Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Novel Road Interview: Bryan Russell

View ImageThe Novel Road Interview: Bryan Russell 


     In the deep, unknown reaches of a land far to the North there is... Ok, there's a lot.

    But here, on The Novel Road, I bring you a glimpse of the heretofore unseen. You'll experience, first hand, a genius so vast it tickles the edge of madness. (just kidding about the madness part)

    This interview begins with a town. Actually it starts with a building... Well, if you want to be picky, it starts with what was in the building - A Bookstore

    On any given day, there was a line of intellectually gifted people, standing in the cold, holding Moosebucks coffee cups. They all wore glasses, occluded by chill fog, and many struggled to keep their pipes lit. The leather patches on the sleeves of Tweed coats, well worn. All carried umbrellas, mostly because they all thought it was cloudy when they left their homes, that personal fog there from the start of the day. They share tales of skinned  knees from missing curbs. A scattered oath or two after a head bounces off the glass (from the general lack of depth perception) as each took their turn looking in the window of their ice bound Mecca... And for the person within.

   Ladies and gentlemen, Bryan Russell is here today, saving me you a trip North to the land of hockey, polar bears, beer and "Eh?"
  
   He is here, his store now a memory. Yet in his mind, his precious store will always be. Like many tales similarly told, a malevolent economy swept the spirit of 500 Ouellete Avenue, in Winsor, Ontario away.
    
   Bryan’s love of the written word will always be. His talent for writing is remarkable. Enriched by his time surrounded by great works, he puts his hand to pen. His BA and MA in English and Creative Writing, as well as his Bachelor's in Education, along with a smattering and scattering of his writings published are building him to a new day.

   As far as The Novel Road is concerned, that day starts here. Why here and now?

   If you look at my guest lists, you will find authors with combined sales of over 100 million books. You will also find a select group of debut authors that, for one reason or other, I have come to believe will be successful due to the qualities found in their work. Everyone has an opinion on what makes for a great book.

  Do I have a knack for seeing those that will step ahead of the pack? Maybe. Anyone want to argue the quality of Sean Ferrell’s work? I tell you now he is an author to watch as well as read.

   I have access to hundreds of unpublished writers. I picked only one to be here. He has no agent, no contract of any kind, and I tell you now. This is an author you will hear about one day.

May I introduce you to Bryan Russell…    


View ImageMe: What was the first thing you ever wrote that told you “I can do this?”

Bryan: It was a Halloween story I wrote for my class in grade seven: an evil Halloween spirit breaks into my school and murders my classmates one by one. Luckily I was a well-liked and well-adjusted kid, and so wasn’t sent for psychiatric counseling. Plus, I murdered myself in the story, as well, and most gruesomely. No one gets away! Who needs happy endings?
Anyhow, my teacher selected my story to be read to the class. But the important part wasn’t that selection, but the response of my fellow students – they loved it. They were so excited, so interested in waiting to see who would die next, and how… there was something incredible about that response. That I hooked them into the story and they needed to know what happened. They believed in the story.
It was a profound experience for a kid. I think that confirmed for me the possibility of being a writer. Not just to write something, but to write something for someone – an act of communication.
Plus, people like getting murdered. Who knew?         

Me: Favorite writing junk food?         
Bryan: I don’t really tend to eat much when I’m writing… too lost in the world, I think, and food takes me out of that. I’m one of those tunnel vision people. I will drink, though. Straight whiskey. Oops, I mean coffee. Oh, wait, I can’t have that, either. Milk. Milk… wait, I can’t have dairy. Water.  A cold drink of water. Yes, that’s what I have when writing. Preferably thawed from an iceberg.
View ImageMe:  In two sentences, describe your book or work in progress.
Bryan: After killing his father in an argument, Japheth Tagori is sentenced to a life of service as a soldier in the Legion – yet he cannot escape his past, as the brigands who worked with his father (a smuggler) want Japheth dead because of something he’s forgotten he knows – the destination of a cartload of gold set to fuel a rebellion. The rebellion, though, is merely a diversion, as a war between empires looms on the horizon and Japheth finds himself a pawn in a dangerous game, manipulated by the mysterious Ghost King even as his enemies seek his head – and as Japheth seeks to understand his own identity as a soldier.
Me: How strict are you when it comes to staying true to your outline?
Bryan: An outline is an outline – it’s the book, in the end, that’s important. I always try to do what’s best for the story, and if that means diverging from the outline, then that’s what I do. And stuff always changes, for me, with all the subsequent drafts – sometimes drastically.
I usually have some main events and an ending that I hold strongly to – but even there, well, there are no sacred cows. Sometimes the red pen is hungry and will devour even the finest of original ideas.
View Image
Me: Lunch with you and any Author you choose, alive or dead, and why.
Bryan: I’d probably pick David Foster Wallace, though Tolkien would have to be in the running. I think they are the two writers who have influenced me most, and in different ways. Tolkien started it all – as a child, he got me into reading, and then writing. I consumed his books in endless loops.
Wallace was a little different – I read Infinite Jest when I was eighteen or so, and was blown away. “You mean, you can do that in a novel? Why didn’t anyone tell me?” A million new doors were opened by that book. I ended up studying a lot of postmodern writers, and used them as a springboard to all sorts of different things. And that sudden breadth of vision and understanding has been hugely important to me, and really helped shape me as a writer.
He died too young, sadly, and even though I never had an opportunity to speak with him, I did read David Lipsky’s Athough Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which is a memoir of a road trip the author took with David Foster Wallace – and reading it is sort of like overhearing a long rambling conversation with Wallace. It’s as close as I’m ever going to get, anyway.

Me: I have been offering a piece of advice lately regarding the… Gulp!... Query Letters. I've told a new author to avoid even learning about a query letter till his manuscript is complete.  Do you agree or not?
Bryan: I think both paths can work, though I lean toward not worrying about querying until the manuscript is ready. For some writers, doing it before can help – it can push you to clarify and focus your story, and keep that central conflict and drive of the story at the forefront. So, there are advantages. But there’s also a lot of risk. It’s very easy to get sidetracked and have all your energy flowing into writing a query, into endless angst and worry, resulting in a compulsion to dive headlong into the publishing world’s social media storm – sort of an online Bermuda Triangle for many writers.
Personally, I say write a great book – worry about the rest later.

Me: My favorite subject – Editing. Talk about editing your first book. Also, how did you know when to stop?
Bryan: Ha! The problem with my first book attempt (many long years ago) was that I didn’t edit it. Oh, I copyedited it, and smoothed sentences, and adjusted a few scenes here and there. But, really, I didn’t know how to edit, at least not for story, for structure and pacing and balance. Plot was a meandering construction, loosely understood.
It’s different now, where my novel has gone through many drafts and permutations. It’s vastly different from what I started with, and hopefully much better. And when to stop… damned if I know. It’s hard to change, I presume, once it’s in print.

Me: This question, courtesy of Jeff Hall : I'm a shortstory-ist. Writing a novel is like a crazy long marathon, only harder. How do you maintain a clear sense of that first passion that inspired you throughout a 200K word journey?
Bryan: 200K is too long! Sadly. My revisions would be much easier if that weren’t so. But, for me, I usually don’t start writing a novel unless I have a story idea that I know will carry me a long way. It takes a certain momentum to pull through a novel, page after page – the story needs a certain weight, a specific gravity. When that pull is strong enough, I simply can’t avoid writing the story. When it fills up my entire head, I know the story is ready to be written.
View ImageMe: You get a blank check to write about ANYTHING and guaranteed to be published. What would the subject be?

Bryan: Genocide.

Cheerful, I know. But I have a novel idea that won’t let go, even though I don’t think I’m ready to write that book yet – I’m not yet the writer I need to be. But in the future hopefully I will be, and hopefully I can write it – and hopefully it will mean a little something. In a sense, genocide is the dark shadow of the last century of human history. Writing this book would be my attempt to understand that shadow, to somehow try to come to grips with it. How do you understand human devastation? I’m not entirely sure you can, but perhaps the attempt is an important one.



I'd like to thank Bryan Russell for his time and energy
in doing this interview. Anyone wondering what
the artwork is about?Visit Bryan Russell daily at