Today I am pleased to welcome Andy Rausch to my blog to talk about his writing and other interesting subjects.
Can you tell us more about your new book, The Suicide Game?
The Suicide Game is a crime book first and foremost. I can’t say exactly why, but everything I write winds up being in the crime genre. The book tells the intertwining stories of several different characters from different walks of life. These include such colorful characters as a black hitman who also works as a professor at UCLA, a priest who longs to live the life of a criminal, and a gay phone sex operator. My first agent, John White, described it as being a cross between Rashomon and Pulp Fiction, and I think that’s a fair description.
The plot interweaves the strands of many characters’ lives. Were you inspired by films such as Short Cuts, Pulp Fiction, or Crash? Or books with a similar structure?
I’m definitely more of a film guy than I am a literature guy. I’ve always been a big fan of those Robert Altman films like Short Cuts that interweave several different storylines. Having said that, Pulp Fiction is my second favorite film on this earth (Goodfellas is my first), so that was a huge influence. But the truth of the matter is, the idea for The Suicide Game came as an epiphany one night. I had just received a copy of my pal Stephen J. Spignesi’s terrific debut novel Dialogues, and was very much inspired to write a novel of my own. I had started writing a novel several times, but had always stopped short for one reason or another. On this night, however, it occurred to me that I could combine several short stories and novel ideas I had been working on into a single novel.
Up until then, I had seen the story of the movie director and the writer as being a novel unto itself. It was going to be called Bert Edmunds Must Die. Much of the story of the hitman came from a short story called “Dumb Luck” that I wrote way back in 1998. The priest’s story came from another short story from that same time period called “The Dead Man’s Confession.” Interestingly, the story that seems to get the most attention—the story of the gay phone sex operator who almost has sex with his father—was originally conceived with the phone sex operator being a female. I thought it was a cool story, but it was missing a bit of pizzazz that came with that character being changed to a male.
Are any of these characters based on people you know or events based on things that have happened to you?
A lot of people know that my first book was supposed to be about the filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. I worked on that for years, but that book never came out. I have since published 15 other books, but never that one. People always assume that the Bert Edmunds filmmaker character in The Suicide Game is based on Tarantino due to some perceived beef with him. The truth is, I found him to be kind of a dick in real life. Having said that, he is my single favorite screenwriter and filmmaker on this earth. I await everything he makes with bated breath. So the truth is, as much fun as it may be for people to believe that Bert Edmunds is Quentin Tarantino, he’s really not. If anything, Tarantino was the single biggest influence on this novel in terms of style, genre, and approach.
But sure, there were things that were based on real life. Primarily little things. I mean, both of my exes left me for guys with the exact same name. That happens to the writer character in the novel, and it happened to me. I managed a video store in a small Kansas town. That part was true. Like the writer character, I do believe Forrest Gump is an overrated piece of shit. But at the end of the day, it’s a work of fiction. I never murdered anyone, I was never a hitman nor was I a priest, I never slept with a hot French girl, and I sure as hell never had sex with my father.
I have always loved stories where characters’ lives criss-cross with each other and have dreamed of writing a novel like this one day. What tips can you give me?
It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also quite draining. It’s fun as a writer seeing your characters meet each other and seeing their stories overlap, but it’s also difficult because it makes you question yourself. If I do this and this, will this make the story tie up too neatly? Is it really believable that this character and this character would meet in this way? Sometimes you just wonder, am I criss-crossing these storylines too much?
Sadly, I don’t have any tips, because the truth of the matter is I’m not really sure how I managed to accomplish these things in the first place. Writing such a novel was a lot of fun, but in retrospect, it was way, way, way too ambitious for a first novel. I’m now writing much simpler, straight-ahead stories, and am having a blast with them. It’s like a tremendous weight has been lifted off my shoulders, and I now see that it was a weight I put there myself. I really enjoy The Suicide Game and I hope I succeeded at accomplishing the things I wanted to accomplish with it, but I don’t think I’ll be writing another novel like it any time soon.
You have many non-fiction books published. Will you continue with those or have you now turned to writing fiction?
The market for the types of books I write is dying out. I write about cinema. For instance, I wrote a book about the collaborative films of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. I wrote a book about Orson Welles. I wrote a book about the history of film. I am proud of each and every one of those books, but that market is drying up. No one wants to publish books like those anymore. The result is that, instead of publishing with the great big publishers I worked with when I first got published a decade ago, I’m now publishing with tiny publishers who don’t sell many books. So at the end of the day, there isn’t much incentive in writing them anymore. I never became a writer to get rich, but I would like to at least be able to keep the lights on each month.
I’m not making much money writing fiction either, but it’s something I enjoy far more. If the pay-offs are going to be the same in the end, then why should I continue writing non-fiction books? I mean, Night Publishing, who put out The Suicide Game, is tiny, but they occasionally have some luck in finding a substantial audience. One of their books sold 100, 000 copies last year. Another sold 65,000. Money be damned, do you know what I would give just to have that many people actually read my stories? And you can trust me on this, a book on the films of Martin Scorsese is not selling 100,000 units any time soon.
As you’ve had many non-fiction books published, why did you go to Night Publishing with your novel rather than one of your other publishers?
The sad truth is that having published in non-fiction does not ensure you acceptance—or even an audience—with fiction editors. Also, The Suicide Game turned out to be a victim of its own excesses. Just about every editor who looked at it said things like “too violent,” or “too graphic.” Also, a lot of editors just didn’t seem to get it. All of the editors who looked at it, with the exception of a single editor at St. Martin’s Press, were enthusiastic about it but felt that it was a book without an audience, for one reason or another. I had one editor at Tor who absolutely loved the book. He kept the manuscript there for a year trying to get it published, but ultimately couldn’t. He said, “They say there’s no market in caper novels.” I never really thought of this as a “caper novel,” but that was the kind of uphill battle I was facing.
So when I discovered Night Publishing, I was just happy to see The Suicide Game in print. I always believed that it would find an audience if given half a chance, and I still believe that today. Without Night Publishing, that might not have been possible.
Given your connections with the movie industry, do you think The Suicide Game will be made into a film?
No. The films I have worked on tend to be low-budget schlock things with zombies and whatnot. For years we kept hearing that our production value was too low, “blah, blah, blah.” Then, when I finally got to work with a bigger budget and more production value on Dahmer vs. Gacy, reviewers said the same thing: “low production values.” So the truth is, unless you have a huge budget, people tend to discount the films immediately as being sub-par or less than qualitative. I would hate to see my novel get made into some low-budget thing where people just said, “Oh, straight-to-video crap.” And some of those films are quite good, but no one gives them a chance.
Maybe The Suicide Game will get made into a movie someday, but it won’t be made by me or any of my filmmaking associates.
Where can we buy your books?
Do you have any other projects coming up?
I’m working on a gangster novel that is a retooling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, as well as a revenge novella that’s like a cross between The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Man on Fire. Neither project has a publisher lined up yet, and neither one is really close to being completed.