A Few Quick Questions With…Russell Day

Yesterday I reposted a couple of personal highlights from 2018 (I’m talking about what I read, not what I said) — Not Talking Italics and Needle Song. Today, I get to share some A’s to my Q’s behind the brilliant writer behind them, Russell Day.

Without further ado…

What was your path to publication? What did you do to prepare yourself to this career in fiction?
I don’t think I ever consciously prepared for a career as a fiction writer (my default setting is pretty much: wing it). I started writing when I was a teenager, but it’s only been the last five years or so that I’ve taken it seriously. Before that, I’d make a lot of good starts but then get bored or, worse, sit around waiting until I was in ‘the mood’. That’s a recipe for a drawer full of unfinished manuscripts. Now I just sit and write and if it’s crap, I rewrite.

Getting published, for me, has largely been down to competitions. The first piece of fiction I ever had published appeared in Writer’s Forum Magazine, where it had won second prize in their monthly short story contest. It was a Doc Slidesmith story, called The Tattooist, the Tarot and Bang-Bang the Clown. Fahrenheit might be releasing a collection of my short stories this year, and hopefully The Tattooist will be included in it. I’ve got a lot of affection for that piece, it was the first time I saw my stuff in print and it was doubly exciting that it featured Doc.

The book deal with Fahrenheit Press came my way because of their Noirville competition. I entered two pieces for that, The Icing on the Cake and Not Talking Italics (another story about Doc). Both stories struck a chord with the judges, and Chris McVeigh offered me a two book deal on the strength of them. The Icing on the Cake, was included in the anthology and Not Talking Italics, was offered up as a teaser to introduce people to Doc.

What first hooked me with your story “Not Talking Italics” was the way you told that particular story — all dialogue, practically an extended monologue. Was there anything in particular that drove that choice, or did it just “happen”? Would you/have you consider writing a novel in that manner?
We’re back to competitions again. I wrote Not Talking Italics with a view to entering it into a competition that wanted stories told entirely in dialogue. In the end I couldn’t keep to the required word count, but I liked the story and thought it might be a good fit for the Noirville competition. One of Doc’s main features his the-gift-of the gab, so he lent himself to the style.

I don’t have any plans to write a whole novel using just dialogue. I wouldn’t rule it out, but I think that technique is best suited to pieces that can be read in one sitting. That said, I like my characters to talk a lot and I sometimes slip ‘transcripts’ into the plot. I do that in Needle Song in a couple of places and do it again in Ink to Ashes, the second Slidesmith novel.

Liking to hear the characters ‘talk’ is why I often write in the first person, I try to give the impression that the reader is being ‘told’ the story.

Doc Slidesmith has quite the interesting and varied résumé/CV — he’s clearly not your everyday fictional detective (amateur or not). Psychologists have been done, tattoo shop owners — not so much. Definitely no one’s put them together before — and then throwing in the Tarot reading has to make him even more distinctive. How did you stumble across that particular combination, and why would you go looking for it?
Just before I started writing Needle Song, I’d met a woman who practiced Voodoo and it caught my interest.  Doc’s connection with Voodoo and Tarot stemmed from that. After that I sort of built Doc, bit by bit, around the scene where we first see him reading the Tarot. Once I’d established him as a freak, albeit a clever one, I had to ask myself how he’d make a living. It had to be something that fitted his aesthetic and suggested a certain depth. Tattooist was an obvious choice.

The psychologist angle was almost accidental. I’d wanted a name that had a Voodoo flavour to it. For a while I thought about calling him Papa Slidesmith, but that made him sound too old. Doctor Slidesmith had a certain ring to it and, of course, someone would have to ask why he called himself ‘Doc’. Giving him a full-fledged PhD was a good way to show his intelligence and it also muddied the waters as to whether he’s reading the Tarot cards or the people around him.

(that’s one of my favorite answers I’ve ever received from an author . . . )

I’ve often heard that writers, or artists in general, will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?

I’ve been very lucky in terms of reviews and haven’t been roasted … yet. I don’t know how, or even if, harsh criticism will affect my writing. I’m pretty well tuned into my own sense of what does or doesn’t work, so I’ll probably stick with that.
Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write? Or are you primarily a mystery/suspense/thriller reader?
I read many genres, but my first port of call is mystery/crime. I couldn’t write a historical novel, I’m just not good enough at research to get the details right.
This one’s not about you directly, but what is it about Fahrenheit Press that seems to generate the devotion and team spirit that it does (or at least appears to)? I don’t know that I’ve seen as many authors from the same publisher talk about/read each other’s books — or talk about the publisher — as much as you guys seem to. Is it simply contractual obligation, or is there more?
A lot of it’s down to Chris McVeigh’s enthusiasm. If you talk to the man for a few minutes it’s clear he wants Fahrenheit to publish books he believes in. Yes, it’s a money making venture but that’s not all it is to him, not by a long way. Another thing that makes Fahrenheit different is simply the selection of books.

Fahrenheit doesn’t think like a mainstream publisher. It doesn’t want to publish a reworked version of last year’s best seller. It wants to publish something else. And if that means colouring outside the lines a bit then so be it. THAT implies a certain trust in both the writers and the readers. That trust makes you a part of Fahrenheit. We’re not just numbers being told what to write this year or told what we’re going to read. With Fahrenheit we’re all in it together.

And they sell cool mugs.

Can’t argue with that last line — love my Fahrenheit mug. 🙂

Thanks for your time, sir. Can’t wait to see what you’ve got coming next.

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Not Talking Italics by Russell Day: This Short Story contains enough entertainment value to carry a novel.

Not Talking ItalicsNot Talking Italics

by Russell Day
Series: Doc Slidesmith

Kindle Edition
2018, Fahrenheit Press
Read: May 7, 2018
In a couple of months, I’ll be taking part in a book tour for Russell Day’s debut novel, Needle Song, and I’m really looking forward to that (and am having a hard time not reading it now). But today, we’re going to look at a short story featuring the protagonist of the book, Dr. James Slidesmith. A little something to whet our collective appetities.

I know very little about Slidesmith after reading this short story, and I can’t wait to find out more. Here’s what I do know — 1. He has a PhD in Psychology, and is touchy about those who don’t consider him to be a “real” doctor; 2. He owns and runs a tattoo parlor/shop; 3. he plays poker; 4. He’s very smart; 5. He has the gift of gab.

All five of these are important, but in this short story, that last one is essential. Everything in this is dialogue — no dialogue tags, no narrative, no descriptive passages — just characters talking. Which will involve all that other stuff, but that’s not how the story is told. It takes place in a police interrogation room — you’ve got a Detective Constable, a Detective Sergeant and Dr. Slidesmith talking about an incident at a poker game earlier that night. Things got nasty and two men died, given the small number of people at the game, the Police are looking to quickly identify the killer(s) and wrap this up quickly.

But first they’ve got to get past the silver-tongued Slidesmith. That won’t be easy. He offers a detailed explanation of the night’s events — including doing some educating on Texas Hold-’em, the ins and outs of betting in the game (and how to manipulate betting). There are a couple of characters that we only learn about from questions and answers in the interrogation, and I feel like I ahve a pretty good handle on them, without seeing them speak for themselves. That’s a nice move.

As it’s just dialogue — and well-written dialogue, at that — this is a fast, breezy read (so fast, you might miss a thing or two the first time through). It’s not so much a book that you read, it’s one you hear with your eyes. I’m not certain that makes a lot of sense, but it’s the best way I can put it. These are fast-moving conversations, they have a certain rhythm, a certain feel — and you just want to keep reading more and more of it. This could’ve been twice as long and I don’t think my attention would’ve wavered an iota. Imagine your favorite scene written by Aaron Sorkin, then imagine it changing into an interrogation in a British Police Station — that’s what this story is.

This is good stuff, my friends — better than good. There’s an extent to which the reveal seems “oh, sure, I should’ve seen that coming” — and it wouldn’t surprise me if many readers get there before Day wants you to (I was not one of them) — but it’s so satisfying, so well-executed, I can’t imagine a soul complaining about it. If Needle Song is anything like this, I’m going to have to go down to the superlative store this weekend to stock up before I write anything about it.

Stop whatever you’re doing — including reading this — and click the links at the top of the page to go get this story. You’re welcome.

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5 Stars