Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Ron Singerton, author of A Cherry Blossom in Winter
FQ: Even if it was not known from your biography, readers can tell immediately that historical research is a slight obsession of yours. Where and when did that love come into play? In addition, are you a traveler at heart, or do these ideas, these certain moments in history, just come upon you out of the blue and make you want to research and then write about them?
SINGERTON: Answer: I was a history major at Cal State University Long Beach many years ago but even as a youth as far back as elementary school I steeped myself in reading about ancient adventures and such epic writing such as Winston Churchill’s “The Gathering Storm” and “Triumph and Tragedy.”
Travel to foreign lands broadens one’s perspective and appreciation of other cultures, so I was able to develop some understanding of Japan, which became so important in writing Cherry Blossom when I was stationed there with the U.S. Army in the late 1960’s. Since that time, I have visited St. Petersburg, Russia (also vitally important to the novel) as well as the U.K., the Baltics and Eastern Europe.
When searching for a time period to write about, whether it’s the ancient world or a period closer to our own time, I look for settings and events of unique and critical importance rarely traveled in historical fiction. Then my fictional characters are allowed to play out their roles as the historical elements churn about them adding elemental crisis to their lives.
FQ: You have written stand-alone books as well as series fiction. Can you speak a bit about the positives and negatives that go with both forms? Do you find it palette-cleansing or necessary to break away from a series to write a stand-alone, or do you stay with that particular “moment in time” until the end before taking on another project?
SINGERTON: There is a particular value in writing a series when having memorable characters and a story line that easily leads seamlessly from one period of time to a contiguous one or one that is generational. Villa of Deceit and its sequel, The Silk and the Sword are representative of the latter in which my fictitious lead character, Gaius, an ancient Roman centurion in Villa dragoons his son into an historically epic adventure in Silk and the Sword. My third novel, A Cherry Blossom in Winter, takes place during the Russo Japanese war of 1904-5. The sequel to that continues the family’s story as brother fights brother on opposing sides during World War II, the working title is The Talons of the Eagles.
However, I did visit Cornwall, England for research for a stand-alone murder mystery novel that I look forward to writing when, like in my previous books, need a new vista for a story. So yes, a truly compelling story must be allowed to play itself out to its ultimate conclusion.
FQ: Your character in this book, Alexei, has amazing skill when it comes to the saber. I believe this is a particular talent you have, as well. Can you speak about what first brought you to want to learn that craft? As well as speak about the reenactments you are part of.
SINGERTON: My father was a fencing master and I, having an historical and romantic inclination, found the saber to be an exciting sport in which speed and agility can determine the outcome of a match in the blink of an eye. Of course, the fencing saber, as mentioned in Cherry Blossom was the practice weapon for the military saber during earlier centuries.
For a number of years, I was a Civil War reenactor with Union cavalry (I heard the sound of the guns and was drawn in as if I had lived at that time) and the saber as a weapon was of particular importance in that conflict since a horseman might expend his six pistol rounds very quickly and be forced to either leave the field of action or draw that saber.
FQ: Is there a particular period or civilization that is now gone that you would like to study or focus on for a new novel? Is there a certain subject (s) that you crave to learn more about and bring back to life the people and cultures that once “stood” in that location?
SINGERTON: There was a period of time during graduate years when I thought of becoming an archaeologist. Like so many others upon visiting an ancient site, be it Anasazi or the city of Samarkand, I truly wonder how people lived and thought. Perhaps someday I might visit and write about now forgotten cities and empires on the fabled Silk Road, many having vanished during the Mongol conquest or simply covered by the sands of time. I did explore this great trading route as it wound past the Taklamakan Desert (meaning the one you go in and never come out) and the Pamir Mountains in The Silk and the Sword. And indeed, there are stories to be told whenever great winds uncover the gold embossed sarcophagus of a long dead princess who might have attempted to journey the road between East and West.
FQ: Moving into more modern times...as an author in this age of social media madness, can you talk a bit about the difficulties with marketing in this day and age, as well as what aspects you particularly like about the social media/marketing process?
SINGERTON: Marketing a book in years gone by was almost entirely the responsibility of the publisher. Not so today. Whether one is self-published or, as in my case, has an excellent and professional publisher (Penmore Press, Tucson), the weight of marketing has progressively fallen upon the author. Once the creative writing process is complete, the book becomes a product which (to the disdain of “THE AUTHOR”) who only wants to put quill to paper and fantasize about being another Tolstoy or Faulkner.
And though marketing will take time away from writing the next great American Novel, it can be enjoyable if one likes to speak to literary groups, or explore sales possibilities on social media such as the Feathered Quill. A discussion of the book on NPR (which I have so humbly suggested) as well as newspaper interviews might be quite rewarding in bringing the work to a far greater audience than simply being placed on a store bookshelf for ninety days, unless of course, it is a best-seller. Or it becomes a film and I am having a “treatment” and script of Cherry Blossom being prepared for a possible TV or feature film. We can all dream.
FQ: A great many historical authors are also movie buffs. Is this one of your likes? If so, is there a particular historical classic, perhaps, that you love watching? And one that after all your research, you wish would have been done differently?
SINGERTON: I gravitate to films of historical content like a moth to the flame. But as an author and necessarily a researcher of historical material I find myself quite critical of films that either attempt to save money by altering history (in Braveheart the epic battle was fought on Sterling Bridge, not an open field) or where costumes or warships are of the wrong period.
I can’t count how many times I watched Masters and Commanders on the Far Side of the World or Dr. Zhivago, one of the finest historical films ever made. Often bias and point of view have determined the way we see previous periods whether in Plutarch’s Lives or revisiting events as close as World War II or Vietnam. Gone with the Wind written nearly eighty years ago, just like the original Birth of a Nation, is a horrifically biased and warped illustration of the Civil War. Revisionism is a tool that posits a period of time to the social and political desires of a later period, often warping the image of that particular time in a very skewered light. Thus, the real challenge to a writer of historical material is to erase the board of revisionist impulses and investigate life as it truly was, not through moral values or precepts of the Twenty First Century.
FQ: Is there a particular book of yours you would love to see on the screen? Who would be your choice to play the lead? Personally, I think Alexei and his tale would make a great flick.
SINGERTON: I can’t agree with you more! A sweeping epic film or even a series taking place in decadent St. Petersburg, militaristic Japan and finally in the decisive and disastrous battle of Tsushima in which the entire Russian navy is destroyed, would, along with the entwined lives of Alexei and his love, Kimi-san, would make a most compelling film. And the previous book, The “Silk and the Sword” takes the reader on an epic journey of survival from Rome to the Great Wall of China. (And yes, Roman survivors of the Battle of Carrhae, 53 B.C.E., did march to the Wall where they lived out the remainder of their lives).
There are so many fine actors who could play Alexei. Perhaps John Bowe of Poldark or Jake Gyllenhaal, James McAvoy, Ben Affleck or Benedict Cumberbatch. Are any of them listening?
FQ: It would be a thrill to hear about a “Day of Writing” in the life of Ron Singerton. Can you tell us-and all the other wannabe authors out there-what gets the imagination flowing and how you go about putting it all together?
SINGERTON: There is nothing like a long walk on a virtually deserted beach or through a wind-tossed mountain glade as the sun comes up (and a sliver of moon is still high) to conjure up images of half-maddened warriors on charging steeds a thousand years ago. I think the mind has to be devoid of all the mundane things we have to do each day. Do your research, find those unsung epics upon which history turned and let your mind wander the close winding paths and broad fields where lives carved themselves in the stones of time. Can one imagine a Roman legion looking down with mystified horror of one million Visigoths, driven by the Huns, about to force their way into the ancient world’s greatest civilization? What does your hero, a legionnaire in the first rank, the most vulnerable think, and will he live to see the sun go down?
Sitting on my veranda with the aid of a black Russian, the terror of my legionnaire as he tears back to the consuls and Senate is the stuff that makes me get up at four in the morning, turn on the light, and frantically scribble lines that I hope I can read come dawn. But it takes writing, rewriting and even a good listener to put it all together so coherent, so exciting, that the reader cannot wait to turn the page. That is what it is all about.
FQ: On a personal note can you tell readers a bit about your gallery, and what types of art you create?
SINGERTON: My wife, Darla, and I owned and operated a gallery in Idyllwild California, a small mountain community about thirty minutes west of Palm Springs, California, for eight years. She did exquisite jewelry and I did bronze, stone, ceramic, glass and paintings, both representative and abstract. Although we closed the gallery last November, I still do commission work, mostly painting and stone. Some of the work can be seen on my website: www.ronsingerton.com.
Since closing the gallery, I have really been concentrating on writing and the marketing that goes with it. If however, a film enters the picture, I will have a whole new world opening up. Not a bad thing at seventy-five. As we said in the army, “Fix Bayonets!”
FQ: What’s next up for readers to look forward to?
SINGERTON: I am into chapter eight of some forty chapters of The Talons of the Eagles and hope to finish the first draft in about eight months. Although I do a rather thorough read through twenty or so non-fiction histories of the Second World War both in the Pacific and Japan, I engage in specific research for each chapter. If I get it wrong, somebody out there will most assuredly will know! But of course, just like in a court of law, you have “experts” who have written about such things as the Battle of the Coral Sea, who have different impressions, biases and points of view. It is up to the author to wade through those and determine which is most credible, while working it into the loves, fears, lusts and hopes of the characters you determine will people your novel.