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Interview with Russ Colchamiro

A member of the Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America member, and Crazy 8 Press, Russ is also the author of the SFF novels Crossline, Finders Keepers, Genius de Milo, and Astropalooza, editor of the Sci-Fi mystery anthology Love, Murder & Mayhem, co-author and editor of the noir anthology Murder in Montague Falls, and has contributed to numerous anthologies. 

He also hosts Russ’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster podcast, interviewing a who’s who of science fiction, crime, mystery, and horror authors. He is married with 12-year-old twin ninjas, and has a black lab, named Jinx. He lives in Essex County, NJ.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
I seem to have an inner ear condition that throws off my equilibrium, so I get dizzy and nearly black out if I’m high up and peer over the edge!

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you shortly? Any new project you’re working on?
Yes! I have several new projects. My big news is that Hot Ash, the third book in my ongoing sci-fi mystery series featuring hardboiled private detective Angela Hardwicke, will debut Sept 5! 

I also have a two-part story with co-writer Hildy Silverman (former publisher of Space & Time Magazine) in THE PHENOMENONS. It’s an anthology of new superhero stories published by Crazy 8 Press and edited by my pal, NY Times best-selling Star Trek author Michael Jan Friedman

Hildy and I are actually about to write the next two-parter soon for The Phenomenons Vol. 2. I have several others stories coming out in various anthologies, which I’ll share when they get closer to pub date.

Q.3 When did you decide to write The Angela Hardwicke Sci-Fi Mysteries?
Hoo boy! Angela Hardwicke is, to me, part Blade Runner, part Doctor Who, part Ellen Ripley (from Aliens). Hardwicke made a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance in Genius de Milo, the second book in my Finders Keepers sci-fi backpacking comedy trilogy. I loved her so much that I bumped her up to a strong secondary character in Astropalooza, the final book in that trilogy. 

Since then I’ve now written three Hardwicke novels with a minimum of two more to come (and probably loads more!) and I’ve written about a half dozen Hardwicke short stories which have appeared in various anthologies. Each Hardwicke story is a stand-alone mystery, so you can read them in any order.

Q.4 It is vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing. Tell us about your marketing campaign?
My marketing efforts run on multiple tracks simultaneously. I just came back from Shoreleave, an annual sci-fi con in Huntsville, MD. I’ll be back there for Monster Mania at the end of Sept, and then I’ll be at Philcon in November. At the cons, I do signings at my dealers table and speak on various panels. I’m also doing a reading in late July in Ashbury Park, NJ, through the Mystery Writers of America, and I’m scheduled to do another reading through MWA in October in NYC.

About two years ago I started hosted Russ’s Rockin’ Rollercoaster, a weekly podcast where I interview a who’s who of sci-fi, mystery, crime, and horror authors, either one-on-one interviews or panels. I’ve do 70 episodes so far and have another 20 or so lined up. All eps get uploaded to my YouTube channel, so if you miss them live, you can watch them at your convenience. 

I’ve hosted panels on Star Wars, Star Trek, Blade Runner, The Expanse, and more, an addition to the one-one-one interviews. I’ve had numerous best-selling authors on my show, as well some lesser-known authors who have great stories to tell.

Q.5 How long does it typically take for you to write a book?
All in, from the first keystroke to having a physical book in hand that’s available for sale, about 10 months for a novel. Short stories usually take me 2-3 weeks to write and polish. Novellas about 8 weeks.

Q.6 Were there any challenges you faced while writing this series?
Always! I work a full-time day job in the commercial real estate market, I host a podcast doing 25 eps or so per season, I’m married with 12-year-old ninjas, have a kooky dog, and a house to take care of. 

And the world has gone absolutely batshit crazy, so… yeah! A few obstacles to contend with! But as wacky as my life can be, I’ve learned to focus, and be as efficient as I can. I’ve gotten much better about blocking out distractions.

Q.7 Do you have a routine when it comes to editing your books?
LOL! Boy did you open a can of worms with that one! I’m a voracious editor. Once I have a complete first draft, I’ll usually do anywhere from 8-12 rounds of edits. Some on paper, some on screen, as I find that the way my eyes interact with the words change dramatically from screen to paper. It’s just a different experience for me, so by editing through both mediums, I catch things I would otherwise miss. I try to whittle the manuscript down to be as tight and lean as possible while telling the story I want to tell the way I want to tell it. 

My rule of thumb is that my novels should never exceed 90,000 words, although of course rules are meant to be broken. But about 80,000-85,000 words is my sweet spot. Editing gets me there. I also find that I’m able to nuance the narrative-including details, dialogue, and pacing, and elevate the world-building through the editing process in ways I miss during the initial draft.

Q.8 What kind of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Put your butt in the chair and write! Don’t worry about ‘perfect.’ There is no perfect. Then, to the degree you can arrange, show your work to people whose opinion you trust and can give you practical feedback you can implement. Don’t be afraid to hear that your work is imperfect. Because guess what? It is! So is everyone’s. 

Work on your craft and try to absorb as much as you can. And read. A lot! Don’t expect immediate results or convince yourself that your first book is going to hit the best-seller list. It might, but it’s HIGHLY doubtful. Your writing life is a marathon. Take the long view, and if you stick with it, over time, it will pay off. If you want instant gratification, the writing life probably isn’t for you.

Q.9 Do you believe in writer’s block? If yes, how do you deal with it?
I mean, sure, it happens. But I rarely get stuck for too long. If one idea isn’t clicking, I move onto something else to clear my head. Exercise helps me enormously. It’s a great way to release stress, get the endorphins going, and kickstart creativity. It’s certainly not the only way to overcome writer’s block, but it seems to work for me.

Q.10 What were your feelings when you first saw the cover of the finished product?
Seeing a great cover to your work can be a real thrill! I spend a lot of time on my covers. In most cases, although not all, I actually come up with the core design myself, then turn it over to the actual designers who can bring it to life and make it sing in ways I never could.

Q.11 Does your family support your career as a writer?
They support me in the sense that they root for me to succeed, but they don’t financially support me. I have a full-time day job. Any money I earn from my books goes right back into my book business. And if there’s money left over, it’s for exciting things, like paying bills!

Q.12 How did you select the name of your characters?
It’s an organic process. What feels right… that’s their name. Sometimes I’ll change it along the way, either because it sounds too similar to another name, or it’s just a gut instinct and I like something better. There may be some subtle notion that their name ‘means’ something, but mostly, it’s just a name.

Q.13 What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Because of my other life responsibilities, I don’t have a definitive writing schedule. Sometimes it’s at night after work, sometimes on the weekends, sometimes on my lunch break. I write when I can, which has forced me to become far more efficient when I do write. My time is precious-and limited-so I try to make the most of it.

Q.14 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
Yes! But it would take too long to explain here!

Q.15 How do you came up with the name of your books?
My book titles are critical to me. A title can-fortunately or unfortunately-be a critical factor in whether your books stands out. A great title is ideal, and a solid title works. But a bad title can kill you.

Q.16 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from a gender other than yours?
Writing Angela Hardwicke, for example, has been a challenge and a thrill. Because she’s a woman, I can’t just ‘write her like a man’ and give her a female name. Doesn’t work that way and it will show. 

Because she’s a private investigator, it helps in the sense that most of what she does comes down to the work itself, and the steps to her job don’t change much regardless of gender. But she’s also a mother to a young son, and it’s a critical part of her persona. So I try to get inside her ‘mommy mind’ as often as I can and juxtapose it with her hardboiled private eye point of view.

Q.17 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
My work has appeared in about 25 books so far, a collection of novels, novellas, short stories, and essays. I can’t say I have a favorite, but for the time being at least, I’m all in writing Angela Hardwicke. I’m having an absolute blast. Probably the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
A. Albert Einstein
or Mark Twain. They were both brilliant, keen observers of human nature, and hilarious in their individual ways.

Q.19 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
A. For the most part I stick to the three-part story structure, because l like the framing and the pacing, and lets me know where the beats needs to be. I work diligently at crafting somewhat complex narratives that you can still follow quite easily while weaving in themes that challenge the characters to examine their world views in one way or another. A common question is, do you prefer a good plot or a good character? My goal, in every book, is to deliver both.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far?
I’ve been tinkering with words since I was a kid, but in terms of fiction, my first novel, Finders Keepers, debuted Oct 2010. So I’ve appeared in 25 books since then, which is about two per year, but now my output is closer to one novel a year and 3-5 short stories. 

The first several years were exciting, as I landed a national distribution contract for my debut book and was placed in 25 on Barnes and Nobles stores across the U.S., so I assumed at the time it would only be uphill from there! Rookie mistake! The world has changed drastically since then-the Great Recession, Covid, etc-and so has the publishing industry. 

If nothing else it’s motivated me to be more ruthless with my work, because the best way to stand out is to write great books. I don’t know if my books are great or not-I leave that to others to decide-but I’m better now as I writer than I’ve ever been, and yet feel like I’m nowhere near as good as I someday hope to be.

Although I’ll say this, when someone like Nicholas Meyer, who wrote and directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, gives me a ringing endorsement, which he did for the Hardwicke series, it’s hard not to feel like I’m onto something special.

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