The Al Quinn books are suspense/thriller, with an element of mystery-solving to them. The first book I wrote in the series started out as a literary mainstream novel with a great deal of autobiographical backstory to it. But a piece of writing often becomes what “it” wants to be, not what you thought it would be, whether that’s a poem, short story, novel, or novella. In my case, bad people wanting to do harm to Al’s brother popped into the writing early so I threw out most of the backstory content and followed the thread of a thrilling and suspenseful story. The rest of the stories in the series, like A Turtle Roars in Texas, came easier once the identity of the genre was established.
What do you find most challenging about the writing process, and how do you deal with it?
I don’t outline. Often I keep cranking up the tension and situations until I’m not sure how my protagonist is going to get out of this mess himself. Then I sleep on it and wake up with a clear head as I write my character out of his mess. Sometimes I have to listen to the characters. I’m mowing the lawn or driving the car, and when my motor cortex is occupied the characters begin to talk to me and each other. “I wouldn’t say or do that. It’s not organic to my character.” I have to turn off the mower or get off the road and write down what they have to say. They know what’s going on far better than I do, so I listen. What I’m talking about is finding the natural or real aspects of a story and not trying to force things into place.
When and where do you do your writing?
I tend to write best early in the mornings. Sometimes beginning at 2 a.m., other times at 4 a.m. By afternoon I shift gears, put on my editorial cap, and polish, revise, refine, and tighten what I’ve written, eliminating redundancies and repetitions. I work in a home office in the mornings, but like a change of scene for the afternoons, whether at the dining table, a coffee shop, or the back yard picnic table. I print out a copy and can be quite tough and mean to what I’ve written in the mornings. Afternoon me isn’t very indulgent with morning me, but they work out their differences for a polished book in the end.
What have you learned about promoting your books?
It’s a whole new world out there. I moved to New York City many years ago to learn how publishing works, and now it doesn’t work like that at all anymore, except for a very few lucky authors. Most people have to do much of their own promotion. In fact, having a platform of followers to promote to is a current Catch 22 for some newer writers. Publishers want to know how you can help the book gain momentum. The internet is a big help these days in seeking reviews and letting people know about new books being released. But I also make a lot of public appearances, do workshops, and do some direct mailing. It used to be that book signings at small independent bookstores helped. But most are gone now. Even signing at the bigger remaining chains isn’t very productive, mostly because they don’t or can’t do the advance promotion for events. Book festivals are great. The real surprise comes from appearing at events that aren’t book specific: music festivals, craft shows, and venues related to a book’s topic. I had a mystery set in a Texas winery once and toured small vineyard tasting rooms signing books. I had some of the best results ever. It helps when you can have a reading audience a little liquored up.
What are you most proud of as a writer?
I’ve won awards and such, but the real thrill comes from having folks who are looking forward to the next book, who had a good time reading the last one I wrote. Writers are most often introverts, but we’re entertainers as well. So there’s a time and place for me to step on stage, and it’s when someone is holding and reading one of my books.
If you could have dinner with any writer, living or dead, who would it be and what would you talk about?
Oh, that would have to be Mark Twain. I love his humor. Even though my books, whether mysteries, suspense/thrillers, or westerns always feature characters in action situations, I also seek to provide humor. Laughing is a real part of life, just as much as worrying about what might happen next. If we quite laughing, we might as well roll over and let it all plow over us. I would like to talk to Twain about how he stayed able to write well and humorously during the times that were tough for him.
Russ Hall is author of fifteen published fiction books, most in hardback and subsequently published in mass market paperback by Harlequin's Worldwide Mystery imprint and Leisure Books. He has also co-authored numerous non-fiction books, most recently
Do You Matter: How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company (Financial Times Press, 2009) with Richard Brunner, former head of design at Apple, Now You’re Thinking (Financial Times Press, 2011), and Identity (Financial Times Press, 2012) with Stedman Graham, Oprah’s companion.
His graduate degree is in creative writing. He has been a nonfiction editor for major publishing companies, ranging from HarperCollins (then Harper & Row), Simon & Schuster, to Pearson. He has lived in Columbus, OH, New Haven, CT, Boca Raton, FL, Chapel Hill, NC, and New York City. Moving to the Austin area from New York City in 1983.
He is a long-time member of the Mystery Writers of America, Western Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. He is a frequent judge for writing organizations. In 2011, he was awarded the Sage Award, by The Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation — a Texas award for the mentoring author who demonstrates an outstanding spirit of service in mentoring, sharing and leading others in the mystery writing community. In 1996, he won the Nancy Pickard Mystery Fiction Award for short fiction.
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