This is a blog for journalists, authors, and those who enjoy reading and learning. Here you will find a variety of posts about all forms of writing--from fiction and non-fiction to the news media and journalism. It is produced by a former foreign correspondent and journalism school dean.
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Sunday, May 11, 2014
Q & A with Ron Yates (Part 1)
of my virtual online book tours, a blogger asked to do a Question and
Answer interview during our session. What follows are her questions and my answers. I
hope you find them useful.
Q. What was your inspiration to write
Finding Billy Battles?
A. I grew up in Kansas and was always fascinated by what
life was like there in the 19th Century when the state was still pretty wild.
At the same time, I spent a lot of time in the Far East as a foreign
correspondent and I was equally intrigued by what life must have been like in
the 19th Century colonial period in places like French Indochina, The
Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc. Then one day I got the idea
to blend the two using a character from 19th Century Kansas who goes to the Far
East in search of himself.
The Philippine Highlands
Q. When did you first realize you
wanted to be a writer?
A. Probably when I was in the sixth grade. I loved
writing stories and I had a teacher (Mrs. Gooch) who encouraged me. My mother
also bought me books and took me often to the library--a place that I found
mystical and magnetic. She often read to me and I could "see" the
story unfolding before me. When I could, I began to read everything I could get
my hands on. As I used to tell my journalism students at the University of
Illinois, if you want to be a good writer, be an avid reader.
Q.What advice would you
give to someone who wants to become a published author?
A. Try to write
as much as you can from your own experiences. They are real and uncontrived and
if you incorporate those experiences in your fiction your work will have a
truthful ring to it. Beyond that, KEEP AT IT! Don't let anybody (editors,
agents, etc) discourage you. At the same time, be willing to accept
constructive criticism from those who have experience as authors, editors,
agents, etc. Notice I said CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. Some people criticize just
to be criticizing--or to be malicious. You must believe in yourself, your work,
your vision and your story. If you don't, who will?
What do you think makes a good story?
A. A good story needs a strong plot and
even stronger characters. Otherwise it falls flat. The writer needs to be first
and foremost, a good storyteller. If you build a good story, THEY WILL COME, to
paraphrase Field of Dreams. Make readers care about your protagonist. Make readers empathize, cry and laugh with
them. At the same time, keep them off balance. Don't be predictable and don't
be afraid to do terrible things to your favorite characters. Have you ever
known anybody who has sailed through life without some turmoil, some pain, some
suffering? I haven't.
Do you have any writing projects you are currently working on?
A. I am currently
working on Book Two of the Finding Billy
Battles trilogy. I expect to be finished by late fall 2014. Then I will
start on Book Three. After that, who knows. I may finally get around to writing
about my own life as a war correspondent.
Ron & Vietnamese "Boat People" 1979
If your book became a movie, who would be your first choice to play the
A. Clint Eastwood
as the elderly Billy Battles; Clive Owen as the middle aged Billy Battles and
Ashton Kutcher as the young Billy Battles. I would pick Saffron Burrows for
Billy's first love, Mallie McNab and Famke Janssen for the widow Katharina
Schreiber who Billy meets on the boat to the Far East. (Why these choices? They
are all tall. Billy is 6'3" and Mallie is about 5'10," as is the
statuesque widow Schreiber).
Do any of your characters have qualities/characteristics that are similar
A. I think Billy
Battles and I are a lot alike. I mean, aren't most novels a bit
autobiographical? He is a restless sort, he enjoys traveling, going to new
places and experiencing new things. Like Billy, I couldn't wait to get away
from Kansas (though I love the place dearly). And like Billy, I am a happy
wanderer. How else could I have survived and thrived as a foreign correspondent
for 25 years? We are both journalists. At the same time he is a pretty
dependable guy who is loyal to his friends and to those he chooses to keep
close to him. Above all, Billy respects two traits in people: Honesty and
Kindness. We are alike in that way.
Q. Tell us about your next release.
A. The next book
will be Book #2 in the Finding Billy Battles trilogy. This chapter in Billy
Battles' life takes him to the Far East of the 1890s and places like French
Indochina, The Philippines, Hong Kong and Singapore. This phase of Billy's life
finds him mixed up with political opportunists, spies, revolutionaries and an assortment
of malevolent and dubious characters of both sexes. In short, Book #2 in the trilogy
takes Billy far away from his Kansas roots and out of his comfort zone. How will
Billy handle those people and the challenges they present? It's a question that
you will have to read Book #2 to find the answer to.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Q. Do you listen to music while writing?
If so what?
A. Yes. I
listen to Mozart, Haydn, Telemann, and Boyce when I am in a classical mood.
When not, I listen to good "cool" jazz by people like Oscar Peterson,
Dave Brubeck, George Shearing, Bill Evans, etc.
Q. How do you develop your plots and
your characters? Do you use any set formula?
A. I write from
the seat of my pants. I don't outline my books and I don't write down plot
scenarios. I just start writing and see where the story and my characters lead
me. It's a lot like life itself. We may have a goal in mind, but the route to
it is often strewn with obstacles, surprises, and sometimes tragedy. I usually
write 3,000 or 4,000 words a day and I edit as I go. In other words, I may
write a few paragraphs and then rewrite them within a few minutes of creating
them. I don't write a First Draft. For me, that seems like a waste of time.
When I finish writing a book it is finished. I may make a few tweaks with the
plot here and there, or alter a little dialogue, or some action by a character,
but there is no second or third draft. I know some authors write a draft and
put it away for weeks or months and then go back in look at it with fresh
eyes--OR they send it out to be critiqued by professional "readers"
or "critiquers." Those strategies may work for some people. They
don't work for me. I guess it's my journalistic training: see it, report it,
organize it, write it and then move on to the next story.
Q. Say your publisher has offered to fly you
anywhere in the world to do research on an upcoming book, where would you most
likely want to go?
A. Back to Vietnam, Cambodia and The Philippines--three countries I worked
in as correspondent in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and three countries where
Billy Battles is going to wind up living during the 1890s. While I know a lot
about those places, having lived and worked in them, I would love to dig deeper
into their colonial periods and learn more about life during that era.