drey: Hello Sheldon! Thank you for visiting us today! I enjoyed reading The Insane Train and Hook Runyon’s story, and am glad you’re here to chat with us.
Could you share with us how you got on the path of being a writer?
This kind of isolation can turn a boy inward, make him more reflective and imaginative. Drop him into a culture that loves story-telling and fiery oratory, and you’ve created a writer, or a recluse perhaps. In my case, a writer, I think.
drey: Tell us a little about The Insane Train and Hook Runyon.
Sheldon: Hook Runyon is a one-armed railroad yard dog, i.e., detective, who lives in a caboose, drinks busthead liquor, and collects rare books. After having lost an arm in an accident, he turns hobo. There, he learns the skills necessary to survive as a yard dog.
In The Insane Train, a fire has burned the insane asylum to the ground in Needles, California. Hook is called upon to escort the remaining patients, many of them criminally insane, to an old fort in Oklahoma.
But because of the war, there is a shortage of manpower. Desperate for help, Hook hires a motley collection of vets who are living under a bridge to help in the transfer. With such a bizarre crew and passenger list, things soon enough go awry.
Hook struggles to keep murder and mayhem from derailing The Insane Train on its ill-fated journey.
drey: What inspired you to write a story set in the 1940’s? How did you research the environmental factors – people’s way of living, thinking, etc. – in those times? And if that wasn’t enough, you’ve also added the element of mental illness to your story – did that increase the amount of research that you had to do?
Sheldon: As a child, I spent a lot of time with adults who were products of World War II. I can remember the men coming home from the war and how it important it all seemed. In many ways I was more comfortable with that generation than with my contemporaries.
In addition, trains were a vital part of that era. My father had been machinist on the Santa Fe, and so I had grown up hearing those stories. In the end the 1940’s made the most sense for the Hook Runyon series.
While poking through the historical society archives I came across a newspaper story about a private mental institution that had burned in 1908. So many of the “inmates” died that they were buried in a mass grave. The state of Oklahoma decided to transfer the remaining patients by train to a new location in the old territorial Fort Supply. I thought this a perfect situation for Hook.
As a university professor, I learned research skills early in my career and have been involved in psychological research in a number of ways over the years. Even so, I had to do considerable reading in the medical end of things, diagnostic standards and medical terminology for instance, in order to give credibility to both my characters and their illnesses.
drey: What do you indulge in when not writing?
Sheldon: Even then books are important to me. I spend a lot of time browsing in used bookstores, collecting, that sort of thing.
We’ve always done a lot of our own carpentry work and are currently remodeling an old building on our ranch. It is to be my new office and will be equipped with no phone.
My wife and I enjoy auctions, where we buy lots of useless stuff that we can’t live without. I have an old blacksmith forge that I give a go once in awhile. My wife is a sculptor, extraordinaire’, and so the art world has been a large part of my life as well.
As with most people, I suppose, I have more interests than I have time to pursue.
drey: Hmm, why am I thinking that the guys from American Pickers would love to stop by your place?
What are you looking forward to next?
Sheldon: The Johnson Canyon railroad tunnel in Arizona, long-since abandoned, was guarded twenty-four hours a day by the military during World War II. Dug through solid basalt rock, the tunnel touted the steepest grade of any run in the United States. This is a perfect place for Hook to uncover a secret that could have changed the course of history.
drey: And last, but not least, the Proust-lite:
- What is your idea of earthly happiness? Home
- What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Deceit
- Who is your favorite hero in fiction? Tom Sawyer
- Who is your favorite hero in real life? Churchill
- What sound do you love? My wife’s whistling
- What sound do you hate? Dead battery
- The quality you most admire in a man? The lack of pretense
- The quality you most admire in a woman? Determination
- If not a writer, you would be a... musician
- What is your favorite swear word? Son of a bitch, in all its variations
Thank you again for stopping by, Sheldon! Everyone, find Sheldon online at sheldonrussell.com.
FTC Disclosure: I am an affiliate at IndieBound, The Book Depository, and Amazon, and any purchases made by clicking on the cover or the links provided may result in monetary compensation.
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.Check out an excerpt of The Insane Train at http://sheldonrussell.com/insane_train_excerpt.html.
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.
Win your very own copy of Sheldon Russell's The Insane Train! Go to Sheldon's book tour page at Omnimystery (http://sheldon-russell.omnimystery.com/), and enter your name, email address, and this PIN: 3101. Entries will be accepted until 12:00 noon PT tomorrow, so hurry! Winners will be announced at Omnimystery next week. Good luck!