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Interview with John Rhodes, March 11, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with John Rhodes, March 11, 2008
Date:
March 11, 2008
Description:
John Rhodes is the author of four novels, including Who Killed Calloway and Hank's Idea. In this interview he discusses his background, his writing process, and the benefits of self-publishing through iUniverse.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Rhodes, John Interviewer: Diesenhaus, Doug Date of Interview: 3/11/2008 Series: SENC Writers Length 60 minutes

Diesenhaus: Hello. I'm Doug Diesenhaus and today, March 11th, 2008, I'll be interviewing John Rhodes for the Randall Library Oral History project on creative writers.

Rhodes: Good morning.

Diesenhaus: Usually the best place to start is to ask people how they've gotten started writing, how they've come to this life.

Rhodes: I always felt that I might be able to write, but I never had time to really explore that ambition. And my career and raising a family and so on were all-consuming. So when I retired a few years ago, I finally had the time to sit down and see if I could actually write. So this was something that was latent, but I just didn't have an opportunity to explore.

Diesenhaus: And what career did you retire from?

Rhodes: Most of my life I was a banker. I was an international banker, which meant that I spent a great deal of time traveling around the world working with other banks which was a great deal of fun because I saw a lot of the world and got some sense of how different people, different cultures, different countries-- and that's absolutely a fascinating experience quite apart from the actual mechanics of banking which tend to be unbelievable boring.

Diesenhaus: Have either parts of the work or parts of the traveling experienced the writing that you've done?

Rhodes: Yes, I have from time to time taken advantage of the fact that I know various parts of the world reasonably well to incorporate those in my stories, some of my stories. So, for example, I wrote a book which was based partially in the Middle East and partially in Europe. And because I was originally British and because I lived in the Middle East for some years, I had some sense of-- and when one's trying to write creatively and you're trying to, for example, describe two people walking down the road, it's good to actually know what the houses look like and what the sidewalk looks like and what the other people walking around you look like. So yeah, those things have been helpful to me.

Diesenhaus: You started off by saying you always felt that you were going to be a writer. Does that mean from a young age or when did that feeling kind of develop?

Rhodes: I think from a very young age. I found the mechanics of writing fairly easy when I was in school and I had, I guess, a fairly vivid imagination and I would sort of drift off into fantasy worlds and so on. So I always thought, if I'm a competent writer and I have an imagination, at some point I will have the time to put those two together because I think those are two of the fundamentals anyway that you need to be a writer.

Diesenhaus: And when you were in school or at this younger age, where there certain influences or teachers who may have guided you or, if you felt the competency was there, were they kind of shepherding you in a way?

Rhodes: Well, I grew up in a antediluvian education system that people would not recognize right now in these days. I went to what the British call a public school, which is a private school, where one was taught in a very, very traditional manner, and I then went to Cambridge where, by modern standards, one is also taught in a very traditional manner. At school, we had the subject, we had two subjects. One was called English literature and one was called English language. English literature was premised upon, I think, the principle that anybody who could write English was dead by 1900. So I remember a series of classes on modern literature which included Charles Dickens. So that will give you some sense of that. English language was all about composition and that was teaching almost by rote. We took all of the various aspects of grammar and we would just write subjunctive sentences on and on and on. But I find that very valuable because it gives you a very sort of stable foundation for when you try to write. It doesn't necessarily make you write well, but he gives you a sense of comfort that you know what a sentence is supposed to look like. And we were also taught in those days Latin and Greek which are pretty horrendous, but nonetheless, again this sense of structure. So those things were useful.

Diesenhaus: The school in Who Killed Callaway sounds like it's a school not unlike that experience. Did you use some of that experience to influence you?

Rhodes: Oh, yes. It's an imaginary school, but that sort of general feel of the school and the way that the staff are and the way that the kids communicate and the structure of the school, those were from memory. And there really were schools like that. (laughs)

Diesenhaus: You talked about English literature having that focus on a time previous to 1900. Were you reading outside of what you were being assigned to kind of break through that at all?

Rhodes: Oh, yeah. At home, I read a lot. When I was growing up, we had one radio in the house and in those days there were only three radio stations that we could actually hear and we got a television when I was fifteen. So reading was a tremendously important hobby or pastime or whatever in a way that is not imaginable. It was one of one's principal ways of finding out about the world, either non-fiction or fiction. So I read a tremendous amount and I can remember some of the books which caused me to really say, "Wow, this is really--" and, for example, I can remember reading Catcher in the Rye and saying, "Wow, this was fantastic." And I remember reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac which had only just been written then and saying, "Wow." So I got these wow experiences and I assure you neither of those books were in my school's curriculum.

Diesenhaus: That kind of makes me wonder. Based on what you said about the staple foundation of the composition, I wonder now, when you're trying to write in a creative fashion or entertaining fashion and especially given the books that you were saying you enjoyed being outside of that, is there any kind of tension there? Do you ever think, "Oh, I need to move away from the stable foundation that you were taught to make it somehow more enjoyable?" Does that make any sense or does it work together in harmony, I guess?

Rhodes: I find it very comforting because, when I'm writing away and I've got some idea which I'm trying to express, I find it comforting that I am probably writing a reasonable sentence or a reasonable paragraph. And so I'm not interrupted by wondering, "Have I got the verb in the right place?" I can always go back and fix that stuff, but I find it's rather like playing a sport where you can, you're trying to do something and trying to achieve something and, as you know, if you're constantly worried about the basic mechanics, "Have I got my feet in the right position?" or whatever it is, you can't play. So I find it extremely helpful. And one of the things that I notice, which is a big problem in younger kids, is that they are not taught mechanics and they are constantly frustrated because they've got this good idea that they want to express, but they cant express it because they literally have not been taught the fundamentals of grammar.

Diesenhaus: Talking about the ideas that you want to express, if you could, talk a bit about where your ideas come from, how you've kind of come to the topics of your books. Have they been things that you were thinking about a while or how do they emerge for you?

Rhodes: That's an evolving process. When I first sat down to write my first book, and I'd literally never written a book before and I had no idea what to do, I decided to write about a contemporary subject that was kind of on my mind and whatever. This was in, I think it was 2004. So the war in Iraq was going on and there was a lot of anti-Americanism going on around the world. There still is, of course. And 9/11 was still very fresh in everyone's memory and I was at 9/11, so I thought I'd write about a book around the notion of terrorism and the tax on the United States and things like that. So that's where I got the subject. To actually write about that, I literally said, "Well, if I'm going to write about terrorism, I need a bad guy." So I started writing. I put a bad guy in a basic environment and I started writing about that bad guy. And I didn't really know what I was doing, but I created an environment for this basic character and then I started to write. I was also comforted by the fact that I was writing within a genre, which I think is very important for people that are trying to write. If you're writing within a genre which is spy novel or whatever or coming of age book or whatever, that gives you a basic structure for where you're trying to get to. It's very comforting to you. It's very comforting to your reader. If you're writing a detective book, you start with a murder and you know there's going to be various clues and surprises and you know that, at the end, there's going to be a big scene when the murderer-- so you've got a basic structure and everyone can relax and the writer can relax because you know basically what you're trying to get to.

Diesenhaus: I wonder with that if sort of the classic British mystery writers like Agatha Christie or P.D. James, if you had read them or if you maybe look to them as various models.

Rhodes: Absolutely. I grew up on Agatha Christie, some people that aren't read so much anymore, but Dorothy Sayers, Nao Marsh, people like that, P.D. James, certainly. All of whom seem to have been women. I think women write the best detective stories and in fact, I felt when I wrote a detective story maybe I should give myself a (laughs) call myself Joanna Rhodes or something when I was writing. But clearly, and I think my favorite is Dorothy Sayers and, even though she was writing in the '30s and '40s, I strongly recommend her because, although she's writing detective stories in a way that now seems very old fashioned, a lot of the themes are directly relevant to today. So for example, my favorite book of hers, which is called Gordy Knight, is set in Oxford University and is about a murder. It's a detective story, but the theme of it is the evolving role of women in a male-oriented academic environment and she is struggling against that whole thing, which is highly relevant today. So, yeah. Those people, I just wish I could write like that.

Diesenhaus: You said when you started you had that feeling that you didn't really know what you were doing, and I wondered how did that play off the experience as you were going? Did you get caught up at all or how did you sort of find your way?

Rhodes: When I write a book, I know the genre I'm writing in. I've got a situation which I want to explore which is that someone is facing a tremendous challenge or someone is internally conflicted or something that I want to explore, and I start to write and it's very mechanical and it's very wooden and it's not much fun. And then, this is the wonderful thing about creative writing, one of my characters will say something which I didn't expect and, or something will happen that I didn't expect and then that character comes alive. That character is now a real person and all of the other characters that I have painstakingly built around that character-- they all come alive because they're now reacting to a real person. So everyone suddenly becomes real and then I cease to be a writer and I become a recorder of the events that I'm watching. So I'm now no longer part of the story. I'm just writing down what's happening and the dialogue and so on and so on. So that's how I just write until that magic moment sincerely hoping that that magic moment will appear when the characters take over or the situation takes over and I'm just writing as fast as I can trying to keep up.

Diesenhaus: When that happens, do you actually feel like you're kind of hearing the voices in your head or how do those characters or those voices kind of manifest for you?

Rhodes: Well, the trigger is when they do something. And then I tend to write more and more from someone's point of view. So at that point, I'm now inside the characters head and I'm thinking and seeing and hearing or whatever what he or she is thinking or hearing or whatever. So I am following that character's thoughts and reactions and emotions and all of those kinds of things and in a sense feeling what that person is feeling. And sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes that's a bad thing because, if you've got a point of view of a character that is miserable, (laughs) that's kind of miserable to you know or-. I just finished the sequel to Who Killed Callaway which is the same guy, different murder scenario and my detective, who's name is Thomas Ford, is trying to solve this murder and he is constantly getting distracted. He just can't concentrate. And that was very frustrating to write because I have to solve the murder in 75,000 or 80,000 words and Thomas Ford is off in some (laughs) he just kind-- and I just say, "Focus man, focus. Got to get back to the job." You know. But that I hope is an illustration of how these people really come alive and the writer is really inside the story.

Diesenhaus: Does, especially given how you described that, does being inside the point of view feel like a loss of control at times? It seems like sometimes it might get away.

Rhodes: I've. Well, that's very interesting. It could do. I've never tried to write anybody who was, for example, delusional. That's a very good question which I haven't really explored. Yeah, it could be quite a frightening experience if you were inside somebody's head who was in a really bad situation. Yeah, that's interesting.

Diesenhaus: Also, I think I read on your website that sometimes you don't know who's committed the murder until. And does that inspire certain kinds of anxiety or does it actually kind of comforting in a way to go with the contours of what you're working with?

Rhodes: Yeah, I think that one of the reasons why people liked-- Who Killed Callaway committed a certain amount of suspense and you go back and forth. Was it this guy? Was it that guy or whoever? And I was able to create that tension because I had not decided. What I did, and with the new one that I've written which is called A Painted Ship, I wrote about eighty, ninety percent of the story without knowing who the murderer was. I then wrote the final chapter in which the murderer is revealed and I looked at all the facts and I try to put myself in my detective's head and I said, "Well, it's gotta be so-and-so." So I then went back and retrofitted the little bridge so that it worked out smoothly. But, yeah. I don't know, and that's fun because it keeps tension. And I think that if you were to write a detective story where you've got a murderer and you spend the whole time trying to deceive the reader, that wouldn't be nearly so much fun as genuinely not knowing.

Diesenhaus: You talked about that moment when one character emerges and you said you're sincerely happy when that happens. Have you had experiences where you're working on something and it doesn't seem to be happening and do you then put it away or try something new or do you kind of keep going because you know it will?

Rhodes: Yeah, if it doesn't work, I put it away. I try hard, but if it doesn't work I'll put it away. For example, I wrote, I tried to write about generational conflict and I had grandparents, parents, children. I was exploring their lives from various perspectives and so on, and I thought that would be very interesting. Not generational conflict but generational views 'cause I'm always interested in seeing how my kids view the world. I have very good relations with my kids. There's no conflict. But how they view the world versus how I view the world and their life experience or your age versus mine, whatever. So I thought that would be an interesting subject, but I cranked out probably 20,000 words and it just was not happening. So I gave up on a way. Maybe I'll go back to it one day, but (laughs) it wasn't happening. But fortunately, there've been more hits than misses.

Diesenhaus: I wonder, from book to book or from that first book where you started and you said you didn't know what you were doing, has the experience kind of changed or have you learned certain things that make it easier or how does that work?

Rhodes: Very fortunately a couple of things have happened. Once. One, I have become a much better writer because there is nothing like having other people read your books to tell you what works and what doesn't work and practice makes perfect. So, A, I've become a better writer and each book I've written, I think anyway, is better than the last. So that's a positive progress. The second thing is I feel much more confident which is probably a self-revealing prophecy. And then thirdly, because I'm confident I feel somewhat liberated. Now, the book that I just finished that I'm going to publish next is the first book which I've written which doesn't have a genre, where I just took a situation which isn't within the popular culture and I just wrote. And that was very liberating. It hasn't been published yet. The few people that have read it say, "Yeah, it does work," and that to me is tremendous because now, hopefully, I've matured as a writer to a point where I can escape from-- that structure that I was talking about earlier which is incredibly important, older mentally that becomes a straight jacket. And if you read some of the great writers, they have structure but they also break out of the structure. And I'm not suggesting I'm a great writer, but it's nice to feel that you can actually move outside the structure.

Diesenhaus: And when you have been writing within the structure previously, have you ever thought, "I'm going to stay within the structure, but I'm just going to kind of step outside the boundary temporarily?" or did I feel like if you're in it you stay in it and only when you kind of completely go outside of it can you go outside the lines?

Rhodes: The first book I wrote I was directly within the lines and I would occasionally think, "Well, it might be interesting to go there," or whatever. No, no, no. That's not in structure. Stay in the structure. And then as I progressed I would feel a little bit more confident and I would take some liberties, but that to me was not so much that I was going outside the structure. It meant to me that I understood the structure better so that I could be more creative. So an analogy would be that when you build a big office building or something there are very rigid rules of engineering about stresses and all that kind of stuff, but a creative architect can create these extraordinary buildings even though they're staying within those engineering principles. So, yeah. I guess you kind of internalize the structure on what you can and cannot do, but you're liberated to work on a much broader scale.

Diesenhaus: I wanted to talk a bit about how several of your books have either picked up where previous ones left off or you've kind of reintroduced the same character, and I wondered about that experience. Have your readers asked for that? Has that been a response to appreciation for those characters?

Rhodes: Yes. (clears throat) There are two answers. If I get to the end of a book and my readers tell me when they get to the end of the book that they're still interested in that character or that character's got some more juice in them, that encourages me to keep going. So, for example, with Who Killed Callaway, several of the reviewers said, "I like this guy. I'd like to see him have some more murders." So there's that. The one character which I've written twice and I'm still not sure I'm satisfied with is a character in the two terrorism books that I wrote whose a woman called Maria Menendez who is a woman that-- she's an extremely strong woman, but she's an unhappy woman, and that I worry about. I just worry about her and I just hope that she has a good life. And I may go back to her just to find out what happens to her because I just, I'm really, really concerned about her and people have reacted very strongly to her. And she was very weak in the first book I wrote about her and people said I wasn't fair to her. And I realized that I'd put her in a situation where she could not possibly succeed and then I put her in a situation where she could succeed but things did not work out very well for her. So the general answer to your question is if I've got a character who's got some juice and who interests my writers and interests me, then I will keep going with them. And most of my stories I write in an open-ended way because, from a commercial point of view, you don't want to kill off these great characters because people may say, "Geez, write a sequel."

Diesenhaus: And given the mechanics that you've described, the kind of writing you've said are mechanically wooden until that character comes out, what happens when you're going back to that character that you know? Do you fall into the voice quickly or does it take you some time to kind of recapture it in some way?

Rhodes: I go back and I read the previous book and now I'm in that character, so I just put him or her in the next situation and I'm right back there. Once they're alive, they stay alive. Fortunately they don't go back to being wooden.

Diesenhaus: And then what you were describing with Maria, I just wondered do you-- the experience of writing a female character versus a male character, is it any different for you or does it represent a challenge in any way or has the Maria character been the same experience?

Rhodes: Well, (clears throat) something which is very interesting to me and completely unexpected is I tend to write women, I tend to write women characters who are much stronger than male characters. And I didn't set out to do that. I don't do it consciously, but it seems to emerge. So it's probably something about myself. For some reason, I see women as-- not all women, but some women as very strong. And the ones that I can really get into, I seem to have these very strong, strong-willed, determined kinds of characters. And that may be that I have tended to admire strong-willed women. I was a history major and I would study women in history and I have great admiration for some of the strong-willed through history. And even today some of the contemporary strong-willed women I think are-- leaving aside completely politics pro or con, but clearly someone like Margaret Thatcher or Golda Mayer. These were extraordinary people because they were overcoming all-- as well as being very forceful and very successful at what they wanted to do. Regardless of what one thinks of their politics, they're just extraordinary people. But I don't know, to answer your question, why I happen to write strong women. The next book that I'm going to write or publish has probably the weakest woman that I've written. But that may be because I'm maturing as a writer and therefore my characters are becoming more complicated and I can risk writing a weak woman.

Diesenhaus: I suppose someone in the same vein-- Hank's Idea was a young adult book and it somewhat related to the question about the female characters. Did you approach that book differently? Did you shift your writing to try to reach a younger audience?

Rhodes: Yeah, absolutely I did. The challenge in that book was to take complicated physics and make it interesting. And the only way that I could think of doing that was to put the-- and I had to go through all these explanations of what is relativity and all this other, you know, what is quantum mechanics and all this other incredibly boring stuff. And the only way that I could think of doing that was to put it inside in jokey conversations. So to have a jokey conversation and keep the whole thing moving, I needed a big family. So I had all these people and, yeah, it is true that in that book I do have strong women. That book, incidentally, was one of the first things I wrote and it's incredibly short because I was told that, if you were a novice writer, you can't write long books. People aren't going to read long books by novice writers. They're just not going to be bothered. So I wrote this book, and it was 150,000 words long which is an incredibly long book. People said, people told me, "You'll never get that published," so I took the first third of it, 50,000 words, and that's what I published. So I've actually got 150,000 word book there and I just literally published the first nine chapters out of twenty seven. And I'm going to go back and republish it, all twenty-seven, because it's a fun book.

Diesenhaus: I wonder if you could talk a bit about the publishing process. I believe that you used iUniverse.

Rhodes: Yes.

Diesenhaus: I wonder how that has worked for you. What are the advantages for you?

Rhodes: Well, the whole purpose of writing of course is to communicate and in order to communicate you have to be published. And the odds of it being recognized as an unknown author are ten to infinity, it's just virtually impossible. So you face a choice of am I going to be this incredibly frustrated would-be author writing all these great American novels and never seeing the light of day or-- what I do with each of my books is I send them to literary agents and I wait three months which is my statutory time for getting rejections because it's like clockwork. Twenty-five letters to literary agents, wait three months to get the twenty-five rejections, and then go to iUniverse to publish. I strongly recommend them. They are very supportive. They are not cheap. Fortunately I can afford to do that, but for a young struggling writer it's not cheap. The basic service is about $500.00. What is also very good about iUniverse and the reason that I strongly recommend them is that they have very good editorial services. And this costs extra money, but you can have a professional editor read your book and evaluate it for you. And the evaluations are very brutal because they're looking at it entirely from the perspective of, "Is this commercially viable?" And they also have excellent copywriters who will fix your book. And even though I consider that I write pretty well, in an entire novel I usually get about five sentences which some guy hasn't played with. If you really want to communicate and you really want to get it out there, then self-publishing is something that I strongly recommend because at least it can get you on the bookshelves and in some libraries and so on and hopefully you can get some reviewers to review it and you begin to establish a reputation for yourself.

Diesenhaus: Does that way of doing it ever allow you to be closer to your audience in some ways? I guess I'm wondering maybe through various types of distribution that it might make it easier to have events where you were having people that know your work kind of in a local region whereas there's sometimes like a disconnect between writers and publishers and they're maybe not as supportive as writers might want. Does that ever-

Rhodes: It's true that self-publishing authors tend to get support-- it's almost like groupies, people that like you and look for your books and so on. The conventional publishing world of which I would love to be a part is much colder and it's a big machine and more and more books are written to order. In other words, someone says, "There is space on my shelves for a book with the following five characteristics." And then someone who has a known names then churns out 100,000 words with those five characteristics. It's become much more, "Okay, I need content. Give me 10,000 words," or, "Give me 100,000 words," or whatever.

Diesenhaus: You talked about the editorial services with iUniverse. I wonder do you show it to other people before you get to that point? Do you have readers that you keep coming to?

Rhodes: I have my wife. I give my new books to my wife and she gives me a visceral reaction and then I send it off. My biggest critic is myself. The way I write is I write a book. I put it on the shelf for about six months until I've forgotten it or "forgotten it." I then go back and read it and edit it. And that's a pretty objective exercise, and that isn't particular fun because now you're just going through it and that can become very tedious. But you get a much better book out of it because you're reading it as a reader. And then I give it to my wife and she says okay and then-- or so far she's said okay and then I send it off and I wait for the editorial reviews from them.

Diesenhaus: And I wonder maybe kind of after the publishing process do you find yourself socializing with other writers or artists? Is that a part of your creative life?

Rhodes: That is just beginning to happen. And what tends to happen is people say, "Will you read this?" and, "What do you think of this?" I have not joined a formal writers group and I think to a certain extent that writing can be come very incestuous. And I went to one thing where people gathered round and what it became was, "I will say that you've written a great book if you say I've written a great book." So everyone was saying, "Oh, wow. You are the next Hemmingway," and it was so incestuous that I thought, "No." The only people I'm interested in are my readers and I always imagine my reader as some guy who's waiting in an airport and he's got like these fifteen minutes and he picks up my book and what I'm saying is, "Okay, I've got fifteen minutes to take this guy to an interesting place and pass his time enjoyably and allow him to forget the fact that his plane's late or whatever bad happened in his meeting or whatever. I've got fifteen minutes to entertain this guy." And so I do actually sometimes as part of my own editorial process I will just open a book at random and I'll just read it for fifteen minutes and I'll say, "Was I good?" And if it wasn't good then I will work on that because that's what I think I'm trying to do. I'm trying to give people a good time in ten minute or fifteen minute bursts.

Diesenhaus: Especially given that, I wondered you talked about Hank's Idea, the complicated physics, and approaching some political issues. I wonder about the kind of research that's involved and how do you kind of boil that down so that it can be exciting in any fifteen minute period?

Rhodes: I think I could have your question right. I think There's two questions there. One is how do you write a book which is researched and fact based and then how do you communicate that? I always try to write based on facts. I spend a lot of time researching before I write and everything that I assert as a fact is a fact to the best of my knowledge. And so with Hank's Idea, although I'm not a scientist, I read several scientific books and I tried to understand them and I did a lot of work on the web to try and see where strength, theory, and all that kind of stuff was at. And I tried to base, with Hank's Idea that was fun because what I wanted to do was to take real contemporary science and take it to a point where people could say, "Yes, that's real," and then as seamlessly as I could go off into fantasy. Sort of take the next fictional step. And with that book, I took that book when I wrote it to a guy who is literally a rocket scientist. He worked at NASA. And I said, "Okay, read this book and tell me if it's ridiculous." And he said, "Well, obviously gravity doesn't work like that, but it is not, given that nobody understands gravity, that is not an unreasonable." When I write about places I try and make them based on my own experience. The book I'm going to publish next is about World War II and a battle in World War II and I tried to make that very fact based. And it's an interesting thing that I get nervous about whether or not, even though I'm writing fiction, whether or not it's fact based or it's credible. Is it credible? So the end of Hank's Idea I felt, "Well, will people really believe you could build a spaceship like that?" which obviously in real life you couldn't, but you know. So I better put in all kinds of diagrams and drawings just to say, "Yeah, you really could do that." The end of my war book, I've written some notes which I'm going to publish which say, "Yeah, this really did happen and these statistics are really accurate." So I'm really concerned that people will think that I just made it all up.

Diesenhaus: I think that's important. I mean, not to be concerned, but to be aware of that that you always kind of have to be on the ball with it.

Rhodes: Yeah.

Diesenhaus: I wanted to ask just a few questions. We're starting to run out of time, but a few questions about actual mechanics and maybe rituals. One good question is do you write long-hand or do you use a computer?

Rhodes: No, I write directly on the computer because long-hand you've got this whole transcription thing. And one of the great things about-- well the first is you just keep doing it over and over and you've got spell check and all those kinds of things which-- and I try and write every day and my standard, I try to write 2,000 words a day. And on a bad day I may only get 1,000 words. On a good day I may get 5,000, but I try to write every day.

Diesenhaus: Is there a particular place and then also do you find it better sometimes in the morning or early morning? Certain people seem to have different kinds of habits or patterns.

Rhodes: Yeah, I write when the house is quiet, so I get up early in the morning to write or I write after dinner. But it's got to be quiet. It's got to be my time and I can't be thinking about the chores or whatever I've got to do. So a couple of hours in the morning, a couple of hours at night.

Diesenhaus: I want to ask just a few more questions.

Rhodes: Sure.

Diesenhaus: And one sort of may be a classic question and you may have already answered it in some of the ways you've answered, but when you encounter block or you talked sometimes I only get 1,000 words. Do you have any methods for getting around that or do you just kind of power through it and think that if you keep writing on the page it'll get away from you?

Rhodes: Yeah, I have this naive belief that the magic will come back, so I just keep going. and I recently read a book on writing by Stephen King and he talks about this issue. And he says that you have to keep going. You have to keep going. And that's what I do. You just keep writing. And it's not much fun, but you keep writing and you just wait for the magic to come back.

Diesenhaus: I try to ask this question of everyone and I wonder if you're in some social situation and someone asks who you are and what you do, I wonder how do you sort of address yourself? Do you explain that you're retired from one career and that you're on a second career or how do you tell them about yourself?

Rhodes: That's. I think that I am becoming more arrogant as I grow older which is not a very desirable characteristic. But when I first retired, we lived in New York and we moved down here and people said, "Well, what do you do?" and I'd say, "Retired banker." But now I say I'm a writer. That's very arrogant, but I now think of myself as a writer and I think one of the most important pieces of advice that I can give to any aspiring young writer is to think of yourself as a writer. I mean, either you're a writer or you're not. And if you think of yourself as a writer, you will be able to write and hopefully you'll be successful. If you think of yourself as a student or as a waiter who writes in the evenings, you're not a writer. You've got to say, "I'm a writer. I have to put bread on the table this other way, but I'm a writer."

Diesenhaus: My last question was about advice, so I think that's a good place to stop.

Rhodes: Okay.

Diesenhaus: Thank you very much.

Rhodes: Okay, well, thank you. This was fun.

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