I'm very happy to have persuaded long standing Black Horse Western author Derek Rutherford to answer a few questions. Not only is Derek a very good storyteller, a quick search of the web also reveals that he is a talented singer/songwriter/musician. Suffice to say, I'm a fan of his books and it's therefore with great pleasure that I hand my blog over to him for a very interesting Q&A.
Tell us who you are.
Hi, I’m Derek Rutherford. An author, musician, and photographer from Gloucester, UK. Actually, I lie. I’m Derek Rutherford who wishes I could be an author, musician, and photographer from Gloucester, UK. Even after all these years I still have to go to work rather than make a living from those aforementioned passions. Maybe one day…
How many books have you written?
I’ve lost count of how many I’ve written. I’ve had four – maybe five (see below) – published. But there are many that haven’t been published. A couple of dozen short stories are out there too.
Do you write under any other names?
Nope. Anything I’ve written that I’ve felt is good enough to submit is good enough to go out there under my real name.
What is your latest release called, what’s it about and what inspired it?
Dead Man’s Eyes. I think it’s now been published, although I haven’t actually seen a copy yet.
It was inspired by a non-fiction book I was reading about the convict leasing system in Texas back in the 1880s – and how brutal that system was. I knew right away that here was a background that I simply had to include in a novel.
The way I write, I usually need a couple of ideas, or themes, which come together and the story will arise from the way those themes overlap. A second idea in Dead Man’s Eyes was to explore how a protection racket might be run in an old western town.
To those two ideas I added a simple MacGuffin which was to give my hero - who has emerged from the aforementioned convict leasing system a broken man - a fortune from his previous life as a train robber. A fortune that other people are determined to get their hands on.
All of these things – and much more – come together and Dead Man’s Eyes is the result.
Who is the publisher and where and when can we buy it?
Crowood Press – although they’re still using the Hale name and the Black Horse Western imprint, I believe.
The best bet is to borrow it from a library rather than buy it. I think I get a penny or something if you borrow it!
What’s your latest writing project?
I’m currently working on the follow-up to Dead Man’s Eyes, provisionally entitled Dead Man’s Walk. I’ve never re-used any of my characters before but during the course of writing Dead Man’s Eyes I realized there was an underlying story that was too big to address in that novel alone, so I’m envisaging a trilogy.
No rituals, just lots of bad habits like logging onto You Tube and watching videos instead of writing…
Another bad habit is not planning my stories. I’ve tried and it doesn’t work for me. Once I’ve planned out a story in detail and I know how it finishes I generally have no interest in writing it. Alas, this lack of planning does result in a lot of unfinished stories which either don’t go anywhere, or go into corners that I can’t write myself out of. But then, those hundreds of thousands of abandoned words must surely be good practice…
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard about writing westerns? What advice would you give to a would-be western writer?
To be honest, I can’t think of anything specific to westerns. I guess the key thing is to read as much non-fiction as you can about the period – and then ignore it in favour of good drama! I half jest… It’s important to get the facts right and to have a feeling for what real-life was like in the west, and those facts and feelings can add a lot of realism to your tales. But never forget that in writing fiction the story is king. We’re here to entertain. That’s one reason why I love writing westerns – it’s easy to set-up great situations that mightn’t occur in any other place and time and that are full of drama.
Other advice would be to read as much fiction as you can, too. Not just westerns, but everything. Read to be entertained, but also read to learn – how does an author do this, describe that, make you feel this way or that way, build in suspense, fore-shadow, create memorable characters, etc?
Regarding the actual writing I have two pieces of advice that I ought to follow more myself. Number one is don’t wait to be inspired before writing. Instead sit down and start writing, and you’ll find that within fifteen or twenty minutes the inspiration will follow. It always works that way round, not the other. If you wait for inspiration you might write just one book in your lifetime.
Number two is to allow yourself to write badly. By this I mean don’t get hung up on every sentence, every paragraph, and every page. Get the words down. Push through to the end and then come back and revise and polish. What you’ll find is that the days when you thought the words were a struggle and the days when they seemed to flow aren’t that different at the rewrite stage.
I average about two books a month, which is pretty poor really. But time is tight (what happened to all those leisure hours we were promised about thirty years ago, when computers were going to do all the work?). But those two books can vary from short 1960’s thrillers that only take a day or two to read to thick non-fiction books with a thousand pages and no dialogue…
I have a bad habit of having multiple books on the go at any one time. My current stack includes a book on photography lighting, a memoir about touring the world on a motorcycle, two books about writing (of course), a psychology text, and a non-fiction classic called Thy Neighbour’s Wife by Gay Talese. Fictionwise I’m reading King Soloman’s Mines and The Bottoms, by Joe Lansdale – an awesome story-teller.
Is there a book you’ve read that you wish you’d written and, if so, why?
I’d have happily written any best-seller just so I’d now have the money to be able to write full time!
But no, there isn’t really. There are so many books that have moved me (and that’s always what I’m shooting for in my books, to move the reader) but I don’t wish I’d written them. I hope one day to write the book that when I look back makes that wish comes true.
The latest one – Dead Man’s Eyes. For the simple reason I’m getting better with every word I write (or at least I hope I am) so the latest one is probably (hopefully!) the best.
If you were stranded on a desert island, which book, song and film would you like to have with you?
I’d take War and Peace. I’ve started it but it’s so daunting… The only time I’m ever likely to have time to get all the way through is if I was stranded on a desert island. Song… something by the Beatles. Lord knows which song. Film, would have to be Jaws. My favourite film. Just perfect story-telling even if the kids today laugh at the special effects.
Thank you for answering my questions in such lovely detail. All the best with your current and future books.