Ronald E. Yates Interview

Ronald E. Yates is an author of award-winning historical fiction and action/adventure novels, including the popular and highly-acclaimed Finding Billy Battles trilogy.

What inspired you to write?
I knew I liked writing 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 magical and magnetic. She often read to me and I could "see" the story unfolding before me. When I could read myself, I began to devour everything I could get my hands on. Reading took me places I could not, as a boy, otherwise go.

Did the inspiration to write come to you suddenly, or had you been thinking about it some time?
The inspiration to write fiction came to me while I was working as a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. My training as a journalist has been invaluable. Journalism teaches you to use words economically, to be accurate, and to write fast. The transition from journalism to writing fiction has not been too difficult. Both utilize many of the same literary devices: transition, pacing, character development, etc. Ultimately, the goal is to tell a good story no matter if you are writing fiction or non-fiction.

How did you tell your story? In other words, did you use an outline, or just write your story from start to finish?
I don't outline my books. I create a timeline and then allow my characters to follow it. Of course life is unpredictable and things happen along the road. I prefer to write by the seat of my pants. It allows me to be unpredictable.

Did you receive any encouragement from family and friends, or did you work on your book alone?
Writing is a solitary endeavor, and nobody can really be involved with you when you are doing it. I never needed encouragement because I always knew writing would be my life.

What was the most difficult part of writing your book?
My book falls into the Historical Fiction genre, so it requires a lot of research. I love doing research, but when I am researching, I am not writing and telling my story. Writing is a wonderful gift if you allow the process to come to you and don't force it. However, don't let anybody tell you it is not damned hard work. It is. The joy of writing for me is telling a good story. I don't care about imparting a "message." Nor do I care about creating any hidden "meanings" that some literature professor will hold forth about in a writing class when I am no longer around to rebut him/her. I just want to tell a good story. That, to me, is the ultimate goal of writing.
When I was a working journalist for the Chicago Tribune and then a Dean and Professor of journalism at the University of Illinois, I could never find large enough blocks of time to write consistently. Writing requires HUGE amounts of time and long periods of seclusion--things most of us don't have. Therefore, time to write was always my greatest challenge. Now that I am no longer administering a college, teaching or working full-time as a journalist I am blessed to have a lot more time to write than I ever thought I would have.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of writing your book?
I enjoy allowing the story to unfold before me. I let my characters take me where they want to go. In other words, I give myself over to my lead character and he/she almost always dictates what happens. That may sound strange, but if you allow your mind and emotions to become part of your character it is something magical that happens during the writing process.

Did you experience any personal transformation after the book was published?
No. I have published six books--three of the traditionally and three of them via the indie route. Before that I wrote thousands of newspaper stories that were read by millions of people around the world, so publishing a book was not a transformative experience for me.

What’s something that gets in the way of your creativity?
Life. That gets in the way. But it does so in a good way. You can't hole up in a cave and write incessantly. You must get out, be with people, experience life. Otherwise, you get stale and your writing becomes turgid.

What strategies do you use to deal with criticism?
If the criticism is constructive I evaluate it seriously. If it is simply malicious and destructive, I ignore it. There are a lot of nasty little trolls out there who love to demean writers. Often, they are called critics.

Have you received any awards for your books?
Yes, book 2 won the New Apple 2016 Award in the Action/Adventure category. It finished second for the U.K.'s Diamond Book Award. Book 1 was a runner up for Laramie Award in the best Western category from Chanticleer Book Reviews.

Are you working on a new book at the moment?
I am writing the book #3 of the Finding Billy Battles trilogy (The Lost Year of Billy Battles). It will be published in late summer. I am also considering starting a local write/critique group for authors in the Temecula-Murrieta area.

Do you have any book giveaways, contest or events coming up?I did a book signing at Barnes & Noble, Temecula in April. I am considering a book giveaway/promotion on Amazon.

Tell us about yourself - where did you grow up and what is your favorite/worst childhood memory?
I grew up on a farm in Kansas. I was always fascinated by what life was like in Kansas in the 19th Century when the state was still quite wild. Our farm was not far from the Santa Fe Trail and Oregon Trails and I recall riding my horse along those trails. The deep wagon ruts were still visible then. They still are along some portions of the trails.

Do you have a favorite quote?
I like something that John Hersey once said: “Journalism allows its readers to witness history; fiction gives its readers an opportunity to live it.” Having lived and worked in both worlds that quote sums it up quite nicely.

What is your favorite show on TV?
Right now it is "The Son," which takes place in 1915 with flashbacks to Texas in the 19th century. In some ways it parallels the story in my Finding Billy Battles trilogy. Before that it was

Favorite movie?
There are too many good ones, but here are a couple of my favorites: The Quiet American, Lawrence of Arabia,

Favorite book?
I really don't have one favorite book. There are several, but I will limit my choices here to three: Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh; The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck; The Quiet American, Graham Greene.

Who would you want to meet if you could? Dead or alive.
Winston Churchill. He was brilliant and I would hope that by the end of dinner some of that brilliance would have rubbed off on me, though I seriously doubt it.

Is there a talent you wish you had?
I wish I could play the piano. I took lessons for while, but I never got past the beginner stage.

What’s something about you that would surprise us?
I would love to go into outer space.

Describe yourself in 3 words!
I like what John Wayne said about himself: Feo, Fuerte y Formal (Ugly, strong with dignity). That works for me.