RJ Samuel

I have never met RJ Samuel in person, but we’ve become online friends through chatting about books and her recent move to the States from Ireland.

RJ had published three novels (Heart Stopper, Falling Colours, Casting Shadows) before I met her. [All links to her work are at the end of the article.]

I became interested in her work after attending a live question and answer session in a group we both belong to on Facebook. Her fourth novel, A Place Somewhere, was published on 11th March 2014 and is available on Amazon, Smashwords, and in paperback. It is the first of her work I’ve read. I enjoyed it and she was very clever in keeping me in suspense all the way to the end of the book, where there was an unexpected and interesting twist.

Thank you, RJ, for granting me this interview. Here are a few warm up questions.

Thanks for inviting me, and for very generously running this series of interviews with other authors. I’m honored to be in the company of the other interviewees.

Coffee or tea? Stopped drinking coffee on New Year’s Eve 2012 as part of a cabbage soup diet thing to get healthy. Thankfully my diet got back to normal, but I stayed off the coffee. I’m a tea drinker now. Drink lots of the stuff (seriously missing Irish tea…).

Dark or milk chocolate? Milk, milk, milk…will eat the dark stuff if that’s all that’s left in the cupboard.

Favorite sport to play? My absolute favorite has to be soccer, but I do try anything. I enjoy playing team sports – it gives me a chance to interact with people in way that I understand.

Favorite sport to watch? Soccer. Though I was watching more rugby than soccer before I left Ireland.

I have an Irish friend who I know will chastise me if I fail to ask you what team you support.

Definitely both Irish national teams in soccer and rugby. If she means what English Premier League team I support, I have to admit to being fickle and supporting teams willy nilly depending on who they have playing for them or who treat well or not...I supported Man U until Roy Keane left (was tempted to stop when Beckham left too).

I know your dog Clio is your pride and joy. How did you find and come to adopt her? 

My ex and I were looking for a secondhand car in 2006 in Ireland and we arranged to meet a seller in the car park (I’ve heard that term isn’t used here…parking lot?) of a McDonalds in Galway. We were waiting in the car and I saw this little thing dodging traffic and begging at the door to the McDonalds. We finally coaxed her over and she came home with us. She was about a year old. The seller and car never turned up, but it was one of the luckiest days of my life because of the little dog that did show up. The car we were going to see was a Renault Clio, so we called her Clio.

That’s a great story…and saved me from asking how you came up with the name. (grin) Now, on to some questions about your most recent book. A Place Somewhere is not your typical romance. Tell us a bit about the story and where the idea came from for you to write it. In general, what generates ideas for your stories?

I had hoped, after writing three novels that did not fit properly into any genre, to write a pure romance as my fourth novel. It didn’t work out that way as I wrote A Place Somewhere in reaction to events in my life that shook me out of my belief in love. 

I was encouraged by a friend to write, write, write it out when my dreams shattered around me. I wrote then from the ruins of my reality, a short story called ‘The Alleyway’ available on my website. And from talking to friends after (something that I found hard to do from what felt like shame at believing and being wrong), I found that there is even a name for the phenomenon now, ‘catfishing’. 

I drew on these to create the character of Alex who reacts to moving to America and finding out she has been deceived, by making it her job to flush out women who deceive other women online. Alex is asked by a mother to protect her vulnerable daughter from an online predator and returns to Ireland to investigate a woman and a situation that are not what they seem to be.

The book is about deception, about its consequences. How when we lie to ourselves or to others, whatever the intentions, the consequences can be devastating. 

This particular story is about online deception, a hidden insidious addition to the ether that surrounds us every day. I’ve found that deception, in all its forms, causes a change in the deceived, a fracture of their reality. In the online version, there is the additional loss, a mourning for a mirage, a grief for the unknown.

Just before I published A Place Somewhere, there was a divisive and, to me, quite shocking example of online deception within the ‘lesfic community’. I did not take part in the discussions about it as I found myself withdrawing from the debate and from the hurtful feeling that some participants were prepared to enable the deceiver and blame the deceived for being gullible. My feeling has always been that innocence is worth protecting and we should not ask ourselves, or our children, to get rid of that innocence, we should condemn those who seek to destroy it. 

I hope that in some little way the book provides a voice for the deceived and a gentle reminder to those who find excuses for the deceivers that there was a time they were innocent too and the events and people that took away that innocence were wrong and do not have to be part of ‘just growing up’. I might have gained a more ‘grown-up’ discernment of others, but I would trade that any day for the now unattainable ‘childish’ openness I had before.

Do most of your story ideas come from your own life?

In general, events around me generate the ideas for my stories. I blend together the events until I come up with the story. For example, Falling Colours is about a vision painter, a concept I created after I found that wishing for things to happen in your life was a powerful force that could go very wrong, and that some of the things I wrote about seemed to be happening in my life. I describe my work as ‘fiction in the folds of reality’ because I try to write even the imaginary as realistically as possible. I think that is why the stories connect so much with readers (and why readers do searches on the internet for the unique and imaginary concept of vision painters).    

Describe your main characters and tell us what makes them interesting.

My main characters in A Place Somewhere are: Alex, an Irish accountant who gives up everything to move to the US to be with her online girlfriend and finds that she has been deceived. She tries to put up a hard shell built out of righteous anger and lost belief and lashes out at anyone she perceives to be hurting someone vulnerable as she falls back on her last strength, her belief in truth, but finds that even the best intentions can have devastating consequences; Breanna, an Irish musician/songwriter whose guilt over her actions keeps her from writing or performing anymore, and whose alleged belief in love intrigues and annoys Alex; and Cynthia, an American woman who has been devastated once and is vulnerable, yet resilient and hopeful about the love she has found and thinks she shares with Breanna.   

What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

A Place Somewhere took longer to write than normal and that was because I found some parts very difficult to write as they tore at unhealed wounds. However, there are parts that are humorous as well as parts that are loving and poignant. I have many sections that are sprinkled throughout the book that flowed out without effort (those are always favorite parts to me), but I think the image and chapter that stays in my heart the most is when Sasha (the little girl) and Alex talk about being outsiders, at the edges of the circle. That is also the part that a few of my readers have expressed as speaking to them the most. That, and the twist in the tale.

Yes, you surprised me with it…I didn’t see that coming at all. Well done!  I know you do your own covers. You do a lot of promotion for your books with very nice trailers and the last one even had a song. What have you found is the most effective tool?

I am actually really bad at promoting my books. I do all the groundwork, I design nice material, but when it comes to getting it out there, I don’t do much at all. I have a trailer for Heart Stopper and I wrote the words for a song for A Place Somewhere to which Sharon Murphy (a wonderful Irish singer-songwriter) composed music and I released the song on iTunes and cdbaby. I haven’t done enough to let people know the song is out there. 

The times when the most people have asked about buying the books is after a reading. After they’ve heard me read or met me in person. I’m quite introverted and it takes a lot to put myself ‘out there,’ and most of the time, on Facebook, I just talk about Clio. There have been many times when I’ve wanted to say that I’m proud of the books and the song and I really think people would enjoy them, but I don’t. I would really love to make some kind of a living out of my writing so I know I’m going to have to stop being quiet about it.

The full song is available to listen to here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjiHFBqh6t0. It is also available for purchase (for $0.99) on Amazon and cdbaby, and iTunes.

How long, on average does it take you to write a book? 

I took about 6 months for each of the first three novels, and around 10 months for A Place Somewhere. I published my first novel Heart Stopper in January 2012, the second novel Falling Colors – The Misadventures of a Vision Painter in June 2012 and the third novel, Casting Shadows – The Further Misadventures of a Vision Painter, in January 2013. I started writing A Place Somewhere in May 2013 and finished writing it in February 2014.

What process do you use when writing? I’d bet you are a careful outliner

And you’d win that bet!  I had read a lot of books about writing and that helped me when I was writing my first novel, Heart Stopper. I developed my own way of working that built from the many books I had read. I am going to be teaching ‘Plot and Story’ in the new GCLS Writing Academy course and I also hope to develop my own online (and possibly in-person) course to teach my method. It never fails to work for me in terms of getting a blueprint for my novel. I then just need to get the words down. What slows me down, and sometimes stops me, is that I find that when life gets too stressful, I cannot summon the creative energy that is needed to get the words out into the structure. But, once I have the structure in place, I at least have the comfort of knowing that the novel will be written and it will work.

Have your characters ever surprised you?

Yes, they have. I think the most surprising (and the most fun) was the interaction between Marge (a middle-aged white Irish ghost) and Kiran (a younger Irish-Indian vision painter) in Falling Colours. They sparked off each other and I experienced that sensation of just letting the characters react to each other, of getting out of the way and watching and listening (and laughing).

I usually have most of the story worked out before I sit down to write, but I’m always open to following where the characters lead and if the place they lead is interesting and fits in with the overall story, I’ll include it.

You have an unusual background. Tell us about what was it like growing up in those unique places and how you ended up in Ireland.

While I was growing up in that unusual background, I never noticed the difference. The unusual was the norm. I think that’s where my ability to adapt to any situation comes from now. The strangest things could be going on around me and I’m usually calm (calmly stressed like a duck with its little feet paddling like mad under the surface). I was born and brought up in Nigeria. My parents are Indian and they’d moved to Nigeria in 1960. I grew up with huge changes every five years, from the lush South to the arid North and back. I went to boarding school in India for over a year. I traveled as an unaccompanied minor (7 years old, and with other Indian kids) from the North of Nigeria to the English military boarding school high in the Nilgiri Hills in India. I don’t consciously think about my time in Nigeria, but there are so many things that happened that make up the background to my writing. My parents left Nigeria in 1985 to move to the US. I was already two years into my medical studies in Nigeria and they arranged for my continuing medical education in Ireland (they’d visited a few times as they had an Irish colleague and family friend in Nigeria who’d moved back there). So my sister and I ended up on a freezing night in October on the platform of a train station in Galway wondering how on earth we’d ended up there. I think my little duck legs were thrashing away like mad under the surface.

What activities do you enjoy when you are not writing?

I used to love reading fiction. Then I overdosed on novels and, because of some intense situations in my personal life, I found that I could not read fiction anymore. I really did not want to feel along with characters, and good fiction makes you do that. I did not want to read bad fiction instead. Now I read a lot of material that helps me learn what I need to know to run a writing/publishing business. I spend a lot of time with Clio and we take walks when she is able. I find I’m on my iPad a lot, communicating with friends and keeping in touch with people’s lives on Facebook, reading to learn, trying to re-establish my base after my move, and whatever else pops up. My life has changed dramatically in the last few months and now I find that fear of the unknown accompanies me in every minute and that does take me away from pure enjoyment of the moments of my life I should be cherishing.

You are an indie author. Do you ever regret going that route and wish you had gone with one of the known publishing houses, or do you like the flexibility of being self-published?

I think I am at a crossroads with this decision. I don’t regret going indie as I have learnt a lot about writing and publishing in the process and I love the control I have over my work. I do regret that my lack of marketing effort means that my books do not get the exposure they should get for all the time and effort I put into creating them. The initial reason I went indie was not that I had been rejected by any publishing house, but that I was too scared of the potential for rejection so I just didn’t ask. Since then, there have been many other reasons that made me stay indie. The main reasons I would now consider going hybrid with a publishing house are that it is lonely as an indie and I’m useless at marketing. I’ve talked with some of the smaller publishing houses and I’m asking other authors about their experiences.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you’d change?

My books have been weirdly prophetic, some of the bad stuff in them seems to happen in my life. And A Place Somewhere has proved the same in that my move to America is turning out to be quite similar to Alex’s (and my job might now involve accounting), just that it didn’t involve an online girlfriend. An interesting fact (not necessarily bad) is that I have an Excel sheet for the book with character names written out which I started in March 2013 and the family that turned up to lodge in my house in August had the same names as three of my characters.

As I mentioned, I initially wrote Falling Colours because of the power of wishing for things and how writing them down can make them happen, just not always in the expected ways.

I’ve been asked (whenever I mention this weird prophetic nature of my writing) why I don’t just write happy novels in which nothing bad happens…the short answer is I can’t, the reality is that life is not always happy. I just wish sometimes that the good stuff in my novels would happen, as well.

What are you working on now?

Just after I moved to America, I started on the third in the Vision Painter series. I had the outline worked out and the prologue written before things started to go wrong in my life again. I’m hoping that things will settle down soon and I’ll be able to get back to my vision painter, Kiran, and the changes that have occurred in her life. I’m excited about this story as it explores the unique concept of vision painting from another angle, whether the gift is innate or developed, and who controls it. There are some new and interesting characters, including a new vision painter in town. I’ll admit I’m nervous as I’m putting a much-loved character, Kiran, through some pretty rough times. But I hope her fans will stick with her through those times as the story will also have the usual humor and love they’ve enjoyed so far in this series.

Links:

Website: www.rjsamuel.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/RJSamuelAuthor 

The Books:

A Place Somewhere: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IXQE8ZG

Casting Shadows: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00B6UFULM

Falling Colours: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008CG6BPM

Heart Stopper: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0076MERG8

In Your Words: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BB0A2TC (Free Short Story with excerpts also from Heart Stopper and Falling Colours)

The song from A Place Somewhere: http://www.amazon.com/Place-Somewhere-Sharon-Murphy/dp/B00J49U5NU

 

© JEN 2014