Please welcome Michael Ross to my blog on this beautiful day living on our beautiful blue sphere of life. Good morning, Michael!
I’m Michael Ross, and I’m pleased to be with you on the blog today. I’m a retired software engineer turned author. I have always loved history – to me, history is just people’s stories, and my job is to tell their stories in interesting ways. I live in Kansas near my daughter and four grandchildren. I have other adult children in Oregon and Tennessee. When I’m not writing, I can usually be found in my woodworking shop, or playing with the grandchildren – the oldest is six. (I live in Kansas, too! – and part time in Colorado!)
Has writing always been part of your life and when did you “know” that it was time to start writing your first book?
I’ve written stories, essays and poems since fourth grade. Random House bought some short stories from me when I was fourteen. I wrote a children’s novel that I now think should be re-written. I started writing The Clouds of War about ten years ago, but didn’t get very far until I retired from Intel to write full time.
Which genre or genres do you write or prefer to write? And why?
I’m writing historical fiction, and mostly prefer that, just because of my fascination with history – how people behaved in the past, and how that compares to people today. I also like mysteries and thrillers, and may write in those areas at some future point.
Who influenced you the most in deciding to become a writer?
Definitely my mother – I had two high school teachers for parents. My mother taught English and Spanish, my father math and computers. You can see that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. My mother taught me grammar and composition, and gave me a love for story telling.
How difficult was it writing your first book?
The first book was the children’s novel (unpublished). I think most authors have one of these in the drawer somewhere. It was very difficult – I’d never written anything that long. The Clouds of War was a little easier. As always I underestimated the time and research it would take. I read hundreds of letters, diaries, and non-fiction books, immersing myself in the period and the lives of those who lived it. I learned a lot from the folks in the Historical Novel Society, especially Jenny Quinlan, my editor (historicaleditorial.com).
Have you ever wanted to give up and what stopped you?
There are always times, I think, when a writer wants to give up – that first negative review, the sea of changes coming back from an editor, the frustration of having to spend more time marketing than writing – but in the end, what keeps me going is the support of my wife and my readers. I started on Facebook almost two years ago, and built a following of 3700 people – some have told me they actually wait impatiently for my posts. The overall positive reception and sales for The Clouds of War has been encouraging, and the comments that I’ve gotten back about:
“I never knew that about slavery or the period before”
“It really got me thinking about the divisions in the country, and how we treat each other.”
What gets your creative juices flowing?
Finding an unknown person or tidbit of history that just utterly fascinates me – for example, learning about John Honeyman in the Revolutionary War, or William Still and the Underground Railroad. I’m always learning.
Who is the most supportive of you and your dream to be a writer?
My wife encouraged me to quit teaching college, which I did for three years after I retired, and write. She puts up with me spending hours in my “cave”, and talking about obscure people and battles.
What is the best advice given to you (book or otherwise), and by whom?
I had occasion once to be fortunate enough to get into an email conversation with Tom Clancy on writing. I asked him about characters. He told me that Jack Ryan was essentially himself, and he felt that was the way to have an authentic voice for the character. I took that advice – so although Will Crump, my main character, is a historical person, he has elements of myself. Tom’s other comment was that he would never write a book with a female main character, because he didn’t feel he could do that justice. I listened, but I do have major female characters – I had the early manuscript reviewed and got feedback from as many women as I could, to make sure I was on target. One of my best compliments about The Clouds of War came from a female reader who said she doesn’t ordinarily read books by men, because they never get the women right – but she felt I’d nailed it.
What is your target audience and what aspect of your writing do you feel targets that audience?
My target audience is people from twelve to sixty who enjoy history, and a good story. I think my writing gives them something they can apply to their lives today – the theme is reaching across the differences that divide us.
Did the cover evolve the same way, or did you work with someone to make it come together for you?
I had an idea for the cover, just two crossed flags, American and Confederate battle flag. Harper Collins took the idea, and presented me with three different covers to choose from. In keeping with my writing, I presented the covers to my female beta readers, and took a poll – since women are buying most of the books, these days. I went with the results of the poll, and included my local library, who does a regular Facebook feature on covers.
What are you working on now? Can we get a peek, an excerpt?
Aside from marketing Clouds, I’m actually working on three different books and a short story. The main work in progress (WIP) is tentatively titled The Search, book 2 of the Across the Great Divide series – I have a complete draft, and I’m working through edits.
July 1865 Wyoming, Oregon Trail
A high scream of terror echoed from the buttes, coming from over the hill ahead. Will Crump’s heart jumped. He drew his Spencer rifle from the saddle scabbard. Two months traveling had taught him caution. Rather than charge ahead, he urged his quarter horse off the trail, circling to the left. The screaming continued, fading to a repetitive chant. Will didn’t understand the words, but they had a rhythm, and the note of fear in the voice was unmistakable. The chant fell to silence. As he came to the top of the rise, he quickly dismounted, cocking the rifle and levering a round into the chamber. He tied the horse to a scrub tree.
Peering over a boulder, he saw a huge brown bear twenty yards away, up on hind legs. It towered eight feet above the prairie, silvered brown fur and long claws flashing in the sun. The bear huffed several times, sniffing the air, head weaving back and forth. Will had never seen a bear of this size. An Indian woman cowered under a scrub pine, clutching a long knife. The bear crashed down on all four feet. She backed away, putting the trunk of the tree between them. On the ground lay a large six point buck deer. The deer ribs showed claw marks. Blood flowed from the neck. Had the woman surprised the bear with its kill? She waited for the bear’s next move. The massive beast continued to paw at the ground, only a few feet separating bear and woman, with the deer lying between them.
Another WIP is not related to the series, tentatively titled The Angel of Shiloh, about a Civil War nurse. An agent’s comment was “The writing is lovely”, but I’m not sure it’s ready for prime time, and I don’t have a complete draft as yet.
The third WIP is aimed at being more of a middle grade/YA, tentatively titled “Washington’s Drummer Boy”, concerning the White Pine Rebellion and the early Revolutionary War.
Who would you love most to meet ‘in person’ and why?
Aside from Jesus, for obvious reasons, probably Abraham Lincoln, because he had such an impact on our country, and was an amazing, mostly self taught man. He taught himself military tactics, the law, and a great deal of wisdom. He weathered unpopularity, and wasn’t afraid to admit error. When he saw a better idea, he embraced it – like the Spencer rifle. His views on slavery evolved over time, so he was willing to change when shown a better way. It would be interesting to hear his take on our present situation.
Any last words before we wrap things up?
I hope your readers will consider The Clouds of War, but more importantly, that they will reach Across the Great Divide. Our country is strong when we unite, and look for common ground, rather than focusing on the divisions.
If anyone wants a signed copy of The Clouds of War, you can get one by ordering it from Barnes and Noble, 1920 N Rock Rd, Wichita, KS 67206, (316) 315-0421. Shipping is free if you’re a Barnes and Noble Club member.
Also, I’ll be appearing to sign books October 19, 4-8 pm at Barnes and Noble Wichita. Drop by and chat! (I might just do that!)