Friday, September 30, 2011
A Cozy Reader's Corner Reviews - Interview with Reid Rosenthal
I am happy to have Reid Lance Rosenthal, author of "Threads West" on my blog today! I hope you enjoy the interview as well as learning a little more about his debut novel!
Tell us a bit about you. How did you become an author or take an interest in writing?
REID: I'm fourth-generation land and cattle. I own interests in a number of ranches in three Western states. I've always been enthralled by the land, its energy, moods, preservation, and the way it involves and shapes the lives that play upon its stage.
My interest in writing stems from long ago, when I was nine. We were taking a family vacation to the Virgin Islands. St. John had just been declared a National Park and we planned a week of camping on the beach in part to celebrate my sisters third birthday. A mongoose ate her birthday cake, but that is yet another tale. As penance for my playing hooky, my fourth grade teacher assigned me the task of keeping a daily journal with the admonition that I would have to read it to the class upon return.
My journal was written on the wide blue lines of a tablet with the ancient thick blue ink of the old octagon pens. On my first day back in class, hands trembling, I read to my classmates and Mrs. Darling, my teacher. I had convinced myself that no one really wanted to hear a tale of our vacation. Much to my surprise when I looked up there was complete silence, mouths were gaped, eyes were riveted on me, and my teacher clapped. It was then I realized I could tell a story and people wanted to hear it. It was on that day long ago that I promised myself I would write books. I was later blessed with teachers that exhorted me to do so, helped me hone my skills, and with insistent prodding built my confidence level in my prose. I had a double major in college – Forestry and Journalism, with a specialty in editorial writing. Some of my short story compositions did well in competitions, such as the Hartford Courant. That was as far as my early writing progressed.
It was two years ago that the man decided to keep the self-promise a nine-year-old boy had made to himself decades prior.
Please tell us a little bit about Threads West.
REID: Threads West is the namesake and first book of a six-novel series, Threats West, An American Saga. When completed, the story will consist of two thousand to twenty-five hundred pages over the various volumes. This epic begins in 1855 with the first of four richly textured complex generations of unforgettable characters. The separate lives of these driven men and independent women are drawn to a common destiny that beckons seductively in the wild remote flanks of the American West. They are swept into the dangerous currents of the far distant frontier by the mysterious rivers of fate, the power of the land, and the American spirit. Threads West is of the adventure and romance of the West wrapped in a silver bolo the American spirit. It is a tale with a message. The adventure, romance, duplicity, ambition, failure and success is our story. I sincerely hope in addition to enjoying the read, readers are transported, and reminded of the roots of our nation. I believe this is the time for us to step back, remember, and then move forward again with the values of the Old West.
Did you have any specific inspiration that contributed to writing Threads West?
REID: My goal of writing books and telling a story, combined with my absolute belief that the two most primal energies in human existence are romance and the incredibly powerful energy of the land. Combine these two primal basic forces into a great tale and people will empathize, relate, understand and enjoy. Mix in historical fact, and the interplay of conflicted personalities with all their authentic flaws and stay true to the message of uncommon threads of lives that weave together into the tapestry of an emerging nation, and I believe the result is a great story with a lesson. The inspiration for all my writing, landscape photography, and the source of my energy and passion is the land. Threads West is more than just an adventure and romantic story of characters and successive generations. It is about the evolution of America, the West, and the anvil of the land upon which these personalities were forged.
Who was your main support system when writing this book? Did you have anyone who specifically gave you strength or advice while writing Threads West?
REID: I believe in the old frontier attitude which is, “If you need a hand, look at the end of your arm.” I don't consider writing Threads West, or even tackling the monumental task of the entire series with its thirty-eight characters over four generations, and one hundred seventy years of historical fiction one that requires strength or courage. In fact I am delighted to write this story, honored that it has received acclaim and awards, and stunned at its sales success. More than that, the hundreds of comments that we've received and continue to receive convince me that it has struck that median chord between romance, adventure, and good old-fashioned American patriotism. More than its best-selling rankings, greater than its awards, it is the far more significant impact of the book which makes me smile and instills in me the enthusiasm to write the rest of the series which I'm currently engrossed in.
However, being a neophyte, what I don't know about books and publishing is exponentially more than what I do know, despite my learning curve. I have a terrific team, with many great people who know the ins and outs of writing books, publishing, and getting the novels in front of people. A terrific proofreader, a fabulous editor, graphics people including my daughter, first-class distributor, and a tiny but great publisher with the foresight to afford me what was supposed to be a “part-time” publishing assistant, who now works double overtime!. No matter how fluid my pen, how great the idea or story of the saga, none of this would be happening without the other members of the team and I thank them mightily.
Have you always written historical fiction or do you have other genres which you write about?
REID: Since this is my debut novel it is also my first venture into historical fiction! During the course of the series I will also be releasing is my first nonfiction book, Land For Love and Money. It is based on my extensive 40-year career dealing with ranches and land of all types, sizes and nature in many states and three countries on two continents. It will be the A-to-Z handbook for millions of landowners and millions of one of wanna-be landowners anywhere in North America. That book will be presented in anecdotal form -- some stories hilarious, some unbelievable -- a complete what to do and what to avoid guide about land located anywhere, be it a one acre cabin site on the Great Lakes, a coastal retreat in the Carolinas, a 20 acre horse place in Northern California, or a thousand acre spread in the Rockies. It will be accompanied by a CD-ROM with actual worksheets, contract provisions, conservation easement excerpts and checklists that I have developed over my long-time land career.
Are you planning to write a sequel to Threads West?
REID: In fact, there are five sequels! Each of those is of course the sequence of books in the series. Book Two is now being written. Excerpts can be found at the end of Book One. The second novel, Maps of Fate, is scheduled for pre-order beginning in late February and release in March. The third book, North to Wyoming, is scheduled for release in early fall 2011. The Threads West, An American Saga epic will boast four historical Western romances. The last books of the series will be set in the real-time of the contemporary West. All the books are based on real and authentic locations. The final books in the series will have as their backdrop working ranches that exist in the here and now of the West amidst the pulse of politics, land butchery, and a difficult economic environment that affects all of us.
What was your favorite scene when writing Threads West?
REID: I can't honestly pick a favorite scene. Readers might notice that I begin virtually every chapter with a description of the setting. This creates mood, physical presence, and I hope, draws the reader onto the stage on which the characters act out their story. I must admit, though, that that that particular style is as much for me as it is for the readers. Those opening paragraphs transport me. My soul and mind steps through a time portal where I am on that stage buried somewhere in the background busily transcribing the tale as the characters show and tell.
My two most favorite tasks in a novel is the descriptions of places or landscapes, and romantic interaction between the characters. I must admit that there are times when I mention that second favorite, i.e. the passionate romance, and folks glance furtively at the cowboy hat perched on my head and then quizzically back at me. The cowboy writing romance? Yes. (I am laughing).. I am a romantic guy! More importantly, romance, and the energy of location, the power of the land, and the way those two universal primal forces shape destinies and personalities have always intrigued me.
Is Threads West your first book? What was it like to see your debut book, a dream for most, in print and on the bookstore shelves?
Threads West is indeed my first book. It is difficult if not impossible to explain the range of feelings, emotions, and excitement, nor the width and breadth of the smile which creases my face when I see that cover on the best-selling page, or on bookshelves in the few bookstores that have received their copies of the book thus far next to books with the names of authors that have become familiar to me over the years. Grisham, Patterson, Follett, Roberts, and others. I sometimes chuckle to myself. I'm sure they ask “Who the hell is this on the bestseller page or on the bookshelves with us? Who is this guy in the cowboy hat?” Or perhaps they don't even notice! I'm under no illusions. The success of Threads West has not elevated my name recognition as an author much above “Reid who???” However, I am far less concerned with my name recognition than I am with people enjoying Threads West and talking about the book. In some strange way I personally feel far less significant than the novel itself. It is all great fun, a huge challenge, and a fascinating learning experience. I wouldn't trade it for the world. In the truly macro sense it is more than being an author, and more perhaps than just the book. it is about fulfillment of a dream. I never fail to forget how fortunate I am to have achieved so many dreams of my life, particularly this one because it was such a long time coming and is so major. The only other thing ever published other than short stories in long forgotten Literary Reviews or magazines decades ago in high school and college is a fun little short story called End of the Circuit , a contemporary Western romance that seems to have brought smiles to many faces. However, tackling a novel is far different than writing a short story.
Do you have any other titles in the works? Should we expect to see more from you?
REID: I assume you mean above and beyond the daunting but highly anticipated task of finishing the next five books in the series, Threads West, An American Saga, and the release of Land For Love and Money. Threads West is about 240 pages. While it is one of six books, the novel is only about ten to fifteen percent of the prose that needs to find its way to paper. I have lots of writing to do! And the prospect delights me! As to other titles after these major projects? I do have some ideas. Several for fiction works, and one nonfiction undertaking which I think would be fascinating. But first things first. I will focus on my current projects, enjoy the process, and attempt to tell a great story with fine wordsmithing that readers relish. I love colloquialisms. They are pure Americana. I will use one again. “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
What are your favorite books?
REID: I can honestly say is that I can't choose a single favorite title. I was a voracious reader when younger’ flashlight under the covers and novels carefully hidden in my school books during class, the whole nine yards. There are so many terrific authors and fine books. I'm honored simply be called an author. Sometimes I pinch myself when I'm introduced as such.
I've been influenced by many great writers. Crane and Hemingway's detailed descriptions of scenes and circumstances have always enthralled me. Crane’s Red Badge of Courage and Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea would be among my two favorites. Leon Uris and his brilliant renditions of converging threads of lives has had a major effect on my presentation. His novels, which I read more than once in my late teens, Exodus, Battle Cry, The Young Lions, and Mila 18 are among my top ten favorite reads for sure. McMurtry’s and L’Amour’s gritty portrayal of the thoughts, ethics, and personalities of the West have most certainly afforded me yet another high bar to scribe to. Lonesome Dove which remarkably a number of national reviewers and readers have compared Threads West to, and a number of L’Amour’s books are also among favorites. I often notice others smile when I mention that amongst my favorites is the Harry Potter series. Based on the quizzical glances flashed in my direction when I mentioned my addiction to Harry, Muggles, and Hogwarts it is apparently difficult for some to imagine a cowboy engrossed in witches, wizards, and far off mystical places. JK Rowling’s series is wonderfully detailed, and is the quintessential struggle between good and evil, employing as "magic" or what my friends in the Star Wars Trilogy (another favorite) , would term “The Force”.
What is the worst book you've read?
REID: I can’t say with certainty what the worst book I've ever read is. Truth be known, if a book is that bad I simply snap the cover, set it down and never pick it up again. No sense wasting daylight on a bad story or horrible writing. Generally I tend to like books that get lost in the profound ephemeral, with repeated wanderings that deviate far and wide from the central arc of the story. I am just a novice, but it is my opinion that a great tale can stay true to its story line and still convey a message with subtlety, taste, and almost imperceptible cadence.
What is your preferred writing atmosphere, for example, you listen to music, watch TV, go to a coffee house or library?
REID: I am laughing. My preferred writing atmosphere is pacing around the kitchen and living room, digital recorder in one hand, coffee in the other. A close second is the cozy interior cab of a one ton Ford as it screams down the highway from ranch to ranch, many of those trip durations of 8 to 10 hours. I would estimate that at least half of Threads West was dictated driving at 90 mph -- and if any state trooper is reading this, I meant 75! Many times I've missed the next exit or turn, so engrossed have I become in the story the characters are telling me. On a few occasions my startled glance in the review mirror has revealed the winking lights of a patrol car. Generally the officer has asked me why I didn't pull over for the last thirty miles. The looks I get when I explain I am writing a book are priceless. All my writing is done via dictation. I can type -- matter-of-fact, around a hundred words per minute. Unfortunately, there are at least thirty typos per line. I've become somewhat infamous for my e-mails after pounding keys with my big paws. Spell check would take longer than the original writing.
Are you a night owl or early bird?
REID: I am both. Sleep is nothing more than a necessary evil. I would prefer to be catching winks three days at a time followed by six weeks without any rest. The majority of my writing is usually done from about 10 o'clock at night to 3 o’clock in the morning. Secondary productive timeframe would be six or so in the morning to perhaps ten a.m. Then the reality of daily life, business and the ranches takes over. Once in a while I've stepped through that time portal I described and I'm reluctant to remove myself. On those occasions I can go three or four days without any sleep whatsoever.
Do you have a favorite reading -- writing snack?
REID: Elk, chocolate, and coffee are the primary food groups in my opinion. Everything else is a derivative. I would hasten to add that chocolate is relegated to that fine dark European chocolate, or my favorite, which are Nestle’s semi sweet morsels. It's a fine day indeed when the local grocery store has bags of those on sale.
Do you have an author you look up to?
REID: I look up to all authors. It is a feat to write a book, get published, and then engross oneself in the hard work that comes thereafter. If anyone thinks that your job is complete when you put the last comma in the last sentence they are sadly mistaken. The work has just begun. So, to authors everywhere of any type in any genre, fiction or nonfiction, I give a nod and a pull of the wide brim of my cowboy hat to them. They -- all of them -- have my great respect.
REID: I am a highly physical man. My passions are also my “sports”. I generally like more solitary pursuits. I never was partial to neighbors. Hunting, riding, fishing, river floating, and skiing -- particularly the steep, the deep, and the trees, and weightlifting.
What is the one thing you would change about being an author?
The translation of the moment into words; it might be a moment of the moods of land, or a moment of interaction and romantic interaction treatment characters. But the description of the scene, a peculiar angle of the sun, bursting sky prisms falling rain, shadows creeping with the angle of the waning sun. I am compelled to capture the image in every way possible. Many times, due simply to the wild remote places where I spend many of my waking hours – right time, right place) -- I've been fortunate to record with my camera and my memory the power of scenes so vivid as to be mesmerizing. The thrill of knowing I have recorded a split second that is never, ever to be repeated as to the angle, time, or season, makes all doubly exciting and satisfying. Translating those images to paper and projecting them into a reader's mind and heart is incredibly satisfying. It is those never to be repeated moments that underpin the script portion of my writing. When I write of mood, setting -- a section of the earth -- it is all there in a picture somewhere deep in my soul. My pen becomes merely the shutter, and the paper the film.
How do you react to bad review?
REID: I haven't had the opportunity to gauge my reaction. With thousands of comments by readers, authors and others, and reviews received, only a very few have been negative. I don't have a problem with a negative review. It is impossible and unrealistic to expect every person who reads a book, any book by any author, to 100% like it. If reviews are honest, well-intentioned, from the heart and not nasty, more power to them. It is only when a negative review is posted our of mean-spirit or done for alternate purpose that I object. I believe that is a huge preponderance of comment whether by professional reviewers, author peers, or -- in my opinion the most important -- the readers for whom the book is written or positive that I am well satisfied that the work is well received.
What you do with your time when you're not writing?
REID: This author thing is like taking on a second full-time career and job. Time, energy, and focus are needed to run and operate the ranches, particularly when spread out over long distances. Fortunately I love that business too, and if affords me the experience to intertwine my passions and love of the land with a vocation. Ironically, it also gives me great fodder for writing backdrop, scenes, and of places in which the action of the novel transpires.
Do you have a New Year's resolution?
REID: To write like a fiend, ride like the wind, ski as if in an elevator shaft full of bubbles, love big, dream grand, smell, taste, sense, and enjoy life and family, and to smile just as much as I can as often as possible.
Did you have any specific inspiration that contributed to writing Threads West?
REID: 1855 is a magical moment in American history. The great Western migration was in its infancy. The later turmoil between the northern and southern states was just beginning to darken the whispered rhetoric of both sides. Native Americans had rightfully lost trust in the promises of the white man. The main treaties of years prior, and indeed the compact between the states regarding abolition, had all been broken by one or the other party just within the previous twelve to twenty-four months. This was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution though no one knew that, Revolvers were invented just years prior and the repeating rifle was several years from rolling out from the factories of arms manufacturers. It was the year that the world -- and America -- breathed in, held their collective breath, and readied to exhale with a rush towards the Great Plains and the Rockies.
Life is half-art, half science. Emotions mix with the knowledge. The energy input and output of the spirit blends with the progression of the mind. That's why the influences on my writing all flow from the land and personal interaction with real people and personalities I've known -- you might call that the science portion of my words. The art ingredient or presentation is also one of many influences. The weave of Western relationships is always the land. The intertwined twist of ranch and romance are fascinating threads of the driven men and feisty women of the Old West. The foundation of my stories is that reality. There is intrigue, adversity, vicious duplicity, and triumph that few know of, but which are always at play beneath the idyllic mosaics of inviting canyons and sun-drenched plains.
Thank you Reid!