R.C. Rutter is a proud father and consummate storyteller, so naturally the two would merge when he penned his novel, Cave of Forlorn. Currently available as an eBook from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Rutter shares the backstory to Cave of Forlorn, what inspired its conception and how he developed his craft. He offers insights into the evolution of the publishing world, advice for aspiring writers and why readers make the story world go round.
PC: As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
RC: I would really like to say that as a child, I had it all figured out. Some of my friends did. They knew exactly what they wanted to do. I had not a clue.
PC: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
RC: During my teen years, I could often be found in the backyard, up in the tree, reading a book. I had no aspirations then to write a novel but I did enjoy writing short stories. I combined my love for drawing with
writing and found myself making comic strips that I would show off to the neighborhood kids. In my twenties, I attempted to write my first novel but never had a chance to work on it much. I did complete two chapters and received great feedback from my friends. The desire to actually write a novel has been with me since then. In May of 2009 I got the opportunity to write again and I seized it.
PC: What do you think makes a good story? What elements draw you in as a reader?
RC: It drives me crazy when stories are too obvious or too convenient. I would much rather be left wondering what could possibly happen. My favorite scene is to place characters in difficult situations and have them figure a way out of their predicament. The cave is flooding, the boat is rising, and the ceiling made of solid rock is fast approaching. Yes, that is actually in the book.
PC: Would you share a little about Cave of Forlorn. How did this story come to you?
RC: From the beginning, I wanted to tell a story about a young teenage girl. I am the proud dad of two teenage girls. I wrote the book for them, to encourage and instill confidence in them. The main character had to be smart, she had to be confident. I am always encouraging my daughters and I continue that role in my book. Yes, a girl can be beautiful, smart, confident, and a warrior. The premise of the Cave of Forlorn is that the king is dying and he summons his daughter to him. She has been hidden away since before birth to protect her thus she has no idea of her true identity. She embarks upon a journey to be reunited with her dad and faces challenges along the way. I have been an avid fantasy reader since
I was very young so I chose that realm. From the beginning I had several thoughts in mind; an idyllic beginning setting for the daughter, a journey to be re-united, a battle at the end, and a detour through a cave along the way. I had no idea that so much of the story would take place inside the cave and the ending that I had already written in my mind turned out completely different in the book. The characters did not always listen to me and often did things on their own. I have often heard that characters take on a life of their own. I never really understood that until now.
PC: Will you talk a little about how much research goes into your novels – how you prepare for creating new worlds on the page.
RC: Writing a fantasy book does not require the research that would go into a non-fiction or a period book. There is a lot of flexibility in making up your own world and characters. Of course, there has to be some familiarity to the reader. A wizard is a wizard, swords are swords, a magic cape is magical. From that foundation you can add other attributes and characters that make them your own; Thorgon loves to munch on onions, Theo feels lost unless he is carrying a cane or staff; and the King can travel outside of his body. Then there is the whole matter of the kitten. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I will tell everyone, don’t mess with the kitten!
Some of my names and references come from actual ancient civilizations. The name “Shabb” literally means “walks with a swagger” and fits the character perfectly. Apsaras are small celestial creatures and I used them in the book. Both of these came from National Geographic magazine.
PC: What do you see as the influences on your writing?
RC: I have always loved a good story. From my teenage years on, I always had a book in my hand. While eating breakfast, I was reading. Lunchtime? Reading. Breaks? Reading. Evenings? You guessed it, reading. Some of the books were good, others were great. I like to think that I took the attributes of what I liked about the best books and incorporated them into my style of writing. My reviews have affirmed that I have succeeded.
PC: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
RC: Sometimes the story just does not flow. I have learned not to try to force the story. Leaving it for a few days and thinking about it at various times, will result in the issues being resolved. Yes, I have a vivid imagination and try to look at situations from different angles. This can be often viewed in my photography where I see an angle or shot that others don’t. I recently hit a snag and could not see where the story was going. This went on for a week and I was getting frustrated, turning ideas over in my head. I finally hit upon one that worked. It fit the story and kept it doing in a direction that I wanted it to. Now I
am back to writing at a quick pace.
PC: How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
RC: The usually start with an idea. One of the short stories I wrote started with the line “I put the key in the lock and turned it.” A line like that immediately draws the reader in. “What kind of door is it? “Where does the door lead?” “Who is holding the key?” “Is this a good thing or is calamity about to unfold?” I have no set formula other than sometimes I will write out plot points that I want to incorporate into the story at some time. If the characters are feeling generous that day, they will follow my plot. More often, they will do something totally unexpected but true to their nature. Their actions are driven by who they are, not by what I want them to do.
My characters develop out of roles I need to complete the story.
Sometimes their roles will change. When I first wrote about Edward and Arthur, I had no idea that later in the book, well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Suffice to say, I needed some characters to fulfill a scene and they fit perfectly.
PC: How do you craft the voice of your novel? Is there any particular exercise you use to go inside the mind of your characters?
RC: The voice was defined by the characters. The king’s daughter had to be smart and confident since she is serving as a role model for my daughters. The wizard had to be wise but he also needed to not have all the answers, just like any real person. True to life, he always tries his best but sometimes has setbacks. Whenever I am writing from the view of a character, I imagine myself as that character. Based upon all their attributes, how would they act in a particular situation?
PC: The publishing world is evolving. Most readers are unaware of the process. Can you take us through the steps of becoming published?
RC: First, write the book, all the way through. Don’t be concerned about the layout. The story just needs to be told. If you begin by obsessing over the small details, you will never make it to the end. Once the book is written, put it away for thirty days. Take a break. Don’t think about the book, don’t read it, nothing. Just leave it alone. Give yourself a break. After 30 days, pick up the book and read it from cover to cover. Does the story flow? Do characters develop? Do characters appear and disappear randomly? If you left a character at the bottom of the stairs and their next scene has them in the attic, how did they get there?
Next begins the editing stage. This cannot be overlooked. Self-published authors have a reputation for shoddy work. Grammatical errors and plot errors are the most common complaints. Do everything you can to avoid falling into these categories. A professional editor can be hired to review your book and is recommended. Friends and family might be an option if they have the language and comprehension skills necessary.
Once that is done, you now have two choices: traditional or self-publishing. Traditional entails engaging the services of a literary agent. If an agent requires funds first, run! A legit agent will take a percentage of the book’s revenue as payment. Anyone else is just taking your money. The agent will then “shop” your book around to the publishers. If your book is chosen, you should expect to receive an advance payment against future earnings of your book. For example, you receive $5,000 for your book. The publisher will sell and distribute your book. Future payments will be forthcoming once the publisher has made back their investment (including your advance expense and minus the cost of any books returned by the bookstores). The publisher will “own” the rights to the book for a set period of time, expect five to seven years.
The other method which is becoming quite popular is to self-publish your book. You write it, add a cover, submit it online, and market the book yourself. Your success depends upon your effort and you retain ownership and control every aspect. The rewards are greater but so is the effort required. I am self-published; I like having total control over my work, retaining ownership, and reaping the rewards.
PC: What advice would you share for aspiring writers? Are there any tools you feel are must-haves for writers?
RC: Time to write is the hardest asset to have. I would love to be able to write all day. My job interferes with my writing. Then, there is time needed for family and friends. Of course, sleep must also be factored in. I also try to write where there are no distractions. I write in my home office, in my car sitting in a parking lot, and my office at work with the door closed during lunch. The best advice for aspiring writers is to write! Take the first 50 pages; give them to friends and co-workers. Ask for constructive criticism. Find the people around you who are always holding a book. Ask them to critique your work and thank
them for their honesty. Any feedback will make you a better writer. Also keep your reader in mind when writing your book. Write what people want. Right now, vampires are very popular. If you want to write a book about the differences between spring water and tap water, understand that not many people will buy your book.
PC: Where do you hope to take your writing – what dreams do you hope, or goals
are there that you hope to achieve?
RC: My first book is almost written like a screenplay plus it has a lot of action and developed characters. It could easily be made into a movie and that is my dream. I am currently at work on the sequel and plan to have at least one more book in this series. I have other ideas for books already.My dream is to be a financially-independent full-time writer.
PC: How important are your readers?
RC: First and foremost, I am a reader. I wrote this book to appeal to myself as a reader. There are no easy answers in the book, no obvious plot lines, and I am prone to whack people when the time feels right. There are a multitude of plot lines that all weave together at the end of the book. My readers are left with questions often and I am thrilled when they tell me that they thought they had it figured out but got surprised instead. Now I am being hounded to get the sequel written so they can find out what happens next.
Visit R.C. Rutter at: www.rcrutter.com/index.html