Wednesday 7 September 2011

Russel D McLean interview: The Death of Ronnie Sweets

The Death of Ronnie Sweets (and Other Stories) by Russel D McLean

Russel D McLean has hung around the crime fiction scene for almost a decade now, working variously as an ezine editor, a reviewer, a bookseller and a general miscreant. He has written many short stories and more recently two PI novels set in the mean streets of Dundee, Scotland. Russel’s first novel, THE GOOD SON, was nominated for a Shamus award by the Private Eye writers of America.

How much difference does an editor make?

I worked with many different editors over the course of these stories depending on the market. Some of them did light edits, some did heavy. I learned the most working with Gerald So at Thrilling Detective on the story that would become LIKE A MATTER OF HONOUR; lots of bad habits were reformed on that particular story. And Linda Landrigan of Alfred Hitchcock’s really helped bring out WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR, a story that initially gave me great difficulty in writing. Basically, a good editor helps a writer refine what they’re doing. I don’t think any fiction is written in isolation. Although ultimately the voice has to be the authors, otherwise what’s the point?

Who designed your cover?

The brilliant JT Lindroos, who also designed the UK e-dition of THE GOOD SON. JT’s one of the best damn designers out there (as I’m sure you can testify, Mr Guthrie) and really seems to get to the essence of a brief, while delivering a few surprises along the way. With THE DEATH OF RONNIE SWEETS, we started with one idea and along the way JT threw this unexpected one into the mix that finally became my preferred design.

How important is a book's central character?

I like to tell very personal stories, so while my casts can be large, my protagonist is always the focal point. In this collection, we see a character evolve and change across multiple stories. Sam Bryson started as a bit of a cypher, an excuse to tell a Chandlerian story in Dundee, and across the stories he really developed a life and a voice all of his own.

What was the last good eBook you read?

I loved Gar Anthony Haywood’s short story collection, LYRICS FOR THE BLUES. The man can write, and of course we all know I’m a sucker for a good Eye story. The Aaron Gunner stories are lyrical, affecting and really do stay with you after you’ve finished reading them.

In fact, I’ve been reading a lot of collections digitally of late (call it research). Other favourites have been Steve Hockensmith’s DEAR MR HOLMES – he’s one of the funniest and most inventive crime writers I’ve read in a while – and Zoe Sharp’s FOX FIVE. Sharp is one of those writers who deserves to be doing far better; I adored her novels and loved these shorts.

In terms of full length novels, I’d have to say the most fun I’ve recently had, electronically speaking, was with Anthony Neil Smith’s twisted little e-xclusive, CHOKE ON YOUR LIES.

(Yeah, that was more than one book – so sue me, I read a hell of a lot!)

What makes you keep reading a book?

Voice. A plot that moves – ie, characters that actually do things rather than talk about doing them (a fast-moving plot doesn’t always mean gunplay and fisticuffs). Oh, and characters who are deeply, deeply flawed. I get very irritated with perfect people.

What's the best collection of short stories you've read?

An apropos question, considering I’m here to push a collection of shorts…

I only started reading collections in recent years, so I’m not an expert, but there are two that I always talk about when people mention short story collections.

There’s the Megan Abbott-edited HELL OF A WOMAN (from the magnificent Busted Flush Press) which contained some of the finest and most consistent writing I’d found in a multi-author volume.

And Vicki Hendricks’s FLORIDA GOTHIC STORIES was one of the most haunting and beautiful single author collections I think I’ve read in years.

What are your views on eBook pricing?

I think a balance needs to be struck. To charge over £10 or $10 for an ebook is insanity. But at the same time I think a blanket 99p/99c policy is maybe equally insane. I’m experimenting with pricing on those books I have control over (some of my ebooks are controlled by publishers, others I own the rights to) and seeing if I can find a comfortable middle ground but knowing that I want to keep the books affordable. Basically, they need to be cheaper than physical books, and yet they still need to be enough that the writer is paid. Right now, the thing to remember about ebooks is this:

No one knows anything.

Of course, in publishing it was always thus.

How do you feel about anyone being able to publish?

It’s great for authors who can bring deserving works back into print, or authors who are ready to be published (and everyone knows it) but for one reason or another have no other way to get out there. It’s also great for writers of short collections. It’s a fantastic opportunity to find and continue to promote talent that otherwise might have drifted into the forgotten places.

However, some people are going to be trying to run before they can walk (ouch, what a clich√©!). Some people who should never be writing are going to be pushing crap down reader’s throats and believe they have every right to do so. And some people who could mature into great writers if only they had a few suggestions, edits and nudges, are going to be unable to learn from the ego-crushing experience that I believe all writers should experience.

Because, honestly, I believe that rejection made me a better writer. And I’d cringe if some of those early attempts at novels had made it out there (at least in the state they were in then).

All of which is a rambling way of saying that the current e-model free-for-all can be both a blessing and a curse. Which maybe isn’t much of an answer, but it’s the best I got.

The Death of Ronnie Sweets (and Other Stories) by Russel D McLean

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the insight you provided, Russel. That is an awsome cover and great title.