I saw Russell in an author's group. Another author had said how much she liked his stories and his being eliminated in a line up for a collection only had to do with the tenor of the story, not the story itself which, I also read, was good. I value her opinion, so went shopping on Amazon and picked up one of his stories, read it, and went and asked him for an interview..... And, he said yes!
In my opinion, his interview is just as interesting as his books ~
How long does it take you to write a book?
Way too long. On average eighteen months to write and publish a novel (see below). However, I can chuck out a 3000 word short story in a day. I really should do more shorts.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I don’t have a schedule, although I prefer the mornings. I think a lot: that is, I don’t sit at the computer and muse but think stories through as I go about daily routines – particularly in the car. Once the story is written in my head, I then write it down.
For my novels, I’ve always used a quite detailed plan. I need to know what the arc of the thing is going to be and I determine what will happen in each chapter. With “The Rothko Room”, I made it a policy that there would be nothing that didn’t move the plot along and there would be a plot point and an exciting episode in each of the eighty-eight chapters. In addition, I tried to get at least one smile or even belly laugh on every page.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
It’s not a quirk exactly but I maintain that a story always needs humour somewhere. Humour appears in real life at the most inopportune and inappropriate moments and a story without humour is a story without soul, without life – like unleavened bread. Even my novella of the First World War, “The Circling Song” has moments of humour and characters who take life less than seriously even when it’s at its most tragic.
I’m a bit anal when it comes to research. Without forgetting that it’s fiction, after all, I think that all stories should be rooted in reality – locations, in particular, are important. To accompany The Rothko Room, I produced a map of London on Google Maps, which pinpoints the locations of various episodes in the book, along with appropriate quotations. In addition, I compiled two actual crosswords in order to present clues to the characters and the readers, should they care to look for them, as well as writing a piece of music, which contains a number of clues in it. The score is printed in the novel. I like things to be as authentic as possible!
Another example of this lunacy can be found in my current work in progress, “Transcripts of Terror”. I have designed an entire Nazi research station, complete with sketches and fully dimensioned 3D schematics in order to ensure that characters can be where I say they are and get from one place to another in the correct manner. I’ve turned one of them into a (sort of) authentic “document” to use as an illustration.
I’ve even mocked-up location photographs.
But saddest of all, each of my long pieces has been plotted on Excel spreadsheets using accurate dates and times.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes make mistakes: I once received a note from a beta reader who, fortunately was an expert in military dress of WWI. He was able to tell me that the entire first chapter of “The Circling Song” didn’t work, since the Brodie helmets (which were crucial) were not introduced until long after the events I was describing!
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I have been a musician for over forty years. If I go any length of time without playing my guitars or mandolin or banjos or ukuleles, I go a bit mental. I teach guitar and have done for thirty years.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
It takes a great deal of time to edit and polish a novel: almost as long again as it does to write it, I’d say. So I would have to say that the most surprising thing is how many times it’s possible to miss errors in my own work that I would spot in seconds in someone else’s. Yesterday, my wife showed me an error in a story she was reading. It was in an anthology and so had previously been published before being collected and so had been edited at least twice and yet, within its pages, a seagull managed to pick a muscle off a rock and eat it: not once, but twice.
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I have only three novels and am currently on my fourth. They are all very different - thematically and stylistically. I don’t have a favourite but I’d have to say that the most universally popular is “The Circling Song” – perhaps because it’s the shortest. I’m rather proud that, although it has only 10 reviews on Amazon US, every one of them is five-stars. The one I’d like more people to read is “The Rothko Room”. It’s getting good reviews apart from a one-star from a person who said that you’d be better off reading the side of the sauce bottle over breakfast. Amazingly, he has since asked to be my friend on Facebook. I accepted, of course but I don’t think he knows who I am!
Do you like to create books for adults?
Yes, I do. I don’t think I’d be very good at writing for children or young adults because, frankly, I don’t empathize. My own youth and early adulthood was surprisingly free of angst and trauma and, even then, the things that preoccupied my friends never bothered me a great deal.
What do you think makes a good story?
This is the only question I think a writer needs to consider and it’s an extremely complex one. I, as a reader have enjoyed all sorts of books – from adventure stories to so-called literary fiction but a book that relies on plot without concern for character; or rejoices in language and descriptive flourishes without concern for story-telling; or, indeed, is full of insights into the human condition but uses flat and colourless language is not one that’s going to give me a great deal of pleasure. I need a story, a plot, a tale to carry me along; I need characters I can be concerned about; but I also need the language to work for me as well. I want to see original use of words, phrases and sentence structure.
If there is a theme I care to explore, it would be how the ordinary person reacts in extraordinary circumstances.I will be reviewing Cruse's HEAD COUNT on Paul and Paula's Books later this week ~ I will be back with a link
Russell Cruse Amazon link
Paul and Paula's Books - review of Head Count, and Night Bus, Cruse's short story in the Cake & Quill charity collection, Gifts From The Dark: A Miscellany of Dread