Friday, September 27, 2013

A Conversation with Suspense Writer Russell Blake

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Russell Blake
with Russell Blake

We are delighted to welcome suspense writer Russell Blake to Omnimystery News today.

The author of over twenty suspense, thriller and action/adventure books, Russell's first detective novel is Black (Reprobation Ltd., September 2013 ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to talk to him about his venture in this genre.

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Omnimystery News: How do you decide if a book will be a stand-alone or one of a series?

Russell Blake
Photo provided courtesy of
Russell Blake

Russell Blake: I generally come up with the character, and just know whether he or she will support a series — mainly because of the depth of my appreciation of that figure's, well, character. The more intriguing and interesting the character, the more quirky and unusual, the more promising as the protag to carry a series. Once I've fleshed the characters out enough so that they're real to me, then I plot. Character always drives plot in my book.

OMN: Black is your first work of "detective fiction". What prompted you to write it?

RB: Well, most of my oeuvre is in the suspense thriller and action/adventure area. I have 22 novels at last count, and probably fifteen are in those genres, with a couple of non-fiction novels thrown in to keep life interesting, and several police procedurals when that mood strikes me. With Black, my latest, I'm actually stepping into a genre I've loved my whole life, but for some reason never wrote in: Hard-boiled detective fiction. It was different than my other novels, but I have to say, the book turned out to be one of my favorites. So much so that Black is now a series that I see continuing virtually indefinitely.

OMN: Tell us something about the book that isn't mentioned in the synopsis.

RB: Black skewers the LA lifestyle, specifically the superficiality of the show biz scene, which spills over into most of the culture. It pokes fun at many of the sacred cows in that town, and does so with a vicious sense of humor. It's edgy and noir without taking itself too seriously, but has enough literary meat on the bones to satisfy pickier readers.

OMN: Are any of the characters in Black based on, or inspired by, real people?

RB: I think most good authors bring personal experience into the mix when creating their character attributes. Hard not to and have a fully-fleshed, 3D character. I'd say most of the characters in my books are based on people I know and situations I've either been in, or have working knowledge of. I won't go into how, or what situations. You can use your imagination.

OMN: Describe your writing process.

RB: I typically write a one page outline using a three act form. Beginning, middle and end. I don't do bios. The character's vivid and fully formed in my head by the time I've decided they warrant a novel. Once I have that one pager, I do maybe the first 15 chapter headings — single sentence descriptions of what happens in the chapter, a la "Black at his therapist, who's F-ing with him." From there I sort of know what the point of the chapter is, and I just start writing. By the time I'm at about Chapter 14, I know what the next 15 should be, so I do those headings. Pretty soon I've got a book. As to the cast of characters, I usually have that pretty well set when I start as well. A few novels I've expanded the list because I wanted to explore a tangent, but usually I have the framework defined in my mind, and just need to write it. As to process, I write 12 hours a day when I'm in a novel. I've tried other approaches, but it doesn't work for me. I need to stay completely immersed for the best result. I don't recommend trying that at home, but it's the only way that I can do it.

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your books?

RB: I usually do internet research, combined with my experience. Sometimes I'll consult with an expert. For example, in Upon A Pale Horse, which is a bio-thriller I recently released, I consulted with one of the leading authorities on lab-created retroviruses to better understand the possibility of one of them making its way into the general population, which the book posits has already happened — and which terrifyingly, seems well supported by the data. That was probably the most controversial topic, and also the most exciting — when you have people asking you, "Are you sure you want to publish this? Aren't you afraid for your life?", it's probably not only exciting, but relevant. I also did a lot of research into the true causes of the 2008 financial crisis for my police procedural Silver Justice, which is chilling in its implications and further offers insight into why the world will never pull out of that tailspin, and how most of the nation's assets got transfered to a few extremely powerful interests. For that, I consulted with experts on the clearing and settlement system on Wall Street — the plumbing of the system. I now know enough about it to stay well clear of any markets, because I can say with certainty they're completely rigged, and the average Joe has no chance. By design, not due to flaws.

OMN: What about the settings for your books? Do you take any liberties to advance the plot?

RB: Black is set in Los Angeles, and I've very true to it, as I am in all my novels. Nothing pulls me out of a read than where the author does sloppy research, especially if I'm familiar with the place. So I don't do that.

OMN: The cover of Black has a crisp, noir feel to it. Was this your idea?

RB: I had this vision of the cover once I decided on the main character's name and the genre. Artemus Black. If the title was Black, and the genre and vibe was hard-boiled noir, I wanted something that evoked that mood, something forties-ish that was nostalgic, but also projected the requisite pathos and cynicism. I wound up hiring a model and photographer to get the mood right, and ended up with a bunch of good shots. I'm delighted with the way the cover turned out. I'd say it's 100% what I envisioned, and does the book good service.

OMN: What is the best advice — and harshest criticism — you've received as an author? And what might you say to aspiring writers?

RB: Keep it interesting — in other words, write what would fascinate you, as a reader, not you as an author. The reader is paramount. He's king. Lose sight of that and you lose the race.

As to criticism? Boy, it's all harsh, but I'd say that my editors have erased my sensitivity level to the point where my skin's pretty thick. I think I started out trying too hard, and have toned that down. I love prose, love the use of language, and that can carry you away as an author and make for a tough slog for the average reader — something that is meritorious, but not a lot of fun to read, a la Infinite Jest, which is sheer brilliance but a bear to grapple with. What I've learned is to write it the way I want it, and then go back and be ruthless on rewrite, and cut, cut, cut. Sort of like that saying, "Just the facts."

As to my advice for aspiring authors? Always be writing the next one. The more books you write, the better you'll get, if you're applying yourself. And you'll have more items on the virtual shelves, so the odds of being discovered increase. But probably the most important, besides write a lot, is read the works of those you wish to write like. In other words, read good books, because you are what you eat, and if you're eating crap, you'll probably be putting out crap, too.

OMN: Complete this sentence: "I am a mystery author/thriller writer and thus I am also ...".

RB: "I am a mystery author/thriller writer and thus I am also a pathological liar." You have to be. You're being paid to lie for a living. To invent. To tell tall tales. Hopefully so believably that the reader can't tell where the truth ends and the lie starts. It's a great gig. If I was a little better at it, I would probably be a politician or a psychic.

OMN: You've mentioned that you have your characters well established in your mind before you start writing. If your books are adapted for screen, what actors do you see playing the parts?

RB: Tough question. On my most popular series, JET, I totally knew who — Jennifer Alba, playing the ex-Mossad operative battling for her life, or a younger Angelina Jolie. Ditto on my second most popular series, the Assassin series, where the assassin is either a younger Johnn Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio, and the head of the task force is Benicio Del Toro. For Black, I'd have to stretch some. He's mid-forties, world-weary, beaten by life and put away wet. Maybe a guy like Liam Neeson? For the rest, I have no idea, because I'm not up on the various actors nowadays. I haven't watched TV for a decade, nor had time to see a movie for about 3 years, with my writing schedule, so I don't know who's current anymore.

OMN: What kinds of books did you read when you were younger? Did any of these influence how and what you write today?

RB: I devoured Forsyth, Ludlum, Cussler, Chandler. I mean, I read other stuff earlier, but those were the ones I remember the most vividly. Oh, and Sherlock Holmes and Dickens.

I'd say my current approach has more in common with the more literary types than the pulp novelists. I find myself returning to favorites like David Foster Wallace and James Lee Burke for inspiration in the use of language.

OMN: What do you read now for pleasure?

RB: Ha ha ha. I have no time to read this year. But the last few I did were James Lee Burke (Purple Cane Road, Last Car to Elysian Fields), Ben Fountain's masterful Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, David Vinjamuri's Operator, and Steven Konkoly's Black Flagged Apex and Vector.

OMN: Now that you're writing detective fiction, what are some of your favorite series characters by other authors?

RB: Harry Bosch, Dave Robicheaux, Chili Palmer and Lincoln Rhyme. For different reasons. But all are quirky, somewhat dark, tormented and interesting. Seems fitting we end where we started, which is at, keep it interesting.

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Russell Blake lives in Mexico and enjoys his dogs, fishing, boating, tequila and writing. For more information about the author and his work, visit his website at or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Black by Russell Blake

Russell Blake
An Artemus Black Mystery (1st in series)

Artemus Black. Perennially down-on-his-luck Hollywood PI whose Bogie fixation is as dated as his wardrobe. With an assistant who mocks him relentlessly, an obese cat that loathes him, a romantic life that's deader than Elvis, money problems, booze, nicotine, and anger management issues, how much worse can it get?

When he takes a case that's supposed to be easy money working for a celebrity whose colleagues and surrounding paparazzi are dropping faster than interest in the star's big comeback, the cakewalk turns ugly and Black finds himself in a web of deceit, betrayal, and murder — and bad hair days. Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)  Kobo eBook Format


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