Ray Sutherland , author of Secret Agent Angel,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.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Secret Agent Angel. When did you start writing and what got you into inspirational suspense?
I have been writing stories for my own entertainment since grade school. One of those stories seemed to be turning into a complete novel so I accepted my own challenge to complete the novel and submit it for publication. It turned out to be a lot of fun and a lot of hard work, and I got it done. Secret Agent Angel is a labor of love, but it was labor. And some frustration. But I greatly enjoyed the whole thing The writing was very enjoyable and even the hard and frustrating parts were exciting.
What is your book about?
Billy Graham said that angels are God’s secret agents and I decided to write the fictional adventures of one of those secret agent angels. I wrote it in the first person from the angel’s perspective somewhat along the lines of the secret agent and detective novels of the 50’s and 60’s which were often told in first person.
Samuel the angel comes to earth in human form to help persuade some people to make right decisions in crises. He visits an accountant who is tempted to steal. He goes along with two truckers who befriend an abused boy. He helps a war veteran find forgiveness of his former enemies. He helps some porters on their trip down the Ho Chi Minh trail.
All of these things come together in a snowbound truck stop where a fire demon comes to destroy one man’s faith-or his life. Forty years of angelic work all come together for that one confrontation.
What was your inspiration for it?
The idea came to me while reading a Matt Helm spy novel by Donald Hamilton. Those are written in first person as are Raymond Chandler’s, Dashiell Hammett’s. and Mickey Spillane’s. I decided to write an angel story in a similar vein and style. I started out simply imitating those writers, but I soon found my own style and voice.
The first few pages turned out to be a lot of fun so I showed them to some friends and was encouraged to keep going. So I did and Secret Agent Angel was the result.
I have been inspired by many writers overall. Heinlein, Howard, Laumer, Clancy, Hamilton, Asimov, Burroughs, Crichton, Tolkein, Shakespeare and many others have inspired me to write and to write well. I don’t claim to have imitated any of them, nor do I claim greatness, but I have greatly enjoyed the process of writing and becoming a published author.
What type of challenges did you face while writing this book?
Persistence. Finding time to write. I’m a full time college professor so I have many demands on my time and I sometimes had to give myself a stern lecture about time management to get a chapter finished. Fortunately, as a self-employed writer, I work for a mean boss and I was able to see the book through to publication.
Did your book require a lot of research?
It’s a standard writers’ adage to write what you know. In Secret Agent Angel I followed that advice. Most of the events in the book take place in places and situations which are very similar to my own experiences and with which I am familiar.
My first job was loading and unloading trucks and the truck company owner owned a truck stop as well, so I could write those chapters out of my own experiences. I have spent quite a bit of time visiting hospitals, so I was on familiar ground there. I was assigned to the tank corps in the army so I already knew how tanks operate.
The chapter where I had no direct experience concerned porters on the Ho Chi Minh Trail just before the Tet Offensive. I had to do considerable research on that chapter. But I enjoyed that part, too.
What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?
Writing has to be like any other job. When we wake up, we have to go in to work, even on days when we don’t want to. As a writer, I have to motivate myself and some days that’s difficult. On those days, the solution is simple.
Sit at the desk and write. It works. Some of my better stuff has come on days when I initially didn’t feel like it. Writing is work. If I only wrote when the muses were singing loud and pretty, I would still be on the first chapter.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to write. Can you relate to this?
I have very little of this problem. I’m fairly confident of my writing ability and I generally think that I can get the job done if I think hard enough and keep at it.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
With my job and family obligations, a fixed schedule would be difficult. In order to write in my setting, I have to be disciplined. Not by keeping a fixed schedule but by making good use of any available time and working effectively during those times. Flexibility takes discipline.
What was your publishing process like?
Like most first novelists, I got rejected several times. The hard part was getting my book read. Whenever an agent or editor would actually read the book, they were very complimentary and encouraging, even while declining to accept the book. Rejection is painful and discouraging, but I had confidence in my book and kept submitting. Many thanks to Black Opal Press for reading the book and publishing it.
How do you celebrate the completion of a book?
By starting another one. Getting my novel published was wonderfully encouraging and a huge incentive to do it again.
How do you define success?
Being published, getting decent sales, and, above all, writing a book that readers enjoy.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
Positive feedback. One of the best moments of my life was when my wife told me that she liked my book. Good reviews are also very pleasant.
What is your advice for aspiring authors?
I mentioned the adage, “Write what you know.” While true, it’s not the whole story. I think equally important is, “Write what you like.” Follow your interests. Write something that you would enjoy reading. If you don’t know enough about the subject, learn.
Read. Read the classics. They’re not classics because English teachers like to torment students, they’re classics because they’re great. Learn from the masters.
George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Thoughts?
Contrarian response: Writing a book is a wonderful, exhausting joy, like a pleasant visit with friends. Writing is like being beckoned along by the better angels of my nature to a place and situation where I should be.
What’s on the horizon for you?
I am currently working on a historical novel about King David, the biblical king of Israel. It’s going well and I am excited about it. It’s taking a lot more research than Secret Agent Angel, but I’m enjoying that part, too. After that, I have several possibilities in mind but I haven’t decided yet. Figuring those things out is part of the fun of writing.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
Robert A. Heinlein said it best. His Five Rules for Writers:
- You must write.
- You must finish what you write.
- You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
- You must put the work on the market.
- You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
He is right and I can give no better advice.