Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sandra Ruttan Chats about Mystery Mentors, Spinetingler Magazine, and the Risks Inherent in the Written Word

So in a minute I'll ask some things about your books, but first let's talk about Sandra. When did you realize you loved mysteries?
When did I realize I loved mysteries? Well, I was reading mysteries when I was young. Five Minute Mysteries, Trixie Belden. I read a fair number of Agatha Christie books, and Anne Perry. But what really converted me to the genre hard-core was reading my first Rebus book by Ian Rankin. After that, I was reading crime fiction exclusively, and that was about five years ago.

So you really came to love the genre as an adult?
Yes, I'd say so.

You also have a substantial presence on the web. For example, when I joined DorothyL I sent you e-mail questions about this or that because your posts were very knowledgeable. Did this begin to happen about the same time you started reading Rankin books and going to conferences?
My web presence is fairly recent. Two years ago, after I wrote my first manuscript, I started reading author interviews. I think I was paranoid I'd gotten it all wrong with how I'd approached the book. Of course, I read Rankin interviews, because I knew who he was. I joined a few forums to find out Rankin's tour information because I heard he was coming to Canada. That's how it began.

But now you seem like you have many mystery irons in the fire, including your editorial position at Spinetingler and your work on your own novels. How do you do it all and maintain a house with a husband and several canine and feline family members?
I like to stay busy. Spinetingler gives me an opportunity to look at writing from the other side of the equation, and it gives me an opportunity to approach authors and interview people I'm interested in, ask the questions others don't seem to ask that I want to know the answers to. I enjoy that. Most of all, doing all the other things, like editing and reviewing and interviewing, keeps me sane between books. When I started writing, I just kept writing. I didn't have the knowledge to go back and edit my own work effectively. Before I knew it, I had four manuscripts on my hands and I needed to actually think about marketing my work. Spinetingler actually gives me some balance.

How did you become involved with Spinetingler?
My husband and I started Spinetingler, actually. It was his idea, and I thought he was an idiot and told him so. Turns out, he had a great idea.

How did you meet your husband?
I met him online. I was recovering from surgery and bored and ended up chatting with him.

That's very modern!

I know. And people are always leery, but we've been married almost seven years, together longer, obviously. We knew each other fairly well by the time we started dating. I know some people who lost money betting we'd divorce in 7 months...

People are always wrong about those bets. Let's go back to writing. You were nice enough to let me read your book, Suspicious Circumstances, which comes out in 2007. Very exciting! The title is great, because everyone in the book suspects somebody of something, not just the cops and reporters, but family members, kids, adults, townspeople. It creates a lot of tension.
I find titles to be one of the toughest challenges with a book. So I'm glad you think it works!

I also noted, because the book is very dialogue and action-driven, that it reminds me more of mysteries written by men than those written by women. Do you think this is the influence (if only unconscious) of some of your favorite male writers in the genre--such as Rankin, MacBride, etc?
There is no denying I'm heavily influenced by Rankin as a writer. It's also not exactly a secret that Stuart MacBride and I have exchanged some work for the purpose of feedback, and he critiqued this manuscript. It could also explain why I tend to read more books by men than women. Perhaps my brain is just wired the same way, when it comes to writing.

But we all probably tend to write the things we would like to read, so that makes sense.
Yes, I agree.

When did you first hear that your book was going to be published? How did it feel?
It was February. Actually, I learned my manuscript had won Best Fiction submission. I thought they were sending me editorial feedback, because that's usually how TICO works. You get notes from the first reader, and then it goes on to second review. I opened it up and it was a contract. How did I feel? Numb. Wondered if it was a joke...

That's terrific! In your book, your character Lara is a reporter, and more than once she reflects upon the power of words, once printed. You've also discussed this concept on DorothyL and your blog, and have posted things with the disclaimer that you "know you will get hate mail." Why do you think words in this context elicit such dramatic results?
It goes back to communication theory. What is written is regarded with more serious intent and meaning than what is casually spoken. People retract what they say offhandedly all the time. But what you write can be quoted back to you, referenced, and is, in essence, permanent. We always run the risk, especially through forums and listserves where we don't put emotion and personality into our remarks as much, of people misinterpreting our meaning. We have to be very careful to explain ourselves with the written word. In books, we can have a character frown, scowl, smile, whatever. On DorothyL, we don't have that luxury.

And emoticons just don't do the trick? :)
We have emoticons. DorothyL doesn't really. I know people use things like :) but I don't know what they mean. It's part of my web ignorance that lingers, I guess. I should add about reporters - people read front page headlines and articles, and seldom see the disclaimers in small print if the article gets it wrong. A good reporter makes an effort to get it right the first time.

So let's go back to your busy life. Because of your reading, writing, editing and posting experience, you've met several authors of note. Obviously you've met Ian Rankin (to whom we will return) and have befriended Stuart MacBride. You also mention Cornelia Read with great fondness in your blog posts. How did you meet Cornelia?
I approached Cornelia for an interview for Spinetingler. This was actually funny, because I was in awe of her. I'd read her blog comments and just warmed to her. I checked out her website and wanted to find out how a debut author could have all that buzz. I emailed her about an interview. She just told me when I emailed her, she was in shock, because she'd been reading my interview with Laura Lippman, and couldn't believe I wanted to interview her. Classic case of both of us being aware of the other already, but I had no idea she even knew who I was. Cornelia and I hit it off, and we talk on the phone semi regularly.

Do you think a lot of authors hold false assumptions about each other? Is it just a natural extension of what they do for a living?
Oh boy. That's a tough question. It's possible. I tend to idolize people. So perhaps I don't always see people for exactly who they are right away.

But if you're like me, don't you assume people would NEVER talk to you? And then they do, and they're nice?
Oh, yes, I do assume that. I'm never surprised when people don't respond to emails and always sort of surprised when they do. And when they do talk to me and they're nice? I'm in awe. That's part of the reason I'm glad I met Simon Kernick last year. He's always treated me the same, from before he knew I was writing and editing and reviewing, until now. Fantastic person.

As for people not speaking to me, I went to Harrogate 2005 with very low expectations and was delighted by everyone who did talk to me. This year was a different experience, because a lot of people knew who I was, but still, overall, very positive.

Okay, back to Ian Rankin. Since he was your idol from the start, what was it like to meet him in person? Does he have a strong accent?
Ian's accent isn't that strong. What can I say about meeting him? I'm still a bit shocked that I got to actually talk to him at such length. At conferences, you see a lot of people in passing, so spending some time with him in Edinburgh was a tremendous privilege. I feel privileged that people would take the time and be so generous. It isn't like I have a book out yet, or anything. And I asked Ian for an interview and he was evasive. He didn't say no, but then he lectured me about not calling him last year when I was in Edinburgh. I was thinking, "I don't really know you, do I?" But this time, I called him.

Will you be writing about it at all in Spinetingler?

I won't be writing about it in Spinetingler. I feel a bit awkward saying much about it at all, because I was a guest at Ian's home and it wouldn't be right to recount that in detail to people. What my friend Marsha, Ian and I talked about, for the most part, stays there. I asked him about posting the photo before I did, and wouldn't have posted it if he'd had an issue with it, because I also respect the fact that that's his home and his private space. It's his choice to put that into the public domain, not mine.

Speaking of Spinetingler, how can one go about getting a subscription?
We don't do subscriptions for Spinetingler. We're planning to make the magazine available for print purchase, but it will always be available online.

So people can just download it for free?
Yes, they can download it for free or read it online.

Our last regular issue has been read over 11,000 and when you go to print circulation, you just don't get that distribution. Kevin and I fund Spinetingler out of our own pocket, at this point.

That's a lot of work that you and your husband do for no profit!
Yes, but it's worth it. I didn't start doing it when I got a book deal or even when I was querying. I started doing it before I ever knew I'd have a career in this business, but now the benefit is that a lot of people have heard of me, and it is good publicity. It wasn't my aim when we started, but it's a bi-product I won't complain about!

Nowadays, do you spend more time writing or reading?

Right now, I'm spending more time reading. I'm reading Suspicious Circumstances again for final edits. A number of ARCs are waiting to be reviewed. I miss turning everything off for six weeks and writing a book.

Wow--you write a book in six weeks?
The average book, yes. I have a workaholic personality and I don't plot in advance, so once I start I'm pretty much living vicariously through the characters as the story unfolds. The last manuscript took six weeks for the first draft, of about 105,000 words.

Okay--it's almost time for me to walk the ol' Beagle. But some Bouchercon questions: First, who are you looking forward to meeting there, if it's possible?
It will be the first time I'll meet Cornelia in person, and you. Also Jan Burke and Anne Frasier, authors I know from the blogs. The Killer Year people - Brett Battles, Bill Cameron etc. I'll get a chance to reconnect with Al Guthrie, and Mark Billingham and I have plans to have a beer. I'll also be interviewing a few people, and I look forward to those one-on-one opportunities.

How shall I know you at Bouchercon? Will you be wearing a red carnation?
You know, I haven't thought about Bouchercon that much. Everyone recognized me at Harrogate, which I found a bit unnerving. A few people came up to me and said, "Sandra!" and I said, "Yes?" Maybe I'll wear a Calgary Flames shirt.

That would be cool. Sandra, it was terrific to meet you, if only via MSN. How can readers find out more about your upcoming book?
Readers can find out more by visiting my website at I can actually officially announce now that the book will be released in January 2007, at my request. Because of the Killer Year promotion and some events we have planned for next year, I asked TICO to move the book back and they agreed.

Hopefully that helped prevent some panic.
Yes, it did. We're working on the cover design now, and with my travel schedule in July, it gave me some extra time to breathe.

Thanks so much for the interview, Sandra!

Thanks Julia! You do a fantastic job with these!


Bill Cameron said...

Woot, Sandra!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks Bill! (And three cheers for Julia - she's fantastic doing these!)

Anonymous said...

Great interview. I lurk on DL. It's wonderful to put a face with a name. I'll be one of those people coming up to you at Bouchercon like I know you.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I look forward to meeting you Deb! I'm writing your name down right now...

Julia Buckley said...

Woot. Is that a Canadian term? Or a Portlandian one?

Thanks for stopping in, Deb!

And Sandra, you know the praise will go to my head, and there's too much stuff in there already. :)

Bill Cameron said...

I just realized this morning that my DL stopped mailing me. I tried sending a request to get it going again, but so far no luck.

I guess this reminded me of that.

Now, here's my deep, dark confession. Even though I read DL when I can, I often find it rather overwhelming, and there seems to be a lot of nitpicking and sniping that appears there. Sometimes, that makes me not want to read it.

Bill Cameron said...

Oh, and Woot? I think it's one of those internet lingo things, though I'm not really sure. I know I first saw it on the internet, and now actually have been known to say it out loud.

Julia Buckley said...

Well, Bill, you hip-with-the-lingo young man. I'll have to look to you for realistic dialogue coaching. :)

And DL obviously sensed that you stopped liking it, and therefore stopped e-mailing you. :)

Mindy Tarquini said...

Yayayayayay, Sandra!

And thanks, Julia!

Julia Buckley said...

No problem, M.G. And beware, because I'll be approaching you for an interview sooner or later!

angie said...

Great interview Sandra & Julia! And Sandra, it took me a while to figure out what those :) and :o) things were all about - then I realized they were smiley faces on their sides. Great news re. moved release date - except now I'm irritated that I've got to wait that much longer!

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks. I wish there were a way to make a Skull and Crossbones, the way we can make smiley faces. For those times I'm sending ominous e-mails to husband, children, what have you. Kind of like your pic there, Angie. :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bill, sometimes DL drives me mad.

And sometimes, it's wonderful. It's like marriage.

MG, you're so cute!

Julia, yeah, interview MG! But don't drink beverages while you're talking to her. She's Mindy of the Ginsu Tongue.

Angie, I'm sorry about the wait. I think it will be worth it. Although there is that contest tomorrow...

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Great interview, Julia and Sandra. Nice to see another member of the Killer Year crew in the limelight.

Mindy Tarquini said...

I'll be approaching you for an interview sooner or later!

You got it, but I warn you, I don't have any photos that look near as good as Sandra's.
Maybe I'll borrow hers.

Mindy Tarquini said...

it took me a while to figure out what those :) and :o) things were all about - then I realized they were smiley faces on their sides.

PULLEAZE! ANd you say *I'M* out of touch, Angie...

LAURA said...

I loved this interview, Sandra and Julia. I'm a mostly lurker, occasional poster, on DL and I desperately wish I was going to be at Bouchercon to meet both of you. I'll content myself with trying to think up clever posts to DL :)

LAURA said...

Doing a little happy dance over here, because I finally figured out the picture thing. (Thanks, Julia!) So hopefully this post comes with an image of me.

Julia Buckley said...

Hey, Laura! Pretty in Pink! Good job with the photo, you techno-wizard. I'm sure we'll find a way to meet you. :)

Hi, RG Brown. Thanks for stopping in.

And MG, if I looked like Catherine Zeta Jones I would have gone into acting, you know what I'm saying?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Hey Julia, Rob would be a great candidate for one of your interviews! And he's going to be at B'Con too. I wish I'd had my Killer Year B'Con list in front of me during the interview so I could have named them all.

Hi Laura, great photo! Maybe there will be a conference down the road where we can meet - fingers crossed.

And now I see Deb Baker has raced sled dogs - I didn't mention I own two huskies...

Julia Buckley said...

Wow! Look at all the parallels. (See Lillian Stewart Carl's comment about coincidences.)

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Julia and Sandra. I had a chance to chat with Sandra and a couple of other crazy authors when J. B. Thompson blog-tagged us a while back. I really enjoyed it.

Julia Buckley said...

You should come to Bouchercon!

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Excellent interview, as are the others I've read here this morning.

Julia Buckley said...

Why thank you, Patrick! I hope you'll consider joining the ranks of the interviewed. :)

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...


Sounds great...just need to finish the novel first.

Julia Buckley said...

Oh, is that all? :) May the mystery muses be with you.

Anonymous said...

Good one Sandra,Chelbel x

Anonymous said...

There is something similar?