Ronald E. Yates is a former award-winning foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune and Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the University of Illinois where he was also the Dean of the College of Media.
He is the author of the Finding Billy Battles trilogy the first in a series of novels. The Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles, published in May 2016, is the second book in the series. He is also the author of The Kikkoman Chronicles: A Global Company with A Japanese Soul, published by McGraw-Hill.
Other books 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, China, Southeast Asia, and Central and South 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.
His work as a foreign correspondent resulted in three Pulitzer Prize nominations and several other awards, including the Peter Lisagor Award from the Society of Professional Journalists; The Inter-American Press Association Award for coverage of South America; and three Edward Scott Beck Awards for international reporting.
Yates is a graduate of the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. He lives in Murrieta, California.
What inspires you to write?
I love telling stories. For most of my working life I was a journalist—a foreign correspondent covering war and mayhem all over the planet. Good journalism, like good fiction is telling a compelling story—describing events, places and people in detail with texture and depth. With journalism, I was restricted by the facts, the reality of the event I was covering. With fiction, that is no longer a consideration and I can make up stories, characters, events, etc. as I wish. Having that kind of creative power is what inspires me these days
Tell us about your writing process.
I write from the seat of my pants. I don't outline my books and I don't write down plot scenarios. I just start writing and see where the story and my characters lead me. It's a lot like life itself. We may have a goal in mind, but the route to it is often strewn with obstacles, surprises, and sometimes tragedy. I usually write 3,000 or 4,000 words a day and I edit as I go. In other words, I may write a few paragraphs and then rewrite them within a few minutes of creating them. I don't really write what I would call a “First Draft.” When I finish writing a book it is finished. I may go back and make a few tweaks with the plot here and there, or alter a little dialogue or some action by a character, but there is no second or third draft.
I know some authors who will write a first draft and put it away for weeks or months and then go back and look at it with fresh eyes. Alternatively, they may send it out to professional "beta readers" or "critiquers." Those strategies may work for some people. They don't work for me. I guess it's my journalistic training: see it, report it, organize it, write it and then move on to the next story.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I think Billy Battles, the protagonist in the Finding Billy Battles Trilogy, and I are a lot alike. I mean, aren't most novels a bit autobiographical? He is a restless sort. He enjoys traveling, going to new places and experiencing new things. Like Billy, I couldn't wait to get away from Kansas (though I love the place dearly). And, like Billy, I am a happy wanderer. How else could I have survived and thrived as a foreign correspondent for 25 years? We are both journalists. At the same time, he is a dependable guy who is loyal to his friends and to those he chooses to keep close to him. Above all, Billy respects two traits in people: Honesty and Kindness. We are alike in that way.
There is no doubt, that when Billy speaks, it is my voice that is speaking through him. So far he listens to what I tell him, but incredibly, he still gets into trouble.
Who are your favorite authors?
Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh; The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck; The Quiet American, Graham Greene; The Jewel in the Crown, Paul Scott; Kim, Rudyard Kipling; Huckleberry Finn, Samuel Clemons (Mark Twain); A Passage to India, E.M. Forster; Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser; The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
I have been published both traditionally and via Publishing on Demand. My non-fiction books have been with a traditional publisher (The Kikkoman Chronicles, my journalism textbooks, etc.) When I decided to write fiction, I decided I would publish using POD–things like Createspace, Goodreads, Smashwords, Kindle Direct, etc. I did so because I wanted to have complete control of my story and the way the book looked. I don't regret it.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I think something like 60 per cent of authors today self-publish or use Publish On Demand services. I think that is the direction the publishing world is moving. Having said that, there are a lot of BAD books out there and that is having the effect of diluting the pool of GOOD books readers have access to. I p;redict we will see more and more small publishers taking on writers with requisite skills, helping them with the editing and design processes, and providing some form of marketing. I see this relationship developing as a partnership in order to share both the risks and profits associated with marketing a book and finding readers for it.
What genres do you write?
Action/Adventure, Historical Fiction
What formats are your books in?