November 11, 2010

Guest Author and Giveaway Sheldon Russell

As most of you know, mystery and suspense are my favorite genres, and have been for a long time.  So when Omnimystery ()  contacted me, of course the answer was yes.  Today we will be introduced to an award winning author, while on virtual tour for his latest book.  He has also generously offered for one lucky visitor, a signed copy of his book (giveaway details provided at the end of this posting).  Please help me welcome Mr. Sheldon Russell as he stops and visits with us today.

   A retired college professor, Russell lives in Guthrie, Oklahoma, with his wife, Nancy, an artist. He has previously won the Oklahoma Book Award and the Langum Prize for Historical Literature.
   The Yard Dog, the first Hook Runyon novel, was nominated for the Oklahoma Book Award and earned high praise as Russell’s debut mystery.


Sidekicks and Animals: Living on the Wild Side by Sheldon Russell

Sometimes I want my readers to understand things about my protagonist that can’t be expressed directly without destroying his image. Hook, in my Hook Runyon mystery series, is one tough dude, and I never want my readers to think otherwise. Hook’s capable of doing all the things most of us want to do but are afraid to. I made him that way on purpose. I wanted him larger than life.

Hook loses his arm and his girlfriend on the same day and in that order. He spends a year bumming trains and learning to survive. He’s reticent, never brags, or takes credit, even when he should. He’s fearless, and you damn sure wouldn’t want to stick your finger in his chest. He lives in a caboose, catches bad guys, and kicks butt without notice.

This is stuff we all enjoy, stuff we imagine ourselves doing. But it can make for a pretty one-dimensional personality. This is not someone you would want to be stranded with on an island.

So my aim is for the reader to discover Hook’s inner complexities— “discover” is the key word here. He’s caring, has a keen sense of justice and a decided preference for the underdog. He prefers strong women and is intellectually curious.

Turns out, there is a way to expose Hook’s softer side without turning him into a weenie, and that’s through the interplay with his sidekick and his dog. Sidekicks and dogs enjoy exceptions to the rules in our society, which allow for considerable latitude within their relationships.

Take Hook’s sidekick, Runt Wallace, for instance. He and Hook banter back and forth, not an uncommon thing among men. Through humor and sarcasm they say things to each other that could never be said in a forthright way. Their affection for each other is disguised by insults and barbs, a process often found to be curious by women.

And then of course there are animals, pets, which are more emotionally accessible than humans. They are nonthreatening, neutral somehow, and you can to respond to them ways not generally permitted with other people, especially with tough guys like Hook.

I learned this secret from a children’s literature professor, who pointed out to me that animal characters in children’s stories are typically the only ones allowed to express anger or aggression. They commit all sorts of transgressions that the rest of us can only dream about.

The interactions between people and their animals can be very revealing. Watch a man with his dog, and you’ve a fair notion about what kind of guy he is beneath that façade.

Consider Mixer, Hook’s dog. He likes to fight and kill and is often in trouble. But he holds a special place in Hook’s life, fills the void that’s been left by too much heartache and disappointment. They live together in the caboose, travel the country, and share adventure. Their loyalty and love for each other are obvious to everyone, but no one considers Hook to be weak because of it. It’s okay for a tough guy to love his dog.

And of course animals can provide an endless source of amusement as well. In my book Dreams to Dust: A Tale of the Oklahoma Land Rush, a Black sergeant inherits an Indian pony. He names this pony, “Pony,” for obvious reasons, and it’s an on-again, off-again relationship, though replete with mutual respect.

In the same book I introduce Flea Bag, the protagonist’s dog. Flea Bag’s determination is remarkable, and his movements are so slow as to be undetectable by the human eye. As a consequence, he’s sooner or later able to steal everything he wants.

In yet a different work, I feature a cat named Precious. He’s near blind and attacks anything that moves, including his owner. Unfortunately, Precious dies, is stuffed, and eventually discarded in the trash. But he has a way of reappearing at the most inopportune times.

And then there is old Blue Tongue, a cow in my book The Savage Trail. She has a foot-long blue tongue and wanders the prairie terrorizing people. It’s a monk, of course, who decides to make her a milk cow for the monastery.

I’ve only recently completed a manuscript in which I’ve a dog named Circle P. Each time a car goes by, Circle P runs in a circle at a high rate of speed, then pees—like a victory dance in the end zone.

Circle P has run in this circle for so long and so fast that only his ears can now be seen above ground. When asked by one of my characters, “Why don’t he run in a straight line like other dogs?” The owner replies, “Because he don’t have to run back that way.”

The point here is a simple one, if not profound: Side kicks and animals provide a way for a writer to develop his main characters to their fullest, to show their “real” feelings and emotions. The end result is great fun for the writer, and with a little luck, the reader, as well.


   The Baldwin Insane Asylum in Barstow, California, has recently burned to the gound in an inferno that cost many inmates their lives and injured scores. Now, Hook Runyon has been put in charge of security for a train that is to transport the survivors, alongside the head of the asylum, Dr. Baldwin, the attending doctor, taciturn Dr. Helms, and a self-sacrificing nurse named Andrea, to a new location in Oklahoma.
   Hook hires a motley crew of WW II veterans to help, and they set out for the new destination. But things go awry on the Insane Train, as several inmates and attendants are found dead, and Dr.Baldwin seems increasingly disoriented and incapable of running operations.
   With Andrea's help, Hook begins investigating the suspicious deaths, and uncovers a trail of revenge that has been a long time in the planning ... by a person as mentally disturbed as her charges.

A story stripped from 1900s headlines

One-Armed Yard Dog Hook Runyon Chaperones a Group of Mental Patients in Sheldon Russell’s The Insane Train

While researching headlines at the historical society, award-winning author Sheldon Russell discovered all the elements for a mystery. In the early 1900s, an Oklahoma mental institution burned to the ground, killing several patients. Having nowhere else to go, the survivors were moved by train to a former military post that had been given to the state. The Insane Train (St. Martin’s Minotaur), the second installment in the Hook Runyon mystery series, launches Nov. 9, 2010.

“In the early 20th century, Fort Supply served as a supply camp for the winter campaign against the Southern Plains Indians in what is now western Oklahoma,” said Russell, an Oklahoma native, whose previous work includes The Yard Dog, Dreams to Dust: A Tale of the Oklahoma Land Rush and Requiem at Dawn. “When Oklahoma was still a young state a fire broke out in a private mental institution in Norman. The fire killed a number of inmates, who were then buried in a mass grave in Norman. About that same time, the federal government donated Fort Supply to the state of Oklahoma. The decision was made to make it a mental institution and to transfer all the patients from the burned-down facility there by train. It struck me as material for a mystery, so I took the situation and expanded it.”

In The Insane Train, one-armed yard dog Hook Runyon, has been transferred from Oklahoma to Needles, Calif. Amidst tackling train-jumping, moonshine-making hobos, Hook is summoned to Baldwin Insane Asylum. The boys’ ward burned to the ground, killing more than 30 youth. The only solution for Dr. Baldwin and Psychiatrist Bria Helms is to relocate the remaining “inmates” to Fort Supply. They need Hook’s help to transport the group, including the secure ward—men who have been deemed criminally insane. While compassionate for those coping with mental illness, Hook questions the practicality of transporting mental patients, including those who have killed others, with few staff. And Hook has a feeling that the fire wasn’t started by poor electrical wiring.

“Inmate was the accepted terminology at the time and explains a lot about how mental patients were viewed,” said Russell, who had toured Fort Supply as a college psychology student. “One of the things I try to do in the book is to show the human side of mental patients.”

With a motley group of World War II vets, each suffering from his own version of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Hook and his dog, Mixer, escort the bunch on the oldest train still running. The trip, already beset with challenges, quickly goes awry. Several inmates and attendants are found dead, and Dr. Baldwin seems increasingly disoriented and incapable of running operations. With Nurse Andrea’s help, Hook begins investigating the suspicious deaths and uncovers a trail of revenge years in the planning.

“Russell Sheldon is giving away a signed copy of his book, Insane Train, to one lucky tour visitor. Go to his book tour page,, enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 4106, for your chance to win. Entries from this blog, CMash Loves To Read, will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on his book tour page next week.” Good Luck!!!


Aisle B said...

Hey girl,

I signed up like you mentioned and pinned 4106 :)

Keeping fingers crossed that it's open for your Canadian friends ;P

Thanks for letting us know about this amazing read :)

Unknown said...

Terrific contest! Thanks for hosting!