This interview was originally posted on As the Page Turns:
Q: Can you tell us what your new book, Genius De Milo, is about?
Russ: My debut novel Finders Keepers is a scifi backpacking comedy … think American Pie meets Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s loosely based on a series of backpacking trips I took through Europe and New Zealand, set against a quest for a jar that contains the Universe’s DNA.
My newest book, Genius de Milo, is the second book in the trilogy, where our bumbling backpacking heroes Jason Medley and Theo Barnes are once again tasked with retrieving a radioactive jar filled with the Universe’s DNA … before it wipes out the galaxy.
Genius de Milo (and Finders Keepers) is for fans of authors such as Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, and Christopher Moore, and movies and TV shows such as Harold and Kumar, Bill and Ted, Hot Tub Time Machine, Time Bandits, Quantum Leap, Groundhog Day, Northern Exposure, Third Rock from the Sun … and Midnight Run.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
Russ: Visual! Check out these great character illustrations and backgrounders!
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
Russ: Usually … they are completely original characters, but from time to time I use someone I’ve met as a baseline, and then I try to make that character distinct from the person I know. I find the more I veer from the real person the better the character becomes. Trying to write a character that’s true to someone you know can be quite restricting. The character you are creating — this fabricated person — needs to think, act, and feel in a way that is true to whomever he or she needs to be within the context of the story, without feeling tied to the “original” person.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel or do you discover it as you write?
Russ: A combination of both. By the time I’m ready to clack the keys I’ve already plotted out a decent chunk of the narrative, but I always find that the story expands, twists, and turns organically during the writing process. My approach is to let the story unfold as it needs to and fill in the blanks as necessary, rather than trying to force what I “think” is right, but doesn’t “feel” right. It’s important to me that the narrative holds up — that the foundation and its interlocking parts are rock solid. But there also needs to be a rhythm and flow.
Q: Your book is set throughout the United States. Can you tell us why you chose this country in particular?
Russ: Whereas Finders Keepers was set predominantly in Europe and New Zealand, the action in Genius de Milo has shifted mostly to the U.S. And, of course, there’s lots going on in Eternity, the ‘cosmic’ realm where the Universe is created.
Q: What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?
Q: Which holiday is your favorite and why?
Russ: Passover. Because it’s the one instance — to my limited knowledge, anyway — where we celebrate the fact that the Lord kicked some butt in the name of the Jews. I’m not particularly religious, but when the plagues and such are being chucked down on the Pharaoh’s people … it’s like this awesome action movie and the bad guys are getting whupped … big time.
Q: If we were to meet for lunch to talk books, where would we go?
Russ: The park. I love to be outside on a sunny day, yet in the shade, leaning against a big tree.
Q: What do you like to do for fun?
Russ: Spend time with my kids. But if it’s totally just for me: go to the movies, binge watch TV, travel, watch baseball, listen to music, and read.
Q: What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors?
Russ: Write because you love it, write for yourself, and write every day. And if you can make money at it … all the better.
On a more technical level, work with beta readers and editors who will give you actionable feedback that helps you improve the story you’re working on —
and your craft — in very specific ways.
If you’re getting feedback like, “oh, I like that” or “eh, I didn’t get it,” then they’re not really helping you.
Be highly selective, choosing people who will tell you what you actually need to hear, not what you want to hear. And keep your world of trusted ‘advisors’ on the small side. Feedback from too many people will distract and confuse you.
Ultimately … only you can decide what having “success” means to you. There’s lots of disappointment and rejection in being an author, so having a healthy sense of self-worth and realistic expectations will go a long way towards keeping your sanity.
Remember that once you’ve finished your novel and, if it’s published, you are no longer in ‘author’ mode, but in ‘retailer’ mode. You’re trying to sell your books, and that’s an entirely different skill set and experience than writing.
That’s why it’s important to try to manage your expectations and define how you define success.
Being an author is a lot of work, so try to have as much as you can along the way.
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