Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Butterfly Ranch by R.K. Salters. My thanks to Anne Cater for the invitation to join and to the author for the wonderful guest post. First, here is what Butterfly Ranch is all about!
Author : R.K. Salters
Title : Butterfly Ranch
Pages : 264
Publisher : Troubadour Publishing
Publication date : November 26, 2017
Tristan Griffin is a household name and the author of a universally popular detective series. For the past few years he has lived in self-exile in a remote jungle lodge nestled in the Mayan hills of Southern Belize, with his partner Hedda. The novel begins as he attempts suicide and Hedda disappears. Altamont Stanbury, an old Kriol police constable posted to the local backwater of San Antonio, rushes to the scene with his daughter Philomena, the village nurse.
Philomena saves Tristan but he remains unconscious. Altamont, a bumbler and long-time reader of crime novels, launches a half-hearted search for Hedda by radio but decides to remain at the lodge. In truth his reverence for Tristan the writer consumes all else, and he becomes obsessed with the Griffin books he finds at the lodge.
When Tristan comes to, he is distraught and at times delirious, haunted by flashbacks of his uncompromising, cursed love for Hedda and the dark secret behind her disappearance. His anger and increasingly erratic behavior only find respite in the presence of Altamont’s innocent daughter. But he feels nothing but spite for Altamont himself, and the relationship between the two threatens to have fatal consequences for one or both.
Would Murder on the Orient Express work if Poirot was a Dalek?
So here we are, my novel is out. I‘d be lying if I said I followed a method writing it. But looking back, I’ve realised there are three very simple, golden rules that I did follow subconsciously all along. They work best together, as they contradict and balance each other. Here are RK Salters‘s three commandments. Stray at your peril.
1. Write about people.
Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, once recalled how he dreamt The Perfect Plot in his sleep. He woke up in the middle of the night and, excited by his discovery, he wrote down the premise of the plot in a notebook that he kept on his bedside table, before going back to sleep. The next morning he got up, had breakfast, brushed his teeth. Then he recalled that he’d had some kind of brilliant dream about a plot but he couldn’t remember it. So he ran feverishly to his bedside table. The note read: “Boy meets girl.”
That plot had felt brilliant to Hitchcock himself. What he hadn‘t realised when he noted it down was that the brilliance came from everything else in his dream, how he felt in his sleep about the girl and the boy, not from the plot itself. The point I am making here is that, being devil’s advocate, you can write (or dream) a good book with great characters and no plot. Hard but possible. Plenty of great literature has a weak plot. Still devil’s advocate, you can also write a good book with great characters and a pedestrian plot. Boy meets girl, with various minor variations, is the plot for a large chunk of world literature.
But it doesn’t work the other way round. Boy meets girl doesn‘t work if you have no feelings for the boy or the girl, which was the case for Hitchcock when he woke up the next morning. We are human beings and we are interested in other human beings. Would you be thrilled by an action-packed story if all the characters were robots? Would Murder on the Orient Express work if Poirot was a Dalek? (It might for some people, but they‘re not my target readership.)
Butterfly Ranch is first and foremost about people. It‘s a psychological mystery with the stress on the first word.
2. Write for strangers.
The writing self-help book with the best title ever has got to be Steven Pressfield‘s Nobody Wants To Read Your Sh*t. Incidentally, no offence to Mr. Pressfield, I haven‘t read it and don‘t intend to. But the title is clear enough: you need to stand out, you need to appeal.
Hands up who read James Joyce‘s Finnegan‘s Wake to the end? The complete works of Marcel Proust? The war parts in War and Peace? The literature curriculum is littered with brilliant books that nobody wants to read to the end, so imagine how many newly published books‘ last pages get read. In this age of instant gratification and short attention spans, my heart was warmed when I read the following review of Butterfly Ranch: „There aren‘t many books that I finish these days, but this was definitely among them.“
So the second commandment is thou shalt write not for yourself, not for your devoted or imaginary fans, but for complete strangers. Some strangers will never like the book, simply because it‘s not the right genre or not the read they‘re looking for at that time. But if a book is not a page-turner to an otherwise well-disposed stranger, on some level it has failed. What keeps that stranger reading is the engine of the book. It‘s often suspense, but it can be other things, for example foreboding, well-paced revelations, empathy, humour and wit, thought-provoking prose. Whatever it is, it has to be there in order for the stranger to finish the book.
3. Challenge those strangers.
In this age of technological advances, for a mere £12.99 you can acquire so-called Lazy Reader Glasses. „These glasses‘ specially mirrored lenses project the text from the book in your lap to your line of vision even though you‘re facing the ceiling, enabling you to read while lying down without having to tilt your head,“ states the promotional material.
Now, just to be clear, I have no particular preference in what physical position you read or ingest Butterfly Ranch. You could read it lying down in bed, on a mat in an upside-down yoga pose, in the middle of a pool astride an inflatable lilo or airborne in a balloon. You could read it yourself or have it read to you. For a significant fee you could have me read it to you (get in touch via Twitter).
What I take objection to is the juxtaposition of the words lazy and reader. At its best, reading is surely the most proactive form of art consumption. A good chunk of what a great book becomes is what its readers project onto it, and in the end it is something far bigger and richer than what its author intended or could achieve.
So my rule is to stretch my reader. I want my main characters Tristan, Hedda, Altamont, Philomena, Grethe to jump off the page, grab you by the collar and draw you in (first commandment). I want you to be gripped and keep turning the pages, pulled along by suspense, empathy and the revelations that I peppered right through to the epilogue (second commandment). And I want you to be not just entertained, but also challenged to interpret and throw your own light on the actions, and sometimes dark motivations, of my characters.
I hope this inspires you to pick up a copy, and if so don‘t be a Lazy Reader, please review it ☺.
Butterfly Ranch is available to buy!
The author is also running a giveaway via Twitter. Click here to enter!
RK Salters grew up in Paris in the 1970s to an Irish émigré father and French mother. He is himself an exile of sorts, having left the roost to study abroad and subsequently lived in a number of countries. His approach to writing is eclectic, drawing influences from classic and contemporary, genre and literary fiction alike, across both sides of the Atlantic.
He is now settled in Lithuania (Baltics), where he earlier met his future wife while exploring the collapsing Soviet Union. He is a passionate traveller and an expedition in Belizean jungles provided the setting for Butterfly Ranch, his first novel.
Author link : Twitter