A: My first book is called Tears and Tales: Stories of Human and Animal Rescue and it is authored under the name Russell A Vassallo.
2. What Inspired the book?
A; At the time I conceived writing any book at all, I was undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. The surgery had been successful and they just wanted to make certain all the cancer was eradicated. As I watched other people coming in for their own treatments, I noted that all them seem defeated. They were like energy-less people sim0ply moving though the motions and most of them had simply given up hope.
I was never a person to sit still, so I pulled my little trolley of chemicals around the compound to the various rooms, entertaining them with animal stories or just plain stories of my illustrious and unnoted life. They seemed to respond to the kindness. Perhaps I removed some of the fear. A lot of them encouraged me to write my stories and send them to a publisher. (ha,ha.)
As I considered writing that first book - something I had always wanted to do - I thought about the way my own animals had impacted me. I'd lost two dogs to cancer and a little waif (Git) just showed up one summer evening, half-starved, ragged and pleading for just a little food. I didn't have the heart to send her away.
Not long after, I connected with a book shepherd who asked me to write a story for one of her own books. I submitted “The Horse That Cried” and she accepted it. So there I was in print and with an amiable desire to speak to others and see if people would actually buy a book that I wrote.
3. What makes this book special to you?
Writing Tears and Tales opened a lot of world for me, internal worlds. I had anger problems from an abusive childhood; I saw things only from my own perspective; my marriage was in deep trouble; my wife was wearing down from just trying to love me . . . and get me to accept her love. So when I wrote Tears and Tales, I was emoting all that anger, all the fury, all the self-disappointment. At the same time, I was also learning to let go of the past, to cling to whatever future I had left and to give eternal life to my animal friends for as long as anyone would read my books and articles.
I guess Tears is my baby. I still can't read some of the stories and not cry. But it was my groundbreaker to making a better life for those around me. But my hope for all my books is that they help others, give them hope that there is a way out of depression and anger, a way to a better life. And it gives animal-lovers hope that their little friends are waiting just beyond the pale.
4. What people NEED to read this book and WHY?
Kids need to read it because they'll love the way animals speak and show emotion. Adults need to read it because it deals with a way out of depression and to a more fulfilling life. This is not just another animal book. Its not just a “me and my dog” book. What I love most about Tears is that it's a book with the meaning of life-- my life - written all over it. It shows me as I really am, a man with sensitivity, compassion, love, and an ability to pull myself up and start over again.
5. What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?
That is a tough question. I think God gives us all a special gift. For me, He gave me two gifts: the ability to see a story in things around me; and the ability to work hard to develop that story. Sometimes a story is there jelling all the time and all of a sudden the opening line pops out at me and I am off and running.
I think it was Ray Bradbury that once said: “whatever I need to invent a story is right here in this room with me.” I know now what he meant. As I was writing this I looked up at the clock and thought: what if that clock suddenly started running backwards and I found myself going back in time.” So people call it the “what if” rule and that is what I call it.
6. What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?
A: I think the biggest stumbling block is the advice of others already in the writing profession. They come up with a lot of general rules that seem sacrosanct. For example, write every day. If I write every day, my stuff stinks. I need to write from inspiration, feeling, emotion. I don't want to be a hack writer and I don't want to write what will necessarily sell to editors, magazines and publishers. My writing is me. It's the most personal thing you can do. So when someone tells me I should write every day, it creates a guilt problem when I don't. Or if they tell me that flashbacks should be avoided. There are just too many rules that do not apply to the unique writer.
Tips, you want tips to help others get past similar problems? Sure.
Write for yourself and someone you value. I write for my wife. If she gives me that pat on the head, every word I wrote is worthwhile. I'll edit, and rewrite again and again. I'll write again. If others reward me with praise, I am flattered and I want to please them again, but essentially, follow the rules that apply to you.
Just think of most great men who succeeded at what they did. Most of them broke all the rules of conventional wisdom and did things exactly as they pleased.
Picasso comes to mind but there are dozens of others. Be yourself. Write for yourself. Do the very best work you can. A hundred years after you're dead someone will recognize your talent and you'll be famous. If you are really lucky, on your death-bed someone will tell you that you just hit the Best Seller's list and some big publisher sent a $50,000 advance for the rights. But even if they don't do any of that, you can always be content that you didn't sell yourself out to what others wanted you to do.
7. What do you think motivate people to become authors? What motivated you to get into this unusual industry?
A: Part a) I need the approval of others who read my work and reaffirm my talent for creativity and hard work. Because I am a very insecure person, I needed to learn that praise is often sincere. People who tell me they loved my book and want to purchase the next one reaffirm an inner struggle that demands I be the very best at what I do. I call it the “short man” syndrome. (I'm five-feet-two-inches tall and I've heard all the short jokes).
Part b) What motivated me to get into the writing industry was sheer madness. I had this strange notion my books would sell in the thousands or my competition would be limited. I learned later there were something like 20,000 books a month being published. Did I stop? No. A sane man would have stopped. But I continued. I continue today. I'll probably continue tomorrow as well. It's the madness, you see. It runs in my family. Someone comes up to me on the very day I intend to quit writing my newsletters or more books and they say: “Mr. Vassallo you write with such sensitivity. I love your work.” And the madness surges to the fore, ready to drive me on. I even howl and there doesn't have to be a moon to do it.
8. Tell me about the most unusual things you have done to promote your books?
A: I once sent a copy of Tears to Governor Ernie Fletcher and met his lovely Administrative Secretary. We even got invited to her home for an open house.
We recently attended a gun show in Louisville and actually sold a fair number of books. I accost waiters in restaurants with the fact I am a writer and threaten them with a small tip if they don't purchase.(only kidding). I even left one in the men's section of a spa at the Greenbrier Inn (where all the Presidents go) and actually sold their gift shop my first book. They sold well, but they never purchase my second. At $600 per night I don't know if I can afford to keep selling to them.
There are some things I will not do. I will not go door-to-door. I will not lie to my newsletter public by pretending I am selling more books than I really am. I will not fib about the truth of what is in my stories.
1. Why are you the BEST person to write this book? What is your background or in yurt research makes you qualified to do justice to this topic?
A: My book is not a typical non-fiction book. The stories are true but when one thinks of non-fiction they either think of self-help books or memoirs. These are real life stories about my animals and my personal troubles and emotions. I'm the best person to write the book because I lived it. The next best person to write this book is my wife because she has put up a tremendous struggle to live with me. That kind of non-fiction would make the Best Seller's list.
2 If a potential reader thinks that your book wouldn't interest them, what would you say to convince them to buy?
A: If I am selling Tears, I use a stopper? Do you know anyone who loves animals? Someone who might really enjoy reading a different kind of animal book? I usually take one of my strongest stories, “The Cardinal' because it's a story that offers hope from beyond the grave and who doesn't want to believe there is something after life?
I talk about the animals, show pictures of them, tell amusing stories about what they did recently. I also study the person. Are they a grandmother with grandchildren? I extol the virtue of my eight year old grandson and how he loves to have my stories read to him. (mostly to stay up a half hour later). If a teen-ager, I extol the virtues of all that pro-animal hype that is out there and how the big bad hunter killed Bambi's mother. Apparently someone didn't do their research because back in those days it was illegal to kill a doe, but it made good sentiment for the movie.
3. Why does the topic of your book interest you? Why would it interest potential readers?
The best example I can offer to answer this question is a quote from one of my newest stories going into a future book. The story is called “The Unloved.”
We meet at the bottom of the stairs, but her eyes avert from mine.
She will not face me when she is perturbed. She is smoting her
own anger because I am blind and do not see. I can be
perplexing to everyone except my animals. With them, I am different.
I feel their love and I sense their emotions. Conversations flows easily
with them and I do not feel unloved. I am comfortable with my
animals. They expect nothing from me. They hold me to no standard.
With them, I do not have to do better and better each time
I attempt something. I know they love me because their love
is simplistic and demonstrative. They are not the feelingless
mother who raised me on criticism and derision.
This is the best reason I can give for why the animal topic interests me. Yet, I do not want to be tacked down as an animal writer. I just finished my memoirs of growing up in a neighborhood where mobsters outnumbered churchgoers by three-to- one. And, after twenty-five years as a practicing lawyer, I have sketched out another non-fiction book on divorce cases and their aftermath.
4. If there's anything else you would like to share, this is the time and the place.
A: Before you begin writing for publication, take a long hard look at how much of yourself you are willing to give to the industry. Are you willing to learn the industry standards? Are you willing to give up part of your personal life to pursue it? Are you willing to sometimes spend more money selling your books than you earn? Will you accept the criticism of a professional editor? How will you react to being scammed by the thousands out there who want the money your dreams are built on? Are you determined to succeed in spite of them? Do you know where to go to find the right answers?
I recall one organization we were using to conduct interviews and have reviews done for a specific price. They ran a contest and asked me to submit a story. Now I always thought that when you win a contest you get something of a reward. Maybe its money; maybe it's a sticker; a certificate. You know, something. Well, I did get something. I got the right to purchase the book my story was published in as a contest winner for twenty-five per cent off retail price.
Then there was the guy who took the winning story right into Hollywood for film and television rights and you were on your way. You simply could not miss. Just being in the contest assured you of notice of some kind. Guess what? He lied. And he lied very effectively for one-hundred and -eighty dollars contest entry fee. I still bang my head on the floor over that one.
Not everyone is a scam artist. I only met Nikki Leigh once, but she is hard-working and you get more than your money's worth from her. Maybe her efforts will never sell a single book (which I doubt because our Amazon sales are up) but even if nothing sells, she's done the honorable thing and that is worth the price of admission . . . anytime.