Leadership Principles in Fiction
Welcome to EM Weekly, this is Todd Devoe, your host, and I’m here with the author of the Brushfire Plague series, R.P. Ruggiero. And RP started off with writing the first book, it was the Brushfire Plague, which I read… it feels like a decade ago, but it was a couple of years ago; and then, I followed up with Brushfire Plague: Reckoning, and then the final portion of this trilogy, is the Brushfire Plague: Retribution. And I got to read his books, I was really excited about them, so I’m really happy to have RP here with us today. RP, can you introduce yourself really quick, and just tell me a little bit about your background, and I guess why you wrote the Brushfire Plague.
[R.P. Ruggiero] Yeah, again, this is RP Ruggiero, happy to be on the show. I appreciate the time with you. Yeah, I just think some of my background that’s relevant to the Brushfire Plague trilogy is… you know, I spent a lot of time working with people under high stress environments, and that really served me well, because a lot of what I get into with the Brushfire Plague trilogy is what happens to people in a survival situation. You know, Brushfire Plague is a pandemic scenario, really follows the weeks, and then the first few months after a really deadly plague breaks out. So, within that, people are under enormous stress, dealing with chaos, so I do get into a lot with how that plays out; the dynamics between people, what happens with individuals, sort of inside their own heads a little bit. And you know, that carries my background in dealing with those kinds of situations, I should say similar situations, in writing the Brushfire Plague trilogy.
[TODD] So, your hero, Cooper, he was kinda thrown into the leadership role with this little group of people that kinda… that survived the initial plague. I don’t wanna give too much away. It’s funny, I read the first book, and my son was 11 when I first started reading the book, so it kinda hit me, you know, I’m a little bit… with having that aged son in there, and Cooper’s son in the book is 11 years old, and dealing with the loss of his mom, and Cooper trying to go through all that; it was really dynamic, I really thought it was interesting. And the fact that people kinda looked at him for leadership. When you were writing Cooper, did you know that was gonna happen, as far as his leadership role, is that what you wanted to do with that character, or is that just something that sort of developed through your process?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah, I would say… I definitely, I knew he was gonna be the center of the story, really taking this sort of “every man” character, if you will. You know, he’s a travel salesman before this all breaks out. I knew that was gonna be a central part of the story, how he was gonna deal with what was to come, how he was going to sort of bring his neighbors together to deal with all the chaos and violence. I knew that was gonna be central. I definitely would say that with any kind of writing process, were exactly that went different places, and I would say I originally envisioned… particularly, you’re talking about the father-son relationship, you know, I definitely have a boy that was similar aged to Jake, Copper’s son’s character… and that definitely went a lot deeper than I thought it would initially, and I think people who dive into the trilogy will see the evolution of the three books. I get a lot of comments from readers, about the most intense scenes, or what the son is dealing with, and how Cooper as a father is trying to hold on to some of his humanity and innocence. There’s some… you know, people feel like some of those are the best scenes in the trilogy. I definitely went a lot deeper than I originally envisioned it, really just… begin with it. I think any kind of good writing… that’s what happens, you kinda go in with a sketch, where the story is gonna go, where the plot is gonna go, where the characters are gonna go. But then it starts to take life of its own, and so… yeah, Jake became much more of a central character to the whole story certainly than I originally envisioned he would be. And it was just evolution, the writing process, as the story sort of went forward; so yeah, there is a lot of interesting stuff that played out. But come about your core question, yeah, Cooper definitely… I saw him in that role, going in.
[TODD] So, obviously, the leadership that Cooper showed was really important to the story. And I just wanna kinda get your take on… just literature in general, because I mean, obviously with EM Weekly, we’re dealing with emergency stuff, and also the leadership of running emergencies and disasters. And I think that the people who are listening to this podcast today, and the students that I have that are listening to this podcast, can take some core leadership values from Cooper. The big thing with Cooper is that he does not have the ability to lie, which I thought was a really interesting character trait that you gave him; and he struggles with this throughout the book, the series, his inability to lie. And so, he really had to look at some scenarios and his own life… obviously, he had no idea what’s going on, but he struggled with that. And which made his leadership really kind of interesting, because he couldn’t just go and do what he wanted to do, he really had to get collaboration with everybody in his group. How did that… how does that work out, you think, for people in the real world?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah, I think his inability to lie… you know, cause you read them, it’s based on some pretty deeply impact-full stuff that happened in his childhood, and it definitely is a very… it was a very interesting trait to give him, and made it in some cases, figure out how to write the story much more challenging. You know, how to maintain some suspense, where he’s not able to tell the truth. But yeah, I think there’s a lot… I mean, leadership is a big question. I think some of the stuff I focused on with Cooper, that I think does generally apply, is… you know, I think first and foremost, the new word for it is “emotional intelligence”, but really is… you have to be able to pay attention to what’s going on around you, where are people at; not necessarily just what they’re saying, but reading people in terms of where their emotional state is, I think it’s a critical, critical leadership trait, to get to see that play out in the Brushfire Plague, and he is… he does pay attention to people around him, tries to lift people up when he needs to. Other times, he just gotta get people into motion and drive them. But it’s interesting, over the last 10 years, I mean, that… the most successful leaders in any field, now the research says it’s people with high emotional intelligence, which is a fancy phrase, but it really just means being able to read people around you, that’s how I think about that. So, I think that’s one, I think again, with high stress you have to be the rock in the storm. I think people probably already know that one, but I think you see Cooper do that, he’s not running around with his hair on fire, you know; he definitely… as a character, he definitely has some anger moments, but in general, he is… you have to be that calm in the storm, I think it’s really critical. Another one is… you know, how do you focus people in what you’re trying to accomplish? Sometimes, you just give them the small tasks, just to almost distract them from going into panic state, right? But more than that, is how you keep people focused on: “this is what we’re doing, this is where you’re going, you’ve got this task, I’ve got that task”, I think that’s another critical part of leadership, particularly within crisis situations. So those are… you know, a couple… the three that I think jump out, that I think are important across the board, that play out within the Brushfire Plague trilogy in various ways. So yeah, I’ll pause there for a minute.
[TODD] I’m still recovering from a cold. I was kinda laughing with my friend, Brian, who is working in this project with me, and I told him that I wanted to interview you with my cold, because this is just such perfect timing, you know? Ok, let me restart here. So, that’s really interesting as far as the leadership qualities. What I find kinda interesting too is how you were able to mix up the characters in the book through the series. People that were… like Cooper’s best friend, who was the prepper guy, for lack of a better term, the bunker in the basement and all this stuff; then, he had people around him who had no clue what to do, and he had to actually pull them up from the boot straps. So, especially in the first book, where there was a lot of conflict between those that were prepared and those that weren’t. Is that something that you see… and I know a lot of people who are gonna be listening to this podcast as well are community emergency response team members, I have students in my university that will be listening to this, and in the community college will be listening to this as well; so I kinda wanna just dive into this a little bit. Why did you… how did you decide to have groups of people that weren’t ready, those that were… you know, when you’re doing these conflicts, especially in the first book? How did that develop for you, and did you pull from experience, or from things that you think might happen?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah, there’s a lot of reasons for it. Number one, what I wanted to do with the Brushfire Plague, the first book, and obviously, it turned into a trilogy, was… one of my motivations was a) just tell a good story. That was first and foremost. There’s the preparation stuff, the survival stuff, but I did not wanna drive a survivor’s manual dressed up as a novel, right? I did not… I wanted the opposite, I wanted to have a good novel that had some of those things into it. And I think… so yeah, from that, it’s like… I think what you’re talking about yes, is real life, right? So, that’s just reality. If you’re in it, thrust into a survival-type situation, you’re gonna have to deal mostly with people who have no idea what’s going on, are totally not prepared for it, and just even in the psychological level, and that’s what I try to explore, definitely in the first one, is that there’s this whole psychological coming to grips with reality that plays out in any emergency or survival-type situation, and I think people are probably familiar with that. So, yes, I think it’s about trying to describe reality; and I think that the third thing I would say is that this gets in a lot of other questions, not just this one, but within the genre, the survivalist kind of fiction that Brushfire Plague kinda lives in, there’s so much… I think there’s way too much focus on gear, and not enough focus on sort of what I call the soft skills, which is… this issue, of how you deal with crowds of people, right? That he deals with, you know, neighbors are assembling in front of his house, how do you deal with people that aren’t prepared, you know? Those dynamics that we were just talking about, leadership questions. So I really wanted to focus much more on these kinds of issues, and again, it’s just realistic. I think people need to be thinking about those things in advance, and developing… again, what people call those soft skills, you know? Leadership, dealing with people. Know how to manage dynamics, how to keep moral up, all those sets of questions that I think often don’t get enough attention. But again, I would say the root of it all is, if you’re gonna get a good novel, and some… hopefully quality writing, you’ve gotta really have that attention in drama, and you gotta have that reality. So, one thing again, I think people will see is, the characters in there, they change and evolve, you know? They’re not the cardboard cutout. So again, that’s real life. I think the fiction that has all those things happening.
[TODD] Oh yeah, for sure. You know, it’s funny because… I like this genre obviously, I’ve read a few of the different books that are out there. Some are good, and some are really poorly done. But this definitely falls in the set of books that I really, really enjoy. I have my set, and if somebody asks me to borrow, I’m almost reluctant to give it to them, because I’m afraid I won’t get them back.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Well, thank you.
[TODD] You know, it’s funny, though. If you take a look at some of the real emergencies and real disasters that have occurred in the last 10 years, I suppose, maybe 15 years, starting with Katrina, you look at Super storm Sandy that came in… and I remember my wife and I were watching TV, we were watching the News coverage of the Super storm Sandy, and she asked… because you know, obviously, I have my… I’ve been living in an earthquake county, and I have my earthquake preparedness, and we have some food and water, and whatnot; sometimes she thinks it’s a little bit much, you know… and then, when we were watching Sandy, we were watching people going through discarded food from the delis and stuff, through the trashcans because they didn’t have any food. I looked at her, and I said: “this is why we’re prepared for this type of event”. And I think you did a really good job of capturing those people that were not prepared for anything, and kind of putting them together with those that are. I actually… his name just escaped me right now. I love his buddy who’s a hammer operator, and has…
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah. Draco.
[TODD] Draco, yeah! He was such a fun character throughout the entire book. He seemed to be… I don’t wanna say countered… maybe a balance to Cooper, cause he sort of had that… not that Cooper didn’t, but he had more of a worldly hard-edge to him, where he said: “yeah, brother. This is the way it is, this is what we gotta do, we have to make those hard decisions”, you know?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah, that was… that definitely was intentional. There’s a lot of play there, so Cooper is more of an optimistic kind of person, Draco is like, pessimist. You know, Cooper was not any sort of prepared person…
[R.P. RUGGIERO] His good friend, Paul Draco, again, he was very well prepared. He was a prepper, basically. So, there was a lot of… sort of, I wanted to have a lot of those tensions in there, and I think there’s a lot of humor between the two of them as well. But again, that feeds into both, a way to have some good dramatic tension going on, but also have good lessons emerging from between the two of them going back and forth, and from both sides, right? Yeah, it was a really interesting dynamic. And it was interesting that you bring up Katrina, because that’s actually… that’s when I sort of started my preparedness… sort of journey, if you will, it was after Katrina. Because up until that moment, I think I was like… you know, most Americans, who would feel like, if something bad happens, there will be people coming to help us out. And we saw in that moment that you can’t always depend on that in a natural disaster situation. So, that was really what started me on that journey, and my kids were really small at that point, but I remember thinking: “look, I don’t ever wanna be in that situation, and… you know, more that I just have a responsibility as a father to make sure that I’m at least prepared if some bad stuff happens, not just for me and my wife, but also my two very young kids”. So yeah, that definitely was a moment for me, and got me on a different path.
[TODD] Yeah, it definitely… me too, as far as that goes, you know. I remember when Katrina… I was working for LA County, EMS, and we sent a bunch of people out there, and half of the stuff that got in the news… not even half the stuff, but there was a bunch of stuff that didn’t even make the news that opened my eyes, specifically about how hospitals are closed, and just wouldn’t take people if you weren’t sick enough, you know? And they basically said: just come back if you get more sick, but we just can’t take you right now. So, definitely, it shows that we do have a fragile system here for sure. And this work, you know, I think that’s one of the things that people, general public, sometimes don’t really understand that. Our system is just one disaster away from being overwhelmed completely, you know? Even here in LA County, or in Orange County, in California. I know that… you know, we see the hurricanes and stuff like that, but yeah, we’re definitely in a fragile situation at times. Especially with some of the earthquakes happening in Los Angeles here, we have in LA County and in Orange County, we have hospitals that are closing because they just can’t afford to stay open anymore. And so, less and less emergency rooms and those facilities are available, so we can get overwhelmed pretty quickly; we have been, actually, you know? With some of our flu outbreaks we’ve had. So yeah, some of the stuff that’s in these books, that people think it’s far-fetched, it’s not as far-fetched as they really think.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] No, absolutely. One of the things that sort of led me into writing this trilogy was… growing up, I’ve always read apocalyptic fiction, I’ve always been fascinated with it. You know, and a lot of it though, focused on after the collapse. And I’ve always been interested in how some of that stuff sort of unravel, so that was definitely the focus for me writing the Brushfire Plague trilogy, was… the first book really just focuses on the first couple of weeks, and then by the time you finish the next two, you’re probably 3 to 4 months out. So, that was an area of focus for me, and I absolutely think that people are unaware of how… you know, the system is built for normal times, it’s not built for large amounts of people who need help, or other services getting disrupted so… I think I try to show these pieces of that in Brushfire Plague.
[TODD] Yeah, for sure. And I felt it was kinda funny, this is my favorite part about… no, I guess not my favorite part, but one of the things that made me chuckle a little bit. Because I am addicted to coffee, for sure, and the fact that there was a running thing going on. Whenever there was real coffee to be had, everybody was like: “oh my gosh! It’s coffee!”. You know? Oh my God, I’m right there with you guys. If my coffee goes away, I’m gonna be really bummed out for a really long time. But it’s those little things like that, that you just forget that you just don’t have out there, available, you know? I’m gonna give a little bit away from the third book; I like when they get back to Portland and there’s some people there who are hoarding coffee, of whatever, and they said: “hey, if you ever wanna save the world, or everything to come back to normal again, the rule of the United States is to figure out how to get a shipment of coffee from Colombia”. I think you’re so right!
[R.P. RUGGIERO] I know, everyone thinks it’s not true, but it’s absolutely true in Portland. I haven’t lived there any longer, but coffee is a pretty good unifier, and definitely we earn a lot of power. I mean, you’re calling out a lot of things that I hope… kinda people experience reading Bushfire Plague is… you know, I try to add a lot of humor as well, and I feel like often it gets lost in this genre, you know? So much of it seems very serious, and obviously, there’s a lot in my books, but… there’s another part of, again, a) good story, good fiction; but b) just real life. Even in very dark times, crisis moments, people… not everyone loses their sense of humor. In fact, maintaining your sense of humor is an important part of helping people get through the stress. So, there’s a lot of jokes written through, a lot of it is between Draco and Cooper, because of their relationship, but I try to… again, reflect that reality that is real, but it’s also important when people are going through a crisis situation.
[TODD] Yeah, that’s for sure. Now, a couple of things in there, that I told my wife when I was reading the book, and she was like: “what is this book about?”, and I kept telling her: “oh, it’s a love story”. She’s like: “love story? What are you doing?”, and I explained to her what the story is about, and she’s like: “where is the love story in there?”, and I said: “well, there is kind of love triangles going on, you know?”, and as I explained it to her, she’s like: “you’re crazy”. You know? But I think it’s funny how you were able to add that in there, those emotions that everybody sort of has, and you know, just because the crisis is still going on, there’s still that… the connections that people have. And you can also call it a coming of age story too, you know, in the likes of things like “Stand By Me” or whatever, where you have this young child, when it starts of, and by the end of the series he has no adolescence, you know, it just kind of goes away. And I find that an interesting concept. I mean, obviously, adolescence is a fairly modern concept, probably since the late 1900’s, the mid 1900’s, 1920’s or so; you know, we’re used to grow up with adolescence, and Cooper’s son didn’t have the ability to go through the adolescence, he went from a young boy to a man, almost, in a matter of months. How was that… those two things, putting a love story involved in the middle of this, and also having a coming of age with Cooper’s son. How does that play out with your writing?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah, I mean… you know, with the romantic triangle, that was something my wife was not too pleased with. Cause she was like: “the wife just died, what’s going on here?”. I was like: “well…”, a) I think it is reality, high stress situations, these are real characters that are interacting. And then, you know, there was a part of it… it’s also about having a good story that has as many different elements to it. But you know… and that actually plays out between the three books, and I think it’s… you know, I mean, honestly what that is is that sort of tension, or war going on with Cooper as a sort of… a woman that he has lots of physical attraction, versus someone who is more of a fit personality-wise, someone more practical. They just start playing out that tension, and I won’t give away where it ends, I think it ends pretty well. And you know, the father-son thing, again like… like I was saying earlier, that really went a lot deeper than I thought it was, but again, as a writer, I just contemplated what being in this world… have this effect on this particular character, you know, his name is Jake, 11, and he sort of has his 12th birthday in the middle of all this. He’s a pretty young guy, and I did a lot of background research on the effects of violence and stuff like that on both adults and adolescents as part of the process. So, you know, that’s really where it came from. So, there is this long running tension situation, where really Jake is kinda bouncing up and down between being an actual kid, and depression, anxiety, and Cooper is trying to… and also, just becoming cold, right?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] And you know, almost like, losing his humanity, really. And then Cooper as a father, he’s bouncing around between despair, and his own depression, and then moments of hope, when he thinks he’s able to lift him back up, pull him back on this sort of having humanity, not losing emotions and the ability to emotionally connect. So, and I… you know. That was, again, took on a life of its own, but I think again, when people read through the trilogy, I also like where that all ends with Jake. But yeah, those are some of the elements that are going on in terms of those different dynamics, and like I said earlier… and I’ve heard this, this isn’t just me as a writer, I would say the most consistent feedback I get from readers, really there’s two: one is about the father-son, and that’s usually coming from fathers, but not always. That’s just the feedback I get on the e-mail, or some of the reviews online, is just like that relationship kinda hit people. The second one I get, which also makes me happy, is one where people said: “I never thought about preparing for anything, but now I’m going to the store to buy some canned beans and water”, you know?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Cause that’s also part of… one of my motivations for writing this is giving people an entry into this world, that… I went into after Katrina, and I think it’s a great… it actually is a good book to give that friend, relative, etc., that says… thinks you’re crazy for doing any kind of preparedness. It’s a good vehicle to get people to see: “oh, I see how this could actually happen”. But anyway, yeah, I get a lot of feedback on the father-son relationship, that’s a very… and it makes you feel good as a writer, you know? The term for it is “emotional engagement”, and so when you get those moments of feedback, you think: “oh, that’s great! I hit someone in the gut”. You know? It does hit someone in the heart, and you love it as a writer, it’s pretty awesome.
[TODD] One thing about Draco, what you did well with him, was that he was definitely somebody who was well ahead of the curve as far as the preparedness side, and I don’t… it sounds bad that I’m saying this, but the term “prepper” now has become kind of a bad word, I suppose, but he was a guy who was prepared for anything, but it didn’t consume his life; it wasn’t the only thing he did, he still… and I think that’s the balance that most people are looking for as far as it goes. But yeah, you did a good job with that.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah no, it’s funny, I mean… the Draco character is actually based on a friend of mine, we’ve been friends since 8th grade. It’s not exactly him, obviously, but there’s a lot of him in it. And he is a really interesting character. You know, I think again, people see it, you know? Cooper changes, Jake changes, Draco changes. You know, there’s another character there, Calvin, who starts on really just kind of a bit quiet, and really kinda rises in prominence as the books go on, and he changes. So, there’s a lot of that going on, which again, is real life, it’s good fiction, makes a good story, but it’s also just real life. People aren’t static, but Draco no questions, is one of my favorite characters in the trilogy. And just again, I think Cooper and him had just a lot of great back and forths, learning from each other, arguing with each other, and again: real life.
[TODD] Yeah, it’s funny, you talk about Calvin, and him I had… he looked… I guess, when you give books, you kinda give people their own physical characteristics, and he reminded me of this farm hand that worked for this place where… my grandmother, she had Alzheimer’s, so we put her in a home that was literally in a farm. And there was this guy that worked there, and he was a Korean war vet, and when I was a kid, I loved talking to him, and I automatically attached Calvin… handed Calvin’s personality and stuff like that. I don’t know what it was about that, but Calvin was definitely a good moral compass, I suppose, for both Draco and also for Cooper. He was a really interesting character, I liked him a lot, actually.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah.
[TODD] Ok, I have one more question for you, regarding some character building, and… all right, so you introduce this guy in the… I guess it was in the third book, maybe in the second book. The British… well, the guy who grew up in Seattle area or whatever, but he kinda talked a little with a British accent.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yes.
[TODD] Ok, so… why that?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] You know, it’s funny. I think my wife hated that character. So, you know, part of what happens is… again, you saw, since you read the whole trilogy. You know, some of the… there’s these side characters, who are kind of… you know, have corky personality traits, and some of them die off. So, honestly, it was my attempt to bring in another corky character, and you know, he plays an important part of the story, but the whole… you know, he gets sort of to mock English accent, he’s a complete Anglophile, it was really just to add some more color to that last… the end of the trilogy. But again, some people like him, some people, it drives them crazy with the way he talks. And my wife was in the latter category, she’s just like: “this guy drives me crazy when he talks”. I’m like: “that’s sort of the point! Part of writing is… you know, you’re not supposed to actually like every single character, it’s ok if some of them drive you crazy”. Cause it’s at least hitting you in some way, right? There’s that emotion, which is what you want as a writer. But that was it, it was really just that. I don’t know if you remember the woman… the elderly woman from Kentucky, in Brushfire Plague, the first one, Lily, who is quite the hoot. And anyway, it was just sort of in that vein of adding some more… hopefully, a little bit of color to the book.
[TODD] In my head, I had him dressed like Montgomery, in World War 2. I don’t know why, but every time I read him, that was the picture I had of him. I don’t know, it’s just kind of…
[R.P. RUGGIERO] That’s the beauty of a book vs. film, is that you get to do all that stuff, create it a lot in your own head, so yeah.
[TODD] That’s awesome. Oh man, this is a really good show. I mean, this book is a fun read, it really is. If you like intense thriller-type books, and if you like the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it type of books, you can’t go wrong with this trilogy at all, I recommend it. So ok, number one, is there anything else in the pipeline for you?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] I’m trying to figure out where to go next; I thought about sort of picking up the series, maybe set into the future, 5 or 6 years, and really focusing on Jake as a central character, he’d be in that 17-18-year-old range by then, I think… I thought it would be really interesting to explore what the Brushfire Plague looks like 5 or 6 years out, there’s a lot that happens even in the first few months. So, that’s probably the biggest thing that I’m thinking about. I’ve also thought about sort of the non-fiction side of doing sort of… some work on, what does leadership in a survivalist type… an apocalyptic scenario look like. So, those are the two main things bouncing around that I’ll probably dive into one of those two things next.
[TODD] That’s awesome! Ok, two: how can people get a hold of you and buy your books?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah, I wanna thank you all for calling all the action facts of this whole thing, we really don’t talk too much about that, but… I’ll just share quickly, one of my favorite e-mail reviews that I got, it was actually somebody I know, who is a brutally honest kind of person. So, he e-mails me and he says: “I don’t usually read fiction, I never liked this genre, the characters are not people I would normally be sympathetic to, but after the first five pages I didn’t wanna put it down”. That’s pretty much a verbatim quote, and that’s always my favorite review, because my most hostile reader… and you know, thanks for calling that out, I think most people would say this is pretty action packed, and it’s definitely fast-moving. So, with that, yeah, where people can pick it up… it’s really, the best place is gonna be Amazon.com; it’s available on paperback or Kindle. And then, it’s also on BN.com, which is for Barnes and Noble, you can get out in the knuck reader, as well as paperback there, if you prefer dealing with them. If you wanna get more background on the series, get obviously on Amazon, there’s a ton of reader reviews, but also you can always go to Brushfireplague.com and bounce around there, there’s more background and stuff like that. So yeah, hope that’s helpful.
[TODD] I think so! And one last question for you today. Ok, you’re ready for this one?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] I’m ready.
[TODD] All right. So… who is your favorite character in your book? I know it’s a hard one.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Oh, my favorite character… that is a hard one. I kinda… I probably, I’m gonna give two answers. So, my favorite character through all three is actually Draco. You know, I just… it’s probably because in some ways, it’s opposite to my own personality, right? The pessimistic side and all that, but I also just like the way he changes and evolves. And then, probably my favorite character in all three is that character I just talked about, the elderly woman, just cause she’s so sassy. I think adds a ton of humor. She’s like, the elderly neighbor I sort of wish I had at some point, who just… wit as sharp as a razor blade. So, it’s probably my favorite character who is not quite in all three of them. But that is a good question, I like it. I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that one before, that’s a great question.
[TODD] Yeah, I know! I was talking to another friend of mine, who is a writer, and I always ask her the same question, and she goes: “it’s like trying to choose your children”. And I’m like: “yes, I understand because you develop them”. But that’s cool. So, thank you so much for being here today, and is there anything else that you would like to add and tell the listeners out there today?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Well, I just wanna thank everybody that’s ever gonna listen to this for their service and dedication to our communities, or soon-to-be, sounds like some of them are in school. So, I wanna say that for sure. And you know, for anyone who does dive into the trilogy, I hope you enjoy it, and I wanna thank you for having me on today, this has been a lot of fun, actually. So, I appreciate it.
[TODD] No problem. All right, you have a great day.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] You too!
[TODD] Can you give me ten seconds? All right, cool, awesome! Thank you so much, I did have a great time with you today. So, if you wanna do this again, if you have anything that’s coming out, let me know. I’d love to have you back on.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah no, this was a lot of fun. If you… when this goes live, if you can, drop me the link, cause I can push it out on Twitter and Facebook as well, if people can download it or whatever.
[TODD] Yeah, it’s www.emweekly.com is the site. And we’re gonna go… this one will be… I think this one will be our sixth episode, that we’re gonna put out, so… and then, if there’s anything that you wanna add… excuse me. If there’s anything you wanna add to the show notes, if there are any links that you wanna give me specifically, I’m gonna put the Brushfire Plague in there, I’ll also put the links to the Amazon site as well, but is there anything else that you want me to add, or any kind of… anything, just send me, and in that way it will be in the show notes, and when people look at it, they go to the show notes, and they can play your stuff up right away.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Cool. So, yeah, I could definitely do that. You said… is it already up, or you’re launching in April?
[TODD] The site is up… excuse me. The site is up, but we haven’t put any podcast on. So, the first podcast, what we’re gonna do, is basically an introduction to what we are. And then, I have an interview with Kevin Bigelow, who is a social worker, a retired social worker, that did EM stuff there, and I think… we can move you up to three I think. I gotta talk to Ryan about that, because we kinda have a schedule where we wanna put people already, so it would either be early May, I think, I’m looking at the schedule. I think it would be early May that we would have you in there. So, you’re gonna be either… I think we had you set up for the 6th, but I can move you up. So, you might be the third.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] If you can just drop me a line, like: hey, I should be up around this date, and I could keep track and help push it out online too.
[TODD] Yeah, that would be awesome.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Cool.
[TODD] And I wanna tell you, just on a personal… these books are great, and you’re right, once you start to read them… you know, I didn’t put them down.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] This is… the hardest thing, the thing that I struggle with is that there is so much out there, that is quite frankly garbage, the writing is so bad. But you know, I buy some of these too, because I’m interested, and there’s definitely some good stuff out there, but I don’t think it’s actually good for the genre that there is so much stuff out there, that I fear that some people pick up one of these things and they stop reading anything else, because it’s like: “oh, is this what it is?”, so… I wish there was a little more quality control, personally. Not that I claim my writing is that great, but you know what I’m saying, there’s some that just feels like a 5th grader wrote it. I’m like: come on, guys! So, let’s keep the quality in our field, but anyways. It’s been a lot of fun, like… you know, I was one of those kids growing up, who really wanted to write a novel, and finally I found… there’s a great book, it’s called “Novelist Bootcamp”, and you know, it basically lays down the process of how to write a novel, and the guy was a genius, and it totally worked. And I got to write him, I e-mailed him after this came out, I said: “hey man, I just wanna thank you, because I’ve been trying to write stuff my whole life, and not until I picked up your book, I couldn’t get me on a good path”. So, it’s kinda cool.
[TODD] It’s cool. Obviously, this is not for the podcast, cause I don’t wanna bash anybody else, but you got that one writer, I won’t say his name, cause we are still recording, who wrote the book, and you read it, and it is a survivalist manual hidden in a… you know, I used a Blackhawk X2317, you know… you get that…
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah, yeah.
[TODD] It’s like: come on! Either one of these things are happening, either he is being sponsored by these people to make a lot of cash, you know what I mean, or whatever. I read this one, this is kind of interesting. I actually like it, in the beginning, it was a trilogy as well. And I read the first two books, and they were really interesting. And the basis was an economic clash. And I could see here, today, you got this guy, he was an IT dude, and he lost his job, and he ended up living in the street, right? His girlfriend left him, he lost his condo, he couldn’t afford anything, and so then he had to live on the street. And it kinda goes on that process, where the economy is really just crashing quickly around him. And then, like, by the third book, you got out of this metaphysical new-ish thing, and some sort of alien stuff is sort of happening, and after that I just wasn’t interested anymore. I didn’t finish the series. I was like: how could you go from… you know, the concept was great, and then it just fell apart, you know?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah.
[TODD] I don’t know if the guy didn’t know what he wanted to write, and just started writing crap, but…
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah, there’s a lot of wild stuff out there. And the gear stuff, I’m sure you noticed, a) there’s a lot of people who really just focus on that, and kinda geek out on the gear. And I get it, you know, gear is fun. You know, it’s funny even with the Brushfire Plague, that… you know, I kinda put a law where… you know, I didn’t put that much detail, but I definitely put more detail about the guns in it, because I sort of… you know, I was like: oh, there’s so much on the genre, I gotta at least morph it a little bit, but… by the second book I just cut most, if not all of that out, because… you gotta listen to your readers too, and I definitely got feedback like: a little too much detail on the guns. I was like: all right, I’ll scale that back. But yeah, there’s a lot of that… the 3″, the Blackhawk SR, and Urban Camp…
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Anyway, I appreciate you having me on and helping me spread the word, and if you have a screenwriter, man… I’ve been told many times: why isn’t this on TV or something? I’m like: I don’t know, it totally should be!
[TODD] That’s something I hear too. A lot of people are writing for Netflix directly, you know? And Netflix is always looking to add original content.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah.
[TODD] That’s like the new… cause you know, in Hollywood, obviously, everyone out here wants to be a flippin’ screenwriter. Or an actor. I have friends that are both. But yeah, like, the one I was talking to, he was like: I wanna write a series for Netflix, because that’s kinda like where it is right now. And they’re letting untested… they pick up a short-run series, like a 8-episode series for Netflix, to see how it does.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah. I had a guy… there was a guy that I met… it was kind of a friend of a friend in Portland, and he moved up from Hollywood, and he actually has some… He was like, I think one of the co-writers on Oliver Stone, he was kind of a big name. Not a big, big name, but not an unknown… so he tried chopping this, but this was years ago. Cause he really liked it, and obviously, it didn’t go anywhere, but… I definitely had some e-mails from people telling me: oh my God, this thing is great on TV! And I’m like: I know! It totally should be! You know… I totally envision… there’s some scenes, I don’t remember if you remember that one scene, I think it was in the second one, where they find the dispenser and a dead kid’s hand…
[TODD] Oh yeah, yeah!
[R.P. RUGGIERO] That scene, I was like… I can literally visualize that scene in a TV episode, and so… anyway, if you have somebody who’s interesting in talking about it, I’d love to talk to them.
[TODD] Yeah, I’ll pass it through. Yeah, you talked about that scene, that was a pretty intense scene right there.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah.
[TODD] I mean, like… I had to actually put it down for a second. You know, cause it’s like… I’ve been through some in my life, as a paramedic, and I was working for the Police Department, I’ve been through some pretty heavy stuff, and that kinda brought it back, and I was like: holy crap! Would I have forgiven that shot, being in that situation, you know what I mean?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah.
[TODD] Yeah, I probably would have forgiven that shot, you know? And just like, and then you go: wow! Then you have to live with that, and you have your own kids… that was crazy, dude.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] It’s funny, there’s some scenes that when I’m writing, I get teared up writing them, and… you know, if you do it right, if I can hit these words right, it’s gonna hit the reader. But that was definitely a scene where I was… you know, cause yeah, what I try to do with those different scenes, especially with the Jake and the Cooper dynamic, or that scene… I really just try to put my own head in the mental spaces, like: I’m going through it, what would I be feeling? And then you just try to get that on the paper. I feel that’s when the emotional stuff comes across best. But yeah…
[TODD] That scene where Jake smoked the guide to the held captive? That was pretty good.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Oh yeah, yeah. I remember, yeah. Now that’s… yeah. There is a… there are some scenes, where I’m like: oh my God, this gotta be on TV. But no, I remember that one… yeah, that was an intense one to write, I think, for me. Because I put my head space, like, my son just… my sons doing this, cause they’re kind of the same age.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] The book I was telling you about, The Novelist Boot Camp, I kinda tried to follow this, where they said: don’t make the mistake to make the character just like you, because it won’t be good writing. And basically said, like, the character can be 75% you, but you need enough detachment as a writer that it’s just not a clone of you, because then it usually just becomes pretty boring.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Because then, that character never does anything wrong, you know, the stuff that happens. But… so I followed that, but yeah, there were certain scenes like that where… I do, I think part of my writing technique was: ok, I’m gonna put myself, what would I do as Cooper, kind of as a father really, and then with the Jake stuff, I would just imagine like: my God, my son just did that, or is feeling that, and then… I think it helps come alive. But yeah, that scene was pretty hard for me to write, because again, I’m thinking about my kid just walking up and emptying a magazine. You know? I hope I hit that… I try to hit those things where there’s not… cause again, I don’t think it’s good writing or good fiction where everything is morally back or white. That was a scene where… I think Jake is making a pretty compelling argument about why he did what he did, it was actually the most humane thing, you know what I mean? But then, you have Cooper, who is just reeling. That’s what I wanna do in those things, you know, when it’s just black and white it’s kinda boring, it’s not… again, I don’t think it’s good fiction. So, I try to do those moments too, where it’s like: oh my God! You know, this crazy thing, but wait a second, he just gave a pretty valid argument.
[TODD] Well, it’s a struggle of him… becoming, you know… basically, just a few weeks prior to this, he was just a typical 11-year-old playing video games, and now he’s… you know, gotta learn how to be a cold blooded killer, for lack of a better term. You know, to… and it’s just that growth. And he goes back and forth between it, I thought you did a great job with having Jake go back and forth between being that kid that wants to be a kid, and then him saying: “hey, I have to learn to be an adult to be able to survive”.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yes. No, thanks, man. That was it exactly. Cause I get, I think that’s also real life, is that those kind of things, it’s not like people… people don’t… people’s psychological stuff that is not as colorblind. People bounce up and down, they bounce left and right, and… I was trying to capture that. I think too often, you know… either the Hollywood novels, they just wanna present nice, clean stuff, and there’s a lot of stuff in life that ain’t clean, so…
[TODD] That’s true. I think about it, I have a 14-year-old now, and we’ve had this conversation… and just realistically, his mom, my wife, kinda sometimes treats him like he’s a little kid still, and he wants to be treated like… you know, like an adult basically, or at least someone with a little more responsibilities. And you know, going through that one, not having a crisis going on, it’s hard enough; can you imagine dealing with it with the world falling apart around you?
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah, absolutely, so…
[TODD] Well, I took you for an hour, and I don’t want to take us any more time, but I really do appreciate everything, and I’m excited about getting this word out for you.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] Yeah, I appreciate it. And you know, I’ll let you know if there’s anything else interesting to talk about, or if you wanna have me on something else to talk about, just let me know.
[TODD] Yeah, for sure.
[R.P. RUGGIERO] All right, have a great rest of your Sunday.