Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Welcome, Muse Author, Rebecca Ryals Russell

Rebecca Ryals Russell: Wife, Mother, Author, Entrepreneur, Ex-Teacher

You know how in movies the beleaguered author retreats to some isolated locale on the coast overlooking the Pacific or holed up in a cabin in the middle of the woods or maybe even in a loft apartment in a large city? They never go out until the book is finished. They run on the treadmill while typing on the laptop or sit in a tub of bubbles while narrating into a recorder.

Well, I can one-up that image.

I sit in the living room of my 1909 Victorian Farmhouse looking out at five acres of rolling grass and trees with blazing Florida sun slanting in through the tall narrow windows. Original wavy glass with bubbles distort the tree line in the distance. My Toshiba laptop sits atop the marble table with its iron base. On its screen is the WIP while on the second screen to its side is displayed my email so I can follow the author’s loop for my publishing house or do research.

Sound ideal?

It is. Even with my four children, not kids anymore actually, and my husband and two inside cats coming and going with discussions, television usage, video games and more conversation, I manage to write. Of course, when I get the house to myself during the school year and the TV is off and the house is dead silent with the exception of my fingers clicking the keyboard, that’s when I really get the work done. But I have learned to tune out the distractions and do what I want.
Two years ago, when I started writing the Seraphym Wars, I sat at the table of my beautiful log house with a completely different view. My father had had it built from the Suwannee Log Homes model as a place for him to live on the property. After we’d moved into the Victorian he’d found it too stressful living with the kids again at his age. But after he died the house just sat empty. So I decided to use it as a sort of writing office while the Vacation Rental business I had started in it took off. I had time to write the first draft of the 700+ page book before I had to close up shop and move back to the house.
I set up a small corner office in the Master Bedroom, but my husband, who works an hour and a half away goes to bed early and I write late so that didn’t work. Hence, the living room office. The only thing I miss and want in my future office is shelves on which to display all of my dragons, elves, fairies and other fantasy elements plus wall space for the posters of my covers as they are made.
The other day, on the author’s loop, we were discussing the fact that none of our children have read our books. I thought it was just my own kids who were weird, after all I write Fantasy for teens and middle graders. I have kids at the school where I substitute clamoring for my book as soon as it’s available but my own just turn up their noses and shut their ears whenever I talk about the story. It seems, however, that’s not uncommon – even if it is painful.

I never really thought I’d be a published author. It’s something I’ve dreamt about and fantasized about (sitting on Oprah’s couch and trying to look professional) but didn’t really trust that I could convince someone to print my book. Then when I started talking about the characters or events from the books people who heard asked to read it. They were interested and excited and I began to think maybe this was something I could do after all.

So I wrote it and sent it out. And sent it out. And sent it out. Thirty times I sent my manuscripts to agents and publishers. Thirty times they said it wasn’t right for them, maybe someone else. But instead of getting angry or shoving the book in a drawer and walking away, I studied blogs and books until I figured out what I was doing wrong. And I revised. And I revised. And I revised. Some of these rewrites were better, others were worse. But through them all I learned and grew. By the sixth rewrite I liked what was coming out. I liked the main character better than ever before. She had grown in depth and character because I finally had gotten to know her.

Myrna Ashlin Watts

And so, after two and half years I finally had a version of the book I liked and thought worth sending to a new publisher I’d heard about. I was excited about this new publishing house that was just starting. I was excited to be part of its foundation. I had attended an online conversation and met the editors, cover artist, authors and publisher herself, Lea Schizas. I was sorely impressed and wanted badly to be part of the family of Muse It Up Publishing.

So I polished and polished until I could find no more errors and sent it off. Then I crossed my fingers ready to wait the six weeks, eight weeks, twelve weeks so many other publishers require. Imagine my surprise when after a couple of weeks I received an email with contract attachments. I was floored. And flattered. But it was the email itself that flattered me the most. Lea had written that although my book was not the type they usually accepted, they had enjoyed the writer’s voice so much they were willing to take a chance on me. On my story.

Since receiving that contract my muse has grown like a lion. I have the second book in the Seraphym Wars series finished and in the edit stage; in addition to a Middle Grades series I’m waiting to hear back on. There are also outlines in my files for two other Middle Grades series. And I’ve received another contract for a little horror story called Don’t Make Marty Mad due out October 2012 in time for Halloween.

I also have about five picture books in search of a publisher. I’ve only sent them out to one and while they liked them they couldn’t figure out how to illustrate them properly. But I have that worked out, too, so it’s just a matter of finding the right publisher now.

So if you haven’t stumbled across the name of Rebecca Ryals Russell on Facebook or Twitter and you haven’t found any of my websites or blogs and you haven’t seen my profiles on Jacket Flap, or Inkpop, or Inkwell, or Teen Fire, Goodreads, Redroom Writers, NaNoWriMo, or any of the other hundreds of sites I frequent – get to know it now, because I’ve broken through the wall, baby and I’m here to stay.

Here’s an excerpt from Seraphym Wars Book 1: Odessa

I settled back on the sofa, staring at a point on the wall across the room. “A week after my birthday I was sitting on the sofa watching my favorite classic movie, The African Queen, with a big stainless steel bowl of popcorn in my lap. The next thing I knew my eyes began exploding with kaleidoscopes of color. The room spun and I fell sideways onto the sofa then rolled with a hard thump onto the floor. I thought I’d had a stroke or brain aneurism.

“My body stiffened like a board. It was like I was in rigor. For an instant I recalled a Stephen King story about the man bitten by a snake who was paralyzed for most of his own autopsy.

“Anyway, as I stared at the television screen I saw my brother, Quinn who was a year younger than me, running across a grassy field screaming. Then I saw a teenage boy with blonde dreads wearing a black leather jacket and ripped jeans toss some liquid from a small red can onto Quinn.

“Next a smaller boy with red hair that stuck straight up tossed something small that glowed in the dusk. Quinn lit up like a bottle rocket. His arms flailed wildly, like he was trapped in a giant spider web. He roared as the flames raced around his body engulfing his clothing, face and arms. I smelled the acrid sour stench of burning flesh and hair but could not scream or tear my eyes away from the spectacle. Black smoke curled into the late-day sky.

“Quinn ran in circles screaming a high-pitched banshee wail of pain. A third boy, with a long black ponytail and black leather jacket squirted still more of the volatile liquid onto Quinn and the flames flared higher and hotter. I felt the flash of heat on my face. The boys cackled and roared, clapping and hopping around in hilarity.

“ Eventually Quinn fell onto the scorched grass face down. The first boy stepped up and kicked Quinn in the head with pointy-toed snake-skin boots.

“I heard him say, “Watcha gotta say fer yerself? Shulda paid me back, slacker.” His voice slithered slowly like the snake his boots used to be.

““Yeah. What video game did ya buy anyway? Sumthin’ with demons I hope!” the small boy squeaked, his high-pitched voice grating on my nerves. All three of the boys roared with laughter.

““Loser,” the black haired boy said. A wad of spittle flew onto Quinn’s back and sizzled there for a moment.

“I was supposed to speak at his funeral since he and I had been so close being a year apart. He was really the only sibling I got along with. But I kept looking around at the people who’d come to say goodbye and my throat would close up so I couldn’t even breathe. I was surprised how many of his and my school friends came. It seemed most of the school was there. I figured most were spectators, curious because of the conditions under which he’d died. But since he’d been cremated he was ensconced in a gilt urn on the table up front with his high school photo beside him. There was no hint of the trauma that had taken such a young life. They all had to go home disappointed.

“My dad, brave soul that he is, stood behind the wooden podium trying not to cry as he talked about what a great son Quinn had been. “And now he’s trapped forever in a tiny jar. Quinn, the one with major claustrophobia, now has to spend eternity in a can. Just the thought of him in there screaming to get out, pushing on the sides of the metal….” Well, maybe that’s not exactly what he said, but it’s what I heard.

“I ran for the bathroom just as my dad announced my name. I could feel everyone’s eyes on my back as I rounded the corner of the hallway at a run.

“Later, in the long black limo dad had rented, we wound for what seemed hours around the high old Celtic crosses and low modern marble grave markers inside the cemetery. The place covered easily fifty acres and the asphalt path twisted like a black snake. Finally I saw the green tent hovering over a rectangular hole lined with fake green grass, like that would fool anyone. I counted the five folding metal chairs lining the back side of the hole thinking there was one missing. But it was only an instant before I realized Quinn wouldn’t need a chair, ever again.


Karen McGrath said...

What lovely photos. I'm looking forward to reading the Seraphym Wars. Muse is the best, isn't it? Excellent interview. :)

Charlie said...

I'm definitely goiing to remember the name Rebecca Ryals Russell. It's wonderful to get to know you better. What a wonderful peek into the private life of an interesting author. Beautiful pictures. Love the house. Look forard to reading Seraphym Wars. Thanks for sharing.

Marva said...

Nice read, Rebecca. You can guest on my blog anytime you want. ;)

Arlene said...

African Queen was my son's favorite movie as a child. He watched it over a hundred times, turning the couch into the boat, kicking the engine and riding down that river. I'm reading along and then, geez, MC goes into a state and views her brother's violent murder. This is a book I HAVE to read. Cant wait. So glad you didnt give up, Rebecca. Thanks for sharing.

Rhobin said...

Revisions are difficult, but they are interesting in their own way as close examination often inspires new character insights and plot developments.

Chilling excerpt, but sure sparks interest in the story.