Ray Sutherland is a Kentucky native who grew up on a farm outside of Bowling Green. He served in the Army, spent two years in Germany, received his B.A. in religion from Western Kentucky University, and his PhD in the Bible from Vanderbilt University.  Ray has served of Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke for over thirty years, pastored a small church for nine years, and is retired from the Army Reserve. He and his wife Regina live in North Carolina and have two sons and four grandchildren.

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How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

I don’t work from a written outline but I certainly have a mental one. I planned out the opening, the major turning point and the ending including the climax. Then I wrote the whole book with those plans in mind. I keep a detailed plan in mind for the next couple of episodes.

What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes?

A standard writers’ adage is to write what you know and in Secret Agent Angel, I followed that advice. I haven’t yet met any real angels so far, but most of the situations in which Samuel the secret agent angel finds himself  are very similar to things I have done in my own life. I was assigned to tanks in the army. My first job was loading and unloading trucks. The owner of the truck company also owned a truck stop, so I spent some time in it and other truck stops as well. I have visited many hospitals in the course of my pastoral duties. All of those settings appeared in the novel. One part which does not come from my own experience is the chapter about porters on the Ho Chi Minh trail just before the Tet offensive. I had to do a lot of research for that, but I enjoyed that challenge.

Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas?

I’ve never tried eating apples in the bathtub, but it might work. I would much rather meet Ms. Christie in some other setting. I do tend to think about the stories while driving and have done some good thinking on the Interstate highways. I have also done a lot of plotting at 3 a.m. when I can’t sleep. But most of my thinking is done while sitting at my desk. My best ideas generally come as a result of preparation and work. 

Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?

The best muse is concentration and focus. If I only wrote when the muses were singing in harmony, I still would be on the first chapter. I certainly get flashes of inspiration, but in my experiences, these flashes come as a result of hard thinking. 

They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?

We must have big egos or we wouldn’t ask people to spend the money and time to read our work. While I am under no illusion that my writing is among the greats, I believe that I wrote a very good book and that is well worth reading. You can call that ego or you can, like Asimov, call it “cheerful self-appreciation.”

I handle negative reviews by sitting in the corner, crying, screaming, and calling the reviewer bad names. But only for a little while. Then I read the review to see if there is something in it that I can learn from. Sometimes readers see flaws in my work that I miss. I handle good reviews by strutting around like a peacock and showing the review to everybody who will look at it. 

Any favorite authors?

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Robert A. Heinlein, Keith Laumer, Tom Clancy, Harold Coyle, Donald Hamilton, Isaac Asimov, Ernest Haycox, Michael Crichton, and-of course-J. R. R. Tolkein, and Shakespeare and the other classics. The why is simple. I love their work.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Robert A. Heinlein said it best. His Five Rules for Writers:

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
  4. You must put the work on the market.
  5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

He is right and I can give no better advice.


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