Last week I published my Review of J. Rushing’s RADIO: A Novel, which you can read here. This week, here’s an interview with the man himself! I want to take a moment to thank him, because without his gracious offer to answer some questions, I probably wouldn’t have gathered the courage to start this blog at all.
In fact, the blog might even have been a little bit of an excuse even to ask him some burning questions I had about the book… It’s that good. But without further ado, let’s dive into the Making Off of RADIO:
You’ve clearly done a lot of research for radio, some of which can be found on your website. What’s your favourite 1920s history tidbit you found that didn’t make it into the book?
It has to be some of the slang. There’s just so much of it and it’s so good. I tried to incorporate it in a nuanced way that helped shape individual characters without making the book feel like some cheesy mobster movie. Doing so meant leaving a lot of it out. Some of my favorites that didn’t make the cut were “fire extinguisher” meaning a chaperone, or a “quilt” which is an alcoholic drink that keeps you warm.
How did you come up with the idea of broadcasters? Is there a fun story behind it?
There is. I was in the back seat of my buddy and fellow author K. M. Alexander’s car returning from a hike with our wives back home in Washington State when a question popped into my head. My mind is constantly spinning so this is normal but the idea felt special. What if consciousness isn’t intrinsic but exists outside the body and we receive it like a radio signal? That was the seed but that was it. I told the others in the car about it and we all agreed it was an interesting concept for a book so I wrote it down and then it sat for a few months. Eventually, it crept back into my head and when it did, that idea started to link to others. If we can receive signals, what would happen if someone could send them? If they can send them, would it just be speaking or could they also manipulate minds? Even though it’s not magic, aggressive mind control, governments, religions, communities, even individuals, manipulate minds all the time in the real world to get those around them or under them to do what they want. So if there were people who could broadcast into the minds of others, that thrust toward power would be almost certain. That led to the concept of the Mentium. The idea just kept ballooning from there.
There’s clearly a lot of worldbuilding that went into Radio. How much planning did you do? Or did you start by just putting pen to paper?
My planning is always very lightweight. I usually have a beginning, two or three twists, and an ending in mind before I start writing along with some other important details I want to factor into the story. These act as a scaffold but I’m always willing to change them if it serves the story. Other than that, I try to let the story grow based on what’s already happened in previous chapters. Everytime I try to force the story to adhere to my outlining, it suffers and I quit having fun which means I stop writing. In the case of RADIO, I knew I would definitely include the body jump into a musician, that it would be in the 1920s in Paris, and that the main character would need help and hate that fact. I had also set a challenge for myself. I wanted to write a main character readers would like despite having a million reasons to hate them. It’s fascinating to me how simply being in close proximity to, and interacting with bad people can make us warm to them, even truly like them, despite all the evidence screaming that we shouldn’t. We want to like those we’re forced to have around us. I used first person tense on purpose because readers can’t get any closer to a person than being in their head.
What was your favourite scene to write?
That’s a really tough question. I’m not sure I can pick just one. The first chapter, the dinner scene, was really fun to write but as a musician, I think I have to pick the concert chapter as my favorite. The feeling of being on stage, locked into the music, in sync with other musicians, is such a profound experience and unless you’ve actually done it, it’s a really foreign concept. It was a blast to try and distill that down for the reader.
In Book editing, there’s always a lot of talk about “Kill your darlings”. What darlings did you kill? Was there anything that you ended up removing that you really liked, and if so why did you remove it?
In the second chapter, where M is under the stage and in the throes of desperation, I really let myself go when it came to exploring that feeling of helplessness. That chapter was originally much longer but all of that thinking and emoting really got repetitive. The same woe was being mulled over from too many different angles and for the reader, the point had been made long ago. I tried to strip it back to what was immediate, visceral, and maintained the urgency of the moment.
You’re a musician, which I think is why Del’s passion for music and his playing is described so beautifully. What instruments do you play? How did music influence the creation of Radio?
So, I didn’t really stretch when it came to the instrumentation. I play guitar and saxophone, just like Del and Bernie. Though to be fair, I haven’t played the sax since early college. I figured that if I really wanted to make the music scenes come alive and the references work, it would be best to write from my own direct personal experiences. I think that for any book set in the 1920’s music has to play at least some role. Music often defines it’s time and the 1920’s are one of the best examples of that. M’s dislike of the fast, happy jazz of the time actually came from my own frustrations with finding mood music to write to. I like to prime myself before a writing session by listening to songs that fit that day’s particular scene. RADIO is not a happy book but the vast majority of the jazz of the time is very bright and bouncy, and joyful. Luckily, the blues was there as an era, context, and mood appropriate stand in. Plus, writing a book with a jazz guitarist and not incorporating the blues is just wrong both tonally and historically.
There’s so much to this world you created. Coyote and his rebels are only briefly mentioned, for example. Will you ever dive back into it?
I’m not entirely sure. I have some ideas in mind, and they definitely include Coyote and the Reformed but, for a number of reasons, I’m going to wait a while. I didn’t write RADIO to be the first of a series but I know some people will take the ending that way. I dislike it when books end as if now that the characters have completed their task, their lives are effectively over. In real life, events end but people go on living with hopes and plans for the future. I like my stories to end with that same forward facing view.
What’s next for you? What are you working on right now?
At the moment RADIO is competing in SPFBO 6 (Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off) and has been chosen as one of the top thirty competing in the cover contest. Readers can vote over at Mark Lawrence’s blog. As for the core book competition, I should find out if I’ve made it into the semi-finals in the coming months. Project-wise, I’ve got a few things in the mix. I’m going back and forth between three. One’s a cyberpunk fantasy trilogy, one’s a far future sci-fi epic, and the other is a near future post-apocalyptic tetralogy? Quadrilogy? Quartet? A four book series. I’m leaning toward the cyberpunk fantasy though. No matter which I choose, I’ll be starting work in the coming weeks. Thanks for having me and good luck with your new blog!
You can vote for RADIO in the Cover contest here!
J Rushing can be found on Instagram & Twitter under @jrushingwrites
His Website is: https://jrushingwrites.com
He is on Goodreads: https://goodreads.com/book/show/52810360-radio…
Buy RADIO on Amazon!