Friday, July 30, 2010

Q&A with Tim Wendel

I have a blog tour today with author Tim Wendel featuring his book entitled Red Rain. Tim answered some questions for this tour so the readers can get to know him better. Be sure to check out my other post for information on the book and a giveaway.

Red Rain/Tim Wendel

I was fascinated by the idea of the Japanese balloons. How did you
decide on that as your subject?
When I go to a party, especially in the Washington, D.C. area, where I live, I really listen to what the buzz is about. In a roundabout way, that’s what led me to writing RED RAIN. It was in the last few months of Bill Clinton’s administration and several us were discussing how jaded things had become, how may be it wasn’t best that all the secrets were out, so to speak. That’s when a complete stranger asked if we knew about the best-kept secret of World War II – the Japanese fire balloons. He was with the Smithsonian and he told us a bit about the balloons. How close to 10,000 were launched from Japan. How they started forest fires throughout the West. I couldn’t get the story out of my head and a few days later I was at the National Archives and then the Library of Congress beginning to research the novel.

Describe your research process for this book.
I’m lucky to live near Washington with all of its great research facilities. That said I like to research and write at the same time. I’ve seen some great projects by some friends of mine be researched for years and not much gets down on paper. So, I’ll write and when I hit a dead end or need to really underscore a scene that’s when I’ll hit the library again. Try to figure out what kind of car they were driving. Perhaps what that room would have looked like.

Are any of the characters based on actual people that you know or have
encountered in your life? If yes, why did you think they were
interesting enough to include in your book?
The Neal Starling character is based on several of the guys I fought fires with as a member of a Hot Shot crew in the early 1980s. Away from a fire, we had great debates about politics and such. But on a fire-line, I trusted those guys with my life. If they said, we’re heading in this direction and doing this, my reaction was, OK.

Tell about your publishing process? How long did it take from writing
your book until the time of publication? Was the process a struggle
or was your book picked up quickly by a publisher?
The novel was shopped around for a time and several publishers passed because they couldn’t see the main character, a person of action, being a woman. In fact, one publisher said if I rewrote the Yoshi character as a male lead, they’d give it strong consideration. I couldn’t see that and that’s why I went with Shana Johnson and the good folks at Writers Lair.
Ultimately, I wanted a character that was really torn by the war. Of course, Yoshi is Japanese-American and that portion of the population, especially along the West Coast really had a hard time of it. Too many were driven off their land and relocated to internment camps like Manzanar, which is featured in RED RAIN. Often your best characters have the most at stake. They are really at the crossroads of their lives and even their times. That’s what Yoshi ultimately is.

Favorite books? Favorite authors?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I’ve had the good fortune to study under Richard Ford, Oakley Hall, Carolyn Doty, Alice McDermott, Marita Golden, Margot Livesey, John Casey and Nicholas Delbanco. I’ve learned so much from all of their works. Perhaps I should give you the titles I tend to come back to while teaching my grad-level classes at Johns Hopkins.
Topping the list would THE GREAT GATSBY by Fitzgerald. To me, it’s perhaps the best use of first-person narration. Recently in my fiction workshops, I’ve been assigning WHO WILL RUN THE FROG HOSPITAL? by Lorrie Moore and CITIES OF THE PLAIN by Cormac McCarthy. Two very different works, but both employ similar plotting devices. I love the voice in Bob Dylan’s CHRONICLES. And, finally, I return to Michael Ondaatje’s IN THE SKIN OF A LION every few years. Of course, he wrote THE ENGLISH PATIENT, but I really enjoy this one.

Background info-short bio.
I always enjoyed reading as a kid. My family grew up in the country, between Buffalo and Rochester in Western New York. Of course, this well before cable television and the Internet, so reading was what you had. My parents were big readers and going to the local library was a huge deal. We went every weekend during the winter. Richard Ford, who I’ve had the good fortune to do a workshop with, once said that if you love reading then it’s only natural to try writing yourself. That’s what I started to do by junior high school. I wasn’t particularly good back then. I was a lousy speller, for example. But I worked on several newspapers in college and then after graduation. They were a great proving ground. I covered everything from fires and murders to sports events and concerts. That period really improved my ability to write and do it on deadline. Later on in my career, I wanted to learn more about writing and that first took me to conferences at Squaw Valley and then to do graduate work at Johns Hopkins University.
In total, I’ve published eight books, novels and narrative nonfiction.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What jobs/careers have you
had in your life?
I decided at the age of 15 or 16 that I wanted to be a writer. I haven’t looked back.

What one item can you not live without?
A good book to read and a spiral notebook. You have to be open to the things that come your way. I wrote my first novel, CASTRO’S CURVEBALL, on the D.C. Metro, the local subway here. At the time, I had an intense day job with USA Today. I didn’t have much free time, but I tried to write at least a page in my spiral notebook every day on the Metro going to work. One day I almost didn’t write. It seemed to be pointless. But with my stop only minutes away, I got out my notebook and started to write in a voice that I like to think is more desperate and innocent than my own. I ended up rewriting my first novel in that voice, the voice of Billy Bryan, the washed-up ballplayer in Havana. I’m convinced that if I hadn’t picked up my pen that day, that voice/character would have moved on to some other writer.

What are you working on now? Anything to be published in the near
future? Do you plan on staying within the historical fiction genre?
I’ve also been promoting a new nonfiction release, HIGH HEAT: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE FASTBALL AND THE IMPROBABLE SEARCH FOR THE FASTEST PITCHER OF ALL TIME (Da Capo). That’s been a lot of fun, too.
I just finished a new novel set near Niagara Falls, where I grew up. It’s entitled OVER THE FALLS, and the characters and setting are all somewhat star-crossed. My next project will probably be nonfiction, perhaps set in the 1960s. Things seem so divisive today, so I found myself wondering when were things as or even more divisive. That’s the ’60s for me, so I think there are some lessons and great stories to be found there.

Any guilty pleasures? Such as food, candy, etc.
A bowl of ice cream and sitting in front of the tube to watch the late movie. I’m an old school guy.

Anything else you would like to share.
In closing, I’d urge readers to check out the YouTube book trailers for RED RAIN and HIGH HEAT. These days a writer has to be part promoter, too. Both of these are short and can be found at:
And people can always reach me through my web site,

Thanks for your time, Tim

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