Why did you write The Iron Horse Chronicles? I wanted to write a compelling story, with interesting characters, that would convey to my grandchildren the importance of the building of the first transcontinental railroad. At the time I started writing, my grandchildren were in middle-school. I originally planned to write for their reading enjoyment. By the time the first book reached the publication stage, they were in high-school. As they were growing up, I decided I needed to write a novel that would appeal to readers of all ages. My editor at Five Star Publishing once called the book a cross-over novel; so, maybe I have achieved my objective.
Do you outline before writing? Yes, I prepare a detailed outline. I create a structure for the book using the three standard elements for a novel: beginning, middle, and end. I work hard to find a “hook” for the opening chapter. This starting point changes frequently as the writing progresses. During the outlining phase, I also establish an “inciting incident,” necessary “plot points,” and a “climax with denouement.” I have read numerous writing manuals and have amalgamated those authors’ techniques into a pattern of my own design. The outline, however, is not rigid. The characters take hold of the story sometimes, and we head off in a different direction. Occasionally, my ongoing research dictates a change in order to keep the story close to the historical facts. When any of these changes happen, I rewrite the outline to match the evolving book. But, I always know where the book will end before I begin.
How did you write The Iron Horse Chronicles? The idea for The Iron Horse Chronicles first came to me in 2006 when I was reading Stephen A. Ambrose’s book, Nothing Like It In The World, which is a narrative history of the building of the first transcontinental railroad. I have been a railroad aficionado since I was a boy and built a model railroad, and I have always been a history buff. It occurred to me that this important historical event would appeal more to younger readers if it were fictionalized. My original idea was to write a single, middle-grade novel. It became apparent from my original outline that I could not cram everything into one book—a student wouldn’t be able to lift it. Therefore, the trilogy was chosen as the best vehicle. Over several years, I traveled the route of the railroad from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento, California. I visited all the museums and historical sites along the way. I made sure to stop at the locations about which I planned to write so the scenes I composed would accurately reflect those sites. In the process of doing research, I read over 150 books and perused 300 websites about the railroad, the exploration of the West, the plight of the Indians, contemporary weapons technology, and mid-nineteenth century life in general. Basic research was completed before I started writing, but it continued through all of the years of writing the three books. I developed an accurate timeline and decided my characters had to be present at the more significant events involved in building the railroad. My characters evolved as I outlined the books from 2006 to 2008. The outline for Eagle Talons is 10,000 words, for example. I developed what is known as a “Writer’s Bible” containing timelines, maps, calendars, historical notes, character rosters, historical character biographies, backstory biographies for fictional characters, and other matters I needed to reference quickly while writing. I decided to use the omniscient third-person point of view so I could reveal the thoughts and actions of the three principal characters. I selected fictional character names that are familiar today, but were also common in the nineteenth century. I purposely made the antagonist an Irishman so no one could accuse me of prejudice. My characters were firmly in mind before I put the first words to paper in 2009. By the end of that year, I had finished book one. From 2010 through 2012, 33 agents and publishers rejected the book. In 2013, Five Star Publishing acquired the rights to book one. Five Star specializes in western and frontier fiction, and they are a major provider of books to libraries, public and educational. While marketing book one, I proceeded to write the other two books. Subsequently, Five Star published books two and three.
Have you written any novels other than The Iron Horse Chronicles? Robert recently completed his historical novel, Bozeman Paymaster: A Tale of the Fetterman Massacre. It is currently under consideration for publication. The story tells how on December 21, 1866, near Fort Phil Kearny, in Dakota Territory, the United States Army suffered its worst defeat at the hands of the American Indians until Custer’s Last Stand a decade later. Bozeman Paymaster is the account of Red Cloud’s War as seen through the eyes of a youthful paymaster clerk who falls in love with a young schoolteacher when they are thrown together on the Bozeman Trail. Their future is torn asunder by the Fetterman Massacre.