Monthly Archives: February 2016

“Eating Bull” – An Interview with Author Carrie Rubin

EatingBull Book Cover by Lance Buckley

This interview came in waves.  First, I love the title of Carrie Rubin’s latest novel, “Eating Bull.”  Titles do a lot of the lifting in terms of attracting readers, and this one really drew me in.  Then I met the writer online after another Storyfix reader alerted me to a post on Carrie’s website, in which she recommended Story Engineering to her readers because it had helped her along the writing road.

So of course, I’m already in at that point.  But when I did the due diligence – read the post, studied her website, bought the book, read the book, loved the book, swapped some emails with the author, liked everything about her…

… and she’a physician in her day job, to boot, which is pretty impressive…

… so, here we are.  I’m happy to introduce you to Carrie Rubin, with the confidence that comes from knowing you’ll like the author and her website and her novel Eating Bull as much as I do.  She’s an avid student of craft, and has a lot to share with like-minded writers.

There are even some valuable health tips in this interview, too.  Read and learn… and live.

LB.: I have to admit, I found you from the notification of a link after you’d mentioned me (and Storyfix) on your website.  Which means you are a “craftie” (literary equivalent of a foodie).  Have you always been a student of craft, or were things different for you earlier in your career?

Carrie: First off, thank you so much for having me here. It’s a true honor. I owe Stephanie Raffelock, producer of your upcoming workshop in Portland, a thank you for mentioning both of us in a Facebook comment that linked back to you. Ahh, the power of social media.

“Craftie” is a label I’ll happily wear. Like many new writers, when I wrote my first book fourteen years ago, I winged it. I had a semi-formed plot in mind but not much else. A year later I typed The End and thought, “Wow, I’ve done it.” Well, I did something all right. I wrote a book full of plot holes and meandering. After a professional critique, I rewrote the book and had a decent story the second time around.

I understand now that what I did to improve the story was add structure. If I’d had Story Engineering as a resource back then, the process would have been smoother. Luckily your book appeared while I was working on my second novel. Before I started the first draft, I mapped out my story parts and milestones and then expanded it to a full outline. For my third novel, I did the same and will continue to do so in the future.

I guess once you go craft, you never go back.

LB: What brought you to the avocation of writing fiction?

Carrie: Though it sounds cliché, I’ve always wanted to write. When I started reading Robin Cook’s medical thrillers, I learned it was possible to be both a doctor and a writer. Of course, life as a physician didn’t leave much time, and that’s why my first book was so long in coming. But eventually a book was born, whose process I mentioned above.

L.B.: How does craft serve you, and what do you say to writers who prefer to just make stuff up – including their own take on craft – as they go along?

 Carrie: Given my left-brained tendencies, it’s not surprising I’m a fan of structural guidelines and basic story elements. Outlining too, though why I wrote such a loosey-goosey one for my first book is anyone’s guess. To me it makes sense to iron out the kinks beforehand. When we make stuff up as we go along, we risk plot holes and pacing problems, not to mention major revisions several drafts down the road.

But I understand that style is not for everyone. Some people find outlines and essential story elements restrictive. But to those writers I’d say that even with a pre-designed structure you can—and often do—change things up. But it’s far easier to make those changes in the first draft than the fourth.

l.B.: “Eating Bull” is a title that really grabbed me.  Having read the book (almost done) I can see where it comes from, but one has to immerse in that pitch before the title has meaning.  If you ran into an agent in an elevator at a conference, what is your 30-second pitch for the story?

 Carrie: My 30-second pitch would be: “After joining forces with a public health nurse to sue the food industry, an overweight teenager lands in the crosshairs of a serial killer who is targeting the obese. Now Jeremy—bullied, fat-shamed, and ridiculed by his own grandfather—must prove to his family, the killer, and the world that he’s more than the faint-hearted coward they think he is.”

Of course, the protagonist’s nickname “Eating Bull” takes on more significance as the story goes on, but to mention why would be a spoiler.

 L.B.: Awesome pitch. Your story is highly thematic (obesity)… did you start with that, and if not, what was your launching story element?

 Carrie: I did start with that. In fact, three things pertaining to obesity launched my story element:

  • My frustration with managing obesity in a clinical setting. Many people want to lose weight, but so many obstacles block their success—the food industry among them.
  • Reading investigative reporter Michael Moss’s revealing book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. It’s an eye-opening exposé on the role of the food industry in our country’s weight problem.
  • A tearful, severely overweight teenage patient who said to me, “Not a day goes by I don’t know I’m fat, because no one will let me forget it.”

Nonfiction books already exist on the issues of fat-shaming, food addiction, and the food industry’s role in obesity. So I decided to weave the elements into a fictional story instead. Fiction often evokes emotion in a way nonfiction does not, and it makes readers see things in a new light.

 L.B.:  The humanity and empathy inherent to youy story shines through when you discuss it this way. And you impart it to your narrative, as well.

 You have three terrific POVs in your story: a student with a problem, a health worker, and a serial killer. Which came first for you? 

 Carrie: Thank you. Though Eating Bull has a 15-year-old protagonist, it’s not a Young Adult novel. As you mentioned, two other adult POVs make up the cast.

My nurse protagonist came to me first. When I thought of the concept to sue the food industry, I knew I’d need a social-justice-seeking character to do that. A thick-skinned public health nurse fit the bill. But I also knew she would need a patient to champion for, someone to convince to sue the food industry for his or her obesity, and someone young and malleable enough to do her bidding. So I chose a 15-year-old. But since he’s the one with the most obstacles to overcome, he became the main hero.

The killer came last, and that was actually my husband’s idea. Fat-shaming is a prominent theme in the book, and an obsessive-compulsive, fitness-crazed killer allows that behavior to be taken to the extreme.

L.B.: As a “story engineer,” did you that any muses visited you during the process, and if so, how did they influence your process?

 Carrie: Some of this I answered in an earlier question, but I would add that I’m not one for muses or characters speaking to me. They don’t guide my story; I do. Not that I haven’t been surprised by a shift in my character’s direction—something I hadn’t initially thought of. That’s one of the fun parts of writing fiction. But I guess I’m too much of a realist to say the characters made me do it.

I like an objective, blueprint approach. I want to know where all the story pieces fit and how they will escalate tension before I start the first draft. It’s like putting together a puzzle, and sometimes that means roadblocks and setbacks. Of course, this is where your books helped me a great deal. They gave me a vocabulary for a process that intuitively made sense to me.

L.B.: What’s next for you, near and longer-term? Do you intend to remain with small presses, or do you have plans to go more traditional, or even perhaps self-publish someday? What informs those preferences?

 Carrie: I’m nearly finished the second draft of my third novel and hope to have it ready to query by summer. I’m thrilled with my current boutique publisher. They put together a great product with Eating Bull and worked with me every step of the way.

However, like self-published authors, small-press-published authors shoulder the bulk of marketing. Promotion is difficult and time-consuming, and getting reviews is challenging. So I may query agents and try a more traditional route. On the other hand, a benefit of the small press is a quicker time to publication. So I’ll see how things go.

 L.B.: Some reading this article are quite new to writing fiction, what is your advice to them, as well as warnings and promises?

 Carrie: My advice on the writing side would be to plan your story first. That doesn’t mean you have to create a 20,000+ word outline like some of us do, but at the very least, flesh out the story’s structure and know what plot elements you’ll need to keep the pace moving. If you sense you’ll have to fudge to make something work, then don’t start writing until you’ve fleshed it out. It makes the first draft much easier, and by the time you get to the second, most of the heavy lifting is done. Dealing with a plot hole in the story creation phase is far less painful than dealing with it after multiple drafts.

My advice for the practical side (and warning) is to know there are millions of books out there, with thousands more being published each day. Getting an audience is difficult. It takes lots of work. Expecting to become a bestselling author from the get-go who makes lots of money is unrealistic. But with hard work and steady output, you may eventually climb out of the red and into the black.

Thank you once again, Larry, for interviewing me on your blog today. It was a pleasure to be here, and I thoroughly enjoyed our exchange.

*     *     *

RubinAuthorPhoto Carrie Rubin is a physician with a master’s degree in public health. She is a member of the International Thriller Writers association. Her novels include Eating Bull and The Seneca Scourge. She lives in Ohio with her husband and two sons. You can find Carrie on her website, carrierubin.com, Facebook, Twitter (@carrie_rubin), and Goodreads.

 

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Writers… Ever Been on the Verge of Quitting?

If so – and you aren’t alone – read this guest post from story coach Jennifer Blanchard.

The first time I sent my Story Coach, Larry Brooks, a story plan for him to analyze, I thought I’d nailed it. I was waiting to receive his email saying I had a great story and my genre would eat it up.

What I got back, was heartache.

Not only did he say I didn’t have a story, but he pointed out several really big plot holes and one particular scene that, if I used it, would ruin the whole story.

It was bad.

And he didn’t give much positive feedback, if any. Not because he’s mean and wants me to suffer, but because positive feedback isn’t going to help me improve. (What’s good doesn’t need to be fixed, everything else does.)

I haven’t ever admitted this before, but a small part of me wanted to quit in that moment. To throw in the towel and say that I would leave the writing up to people with actual talent.

Except I wouldn’t be where I am in my life today if I listened to the voice that tells me to quit. So I pushed through and decided maybe that wasn’t the right story, and I worked on another one. 

A few short years later, my debut novel is out in the world (a story that Larry also analyzed, told me had potential, and he made a small tweak that changed everything).

Being a novelist–especially a pro novelist–isn’t for quitters. It’s for writers who know they can get better and improve by learning craft, by studying story, and by not trying to do it all alone. 

That’s where I found myself in the moment I felt like quitting. I knew I could quit and find another hobby to focus on (God knows I have plenty of them!). But in my heart I knew I was a novelist. So I had to go on.

What I did instead of quitting was practice more. I re-read Story Engineering. I watched more movies and deconstructed the plot points. I re-read the novels I love, to see how they did it.

Three things you’ve gotta have if you want to be a pro novelist:

    1      Thick Skin–as thick as possible. The thicker the better. You have to be able to hear really bad things said about your story and not even flinch. (REALLY TOUGH, I know.)

    2      The Ability to Brush Things Off–you can’t take anything personally. Ever. Because it’s never really about you. It may be about your work or your writing, but it’s not about you as a person. Making mistakes, in writing or elsewhere, doesn’t mean you’re flawed and not meant to be a novelist. It just means you have more to learn.

    3      A Strong Grasp On Craft–period. There’s no way around this. You have to know craft, understand craft and master implementing it in your stories. If you can’t do that, you’ll never make it. (Harsh, maybe. But I’m here to help you cut years off your learning curve, not keep you spinning your wheels forever.)

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that being a good writer is enough or that you can write a really good story without knowing craft. It’s not and you can’t. 

There are opportunities everywhere to learn more about craft. Books. Workshops. Coaching programs. Writing groups.

If you’re ready to learn craft, here’s an enormous opportunity for you to do so:

Your Story On Steroids

One bestselling novelist. One pro story planner. Four days. Portland, Oregon. April 3-7. The Benson Hotel. Your writing will never be the same again. (And there’s a special massively discounted price available until Valentine’s Day!)

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About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is an author and story development coach who helps emerging novelists be more effective storytellers and cut years off their learning curves, so they can write kick-ass books and get published faster. Grab her free story structure cheat sheet and start writing better stories today.

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