“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.



Filed under Guest Bloggers

80 Responses to “Eating Bull” – An Interview with Author Carrie Rubin

  1. Out of sight, Carrie. Fantastic interview. You’re a rock star!

  2. Your advice on the writing and practical sides make sense, Carrie. I once wrote reams and reams of prose (talk of loosey goosey) that went no-where.These days the manuscript makes a terrific door stop.
    John Grant, Isaac Asimov, Han Suyin, Frank Slaughter and Theodore Isaac Rubin (haven’t read his stuff, is he a rello?) It seems unfair that doctors are so talented. 

    • “the manuscript makes a terrific door stop”–Ha, I have one of those myself. Something I attempted even before my first novel. Something so old I once stored it on a floppy disc.

      As far as I know, Theodore Isaac Rubin isn’t a relative… But you just introduced me to a new writer. Thank you!

  3. Wonderful interview! Thanks for a great read. Carrie, I love your “realist” approach – I’m a left-brained writer, too, and I don’t know what I’d do without structure. It was great to hear more about your triggers for writing your excellent story. I can see how your patient’s comment would be eye-opening – I can just imagine that moment!

  4. Carrie — great interview with LB. Having been a long time follower of your blog, I remember that post you wrote about LB awhile back. Then I became an even bigger fan, because like you, I too am a “craftie.” I agree with the person here who called you a rock star…I have to believe that somewhere deep inside, in a place that they will never reveal to another soul, your teenaged boys think so too. You just may not hear about it until you are 75! Rock on sister. Proud to know you and honored to follow your writing!

  5. Thank you, Sue. It’s one of those patient encounters I’ll never forget. If only the teenager knew the heart-wrenching comment inspired a book and character!

  6. Awesome, Carrie. Great interview. Now you are truly famous!

  7. Great interview! Carrie, I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t gotten around to reading “Eating Bull” yet, but this interview is another reminder that I really should!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Daniel. That alone is a treat. You’ve got enough on your plate. I wasn’t able to read many books when my kids were that young. Well, other than picture books. 🙂

  8. Larry Brooks and Carrie Rubin in one blog post? My day is officially made!

    Eating Bull is PROOF that story engineering works without compromising creativity or originality.

    I’m a fan of both of you. Great interview!

  9. Excellent interview, Carrie and Larry! Eating Bull sounds like a fantastic and important story. Adding it to my TBR list.

  10. I love your example of taking the stakes to an extreme, serial-killer as body-shamer. Bumps the theme off the obvious stage and makes us focus on the story, which probably helps the book to not feel preachy.

    Way to write a book recommendation, Larry.

  11. Great interview, Carrie and Larry. I now know why so much of what Carrie says resonates with me–it’s that left brain logic. I’m subscribing to your blog right now.

  12. Great interview. Enjoyed reading it, and you sold me on the book. 🙂

  13. Annika Perry

    Brilliant interview, Carrie! You’re a natural and what a pitch!! I can see the movie of this next! Interesting that you are considering going traditional for your next book – maybe for the first and second to go self-publishing but then seek traditional support? Lovely to learn how you work etc. best of luck with your books. Well done!

    • Thank you so much! I don’t think I’ll ever self-publish. So much technical stuff I don’t want (or know how) to do. Small presses are nice because they do that work for us. I suspect I’ll query agents like I have in the past. It never hurts to try that route for a while.

  14. Hey Carrie. Fun interview and it looks like a fun novel so I just picked it up.

    I also checked out your blog and subscribed. I love how you let your personality shine on the page. Love it.

    Thanks for the entertainment and for putting yourself out there.

  15. Terrific interview! I’m so happy you shared this with us, Carrie…well done, indeed. Story Engineering is a fantastic resource!

  16. A great interview, Carrie! It was you who led me to Story Engineering, and that was such an eye-opening resource for recognizing the flaws in my first two manuscripts. With a much better handle on structure and planning, Manuscript 3 should be in much better shape when the first draft is finished. I’m definitely looking forward to your next book!

  17. Great interview Carrie, I have got my copy and this makes me want to rush and read it!

  18. Jennifer

    Fab interview, Carrie! I’m going to follow Larry too. 🙂

  19. I’m a regular reader of Carrie’s blog yet I learned a lot by reading this interview.
    Kudo to both of you!

  20. Outstanding interview! Because of you, Carrie, I read Story Engineering—and I’m never one to choose writing technique books for the heck of it. I’m not a pantster and I’m not a technician, so I fall somewhere in between.

    I enjoy freedom with fiction writing, but I totally understand the importance of having a process and flow. Excited to put some of Larry’s techniques to use on my next novel, while doing a little pantsing. 😉

    • Thanks, Britt. I’m glad I led you to Story Engineering. My work here is done. 😉

      I pantsed a short story a couple years back just to see how it would go. It’s 10,000 words, and I haven’t looked at it since. I prefer working on my novel. It would be interesting to go back and read it and see whether it’s any good or not.

  21. Thnx, Larry and kudos, Carrie, for this excellent and informative interview. I found the answer on how Eating Bull’s general plotting helped generate your characters particularly helpful. I too, am a big Story Engineering fan, the perfect tool for “relating parts to whole.” As always, wishing you both all the very best!

  22. Fantastic interview Carrie. Fascinating to hear more about your motivation to write Eating Bull.

  23. This is the best author interview I’ve read, by far. And I enjoy reading author interviews. It’s true I ‘know’ Carrie and her books via our blogs. We’ve never met, yet I respect her views on writing and blogging and publishing. I’m more a ‘pantster’ than a plotster, but after reading this, I just might change my….point of view. Excellent work Carrie and Larry. Thank you.

  24. Thank you Larry Brooks. Great tips, fun interview. Cheers —

  25. Carrie, I loved this line of yours: “I guess once you go craft, you never go back.”
    Larry, these were great questions that made me know Carrie a bit more, like how she’s planning to go more traditional with her third novel.Traditional or not, I’ve read all of her novels so far and she’s heading for the stars! 🙂

  26. Haha, thanks Carol. It would indeed be much nicer to ‘head for the stars’ than to head for the slush pile. 😉

  27. It’s nice to find my way to this site. I hope “Eating Bull” does have the power to help people see what we eat and how it effects us. Kudos to you to contend with such a mighty and intimating industry.

  28. Great to see you on one of my favorite writing guru’s blogs, Carrie! I have been using Larry Brooks’ techniques with my WIP, and I see such a difference in my approach (as well as enjoyment).

    So cool that he reached out and contacted you, Carrie. And great news that he loves your book too!

  29. Awesome interview, Carrie and Larry! I love to hear/read about how authors get their ideas, what their process is and their plans for the future. And Carrie, I really appreciate it when a novel takes on a real issue like obesity and fat-shaming. At my workplace, we have a ongoing campaign for everyone to be their “healthiest weight.” It’s all about individual behaviors (diet, exercise) as far as I can tell, very little about the poor food choices we have in our own vending machines or in the “cafe” at our complex. It’s sad that my department (a department of health by the way) can only exhort people to move more and eat less (or less junk food, anyway), but not see its own role in the environment it provides to its employees. Obesity is complex, but I do believe our built environment and the food industry have more to do with the rate of obesity in this country than any one individual’s behavior. Thank you, and I’ll step off my soapbox now 😉

    • Yes, yes, and yes. I so agree with you. It’s easy to tell people to eat less and exercise more, but where has that gotten us? Obesity rates continue to climb. So clearly we need to do more, and while of course individuals need to play their part, so do the many other giants behind the forces that go into it. Resisting food that is all around us, food that can lead to responses similar to addiction, is not as simple as many make it out to be.

      I’m not affiliated with The Cleveland Clinic, but I do attend conferences there. They’ve eliminated all sugar-sweetened beverages in their facilities along with fast food, and between that and their wellness program for their employees, the prevalence of overweight employees has decreased an impressive amount. Better health parameters too, I’m sure.

      Just goes to show we need to tackle all the forces if we want to see results.

  30. Linda W

    Great interview! Super questions. Glad to see you here, Carrie.

  31. Maddie Cochere

    Great interview, Carrie. I always like hearing about your approach to writing. More and more, I’m planning ahead. I’m not quite outlining yet, but I find the more I know about my story ahead of time, the faster I can write it.

    “I guess once you go craft, you never go back.” Haha! You’ll get me there yet. 🙂

  32. “the more I know about my story ahead of time, the faster I can write it.”—If you write any faster, you’ll have a hundred books published before I make it to three!

    Thanks, Maddie. 🙂

  33. I have followed Carrie for some time and was still fascinated by this interview. She does dhow sensitivity and caring towards others which really will resonate and create a better book. Left brained people may not always show this side of themselves. The reason the book works is due to knowing the reason this book means “something.” I wish her much success and am happy to feel like I know her. Smiles, Robin O. Cochran

  34. I finished the book about a week ago and really enjoyed it. I’d recommend it to anyone (and in fact did on Amazon).

  35. Great interview, Carrie! I’m sold. I’m going to look into Larry Brooks’s books. I’m struggling with a story right now. Perhaps, there’s hope. Thanks for the insights.

  36. Carrie, I really enjoyed your novel and this interview is terrific–great questions and responses. Gives lots of insight into your writing process and your author journey.

  37. Best article in this post its very helpful for me thanks to share this post.