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Interview

I’ve been promising to unveil my big news for what seems like forever (November’s big news became December’s big news, and, well, here we are), and it’s finally time.

This week, oh nobody, just the Wall Street Journal, broke the story on page one.

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NEWS: A new blog on how to be a prolific writer, at All That’s Written. Worth taking a look at if you’re an author.

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The article itself is humbling in and of itself, but the news is also big: I’m co-authoring a novel with none other than the legendary Clive Cussler, appropriately monikered the “Grand Master of Adventure.” It will be the next installment in the bestselling Fargo series, and I’m excited by the opportunity to work with a master of the genre.

My name will be on the cover, along with his. I’m arguing to make it almost all me, in raised, neon red lettering, but it remains to be seen how persuasive I am. As always, please, those at home, no wagering.

Why is this news significant, other than because it will be published by a Big 5 publisher? Because an indie author has been selected by a household name to collaborate on a novel. As you might imagine, someone like Cussler can have whoever he likes – he has authors begging for the opportunity.

But for him to have teamed up with lil ol me…well, you get the point. It’s a watershed moment for indies, because there has long been this sentiment that the reason authors are indies is because they can’t cut the quality at the trad pub level, and so have to release their material themselves. This handily rebuts that belief.

The truth is that there are plenty of terrible indie releases. And there are plenty of great ones. Just as there are plenty of good and bad in any of the arts. But with authors like Hugh Howey, Colleen Hoover, and H.M. Ward scorching the charts, indies have clearly arrived, and the market’s embraced them –  or at least, some of them.

I went the indie route because I’m impatient. I didn’t feel like waiting years to find an agent that would “get” my work, and then another year for a publisher to decide whether it fit in one of the slots they had for that season. Not to mention another year for it to actually reach readers. That just didn’t seem worth it to me. For others, it did, and I have no issue with their choice. I just didn’t see it as a productive use of my time.

When Amazon broke big with 70% royalties, I understood the game had changed. Now I could release books written the way I wanted to write them, on a schedule that worked for me, and I could keep most of the money, assuming I made any. After hearing about authors like Hocking and Locke breaking the bank and selling tons in this new paradigm, I decided to jump in. Now, 25 books in 30 months later, I feel like my decision was vindicated, not the least because I’m writing with one of the most successful authors in the world and having a ball in the process. If you’d told me years ago that I’d be writing with the author of Sahara and Raise The Titanic I would have laughed you out of the room. Now, not so much.

What a long, strange trip it’s been. 30 months of basically non-stop work on a crippling schedule of my own devising. Has it been worth it? Absolutely. No question. Will I keep it up? Not a chance. You can only run an engine in the red for so long, and it starts to come apart. 2014 will involve fewer Russell Blake releases and more attention to each, with forays into romance and NA as RE Blake (following my own counsel to brand different genre offerings differently so Russell Blake fans don’t mistakenly pick up an RE Blake “Lust on the Range” tome, or RE Blake readers don’t buy an Assassin or JET book and go, “Where’s the sex, and why is everyone getting killed?”) By branding each genre’s offering in an unmistakably distinct way with a different name, I hope to avoid that, and build a readership in other genres based on the merits of my stories. Only time will tell whether that’s deluded or brilliant.

The WSJ article is a must read. It’s a good capsule summary of some of the high points of my career, such as it is. I wish it had mentioned that I take considerable pride in the plot and prose, and not just the rate of release, but hey, everyone’s a critic. The only thing I dislike about it is that my privacy is now going to be harder to maintain, but I can always get plastic surgery or wear a fake nose or move to Ecuador or something. A sex change isn’t out of the question, either. Small price, I suppose.

Hrmph.

For those who are new to my work, I’d suggest taking a look at JET, which is my most popular series. Pure escapist action adventure with a female protag battling for survival. Think Bourne crossed with Kill Bill seasoned with a little Bond, and you’re not far off.

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arnold lee drawingThe legendary Lawrence Block (who heretofore shall be referred to as simply, “The Legendary”) agreed to further sully his reputation by doing an interview with yours truly, having forgotten the furor, riots and lawsuits stemming from his last outing here. This glimpse into a literary icon’s process is fascinating, all the more so because, after more years as an author than I’ve been alive, he’s releasing his first self-published offering (hopefully not his last). Without further ado, let’s get to The Legendary and his latest triumph, The Burglar Who Counted The Spoons.

 

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NEWS: BLACK Is The New Black just went live! Get it while it’s hot!

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Russell Blake: Well, here you are again. You may not remember, but you were the subject of my very first Author Spotlight, just about two years ago.

Lawrence Block: How could I forget? That’s when my career took off. I figure I owe it all to you.

RB: And you’ve returned to express your gratitude. Very decent of you.

LB: To express my gratitude, and to let the Spotlight shine on The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons. It’s the eleventh book about Bernie Rhodenbarr, burglar and bookseller, and the first in almost a decade. The on-sale date is December 25th

RB: —which should be easy to remember.

LB: You’d think so, but why rely too heavily on memory? The canny reader can play it safe and pre-order the book now from Amazon.

RB: I’d ask you to tell us something about the book, but you’ve already done so. Still, a couple of points cry out for further attention. I understand you wrote the book on a cruise ship.

LB: Holland America’s MS Veendam, on a five-week cruise this summer. Round trip from Boston, sailing the North Atlantic and visiting ports in Newfoundland, Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Norway, and, well, you get the idea. I’ve always tended to go away to work, sometimes to writers’ colonies, sometimes to a hotel room, and I like ocean travel, so I gave it a try.

RB: As an alternative to the retirement you’ve been nattering about in recent years.

LB: Well, I did honestly think I might be done writing novels. And the efforts I’d made seemed to confirm my suspicions, dying five or ten thousand words in. I didn’t intend to take up shuffleboard, I knew I’d be busy tending to my backlist and writing the occasional short story, but I feared I might not be up to the heavy lifting that a novel demands.

But I really wanted to do at least one more book, you know? So I decided to give myself optimal conditions—a cruise, all by myself (plus 1200 strangers, but let’s not count them). Food when I wanted it, ease, comfort. And internet access in the ship library—but not in my cabin, to spare me that particular diversion during my working hours.

RB: And you just sat there and wrote?

LB: I woke up every morning around five and went straight to work. A steward brought my breakfast around seven, and I paused long enough to eat it, then went back to work. I kept going until I made my daily quota, which was a minimum  of  2000 words. I rarely did much more than that—until the last two days, when everything was coming together and it was easier to keep going than to stop.

RB: Did you ever leave the ship?

LB: If we were still in port when my day’s work was done, I generally went and had a look around. But the work always had priority, and I kept at it seven days a week. I may have been afraid that if I stopped I’d never get started again.

And, by God, it worked. I boarded the ship July 13, started writing the following morning, finished up August 15, and disembarked in Boston two days later.

RB: And you’re publishing it Christmas Day. Self-publishing it, to be specific, which is a murky pond you’ve been sticking a toe in for a couple of years now.

LB: I’ve been republishing backlist titles ever since Kindle made that possible. And two years ago I published an original, a collection of Matthew Scudder stories called The Night and the Music, which has done very well for me as an eBook and a HandsomeTradePaperback.

RB: That’s all one word? HandsomeTradePaperback?

LB: I think it ought to be, don’t you? But I’m taking a big step with The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons. It’s one that any of several traditional publishers would have been eager to publish. I could have pocketed a substantial advance, and instead I chose to be out of pocket and do it all myself.

RB: A fair number of folks might question your sanity.

LB: Well, it’s always been questionable at best. I sat down with my agent, who had read the book and loved it. He told me the advance he thought he could get for it, and asked me if I thought I could sell enough $9.99 eBooks and $14.99 HandsomeTradePaperbacks to match that number.

RB: And you said—

LB: I said, “How the hell do I know?” Because even an educated guess is still a guess. But I didn’t think it was unrealistic. And what he especially appreciated was that if I published the book myself it would be mine forever. I wouldn’t have some guys in suits hanging on to the eRights like grim death, long after they’ve stopped selling printed books.

RB: Of course if you self-publish, he doesn’t get a commission.

LB: Yes, he does. He’s selling the book overseas, he’s making the audiobook deal—and he gets his commission on the book’s earnings irrespective of who publishes it. That’s been true ever since The Night and the Music, and it works for both of us.

But it was still a hard decision. Publishing it myself meant giving up store sales, for the most part. It meant a smaller sale to libraries. It meant some media wouldn’t review it. It meant there wouldn’t be a hardcover trade edition.

RB: You’re doing a deluxe hardcover limited edition, however (cover reveal below – second one).

LB: I am, and it should be quite beautiful, signed and numbered and limited to 1000 copies. It’s selling nicely, and we’ll wind up making money with it, in addition to supplying collectors with a really handsome volume.

Will I do as well overall publishing the book myself? Things look very good at this point, but the question’s still unanswerable. But, you know,  that’s almost beside the point. Another consideration led to my decision.

RB: I bet you’re about to tell us what it was.

LB: How well you know me. It’s pretty simple: the desire to publish the book myself was largely responsible for my getting the book written in the first place. Once it was finished, and once it had turned out to be a better book than I’d dared to hope, how could I turn my back on the very impulse that had propelled me through it?

Look, if this venture falls short financially, I’ll regret the dollars I’ve lost. But I won’t lose sleep over them, and the regret won’t burrow very deep or last very long. But if I didn’t give it a shot, I’d regret that failure of nerve for the rest of my life.

I’ve come to believe that, when I face that kind of fork in the road, I’ll regret whatever choice I make. So it’s a question of which regret will be easier to live with. Once I looked at it that way, it was clear that self-publication was really the only way to go.

RB: And you’re not regretting it yet?

LB: Not for a second. I’ve been a professional writer for something like 55 years, and in all that time I’ve never been as busy as I am right now. And I’ve never had anywhere near as much fun.

And I don’t have to wait a year and a half for the damn thing to be out there! In my first Author Spotlight interview, I was whining about the fact that I’d finished Hit Me in November and it wouldn’t be coming out for fifteen months. I’m of an age whereat a prudent man doesn’t buy green bananas. You think I want to wait fifteen months for a book.

RB: So you evidently like it here on the dark side. Plan to dig in and stay awhile? Or is a return to retirement the next item on your agenda?

LB: I don’t seem to be very good at retirement. I’ve got a couple of books coming next year from a pair of very classy publishers—Subterranean Press will bring out Defender of the Innocent: The Casebook of Martin Ehrengraf, and Borderline, a pseudonymous work from 1962, is being resuscitated by Hard Case Crime. (A good thing, too, as it was barely suscitated in the first place.)

There’s a writing book of mine, Write For Your Life, that’s long out of print, although it’s been eVailable for a while now. But I found 25 copies of the original edition in a storage bin and put them on eBay last week, one to a customer, and they were all gone three hours after my newsletter went out. God knows how many I could have sold. So that suggests I really ought to do a print-on-demand edition, and I’ll get on that sometime after the first of the year.

RB: A HandsomeTradePaperback, I suppose?

LB: You bet. So there are all these things to bring out, including a new collection of reviews and essays and such, and that should be enough to keep me out of mischief. But I can’t get away from the fact that I’d like to write another novel, and I even have the sense of what it might be. It’s early days, it’ll be months before I’m ready to sit down and get to it, but sometime in the spring or summer I think I’ll find a way to do it.

RB: And will you publish it yourself?

LB: It does look that way, doesn’t it?

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