am looking for other opportunities to get out there and press the flesh, pardon the pun.
I have tried and enjoyed a book tour (lots of work, good exposure), Twitter (better results if you follow people interested in your genre). I’ve had some success with targeted messageboards and related genre communities.
What valuable lessons have you learned about self-publishing that you’d care to share with other writers?
Make sure your books are edited and clean. Use multiple third parties to proofread your work after you’ve formatted because no single person can catch all the errors. Mercilessly weed out errors that will throw readers out of your story. Work hard to have the cleanest book possible. This way readers and reviewers will focus on the story, not on misspellings, grammar, punctuation and irritating formatting. If you find mistakes in the ebook version, by all means fix them ASAP, yes, even after it’s already published. This will prevent future readers from seeing them. Respect readers by giving them the most polished reading experience possible.
What is it that you want most readers to get out of reading your books? What do they tell you about their experience?
I’d like them to get embroiled in the story, feel the emotions of the characters and be surprised by the plot twists. At the end, I want the story to resonate in their minds and for them to look back and think, “That was fun, engaging and creative, let’s do it again.” And then seek out another book by me and recommend the book they just read to everybody they know as an entertaining read.
What’s the next major project you have coming down the pike?”
My next novel will be announced in December. It is a standalone novel. I have some more work to do on it before a publishing date can be determined. I’m curious to see what others think of the cover art and description. In April I’m considering trying my first Script Frenzy. I’ve been thinking about adapting one of my novels as a screenplay.
Thank you very much for the interview, Jon.
Thank you, Todd! Great interview.
Here are links to connect with Todd online and to purchase an ebook version of Fresh Flesh.