There's a moment as a reader, not often enough felt, when you sigh comfortably and relax, because you know you're in good hands. So you feel this way when you read the books of Russell Rowland. On JBN talented and amazing Russell Rowland discusses his famous and brilliant book - In Open Spaces and his book he works now on "Be A Man", about the effects of growing up in Montana. Also, he talks about his favorite book's characters, his plans, his family... and he gives few important advice to another writer. JBN: I know you are from a fourth-generation Montana's family. Tell please more about yourself... Russell Rowland: I was born in Montana: Bozeman. My dad was a student there when I was born. I grew up pretty much in Montana or in Wyoming. But we moved around a lot. We finally ended up in Billings when I was 12 y.o. I became interested in books when I was in my twenties. I started reading a lot after college. I was studying Music at Pacific Lutheran University and there I started reading a lot. I don't' know why but I just decided to try writing. So I started writing short stories and many of them were rejected. But I really wanted to do it. I just kept writing. When I went through a divorce in late 80s, I joined the navy. I was stationed in Connecticut. There was really good creative writing instructor at Connecticut College which was just up to street from my ship. I took some writing classes from her and I put together enough material to apply to graduate school. I went to graduate school for creative writing in Boston University and that is where I wrote my first book. It is a novel called "In Open Spaces". That novel is really based on our family history. Talk about the early 20th-century ranching family. Took 11 years to get it published. The book received a starred review from the Publishers Weekly. It did it pretty well. I have been fortunate to publish five books now. JBN: What topics are important to you? About what else do you write? Russell Rowland: My second book was actually the sequel to the first one. The first two books were based on my family. But for the third novel, I changed my focus. I had a drinking problem when I was young, and for that book I wanted to write about alcoholism. The story is about an alcoholic who used to play baseball. He moves to Montana to get away from a lot of problems that he created back East and of course, he ends up creating even more problems because he still has drinking issues. He starts to make trouble almost immediately. Eventually, he has to face the original problem that he thought he left behind... So it’s kind of redemption story. It was a hard one to write. And in this book, you can meet one character I like very much. It is three-legged dog named Dave, the only friend of the protagonist. Of course, he is not human so the behavior of that alcoholic man doesn't hurt him as much, he doesn't have to deal with human emotions. And that dog was based on my friend’s pet, whom I really loved. JBN: Do you have another character from your book, about whom you can say it is one of your favorite except that dog? Russell Rowland: There’s a woman, Helen, in the first two novels who is real evil. And she is based on my mom's aunt who was mean but not nearly as mean as this character. I really exaggerated her. She was fun to write because she was so sneaky! She does a lot of really despicable things but she was quite behind the scenes so people can't blame her. JBN: What does your writing routine look like? Russel Rowland: It's varies. It depends on what I’m working on. I don't write every day but I pretty close. I also work with other writers. I try to spend my morning getting my work stuff out of the way so I can write in the afternoon without thinking about what I’m supposed to do. JBN: Which book was the easier and the harder one to write? Russel Rowland: The first was the easiest for some reason. Probably because I didn't really know what I was doing. I was just writing what came in my head. I never really struggle with writing block so I’m pretty lucky that way. The hardest was the last one, which is called "Fifty-Six Counties". I went to every county. It was my first non-fiction books and it was hard because I’m used to just making stuff up and this one had to be factual. I have never been a journalist so I had to learn how to interview people, take notes and all that stuff, which I’ve never really done. It was a challenge but I enjoyed it. JBN: How do you work with another writer? Russell Rowland: A lot of writers hire me to help with their books. I also teach writing workshops online. I have been pretty lucky because a few people I worked with published their books. JBN: Can you please share some advice you usually give to writers? Russell Rowland: The hardest thing, especially when you’re writing fiction, is to learn to develop your own voice. If you write with too much intention to be commercial, of making it salable, it’s not going to be authentic. Some people try too hard write something that can be attractive to the publisher instead of just following their own heart, writing what they really want to write. I try to push people in that direction. And you just have to be persistent, rejection is part of the job. You have to get used to that. JBN: What did your mom say about your novel "In Open Spaces"? Russell Rowland: When you write a book based on your family, it is always little dangerous because some people may take it wrong or take offense. And there were some relatives that didn't like my first couple of books. But my mom loved them. Also, that evil character (the aunt of my mom) helped to reunite my mom with her cousin (the daughter of evil lady). They were the same age, they grow up together and because their mothers didn't get along, they didn’t spend much time together as kids. This cousin ended up reading the book and it bothered her a little that the character that was based on her mom was so evil. But she is pretty amazing women and she understood. She and my mom they really didn't communicate as much as adults, but they got together and they talked about the book. And they become closer since then. JBN: How long did you work on "Fifty-Six Counties" Russell Rowland: I traveled about four months altogether. But it wasn't all at once. I did in different sections. Four different tours in the state - four different parts of the state. And then I spent about two years working on that book. I did a lot of research, I read a lot of the history of Montana. I went to museums, a lot of people I talked to were the volunteer in museums. There is one museum in Montana in Polson. There is this guy who created a museum and he has been running it for about 40 years. He’s in his 80s now. It's the huge building and an amazing collection of random stuff, like tractors and machines, with no real order. Except for few areas that are sort of organized. And this guy has devoted all his life to this place. It is real touching. He talked a lot about how his wife, who is dead now, helped him. And you can tell that her death has affected him - the place was dusty, it just seems that he lost part of his interest after she passed away. JBN: What are you working on now? Russell Rowland: I have two novels finished that I am going to try to publish this next year Arbuckle and The Difference Between Us. Those two are done, but the one I am working on right now is a memoir. So I am writing about my childhood but with a kind of specific theme. I am writing about growing up male in the west. That stereotype that you should be macho and tough, never ask for help. Is called "Be a Man". Because we live in the place what has such a brutal history, and also with this pressure to be self-sustaining and self-reliant, I find it fascinating how that affects people. So, for example, I just lost my uncle a few month ago, he was my godfather, we were really close. And he used to tell a story about how he and his cousin were riding on the ranch one day and they decided to go swimming. They decided to swim in this one reservoir where his father was told them to never swim. His cousin wasn't a good swimmer and he drowned. Of cause my uncle felt horrible, he was only ten. And his cousin was 12. When they found the body all the family and neighbors were gathered at the house. My uncle was crying. And in that moment, the older sister of that drowned cousin sat next to him and said: "You need to stop crying, you’re no helping anyone, you’re just making it worse” He got a message that we are bother to people if we show emotions, and he carried that message through out his life. With the message like that to kids, I am not surprised that we always rank in the top five for suicide. There is a lot of suicide in Montana. And it is mostly men who commit suicide here. We are conditioned here not to bother people with our problems, work them out on your own.
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Russell Rowland: the voice of Montana
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There's a moment as a reader, not often enough felt, when you sigh comfortably and relax, because you know you're in good hands. So you feel this way when you read the books of Russell Rowland. On JBN talented and amazing Russell Rowland discusses his famous and brilliant book - In Open Spaces and his book he works now on "Be A Man", about the effects of growing up in Montana. Also, he talks about his favorite book's characters, his plans, his family... and he gives few important advice to another writer. JBN: I know you are from a fourth-generation Montana's family. Tell please more about yourself... Russell Rowland: I was born in Montana: Bozeman. My dad was a student there when I was born. I grew up pretty much in Montana or in Wyoming. But we moved around a lot. We finally ended up in Billings when I was 12 y.o. I became interested in books when I was in my twenties. I started reading a lot after college. I was studying Music at Pacific Lutheran University and there I started reading a lot. I don't' know why but I just decided to try writing. So I started writing short stories and many of them were rejected. But I really wanted to do it. I just kept writing. When I went through a divorce in late 80s, I joined the navy. I was stationed in Connecticut. There was really good creative writing instructor at Connecticut College which was just up to street from my ship. I took some writing classes from her and I put together enough material to apply to graduate school. I went to graduate school for creative writing in Boston University and that is where I wrote my first book. It is a novel called "In Open Spaces". That novel is really based on our family history. Talk about the early 20th-century ranching family. Took 11 years to get it published. The book received a starred review from the Publishers Weekly. It did it pretty well. I have been fortunate to publish five books now. JBN: What topics are important to you? About what else do you write? R u s s e l l Rowland: My second book was actually the sequel to the first one. The first two books were based on my family. But for the third novel, I changed my focus. I had a d r i n k i n g problem when I was young, and for that book I wanted to write a b o u t alcoholism. The story is about an alcoholic who used to play baseball. He moves to Montana to get away from a lot of problems that he created back East and of course, he ends up creating even more problems because he still has drinking issues. He starts to make trouble almost immediately. Eventually, he has to face the original problem that he thought he left behind... So it’s kind of redemption story. It was a hard one to write. And in this book, you can meet one character I like very much. It is three-legged dog named Dave, the only friend of the protagonist. Of course, he is not human so the behavior of that alcoholic man doesn't hurt him as much, he doesn't have to deal with human emotions. And that dog was based on my friend’s pet, whom I really loved. JBN: Do you have another character from your book, about whom you can say it is one of your favorite except that dog? Russell Rowland: There’s a woman, Helen, in the first two novels who is real evil. And she is based on my mom's aunt who was mean but not nearly as mean as this character. I really exaggerated her. She was fun to write because she was so sneaky! She does a lot of really despicable things but she was quite behind the scenes so people can't blame her. JBN: What does your writing routine look like? Russel Rowland: It's varies. It depends on what I’m working on. I don't write every day but I pretty close. I also work with other writers. I try to spend my morning getting my work stuff out of the way so I can write in the afternoon without thinking about what I’m supposed to do. JBN: Which book was the easier and the harder one to write? Russel Rowland: The first was the easiest for some reason. Probably because I didn't really know what I was doing. I was just writing what came in my head. I never really struggle with writing block so I’m pretty lucky that way. The hardest was the last one, which is called "Fifty-Six Counties". I went to every county. It was my first non-fiction books and it was hard because I’m used to just making stuff up and this one had to be factual. I have never been a journalist so I had to learn how to interview people, take notes and all that stuff, which I’ve never really done. It was a challenge but I enjoyed it. JBN: How do you work with another writer? Russell Rowland: A lot of writers hire me to help with their books. I also teach writing workshops online. I have been pretty lucky because a few people I worked with published their books. JBN: Can you please share some advice you usually give to writers? Russell Rowland: The hardest thing, especially when you’re writing fiction, is to learn to develop your own voice. If you write with too much intention to be commercial, of making it salable, it’s not going to be authentic. Some people try too hard write something that can be attractive to the publisher instead of just following their own heart, writing what they really want to write. I try to push people in that direction. And you just have to be persistent, rejection is part of the job. You have to get used to that. JBN: What did your mom say about your novel "In Open Spaces"? Russell Rowland: When you write a book based on your family, it is always little dangerous because some people may take it wrong or take offense. And there were some relatives that didn't like my first couple of books. But my mom loved them. Also, that evil character (the aunt of my mom) helped to reunite my mom with her cousin (the daughter of evil lady). They were the same age, they grow up together and because their mothers didn't get along, they didn’t spend much time together as kids. This cousin ended up reading the book and it bothered her a little that the character that was based on her mom was so evil. But she is pretty amazing women and she understood. She and my mom they really didn't communicate as much as adults, but they got together and they talked about the book. And they become closer since then. JBN: How long did you work on "Fifty-Six Counties" Russell Rowland: I traveled about four months altogether. But it wasn't all at once. I did in different sections. Four different tours in the state - four different parts of the state. And then I spent about two years working on that book. I did a lot of research, I read a lot of the history of Montana. I went to museums, a lot of people I talked to were the volunteer in museums. There is one museum in Montana in Polson. There is this guy who created a museum and he has been running it for about 40 years. He’s in his 80s now. It's the huge building and an amazing collection of random stuff, like tractors and machines, with no real order. Except for few areas that are sort of organized. And this guy has devoted all his life to this place. It is real touching. He talked a lot about how his wife, who is dead now, helped him. And you can tell that her death has affected him - the place was dusty, it just seems that he lost part of his interest after she passed away. JBN: What are you working on now? Russell Rowland: I have two novels finished that I am going to try to publish this next year Arbuckle and The Difference Between Us. Those two are done, but the one I am working on right now is a memoir. So I am writing about my childhood but with a kind of specific theme. I am writing about growing up male in the west. That stereotype that you should be macho and tough, never ask for help. Is called "Be a Man". Because we live in the place what has such a brutal history, and also with this pressure to be self- sustaining and self-reliant, I find it fascinating how that affects people. So, for example, I just lost my uncle a few month ago, he was my godfather, we were really close. And he used to tell a story about how he and his cousin were riding on the ranch one day and they decided to go swimming. They decided to swim in this one reservoir where his father was told them to never swim. His cousin wasn't a good swimmer and he drowned. Of cause my uncle felt horrible, he was only ten. And his cousin was 12. When they found the body all the family and neighbors were gathered at the house. My uncle was crying. And in that moment, the older sister of that drowned cousin sat next to him and said: "You need to stop crying, you’re no helping anyone, you’re just making it worse” He got a message that we are bother to people if we show emotions, and he carried that message through out his life. With the message like that to kids, I am not surprised that we always rank in the top five for suicide. There is a lot of suicide in Montana. And it is mostly men who commit suicide here. We are conditioned here not to bother people with our problems, work them out on your own.
Johnson’s Billings News
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Russell Rowland: the voice of Montana