PHOENIX – Jeffrey Vincent Rutz was one day driving through blinding masses of fumes that billowed from hellacious wildfires during his commute between a nightshift nursing job in Lander and his residence in Riverton.
As the route – Wyoming Highway 789 – was nearly enveloped by this deathly sight coming from the mountains, the idea for the “Fog of War,” a reoccurring characteristic in the Rawlins native’s first novel, The Illusion Killer – which was published and hit Amazon.com on Nov. 13 – came to life.
“I could just barely see the sun rising in the east and I looked around and everything was just this dismal gray from all the smoke and haze,” Rutz said of his commute. “I thought, ‘Man, this would be such an awful experience if this was all you saw.’”
Little did Rutz know, now 30 and lives in Phoenix, that not only did the enflamed Wyoming landscape but the Wind River region turn into the main setting of an eerily grotesque and ominous story about overcoming an advancing doom.
Specifically, using characters such as “a man-turned-beast imprisoned deep in the city’s catacombs hunting his victims for sport,” Rutz’s fantastical story highlights the struggles of a young man named Roland Deglin, a lonely hermetic protagonist, who is tasked with injecting life into his dying city – all this at the mercy of something seemingly inhuman and barbaric.
The overall theme of the book, says Rutz, touches on the savagery of mankind.
“We have these representations of what we feel are evil creatures, monsters, things that lurk in the fog, or in the dark places that we’re afraid to go,” he said. “Man has been known to have some wicked machinations; to be cruel – the worst things possible. And that was kind of my foundation to the fog of war to support that idea.”
In many ways, said Rutz, Deglin is reflection of himself.
A 2007 graduate of Rawlins High School, Rutz, like many other Outlaws students, had a normal upbringing. His father, Lyndon, was and still is an operator in the energy sector. His mother, Kelly, was a teacher.
Throughout his formative years, Rutz, who admitted to being somewhat of a quiet introvert, who took to reading and independent activities on a regular basis, was still encouraged by his parents to take up extroverted activities such as baseball, football and gymnastics.
This was how Rutz incorporated these personal dynamics into Deglin’s character.
“Some of the problems Roland experiences were things I were experiencing when I was growing up… just the isolation,” said Rutz. “At times I yearned for it, but at times I desired to have friends.”
But for how valuable some view extroverts to be, it was Rutz’s solitude that inevitably sparked his desire to embark upon the painstaking feat of writing a book.
After high school, the future novelist would go on to study science and nursing at the University of Wyoming. In addition, Rutz would acquire a minor in ethics. This is when his invaluable ability to block out his surrounding world led to his love for the late prominent philosopher Jeremy Bentham, as well as fantasy and science fiction writers Andrzej Sapkowski and Adrian Tchaikovsky.
The existential content of these figures of the literary world would influence Rutz’s pursuit of writing. To boot, it was after college that Rutz’s experiences as a psychiatric nurse in the Cowboy State reinforced his love for “drama” and “discord.”
“We have fractured dynamics among people within their social environment,” Rutz said. “It’s so interesting how our interactions are so paramount in how we see things, how we interpret other people’s body languages.”
Once the suspenseful accumulation of ideas and thoughts began to erupt, it was around the summer of 2012 while living in Riverton when Rutz began piecing together what would later turn into the rough draft of The Illusion Killer. (Quick fact: the novel was originally named something else, but due to the influence of critics and agents, Rutz later renamed it. He said his father, Lyndon, was actually the one who came up with the current title.)
Two years later, in 2014, Rutz finally finished the manuscript. From there, he’d pitch the novel to publishers and people in the business at various conferences.
Once Rutz captured some attention, critiques and feedback would lead him back to the drawing board. It wouldn’t be until midway through this year that Rutz, who eventually took a job in Arizona and was already well-immersed in his career, that he created a “much improved” version of the novel.
It was then Rutz finally found out his book was going to be self-published.
“It was a surreal moment,” he said.
And looking back at such a capital accomplishment, Rutz was asked what he learned from this arduous pursuit of publishing his first novel.
“Don’t let fear keep you from trying new things and pursing your dreams,” he responded. “Because that’s how a lot of us keep from living our lives to the fullest.”
To purchase Rutz’s novel, The Illusion Killer, please visit www.amazon.com