Russ Thomas: The Beginning and Ending of Writing

Mystery and crime novelist Russ Thomas discusses why he believes character is the beginning and ending of writing and what inspired his latest book, Nighthawking.
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Russ Thomas grew up in the '80s reading anything he could get his hands on, writing stories, watching television, and playing video games: in short, anything that avoided the Great Outdoors. After a few 'proper' jobs, he discovered the joys of bookselling, where he could talk to people about books all day. Now a full-time writer, he also teaches creative writing classes and mentors new authors.

Russ Thomas

Russ Thomas

In this post, Thomas discusses why he believes character is the beginning and ending of writing, what inspired his latest book, Nighthawking, and more!

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Name: Russ Thomas
Literary agent: Sarah Hornsley (The Bent Agency)
Title: Nighthawking
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release date: February 23, 2021
Genre: Mystery/Crime
Elevator pitch for the book: In his quest to find a murderer, DS Adam Tyler finds himself drawn into the secretive world of the nighthawkers: treasure-hunters who operate under cover of darkness, seeking the lost and valuable … and willing to kill to keep what they find.
Previous titles: Firewatching

Nighthawking

Nighthawking by Russ Thomas

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What prompted you to write this book?

I came across the term Nighthawking years ago and it just stuck with me. What makes someone decide to pick up a metal detector one day and go out treasure hunting? And what would happen if they found more than they bargained for?

(The Differences Between a Crime Novel, Mystery Novel, and Thriller Novel)

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

I’ve had the rough idea in the back of my head for years but in terms of the writing of this book, it was about 18 months from start to finish. A much shorter time than the first book which I wrote on and off over the course of about 10 years. The story evolved as I went along, obviously, but largely stayed the same shape as I planned it. The only big difference was the reveal at the end. For the longest time, I really had absolutely no idea “whodunnit.” It was as much a surprise to me as it was the reader (hopefully). And then, of course, I had to go back and change elements of the story to make the ending fit.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

Not really. It all went pretty much as it did before. The first book was an enormous surprise though. Despite having worked in the industry as a bookseller for more than twenty years, seeing things from the other side was a real eye-opener. It’s very humbling to have so many people all working together to make your dreams a reality—agent, editors, copy-editors, cover designers, proof-readers, marketing people … the list goes on. I’m extremely grateful.

(Writing a Mystery Novel: Creating a Villain & 5 Ways To Justify a Crime)

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book? 

Other than the ending, yes, there were a few. The way I work is that I plan the story as much as possible but I always try to leave a bit of wiggle room for things to change. This keeps me interested as I’m writing the first draft otherwise I think I’d find the whole thing a massive chore. So in this way, most of the twists in the story come about by accident. A character decides she’s going to do xxxx and I stop writing and think, wow, I didn’t see that coming. Then I have to decide whether I’m going to keep it and change my plan, or rewrite it to follow my plan. I always try to keep it because I think if I’ve given myself a ‘wow’ moment then that will hopefully be the same for the reader. Sometimes, you have to reject them and wrestle the characters back on course.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I like writing about people. To me, character is the beginning and ending of writing. What motivates people to make the choices they make? What are the consequences of those choices? If a reader walks away feeling they understand the human condition a little more, then that would be a bonus. At the end of the day though, I write to entertain. If you enjoy reading what I’ve written then that’s the highest accolade I could ask for.

Russ Thomas: The Beginning and Ending of Writing

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

When you write something you’ll probably think that it’s either the best piece of writing you’ve ever written or it’s the worst. Neither of these positions is correct. Put it away for a few days or a week or two and then go back to it. If you thought it was wonderful, you’ll begin to see ways in which you can make it better, and if you thought it was terrible, you’ll see bits that can be salvaged. Most of writing is rewriting. And then rewriting. And then rewriting again. It’s a craft that you’ll get better at over time, like playing a musical instrument or learning to build a cabinet. You just have to be prepared to practice.

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