Tuesday 12 April 2011

Sandra Ruttan interview: Suspicious Circumstances

Suspicious Circumstances by Sandra Ruttan

Sandra Ruttan is best known as the author of the Nolan, Hart and Tain police procedural series set in the Greater Vancouver Area. Her debut novel, however, featured reporter Lara Kelly and Detective Tymen Farraday and is now available in an updated edition for the Kindle. There's also a long-overdue sequel planned for later this year. Sandra is also a reviewer and editor, and co-founder of Spinetingler Magazine.

What are you reading now?

The Killer Is Dying by James Sallis.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

Losing myself in the story.  When I wrote SC I used what I call immersive writing.  I’d work from early morning until late at night.  I really lived inside the story for several weeks as I pulled it together.  When I was reformatting SC for Kindle it was the first time I’d read any of the book in over four years, but I could still predict words about to come out of their mouths.  I know my protagonists so well it feels like they’re real to me.

Would you date your protagonist?

My protagonists are Lara Kelly and Tymen Farrada, so let’s just talk about Farraday.   Well, I’m married, but if I wasn’t…  Maybe.  He’s a really nice guy.

How much difference does an editor make?

All the difference in the world.  SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES was the first manuscript I completed writing, and I promptly started writing a sequel.  What’s actually been published is a pared down combination of those two books wrapped into one.  I trimmed over 80,000 words out of the combined manuscripts, and even after that I had a gruelling edit pre-publication from a bearded Scottish crime author.  Without his insight, it would have been a considerably bloated book that was published.  I trimmed almost another 20,000 words before the end.  If I was going back and writing it today, with the skills I’ve sharpened since, I could probably knock another 10,000 words out of the book without losing any of the substance.

Some might say that police procedurals and thrillers are formulaic.  What do you think about that?

Most books have a structure that’s obvious to the trained eye, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  I think that people are too quick to think that a structure lessens the product, somehow, when it can serve as a great opportunity to showcase the story effectively.  The only time this is a problem is if the author is predictable with the story and the characters are insubstantial.  It’s better to use a structure effectively than to lose the thread and have a book with no story that goes nowhere.

How important is a book's central character?

In most books the main character is critical.  If readers can’t connect or empathize or be intrigued by the main character on some level they won’t want to read the book.  I know if I feel like a main character is just a placeholder in a story, I lose interest in reading.

What's the best piece of craft advice you've been given?

Keep reading. I know it wasn’t meant as craft advice when Ian Rankin jotted that on a postcard to me many years ago, but that’s how I took it.  As an aspiring author, I was afraid I’d stumble across a book with a similar idea and that if I did I wouldn’t be able to write my idea because it had already been done.  I lived in constant fear that someone else out there had already had the same idea, and I don’t think I’m the only person who’s gone through that as an aspiring author.

However, as I read more and more, my mind was opened to more possibilities about how to tell a story effectively.  I’ve learned more about writing from just reading than anything else. 

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

I’m a Gemini, so my warring twin personalities give me conflicting weaknesses.  Perhaps it’s fair to say my weakness is balance.

I have a brain that makes almost freakish leaps at times.  Just the other day I was grading a grade 12 algebra test and doing the math in my head.  The other teacher was shocked, and I don’t claim math as my strongest subject, but I can really live in my head.  The problem is, I have to remember not everyone thinks the same way.  When I write I tend to drop clues once and expect readers to make the same connections I do.  I think it really hit home when I had to explain something to a lawyer who’d read one of my books, and something I thought was really obvious had been completely lost upon him, but maybe that just says something about lawyers.

I’m also aware of my weakness and find myself overcompensating, to the point where I’m almost insulting the intelligence of the reader. 

That brings me to my advice to writers.  Be aware of your weaknesses but don’t be governed by them. 

As a writer, how would you describe your ideal reader's taste in crime fiction?

I think the readers who will enjoy my work most are ones who like a thick thread of darkness that’s balanced by an underlying optimism.  At the core, I’ve got two characters who are decent people.  Sometimes, it’s tiring to read about people who’re always messed up and so weak they’ve developed dependencies to cope.  If you like Carol Jordan and Tony Hill, if you like the idea of characters who you’d actually want to live next door to, you’ll like Lara and Farraday.

And, if I may impose an announcement…

I’m holding a contest.  With the release of SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES on Kindle I can announce that a sequel is anticipated later this year.  If you’d like to win a ‘role’ in that book, simply send me an e-mail at sandraruttan.spinetinglermag at gmail dot com with the proof of your Kindle purchase of SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES and put SC Contest.

SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES will be available for 99 cents until April 25.

The contest deadline is April 30.

Suspicious Circumstances by Sandra Ruttan


  1. I enjoyed learning more about Sandra and her thoughts on writing.

    Thank you, both.

  2. You talked me into it. I forget who told me about this blog, but it's going to cost me a fortune.

    Excellent interview, on both ends.

  3. David, thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.

    Dana, good to 'see' you. Yes, this blog is going to hurt the wallets of many!

    Al, thanks for the opportunity.