This past week, I had the opportunity to chat with Ross Cavins, author of “Follow the Money”. If you haven’t had a chance to read my review of the book, you can find it here. We covered a wide range of topics including his experience with self-publishing, who and what makes him laugh, the stalker on his front lawn, and, of course, his plan of action once the zombie apocalypse finally occurs.
The Word Zombie: “Follow The Money” started out with the publication of your short story – “Sammy’s Night Out”. What led you to take that story and build a novel around it?
Ross Cavins: At first, I was going to write a collection of short stories built around Sammy’s life: Sammy Gets His G.E.D., Sammy Renews His License, Sammy Goes To Jail, Sammy Gets Married, Sammy Buys a Doublewide, Sammy Gets a Job. Those are all actual story ideas I wrote down in my “ideas” notebook. I began mini-outlining them in my head and one morning, when I hadn’t completely woken up yet (that’s when I get my best ideas), a thought hit me that it wasn’t Sammy’s life that was interesting, it was his character.
So since “Sammy the character” has a real-life name (I’ll never tell who), I thought of other characters I had known throughout my life. For me, characters make the story, and I’ve met plenty of them.
The Word Zombie: This is your first full-length novel, and you decided to self publish. How was the experience?
Ross Cavins: Well, since it’s the only publishing experience I know of, it’s been great! I don’t know how authors at the “big level” do it but I get out there in the trenches and try to really meet my readers. All three of them. They’ve been great but one is a bona fide stalker. Grandma, if you’re reading this, can you take the tent down and go home? You’re killing my grass.
Honestly though, I do all my own marketing (read: use my own money) and it’s been both a chore and a gift. I’ve found so many places where readers gather and through them, I’ve learned of books and authors I never would have discovered another way. I’ve also learned things about my own book I never realized, such as some underlying themes like “money can’t buy happiness.”
And as a side note: this actually my fifth full-length novel. I’ve written four others that either were “complete crap” or not the direction I want my writing to take. I tested out the fantasy genre, the horror genre and the mystery genre. While the two mystery books have promise, they are written in a style that is more Nelson DeMille than my own (a smart-ass protagonist telling the story in first person).
When I discovered Elmore Leonard, my whole life changed, like I had finally woken up and figured out who I was as a writer. I don’t think I can ever go back. My true writing voice is distinctly Ross Cavins and there is no one out there who writes the way I do. So many writers sound exactly the same and I gained a certain confidence in my writing once I figured out my true style.
Also, it’s a little known fact (like people care) that I did have an agent at one time. I just did a guest post on a blog about that at thecrazybabymam.com.
The Word Zombie: When you start a story – or in this case, a collection of stories – do you begin with the end in mind, or do you just write and see where the characters take you?
Ross Cavins: I always begin with an idea of where the characters are taking me. Having said that, “Follow The Money” didn’t quite work out that way. As you noted earlier, I began with story 3, “Sammy’s Night Out.” Then I decided money was as great a motivator in character’s lives as anything, and derived this idea of the money changing hands (from story to story) through different means. Sammy didn’t actually fit into that new theme but readers soon discover a fun little work-around for that.
I had no idea where the story would take me in “Follow The Money”. So I did what the readers do, I followed the money. I don’t remember where I came up with the idea for the ending or what story I was writing, but when I hit on it, I knew there was no other way for the book to end.
And that’s why I think people (including you) are always calling this short story collection a novel, because it has a novel-like closure at the ending. I’ve never read another short story collection out there that did that.
The Word Zombie: There is a lot going on in “Follow The Money”. Is there anything that you wanted to do in the book, but didn’t? Any story you wish you had told?
Ross Cavins: There are plenty of stories that I didn’t tell. I’d list them here but the ideas are so basic the point wouldn’t come across. It would be like telling you: a guy goes into a convenience store. That’s the idea kernel I began with for “Sammy’s Night Out,” but hearing it as a naked idea is very unappealing. That’s how basic all my ideas started; I created characters, stuck them into a real-world situation, and let them take over and lead the stories.
Or like I used to do in Sim City, I’d throw a natural catastrophe down on them and watch them squirm and work it out. Yeah, like that, only completely different.
And in actuality, the original collection had eleven stories, not ten. I cut one because it was deemed by my early readers to be a little “too raunchy.”
The Word Zombie: Do you try and write every day, or do you write only when the inspiration hits you?
Ross Cavins: I get up a few hours before work every weekday morning and write. It’s tedious sometimes, and I fight the urge to sleep, but once I get started, it’s fun. If I can make myself giggle at the keyboard that early, I know it’s got to be funny.
Inspirations hit me at all times of the day (and night). I always carry a pen with me and write the ideas down on anything I can find. I have a section of my desk dedicated to little slips of paper and the backs of receipts, everything I’ve written things on. Okay, actually, they’re all over my desk.
The Word Zombie: Writing humor can be a very tricky, and very personal thing. Who or what makes you laugh?
Ross Cavins: I have an absurd sense of humor. I’m the kind of guy who used to laugh every time Archie Bunker flushed the toilet. Then I started laughing every time ANYONE flushed the toilet. And when people began asking me what I was laughing about, I had to stop laughing out loud. I’d just laugh in my head.
My wife makes me laugh; she has the same sense of humor as me. Some of my favorite authors include Carl Hiassen, Christopher Moore and Elmore Leonard. Carl and Christopher each focus on writing about the absurd while Elmore is the king of writing about the mundane everyday stuff. The two styles have combined with my own sense of humor.
I’m a huge Monty Python fan. A lot of British humor is “too” British but Monty Python is classic.
As far as TV goes, “Arrested Development” is by and far the funniest, most intelligently written show ever. There are always several interconnecting storylines, the characters are well-drawn and there are several layers of humor. Inside jokes are sprinkled throughout each show, like the time Henry Winkler’s character was combing his hair in the mirror: he stopped and said, “Hey.” (reminiscent of the Fonz) “Arrested Development” is a show you can watch over and over and still not see everything that happened on screen.
Then there was the episode when Alan Alda said (paraphrased), “A baby dying in a comedy? That’s not funny. What’s the world coming to?”
The Word Zombie: Part of becoming a good writer is becoming a good reader. What are the next three books on your “to read pile”?
Ross Cavins: My “to-read” pile is more like a “to-read” bookcase. I literally have 70+ books in my bookshelves to read and when I finish a book, I’ll choose the next one based on my mood. I totally agree that you have to continuously read in order to write well. You really have to immerse yourself in all facets of the craft.
Right now, I have three selections going: “The Last Amateurs” by John Feinstein, “The Snitch Jacket” by Christopher Goffard, and “The Areas of My Expertise” by John Hodgman. I like books that start with “the.”
The Word Zombie: Are you working on a new book?
Ross Cavins: Absolutely. I’ve been novelizing the first story in “Follow The Money” – “The Drop.” Only I’ve added a completely new storyline and four more main characters. Right now I’m at about 149 pages. Basically, “The Drop” comprises the first few chapters of the book (with the new intertwining storyline weaving in and out of it, (of course), and the book is titled, “On The Run”.
The Word Zombie: What’s the one question that I didn’t ask you that I should have?
Ross Cavins: That one right there, and now I’m offended.
The Word Zombie: Last question – once the zombie apocalypse occurs (and I think we can all agree it’s a matter of when, not if), will you be going it alone, or looking to join up with a ragtag group of survivors? Also, do you prefer long-range weapons (guns, flamethrowers) or melee weapons (classic baseball bat) when dealing with a zombie uprising?
Ross Cavins: I will be joining up because I like to sleep too much. You can’t expect the zombies to wait until you wake up before they begin snacking on you, so you have to have protection while you snooze. And I totally prefer long-range weapons; don’t want to get my hands dirty.
I want to thank Ross for taking the time to talk with The Word Zombie. If you would like to learn more about Ross, check out his website – rosscavins.com. I’ll be anxious to see what he’s able to do with “On the Run”. Until then, check out “Follow The Money” – you can order it from Amazon, (and support your humble Word Zombie reviewer), by clicking the link at the top of the page.
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