An Author Interview with Will Ruff

AuthorInterview (2)Today I am thrilled to welcome Will Ruff to Books, Vertigo and Tea for an interview and to share his debut book; The Tomb of the Primal Dragon. Will is speaking at SXSW this year!

valence (2)The Book

The Tomb of the Primal Dragon
By Will Ruff
ISBN: 9781973416173
Pages: 414
Genre: Mystery/Crime



Arthur Biers, a young would-be historian just returned from a trip to Xi’an, China that nearly got him killed. He has a fresh wound, he’s been discredited in the media as a grave robber, and his role in the illegal excavation of the first emperor of China’s tomb nearly started a war. The United States government wants to know what happened. He recalls the story directly to the United States Ambassador who’s desperately trying to smooth things over.

In an attempt to get into graduate school, Arthur found himself searching for any position covering the drifting relationship between China and the United States. Ready to give up, and with nothing to show for it, Arthur stumbles on what appears to be the perfect opportunity. He encounters a technology mogul intent on building the next media empire using virtual reality. The man behind the project, Wyatt Waller, is trying to win a contract for a pioneering excavation of the tomb using drones. He invites Arthur to join the project as a researcher and when Arthur arrives, he quickly begins to suspect that there’s something more going on at the site than the excavation of historical relics.

Their research suggests the tomb is hiding deadly secrets, if it survived, but China has taken the position that the technology isn’t there to excavate yet, and they have no plans to begin. The story follows Arthur, Wyatt, and several others on a journey across China as they begin to question our understanding of history and the way it’s written. And they all become obsessed with the idea of breaking the real story behind the legendary tomb. Even if they find out what’s inside though, they may not be able to prove it.

Read an excerpt here.

Purchase Links:  Amazon UK

 Author Interview

1. The Tomb of the Primal Dragon presents a fascinating concept! What inspired you to develop a plot involving secrets contained within a tomb and museum?

I always knew I wanted to write a story where a character changes the way the world understands history. In college that was spurned on by the story of Heinrich Schliemann who discovered the historical site of Troy. He was a businessman, and his methods were pretty far out of the accepted norms for archaeology. He was convinced the Iliad and the Odyssey were based on historical events, and he spent his life trying to find the evidence. He eventually did despite the entire archaeological community not taking him seriously.

When I was studying traditional China the textbook mentioned the first Emperor and how he unified China, and when it referred to the tomb of the terracotta warriors, and the emperor’s tomb which is almost a mile from the warriors, there was an aside that said of the emperor’s tomb “Itself not yet excavated.” That was the exact moment I decided to write a book about someone becoming obsessed with it, and I spent years digging into it from several angles and what a thing like that meant to the world.

2. Can you describe some of the research that went into writing a story set in China and evolving an excavation?

I studied Chinese history in college, and took a few semesters of Mandarin before studying in Beijing. It was 2009, and I was there for four months taking four hours of language classes a day, history, and mass media, and enjoying the culture. When we got there we took a trip to Xi’an where I got to lay eyes on the Terracotta Warrior museum so a lot of the descriptions come from that. Same goes for all the other sites featured in the book. A lot of the half-English half-pinyin you’ll read in the book comes from that experience. I also wrote my senior thesis on President Nixon’s trip to China where he met Mao and basically changed the balance of power in the Cold War.

The technology side of it was the hard part. When I first started writing it years ago, the idea of drones being used for archaeology had been floated in various articles I found online, but I had no idea how the stuff worked. Then I started reading up on things like LiDar and I eventually connected with a drone software expert who helped me sort of plan this fictional excavation down to what it might cost, and how long it would take to capture enough data. The technology part of it is the coolest, because I’ve been able to speak with so many brilliant people who love the idea and I can actually get them excited about this tomb—itself still not yet excavated.

3. I know that The Tomb of the Primal Dragon was your debut novel. What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered during the writing and/or publication process?

Writing when you don’t know exactly what you’re trying to say is really hard, and it took me a long time to really get going on the story. I tried writing it in college, but that turned into 25 failed attempts at writing an opening chapter. I’d never done anything on this scale before, so I thought I would probably never be able to do it. It wasn’t until years later when I put pen to paper and stepped away from the computer that I could finally focus and get through it. I wrote 80 pages by hand and then finally moved it to the computer and knew where I was going with it. The scene I had written turned out to be the scene where the main character Arthur, who’s fresh out of college and trying to find work in a technology driven economy meets this media mogul who wants to build an empire for journalism in virtual reality. Their encounter is this sort of “technology meets storytelling” moment which is one of the main themes of the book. The big lesson I learned is that you don’t write in chronological order, you write, and you figure out what comes next, and whether anything came before. Then you make sense of it.

4. Did you have a character that you favored most while developing them? If so, what was it that you enjoyed about them specifically?

That’s definitely a hard question to answer since Arthur’s perspective is in first person. In that sense I probably injected all my studies into his character, but there’s aspects in all of them I find intriguing. Bruce has this philosophy that history doesn’t belong to anyone and it isn’t yours to hide. There’s something charming in that but it gets distorted for him and he goes down the wrong road of philosophical purity as opposed to looking at how his work is going to have an affect on people. Emmy I think represents what every ambitious hard working person wants. She’s brilliant, she has a talent for making things happen quickly, and she’s very intent on getting it right the first time—even if she goes against what everyone else thinks. But she hasn’t been given the right opportunity. Arthur is a guy who desperately wants to get into graduate school and he wants to be a part of history, not just teach it. A lack of job training makes it hard for him. And then there’s Wyatt. Wyatt is this serial entrepreneur who has money and can build pretty much anything, and he thinks a media empire is the next obligation he has to society. He’s also in this very self-reflective phase of his life which I can identify with.

5. You mentioned that you will be speaking at South by Southwest (SXSW) this! Can you share a bit more about that with us?

Yes! I’ll be bringing the book to SXSW to talk about the writing process, thought process, and main themes behind the book. Should be about an hour, and I’ll do a Q & A if anyone has interest in that sort of thing. The really cool thing about SXSW is that it’s a big tech festival, and in writing this I got really excited reading up on the technology that might be used for this kind of excavation, and people in tech circles are so far pretty huge supporters of the idea behind the novel. Should be a blast!

6. Last but least, I always ask this one – are you a tea drinker, and if so, what if your preferred cup?

The best tea I’ve ever had was in Shanghai during that semester abroad. I have no idea what kind it was unfortunately. I like tea, but I’m more of a coffee drinker. Black coffee.

imageAuthor Bio

Will’s writing has been compared by readers of his early works to classic authors from Hemingway and Hitchens to some of the great defining authors of the modern generation including Michael Crichton and John Grisham.

His debut novel, The Tomb of the Primal Dragon, is a genre bending exploration of both what it’s like living in the modern day in a world where technology eclipses meaning, and an exciting adventure following the geopolitical balance between the world’s great superpowers as they plunge headfirst into the new theater of war, the digital world.

Fans of thrillers looking for a fresh take on the genre as well as those trying to understand how technology is shaping the future will find much to dissect in his writing.

Follow Will Ruff: Website  Facebook  Youtube

A special thank you to Will for his time and the interview today!

Happy Reading,

Danielle ❤

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Norma by Sofi Oksanen


normabkreviewtemp1 (3)Norma
By Sofi Oksanen
Translated by Owen F. Witesman
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
ISBN13: 9780451493521
Pages: 320
Genre: Finnish Literature/Magical Realism



When Anita Naakka jumps in front of an oncoming train, her daughter, Norma, is left alone with the secret they have spent their lives hiding: Norma has supernatural hair, sensitive to the slightest changes in her mood–and the moods of those around her–moving of its own accord, corkscrewing when danger is near. And so it is her hair that alerts her, while she talks with a strange man at her mother’s funeral, that her mother may not have taken her own life. Setting out to reconstruct Anita’s final months–sifting through puzzling cell phone records, bank statements, video files–Norma begins to realize that her mother knew more about her hair’s powers than she let on: a sinister truth beyond Norma’s imagining. As Sofi Oksanen leads us ever more deeply into Norma’s world, weaving together past and present, she gives us a dark family drama that is a searing portrait of both the exploitation of women’s bodies and the extremes to which people will go for the sake of beauty.


Norma was an interesting encounter that occurred during my ongoing efforts to read more translated titles. I cannot say exactly what expectations I had set upon picking it up nor am I certain that they were met. My experience was a complicated one that I am still attempting to sort out.

Norma has a unique attribute. Her hair. It grows at a rapid rate and reacts not only to her own mood, but the mood of those around her. When Norma’s mother suddenly commits suicide, it is this very ability alerts her to the possibility that there is more behind her mother’s death than she has been told. What ensues is a journey to discover the truth and the revelation that perhaps her mother knew more of their shared secret (Norma’s incredible hair) than she told even Norma.

This is a somewhat typical mystery that is heightened by an added dose of magical realism supplied to the reader through Norma’s supernatural hair. Her hair is what defines her, setting her apart from other protagonist. I found this to be a mix of strength and weakness in terms of character development. While this unique feature provides an interesting variant, there was little else here that really made Norma jump off of the page. She was relatable in her grief and isolation, but perhaps not profound. I was comfortable with her, but not astounded. Supporting characters really failed to grow into anything of true interest for myself. They simply co-existed with the story.

The plot does boast some relevant topics that touch on human trafficking and the selling of black market babies that are worth note. However, it all unfolds at a somewhat surreal pace that is hard to describe as rewarding or heavy hitting. Narration is broken down into easily digested chunks that offer a fast read, but also seems to strip away from what I felt could have been a more impactful experience, leaving the reader to question what is really happening at times. The result is awkward and abrupt. I felt engaged but struggled to maintain the connection at times. Perhaps I would have appreciated this more if the author had chosen to place more emphasis on the topics contained within and explored them further. The pacing was ill-timed, dragging on during uneventful moments and skimming through significant revelations. I cannot say how much of my time with Norma was altered due to this being a translated work, but I have found nothing to imply it has not been translated well.

I think many fans of magical realism with an appreciation for the odd and eccentric might enjoy Norma. For myself, it was a mixed bag of emotions that never seemed to fully blossom into something memorable.

Untitled design Enjoyed with a blend of raspberry hibiscus tea.

Purchase Links: Book Depository

Happy Reading,

Danielle ❤

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The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Wife Between Us
By Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN13: 9781250130921
Pages: 352
Genre: Mystery/Suspense


A novel of suspense that explores the complexities of marriage and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love. 

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous wife and her obsession with her replacement.
You will assume you are reading about a woman about to enter a new marriage with the man she loves.
You will assume the first wife was a disaster and that the husband was well rid of her.
You will assume you know the motives, the history, the anatomy of the relationships.
Assume nothing.

(New) Thoughts

The Wife Between Us is stunningly complex story of a divorced woman and her ex husband’s young bride to be. It is everything you will want in a suspenseful mystery and nothing you expect. It’s tempting rave about this book for multiple paragraphs and part of me is dying to discuss it at great length, but that would be an atrocity. This will be short and sweet. Do yourself a huge service, skip the lengthy reviews and jump into this one blind! You will come to appreciate the obscured synopsis.

This is a distorted tale of marriage and deceit that is fueled by slow revelations and character development. The brilliance being that it relies on completely “unreliable” narration. Told through alternating chapters, a cunning manipulation of viewpoints effortlessly conceals the truth well into the final pages.

To know that this is co-authored is spectacular. Each seamless transition and intelligent sequence of events leave no evidence of more than one pen at work. Combined efforts have created a gratifying read that successfully deceives the reader. You will think you know, then you will realize you don’t. Then you will think you do. But you don’t.

What begins as a classic tale of a failed marriage and an affair quickly evolves into a work of true craftsmanship that twists and turns so many times, it is disorienting. The final outcome is a story within a story that is completely addictive and absorbing. The pages will turn themselves. Grab a hot cup and prepare to settle in, because if you appreciate mystery and suspense, you will find it difficult to put this one down.

*I would like to thank St. Martin’s Press for this advanced copy. The above review is my own, unbiased and honest opinion.

Untitled designEnjoyed with multiple cups of Chamomile (to counteract the tension), as I just couldn’t stop with this one.


Pre-Order Links: Book Depository

Happy Reading!

Danielle ❤

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