Today I am pleased to welcome Gordon Rottman to the blog. He has chosen to answer twenty questions and this is a very interesting blog post.
1 How long have you been writing?
I started writing for military journals and magazines in 1976—you gotta start somewhere—and before long I became a “recognized authority.” My first military history book was in 1984 and I’ve written about 120 books since—mostly very dry technical topics. My first fiction novels I co-authored around 1990, three Tom Clancy-like techno-thrillers. About four years ago I started a YA survival story set in Nicaragua and influenced by Hatchet. A granddaughter had turned me onto it and I thought I could come up with a more in-depth story, not just a boy alone in the wilderness, but a girl saddled with thee survivors she could barely communicate with and would have to take charge, and a leader she does not want to be. It became Tears of the River and will be released in June.
2 Do you have a favorite book you have written?
That would be The Hardest Ride. A Western romance e-book published by Taliesin Publishing. I never dreamed of writing a Western, had only read a few, but I like good Western movies. I started thinking about a YA in which a present day American-born Mexican girl had to go to Mexico and find her father, and she speaks zip Spanish. The more I thought about it the more it sounded like a Western. The era’s wild times would give me more flexibility for action and challenges. A very fiery 16-year Mexican girl came out of it, Marta. And quite unintentionally the book became a romance, albeit with a body count of 80.
3 Have you always wanted to write?
Yes, I think as far back as about 5th grade. I considered fiction, but thought that was too far of a reach. I was mostly interested in military history. Even when I was in Vietnam in 1969 I was collecting information and making notes and eventually I wrote 18 non-fictions related to Vietnam.
4 Are you a plotter or pantster writer?
An extremely radical pantster. I started The Hardest Ride at what I thought would be Chapter 4 or 5, charged on for a half-dozen chapters, decided I needed to do the first chapters, and then worked through the rest of the story with no idea what was going to happen next, where it was going, how long it would take, who would live and die, and what twists would occur. I kept writing because I really wanted to see how this would end. Much to my surprise, though all the pain and agony, the lives lost, and the worst winter in recorded history, Bud and Marta, two opposites in every way, fell in love and had a happy ending.
5 What do you enjoy most about writing?
For military history, it’s the research and looking at things in a different light. But for fiction, it’s developing the characters and setting them in stimulating and interesting settings and throwing constant challenges at them that they manage to overcome, not always perfectly, but they make it. I do like to create authentic worlds and my research experience helps me create those worlds.
6 Do you have a favorite affirmation on writing?
This should come as no surprise. 1) Write, write a lot. 2) Read, read a lot. And don’t just read in your genre. Read other genre, far different genre. If your write YA romance that has adventure in it, read other romance and action-adventure books. Read non-fiction about the environment and period your fiction is set in. 3) Ignore the rules—within reason. I see all these writing books and writer’s magazine articles, rules, rules, rules. Get the basic rules down—which you can do by reading and paying attention to formatting, grammar, and punctuation, and then write. Don’t get bogged down worrying about if an editor likes … or — . That’s what edits are for, to fix things and put it in the house standard. They’re buying your story, not if you say, “I gotta go” or “I have to go.”
7 How do you develop your characters?
Ahhh, that’s the fun. Just about all the characters in The Hardest Ride and Tears of the River are based on real people. Most I know from Mexico where I’ve spent over 30 years visiting and working on my wife’s family ranch. It’s little different from 1886, like a time machine, and there are so many good and some not so good folks I’ve gotten to know. There are so many strong and wonderful women in our extended family that I have no problem finding ideal “models” for my female characters.
8 What is the most exciting time for you in your writing, the new beginning or the completed story? The offer of a contract?
The beginning. But I love writing the twists and turns and plot changing events. Especially those in which characters come together, to realize they have to rely on each other to make it though, that they can’t do it alone. There’s plenty of that in The Hardest Ride and Tears of the River. There’ll be two sequels for each so I have a lot to look forward to.
9 If you have experienced rejection as a writer, how did you deal with it?
Both The Hardest Ride and Tears of the River garnered plenty rejections. It’s just part of the game, get used to it, get over it, keep refining, and keep writing. There were a few rejections though that were disappointing because it had seemed like a good fit or they were initially very interested. As far as “keep refining,” don’t waste a lot of time tweaking and agonizing over commas. Work on strengthening characters and dialog and making situations/scenes more vivid, exciting, confrontational, etc.
10 Do you ever write yourself into your stories?
A little of myself is in Bud Eugen, a loner, out of work cowpuncher who just wants to keep his life simple. It was the easiest way to get into his head. His being so perplexed and confused by his developing relationship with strong-willed Marta is not a lot different than I experienced with my wife…I still look forward to seeing what’s going to happen next.
11 Have you ever used a ‘real life’ incident in your writing?
A lot of the description of the brutal weather and terrain, working cattle, tracking people, shootouts (based on firefights in Vietnam), descriptions of injuries and exhaustion, a couple of fistfights, campfire cooking, crossing the Rio Grande on horseback, the uncertainty of sneaking into the bad guys’ camp, tramping through Nicaraguan jungles, endlessly rowing down a tropical river, enjoying a sunset—I try to vividly give the reader an idea of what its really like based on what I’ve experienced.
12 What is your favorite way to find inspiration?
Mingling with other writers to feel their enthusiasm and excitement, it’s essential. Brainstorming to expand ideas and work through problems is very stimulating. As far as being inspired for writing ideas, I like to go out and do it. I wrote part of The Hardest Ride on the ranch in Mexico and when I wanted to describe something, I often went out and did it, even if I’d done it countless times before, but now paying close attention on what I was seeing and feeling so I could relay that to the reader.
13 Who are your favorite authors?
There’s so many good authors. John Marsden who wrote the ten YA books of the Tomorrow, When the War Began series. His action sequences are so intense I actually tore a page as I was turning them so fast to keep up. Walter Jon Williams does great sci-fi with intense description—“Adrenaline flashed through his veins.” Scott Westerfield does great YA dyscopia and steampunk.
14 Do you feel you are influenced by any particular authors?
The above authors, but there’s so many more. Patrick O’Brian who wrote the Master and Commander series. Robert Heinlein is another and so is David Lindsey, a vivid mystery writer.
15 What is the most difficult aspect of writing for you?
Besides trying to sell books to agents and editors, I don’t find it difficult. I guess just ensuring the overall plot makes sense is the biggest challenge.
16 Coffee or Tea?
Coffee in the morning, but not every morning. I’m shamelessly addicted to apple cider too.
17 Early rising lark or night lover owl?
I’m up by 6:30 and either go to the gym or have coffee with a writing buddy to brainstorm. By 9 I’m writing and researching and do so (apart for errands) until about 10 in the evening. That’s six days a week.
18 What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?
Hanging out in Mexico—the ranch is seven hours away—local writer’s group meetings, our every other week critique group, a couple of day trips each month with writer buddies which can find us doing just about anything (We even went to a Klu Klux Klan rally). We go to a lot of movies with the kids and grandkids and there are endless family events with family coming up from Mexico or us going there for weddings, quinceañeras, roundups, and trail rides. And drawing portraits, especially of my characters. A drawing of Marta is over my desk. Her strength truly inspires me.
19 Do you think you will still be writing in ten years’ time?
My wife to be once asked me, “What would you do if you couldn’t write?” I startled myself without even thinking about it by immediately saying, “Die.”
20 What question do you wish I’d asked?
LOL Why should a woman read The Hardest Ride since it’s comparatively violent and explicit? It’s true to the era, but it is a touching love story, and a story of strong, resourceful women. Much to my surprise, many women appear to like the story according to Amazon reviews and other feedback. One lady’s comment:
“A genuine female lead – Many westerns are guilty of making their women characters flat—they’re plot devices. Or, they turn them into some kind of gun-toting male fantasy. Marta was neither, and I absolutely loved her. She WAS tough as nails, but she was also vulnerable and flawed, and really bossy (despite the fact that she’s mute. And while we’re on that topic, I was amazed by the way I almost forgot she was mute because her forceful personality was so vividly portrayed).”
Taliesin Publishing. http://www.taliesinpublishing.com/the-hardest-ride-p25.php
The Hardest Ride
Finalist in the Western Writers of America’s Spur Award for Best Traditional Western Novel.
Finalist in the Western Fictioneers’ Peacemaker Award for Best Western Novel and Best First Western Novel.
The Texas-Mexico border, the winter of 1886—The Great Die Up. A raw rift separates Mexicans and Anglos. A loner cowpoke and a mute Mexican girl fight man and nature to reunite.
Out of work cowpoke Bud Eugen comes across Marta, a mute sixteen-year old Mexican girl whose family has been killed by Indians. Bud reluctantly takes her along, even though he’s never had to accommodate another person in his simple life. He’s unable to find anyone willing to take her. In spite of his prejudices, Bud grows to like the spunky girl (and her excellent cooking).
Eventually, they both find work on a border ranch. Here, the relationship between the girl and the young cowboy hesitantly grows. But banditos raid the ranch, kidnapping the rancher’s daughters and Marta. Bud, with twelve other men, pursue the banditos into the most desolate reaches of Mexico. Ambushes and battles with banditos, Rurales, and traitors are constant, and the brutal weather is as much a threat as the man-made perils. Life and death choices are made at every turn as one side gains the advantage, then the other.
The rancher’s daughters are rescued, and the exhausted party turns back. But Bud presses on alone, against insurmountable odds – determined to fulfill an unspoken promise to Marta.
Bad is an innocent sort and in his 22 years had no experience with girls. Here he finally notices there is more to Marta than just a troublesome girls who doggedly follows him around.
On Friday Mrs. Moran told me to put my spare duds on because Marta was going to wash clothes. On Saturday after the guests were done, Mrs. Moran said we could use the bath. I’d gone first, put on my clean duds, and was in the stable room repairing a hackamore. It was blowing cold-wind, and Marta came running in wearing one of those white Mex dresses with a towel wrapped around her head.
Sometime ago I was in a café in Beeville, and this lady had pictures on the wall of her ma and pa. They were black paper cutouts of their heads, what she called sil-lo-wets or something. Marta stepped through the door, and the sun hit highlighting her shape like one of those sil-lo-wets. She pulled that towel off and thick black hair fell over her shoulders and back. I ain’t even known she had that much hair, all wavy down to her hips. Damp-wet, it glistened like black oil. She saw me then. We sorta stared at each other for a spell—those eyes. Then she got all embarrassed-looking and brought that towel up over her hair. I was up and out of there, embarrassed my ownself and feeling queer. Had to feed the horses anyways. Lodged in my head was that sight in the door and all her hair. Pretty amazing.