For this interview, I get the chance to share Michael R. Ritt's story. Although some may consider him a late starter, his stories have made a big impression. Since interviewing Michael, he has gone on to win the 2021 Will Rogers Medallion First Place Award in Western Fiction for his novel "The Son's of Philo Gaines".
It's hard to believe it has been a year since these interviews began.
|Michael R. Ritt|
photo provided by Mr. Ritt
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
As best as I can remember, I started writing when I was a freshman in high school. I wasn’t a “popular” person in school. I wasn’t involved in sports at all. I was more academic, and, being socially awkward, I did a lot of reading. Reading was a way for me to escape to faraway places and have adventures that my own life would never provide me with. Writing was a natural extension of reading. I think anyone who spends all of their time with their nose in a book is either a writer or secretly desires to be a writer. While in school I wrote some short stories, but I mostly wrote poetry and essays.
Did you choose the genre you write in or did it choose you?
This is about as easy to answer as the debate between free will and determinism. I think that my experiences and my environment both collaborated to make me who I am. They helped me to develop a set of values and ideas that are important to me and which inform the writing that I do. Values and ideas such as second chances, family, hard work, independence, personal responsibility, and justice. So, in one sense, I guess that I choose to write Westerns because these are all popular themes in the Western genre. But in another sense, who I am and what’s important to me is a big determining factor in what I write.
I think that it’s interesting that I have a brother who is also an author. He writes under the name of Dean M. King. Although we had the same basic childhood experiences and environment, and we’ve developed almost the same identical set of values, he writes in the horror genre. Maybe that indicates that personal choice is a bigger part of the equation.
What was the nudge that gave you faith that you could and wanted to be published?
I was very fortunate to have made some good friends in the Western writing community who were all very encouraging and very helpful to me when I was trying to get my first short story published. Not the least of these was Brett Cogburn, who is one of my top three favorite contemporary Western authors. Back in 2013, I shared a link with Brett to a story that I had posted online. He read it and saw some potential in me. At the time, he was working on editing a collection of stories for High Hill Press and he worked with me to get a story in shape to be included in the anthology. So, my first story was titled The Conversion of Boze Carter and was included in the anthology Rough Country.
Where did you get the idea for your latest release and tell a bit about the story?
My latest release is my first novel, The Sons of Philo Gaines. It was a finalist for two Peacemaker awards in 2020 – Best First Western Novel, and Best Western Novel. It has also been nominated for a Will Rogers Medallion Award.
It’s the story of three brothers who are the sons of a legendary figure named Philo Gaines. Each brother is as different from the other as can be, but each of them is trying to escape their father’s shadow and become their own man. The eldest is a soft-spoken, socially awkward school teacher. The middle brother is a carefree, easy-going gambler, and the youngest one is a gunman with a highly developed sense of justice but a deep distrust of lawmen. The book is rather uniquely formatted as three interconnected novellas with each brother having his own story. Then, at the end of the book, the three brothers all come together to confront the book's main antagonist.
I got the idea for the book one night as I started to think about what my own three sons would be like if they had lived in the old west. So, each of the brothers in the book is actually based on the qualities and characteristics of my own sons.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I am very much a pantser. Whether I am writing a book or a short story, I usually only have a vague idea of where the plot will go. I like the idea of discovering what my characters are up to as they move the story forward. However, I find this is a very slow process for me and I am trying to be at least a little more organized when I start a new project.
If you had a choice, which is your favorite to write, short stories, novellas, or full-length novels?
Writing a novel is very demanding, and there is a lot of work that goes into it. Before you even start writing, there is research to do. Even if you are writing fiction, you want to be historically accurate with details of clothing, mannerisms, language, and weapons that are mentioned in your book. If you describe places, cities, towns, mountains, rivers; all of these have to be described accurately. If I mention a flower on a cactus in my book, you can be assured that it existed in the location I am writing about, and it was blooming at the time I’m writing about. I even checked astrological calendars to make sure that the moon phase was correct for the day and year that I wrote about.
After the research is the writing and the endless edits. And then, when the book is finally finished and published and, on the shelf, you still have to spend a lot of time in marketing and promoting it.
All of this is to say that I do not have the time to write short stories like I used to, but I will always be a short story writer at heart. I enjoy the challenge of telling a complete story in five thousand to fifteen thousand words, and of creating characters that the reader will connect with when you don’t have the time or space to fully develop them.
Do you write in other genres?
I’m primarily a Western writer, but I will occasionally write in other genres, such as frontier fiction and faith-based fiction (both contemporary and historical). I also write for two blogs that are Western and general historical non-fiction and one faith-based blog.
Are there authors you grew up with or inspired you to take pen to paper?
As far as writing Westerns goes, like many in my generation, I grew up reading Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. Larry McMurtry and Robert B. Parker were also big influences on me.
Personal website link: https://michaelrritt.com/home/