1. How did you get interested in the topic that's featured in your book?
A: As a child I was plagued with bronchial asthma. Each winter I spent months in bed, coughing, struggling to breathe. I didn't have much company but, when I was well enough, my dad would bring my Pomeranian, Palsy, up to see me
It was eight years before I actually got outside to play with friends. I lost so much time in school I was always inside either coughing or learning. The boys on my block weren't so nice when I tried to join in. Only stray animals seemed to offer me any comfort or friendship. I always had an intense love of animals so when I retired, we began adopting and rescuing animals. When I contracted colon cancer, my drive to be back with my animals fueled not only my will to live, but my animal stories as well.
My first book, Tears and Tales, is really about letting go. I had lost several animals by the time I knew about my colon cancer. Our dog, Nikki, died on the very morning I went in for emergency surgery. I just could not stop grieving for her. I had a lot of time to be depressed sitting in bed recovering. I guess it reminded me of my childhood. . If anyone reads The Cardinal, one of the stories in my first book, they'll understand that my animal friends helped me through a very bad period in my life. The story resonates because it seemed like a message from my animal friend that came from beyond the grave. Who says they aren't waiting?
2. Tell us a bit about your background. What have you done in the past that relates to your book and the topic?
A: I guess I've done a little bit of everything. By the time I was eleven, I was self-supporting selling firecrackers to the rich kids on the hill. I worked in a bakery for a number of years and spent twenty-five years practicing law. I think the urge to write was always with me, but I needed to earn a living. I did have pets, though, a wonderful Dobe named Saber and several of her offspring.
Throughout the years, I wrote short stories for many of my school friends who just couldn't get the hang of writing. As a lawyer, of course, I was always writing affidavits and briefs. I tried a writing course but learned that writing is one of the toughest professions to earn a living at so I pretty well stuck to law. None of this dealt with animals but there always seemed to be an animal in my life somewhere. I just cannot think of a time when I did not have an animal in my life. I'm comfortable around them. Still, I don't want to be labeled as a writer of animal stories. My stories use animals as metaphors, symbols of the ability to struggle against the tide and succeed.
3. What advice would you give to someone who is interested in your topic?
A: That's a tough question to answer. I don't have a particular topic. Tears and Tales was pretty much about the animals in my life, past and present. The Horse with the Golden Mane was animal related, but it dealt with people and relationships.
My third book, due out in July or August, is Streetwise: Mafia Memoirs and that is hardly an animal book, though some people quip it's about two-legged animals.
If I had to give someone advice on any topic, I'd say to write from the heart. Then, go back and write from the head. Put the two of them together and then learn how to market and sell your own work. This works for any topic. If you are writing about animals, talk to animal owners and pet lovers. The stories are endless. One of mine made it into the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse Magazine.
4. What do you see as the benefit to participating in groups and organizations? My first thought would be networking opportunities and the chance for personal and business growth. What are your reasons?
A: My wife is the joiner. I am not. I see a benefit to networking and participating in group discussions, but I prefer to work alone. If I do good work, others, in or out of a group, will tell me that. I am not knocking working in groups. I think they are great for those who need support and encouragement. They're a good way to learn about upcoming events, new techniques, new markets, but I have this loner-attitude that I have to succeed on my own. Since I've been doing that from age eleven, it's something that has worked for me. Still, I enjoy helping others. I don't know how much marketing material I have sent out of here to help fledgling writers or those entering the marketing phase of writing.
The disadvantage to working with writer groups is that the wrong group can be very destructive to the creative process. Everyone wants to write something his or her own way. I had to fire my second editor because she insisted on rewriting my material. And she was a professional who should have known better.
Now I do use people with marketing experience to network my books on the Internet. My wife does a truly great job of promoting us online. I don't know how successful that is because it's practically impossible to trace a sale or an order to a particular internet source. We link with anyone we can, but because I am a true klutz at using the internet, my wife has a hands-off policy where I am concerned. By that, I mean she wants my hands off her computer. Well, I can't blame her. I single-handedly managed to violate some rule about bulk mailings and AOL cancelled our privilege. I was only trying to send eight people the same document. Somehow it expanded to eight hundred and sixty four.
My strongest point is talking. If I can gather a group of people around me, I'll sell books. We went on a seven day tour and in the first two stops we sold one-hundred nineteen books. The advantage, of course, is that I know where and how my books sold. Many authors simply sit and wait for people to look at their books. Virginia and I openly and politely solicit with objects that attract attention long enough for you to start talking.
“Do you know anyone who loves animals?” is my favorite person stopper.
5. Who is the ideal person to read your book? If each person that reads this was going to recommend your book to one person, what sort of person would they want to choose?
A: Tears and Tales has had a wide appeal to women and children. It's a book with a lot of emotion. Children love the animal part of the stories whereas women see the sensitivity of a man and wife struggling to stay a family. Because of that appeal it's won three awards.
The Horse with the Golden Mane is resonating well with adolescents, women and over-forty males. It's also won three awards. Anyone who loves adventure, romance or people will enjoy Horse. We recently went to a gun show in Louisville and sold a fair number of books and a goodly amount were to men.
6. What do you think ignites a person's creativity?
A: The ability to immerse yourself in a situation just as an actor immerses himself in a role. He or she is no longer the same person. They become the character. When I write about animals, I become that animal. I inherit its senses, sight, sound, smell. I experience the same emotions the animal experiences. One famous critic wrote of my work that only Jack London could see inside an animal well enough to write about it. Another judge in the same contest told me I had a fantastic ability to see inside an animal. Go figure what appeals to subjective judges.
What ignites it may simply be a random thought that builds into something. For example, when I wrote the final story in The Horse with the Golden Mane, what inspired it was my wife's habit of slipping out of bed so quietly it's almost ghost-like. That inspired me to write about a man who . . . well, I'm not going to tell you that. You'll have to buy the book and see what I did with that random thought.
7. What have you found to be the biggest stumbling block for people who want to start writing?
A: Lack of knowledge. They have to learn writing techniques, grammar and that kind of thing and then they have to learn about an industry that has been operating for thousands of years . . . without them. If you want to make money at writing become a person who promises much to the aspiring writer, but for God's sake, don't become a writer.
8. How would you suggest they overcome that?
A: Go to the experts. People like Dan Poynter, John Kremer. Learn what you are in for before you ever set a single word on paper. Monitor every ad that seems to have appeal. What are you really getting for your money? How can you judge the results? Then select the market you want to reach, the amount of budget you have to reach them, the resources at your disposal. There is a lot of advice out there, some good, some bad. Experience will teach you some of it, but caution can prevent mistakes.
If you think some big publisher is going to risk money on you as opposed to someone with a name, take up golf or billiards. Don't write!
9. What do you find is the biggest motivator for people to succeed? Is it money, security, desire for fame or something else?
A: I think it's the desire to be recognized. Just about the time I'm ready to give up writing, someone comes along and tells me what a wonderful writer I am; or how much they enjoyed my story, so-and-so. We all need praise. Some of us more than others. I don't think I could handle fame. And very few make money at writing so it's not money. No, I think people write because they simply cannot not write.
I'll be driving along and a thought strikes me. I've got to jot it down and get to my computer (non-internet) and start writing. After a hundred edits, I sit back and tell myself that it's good. Then, others tell me the same thing. It doesn't seem to matter then that it cost me money to actually sell my book. It's just not something I can put aside. I have to write, like it or not. And once you've published that book, you need for others to read it and only then are you satisfied.
10: Who is the “perfect” person to read your book?
A: There isn't any “perfect” person to read my books. They have wide and general appeal to all readers. If I had to pick one type of person, I'd say it would have to be someone who enjoys an emotional story and who can accept that not every story has a happy ending. It would also have to be someone who believes there is some kind of existence after death. So all my animals are still with me . . . in my books . . . in my thoughts . . . in my hopes that they are waiting for me just over the horizon.
11. Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
A: Yes. Whatever knowledge I have acquired in the three years since I wrote my first book, I'd share with anyone who takes the time to write and ask. Only one man's opinion, and it cost me nearly twenty thousand dollars to learn, but I'm willing to answer questions from anyone with a sincere interest in learning. And, I'm willing to learn from anyone who can teach me.
I'd also like to share some laughter because I thought I'd write a wonderful collection of inspiring short stories and some publisher would just snap them up.
Even I am still laughing at that one. Write because it pleases you to do something truly worthwhile. Write because you feel something for it. Write because you cry when you finish and you have nothing more to do with your character. Write mostly because it is “you.”
Russell A Vassallo
Russell A. Vassallo, Author
Box 105, Danville, KY 40423
606-787-2571 fax 606-787-8207
www.krazyduck.com Russ@ krazyduck.co