Not too long after my husband gave me a kindle for our seventh anniversary (sigh… still the BEST GIFT EVER!), I came across an independent writer by the name of Russell Blake. In June of 2011, Fatal Exchange was Blake’s only novel, and was avail only in e-book format – and with its low price, what did I have to lose? Well, for starters, I lost a great deal of sleep the night I started reading Fatal Exchange, due to the fact that I could not put it down. After finishing what was one of the most amazing, not to mention unique, thrillers I had read in over twenty years of being a literary junkie, I sent a tweet to Blake on twitter letting him know how much I enjoyed it, and asking him when his next novel would be available. Fatal Exchange was the first of many novels I’ve written reviews for, and after almost a year, still one of my favorite of Blake’s work. One thing has changed, and that is Russell Blake has pulled the incredible feat of THIRTEEN novels being published in just ten months, and the only thing cookie cutter about any of them is the amazing genius behind it. So I am very happy, and quite honored, to have interviewed Russell Blake on the occasion of his thirteenth book going live, as well as to kick off a guest blog tour.
The thirteenth novel is The Voynich Cypher, and I can tell you firsthand that it’s an amazing read, in the tradition of The Da Vinci Code and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but at lightning pace.
Where did the idea for Voynich come from?
I wanted to write something different than my customary conspiracy-driven thrillers, and I’d always had an idea floating in the back of my mind for a Raiders of the Lost Ark kind of treasure hunt as the basis for a book. When I finally decided it was time, I started looking for something that was real, and would lend itself well to a mystery, and I remembered a discussion with a buddy of mine years ago about this obscure medieval document written entirely in code that had confounded cryptographers for nearly ever. One thing led to another, and pretty soon the first 20K words were written.
Voynich seems to be grander in terms of details on real places. How long did the research take for the novel?
Hundreds of hours. On the Voynich Manuscript itself, on geography and history, on cryptography, you name it. It was a TON of research.
Will we see Dr. Cross again in a later work?
I think so. I’ve already got a glimmer of an idea in my noggin. Just need to sort of let it steep for a bit until it’s got more substance.
You always seem to have several work in progress projects lined up. What’s up next for you?
I’m putting the finishing touches on the sequel to King of Swords, tentatively titled Revenge of the Assassin. That should launch end of April/early May. Then I’m thinking the sequel to Fatal Exchange, and then a sequel to Delphi, and then probably a sequel to Voynich. The protag, Dr. Steven Cross, is the protag from my Wall St. thriller Zero Sum, so I think he’s going to feature in a few more books over the next year or two.
What made you start writing? Is there an author who inspired you to write?
You know what? Probably Stephen King, and John Grisham. Because they made it appear easy enough that I foolishly thought, “I can do that.” I think Ludlum and Forsyth influenced me a lot as a reader, but I really think when I first sat down to write, I was thinking, “I’ll write The Firm, and A Time To Kill, and be done by lunch.” Needless to say, there’s more heavy lifting to it than that. I’ve spent the last twenty years figuring that out.
You’ve stated in previous interviews that Al from the Geronimo Breach is one of your favorite characters. Will your readers be seeing him again?
Boy, I don’t see any reason to reprise him at this point. Because part of his beauty, his symmetry, if you will, is that he is what he is, and the more situations you put him in to draw it out (milk it) the less like he is that he necessarily has to be. Al’s essence is that he’s almost irredeemably flawed. How can you have him evolve in Geronimo, and then come back in book two, without him being the new, improved Al, which to me spoils some fascinating part of him; or have him not evolve, in which case he stops being interesting, and just becomes a regression to his loathsome and reprehensible self? I think the interesting thing about Geronimo is that it’s a road novel. A journey, in which the protag changes over its course. Hard to sustain that without becoming formulaic. And I’d rather not do sequels if I feel the character hasn’t got something to carry the second book. Some characters, like Steven Cross of Zero Sum, or Michael Derrigan in Delphi, or ESPECIALLY El Rey and Romero Cruz in King of Swords and Night of the Assassin, beg to be reprised. So I plan to. My new one, The Voynich Cypher, uses Dr. Steven Cross from Zero Sum, and continues with a new adventure. Next one, Revenge of the Assassin, is an El Rey/Cruz book. But more Al? I just don’t see it at this point. When I sit down to write, I always have a little voice in the back of my brain that asks, “Why? Why this, why now?” And I can’t think of a good reason for Al to share more about himself than in that one book.
How long did it take you to write your first novel, Fatal Exchange?
About eighteen 12 hour days. Not counting rewrites.
You seem to have a wealth of ideas. How do you come by them?
Tequila. No, honestly? Tequila. And I am naturally skeptical of everything and everyone, so I assume that I’m being told a lie whenever I hear anything, until proven otherwise. That lends itself nicely to thinking up alternative explanations, which brings me back to Tequila.
What do you do in the mornings to get yourself woken up and going?
I feel a constant sense of unfinished work, and a fascination with what I’m going to write next. Not in a creepy, ‘I’m standing outside of myself watching my fingers type words I can’t later remember’ kind of way, although we’ve all had that – right? But I am excited to get the story out. That’s why I write like I do – very intense, 12 to 15 hour days of keen focus. I wake up wanting to get the scenes out. Hard to explain. That, and a sense that I’m making progress and getting better at my craft. I feel like a kid, when you’re looking at the teenagers going, ‘I can’t wait to get there.’ I can’t wait to get to the next chapter. I realize that sounds completely weird, so maybe I should change my answer to cocaine and hookers. I hear they can keep you awake…
Do you have any writing quirks?
No. I am in every way normal, other than the nude ice dancing thing and the preoccupation with Latvian and Estonian prostitutes, and of course, battling world domination by clowns, and their chimp minions. What’s a writing quirk, by the way? Nerdy fetishism of some sort? Just curious…
What do you think of books that are later made into movies?
Depends. Silence of the Lambs didn’t suck. Most do. I tend to write in a very cinematographic style, so I’d love to have some studio squander millions ruining one of my books. I personally think that either Banderas or Del Toro should option King of Swords, because that book, and the rest in the series, would be their Die Hard or Terminator. So call them. Please. Really. I’m not kidding. I think William Morris Endeavor reps Banderas. I could get you the number…
If you were going to be stuck on a deserted island, what three items would you take with you?
Anti-clown weaponry, Latvian and Estonian companions (those count as one, right?) and Tequila. Although I’m assuming there will be a three star Michelin restaurant with a rotating menu there, right? If not, I could probably give up an Estonian in exchange for food…
What three books are on your “to be read” list?
Groan. I really don’t have one. It’s too embarrassing. I have at least 16 books on my kindle now, 8 of which I was sent for a “browse” which I am months behind looking at. So much as I’d like to appear deep, and claim the Dalai Lama’s latest (I assume he is still pumping them out) is on there, I have nothing for you on this one.
What is the best thing about the town/city you live in?
Are you kidding? It’s frigging Meheeco, baybee. Beach, warm water, cold beer, blue sky, easy living and friendly natives. Summertime, and the living’s easy. You want California dreaming/endless summer? Come to the pacific coast of Mexico. Just try not to get beheaded by the cartel enforcers. Puts a damper in your day.
What book could you read over and over again?
David Foster Wallace. Infinite Jest. Like going to church. More on a single page than most authors can muster in a career.
What is your favorite band or musician?
Boy. So many bands. Rhino Bucket, album one. AC/DC, the Bon Scott years. Stevie Ray Vaughn. T-Ride. Stanley Jordan. Jean Luc Ponte. Holdsworth. Queen. Floyd. There are just too many. May I also say I haven’t heard anything worth listening to in a decade? I know. I’m an anachronism. But it’s true. Sorry Snoop. Dre. Eminem. Even you, Beyonce, and you know I have strong feelings for you. But you aren’t the Beatles or the Stones (and how is Keith Richards still alive?) or even Bon Jovi. Sorry. Hope the billions soften that blow. Tough love.
What book do you think is a necessary read?
Necessary? Again, hard to say. The Magic Mountain. Infinite Jest. PS Your Cat Is Dead. The Holographic Paradigm. Day of the Jackal. Ludlum. Anything by Le Carre. All for entirely different reasons. Essential for what reason? Entertainment? Style? Philosophy? And of course, all of mine. In no particular order. I’d buy them all to be safe. Wink.
What advice can you give to newbie independent authors?
You probably won’t make it. Odds say you won’t. Overwhelmingly. So write out of ego, or a need to tell a story, or pride of craftsmanship, or some ephemeral drive you can’t describe, but don’t do it to be a hit. Do it to tell the story you need to tell, in as vital and competent way as you can. That’s the why. The how? Read and reread The Elements of Style. Then you can toss it. But only once you’ve internalized it. Especially, rule number one. Eliminate unnecessary words. Meaning tell the story as clearly and eloquently as you are able, in as direct and efficient a manner possible. “To be or not to be” is infinitely more eloquent than two paragraphs saying the same thing. And the other how – force yourself to write, every day, no matter what. No whining or sniveling. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head. You want to write? Be a writer. That means write. And do so better than anyone else – or at least aspire to, and put in the work to be better every day. Appetite comes with eating. So eat. Every day. Be your own harshest critic – your internal dialogue should be ruthless, and demanding. Push yourself. Constantly. You are either shrinking or growing. Stasis is death. You want a ticket into the game? Be the player that is worth calling onto the field at the bottom of the ninth. Make your work a small miracle for those who read it. Less is, well, less.
Having said all that, delight in crafting sentences that resonate – that nobody else could have created. Because in the end, that’s probably all you’ll have from the effort other than an ulcer, a fat ass, and lasting bitterness. And twelve cats. Can’t forget those. Mister Mittens will not be denied. Trust me. Humans won’t want to be around you much, and the animals only because you feed them. And their love will be conditional and temporary.
Other than that, it’s a pretty fulfilling gig.
You can connect with Russell Blake at the following:
Russell Blake is the acclaimed author of the intrigue/thrillers Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, the Zero Sum trilogy of Wall Street thrillers, King of Swords, Night of the Assassin, The Delphi Chronicle trilogy (The Manuscript, The Tortoise and the Hare, Phoenix Rising), The Voynich Cypher (March, 2012) and Revenge of the Assassin (May, 2012).
His first satirical non-fiction work, How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated) released to rave reviews from literary luminaries like Lawrence Block, John Lescroart and David Lender.
His second non-fiction book, “An Angel With Fur,” is the true story of Lobo the miracle dog and is an international bestseller.
“Captain” Russell lives on the Pacific coast of Mexico, where he spends his time writing, fishing, collecting & drinking tequila, playing with his dogs and battling world domination by clowns.