Behind the Pen: Meet Book of the Year Award Winner Russ Fee

Interview by Meryl D'Sa

Winner of the Award for Indie Fiction

Russ Fee, the 9th Annual CWA Book of the Year winner for Indie Fiction, discusses the inspiration behind A Dangerous Identity and what the publishing world can offer indie fiction writers.

Q: What is your writing process? How much time do you spend researching, planning, or world-building before you begin writing? How do you balance between work and writing?

A: I really don’t spend time researching, planning, or world building before I start to write. I begin with an idea and a setting for a story and work from there. I let the story develop and build on itself as I write, following the often surprising turns the story takes and working in the characters that sometimes suddenly pop up out of nowhere. If the plot plunges into an area with which I’m unfamiliar, then I will do considerable research. This is the adventure that writing holds for me.

The tension between writing and the demands of the day is never a balance but a constantly shifting tug of war.  Most days, I am fortunate to be able to pull against those demands for three hours in the morning while I write before I am yanked off my feet and tugged headlong into my day.  

Q: Every writer needs a few stars to align to help create good literary work. What resources do you work best with and why?

A: If the stars align for me, it’s because of a core group of individuals who read every iteration of my manuscript and provide invaluable feedback; and especially because of my wife Joan, who is a brutally honest, exacting, demanding and outstanding editor.  In other words, someone no writer who hopes to produce quality literature can be without. The physical resources I use to write are a laptop and Microsoft Word. For research, I primarily use Google, Google Earth, and the expertise of generous individuals in disciplines related to the plot.

Q: What genre do you write in? What draws you towards this genre? Do you explore other genres?

A: I write mystery/thrillers because I enjoy the challenge of writing suspense and the complexities of an intriguing mystery. When I started writing, I wrote poetry and still go back to it occasionally. It was an excellent way to learn structure, technique, and precision in description and meaning.

Q: What’s your favorite quote from a recent book you read?

A: I recently came across a quotation from Kurt Vonnegut that I like.  He said: We are America’s Great Lakes people, her freshwater people, not an oceanic but a continental people.  Whenever I swim in an ocean, I feel as though I am swimming in chicken soup.

Q: What was the inspiration behind A Dangerous Identity? What did you hope to achieve through this book?

A: The inspiration for A Dangerous Identity was Beaver Island, a small island in the north of Lake Michigan.  It is permanently inhabited by about five hundred people. It is beautiful, rustic, remote, and has a truly unique history.  My family and I have spent many wonderful times there and have come to love it. I felt it would be the perfect setting for my protagonist’s start on a new life. Initially, the only thing I set out to accomplish in writing the novel was to develop the story from its idea: the threat to a tiny and isolated island by forces far outside its world.  But once I got started, I became fascinated with creating an authentic sense of place and its influence on the characters in the story.

Q: How did the indie fiction genre support or help you write this book?

A: Indie fiction writers now have many resources and platforms to get their works published and distributed worldwide easily and at a minimal cost, especially with e-books and print-on-demand publishing. With these resources, indie fiction writers can control for themselves the scheduling and costs of publication; and the distribution, royalties, and promotion of their books.

Bio: Russ Fee was born in Indiana but grew up in Washington, D.C. and London. After graduating from the College of William and Mary, he served in the army as an intelligence officer and then became a trial lawyer, litigating civil rights and civil liberties cases before becoming a teacher. In their inimitable ways, these careers inspired his writings. A Dangerous Identity is Russ’s third novel and the second book in the Sheriff Matt Callahan Mystery Series. He is currently working on the third novel in the series, A Dangerous Season. He and his wife, Joan, are dual citizens of the United States and Ireland and live in the Midwest, which they love and will never leave.
You can find Russ at

Join Chicago Writers Association in celebrating the best of 2019 literature at the 9th Annual CWA Book of the Year Awards ceremony. Hosted by the Book Cellar in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood, enjoy book browsing, cocktails and fellowship, as well as readings from this year’s winners and a presentation of our Spirit Award. This event is free and open to the public.

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