An interview with Mark Rusin

Mark Rusin with President Bill Clinton

Mark Rusin with President Bill Clinton

Mark Rusin was born and raised on the south side of Chicago.  He attended Quigley South High School and Western IllinoisUniversity, where he majored in law-enforcement administration (and ice hockey.)   Mark is a former Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Officer and retired ATF Special Agent.  During his law-enforcement career, Mark witnessed and investigated several major fire scenes, homicides, bombings, and other high-profile cases, which serve as inspiration for his stories.  He is a Chicago sports junkie and a published writer. This is his first crime novel.  Mark lives in the Chicago area with his wife, Marcie, where he continues to write stories and still dreams about playing hockey for his hometown Blackhawks.

How long have you been writing? 

I started writing short stories and poetry as far back as I can recall. In grade school I had a crush on this one cute girl in my class.  I wanted to impress her so I wrote her poems.  Turns out we dated for a long time but as we got older my poetry skills ultimately lost out to some older guy with money.

I also wrote my mom and dad poems over the years for their birthdays, anniversaries, mothers’ and fathers’ days and just to tell them how much I loved them.

Then when I was a Las Vegas cop we had to dictate our reports and they would get transcribed for us.  I saved copies of all my reports and just elaborated with more detail as I prepared for court.  It also served to help me “vent” any time I was involved in any dangerous or overwhelming situation like a shooting where I almost got killed to homicides, suicides and the MGM Grand Hotel fire from where I pulled dead bodies.

In fact, I have kept a log of short stories or vignettes of the twenty craziest, scariest, funniest, saddest most unbelievable calls I handled in my four years of patrolling the Las Vegas strip.  These stories are all told in first person as I responded to the scene.  They all intended to put the reader in the squad car with me or even in my shoes.  It is some very real, dangerous, funny and emotional stuff.

Believe it or not when you live and experience trauma first hand it is easy to write about, that is if you like to write.  Lucky for me, I love to write.

Then as an ATF Special Agent from 1983-1988 when I worked the street, I had to type out all my reports as these were pre-computer days.  I got pretty good at that as well.  I also kept great notes and a diary for which I used to draw stories from, like my crime novel JUSTICE FOR DALLAS.


At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

I have always thought that I can tell a good copper story with the best of them.  With over 30 years in the law enforcement business I have seen some stuff.  That is why I have a unique perspective from which to tell my stories.  I was there.  It’s not a cop telling a writer a story and then he or she writes about it.

My wonderful wife Marcie, who I have written a few poems to over the past 28 years, has been supportive all along and very adamant that I could write well.  I always thought she was just saying that because she loves me and didn’t want to hurt my feelings.

Some say I look like a cop, act like a cop, walk like a cop and talk like a cop.  I am a cop for crying out loud.  What did you expect?  I also write like a cop and basically give the facts without the fluff.  I guess that is what a ghostwriter is for.  I am a writer all right, but not a ghost.

In 1980, I experienced one of the most traumatic tragedies in our lifetimes.  I helped pull dead bodies out of the MGM Grand hotel fire in Las Vegas.  It was a night I will never forget.

In 1990, some ten years after the fire I wrote about my observations from that night.  It was a very vivid “first responder” recollection of my actions and emotions as I worked the scene.

I let my wife read it and a few close friends and I got the same reaction I wanted.  Everyone who read the article cried, including me!

In 2005, on the 25th anniversary of the tragedy I sent the article to The Las Vegas Review Journal Newspaper and they called me and flew me out to meet with them.  They decided to dedicate a pull out section of the Sunday paper called “In Depth” about the fire and mine was to be a lead story.  I was very proud of that and still am to this day.

That is when I thought I had arrived as it was my first published article.  Needless to say my wonderful wife Marcie framed up the article very nicely and it proudly hangs in our home today.




Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

It’s too early to tell.  I will say this however as a brief observation that I find amusing.  As soon as someone finds out you wrote a book they want to be your friend and they want a signed copy of the book and hopefully for free.  I could just be some jerk sitting at a bar or on a bus and nobody will even look at me or give me the time of day.  Then they hear you are an author and they want to shake your hand and be your best friend. It’s crazy.

Not to take a slam at authors but I would hope people would want to shake my hand and say “thanks” once they hear I am a retired law enforcement official who routinely put my life on the line for people like them and other strangers.  With that they could care less.  But they hear you are an author and they want to be your friend and say they know you.  It’s the damnedest thing.

Then of course all my buddies break my stones and want me to sign a bunch of books that they can then sell and make a few bucks on.  See, I really am from Chicago.

The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?

I can tell you that thus far I have not made dime one on this project.  In fact, I am out approximately $20,000 to date because I had to hire a ghostwriter and a publicist if I wanted to get published.  I also had to pay for a professional cover designer, website professional and formatter up front.

This is my first book and I learned publishers won’t talk to you if you aren’t represented by an agent.  Agents won’t talk to you because you are not yet a published author.  It is a vicious circle and I learned you have to self-publish your first book to prove you are “sales-worthy.”  If you are, agents who know publishers will follow.

If you think about it they all minimize their risks as most authors who think they can write don’t sell.  However, if they come to an agent with a proven sales sheet, the agent minimizes their risk as they now are representing a known “money maker.”  It doesn’t even matter if the author can write or not as sales are all that matter.

I can tell you that I am confident in my ability to tell a story and I believe I have a unique perspective and experiences to draw from.

In fact, there is no doubt in my mind that this novel will eventually become a screenplay and then a movie as soon as the right people discover it.

In the meantime will readers want to pay to hear my story?  I guess that’s the exciting part and remains to be seen.

Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?

I would really like to get this novel written as a screenplay and turned into a movie.  If you think about it this story has it all.  A biker related quadruple homicide, arson, witness intimidation, knifing, attempted murders and good old fashioned police work. 

How long did it take you to get published the first time?

It took me about 10 years to write the story.  I then found a ghostwriter/editor (Priscilla Barton) who helped me get it “published ready.”  After entering several contests to no avail and discussions with several publishers to no avail, we decided to self publish.

Priscilla did her homework here and found a great cover designer and formatter.

Also to be very candid, I am not sure how the sales will go on this project so we decided to do it ourselves and see where it leads us.  The very least we felt we needed was to invest in a great publicist so we got the best in PJ Nunn from Breakthrough Promotions.

Once we decided to self publish it took just over a year.  This includes rewrites, cover and web design, formatting and printing of the advanced reader copies and their feedback.

Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

I would take the time to find someone locally who is multi-talented to include writing, editing & publishing who has a certain amount of time to dedicate to the project.  For instance we need to meet face to face to exchange ideas and discuss expectations, deadlines, problems and any other issues that are relevant.

I believe it is possible to do things via email, however working remotely caused me too much frustration and down time. 

Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

 I need hands on assistance in naming a goal and then executing a game plan to achieve that goal.  Otherwise it is a “hit and miss” operation that I am not comfortable with.  As I stated earlier I believe in the team approach very personal and hands on to look together to accomplish a goal or due date.  This approach also leads to the freshest ideas in writing from those involved.

What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

 I am looking forward to seeing how our promotions and sales go once the book is released October 15.  This will serve as a good indicator whether or not people will part with their hard earned money to read what I have to write.  At the very least I will soon be able to check “write a book” off my bucket list.

What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

I really thought that what I had to bring to the table would have publishers jump at my project.  Not to even get a nibble was very humbling to me.  I always thought they would like to hear from a retired Federal Agent and Author but it’s not that easy.

What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

One lady told me it (JUSTICE FOR DALLAS) was the best book she has read since The Firm.  She said she couldn’t put it down and if this doesn’t make the New York Times best seller list she will eat her hat.  That was pretty cool.  I said, “Thanks a lot, mom.”

Actually that quote came from Ms. Nanci Wudel of Mesa, AZ.

With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

I am very confident that my writing style has a unique way of bringing the reader into the story or crime scene.  As far as I know there aren’t too many Retired ATF Special Agents who are currently Authors.  The fact that ATF is such a controversial Federal Agency should also work in my favor I believe.

There is no doubt that I have witnessed a lot of stuff in my 30 plus years in law enforcement.  Some crazy, some scary, some dangerous, some funny but rest assured I always tried to do the right thing.  I couldn’t help but get emotionally involved at times and just living through it and witnessing it gave me a different perspective on life.

The most exciting thing about being a cop remains that when the bell rings you go and you often go alone.  All cops are heroes no matter what anybody says.

What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

Don’t give up…don’t ever give up.

What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

My experience and background allows me to discuss the scenes in detail because they are all inspired by actual events.

Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title: Justice for Dallas

Butch Crowley

He ruled the Iron Cobras

No one could touch him

No one could stop him

Until ATF Special Agent Marko Novak

And his small force of men

Swore they’d bring him down.

Where can we buy it?         after October 15, 2013

What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?

I still dream about playing hockey for my hometown Blackhawks

Thoughts on the role of the reviewer by Carl Brookins

carl2004First, let’s get some questions out of the way. I’m not a literary critic. I am a reviewer of crime fiction. It is not my purpose to apply in-depth analysis or to discover the innerdeeperhiddensecret meanings of the crime fiction I read. But I bring a critical eye, honed on over twenty-five years of contract and freelance reading and writing reviews for print and on-line periodicals. That experience, reading thousands of excellent, bad and indifferent novels and short stories, TV and film scripts, plus writing a few, has given me a knowledge base, a foundation if you will, and some idea of what constitutes a good novel or short story collection. And even, some biases.

That foundation is the basis I use for judging a story. That I have read and forgotten more authors and their books than the average reader gives me a limited cache to voice my opinions. But that foundation in no way means that any reader should automatically accept my views more readily than those of another reviewer. Indeed, I am of the opinion that readers will often find it more useful to follow the opinions of a reviewer with whom they most often disagree, than one who reflects their own tastes more precisely.

I believe that my role as a reviewer is to help bring to reader’s attention stories that are, or should be, of interest; stories that are well written, satisfying, entertaining and enjoyable. They must have believable multi-dimensional characters who act in believable and usually satisfying ways to further the aims of the story.

For me, pace, character, plot and setting are paramount, but not always equal in importance. There better be a really good reason for the absence of one of those. These primary elements must interact in ways that serve the story. What about good writing? Good writing can cover many weaknesses but pretty language woven into soaring sentences and paragraphs that make a reader want to smile and stop reading, to spend a moment contemplating the totality of life, but leading nowhere is ultimately frustrating. Characters with no discernable dimension are almost useless. Well-defined plots with twists and turns that lead to no resolutions are provoking and questionable.

Raising deep moral questions as character motivations with little or no context is also a way to frustrate readers, and me the critic. I see my role to be that of a taste tester, warning of bad books so you don’t waste your money, and trumpeting fresh new voices or stories. I try to identify elements of stories which I am aware are unsettling to some readers. How explicit and frequent is the sex, or the violence? Is there violence against animals? Does it appear this is a story from a solid, successful author, that seems to fall below that author’s normal level of excellence?

This all has to be done without revealing too much of the plot and certainly not the final resolution. And the huge problem is that there are so many books. Readers seem to assume that the absence of a review means the reviewer didn’t like the book, which is usually a fallacy. Most reviewers are limited, by time, by assignments, by their reading interests, by the policies of the outlets for whom they write. Most reviewers try hard to be fair and professional in their approach. We tend to believe we have responsibilities, to readers and to authors, to be as honest as we can be. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes it isn’t even fun. It is most difficult when one encounters a truly substandard work by a beloved and popular author. Books are frequently purchased on the basis of an author’s name and reputation, so when I encounter a work that is well-below an established standard, I tend to warn readers.

Finally, I believe a good reviewer should focus the review on the work, not on the author of the story. Reviews which criticize the life style of the author or call into question the veracity of the fiction or the intelligence of the author are simply bad reviews. I try very hard to avoid using my own social mores as the basis for judging the value of a novel. After all, we’re talking about murderers, thieves, criminals of every stripe here.

I believe that what I have set out here is true for the great majority of book reviewers, professional or amateur. I believe that in spite of the almost constant kerfuffle over review requirements and disappearances on some of the major sites. Reviews play a role in the success of books, but they are not the only criteria discerning readers should use. Like our political representatives, you gets what you pays for and what you pay attention to.

A final note to those authors crushed or angered by negative reviews. Fact is, bad reviews sell almost as many books as good, but trashed, lukewarm or highly praised, the worst circumstance of all is to be ignored.

Learn more about Carl and his work as well as his writing here.