Derrick Ferguson: Who is Russ Anderson Jr.?
Russ Anderson Jr.: I'm a 30-something father of two who likes pie, bicycling, and writing stories.
DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?
RAJ: I live in the suburbs of Baltimore. By day, I'm a technical writer for a company you've probably heard of.
DF: In the interest of full disclosure we should let the good folks at home know that we’ve known each other for quite a long time now. Care to tell the readers the circumstances of how we met and our past creative endeavors?
RAJ: You and I were part of a distinct wave of fan-fiction writers back around the turn of the century. We ended up writing at the same sites because we both have the same fantastic taste in source material (Marvel and DC Comics, mainly). I think the first time we talked was when I wrote a favorable review of a series of stories you'd written about a Legion of Super-Heroes character named Mon-El, but I might be misremembering that. It's been almost 15 years, after all.
We really started working together-together when you co-founded Frontier Publishing, which was a site that used the model of monthly serial releases we'd all been using for fanfic, but applied that to our own original works. I came along a couple months later and was one of the lead editors on the site until Frontier finally folded a few years later. One of the things I got to do at Frontier was be the main editor on Dillon and the Voice of Odin, and to help get it into print the first time around. Nowadays we're both part of the Pulpwork Press collective.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, you became a close friend. I've been to your house, you've been to my house. I've met your wife, you've met my wife. Also, we were in a zombie movie together. There's nobody else in my life I can say all those things about.
DF: When did you know that you were a writer?
RAJ: When I was in first grade, I wrote a short story about Spider-Man saving me from the Green Goblin, and then giving me a radioactive spider so that I could be his sidekick (because of course he just carried them around in his pocket). My first story AND my first fanfic! I showed it to my mom, and went and hid behind a chair while she read it, sure that she was going to tell me it was stupid. Since my mom isn't a monster - she's pretty great, actually - she did not tell me it was stupid. She told me she loved it. My course was pretty much set after that.
There were some dry spells between then and my early twenties, most of them having to do with girls and my discovery of various aspects thereof, but what really brought me back to writing was the fanfic community you and I were lucky enough to be a part of. Fanfic is a great training ground for original writing - it gives you a premade pallete to work from so that you can concentrate on things other than creating, things like dialogue and pacing and characterization and putting your butt in the chair on a regular basis. In my case, it also introduced me to a community of like-minded writers that helped me stay focused and motivated. I haven't written fanfic in over ten years, but I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now if I hadn't been part of that group back in the day.
DF: What’s your philosophy of writing?
RAJ: My favorite quote is by Pablo Picasso. "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working."
Basically, no matter how much of a "pure" artist you are, sometimes you have to show up for work when you don't feel like it, when your muse simply isn't talking to you. I think this is especially true for writers, because I don't care how inspired you are - inspiration alone is not going to carry you all the way through writing an 80,000 word novel.
Waiting to be in the mood is the best way to never finish anything. I think this is the case for pretty much anything in life.
DF: What’s Anderfam Press?
RAJ: Anderfam Press is an LLC my wife and I started to encompass all of my writing activity. It's also a creator-specific imprint that I can use for things that don't necessarily fit at other publishers.
DF: You’ve published a number of short stories as Ebooks. Tell us about them. And why as single Ebooks? Why not put them all in an anthology?
RAJ: A couple of years ago, I made a resolution that I was going to publish something new every month. If I didn't have something coming out from another publisher in a particular month, I would just self-publish one of my short stories as an Ebook. The resolution only lasted until April - I was working and going to school full-time that year, so it was a classic case of biting off more than I could chew. It did leave me with four short stories with my name on them in the Amazon store, though.
They were published singly in order to keep up with the resolution. I never collected them because they don't really fit together thematically. WE KEEP THE CARS RUNNING is sci-fi noir, A BEER AT THE END OF THE WORLD is drama with a pinch of Where's Waldo-style humor, THE NURSERY is mystery-horror, and THE ORIGIN OF FLIGHT is a straight-up teen superhero adventure.
DF: I have to ask you how you came up with “The Nursery.” That was a story I couldn’t get out of my mind for two or three days after I read it.
RAJ: Innsmouth Free Press was taking submissions for an anthology that year, the theme of which was "fungi" (that also ended up being the name of the book). That theme intrigued me. I had no idea what I could possibly do with it... until the moment came when I knew exactly what I could do with it. I mean, you're probably not going to write a romance story about fungus, right? You're going to make it a horror story. So I started wondering what the most messed-up thing I could do with that theme was, and the answer is in the last thousand words or so of THE NURSERY.
In order to get to those last thousand words, I created Arnold Cheek, a private eye on a missing persons case, a black man living in New York in the 1970s. (I don't usually share in-progress work, but I remember that I sent one of the opening scenes to you to see if I got the feel of Times Square in the '70s right.) Arnold's world is a lot like ours, but the fungus is a lot more aggressive there, bursting up through concrete and taking root in human skin if it's not carefully controlled. I added that setup to the punchline I'd already developed, and there was my story.
Innsmouth passed on the story, but I thought it had merit, so I self-published it. I'm really glad you liked it! I'm still pretty proud of that one.
DF: Tell us about the HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD anthologies.
RAJ: Back in 2009, I had just started going to school full-time on top of my regular 9-to-5 job. My oldest daughter was also born that year, so 2009 started a 4-year drought for me writing-wise. I recognized that I wasn't going to be able to write anything substantial for a while, but I still wanted to be part of the fun with you and Joel Jenkins and Josh Reynolds over at Pulpwork Press, so I decided I'd put together a themed anthology. I could contribute a story under a pseudonym and fill the rest of the pages with other peoples' work.
I was reading a lot of Joe R. Lansdale at the time, so weird westerns were kind of on my mind. I also didn't see the genre being serviced much, so I thought it might be suitably different to find some sort of toehold in the market.
Getting a good cover is probably the biggest challenge of being a publisher. For the first How the West Was Weird, I decided I was really going to invest in the covers, and I approached one of my favorite comic artists, Jim Rugg. Fortunately, Jim was game. He was completely professional, and speedy like you wouldn't believe. Later, he came back and did the cover to volume 2 (one of my favorite covers ever... I still feel like we got robbed at the Pulp Ark awards that year), and he's signed up for volume 3 too. All three volumes will have a cohesive look.
DF: What’s been the most rewarding thing about working on those anthologies?
RAJ: The first collection was basically an excuse for me to work with my friends. It was invite-only, and since I wasn't in the mood to have to reject anything, I only invited people that I knew could turn out a quality story. I've often said that I didn't edit the first volume of HTWWW so much as I hosted it, and I still think that's true.
With the second and third volumes, I opened the submissions up, and that has surprisingly been the best part of the experience. I enjoy the process of editing, of working with a writer to find the best way to tell their story. It means that I've had to reject some stuff that wasn't quite ready - never fun - but it's also introduced me to a bunch of new writers and allowed me to be part of their journey through that work.
DF: The rumor is that the next HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD is going to be the last. True?
RAJ: Yes. The series was originally conceived as a way for me to be part of Pulpwork Press without actually having to write very much. Now that I'm finally finished getting my degree, and therefore have time to write, it's time to focus my energies on getting my own words out there. So we're going to wrap it up. Also, I think three volumes is a good stopping point for this sort of thing.
DF: You’re going to drop a novel on us soon: MYTHWORLD. Tell us about it.
RAJ: Mythworld was my contribution to Frontier Publishing back in the days of yore. It's about a young architect named Charlie Reese who ends up working for a billionaire businessman who turns out to be the Greek god Hermes. Hermes wants to return the worship of the Greek gods to the world, and he's enlisted the help of Aphrodite and Pan to get it done. Along the way, Charlie meets a handful of other gods and goddesses in their modern aspects, learns the true nature of the world around him, and finds out that Hermes' motives might be a little more far-reaching than the messenger god is letting on. It's a little bit “AMERICAN GODS” and a little bit “THE MATRIX.”
Also, it's got a sweet cover by my buddy Steve Criado. I've had this book done and stored on various hard drives for almost a decade now, but could never figure out what I wanted to do with the cover. Steve nailed the perfect design after only a couple of phone calls.
DF: You’ve been working on MYTHWORLD for a very long time. What is it about MYTHWORLD that won’t let you go?
RAJ: Mostly that it's finished! I'm not a big fan of writing for the drawer, and even though I would not write MYTHWORLD the same way now as I did ten years ago, I think it's still a good story and that it deserves to be seen.
DF: What other projects do you have planned?
RAJ: HOW THE WEST WAS WEIRD VOLUME 3 will be out as an Ebook in May, and as a print book in June.
Starting in August, I have a series of Ebook novellas coming out from Pro Se Press about a female character in the style of The Shadow or The Spider. It's set in the early 1950s, right in the middle of the Red Scare, and called BEWARE THE FURY. That'll run for six monthly installments and probably take up most of the rest of my writing year. BEWARE THE FURY is part of Pro Se's massive Signature Series line of Ebooks, and I'm sure you'll be hearing more about that soon.
I've also got a story in Pro Se's MAN IN PURPLE anthology, which should finally see the light of day in the next month or two.
And I'm sure I'll be contributing to the Pulpwork Press Christmas Special again this year. That's always a lot of fun.
DF: What’s A Day In The Life Of Russ Anderson Jr. like?
RAJ: I have two daughters under the age of five, so my days of chasing terrorists on jet skis and playing Poker for the fate of the free world are, unfortunately, behind me. But that's cool. Being a dad's a lot of fun too.
I generally try to get up early enough to get a half hour or so of writing in before everybody else starts getting up. Then I go to work. I try not to let the job take any more than the requisite 8 hours out of any given day, so that I get home early enough to spend some time with the family before the girls have to take their baths and go to bed. Afterward, if I haven't gotten my word count in for the day yet, I'll get it done, and then spend an hour or so with my wife before hitting the hay and doing it all again the next day.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Russ Anderson Jr.: I'd like to apologize to Willy Bobo for all the kicking. I'm sure you're a good person, Willy.