Western Kansas 1860. Billy Battles is born on a remote homestead just off the storied Santa Fe Trail. More than one hundred years later a great-grandson inherits two trunks filled with Billy's personal effects. Also in those trunks are several startling journals that chronicle an astonishing life that until now was obscured by the murky haze of time and Billy's deep-rooted desire for secrecy.
The journals tell of a man both haunted and hunted who, in a desperate search for peace and redemption, journeys far from the untamed American West to the Far East, South America, and Europe. They meticulously describe Billy's interaction with a wide assortment of men and women--some legendary, a few iniquitous, and many lost to history. They also recount his participation in such cataclysmic events as the Spanish-American War, turmoil in French Indochina, and violent revolutions in Mexico and South America.
Complying with Billy's last request the great-grandson assembles the journals into a compelling trilogy that reveals a man often trapped and overwhelmed by circumstances beyond his control, but who nevertheless manages to persevere for ten decades.
From journalist to writer
Not as difficult as some people might think. For one thing, journalists ARE writers. In fact, writing compelling nonfiction is in some ways even more difficult than writing fiction. For one thing, you are constrained by the facts, the people you talk with and the events you cover, whereas authors of fiction are allowed to invent facts, people and events.
Some of the writing I am most proud of are my longer form journalist pieces I wrote for the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine. These are 3,000-5,000 word profiles of people and events and places. For example, I once did a cover piece on Bangkok's Klongs (canals) and the people who live and work along them. I still look at that piece and marvel that I even wrote it.
I consider my 27 years as a journalist the best training ground I could have had for writing fiction. I learned how to gather information, how to organize it and how to write it compellingly. Reporting is the journalist's word for Research. And research is critical to anybody who writes historical fiction--or any fiction for that matter, even science fiction. If you don't have a command of some science, scientific theory, physics, or some other facet of scientific thought when attempting to create an imagined world or universe, your readers will not be able to suspend belief. For one thing, they won't trust you.
As I learned during my life covering war, revolution and other forms of mayhem from S.E. Asia to China to El Salvador and Nicaragua, trust is critical for a journalist. It is a key measure of one's credibility. Without credibility a journalist is nothing more than a hack. Today hundreds of thousands of hacks populate the blogosphere spewing forth whatever they want with little or no credibility to back them up. Many have no idea how to do accurate news gathering and instead grab whatever they can from secondary or tertiary sources to support whatever political agenda they may adhere to or are intent on promoting. That is NOT journalism. That is Hackery.
I think the same can be said for lazy authors who fail to do requisite research for their books. So, for me the transition from journalist to author of fiction was fairly seamless. Granted, writing fiction requires a different form of creativity. You are, after all, creating people, events, places, conflict, etc. from some inner place. In my case, I have attempted to do that creating not only from within, but from my own experiences and interactions with the broad array of both good and bad but always fascinating people I came to know during my days traveling the world for the Chicago Tribune. That is why I call my book a work of "Faction."
About the author:
Ronald E. Yates is a former award-winning foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and Dean Emeritus of the College of Media at the University of Illinois where he was also a Professor of Journalism.
He is the author of Finding Billy Battles, the first in a trilogy of novels published Nov. 2013 and The Kikkoman Chronicles: A Global Company with A Japanese Soul, published by McGraw-Hill. His books also include Aboard The Tokyo Express: A Foreign Correspondent's Journey Through Japan, a collection of columns translated into Japanese, as well as three journalism textbooks: The Journalist's Handbook, International Reporting and Foreign Correspondents, and Business and Financial Reporting in a Global Economy.
Yates lived and worked as a foreign correspondent in Japan, Southeast Asia and Latin America where he covered several major stories including the fall of South Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975, the 1989 Tiananmen Square tragedy in Beijing, and revolutions in Nicaragua, El Salvador an Guatemala. He is a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas.
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