I met D. Allen Rutherford on Twitter many moons ago and just recently started chatting, though we have supported each other with retweeting, as is the way with all good Indie authors, and have found out that, though we are separated by the big pond, Dale has ancestors from all the way over on my side of it.
During one of our chats I asked if he would be interested in doing an interview with me, and I have to say I was honoured that he agreed.
Dale is a former army officer and a retired international technology consultant with a B.S. and Master's degree, who eventually settled down in central Arkansas. He combines his interest in science with his love of writing, and attempts to create science fiction novels that blur the line between modern science and science fiction, leaving the reader wondering if what Dale dreams up could ever be, or already be, possible.
Here is what D. Allen Rutherford had to say...
Why did you decide you wanted to become a writer?
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had an interest in reading/writing. But, if I had to pick a defining moment that prompted me to venture into writing fiction, it would have to be when I was watching some werewolf, science fiction, movie and my daughter overhead me criticizing the film… “Oh that BS.” (I’m a very analytical person). Finally, my daughter issued a challenge, “Dad, if you don’t like the way they tell the story, write your own.” I’m sure she meant it as a rhetorical rebuff, but I took it literal. And, so I decided, then and there, that I was going to write a fiction novel.
What was the thing that drove you the most to do so?
I love science fiction, fantasy, and thriller books/movies. The best ones (at least for me), are the stories that ground you in the real world, then find a plausible way to transition you into that realm of fiction, fantasy, or some thrilling scenario. I find it extremely distracting when you’re handed a scene that’s totally absurd or irrational, destroying the continuity from where I am and the pathway that transports me into that imaginative world. Therefore, I set out to write fictional stories that would do just that.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing non-fiction, for decades. The needs of my professional career required me to write extensive research/analytical reports. After returning to college to work on my Master Degree (late 1990s), and subsequently when serving as an adjunct professor, I was encouraged to write research papers for presentation/publication at conferences and in professional journals. I seriously started writing fiction for publication in late 2014. In the last year and half I’ve written and published three full-length novels.
Why did you pick the genre/s that you have?
In addition to being very analytical, I love science and history. The cynic in me, tends to hone in on controversial topics in history and science, which I research extensively, seeking the truth behind the veil of misinformation and half-truths.
I tend to zero in on controversial topics in science. One of my favourite sci-fi movies is Jurassic Park. There is a scene in the movie where the characters are having lunch after a brief tour of the lab. I found some of Dr. Ian Malcolm’s comments simple but profound. Such as; “…the lack of humility before nature that's being displayed here, uh... staggers me.” Then he cautions; “Don't you see the danger, John, inherent in what you're doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet's ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that's found his dad's gun.” And, my favourite; “…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.”
Who is your favourite character, and why?
Not sure I have a favourite character either in my own stories or others. However, one of my favourite characters that I quote from frequently is Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) in the Jurassic Park movie series. He was an intelligent, rational sceptic, who could see beyond the naïve optimism of others around him.
Do you have any particular quirks when writing?
I would probably say that my whole writing process is a bit quirky. I read various books/articles on “how-to” plan, organize, and write a story/novel. However, no matter which approach I tried to adopt, I found myself getting bogged down, and my creative side would shut down. Subsequently, I reverted back to the methodology I used when I wrote research papers. I would sketch an outline of how I see the story unfolding with bullet points for key events/points of the story. Then I sit down and start writing – I zone out, and let the story flow as if I’m watching it play-out in a movie. I visualize the scene, surroundings, smells, sounds, emotions, etc. I hear the dialog and see the characters’ expressions and body language. All the while, I just let my fingers type out what I see, hear, smell, taste, and feel as the scene unfolds in my mind’s eye. I don’t stop to think about what I’m writing nor do I try to edit while I’m writing. I just let the story flow. After I have the story down on paper, then I go back and start editing it.
While I’m writing, I keep a journal that I note down character names, their background, and descriptions. When I do research for the background or technical elements of the story, I write it in the journal (or print it out and cut/paste it in the journal).
When I want to portray a particular character or location, I do google search for images that fit what I want to portray. Then I print it out and put it in the journal. When I write anything to do with the character or location I look at the pictures to generate a mental image of how I will describe the scene.
What does your family think of your work?
I guess this is always an interesting question with varied responses. But, my family have always seen me as an analytical and detailed oriented person focusing on facts. They’ve seen my non-fiction writing published in international magazines, journals, and conference proceedings. But, when I made it known that I was going to write a fiction novel, the response was, “oh yeah, yeah.” They just couldn’t picture me as a fiction writer. Then, when I finished the first manuscript of 400+ pages (120,000+ words), they began to take me a bit more serious. Then, when the first book was published and catalogued through Lulu, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Books-A-Million, etc., they were like “Wow! Holy Crap, he did it!” Now, they are all offering ideas for the next novel, or bugging me about what/when I’m going to write about next.
Do you belong to any writing groups? And if so what do you think are the pros and cons?
I tried getting involved with writing groups, but for me personally, I didn’t gain much from the experience. I have a close friend who is a writer and he feels that his involvement in a writing group has helped him.
In my humble opinion, I feel it is vitally important that the would-be writer have realistic expectations of what it is they hope to gain from a writing group. Most people are overly protective of their writing, and sensitive to criticism from others regarding their writing. Although they would profess that they want to improve their writing, or gain honest reviews of some manuscript they have written. In reality, most want affirmation that what they have written is good or some level of recognition (even if it is false or misguided).
Fundamentally, writing groups should be oriented around honest, constructive criticism of one another’s work. The whole idea is to improve your craft and strengthen your writing to appeal to those who you hope will buy it and read it.
Therefore, I think it boils down to two things; first, formulating realistic expectations of what you hope to gain from being involved with a writing group, and secondly, finding a group that you feel comfortable baring your soul to. I just haven’t found that group yet.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I can honestly say, I’ve never experienced writer’s block. As I mentioned above, I have a process that I follow that is oriented around visualizing the story in my head and letting my fingers type it out. I also recognize that I’m a morning person and that’s when I can get in the zone and let the story will flow. If I’m interrupted for any reason, (outside work, chores, cooking, eating, grandkids, etc.) I find it hard to sit back down and dial back in. Therefore, I tend to break my day into tasks zones. Early morning, from 5am until interrupted, I sit down to write. Mid-day, I do domestic stuff. In the late afternoon, I focus on maintenance of my social media, dealing with editors, cover designs, and so forth. Then, in the evening, I read novels written by other authors and post ratings/reviews of their work.
Regardless, I never try to force myself to sit down and write just because I think I need to grind out so many words per day. Some days I can get in the zone and write most of the day, creatively generating 20,000+ words. Other days, it may be less than 1,000 words.
From talking to other authors and would-be writers, I think most people who experience writers’ block do so when they are overly focused on trying to ‘get it right’ the first time. Or they are overly concerned with the grammar or technical aspects of their writing. My approach is to get the story on paper, then let the red-pen-ninja clean it up. It normally takes me about six to eight weeks to draft a 120,000+ word manuscript. But, then I will spend three to four months doing story and line editing.
What would you say is the most difficult part of writing?
Having spent decades writing non-fiction research and analytical type reports has imparted certain habits that’s hard for me to overcome. Thus, I tend to struggle with two aspects of my writing.
First, I have to force myself to “Back away.” What I mean is, I have a tendency toward getting to detailed in the description of scenes, explaining technical or scientific elements of the story, etc., leaving nothing to the imagination or for interpretation. One of the best pieces of advice I received from a very successful, best-selling author was, to trust the reader’s imagination to fill in the details. He told me to concentrate on setting the stage with references to things people can identify with, then back away from the details and let the readers’ imagination do the rest. Imaginative interpretation is your friend and ally when writing good fiction.
The second thing I struggle with is, “Let go of it.” Similar to the first issue, I tend to edit, re-edit, change this, change that. While some change is necessary and objective revision is good. There comes a point you begin walking in a circle, reluctant to let go of the manuscript, for fear that you missed something or there is an undiscovered error hidden somewhere in the text. Realize, you will rarely ever get it perfect. I had another very successful author tell me once, that with one of his books, the publisher had two independent editors screen the manuscript, then an in-house QA screen, and then two separate reviewers read the final manuscript before it went to press. Even after all of that, they ultimately found several typos and errors/omissions within the first published edition. May daughter (who is an English Lit scholar) told me, “Dad, just let it go. The more you keep editing it, trying to get it perfect, the more it sounds like a graduate thesis. This is fiction, just let it go.”
What do you enjoy the most about writing?
I love pulling back the veil of misinformation, half-truths, to get to the truth. For most people, the effort to peal the layers of the onion to get at the truth is beyond them. I enjoy not only getting at the truth, but structuring it in a story that is not only interesting, but eye-opening.
In the Wargs Trilogy, I spend months researching the science behind transgenics and uncovering some of the current research being performed to create human-animal hybrids. Then it was a what-if situation to take the current research out of the lab and put it into a real-to-life story.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I have always had an inquisitive nature that feeds my imagination. In the case of the Wargs Trilogy, by chance I happened to come across a report related to transgenic human-animal hybrid research. This happened right after I had been watching a particularly interesting werewolf movie. My inquisitive nature fuelled a desire to research the concept of transgenesis to find out if it was remotely possible to genetically engineer a human-wolf hybrid and if it was possible for a person to experience a metamorphosis from one physical form to another intriguing. Much to my surprise, there was a scientific basis for both to occur under the right conditions. The research also uncovered a program sponsored by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, to create transgenic super-soldiers. Also, I found another report from Swedish scientist that heralded that humans have acquired DNA from canines (and vis versa), over the course of thousands of years, resulting in natural, cross-species, transgenic mutations, caused by retroviruses. As I read though the research, the storyline for the Wargs Trilogy began to formulate in my head.
Are your characters based on anyone you know?
No, not anyone in particular. I have travelled extensively around the world and I’ve been fortunate to have met many interesting people from many walks of life. I tend to draw upon my recollections of some of these personalities.
What do you do in your spare time to relax?
I enjoy fly fishing, fly tying, and spending time with the grandkids.
What do you like to read?
I like to read science fiction, fantasy, and thrillers.
Who is your favourite author?
I’m not sure I have a single favourite author. On one hand I try to read books/novels from newly published authors as well as authors I’m familiar with. However, there are times when I tend to gravitate toward certain authors whose novels I really enjoy reading. A few of these authors are; C.M. Gray, Tracy Falbe, Dean Koontz, George R.R. Martin, Sallyann Phillips, Jim Melvin, Kathryn McMaster, Kim Mcgath. I could go on and on, but these are some that come to mind.
Where are your books available?
My books are published by Lulu Publishing Services and with a worldwide distribution in paperback, epub, and audio editions, through: Lulu, Amazon/Kindle, iBooks, B&N/Nook, Kobo, Books-A-Million, Audible, and most independent book sellers.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished Wargs: Outcast, book three in the Wargs Trilogy, scheduled for release in early May 2016. My next novel will be a political thriller, which I expect to release in early 2017.
What is your ultimate goal?
My primary goal is to continue developing my writing and write stories that attracts a large reader following. I hope to publish at least one novel a year and achieve enough success as a writer to allow me to write fulltime, travel, and meet the fans of my novels in as many countries around the world as I can. My ultimate goal would be to have the popularity of one or more of my novels to make them worthy of production into a television series or a movie.
Do you have a favourite film? And if so what is it?
Not sure a have a single favourite film. There are so many good films out there. However, when I taught science in school, I used Jurassic Park as an introduction to life science and genetics. The science behind the movie was well presented in such a way that you could believe what was presented in the story could actually happen.
Here is how you can find D. Allen Rutherford
I would like to take this last moment to thank Dale for being a good sport and agreeing to my interview. It has been fun, and enlightening glimpse into the workings of his mind and the process behind his work.
I hope you decide to pick up a copy of one of his books from Amazon, or anywhere else they are available, and if you do, I'm sure you'll be picking up the second and waiting for the third.
Once again, thank you D. Allen Rutherford.
I am a wife, mother, and grandmother, and I live in Wales in the U.K.
Sallyann Phillips is an IASD member.
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