By Steve Sears
Morris County author Steven Max Russo, now 61, started writing fiction seriously when he reached his mid-50s.
“In my case,” he explains, “I think that my life experience has helped me discover my inner writing “voice” and style. I’m not sure I would have had the patience, confidence, or determination to start and finish a novel in my earlier years.”
Russo, who runs a small, virtual agency in Morris County called Moonlight Advertising, has written and published two novels, Thieves and The Dead Don’t Sleep.
For Russo, writing novels is a totally different realm. “Advertising is business. I don’t look at writing novels as a business at all – at least not yet. Maybe at some point in my career I will.” There is good news regarding his second release. “A company out of LA called Scenario that has worked with many high-profile Academy Award winning directors and films recently optioned my second novel, The Dead Don’t Sleep, for film. Perhaps if that book actually gets made into a movie (and if the movie is commercially successful) then things will change. But until that time, I look at novel writing as something I do more for fun than anything else.”
Russo’s foray into fiction, which evolved out of what he calls “creative frustration,” started with a short story titled “Putting in the Work”. “While I enjoy what I do,” he says, “writing advertising is actually the art of solving business and marketing problems with words and pictures – selling a product or service, announcing business or corporate news, developing a market positioning, explaining product benefits, etc.” Writing the short story was his chance to write just for fun. “I was able to write whatever came into my head. I didn’t have to do it, but felt compelled to, like I had to get something out of my system.”
Feeling “Putting in the Work” had merit, Russo submitted his story to The Rag, a small literary journal which was looking for short story submissions. “Two weeks later I received word that they had accepted the story. Unbeknownst to me, they were putting together an issue dealing with death and the macabre and my story fit right in. I was elated! They liked my story and actually paid me for it.”
Being a paid, professional author thrilled him, but further fuel for his aspirations occurred during a walk and ensuing discussion on a Florida beach with his wife of 23 years, Susan. “We were walking along the beach talking about our eventual retirement,” Russo recalls. “I said almost jokingly that I would never retire. I was now a professional author and could always say that I was hard at work on a novel. She looked at me in all seriousness and said, ‘Why wait until you retire?’ It was like a light bulb going off in my head. Why wait, indeed?! The very week we returned I began work on my first novel, titled Thieves. Three months later the first draft was finished.”
Russo, who does most of his novel writing at night and on weekends, doesn’t work from an outline, instead starting with a first sentence and taking the story from there. “Sometimes it flows and sometimes it sputters,” he says. “I’ve spent time typing furiously thinking I’ve been at it for an hour or so and look up to find I’ve been writing for 5 or 6 hours straight. Other times, I sit and stare at my computer screen and have to walk away and do something else because I have no idea of where to go with the story next. It’s not always easy, but it is always fun.”
Russo’s advice to all writers starting out is to believe in yourself and your writing, and never give up. “This business is full of rejection,” he says. “Everybody tells you that they are an expert and know better than you do, and many, many doors will slam in your face. My advice is to be open-minded, listen to criticism, but also to never, ever give up.”
And while publication of his works is significant, perhaps his highest reward is seeing one of his books on a library shelf. “The day the Morris County Library System accepted my first novel into their catalog has got to be one of the highlights of my writing career.”
He then adds, “Being offered that movie option wasn’t bad either!!”
For more information about Russo and his career, visit www.stevenmaxrussobooks.com.