|Ronda Thompson: New Texas Legend|
Images of Texas loom large in American mythology -- especially the "large" part. The state is big; the men are big; the hats are big. And now, thanks to romance writer Ronda Thompson, even the laughs are big.
Thompson burst on the romance scene last year with the wildly funny Isn't It Romantic? Although released by a small publisher and often difficult to find, romance readers and critics made the book a finalist for the National Readers Choice Award presented by the Romance Writers of America's Oklahoma Chapter. Thompson's 1999 follow-ups Cougar's Woman and Prickly Pear proved she could finesse historical western romance as easily as contemporary humor. In addition, Prickly Pear demonstrated that the screwy screw-ups of love aren't just universal, they're eternal.
Crescent Blues: Your fiction demonstrates all the "larger than life" aspects people associate with Texas. Are you a native?
Ronda Thompson: I was born in Oklahoma but raised in Amarillo. We moved to Texas when I was in the second grade, been here ever since.
Crescent Blues: How has living most of your life in Texas influenced your writing?
Ronda Thompson: I tend to write rough and rowdy books. I live in a rough and rowdy state, so I suppose you could say Texas has influenced my writing, mostly because living here has shaped my personality. I like lots of action, and the history of Texas is everywhere. We don't ride horses down the street -- well, except during parades -- but we still ride horses and there are several working ranches in Texas. I think I've been given an unfair advantage when it comes to writing about Texas. It is one state where history has been kept alive.
Crescent Blues: How has it affected your choice of heroes and heroines?
Ronda Thompson: My heroes and heroines are mostly as I perceive people were in the time period. Camile Cordell in Prickly Pear is a perfect example of how I perceived women in the Texas Panhandle during the 1800s. There weren't many, but the ones that were here were as tough as they come. My heroes are tough too, but underneath the toughness of both heroes and heroines, there is a vulnerability. It's that vulnerability that makes them real.
Crescent Blues: Could you imagine Isn't It Romantic or Prickly Pear set somewhere else?
Ronda Thompson: No. Even though both of my heroes in these books were not originally from Texas, I needed a rough and rowdy setting to pull off the story. Texas is always the setting that comes to mind when I'm looking for rough and rowdy.
Crescent Blues: How would the stories have to change if you changed the locale?
Ronda Thompson: Everything would have changed. The tone. The language. The characters. In others words, you can the writer out of Texas, but you can't take Texas out of the writer.
Crescent Blues: Do you think there is such a thing as a "Texas novel" or "Texas style?"
Ronda Thompson: Yes I do, but I also think you have to be a Texan to completely capture the essence of a Texas novel or a Texas style. We still say things our great-great-grandparents said. We like rodeos and honkey tonks, but we go to the ballet and to Broadway plays when they are brought to us. We worship Garth Brooks and George Straight, but we like the symphony, too. We're very simple people, yet we are very complex. I guess what I'm saying is, it takes one to know one. Oh, and we love clichés. Most of our everyday language is made up of them.
Crescent Blues: Do you consider yourself a regional writer?
Ronda Thompson: I don't see how I could get away with saying I'm not. Prickly Pear is set in the Texas Panhandle, Isn't It Romantic? is set in Dallas and the novel which will be released in May of 2000 is set in a fictitious town not far from Fort Worth. I feel most comfortable when I'm writing about my own backyard, but I don't feel as if I'm limited to only writing about Texas. So I guess the answer is yes... and no.
Crescent Blues: Usually it takes writers, even writers from Texas, a long time to perfect their craft. How long had you been writing before you sold a book?
Ronda Thompson: I'd been writing seven years before I sold my first novel.
Crescent Blues: What jobs have you held on your way to writing glory?
Ronda Thompson: I've had lots of jobs. Lots of them. I've been a bank teller, a grocery store checker, a dog groomer, a mortgage loan processor, a mortgage loan closer, a furniture saleswoman, a bookkeeper, a parks and recreation maintenance crew worker, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some. I am easily bored and need constant new challenges. That sounds better than saying I'm a bad employee.
Crescent Blues: A friend told me to ask you about your "roof scooting days." Would you mind explaining the reference?
Ronda Thompson: Are you referring to dancing, or to the time I was on a roof with my fellow crew members of the Parks Department shingling? I couldn't figure out why the guys didn't sit down and scoot along instead of squatting. They didn't tell me, either. After I'd scooted my butt all over the roof and stood up, I realized the seat to my jeans was missing. They all got a big laugh out of it.
I've done a lot of the other kind of scooting, too. Boot scooting in worn-out jeans. Honkey tonks and Texans just go together. I didn't get married until I turned 28, and I did my share of dancing in honkey tonks up until then. I still like it once in a while, although the kids have mostly taken over everywhere. I'm the only person I know who likes the smell of stale cigarettes and even staler beer.
Crescent Blues: In Isn't It Romantic? your hero endangers life and limb on a mechanical bull. Did you ever ride a mechanical bull?
Ronda Thompson: Yes, I rode a mechanical bull. Not once, but two or three times. The first one I rode was at a rodeo in Clarendon, Texas, in 1974. I hadn't seen one before, and having consumed several bottles of "courage," I climbed on the thing on a dare. I rode it eight seconds on full throttle. The clubs in Texas took to having mechanical bulls at most of the hot night spots, and yes, I rode a couple of times just for the fun of it.
Crescent Blues: While we're on the subject of Isn't It Romantic? how about a washing machine? Did you personally research that scene also?
Ronda Thompson: No, I have never ridden a washing machine. I leave those stunts up to my characters.
Crescent Blues: There's talk that Isn't It Romantic? will soon be made into a movie. When can we expect to see it in the theaters?
Ronda Thompson: I'm not sure when or if a movie of Isn't It Romantic? will be released. I know the book has been adapted to screenplay, and it is currently being shopped around. All I can do is hope.
Crescent Blues: How have your works changed over time?
Ronda Thompson: I hope they have become stronger. The writing more polished and the plotting tighter. Writing is a process, one that any writer worth his or her salt will continue to try to improve upon. Very few writers produce a bestselling novel the first time out. It usually takes years to achieve that goal. And it should be a goal of every writer. It is one of mine.
Crescent Blues: Do you feel your development as a writer is progressing as it should?
Ronda Thompson: Yes, I do believe I am developing and progressing as I should. You know you are progressing when you sell one book, then continue to sell more. You know you are developing when someone says I liked the newest one the best.
Crescent Blues: Are there things that still scare you as a writer?
Ronda Thompson: I used to be terrified that my first sale was somehow a big fluke. I was afraid I would never sell anything else. Now, I've become more realistic about my writing career. I pat myself on the back for setting a goal and achieving it. I realize there are more important things in my life than writing -- my family. If I never sell another book, I can honestly say I gave it my best shot, and I'll find another challenge to undertake. End of one chapter and the beginning of another. That's what life is.
Crescent Blues: After waiting seven years to get your first book accepted, what was your first reaction to "getting the call?"
Ronda Thompson: I couldn't believe it. I probably asked my agent to repeat herself about four times. Then I think I screamed in her ear. After we got off of the phone, I ran outside screaming my husband's name. I screamed for about ten minutes before I realized he wasn't even home from work yet. My father-in-law was in the backyard doing some gardening and looking at me like I must have lost my mind. I ran up to him and gushed out the news. He was very happy, but not happy enough. I needed to tell more people. I went back into the house and proceeded to call everyone I knew, or could get a hold of anyway. I was late picking my kids up from school because I completely forgot about them. It was great. All that I ever imagined it would be, and
it was a high that lasted for a good two weeks straight. The only experience that tops selling your first novel is looking down into the sweet faces of your children after they are first born. That one can't be beat. Not ever.
Crescent Blues: What was different about your reactions when you received word that your second book had sold?
Ronda Thompson: Nothing was different. I still couldn't believe it. I think I still asked my agent to repeat herself at least four times. I think I still screamed in her ear. I still called everyone I knew, but I called my husband first, and I remembered he was at work.
Crescent Blues: We know what has given you your greatest joy. What is your greatest fear?
Ronda Thompson: My greatest fear of all time? I think it's the same one almost everyone has. Fear of death. I don't fear death for myself really. I fear more what will become of my loved ones after I am gone. Which when you think about it, is pretty selfish. People go on to live their lives. Grief is a horrible emotion. I don't like the thought of those I love suffering for my sake. I suppose that is where faith comes in, and it is sad to say, but most of us just don't have enough. I'm going to work on that one.
Crescent Blues: OK, let's turn that question back on its head: what makes you happy?
Ronda Thompson: Simple things make me happy. The smell of rain in the air after a long dry spell. The turning of the leaves in fall. Watching my children getting along. A snowy day when none of us have to get outside, and the pantry is full. Good surprises. Good friends.
Crescent Blues: What kind of surprises? Is there something your readers would be surprised to learn about you?
Ronda Thompson: I think what most people would find surprising about me, is that I was a very introverted child and didn't do well in school. I believe I had dyslexia, although back then, no one recognized learning disabilities. My son is dyslexic and we spotted it in the second grade. He's now in fourth and getting help from the school. It's strange that someone who had as much trouble with words as I did a child would grow up to be a writer.
Crescent Blues: Yet somewhere along the line you fell in love with reading and writing. How did it happen? Was there a particular writer who inspired you?
Ronda Thompson: I began reading Barbara Cartland novels when I was about fourteen or fifteen. I loved them! Couldn't get enough of them! Read two or three a week! I have to say she influenced me the most, because I before I found her, I didn't care much for reading.
Crescent Blues: Are you still addicted to Barbara Cartland?
Ronda Thompson: No, but I still respect her immensely. She is responsible for making me love to read, and I suppose, responsible for making me want to write.
Crescent Blues: Which writers inspire you today?
Ronda Thompson: Any one who makes me laugh or cry or want to be a better writer.
Crescent Blues: Has your dyslexia had any positive or negative impact on your writing?