Author Interview: Ross Goldstein, a 2011 success story

In one of my clients’ biggest success stories of 2011, Mill Valley writer Ross Goldstein landed a film deal for his first novel, Chain Reaction, with Paloma Productions. I learned the news last month, and am delighted to share this interview with all you writers out there who are asking yourself if a well-written novel can truly find success if you self-publish it. Ross’s story is living proof.

When I read the manuscript in 2010, I expected him to find an agent right away. The agents he queried told him that nobody in publishing wanted sports stories. (Funny thing is, I keep seeing The Art of Fielding, a baseball novel, on this year’s bestseller lists. Baseball is a sport, right?) Furthermore, they were sure as heck nobody wanted to publish a cycling story, what with the seemingly endless cloud that hangs over the sport.

His novel is about proving people wrong. And in a wonderfully meta tale of publishing and self-belief, Ross is living out the same kind of story as his protagonist.

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Click to see book on Amazon

Tell us about Chain Reaction. What’s the hook, even for readers who may not be cyclists?

Chain Reaction started as a cycling story. As I wrote it evolved to encompass themes and issues that extended beyond the world of cycling. The hook, I believe, is the story of one young man’s efforts to come to grips with his dreams, his history, his decisions, and his acceptance of himself.

Chain Reaction is your first novel. You have an innate sense of story–the novel is full of heart and heroism. What helped you develop your sense of what makes a good story (or a good hero, for that matter)?

The two elements for me are character and narrative. I started by creating real and textured characters. Authenticity was important to me. I wanted them to be icons, but not clichés. Once the characters were developed, there were a few set pieces for the narrative that I had in my mind…the general flow of the story. But the truth is that at some point, fairly early after I came to know the characters, the characters themselves actually guided a lot of the story. I once heard Calum McCann speak about the willingness to “lose oneself” in the process of writing a story. I definitely experienced this. There were times when the characters did or said things that came as a surprise to me. The characters took control of the narrative.

When I read the novel, I was interested in Cal’s two sources of motivation: He loves Daniella and wants to impress her; and he wants to put Rocco in his place. One is positive, and one is negative. Which kind of motivation do you believe makes a competitor (either in cycling or writing) dig the deepest to succeed?

There is a sweet satisfaction to crushing a rival, no doubt. But, the satisfaction of beating someone is insignificant to the satisfaction of achieving a personal goal or aspiration. The former may taste delicious at the time, but the latter is much more nutritious. Anger and revenge cause you to burn too hot…the passion to defeat someone else can be intense but destructive. After all, even if you beat someone but don’t perform to your best level, what have you really accomplished?

You were a competitive cyclist, and still love the sport. Do you think a writer has to experience something firsthand in order to write well about it?

To write about it, no. To write well about it, yes. When my cycling friends, old racing buddies, told me that I had captured the essence, the feel, the authenticity of the race…the camaraderie of the peloton for example, that was some of the best feedback I got. Now, Chain Reaction isn’t only about cycling. When non-cyclists told me that they appreciated the love story or the father-son conflict, that was also gratifying.

What advice would you offer other writers who know they have a good manuscript in their hands, but can’t seem to attract the right people’s attention in the publishing industry?

I wish I had an easy answer to that one. Don’t give up is the first thing that comes to mind. I queried over a hundred agents before I got a bite. And that only came because a friend of a friend gave it to her. She liked it. Up to that point, getting a reading was virtually impossible. Agents are overwhelmed and use shorthand logic to expedite things. Chain Reaction? All of the agents told me that they weren’t interested in a “cycling story.” That was hard to take because I knew there was so much more to it.

A second piece of advice is to gird yourself for the rejection that is going to come. You can’t take it personally, as absurd as that sounds. After all, your work is a representation of who you are. That said, understand that the process has a rhyme and reason of its own. It is designed to cut things out, not include things. There are times when you will question yourself. That comes with the territory. Maybe that is a good thing. If you don’t test yourself, then you haven’t really earned the right to ask others to read what you write.

What are you working on next?

Funny question. That’s what my agent keeps asking. She makes the point that the people she is selling me to are “more interested in the ‘jockey’ than the ‘horse.’” That is, they want to connect with an author, not just buy a property.

Following the blueprint of Chain Reaction, I am doing a lot of thinking right now that will go into the construction of a character that is interesting enough for me to spend the next year, at least, with. Maybe I’ll write something about a sixty-something guy who writes a novel and manages to sell it to the movie industry.

Is there any question you hoped I would ask? 

Just this one, what was the contribution or role of the editor in the process? My answer is that the editor helped me with everything from concept to execution, but the most important thing that she demanded of me was character development. It wasn’t just the mechanics of writing, or even the process of story telling, it was the insistence and guidance in providing a gritty reality to my characters and the encouragement to give even the second level characters a story of their own.

Thanks, Ross! Be sure to check out Ross’s website at http://chainreactionnovel.com/ for more about the book and news of its progress toward the big screen.

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