Hello. My name is Robert Ronning.
Welcome! Thank you for coming by my web site.
I am a writer who loves critters. While I might admire them more with my words than my physical presence, I am an ardent fan of wildlife, nature and the Earth. I weave my feelings into stories--and I'll be darned if I didn't come up with one that readers seem to love! It's called Wild Call to Boulder Field, and I hope you find yourself among them!
I am originally from Washington State, and I have traveled far and wide, with an early career in the theatre, having been lured to London, where I lived off and on for several years, earning a Ph.D. in communication arts on an acting fellowship in classic repertory theatre. I taught performance of literature at City University of New York, and directed two plays Off Broadway: a comedy about George Bernard Shaw and a concert docudrama on Albert Einstein at Lincoln Center.
My writing has appeared in academic as well as popular publications, including Channels in Communications, Scene4 Magazine, Quarterly Journal of Speech, and locally, Tucson’s Desert Leaf Magazine.
I pivoted to write about wildlife and conservation, including my eco-adventure novel, Wild Call to Boulder Field, from Desert Paws Books. I consider my proudest achievements rescuing, or helping to rescue, more than a few lost dogs. I live with my wife Kathleen Alden in Tucson, where I have taught writing. We have the good fortune to summer in a cabin in Arizona’s White Mountains, with a daily dog walk to the Sitgreaves National Forest, where coyotes, bears, wild horses, and other creatures are often spotted. I consider myself a recovering golfer, now an avid pickle ball player, and I like to unwind with a crossword puzzle.
Q & A with Robert Ronning
Q. You live in Tucson now, but where are you from?
A: I grew up in the Pacific Northwest just north of Seattle in Everett, an old mill town that later became a home to Boeing Commercial Airplanes. As a child, I was probably a bit of an outlier but I don’t think I ever realized it. I grew up among labor folks, mill workers and truckers mostly and I worked part-time as one myself, at least until I went into the Army and then away to college.
Q. Tell us a little more about yourself, including your interests and hobbies.
A: In my youth, my grandmother introduced me to opera and I took to its expansive music and staging and grand passions. Music—classical, jazz, new age, and many other styles—are a constant joy in my life. I also have the good fortune to summer in a cabin in Arizona’s White Mountains, just a daily dog walk to the National Forest where coyotes, bears, wild horses, and other creatures are often spotted. And I’m kind of a recovering golfer, currently an avid Pickleball player instead. I do like to unwind with a crossword puzzle or a good read, especially if it has an engaging storyline in fiction or nonfiction.
Q. How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
A: I went through a reordering of values a decade ago. My prior writing had covered a range of tame topics—I had enough articles on golf and golf humor to fill a book of essays—but I felt such efforts a soulless pursuit. Considering the direction my country was heading, I ceased writing about so-called non-partisan subjects; I took a pivot and resolved to write activist literature, what I call conscience writing.
Q. What would you like to share with readers about your latest book?
A: Wild Call to Boulder Field might be taken as activist writing disguised
within an adventure, but I hope it’s both. I suppose I’ve always been attracted to those who are passionate about causes. At heart, a strong romantic streak from my youth drew me to heroic adventure tales (Don Quixote, Three Musketeers, Count of Monte Cristo, Les Misérables). In the theatre, I acted in a rep production of Cyrano de Bergerac and many Shakespeare plays. While teaching at Brooklyn College, I directed an Off-Broadway play about George Bernard Shaw, an ultimate iconoclast. I still tilt at windmills, more often from my writing desk these days.
Q. What challenges did you face (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) when you wrote Wild Call to Boulder Field?
A: In a sense, writing about animals and especially wildlife was a radical change because I had no background in animal biology. But through my experience in theatre and literature, I came to writing wildlife fiction with innate curiosity and a ready supply of empathy, discipline, and research skills (I have a Ph.D. in dramatic literature). In effect, I shifted to focus my empathic and imaginative traits from human to four-legged critters. By nature, I still have the same core spirit for causes, only now they’re mostly for animals and the environment. And I face one of those ultimate writing challenges: eco-fiction that explores the lives of animals, trying to imagine and tap into their emotional inner lives.
Q. Where did your love of storytelling and writing come from? Any inspiring authors?
A: In mid-life my favorite author, Trevanian (the pen name for Rodney Whitaker) offered a rather transformational experience for me. After he passed on in 2005, I wrote a literary retrospective on him. A superb storyteller and a master satirist, Whitaker was a natural transition from the frivolous subject matter of golf. To my mind, few other top-notch, best-selling writers compared with Whitaker’s integrity, his blend of action-romance, intertwined with virtuoso harangues over human foibles, including those in American culture.
Q. Can you share some stories about the people you met while researching or writing this book?
A: I’ve “met” many compelling people through books. Research has taken me to the writings of animal biologist, ethologists, and naturalists, many of whom I salute in the form of epigraphs in each chapter of my book. This includes Tuscon writer-poet, Richard Shelton, who shows how the power of words can have an effect on a reader. In his memoir, Going Back to Bisbee, Shelton says, “The relationship between humans and canines, both domesticated and non-domesticated, is fascinating to me. I do not understand how the person who truly loves a dog, loves it enough sometimes to risk his or her life for it, can exterminate coyotes, the dog’s cousin, in hideous and sadistic ways. The war against coyotes in the Southwest has been monumental and has gone on since the earliest settlers arrived.” Then he adds, “We love and cherish our dogs because they respond with loyalty and affection, and because they obey us. But the coyote, so much like the dog in appearance and even behavior, has refused to accept us as masters, has spurned us, and we can never forgive it.” This passage hit me like a hard slap at the side of the head and I’ll never forget it; it’s been like a beacon, a mantra for much of my writing over many years.
Q. If your book is based on true life events, can you share some stories from the field that inspired or motivated you?
A: In as much as pets go astray every day across the country, my book indeed reflects real events. Newspapers cover heartfelt stories of long lost pets finding their way back home against all odds. And on the Internet there are Next Door neighborhood appeals to keep on the lookout for poor lost dogs and cats. I confess I always had a fear of losing my dog, so like many a writer, one writes about one’s vulnerabilities. In my case it’s how a fictional account about saving our Westie that helped me live with an ongoing fear. For me, saving an animal, like my protagonist park ranger Wade Conrad would say, is among the noblest of causes.
Q. What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
A: Well, I believe the story shows a striking commitment to creature causes. It’s truly an animal story with several animal characters woven into the journey of a park ranger. There’s Wade’s hunts for his own missing dog, his annoyance at finding a Westie who offers him redemption, and there’s a coyote weaving magic into Wade’s life, and of course there’s a wild, dangerous great cat that Wade follows to the boulders.
Q. What events led you to where you are in your life today?
A: Having a dog in my life, for sure. I have to say it prompted a shift in values, which is reflected in Wild Call to Boulder Field, my first conscience novel. When we got our new member of the family—a West Highland White Terrier puppy—he gave us great comfort from the age of angst that most of us have been living through—on and off and back on through a pandemic—for at least two decades. Jake, our Westie, passed on at the age of thirteen just after we went into sheltering in place. Now we have Henry, a lively ten-pounder, a mixed-breed rescue and such a joy. He came into his new forever home as if Jake paid him forward for us.
Q. Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
A: Whitaker, of course, who once described a Trevanian buff as “is a strange and wonderful creature: an outsider, a natural elitist, not so much a cynic as an idealist mugged by reality, not just one of those who march to a different drummer, but the solo drummer in a parade of one.” An idealist mugged by reality, I connect with that. Of course my author baseline would include Jack London and over the last couple of decades there are many dedicated genre writers—like Carl Hiassen, Nevada Barr, and a non-fictionist like Craig Childs—whose work includes wildlife and shows the possibilities of embracing enviro and conservation issues in a narrative form.
Q. What projects are you working on at the present?
A: I have an adventure sequel to Wild Call to Boulder Field set partly in Arizona’s remote Blue Range Primitive Area. It’s an ambitious project because it presumes to explore the inner lives of a small coyote family that escape from a captive research lab. The pack retreats through fire and smoke in Apache National Forest, all the while keeping distance from their dreaded competitors, Mexican gray wolves. Park ranger Wade Conrad takes a secondary role to young Jesse in the spotlight along with Ruby, a new girlfriend who is studying to become a naturalist. Their relationship just might be serious enough for Jesse not to run away.
Welcome to My World
Our dog, Henry, wants out at bedtime. Out on the patio, we hear howls through the dry washes and alley-ways. Coyotes on the hunt. Henry perks his ears and listens intently, then he rushes to the door and wants back in. I take heart in knowing Henry will always come to the door—and that we share our porches and patios with these beautiful critters. At dawn, they leave our neighborhood and return to their hidey-holes in the foothills of the Tucson Mountains. In the desert, they own the night.
Yes, our West Highland White Terrier, Jake, did help inspire Wild Call to Boulder Field.
Jake and I surveying our habitat in the White Mountains
After Jake passed, my wife Kathy and I adopted Henry.