About Ross Ponderson:
Ross Ponderson is a retired IT guy who spends far too many hours writing things on computers for the pure self-satisfaction of seeing them onscreen. Now, instead of writing programming code, he is writing actual English words in the hope that millions of people will enjoy reading them. He enjoys writing (of course), reading, railroading, history, surfing (the web, that is), museums of any kind, 1970’s music, wishing he had become a professional musician (much to the dismay of his weary keyboard), and strolling through the local malls. He ALWAYS brakes for book emporiums and music stores. “Child of Privilege” is his first novel; hopefully many more will follow.
What inspires you to write?
I won’t try to kid anyone. Let’s cover the obvious stuff first: fat royalty checks, fat movie rights checks, fat advance checks for novels I haven’t even written yet, fame, radio and television interviews, book signings, movie adaptations, leverage with agents and publishing houses, and the hope of earning a comfortable living doing something I enjoy.
Now, on to a loftier plane. I’ve been writing (in one form or another) since childhood when my parents bought me my very own toy typewriter for Christmas. Frankly, my mother tired of continually sending her real machine out to be repaired after I’d manhandled it. I would scour the newspaper for a handful of news and sports stories (and throw in recaps of neighborhood softball games) and pound out (literally) my little household daily using carbon paper. Thankfully, my family and our closest neighbors were very forgiving people.
Then I graduated to contributing columns to a number of homegrown hobby newsletters I subscribed to at that time. I did frequent humor columns because I enjoy making people laugh. Next were short stories for a number of literary and “little” magazines whose kindhearted editors delighted in showcasing new writers. After several unpublished (and deservedly so) novels came “Child of Privilege.”
Writing for me is an outlet for a creative urge I’ll never completely fathom. I honestly don’t know where it comes from. While it may occasionally go dormant, it has never completely deserted me. I simply enjoy conveying thoughts and ideas via the written word. Even in dark times, I know I can escape for a little while and feel better by simply firing up my computer and writing something … anything. Afterward, I’m tired but exhilarated. I hope my writing drive never stops … because it feels too damn good.
Tell us about your writing process.
I guess I’m both an outliner and “seat of the pantser.” I’m not comfortable working without a plan or a map. Before writing word one, I’ll already have a fairly detailed chapter outline of the entire novel, along with thumbnail sketches of the current characters. The outline and sketches are very fluid, of course, but I find them useful in cultivating the relationship between the principal storyline and the subplots.
Before I’ll even power up the computer on any given day, I’ll already have a precise map of which characters I’ll be working with, where I plan to go with them, and how I’ll get them there. I must add here that spontaneous things (sudden inspirations, random ideas, “aha” moments, and “what-ifs”) frequently occur during a writing session. That’s probably true for most writers. If I’m lucky enough to receive a message from my muse, of course I’ll ride it, get it into the file, and sweat the details later. Some of the best chapters in “Child of Privilege” were not part of the original master outline. Then there are the munchie breaks: iced tea and unsalted pretzels. Inspiration needs fuel, doesn’t it?
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
Absolutely. I work hard to get acquainted with them. Let’s face it: if I don’t know my characters, how can I convey their unique personalities to my readers? Whenever I was stuck on a dialogue-heavy scene in “Child of Privilege,” I would literally act out the scene in my living room, playing each character, and scribbling down dialogue as I went. While I didn’t blackmail anyone, beat anyone, or run away from home … well, you get the idea.
As the writing progressed, I also found myself casting well-known actors or actresses in each part. That enabled me to develop mental “mug shots” of my characters, giving them faces as well as names and personalities. I think that enhanced their depth and resonance. At least, I hope it turned out that way.
What advice would you give other writers?
While I am by no means qualified to teach creative writing, I can pass along a few guidelines that I’ve found useful.
Keep your story lines believable. While plot twists and turns are essential to an engaging story, don’t rely too heavily on coincidences and “deus ex machina.” Certain genres (such as sci-fi and fantasy) do allow more latitude because you’re literally designing your own universe. But I’ve found “keep it real” to be a good overall rule.
Paint your characters with broad strokes. Give each one a unique palette of speech patterns, reactions, tendencies, beliefs, emotions, and streams of thought. Characters with similar looks, dialects, thoughts, and reactions quickly become boring to the reader. I tried to paint each character in “Child of Privilege” with a fresh canvas, taking each to his/her credible limit. Richard Van Werner was incomprehensibly evil. Dana was a sweetly lovable “girl next door” any man (myself included) could happily bring home to meet the folks. Maggie was a victim of her own compromises (“window dressing” as Richard snidely described her) resigned to abuse and beatings in exchange for her high society lifestyle. Angelo Saranello was a leg-breaker with a conscience. The Reavis Macklin character was simply a vulgar, hormone-driven reptile. Creating major differences in your characters adds spice to the overall story. As they say in Texas, make ’em “larger than life.”
Take your characters out of their comfort zones. Make them react; make them sweat; make them experience fear, doubt, and panic. Place them into situations they are unprepared to handle. Forcing them to grow within their story lines gives them depth and scope. Your overall story will likely benefit.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
When the novel was “finished” in 1997, I began shopping it to houses and agents large and small. The response was unanimous: no, thanks. To add insult to injury, I lost a considerable sum of money (“miscellaneous expenses” was the term used) to an agent whom I never heard from again. In utter disgust, I tossed the manuscript into a closet and forgot about it for nearly two decades. I happened to stumble across KDP in June of 2014. I saw self-publishing my novel as an eBook (as opposed to vanity publishing) as perhaps my final opportunity to present it to the reading audience to succeed or fail on its own merits. After nearly three months of rewrites and polishing, I sent my “Child” out into the world. Now it’s up to the readers.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I don’t think the publishing of novels will ever die as a concept, but only heaven knows how the conduit between author and reader will evolve in the coming years.
Until recently, the world’s bookshelf was nearly inaccessible without an agent and publishing company behind you. Remember the old axiom about necessity being the mother of invention? Behold … KDP. Perhaps some thrilling new technology will emerge in the not-too-distant future and doom KDP itself, providing a more robust platform for the entrepreneurial author to directly interact with potential readers. Who knows?
Decades ago, who could’ve predicted Kindles and Nooks? Who could’ve anticipated tablets? Or KDP? Who could’ve foreseen cellular phones capable of storing and displaying multiple novels for portable, comfortable reading? I can remember when cell phones could only be hard-wired into motor vehicles and were notoriously unreliable.
Maybe those newfangled Google goggles will be the next wave. Slip them on and read an entire novel out of the corner of your eye while going about your business. No Kindle, no Nook, no cell phone, and no tablet; wired reading for a wired world.
Someday, the airlines might integrate eBook readers into the seatback viewers of commercial airliners. Stuck on the runway for hours? No problem. Slide your credit or debit card through and order a copy of “Child of Privilege” to while away the delay with a compelling read. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)
I think there will always be storytellers and receptive audiences to read and enjoy their stories. The question of how they will reach each other–and the form in which the merchandise will be delivered–could stymie even the vision of the legendary Gene Roddenberry. How about reading your newest favorite novel via a Vulcan mind-meld? Paging Mr. Spock….
What genres do you write?: Adult Contemporary Romance, Women’s Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Literary Fiction
What formats are your books in?: eBook
Link To Ross Ponderson Page On Amazon