Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Dancing With Myself: SANDRA RUTTAN interviews SANDRA RUTTAN

I've heard some crime fiction authors say authors in this genre are really pretty nice because they take out all their aggression on the page.

Which is really ridiculous. I mean, if you have murderous impulses, banging against a typewriter isn't going to let you vent that emotion. I mean, smashing a few computers, maybe. But just try formatting a Word document for Kindle and you'll find out how fast writing and publishing can make you homicidal.

Why not write something else, like romance?

I'm living the perfect romance, so I can't imagine how to make a story any better. And it would be unfair to make all the girls jealous.

Then why don't your characters reflect that in their relationships? I mean, if you read HARVEST OF RUINS or the Nolan, Hart & Tain books, they're filled with dysfunctional relationships

Yeah, but I write fiction.

Does that mean your work is never inspired by real events?

It just means that I don't let my reality get in the way of the story I'm telling. If I have experience that's beneficial to draw on for a story or character, then I'll do that, but I think it's dangerous territory to just create a protagonist that's a shadow of yourself and then insert yourself in some sort of fictional universe. What happens if you run out of interesting things to say about yourself? And if you can only write yourself, then won't all the other characters just be caricatures or stand-ins for real people you know, who could end up suing you?

Yet I hear writers are often told to write what they know.

Overrated advice. Sometimes, everything you know could get in the way of a good story. I think writers are often tempted to start with things that they know, to avoid doing research or the need to actually create a story, setting or characters.

Where do you suggest aspiring writers start?

When I studied journalism, a professional freelance writer who spoke at my college said that a good writer can write anything, given the facts. I think aspiring writers probably shouldn't start with a novel. They should try to write non-fiction or short stories. The time will never be wasted because of the writing skills that can be developed this way. I find writing short stories far more difficult than writing novels. Every time I sit down to write a short story I get my backside kicked, but when I feel I've completed a good short story, I feel fantastic.

Where did the idea for HARVEST OF RUINS come from?

For me, it started with a character, and a combination of thoughts. Several years ago, when my niece (who is the model on the cover of my short story collection, TO DIE FOR) was in elementary school, she felt bullied by a teacher. My sister was an active volunteer at the school, and through a series of meetings and discussions and her own observations, she decided to move my niece to a different school. This part year, one of my stepchildren had a teacher who used public shaming in the classroom, and students were reprimanded in front of the class if the teacher didn't feel they got a high enough grade on a test. Parents have a tough job, fostering open communication with their children so that they're aware of what's going on in their kids' lives so that they can guide their kids, and also protect them.

But what happens when the parents ignore their kids, or worse, are the ones doing the bullying?

What happens if you take a beautiful, young girl with all the potential in the world, and you put her in an environment where she's constantly criticized and judged and left feeling unaccepted and unloved by her own mother?

Teenage girls are insecure enough as it is, and peer pressure is a very serious problem, as is bullying. When you take this girl, who's been worn down after years of bullying and pressure at home, and who will she be most susceptible to as a teenager? She'll either become a bully, or be bullied.

Take this girl, and put her life on a collision course with a criminal investigation, and you have HARVEST OF RUINS.

And is it true that this teenage girl you mention appears in the book as a ghost, speaking to the protagonist (Detective Sergeant Hunter McKenna) in her dreams?

Maybe. That's open to interpretation. It could be that Hunter is piecing together things she already knows in her subconscious.

What about the title? Where did that come from?

"For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind." Hosea 8:7

I love that verse. For decades, I wanted to write a book called To Sow The Wind. It was all about the futility of life, and how our actions affect others and ultimately lead to death and destruction. Fifteen years ago, I was actually working on a manuscript titled Daughters of Job, and if you know the Bible, I don't need to explain that a book with that title would be as noir as it gets.

What happened to the project?

People told me nobody would want to read something so depressing.

And now that you know better?

I may have to dust it off, see if there's any potential there.

Was that your first manuscript attempt?

No. My first manuscript was called The Kings of Kastelgar, and it was a YA fantasy novel.

I passed it over to my husband, Brian Lindenmuth.

Brian's a noted reviewer and book critic, and he has a strong background in fantasy and sci fi. What did he think?

He said it was the first time he wasn't proud to be my husband.

Yeah. Maybe that perfect romance really is fiction. ;)

Amazon Bestselling Police Procedural SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, available now

TO DIE FOR short story collection now available on Amazon



Have you let anyone read it?


  1. Interesting stuff throughout. The point about short stories being harder is well taken. It's like a heavyweight fight in a half-sized ring and shorter rounds. You have to get your best punches in as economically as possible. William Goldman the novelist, playwright and scriptwriter of, among many other epics, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, describes himself as a novest, scriptwriter, playwright and failed short story writer.
    Cool beans indeed.

  2. Too funny. I especially like the "overrated advice" comment about writing what you know. Wish I could beat that comment into the heads of certain members of my writing group.

  3. AJ, I have a line I repeat like a mantra when I'm writing a short story, and it's from Star Wars, when Luke is flying at the Death Star but keeps worrying about the tie fighters and he's getting told, "Stay on target." I love subplots, and when I write short stories I have to resist the urge to wander.

    Naomi, I ultimately gave up on a writer's group because of... Well, you have to be teachable to learn, right? Nobody would want me to do a comparison of The Wire Season 4 and the reality working in BCPS. The fiction makes for a more believable story.