This is a new feature which will showcase local authors and their books. Every Monday now through the end of the year, you can read about a Michigander of note. I’m pleased to begin with R.L. Herron, an author of award-winning young adult titles such as Reichold Street, Zebulon and The One Way Street.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I was born in central Tennessee, but my parents moved to Michigan when I was an infant and I’ve spent my whole life here. I was a National Merit Scholar and earned my BA at Wayne State University’s Monteith College, and an MBA from Michigan State.
I once worked for some of the world’s largest advertising agencies, and had a long career in public relations and marketing with an international Fortune 10 company.
Based on family surnames, I always thought my heritage was basically German, but I discovered my earliest known paternal ancestor left what is now Northern Ireland and settled in the (then) colony of Virginia in 1635, long before the United States even existed.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I think I’ve always been a writer. I submitted my first story for publication when I was seventeen, and it’s something I’ve done sporadically ever since. It was something I once considered as a career, but most writers need to do other things to support themselves, and I was not interested in becoming a teacher.
I wrote and edited articles, reports, press releases and ad copy during my career. When I retired I started writing fiction again in earnest, mostly for myself, which I think is the real reason writers write.
Did you have any special mentors or teachers who helped you along the way?
I was a precocious reader and Mrs. Bliss, my fourth grade teacher at Coolidge Elementary School, recognized that my reading level was far above my grade level and got me access to the “grown-up” side of our public library, which meant I got to read Dickens and Dostoevsky before I was eleven.
I also credit Mr. Lawrence Ford, the English teacher I had as a sophomore at Ferndale High School, for opening the world of creative writing to his class. We were encouraged to write plays, poetry and short stories…we even produced radio spots and broadcast them from the back room to the rest of the class…and I discovered what a thrill it could be to make people laugh, or cry, or just sit in quiet contemplation because of your words.
Tell me about your books.
I’ve written and published four books since I retired. My debut novel “Reichold Street” was published in 2012 and was a Readers Favorite Gold Medal Winner. It was also endorsed by Compulsion Reads and Top Book Reviewers, and Kirkus Reviews called it “Skillfully written and emotionally charged.”
My collection of short stories “Zebulon” was the 2013 Readers Favorite Silver Medal Winner in the Young Adult Fantasy genre. I also have a collection of general fiction short stories called “Tinker” and the sequel to my debut novel “One Way Street” was published earlier this summer. It has already received a Readers Favorite Five-Star recommendation.
This summer, “Reichold Street” and “One Way Street” were both accepted as donations to the permanent collection of the Orion Township Library.
What is your process as a writer?
I try to write at least a thousand words a day, every day, but I don’t always achieve that goal. Life has a funny way of telling you what other things you need to concentrate on during any given day.
I don’t use an outline when I write, because I find it very limiting to go from Point A to B to C and fill things in. I prefer to conceptualize a character or two, give them specific personality traits and posit a “what if” situation. I let the characters react to the situations they find themselves in, and I’m often surprised by what develops…which is a good thing, because it means my readers will likely be surprised, too.
What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about a writing career?
Working through the many “writers block” moments most writers deal with is probably the most challenging aspect of writing every day. Sometimes the ideas just won’t come. That’s when I pick a story, any story, from the newspaper and write a brief “what if” about it. I find it gets my creative process started again fairly quickly.
I’ve had several people tell me they can’t wait to find out what happens to some of my characters and that tells me they obviously view those characters as real people, not written constructs in a book. That, and writing something people enjoy feels really good.
You are active in the local literary community. Why is that valuable to you and what can you tell people about the state of writing in Michigan?
I find it exhilarating to talk with other people who are passionate about words, and there are a great many folks like that around here. Michigan has produced some fabulous writers.
For instance, there’s the late Nelson Algren, a novelist born in Detroit, best known for “A Walk on the Wild Side” and “The Man With the Golden Arm” which won a National Book Award. Or Elmore Leonard (who passed away last year) who specialized in crime fiction and suspense thrillers, who lived in Bloomfield Hills. Or Joyce Carol Oates, who won the National Book Award and had two books nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, who lived in the Detroit area before moving to Princeton.
A good friend of mine, William Pelfrey, whom I met while he was an executive speech writer, wrote “The Big V” and “Hamburger Hill” – two acclaimed novels about the Vietnam conflict – lived in Beverly Hills, Michigan before he moved to North Carolina when he retired. And most recently, a new “friend” of mine, Alan Lee, who left his job as the local WJBK Morning Show anchor to pursue his fiction career.
I find there is still a strong cadre of authors and “wannabe” writers in Michigan, and I think that bodes well for the state of the writing community around here.
Do you have any new books in the pipeline?
My third novel, with the working title of “Street Lights” is well under way. It is intended as the final book in the “Reichold Street” trilogy and I’m about 8,000 words into it. I hope to be finished with it early in 2015.
If you enjoyed learning about Ron Herron, you can read more of his thoughts on writing and independent publishing on his blog Painting with Light.