Charles Todd, alongside his mother Carolyn, makes up one-half of the New York Times Bestselling writing team of the Inspector Rutledge series. Todd has won multiple awards and recognition for his work, as he delights readers with his memorable characters, challenging plots and exceptionally crafted mysteries. He has a BA in Communication Studies with an emphasis on Business Management, and a culinary arts degree that means he can boil more than water. Todd shares some of the joys, and challenges, of working with Carolyn, what inspired Inspector Rutledge into being, and why it’s important for writers to study the works of others first. He will be signing books, and sharing insights, at Killer Nashville 2010 this weekend.
PC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
CT: An air force pilot. That was not going to happen. I have a lazy eye and flying was out.
PC: You and your Mom Caroline are two halves of one amazing mother and son writing team. Do you consider yourselves more along the lines of being storytellers, or writers?
CT: Definitely story tellers. In fact we see fiction as movies of the mind. This came from being readers first and authors second. When you read Doyle’s tales of Holmes he describes the personality of Sherlock and not so much what he looks like. Some will say Basil Rathbone was the character they envisioned while others will choose Jeremy Brett. That makes writing so enjoyable. Some things can be left to the reader’s imagination and participation as they read.
PC: What is your favorite aspect of working with your mother?
CT: We have shared experiences and interests. This allows us to discuss our work in a type of “short hand”. We know where the other is going with a train of thought and share memories of a place or social interaction. Completing this personal history is our experiences as adults. We have lived full lives apart from each other that have shaped our individual perspective of people and events.
PC: Is there an aspect that you least enjoy? (For instance, is it more difficult to criticize one another because of the relationship?)
CT: We do argue or disagree often. As in any work type of relationship disagreements must be done in an atmosphere of professionalism and respect. Our primary motivation is what is best for Rutledge or Bess and not who is “right or wrong”. We also agree that a free discussion of opposing ideas and vision for each book is vital. If Caroline simply was a yes person to my every idea (or vice versa) I think the “spark” would be lost in our writing.
PC: What do you believe makes a good story?
CT: The trite but real answer is: there must be a story to tell. What do you want to share with other people? Why do you want to tell this story? If you simply sit down to write a book for the sake of writing please don’t waste your time (in my opinion). Second is how you tell the story. Caroline and I grew up listening to my grandfather sitting on the porch at night telling stories of his experiences and places he had been. I often listened to him tell a story I had heard him tell one hundred times. That did not matter. It was how he told the story that made it fascinating to hear.
PC: Are your characters real to you?
CT: My immediate reaction is: Of course! Characters have a mind of their own. We had a character in one book we planned to kill off early in the plot. We kept having him pop up in places where he was needed. We knew we had killed him but we needed his character again and again. We had to go back and give him a few chapters of reprieve. If a character is believable they have to be true the person you have created. There again some characters come from unexpected places. An inn keeper or a shop owner will suddenly become a vital part of the plot when you least expect it. If the characters and the story are not real to you they will never be real to the readers.
PC: How did Inspector Rutledge come to be – what inspired his creation?
CT: Honestly it was a lark. We never planned on Rutledge going anywhere. Caroline had mentioned writing a book together and I dismissed the idea. Finally I called her to see if she was still interested. I was on the road a lot with my job and in the evenings I had some time to work on writing as a way to relax. So we wrote A Test of Wills and when it was finished we had enjoyed writing it enough to start a second in the series. We sent the manuscript to Ruth Cavin at St. Martin’s Press. She is one of the last editors who will read unsolicited and unagented manuscripts. Several months passed with no reply so we kept on writing Wings of Fire and later completed the manuscript. One day a call came from Ruth asking if the manuscript for A Test of Wills was still available. We told her it was and she purchased the book and the rest has been many years of wonder meeting dear friends and learning all about deadlines.
Rutledge began for some core reasons. World War I was a time period that fascinated both of us. It was the pivotal event that shaped the 20th century and its impact is being felt today in the Middle East and the Caucasus. We wanted a psychological thriller so a time period when forensics were in their infancy and crimes were solved by learning about the people involved and an understanding of human nature. Lastly we are both lovers of Britain. We had both traveled there extensively and this was a very good reason to spend more time there.
PC: What do you see as the influences on your writing?
CT: A love of history and the development of civilization are at the heart of my influences. More specifically there are the many writers over the years who I aspire to become a fraction as good as they were and are.
PC: How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula? Since there are two of you creating, do you find it’s better to have a solid formula and structure?
CT: There is bad news here. I have friends who have all kinds of systems for plotting their books and characters. My belief is: if it works for you do it. There was no writing as co-authors for dummies so we had to learn by trial and error. We work to set the scene in our brief first chapter or few pages. The evolution of the book and characters begins there. The challenge is how we reach the conclusion. In all honesty we have no idea where the story will take us or what the solution will be. We believe it depends on how the plot plays out and the way the characters develop as we get to know them.
PC: What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing? Where do you hope to take your writing in the future?
CT: Any author is always proud to see their work in print. I still get a funny feeling when I walk into a bookstore as a regular customer and see the books for sale on the shelf. I hope I never lose that sense of awe and fortune to be published. When that and writing becomes old hat I hope I am smart enough to quit.
The unexpected benefit has been the wonderful people I have met and the friends I have made. The mystery community is very special! From the bookstore owners and fans to the authors everyone has been a pleasure to get to know. When we first became published there were many kind people who helped us learn our way. It remains my honor and duty to return the favor every time I can.
The future is anyone’s guess. I hope we are fortunate enough to have many years of writing and meeting people who enjoy reading.
PC: What advice would you share for aspiring writers? What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
CT: Like any craft we need to study the works of others first. Not to imitate their work rather to understand the craft and what makes it appeal to us. We all have books we have read again and again. Sometimes I can’t explain why. They cover genres or even subject matter. So, my point here is that a good author is well read and loves to read. There are two books I highly recommend that were not available when we began. The first is Show Don’t Tell by William Noble and Don’t Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden.
PC: What are you reading now?
CT: War by Sebastian Junger, 61 Hours by Lee Child. A Masters Guide to the Ultimate Game by Janice Kim
PC: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in any of your books?
CT: I try not to think about that. Have I learned a lot over the years? Yes, I hope I have improved as a writer. I still enjoy going back and reading from earlier books. Like any book you remember where and who you were then, both as an author and a person.
PC: You’re attending Killer Nashville this year, what do you believe sets it apart from other conferences?
CT: This will be my first visit to Killer Nashville. I have wanted to attend since Clay began the event. At long last my publisher is not sending me elsewhere or demanding I meet a deadline.
PC: Which part of the conference are you most looking forward to attending?
CT: I am looking forward to seeing the many friends who are coming and the chance to meet some new ones. I am sure the whole conference will be a lot of fun and a chance to learn.
To learn more about Charles Todd visit: http://charlestodd.com/homepage/