Guest Interview – Christopher Ruz

Today’s guest is Aussie author Christopher Ruz. I originally met Ruz through twitter, than finally in person at the last Genrecon event held in Brisbane. When he was looking to promote his new book, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to find out more about him and his books. So let’s get into it, shall we?

Chris, how did you come to be a writer? Was it always something you were interested in or did you fall into it?

I always wanted to be a writer. Seriously, always. My parents remember six-year-old-me insisting I was going to be an author when I grew up, and I still have the first copies of my kindergarten Star Wars fan fiction buried somewhere in the cupboard.

But if you’re asking how that all started, I can trace it back to the BBC Radio adaptation of Lord of the Rings. My Dad used to play it on long car trips between Sydney and Canberra, so I grew up surrounded by epic storytelling as an oral tradition. I never wanted to leave that world of wonder and mystery and fear, but the tapes always came to an end. So I started writing my little heart out as soon as I was old enough to hold a pen in an effort to keep that experience going.

What were your favourite books/films/shows growing up? What kick-started your creativity?

I mentioned the Lord of the Rings BBC radioplay, which is still bloody brilliant (you can find it on Youtube easily, check it out!). I also fell in love with Star Wars and Superman on VHS, but there’s a caveat – my parents used to tape movies off the TV, and they consistently missed the openings of films. So I grew up thinking that Star Wars began with a bunch of random soldiers jumping into a trash compactor, and Superman II was a short film that opened with our hero throwing Zod down a hole in the Fortress of Solitude.

This meant I had to imagine the backstory for these movies and come up with my own pre-internet theories of how these heroes had met, what their journeys were, how they’d gained their powers. I wrote these theories down in little notebooks, and that was my earliest fiction. Only being given half the story was what kick-started my own creative career.

I finally saw the opening hour of Star Wars when I was thirteen. It wasn’t as good as my version.

LOL. You recently released your latest novel, The Ragged Blade, the first book in the Century of Sand. Can you tell us about this book and what readers can expect from the trilogy?

The Ragged Blade is the first book in an epic fantasy I’ve been writing since… 2007 or so? It follows an old soldier, Richard, and his daughter Ana escaping a tyrannical Magician by fleeing into the deserts bordering their kingdom.

There’s a complication, though: this tyrannical ruler is Richard’s ex-boyfriend, whom he helped ascend to the throne via a bloody revolution. After decades years of watching his country collapse into despotism, Richard says no more, rescues his daughter from the Magician’s dungeons, and goes in search of a creature hiding in the desert – a demon who Richard encountered years before, and who he hopes will have the power to protect Ana from the Magician.

I was heavily into Cormac McCarthy and Gene Wolfe when I started writing The Ragged Blade all those years ago, and their fingerprints are still all over it. And it’s big. Three chunky books worth of weird desert monsters and noble warlords and zombie dogs and alchemical experiments. But behind all the swords-and-sorcery adventure, it’s mainly a story about coming to terms with being a father. As the story begins, Richard hasn’t seen Ana since she was an infant. He isn’t a great dad. He doesn’t know how to interact with her, how to relate to her. He spent his life as a revolutionary soldier, helping a tyrant rise to power. He’s trying to teach Ana how to be a good person even as he’s teaching himself how to be a good man.

So, readers can expect swashbuckling action, scary monsters, magic and demons and fantastical swords, giant spiders and undead hunting hounds and all that good stuff! But also: the fallout of a toxic relationship between two men. The struggles of parenthood. A quest for self-worth. Explorations of the impacts of colonialism and dehumanisation.

There’s a lot going on! It’s pretty dark at times, but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun. I think anyone who likes Joe Abercrombie or who enjoy the world of Dark Souls or Berserk is going to have a great time with The Ragged Blade. All purchase links for The Ragged Blade: https://www.christopher-ruz.com/cos-series

You’ve also written a small-town horror series, Rust, which looks very intriguing. Tell us about this one?

Rust is one of my favourite projects! I’m a massive horror fan, so Rust is my way of bundling up all the stuff I love – spooky Twin Peaks-esque towns, extreme Cronenbergian body horror, and Lovecraftian mysteries – in one package. It’s about Kimberly Archer, an aspiring editor in 1980’s New York, who gets pushed in front of the C-Train. She wakes up in Rustwood – a bizarre mountain town where the rain never stops, the phones don’t work, and something sinister stalks the midnight streets.

I originally wrote and self-published Rust as a serial where Kimberly would encounter and defeat some new, horrible aspect of Rustwood every month, but I quickly fell in love with the expanded cast and it metamorphosed into a five-book series that zips back and forth between comedy and tragedy, cosmic horror and dark mysteries and creepy-crawly zombie action.

The wide scope of Rust has also let me explore some of my all-time favourite characters. Kimberly’s journey from terrified victim of circumstance to a skull-crushing take-no-shit warrior has been so much fun to explore. Then you’ve got Fitch, the vagrant who mixes napalm in his basement… Detective Goodwell, a well-meaning cop in thrall to dark forces… Darling, a puppet of cosmic horrors who eventually splits away from her master to pursue her own destiny…

So yeah, I love writing Rust. It lets me explore some really weird shit. My Dad also refused to read past book 2 on account of it giving him nightmares, so that’s a cool endorsement… I think?

Also, the first book is free if you join my mailing list! So why not give it a shot? Rust One Free: https://www.christopher-ruz.com/rust

For a change of pace, you also write a pulpy spy novel series – Olesia Anderson – under the name of D.D. Marks. What’s the story behind this series?

In my early self-publishing days, I was trying to make some steady sales. I saw two main markets always at the top of the charts – digestible pulp in novella form, and smut. I decided to experiment with a hybrid of the two and came up with Olesia Anderson – a Bond-esque figure who travels the world, takes down baddies, and has a lot of sex. Except I positioned her as less of a hero and more of a gun for hire, working in corporate espionage, taking whatever job paid best.

It might’ve started purely as a marketing experiment, but I quickly got attached to Olesia and her cast of recurring friends and foes. The plots got more elaborate. Enemies became allies and allies became enemies. By the time I hit the fourth novella, I’d almost abandoned the smuttier side of the story in favour of fast-paced pulp espionage action. By the fifth, I was travelling Europe for on-site research.

This is a bad habit of mine. I start a side project for laughs and before I know it, I’m 100% invested. Olesia Anderson might’ve begun as a fun romp, but I feel it’s grown into something more like Bourne-lite – explosions, sass, backstabbing, romance, but with a side-helping of darkness, political machinations, heartbreak, ruminations on PTSD and the corporate takeover of domestic politics.

It’s not my most, uh, high literature series. The first two stories could use a tune-up, probably. But I’m proud of where the Olesia Anderson saga went, and I can’t wait to get back to it and finish off the final two instalments. And I think you’d have a ton of fun with it, too.

…and, like Rust, the first book is free through all your fave ebook retailers, so if you’re after something pulpy to read tonight, hint hint hint… Olesia Anderson 1: Dirty Deals Free https://www.christopher-ruz.com/olesia-anderson/

You’re a hybrid author. Can you tell us a bit about your experience with both traditional and self-publishing, and why you choose this path?

From my earliest days, I wanted to be a traditionally published author. I mean, the term self publishing wasn’t in my lexicon until the Kindle revolution. That was when I was just starting to query Century of Sand, and wasn’t getting anywhere with it. The submission grind was really starting to get me down. So – and I’m a bit embarrassed to say it – I got into self-publishing not because I had a great marketing plan or had any real understanding of self-pub strategy, but because I was impatient.

I quickly learned how tough self-pub is. It’s a brutal industry and I have so much respect for authors who are able to write and market effectively. Me, I can’t. I don’t understand marketing. I can’t manage splitting my time between the business of writing and the business of… running a business. I wish I could. I’d like to do a marketing course some day and patch that hole in my understanding.

That’s why I went back to trad-pub. I queried Century of Sand again and eventually found Parvus Press, who’ve been wonderful. The experience of working with professional editors and marketers has been a real eye-opener, and I’ve learned an immense amount in a short space of time. But simultaneously, I learned so much about the routine of writing, about engaging with readers, about structure and form and organisation, though the self-pub process.

There’s advantages to both systems and stuff to learn from both sides. And I get the feeling that hybrid will be the norm for most authors moving forward – because even trad pub authors have too many ideas and passions for one market.

By day you teach art and design. Does your line of work influence your writing in any way?

A little! I’m working on my first YA novel on the side, which I’m editing chapter by chapter with some of my students. I started writing it years ago, before I was a teacher, and what I quickly learned was that you can’t write effectively for teens if you don’t immerse yourself in the lives of teens! Otherwise you’re just an old guy playing pantomime. So my students have been a massive help.

My work in high schools also informed my work with The Ragged Blade, formerly Century of Sand. Richard and Ana are father and daughter, but they don’t know each other at the beginning of the novel. There’s distrust, and uncertainty, and Richard has to find a way to quickly relate to and teach Ana how to protect herself despite her not knowing who he is. That’s the same way a teacher feels every time they walk into a new classroom, and I channelled a lot of my uncertainties and stresses (and worst mistakes!) into Richard’s journey.

If you weren’t a writer, what would your dream job be? Do you have a secret passion we don’t know about?

If I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a teacher (which I am! It’s awesome!). If not that, then an artist – I love teaching art, but I don’t have much time to make my own or grow my skills. I love drawing and painting so much, and I get to dedicate maybe four or five days to it each year. My skills are steadily going backward, and that hurts.

If I couldn’t be a writer, artist or teacher, I’d be a stuntman. I got to do professional stuntwork a couple times, and it was a hell of a lot of fun. Also painful! But the fun was worth it.

What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had told you when starting your writing career? What do you know now, that you wished you knew then?

I’ve got two pieces of advice, if that’s allowed!

Of course!

The first – when you’re still developing your craft as a writer, treat each project as a learning opportunity. Your first few books probably won’t be any good, and that’s okay. Don’t get attached to them. They probably won’t sell a million copies or be made into Netflix miniseries, but they will be an excellent chance to improve your prose, your structure, your character development. And once you’ve learned what you need? Move on. Don’t agonise over getting those early projects perfect and publishable. They’re classwork.

The second – once you’re shifting from the “developing my craft” phase into the “creating great stories” phase, try to complete one project at a time. If the project is a series, then get the whole damn thing done before moving on! I diversified too much when I was a self-pubber, and now I’m struggling to finish two self-pub series (Rust and Olesia Anderson), one trad pub series (the Century of Sand trilogy), and four different novel/novella projects. It’s too much!

Oh, yes, I know what you mean…

So, Ruz, what can we expect from you next?

Century of Sand 2 will be out next year! My editors at Parvus just sent back notes on the third draft and they think it’s looking pretty good. After that, I’m going to hammer out Rust Five, which is the final book in the Rust saga. I already know the ending and it’s going to be real juicy. After that, who knows? I have a fantasy novella series I’d like to pitch next year, the final two Olesia Anderson stories to complete, and I’m also working on an all-new historical horror project that I’m pitching as Bloodborne VS the Bourgeoise.

See what I mean about too much stuff? I’m trying to get better! I promise!

Ha! Well, thanks for joining me today!

Readers, if you’d like to find out more about Chris, you can do so here:

Website  |  Instagram  |  Facebook  |  Twitter

And if you’d like to buy his books, you can do so here:

Amazon – Chrisopher Ruz Amazon – D.D. Marks

The Ragged Blade (all purchase links)

Rust (all purchase links & free download)

 

About Amanda Bridgeman

Amanda Bridgeman is a Tin Duck Award winner and an Aurealis and Ditmar Awards finalist. She studied film & television/creative writing at Murdoch University (BA Communication Studies) and has been published by Angry Robot and Pan Macmillan (Momentum Books).

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