Welcome to our week-long release party with Russell! Come on up and join us at Pancho's, a beach restaurant in Mazatlan, Mexico, as we watch gulls wheel overhead while we sip rich dark roast and munch on Juevos Ranchero! The view is exhilarating and so is my guest! You're about to meet a man who writes the way he wants and keeps his readers on the edge of their seats. His books are filled with non-stop excitement of murder and revenge! Grab your coffee mug and let's get started!
Deanna: I'm so thrilled that you're here to chat with my readers this week. Welcome and I must say, I love the view! Tell us a bit about yourself.
Russ: My name's Russell Blake, and I'm an indie author working in the action/adventure and suspense/thriller genres. I've been living full time in Mexico for almost a decade, and began publishing my work in June, 2011.
Deanna: What made you want to become a writer?
Russ: I've been writing for years, but not publishing. The work wasn't up to par, and it was more of a hobby than anything - a way to pass the time, and have a creative outlet. I think if there was one writer than inspired me to try my hand at writing it was David Foster Wallace, although my efforts pale in comparison. And what happened was that because most of what I enjoy reading are thrillers and action adventure, that's what I gravitated to when I started writing.
Deanna: What type of hero do you like best?
Russ: I tend to enjoy imperfect, quirky heroes absent the usual bulletproof/invisible characteristics many in my genre write. My heroes are everyman, somewhat underdog types, whose actions are ordinary, believable, and whose heroism typically manifests as a series of minor decisions that could easily have gone the other way. They're flawed people, as are we all, placed in impossible situations.
Deanna: I prefer several plots when I read and can usually follow without getting lost in the story. How many plots do you include in one of your books?
Russ: Usually at least two, sometimes three. Depends on the story. My latest, that I am working on as we speak (tentatively titled Fatal Justice) has three distinct plots.
Deanna: Readers love to hear about the daily lives of authors. Tell us about a typical day in your life as a writer.
Russ: It's mundane. Wake up, coffee and a bite, then begin writing around 8 a.m. Continue to 8-10p.m. with a short break for lunch. I tend to work very long hours when I'm writing, as I've tried shorter sessions, say 5 hours, and the stories lack the cohesiveness as when I just plow through the first draft in 12-14 hour days. So the 5 hour day books require a lot more rewrite. I've just resigned myself to the idea that my process, which is grueling and ill-advised, is the only way I can really work well. That's why next year I'm only going to do 3 books. Okay, maybe 4. But that's it. I need time to go to the gym, have a life, etc. and if all you're doing is writing, that tends to slip by, as do several years.
Deanna: Wow! That's an intense undertaking! Do your books have a common theme or are they all different?
Russ: All different, but with a conspiracy element. If there was a common theme to them all, it is that governments lie, and generally do not have anyone but their own best interests at heart. That's gotten me in trouble with some readers, who take umbrage at the notion that the US government might not be above reproach, but they miss the point - that all governments are self-interested machines for wealth confiscation from the poor and middle class, operated on behalf of a generally well hidden ruling elite. If you can't pick up a phone and speak to your congressman or one of your lobbyists on the second ring, you don't know what I'm talking about. If you can, you probably hate my books.
Deanna: *the waiter refills our coffee mugs as the aroma drifts my way* Your response to my next questions blew my mind! Damn, Russell! Okay...how long does it take you to write and then edit a story?
Russ: A 100K word novel will take me 14-16 days on first draft, if I have done some rudimentary plotting. Rewrite will take half that long for second draft, as will third polish draft. Then it's off to the editor, followed by the copy editor, and then finally, the proofreader.
Deanna: I know there are many authors out there trying to make sense of that type of a schedule! Do you have to be alone to write?
Russ: Absolutely. No distractions. No music, no interruptions. My process is to immerse myself into the story, and not come up for air until I'm finished. That makes staying in the reality that is the book much easier for me.
Deanna: That makes sense. I envy that type of dedication. I just might have to rearrange my schedule! How do you go about naming characters?
Russ: Whatever the first thing that pops into my mind is, that's what they get named. After I'm done, I can always change the names. But I generally don't.
Deanna: How do you pick locations for your stories?
Russ: I try to come up with exotic locales. NY, Mexico, Argentina, Italy, Central America, Australia...places that most would like to visit, and which have innate interest. For me, books that transport me elsewhere are fun reads - and I like to write big, sweeping novels that move across different areas.
Deanna: I love to read a book that can transport me into another world while I read. It takes a special author to do that through writing and I think you may have tackled that art. Tell us about your book and your characters. We’d love to read an excerpt!
Russ: My latest, Return of the Assassin, is the fourth installment in the King of Swords (Assassin) series - Night of the Assassin, King of Swords, Revenge of the Assassin, Return of the Assassin. All chronicle the adventures of El Rey, the Mexican super-assassin who works for the cartels, and is the most dangerous man alive. He's completely amoral, a cold blooded killing machine, but also a fascinating character in the Hannibal Lector tradition. In Return, he has been imprisoned for a failed assassination attempt against the president of Mexico, but things quickly take unexpected turns and nothing is as it appears. It's a fast-paced thrill ride written to a higher level than many in the genre - I'm not a big fan of the current trend of dumbing down books so first graders could easily breeze through them, and I tend to like complex sentence structures and evocative imagery.
Excerpt from Return of the Assassin:
5 a.m., Mexico City, Mexico, Yesterday
A skin of dirty water from a late night shower coated the empty streets in the industrial district near the city center. A small storm had blown past the valley, leaving a partially overcast sky dotted with stars as a sliver of moon grinned crookedly between the clouds. Dawn would arrive in an hour, and the bustle of the city’s inhabitants would begin anew. But for now, the sidewalks were empty, and other than an occasional rat scurrying down the gutter or a skulking cat, brave or desperate enough to challenge one of the hardy rodents.
The lone dim bulb mounted on the back façade of an exposed brick building struggled to pierce the gloom over a steel-clad service entrance flanked by two overflowing green metal dumpsters, the garbage an ongoing beacon for the night’s scavengers. The door opened with a protesting groan, rusting hinges lamenting the scant maintenance that was a chronic feature of Mexican life. A man emerged carrying a lunch pail and a trash bag, which he tossed onto the pile at the top of the teetering mound.
The distinctive sound of glass bottles clashing sounded through the alley as the bag came to rest, perched precariously on one side of the refuse pile. Satisfied that it wasn’t going to come sliding back down at him, he returned his attention to the door, taking care to lock both deadbolts. The owners would never forgive him if someone broke in on his watch due to carelessness, and he needed the job.
Normally, Pedro would have been finishing his shift at eight a.m. but this was a Wednesday, so the evening had wound down early. By three, the manager had sounded last call, and the handful of remaining die-hards had reluctantly swallowed the remainders of their over-priced, watered-down drinks, and had shuffled on in search of other spots to pursue their mid-week fiesta. Once empty, Pedro’s three employees had moved through the space with practiced precision, preparing for the day crew that would be arriving at noon to ready it for the next night.
Pedro sighed, his back hurting, and ran gnarled fingers through his thick salt-and-pepper hair, trimmed close to his skull for ease of maintenance. At fifty-two years old, he felt like he was ninety, particularly when it rained. The damp crept into his bones and made them ache, especially the base of his spine and his right tibia, both of which had endured a car accident decades earlier that had left him immobilized for months. A junker Nissan had run a red light, striking him a glancing blow that forever changed his life, leaving him sprawled on the pavement bleeding as horrified pedestrians rushed to help. Traffic accidents were a common hazard in DF – Distrito Federal, as Mexico City was called by its inhabitants – and that had been Pedro’s unlucky day. The driver had never been caught – the car had no plates – so he’d been left in the care of the social security hospital that provided free care to workers who were paid current, which thankfully Pedro had been.
He fumbled in his shirt pocket and retrieved a three quarters empty pack of cigarettes, pausing by the door to tap one out. A bus engine roared in the distance as he lit up his reward, then flicked the wooden match at one of the pools of putrid water that had formed in the center of the alley’s worn pavement. He waited a few seconds for his eyes to readjust to the darkness, taking an appreciative pull on the smoke before setting off.
Damned things would kill him eventually.
Then again, so would life, he reasoned. Might as well enjoy the little pleasures while he could. He blew a cloud of smoke at the sullen sky, turned, and began the long walk to catch the bus that would deliver him to his dingy one room apartment over a butcher shop in one of the poorer barrios on the outskirts of the city.
A spike of pain shot through his head from the blow he never saw coming, and he barely registered the vague silhouette of his assailant, who had been hiding behind one of the dumpsters. His knees buckled and he fell forward as he lost consciousness, his cigarette fizzling out on the moist pavement next to his head. He never had a chance to struggle as his attacker slid a nylon cord around his neck and tightened it with a sharp pull, gloved hands gripping the rope with vice-like tenacity.
The killer watched with detached interest as Pedro’s face first turned red, then slowly blue, his appendages jerking reflexively as his body fought to get the air it needed to survive. He held the noose tight, his boot on Pedro’s chest so the knot couldn’t work loose, and maintained the tension until Pedro’s ordeal had ended and his body lay still, pants stained from where his bladder had let go.
The man hastily scanned the area to ensure nobody had seen the assault, then withdrew a cell phone from his pocket and made a call. One minute later a Dodge van covered in black primer rounded the corner and pulled to a stop next to the dumpsters. The side door opened and two men got out to pick up Pedro’s remains. They pitched the body onto a black plastic tarp in the van bed, the head striking the hard metal floor with a clunk.
“Hey, careful there. I don’t want a fucking mess in this thing, okay?” the driver growled at the loaders, eyes darting to the back of the van with a glare.
The door slid shut, the pair crouching on the floor next to the corpse as the strangler climbed into the van’s passenger seat and dropped the two foot section of steel pipe he’d used to crush Pedro’s skull onto the mat under his feet.
The van’s exhaust burbled softly as it crept to the far end of the alley. Steam drifted lazily from manhole covers as the vehicle rolled up to the deserted intersection. The driver glanced in his rear-view mirror, confirming the area near the attack was still empty.
A garbage truck trundled past them on the main street, lights flickering as it continued on its way; the driver waited until it was a hundred yards beyond them before making a cautious right turn and heading towards the nearly-deserted freeway.
Deanna: Now that's action packed and that's just an excerpt! Wow! Russ, thank you so much for spending the week with us. Readers, thank you all for sticking around to learn more about Russ and his books. Please visit his website where you can find his buy links and follow him on Twitter and FaceBook. For those impatient readers, I have an Amazon link right on the sidebar! Russ, is there anything else you'd like the readers to know?
Russ: I'll be giving away a copy of Fatal Exchange to one commenter on Saturday. Comment below and please leave your email addy so I can reach the winner! Thank you all for stopping by to read and I look forward to seeing you online! Deanna, thank you for having me!
Contest giveaway: One lucky commenter will win and e-copy of FATAL EXCHANGE - please include your email addy in your comment to be included in the drawing on Saturday June 2.