A Thousand Country Roads
by Robert James Waller
John M. Hardy Publishing
Robert James Waller grew up in Rockford, Iowa, a midwestern town of 900 people, where his mother was a housewife and his father operated a small produce business. He was educated at the University of Northern Iowa and Indiana University where he received his doctorate. As a professor, Waller taught management, economics, and applied mathematics courses at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968 to 1991, except for one year (1975-76) that he spent on leave at the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio. From 1979 to 1986 he also served as dean of UNI's College of Business.
He has lectured and published widely in the fields of problem-solving and decision making and has worked as a consultant to business corporations and government institutions throughout the United States and around the world. An all-conference basketball player in college, Waller also worked for over twenty years as a musician (guitar, flute, singer/songwriter) playing nightclubs and concerts, and is a serious photographer who travels the world
for his images.
Among his many academic and general publications is the best-selling novel, The Bridges of Madison County, which has gone to press 64 times, has 12 million hardcover copies in print, is published in 36 languages, spent 164 weeks (over 3 years) on The New York Times bestseller list, and is the #1 selling hardcover novel of all time.
Robert lives quietly on a remote ranch in the high-desert mountains of west Texas, with his friend, Linda, along with 4 dogs, 2 horses, and 2 cats. As the spirit moves him, he pursues his interests in music, photography, writing, economics, and applied mathematics.
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Q: An epilogue is defined as a concluding part to a literary work. Why did you decide to write A THOUSAND COUNTRY ROADS, an epilogue to THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY ten years later?
RJW: I received hundreds, perhaps thousands, of letters asking questions about The Bridges of Madison County. Because the book has been published in thirty-five or more languages, the letters came from people as diverse as the world itself. At some point, I decided to answer most or all of the queries by writing another book.
By the way, I am not implying this is a back-by-popular-demand piece of work. Frankly, I also became curious about what happened to Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson as the years went by and decided to find out.
Since I believe A Thousand Country Roads is best read and understood after one has read Bridges, I insisted "epilogue" be placed on the cover, as a matter of honesty. It is more of a long conclusion to Bridges than a sequel; hence, the use of the word epilogue.
And why after ten years? The answer is a simple one. Following the publication of Bridges and several other novels, I went off to do other things that had been neglected during the novel-writing period of my life, such as catching up on my studies in political economy and pursuing my interests in photography and music. Also, I had a strong desire to preserve, into perpetuity, at least one place of silence and wildness in a rapidly-developing world, and carrying out such a task with my high-desert ranch has required a considerable amount of time and effort.
Q: What has your reaction been to the cultural phenomenon that resulted from the tremendous success of BRIDGES? How has your life changed?
RJW: My initial reaction was astonishment, absolute surprise. I next thought, well, this is kind of fun. At some point, however, the intense interest--positive and negative--from all quarters became a tsunami that bordered on frightening, overwhelming. Disliking the notions of fame and celebrity, I place great value on quiet and privacy. The world wanted more of me than I was willing to give, so I retreated to the remoteness of a high-desert ranch. It has taken several years to regain my sense of privacy.
My life did change for a while. Mentally, I now have returned it to pretty much its pre-Bridges state.
Q: Some of your accomplishments include being a business school professor, an acclaimed photographer, and a musician for over twenty years. What made you decide to try your hand at fiction writing?
RJW: It all is very curious. Along with my technical academic publications, I had published two books of essays and one on economics prior to writing Bridges. Though I periodically had tried writing fiction, nothing ever came of it. But after visiting the covered bridges in Madison County, Iowa, toting my cameras on a rainy summer day, something happened I cannot explain, and the story formed. Driving homeward to northern Iowa, the story took on more and more detail. I dropped my gear just inside the front door, went to my computer, and began writing the book. It was, in a phrase, given to me. Bridges helped me break through a barrier of some kind, and afterward I was able to write fiction.
Q: Like your character Robert Kincaid, you are also a world-renowned photographer and enjoy playing jazz guitar. What other similarities do you share with Robert K.? How much of BRIDGES and A THOUSAND COUNTRY ROADS is based on your personal experience?
RJW: First off, I am not a world-renowned photographer; I never pursued it quite to that level, though presently I have my camera gear laid out on a large table and am thinking about returning to serious photography. Photography, unlike music, is something that came quickly for me, both in its technical and aesthetic dimensions, and I would like to finish the photography book I have had in mind for some years.
As for Robert Kincaid, he and I indeed overlap in certain ways, but we are quite different in other respects. Like Kincaid, I was not a good student in school, though I was required to rectify that when I reached graduate school. I, too, grew up in a small town, was a voracious reader in my boyhood, and dreamed of traveling to exotic places. We also share a view of the contemporary world, one bordering on incredulity, and have trouble deciphering much of the noise around us, especially the tendency by certain groups toward incivility and ridicule. As for photography, both of us apparently have a taste for the impressionistic and the abstract. I used to think the overlap between was about 80 percent; now I think 50 percent is more accurate.
Writing fiction, at least in my case, is a product of both personal experience and imagination. I suspect that is true for most novelists. I do not socialize with people who write and, in fact, avoid discussions about writing and art in general, so I'm not sure how others might answer this question.
Q: You spent your youth and a good portion of your adult life in Iowa but eventually moved to a remote area in Texas. Why did you choose Iowa, in particular, as the setting for both THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY and A THOUSAND COUNTRY ROADS?
RJW: My relocation to Texas was a matter of seeking privacy and being able to acquire enough land to carry out my commitment to preservation. My boyhood and life in Iowa still is the foundation of most of what I do. I chose Iowa as the setting for the books because that is where the bridges of Madison County stand; it's no more complicated than that.
Q: Without giving too much of the story away, what do you think fans' reactions will be regarding the eventual fates of Robert and Francesca?
RJW: Reactions always are hard to predict. A number of people, friends and acquaintances, have read the book and liked it very much. Those reactions encouraged me to publish it. A Thousand Country Roads has a nice, long upward sweep to it, in tone, so I'm guessing most people will find it fulfilling. In general, if a person liked Bridges, he or she should find much to like in the epilogue. There are some nice surprises in the book, I think.
Q: THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY had unbelievable success. What kind of pressure does that place on you to produce an equally successful epilogue? Are you worried about disappointing fans?
RJW: If I had felt pressure, I would not have written the book, since I do not work well under pressure. Of course, I do not want to disappoint my readers, and I hope they find closure to the story, as I did when writing . As Robert Kincaid would say, "Take your readers, your work, seriously, but not yourself." I try to live by that dictum.
Q: How do you view yourself as a writer?
RJW: I do not think of myself as a writer. I'm simply a person who is interested in a number of things, writing being one of them, and I am deeply appreciative that people spend their time and money reading and buying my books. My novels seem to be more like long campfire stories than traditional, complex fiction.
Excerpted from A Thousand Country Roads © Copyright 2013 by Robert James Waller. Reprinted with permission by John M. Hardy Publishing. All rights reserved.
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