Blogs by L.T. Suzuki
Todd A. Ritter Interview
10/4/2010 8:25:04 PM
Debut novelist Todd A. Ritter talks about his novel and the writing life!
LTS: For todayís guest blog, Iíd like to introduce you to the oh-so talented Todd A. Ritter, author of the new mystery novel, ĎDeath Noticeí.
Iíd like to begin by having you share a little information about yourself with our readers, Todd. I know you were born in Pennsylvania, but what else would you like our readers to know about you?
TAR: I now live in suburban New Jersey, but I grew up in a very rural part of Pennsylvania. My grandparents lived next door and had a farm, so Iíve done my fair share of driving tractors and baling hay. My dadís hobby was taxidermy. My motherís was reading. Thankfully, I was more interested in her hobby than his.
As far as other interests go, Iím a big movie buff, a pretty decent photographer and a major foodie. Iím also a huge Disney geek and try to get to Walt Disney World in Florida at least once a year. After writing about killers, I need some lightness and fun.
LTS: I think we all need some lightness and fun, especially in Disney World! Now, youíve been a journalist for over fifteen years. Has writing always been a part of your life and becoming a published author a life long dream?
TAR: Yes and no. Iíve always loved reading. To this day, thereís nothing like sinking into a great book and forgetting the rest of the world. Writing as a profession didnít occur to me until high school. I was a pretty average student, but teachers always commented on my writing skills. By my senior year, I was writing short stories and poems, just for fun. In college, I turned to writing plays, and had one of them produced on campus. That evolved into writing full-length novels. So being published is a dream come true, but a more recent dream.
LTS: I understand your debut novel ĎDeath Noticeí is scheduled for release by St. Martinís Minotaur this month (Oct. 12th, 2010). What is the inspiration behind this story and can you tell us a little bit about your main characters, Police Chief Kat Campbell, Lt. Nick Donnelly and the obit writer, Henry Goll?
TAR: The idea for the book was born one night at work. We had a police scanner in the newsroom that basically let us eavesdrop on all the police action going on in the area. One night, there was a report of a coffin sitting on the side of the road. Some poor cop had to go out there and open it up. It was empty, but the idea struck me as a great way to start a mystery. So thatís how I start ĎDeath Notice,í only this coffin is definitely not empty.
Kat Campbell is the police chief of a tiny town in Pennsylvania called Perry Hollow. Itís just her and a deputy, which is fine, because nothing ever happens there. Then someone in town is murdered in a gruesome way. Kat knows sheís in over her head, and wisely brings in the Pennsylvania State Police to take over the case. But she insists on helping. Itís her town, her neighbors and she feels a real sense of duty to try to stop whatís happening.
Nick Donnelly leads the State Police task force brought in to help with the case. Heís tenacious, heís smart and heís obsessed with serial killers. But he has a few skeletons in his closet that sometimes cause him to make bad decisions.
Henry Goll is the obituary writer for the local newspaper and he becomes part of the case when he discovers the killer sent him advance notice of the murder in the form of an obituary. Heís a recluse, disfigured from a tragedy in his past. The case thrusts him into contact with others, something Henry doesnít like and isnít used to. But it forces him to come out of his shell a bit. It also, of course, puts him in danger.
LTS: Without giving away too much, can you reveal whatís in store for the reader when they crack open ĎDeath Noticeí?
TAR: Part of my pitch to potential agents was that the book had sex, violence and people being buried alive. It does. And itís not for the squeamish. But thereís some humor, too, to balance the darkness, and I think readers will really grow to love Kat, Nick and Henry.
LTS: Throwing in some humor for balance is an excellent writing strategy and no doubt, it helped to get ĎDeath Noticeí to stand out from the other submissions. As for getting published, we all know the road to publication is difficult at the best of times. Was it difficult for you to land an agent? Do you have any advice youíd like to share with the author struggling to find representation?
TAR: It was intensely difficult to find an agent. Some days Iíd open my mailbox and the rejection letters would just tumble out. It was a long process. It seriously took years. So my advice would be to never give up, to not take any rejection personally (Itís hard, I know) and to exhaust every possible resource. I eventually got my agent through a referral from another agent who had rejected ĎDeath Noticeí but liked it (and me) enough to pass it along. It wasnít a linear process. I donít think it ever is. So expect the unexpected.
LTS: Great advice, Todd! And because becoming a published author is truly a difficult road to travel, Iím always pleased when a fellow writer is plucked from relative obscurity to land a book deal. Can you share that moment when your agent told you he/she sold your story to ĎDeath Noticeí?
TAR: I was at work. I work nights, so I had just arrived at the newsroom when my agent called to tell me I had a two-book deal with Minotaur. After the initial shock and happiness, I realized there was no way I was going to be productive that night. So I told my boss (who didnít even know I had written a book) and he kindly gave me the night off so I could celebrate.
LTS: Iím curious about your writing style. Are you one of those disciplined writers who must dedicate a certain time each day to producing so many words, or are you more relaxed and tend to write when it strikes your fancy?
TAR: I write in short, intense bursts. Weeks can go by where all Iím doing is writing, to the detriment of my health, eyesight and personal relationships. Then Iíll hit a wall and spend a week not even looking at the manuscript. Then Iíll dive in again until I need to come up for air.
LTS: Still on the subject of writing styles, are you a plotter or pantser? The readers would like to know if you tend to plot out your story line in great detail or if your writing is more organic with the characters and events unfolding as you write.
TAR: Iím a total plotter. Iíll spend weeks just plotting the whole book from start to finish -- every chapter, every character, every plot point. I need that road map guiding me through the writing process. Then, along the way, Iíll take a detour. That happens a lot with characters. Sometimes they decide for themselves how theyíre going to act, and I just follow their wishes.
LTS: Some authors meditate, others need to fuel up on coffee or listen to music. Do you have any rituals, ones that can be shared with the readers, that you must do before you hunker down for a writing session?
TAR: I donít have any set rituals, but I know I wouldnít be able to write without coffee and cigarettes. I know I need to quit the cigarettes and fear itís going to be brutal when I do.
LTS: As you already mentioned that dreaded writerís block, what do you do to get around or over this mental wall to resume writing?
TAR: I try not to read when writing, because I just donít want to risk having someone elseís voice sneak into my work. The only time I do read is when I hit a wall, usually because I want to see how other authors have solved some of the problems Iím stuck on. It usually also gives me a little zap of inspiration and helps me keep going.
LTS: Who is your favourite author and how has he/she inspired you to write or influenced your writing style or choice of genre?
TAR: This will probably be a surprise, since her work is the complete opposite of mine, but Anne Tyler is a huge influence. She has such a clear-eyed view of humanity and knows the odd things that make us tick. She doesnít judge her characters, no matter how many bad choices they make, and seems to benevolently watch over all of them. Even though Iím dealing in murder and mayhem, I tried very hard to do the same thing with my characters. Even in the midst of bloody chaos, theyíre humans, too, and act as such.
LTS: What is the most profound discovery youíve made in terms of your writing and how it has touched the lives of others?
TAR: Since I write mysteries and thrillers, my job is to thrill and entertain. Iím not saying anything profound in my writing. Iím just trying to tell a ripping good tale. So it means a lot to me when someone I donít know tells me how much they enjoyed my book. It means Iíve done my job. Nothing makes me happier than knowing someone read my work and was entertained.
LTS: What is the most important lesson youíve learned on the road to publication?
TAR: I look at getting published as survival of the most stubborn. You need to be 100% committed to your book. You need to believe, deep down in your heart, that what youíve created is worthy of a publisherís time and money. And you need to be willing to do the work. Itís a TON of work. But once you hold that book in your hand and see your name on the cover, itís worth it.
LTS: What are you reading now, and how did this particular book make it onto your to-read list?
TAR: Iím reading ĎAwakeningí by S.J. Bolton. I started it last night and couldnít stop reading. Itís a thriller about a small English village overrun with snakes. Now, I hate snakes, so this book had me squirming from the very first page. But I wanted to read it because I love being scared and getting chills and confronting my fears. This book does all three.
LTS: Okay, now youíve got my skin crawling! I can picture writhing balls of garter snakes crawling out of a hibernaculumÖ and I digress. So, what do you foresee in your future over the next five years and do you hope to branch out from mysteries into other genres? Do you have a release date for ĎBad Mooní?
TAR: ĎBad Moon,í which also takes place in Perry Hollow and features Kat Campbell and Nick Donnelly, will probably come out next October. The five-year plan is to have a new Perry Hollow mystery come out every fall. I have a lot of great ideas for that town and canít wait to write about them. After that, I might try my hand at a standalone thriller, something thatís less mystery and more suspense.
LTS: Thank you so much for taking the time to share in your writing experiences and for introducing us to your debut novel, Todd. I hope you have a great book launch and now, Iím going to have to add ĎDeath Noticeí to my to-read list!
For more information about Todd Ritter and his debut novel, check out:
Follow Todd on Twitter: .ToddARitter
Where to buy the book: Wherever books and e-books are sold!
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