R.S. Guthrie is an indie author whose work I’ve enjoyed tremendously. I would put him the top tier of the wordsmiths I’ve read over the last couple of years, and I read a lot, even if not as much as I would like due to my insane writing schedule. I thought it would be fun to have him on the blog before his career went parabolic and he was too busy to mingle with the little people, who I’m sure he’ll forget once he’s drinking champagne out of NY debutantes’ shoes or whatever it is successful authors do these days. I also am hoping to steal some of his secrets for my own selfish use, of course. His latest, Blood Land, should be required reading for every indie author who wants to see how it should be done. And he shares the belief that comedian Louis CK is the funniest man in America. It is therefore with tremendous pleasure that I welcome my guest, the one, the only, R.S. Guthrie!
Russell: Let’s start with some process nitty gritty. How many words do you average when you’re writing a novel, per day? Or does it vary?
RSG: It varies, honestly depending on what other non-writing (e.g. marketing) activities I have to do during the day. I try to always get in 2K (which still sometimes doesn’t happen), but on a good day, free of distractions, I can do a nice comfortable 5K.
Russell: How many drafts do you typically do of a book before it’s “done?”
RSG: They’re never done. I mean that. To answer the question, I usually go back to my first draft at least once, sometimes twice, before sending it to my editor. Then I incorporate most of his edits (he’s good—I rarely disagree with him at all). THEN I send to a proofreader. Honestly, that’s why a book is never done. My last book had at least seven sets of eyes (mine going over it endlessly) including the paid proofreader. Just before publishing the e-book, my wife and I were doing our ritual of reading it side by side in bed on our Kindles. I found a typo on the first page. It’s crazy. I need a software program because Word sucks and is almost no help at all.
Russell: Do you listen to music when you write? Or does it have to be quiet?
RSG: Usually quiet. I’ve tried music because I LOVE music and I need it in almost every other aspect of my life (exercising, driving, airplane while reading, etc.). I think I love it too much and the songs distract me. I have recently found I like ESPN News blathering in the background. I say blathering because if you ever watch that channel, they run the same 30 minutes of footage over and over again all day. I listen once, pick up the news I want, and then my mind tunes it out.
Russell: I would describe your writing style as sparse yet evocative. How long did it take you to find your voice?
RSG: A while. I fuel myself by reading writers that challenge me in my genre. I’ve read many of the great series in Mystery/Detective/Police Procedural: James Lee Burke (Dave Robicheaux, Billy Bob and Hackberry Holland), Tony Hillerman (Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee), John D. MacDonald (Travis McGee). MacDonald is widely considered the greatest Mystery writer ever (Stephen King called him the best writer ever). Hillerman and Burke are both winners of the Grand Master Award given out by the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) and recipients of MWA Edgars (Burke earned two, a rare feat). So I always knew I wanted to write gritty Mysteries.
My wife, however, wanted me to add a little paranormal to the first series. I grew up as a kid reading King, and I love my wife, so the first of my series (Clan of MacAulay)—while still all about a Denver Detective Bobby Mac and the crimes he must solve—also has a historical family paranormal aspect to it. I call it “a twist of paranormal”. That’s why I really sunk my teeth into Blood Land. No paranormal, no zombies, vampires, or any devices: just a deep, big-hearted, flawed hero of a lawman who must battle between delivering justice or exacting vengeance. I love gritty stories about real characters to whom we can all relate in one way or another. All my writing is character-driven.
Russell: Adverbs. What’s your take? Is Stephen King right, and they are Satan’s footsoldiers, or are they a boon to writers?
RSG: Satan’s footsoldiers. Although I like how Elmore Leonard puts it best in his “10 Rules of Writing” (which should be required reading for any writer): “Never use a word other than “said” to carry dialogue. Never use an adverb to modify “said”. And if you have more than 2-3 exclamation points per 100,000 words, it’s too many.”
I make it a point to never have a single exclamation point in my books. Ever. They are Satan’s handmaidens.
Russell: I don’t think I’ve ever used an exclamation point in one of mine, either!!! Although my feelings about adverbs are not as negative, but we can leave that for a bar fight or another day! Tell me what you’re working on now, and let’s cover your latest release!
RSG: Funny thing is, what I’m working on now and my latest release are intertwined. My latest release, Blood Land, is a Mystery/Thriller set in small town America. I grew up in a place like this so I know the people, the tough law enforcement there, and the fact that big crime doesn’t just happen in the big cities like L.A., Chicago, etc. It’s the work closest to my heart and I am preparing to write the sequel—the plan is for it to be series.
Russell: That brings up a good point: you have two series, right? Why write the series instead of a stand-alone book?
RSG: Yes, I have two Mystery/Thriller/Police Procedural-type series. I grew up reading the recurring character series (John D. MacDonald and Travis McGee, James Lee Burke and Dave Robicheaux, Dennis Lehane and the Kenzie/Gennaro books). I write character-driven stuff. I love great characters, so when I finish a book about a character I can really relate to or love reading about, I never want it to end. You miss them as a reader, so there’s just nothing better than knowing they’ll be back.
Russell: I notice you have several “genres” listed when you categorize your books. Why is that?
RSG: I find it hard to categorize these days. Technically, my books are Mysteries—people are dying and someone is trying to solve the crime. Mysteries to me, though, used to be Agatha Christie whodunnits, kind of a class in and of themselves. I think now they’ve grown more into an overlap with the Thriller category and with the forensics and investigative techniques being of more interest now, “Police Procedural” comes into play in all my novels. So how do you stick it in one category? I like to give my readers a rollercoaster ride.
Russell: I would think the newer, non-paranormal-tinged books like Blood Land would be harder to write with the forensics. How much does research play into your writing?
RSG: Great question. I think research is one of the top three items on writer’s checklist (just behind characters and plot). Even if it is for a sentence or two, or a reference to a device or a procedure, I want it to be as accurate as it can be. This way I learn something and so does the reader. There is a fine line, however, because I am writing a great story, not a manual on police procedure or forensics, so I don’t want to put my readers to sleep either. I keep it relevant, to the point, and interesting—but the key is accuracy. After my first book a writer who is a full-time cop and one of only twenty certified forensics processors in the state of Pennsylvania said my accounting of a crime scene was one of the most accurate she’d ever read. I told her I do my research.
Russell: Changing gears; when did it hit you that writing fiction was something you wanted to do for a living?
RSG: Well the first memory I have is in the 4th or 5th grade. We had an assignment to write a short story, so I thought about these hikes my buddy and I always went on where we crossed this railroad trestle (bridge). Now the real trestle was only maybe ten feet in the air and very short. But I wrote a story where two little boys were caught in the middle of a HUGE span with the train pinning them and they were forced to hide in the timber right beneath the roaring train as it rumbled across, nearly shaking them loose and dropping them hundreds of feet to the rocks below. Unknown to me, she submitted it to some kind of scholastic children’s writing competition in NYC and it received an honorable mention. I don’t think I actually considered doing it for a living until much later, when I saw all the other options.
Russell: I have been both a plotter and a pantser. I know you take a certain amount of pride in being a pantser. Talk about that.
RSG: It’s not really pride so much as a belief: personally I feel that if I the writer doesn’t always know what’s coming next, and writes twists as they occur, based on intricacies he or she knows about approximately where the story ends up, how can the reader not be surprised? Honestly that’s really just me rationalizing my own style. Every writer is different.
Russell: Pantsing can be risky, though, don’t you think?
RSG: Yes. Especially if the victim has embarrassingly skinny legs.
Russell: Do you set deadlines as to when a book will be finished and/or how many words to write a day?
RSG: I do, and then the daily chores of everything from answering adoring fan mail to doing author spotlights (ahem) keeps me from making them. In all seriousness, I do set goals—the amount of words per day is a little softer than when I want to have the book finished. In college I learned a very important skill: cramming.
Russell: You’re a dog-lover like me and a lot of other people. Do you find that makes you a more compassionate person?
RSG: Not necessarily. I consider my dogs my entourage. They keep me centered and when I am the a-hole in the group, their unequaled friendliness, unconditional love, and constant bright outlook helps mask me and my human failings. I will say this: although I try really hard with people, I many times find that I like my dogs more than a lot of the humans I run into out there in the rat race.
Russell: One place in the world you must go before you die.
RSG: There’s actually two. Scotland, where my ancestors are from, and Amsterdam. No explanation required.
Russell: What advice would you offer other authors, if you only had thirty seconds?
RSG: Write. It’s the most important thing. You have to hone the craft. And READ. Read and write, just like your teachers always told you.
Russell: You have a minute to sell yourself. What do you say?
RSG: Reviewers have compared me to James Lee Burke, Tony Hillerman, and Dennis Lehane—three of my own literary heroes. My books have been described as sparse yet elegant; gritty yet emotional; hard yet comforting. I write human stories no matter what the genre; paranormal twists or none, it’s my human characters that distinguish them. And if you love the edge of your seat, good, because that’s where you’ll be.
Russell: Well, that wraps up this episode of the Author Spotlight. And here’s the shameless plug, although amazingly not for my own books this time. I would encourage everyone to check out Blood Land, which is available at a special sale price at Amazon for a limited time. As always, feel free to comment or ask any questions of the guest author using the comments section, and thanks for dropping in and checking out this very special interview. Until the next time, stay safe, and don’t let the clowns boogarize you.