What is Birkie Fever? Cross-country skiers are hearty folk. The compulsion to race marathon-length distances in subfreezing conditions requires an eternally optimistic and fiercely independent spirit. The fear of blinding snow or paralyzing cold does not deter them, and it has been said that skiers do not merely laugh at adversity; they are completely oblivious to its existence. America's greatest cross-country ski race is the American Birkebeiner or "Birkie" for short. Every year, thousands of people journey from all over the globe to Hayward, Wisconsin, for a world-class celebration of life, winter, and the competitive spirit. Prior to the race, local participants find themselves in the throes of a unique and natural euphoria. They thrill at the prospect of participating shoulder to shoulder with elite international competitors in a wild race through the great Northwoods wilderness. Beyond Birkie Fever is the story of how America's magnificent cross-country ski marathon can expand your horizons and be the gateway to experiences beyond anything you'd ever hoped to imagine!
Does travel play in the writing of your books?
Yes, travel is a huge component of “Beyond Birkie Fever.” When I was growing up in
Northern Wisconsin, I had very little contact with the outside world. is a great state, but it's fairly remote and you just don't have the interaction with foreign born individuals like you do in bigger cities. Wisconsin
However, once a year, thousands of people would come to a nearby town to compete in
's greatest cross-country ski race, “The American Birkebeiner.” Because of that event, I was able to meet people from all over the world, some of whom even invited me to come and stay at there homes to compete in events in their countries. I actually took many of them up on this offer, which started a long series of adventures in international travel. America
Had it not been for the existence of the Birkie, I doubt I would have seen as much of the world as I eventually did. I'm very grateful for those experiences.
Tell us about your next release.
I'm currently working on a memoir of my time living in
. As you can probably imagine, I collected some pretty good stories after living there for close to a decade. Living in Lima, Peru South America was an absolute blast, although now that I have children I find I can't take the chances I used to when I was younger. For example, the book begins with a bus trip I once took to . We'd just crossed the border when a bunch of soldiers came pouring out of the jungle to stop the bus. They clamored on board and started pushing all the men around with AK-47s. It was a little nerve-wracking. I got out of it, but you'll have to pick up the book to find out how. Ecuador
Who are your books published with?
My books are published with Rhemalda (rhemalda.com) out of
. They're a small, traditional publisher. Rhemalda does a great job with editing and cover art. They've also been very active in finding creative ways to get exposure for their writers including selling international rights and releasing audio books. I believe I was the second author to sign a contract with them just after fantasy author J.S. Chancellor. Seattle
How do you develop your plots and your characters? Do you use any set formula?
I used a different approach when I was writing “Beyond Birkie Fever.” I had a bunch of high quality stories I wanted to tell, so I sat down and wrote each chapter without thinking of how they would fit into a greater whole. When I was done, it was more like assembling a puzzle than it was writing a novel. I was able to find a kind of natural continuity that I strengthened with transitional introductions. This was the first book I ever wrote where I focused more on the readability of each chapter than an overarching theme. However, what I've found is that the theme kind of came into existence naturally. I've had a very positive response from this book, and the experience has really underscored the philosophy of not overworking your writing. Instead, you have to get out of the way and let the writing happen.
Do you have any suggestions for beginning writers? If so, what are they?
It's possible for anyone to have a career as a writer, it's just a matter of doing the work. I think the first step is to develop a strong online presence. Start up a blog and use it as a sort of “sketchbook” for your work. On my “Streets of Lima” blog, I try to scribble out a few paragraphs on a daily basis. This keeps my writing sharp, keeps me motivated, and keeps me in contact with my readers. There have been times when I've made more money on “Streets of Lima” (through advertising, etc.) than with any other of my endeavors.
After you've established a blog, I suggest that you do some work as an editor for other publications. This gives you the opportunity to see a whole bunch of query letter, and you quickly start to see what query letters are effective and which are not. Plus, being an editor gives you another platform to showcase your own writing which publishers are always excited to see (it's important to excite publishers).
What are the most important attributes for remaining sane as a writer?
Why on Earth would you want to remain sane?
Tell us about the absolute BEST fan letter you have received.
I once had a reader tell me that the first chapter of “Beyond Birkie Fever” reminded her of Calvin & Hobbes. Of all the books I've ever read, I think it's only the work of Bill Watterson that made me think, “wow...this guy's so good I should just quit.” Watterson has such a natural, effortless balance between youthful joy and existential philosophy that it's simply a pleasure to behold. Receiving the comment that I'd managed to capture something similar to that in my writing is really inspiring.
I've also had quite a few people tell me that they read through “Beyond Birkie Fever” in one sitting. It's great when people are excited about your work like that, I can't think of a more sincere compliment.
Walter Rhein was born in Wisconsin. After earning a degree in English literature, he moved to Lima, Peru. There he spent 10 years working as a writer, editor, teacher and translator. After getting married in 2009, he returned to the US and resumed cross-country skiing.
His novel “Beyond Birkie Fever” was published by Rhemalda in October of 2011, and is about America's greatest ski race, the American Birkebeiner. Walter also writes fantasy novels, and moderates the Heroic Fantasy group on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/groups/heroicfantasy/ ).
He also maintains a blog about Peru called “Streets of Lima (http://www.streetsoflima.com/ ). Walter Rhein can be reached for questions, comments or interviews at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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