Name: Robert James Russell
Book title: Sea of Trees
Genre: Literary Thriller; Suspense
Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing
Date of publication: May 2012
Swirling mystery permeates as Bill, an American college student, and his Japanese girlfriend Junko traverse the Aokigahara Forest in Japan—infamous as one of the world’s top suicide destinations—in search of evidence of Junko’s sister Izumi who disappeared there a year previous. As the two follow clues and journey deeper into the woods amid the eerily quiet and hauntingly beautiful landscape—bypassing tokens and remains of the departed, suicide notes tacked to trees and shrines put up by forlorn loved ones—they’ll depend on one another in ways they never had to before, testing the very fabric of their relationship. And, as daylight quickly escapes them and they find themselves lost in the dark veil of night, Bill discovers a truth Junko has hidden deep within her—a truth that will change them both forever.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Actually, the first draft took me just over a month when pen first hit paper, so to speak. I spent two months before that doing research on Aokigahara and Japanese society and customs, so when I was ready to start it flowed out like water—I was lucky.
How did you find a publisher?
Trial and error. Finding a publisher (or an agent, even) is not a fun chore, and I’d wager for most writers it’s their least favourite part of the process. Needs to be done, though. You’ll get lots of notes from people who may not want to publish your work, but like it (or, alternatively, notes from people who don’t like it at all), and the trick is learning when their advice should be heeded and when you should stick to your guns and not change a thing—it’s just a feeling you get. Ultimately, though, it’s about perseverance: Even if you don’t feel like it, you get back out there and try again until something sticks.
How have you promoted your book?
It’s all about social media these days. Taking active part—especially on Twitter—helps people discover you. There’s a lot of give and take (you reTweet someone, they reTweet you back), and it’s not always fun to constantly have to sell yourself, but it’s necessary, and with any luck, you reach one new person every time you log on or take part in a discussion. If they, in turn, tell at least one person, you can get the ball rolling.
I’m also a big fan of bookstores, and have called around to my local shops, going in to meet face-to-face and bringing in samples, really trying to promote the local aspect. I’m lucky—where I live there is a thriving arts community that is all about local artists.
No matter what happens, though, much like with sending your work out to publishers, you have to work hard and keep at it.
How do you combat writer’s block, if you indeed experience it?
For me it’s forcing myself to write, even if it’s not related to my WIP, just the act of writing and being creative helps open me up. I sometimes even give myself an assignment—such as write about someone specific doing something specific—that really forces me to get over any dry spell.
What other writing do you do?
I’ve had poetry and short stories published in various journals: http://www.robertjamesrussell.com/writing/
What methods do you use to plan/write your book?
In general I’m more of a “dive right in” kind of guy. I do outline, but tend to do more of it as I progress with the draft, stopping to write short bios on characters (to better help feel out their emotions and whatnot), etc. But a big part of my writing style is doing a great deal of preparation in my head and then jumping right in to the actual writing. For Sea of Treesthere was more planning at the beginning, because I was dealing with things foreign to me and I wanted to make sure I had fully researched everything—to get it right—before the actual writing.
How long have you been writing prior to getting published?
In some form since I was about ten years old—I started writing these fantasy epics involving elves and even published my own books through our school library. I’ve always been interested in art—specifically cartoons—and, before exclusively wanting to be a writer, desired to be an animator for Disney. I even drew and sold my own comics during lunch at school for a few years in middle school. Regardless, though, I think the idea is the same—storytelling—and that’s been with me since as long as I can remember.
How do you cope with rejections?
No one likes to be rejected, period, but it’s something you have to get used to as a writer (or as an artist in general, really). Even the absolute brightest and best of us out there get rejected, so you have to expect it will happen. I think if you start believing yourself to be special—that rejection does not apply to you—that’s when you start running into problems. But, rejection happens, and you don’t have to like it (some pouting is 100% acceptable), then you force yourself to get over it and move on to the next. It’s all you can do.
What piece of advice would you give to debut writers?
Cliché, I’m sure, but never give up. If writing is your passion—if you are, in all senses of the word, a writer, living and dreaming of it even when you don’t want to be—then you can’t let rejection or writer’s block or just the doldrums get you down. You have to write as much as you can and constantly improve what you do (I fervently believe that every day, even if you don’t necessarily output something decent, you are better than the day before—it’s all about learning from what you’ve done) and just know that you will, eventually, reach someone…somewhere. I mean, that’s what it’s all about, right?
Are you currently writing another book?
I’m kicking around a few ideas, yes. But that’s all I can say at the moment.
Where can your book be purchased from?
Facebook fan page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Robert-James-Russell/115389111811608
Thank you for taking part.