[Interview] Linda L. Rucker

Linda L. Rucker is part of the growing number of authors who are turning to self-publishing as a way of making their books available to a wider audience.

She has published two novels, What the Heart Wants and Dark Ridge as well as a collection of short stories, Words out of Time. Her short stories have also been featured in the anthologies, Forget Me Knots from the Front Porch; Romancing the Soul; the 2005 Riverdale Short Story Annual and in April Rollins’ Coffee Camp Review Magazine.

She spoke about her writing and her concerns as a self-published author.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I started writing in the eight grade when our English teacher gave us an assignment. We were to write a 1,000 word short story for a contest that was being sponsored by a national scholastic magazine. Our entries would be judged, and the winning entry would be entered into a statewide competition , the winner of that would go on to the national level.

I was happy that I was named the winner of our class competition, elated when I won the state competition and flabbergasted when I won the national competition. Seeing my story, and my name in that little magazine was the catalyst. From that point on I knew I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be as famous as Margaret Mitchell or Harper Lee.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

Authors? I'd say Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee. I am a southerner and I love their voice. And folks from the south are notorious storytellers.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Not being recognized as such. It's a damn shame that there are so many talented writers out there that will never get the recognition they deserve simply because the major publishing houses hold the power of what the public gets to read.

It's like there is an unwritten law in publishing that if you are not an already well established author or a celebrity, then your books have no merit and are not worthy of publication. And that is just plain stupid. That mindset has deprived all readers of some wonderful stories, by some truly talented writers.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

My writing is so eclectic. I don't like to be pigeonholed. For instance, Steven King is known as a horror writer, John Grisham writes courtroom dramas, Danielle Steele, romance,and so on. So, when one of them breaks out of that genre, like King has done with his newest novel, Lisey's Story, or Grisham's, The Painted House, fans tend to get upset.

I don't want that. I want my readers to expect the unexpected from my books. I wrote, What the Heart Wants and called it " not your ordinary love story. So, readers know going in that there is no flowers and candy in that book. Dark Ridge is a drama/thriller and other books I'm working on are all in even different genres. I won't be one of those formulaic writers.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Getting an agent that is worth that 15% they are demanding. One that will understand my writing, my goals and share them with me. But, also one that will go to bat for me against the big guns that hold this business in their hands.

But also, being satisfied with my work. So far I haven't been. I always think I can do better, and I most likely can. Oh, and getting some discipline! I am the most undisciplined writer I know.

How do you deal with these?

Getting an agent is probably the hardest thing to deal with. You know there are thousands of writers and wannabes out there deluging agents mailboxes daily, fighting for attention and representation. It is almost impossible to get one to read past that query letter that a lot of writers, me included, are just no good at. If you can't hook an agent with your query letter, then he/she will never ask for a sample or complete manuscript. But, the only way to win is to persevere, so giving up is just not an option. I am nothing if not stubborn and determined.

And discipline? I have no idea. I try very hard to set aside a certain amount of time daily for my writing, but something always seems to pop up. It's downright disturbing, but what can you do?

How many books have you written so far?

Completed? I have two. Both published. One [was published] by that so called traditional royalty paying publisher that offered no editing, no marketing, no promotional tools whatsoever, and one [Dark Ridge] was published by a vanity or subsidy press. However, that book was edited, fairly well, has some promotion and marketing tools and it is one I am proud of, to a degree, so I try to hawk it whenever I can. Of course, not one to toot my own horn, I have a difficult time with self promotion, which doesn't help when you're trying to sell your book!

Which “traditional royalty paying publisher” was this?

The publisher was Publish America. I was thrilled when they sent me a contract for What the Heart Wants. I had a publisher and I wasn't going to have to fork over a single dime of my royalties to an agent. When my copy of my book arrived, I actually cried; tears of pride and happiness.

After I read the book, I cried again; tears of frustration and humiliation. I was tempted to call them and tell them to pull my book out of publication. You see, from the time I signed the contract until the time I held the finished product in my hands, I had joined dozens of writing groups and took some on-line writing workshops, bought some books on editing and knew about 150% more about style and formatting, grammar, etc. than I did when I wrote the book.

This company took that manuscript; raw, unedited, filled with errors in style, formatting, grammar, and tenses, and written in a pretty passive voice and published it, stuck a $19.95 price tag on it and offered it up for sale.

I was devastated. While the story is unique and original, and like nothing I had read before, it was just not professionally edited and I, at least could see that.

I was so embarrassed by the book that I flat out refused to promote the thing. I didn't want anyone to know that I wrote it.

In the book's defense, as I said, it is a very good story and if you can get past the obvious editing problems, you will really enjoy it. But, for me it was just too embarrassing. To the point that I almost created a pen name for my subsequent books.

Do you write everyday?

I try to write at least a thousand words everyday. It's not always easy, and that's where the disciple comes in. I don't measure my writing in time, but in words.

What is your latest book about?

Dark Ridge is set in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee in the last days of 1948. Two young boys discover a nude, half dead young woman and [they] take her to their home.

Dark Ridge was one of those books that seemingly write itself. It took me six months to write the book and another six to edit it and cut it. When finished, it came in at well over 120,000 words, and knowing all too well that unknown authors were seldom accepted for publication, and especially if their work is over 100,000 words, I had a lot of painful editing and cutting to do before I got it whittled down to 107,000 words. Still long, but I couldn't cut any more and maintain the integrity of the story. So, all in all, it took me the better part of a year and half to finish it.

Where was it published?

Dark Ridge was released in October of 2006. Published by Page Free Publishers, it sadly bears the stigma of a self-published book, but it is one that I am not ashamed of. It can be ordered through Barnes and Nobles, Amazon.com, the Page Free Publishing site and can also be ordered at any book retailer in the country. It is, I believe, also available in the U.K. and Europe, as it is available through Ingram's and Baker and Taylor's.

You are almost apologetic for having self-published your book. Why is this?

Ahhh, because of the stigma. No matter how good the book is, if it is self-published, it will get very little recognition. I'm not apologetic for the book, just the means by which it was published, because unless I go out and drum up support for it, the chances of Dark Ridge becoming a best seller or garnering the attention of one of the major houses are slim to none. Why? Because it is self published.

Now, that's not to say it isn't worthy of recognition, its just that I am not given to self promotion. And, I don't write for the market. I write for myself. Probably a death sentence for an author, but I firmly believe that a writer should write from his/her heart, not the publisher's pocketbook.

My philosophy? A writer should write what he/she wants to read, enjoys reading, and that's just what I do. Probably won't ever get that big contract, or that huge advance and I'll never be on The Tonight Show, but I at least have the satisfaction of looking over at my bookcase and seeing several books that I have either written or contributed to, and for me, that's fine.

But, on the off chance anyone reading this wants to read the book, do go to Amazon.com and order it, or better yet, your local book retailer and order it. If enough book stores order it, and other self published books, then that stigma will be erased. Wouldn't that be lovely?

Which aspects of the work that you put into Dark Ridge did you find most difficult?

The most difficult was the police investigation done by Sheriff Amos Quimby. Not up on police procedural and especially from the forties, it was hard for me to be sure that the techniques I used in the investigations were accurate.

Which did you enjoy most?

The dialog. At the time I wrote Dark Ridge, I lived in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. I spoke daily to the people and delighted in their accents and the colloquialisms. It made writing the dialog all the easier and gave it a more authentic ring .

What sets the book apart from the other things you have written?

Well, its certainly longer, and a lot more complex. I truly came to love the characters, and to even hate a couple of them. The characters were more like friends or family than any of my other characters in any of my other works. The town of Maylorsville and especially Dark Ridge itself felt like home to me, so I was really very comfortable while there, and I think the writing shows the familiarity, at least I hope so.

Dark Ridge is also a dark drama that uses innuendo and subtlety to get the point across instead of in your face realism like the sequel does. The reader knows that Harlan has molested his daughter, but there are no graphic details to slap the reader in the face. In that respect, it is a bit more for general audiences than the sequel to it, or some of my other works.

In what way is it similar?

All of my books and stories are set in the rural south. Dark Ridge is no exception. It also uses love and family as the catalyst for the drama, as do all of my works.

What will your next book be about?

I am currently at work on several different novels. One is a vampire novel with a twist you won't see coming, one a paranormal, not your everyday ghost story, one is the sequel to Dark Ridge. You can read an excerpt of Caney Creek, the sequel to Dark Ridge on my website.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Being published, of course. Knowing that someone liked what I wrote enough to actually publish it, and to even pay me for it. But, far more than the money is the knowledge that someone liked what I wrote, me, Linda L Rucker!

How did you get there?

It's been a long row to hoe, as we say down south. A long journey that had dozens of detours and dead ends, and one I'm still making. You see, I'm not 'there' yet. I may never be, but I can tell you one thing, the journey is worth the trip! I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to write. You might not get noticed, you might never be published, but you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried. Not everyone can write, but everyone thinks they can, so if you think you can, what have you got to lose? Give it shot.

A response from Shawn Street, a PublishAmerica public relations representative is accessible on OhmyNews International where this article was first published.

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