Today, I present an interview with Rollan Wengert, author of a number of Caveat Ties, Soul Shocked, and the upcoming Zaide.
1. First, tell me a bit about yourself. What would you like readers to know about you?
I live in Tea, SD with my wife, Maria, and three rowdy boys (and a foreign exchange student for much of the year). I currently work at a boys residential treatment facility, but have always been passionate about writing. As a kid, I spent hours in my room typing stories. Stories of all kinds. Stories that were never finished. Then, I grew up. Hints flowed, that maybe, I ought to choose a ‘realistic’ career path. So, I did what any confused teen would do: joined the army. Four Army and another four college years later, he began writing again. I eventually self-published two novels: Caveat Ties and Soul Shocked. And I have another one coming out on January 27th, Zaide Mozart’s Lost Opera. I’ve been getting good reception with this novel, including an endorsement from Isaac Selya, conductor of Queen City Opera in Cincinnati. I’m excited for it to come out.
2. Can you tell me about your current project, Zaide? What drew to the work of Mozart?
Yes. Zaide is an opera Mozart began at a dark place in his life. His mother died, he failed to find employment, and his love dumped him. I was drawn to the opera after hearing a beautiful aria (Ruhe Sanft). When I first heard it, I had to know its context. Then, I learned that is came from an opera he had never finished, and this song was never performed in his lifetime. A bit depressing. It made me wonder how many other works of art have been set aside by their creators, only to never be discovered. Lucky, for us, Mozart’s wife kept the songs from Zaide. And, as I researched it, I discovered this opera speaks perfectly to Young Adults, and I wanted them to discover it. Sure, I could simply tell them to go watch it somewhere, not sure many would actually do it, so I thought, why not turn it into a novel.
What drew me to Mozart in general? When I was first digging deep into my writing, I wanted some background music while I wrote, but I didn’t want anything with words. After the birth of our first son, we’d been given a Mozart CD. I listened to it while writing, as I listened deeply, I began to hear an emotional complexity most songs don’t carry. And, the more songs I discovered, the more I could sense this man was a genius of unspeakable talent… In spite of being kind of an awkward social personality….
3. Your books seem to cover a variety of genres and subjects. What drives your desire to write in these different areas?
I tend to be a man of concepts. I love ideas. I strive to do things different. So many different ideas pop into my head, and I tell myself that would make a great story. In turn, I stew over the best way to tell it (or, the way I believe would be the best way to tell it.) Many times, this incorporates elements from various genres, and often leaves my stories hard to categorize. In addition, I tend to hear the ‘shouldn’t’ rules of storytelling, and say, “How can I make that work?” Whether it works or not… We’ll see if my experimentation has staying power.
4. Where do you find inspiration for the stories you create?
My head is just full of ideas… I don’t really have a good answer as to where they come from.
5. How do you feel you’ve evolved as a writer as you’ve progressed in your career?
Ernest Hemingway once said that most of what he writes is crap (he used a harsher word). I’ve learned to let myself understand that. Yes, sure sometimes I have to write something, because it needs to be done. But, I’ve also learned to be honest with myself, and say “this is no good.” (Perhaps, I’m overly critical…) And, either start over, or go on to a different project. Thus, I’ve got gobs of unfinished novels and shorts stories sitting in my drives. Perhaps, I’ve abandoned some before I should have. Sure, some of these projects I do plan on coming back to, because I think I’ve gained some skills to bring them where they need to be. This is not to say, I’ve somehow arrived, but I do see that I have improved.
6. Do you have a process for developing your characters?
I don’t really have process. Sometimes, I try a bit of method writing, where I act as if I am the character. Or, at times, I try to think of someone I know from real life who is similar to the character, and ask myself what this person would do in certain situations.
7. How did you discover your love of writing?
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. But hints that I should find a real job, led me to the Army. My writing passion faded, until I went to college, where professors told me I was pretty good at writing. This passion was reinvigorated in me. So, I began striking the keys. All-in-all, I’ve got pretty eclectic interests (which is a good trait to have if one want to be a writer), and could see myself doing a number of jobs as a career, but the only job I’ve ever truly wanted is to be a novelist.
8. What is your favorite part of being a writer?
Exploring ideas. I love ideas. I love seeing where thoughts will take me, and love it when they take me amazing places I hadn’t expected.
9. What is your greatest challenge as a writer?
Discipline. Just hunkering down to knock out the meat of the writing. Sure, it’s fun to quickly spew out ideas, but to fill in every paragraph, and clean up sentence structure… That takes work to get myself to do. In addition, I’m horrid at finding obvious mistakes in my own writing. I keep reading words as they’re supposed to be instead as they actually are.
10. How do you find inspiration and motivation to write when you feel stuck?
From time to time, I’ll slap myself (sort of kidding). Other times, I’ll focus on certain music (usually Mozart). Or, at times I will read a bad book or watch critics tear apart a terrible movie. I don’t know if it is very nice, but sometimes I arrogantly tell myself, “If those writers can be successful doing it, why can’t I?” It kind of makes me want to fight for my writing.
11. What’s your favorite way to take a break from writing?
I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube critics lately, perhaps too many. I also love playing board games. And, good old manly construction and woodworking projects often stir out some good thinking.
12. What’s one piece of advice that you would give to aspiring or new authors?
As I’ve read author upon author, many of whom offer contradictory advice, there is only one piece of consistent information I have gleaned. READ a lot and WRITE a lot. No other bit of advice have I ever found that has been more helpful than these two steps.
To learn more about Rollan and his work, you can check out the places below: