Reaching the Reader’s Heart: A Conversation With Author Randall Wallace

August 15, 2004
Written by

An Exclusive Authorlink Interview With Randall Wallace
The New York Times bestselling author of Pearl Harbor
Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Braveheart
And author of Love and Honor (Simon & Schuster, August 2004)

By Doris Booth

August 2004

Love and Honor by Randall Wallace

Love and Honor

Buy This Book via Amazon.com

He wrote the heart-stopping book and Oscar-nominated screenplay, Braveheart. The movie, starring Mel Gibson, won five Academy Awards. He also riveted us to our movie seats in, Pearl Harbor, and gave us the New York Times bestelling book by that name, among a number of other acclaimed works. Now Randall Wallace crafts an unforgettable new epic, Love and Honor (Simon & Schuster, September 2004), promising to be one of his best works ever. The novel that took Wallace 20 years to publish portrays a patriot's secret mission in Russia to save America from certain defeat on the eve of the Revolutionary War.

What kind of man is this rich and well-known author, and what motivates his desperate tales of human sacrifice and danger, the struggle between good and evil, and the quest for love above all?

We had the privilege of talking with Randall Wallace privately at the July 2004 Romance Writers of America Convention, where he spoke about his latest book. We asked that he share his feelings about his life as a writer. "How can I expect to touch

someone in my stories unless

I myself am touched. . .?"

—Randall Wallace AUTHORLINK: You began writing Love and Honor in 1984. What was the motivation for the story, and why did it take so long for you to publish the work?

WALLACE: I had written two novels before I started Love and Honor. They were well received by the critics, but they were published with small marketing budgets, and small sales. I realized I needed to write something that stirred my blood, to write the kind of book I'd love to read. I spent four years writing Love and Honor. It was originally 1600 pages long—way too long to interest a publisher. I had to feed my family, so I set it on the shelf —where I left it for more than a decade—and got a job writing for television. That led me into screen writing, and my first film was Braveheart.

AUTHORLINK: Do Love and Honor and Braveheart echo themes from your own life?

WALLACE: Definitely. Both of these stories ask the question, "What does a man profit if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?"

When my marriage was falling apart, I took my two sons to my grandmother's Baptist church in Tennessee. I told the minister I wanted to give my kids a legacy greater than my own, to leave them with something meaningful. The pastor said, "I'd like to give my son $10 million, but I haven't the millions to give him. Faith is a little like that. You cannot give your children faith if you, yourself, have none." My quest to find a deeper meaning for myself and my children is a theme that keeps coming back into my work. I have thought of this conversation often while writing novels and screenplays. How can I expect to touch someone in my stories unless I myself am touched—unless I put my heart into my work?

AUTHORLINK: How did you become a writer?

WALLACE: I have written all of my life. To be able to identify myself as a writer, however, was a long journey. I loved writing through college, but I hadn't claimed it as a profession. I wasn't "legitimate." My parents had sacrificed for me to go to college. I was expected to be a lawyer or to take some other financially sound path. But I couldn't settle. Life had to have a bigger meaning than my own self appreciation. After graduating from Duke University, I studied in a seminary for a year. But I didn't feel the calling. Then, a dean at Duke told me that the greatest calling one can have is your own calling. "If you want to be a lawyer or a doctor, I can counsel you on what steps to take to climb the ladder. But to be a writer, there is no certain path. You must jump into the deep dark woods alone, and find your own way." The conversation was wonderful encouragement for me. ". . .if you stay faithful to your heart, you will prevail ."

—Randall Wallace AUTHORLINK: What do stories mean to you?

WALLACE: Stories have been the most influential thing in my life. Every story has a message. The message in Braveheart, and also in Love and Honor, is that if you stay faithful to your heart, you will prevail.

AUTHORLINK: Is writing a difficult process for you? How much time do you spend at your craft?

WALLACE: When I begin a novel I have only the vaguest notion of how it will unfold. I write without an outline. But I am a relentless rewriter. Braveheart, the screenplay, went through 12 drafts. I might spontaneously write pages and pages of dialogue, only to cut the outpouring to two lines. When I am writing, I begin every day at 5 a.m. Someone once said you must have half of your work done before noon in order to succeed. The adage gave me a sense of discipline. You cannot compel yourself to have an inspiration. So you must train yourself to be present when the inspiration happens. A writer takes a leap of faith to sit down and say, "In defiance of my deepest fears, I am going to write; I will give my heart to this story, and then show it to the outside world." I don't treat writing as a surrogate life. To me it is the fullest expression of life. "I was inspired by the Russian proverb that when you are born there are only three possible roads you can take."

—Randall Wallace AUTHORLINK: In your journey to become a "legitimate" writer, what was your darkest hour?

WALLACE: I thought when I left school at age 22 that I would achieve success before I was 25. . .and then 30. . .and then.. . No matter how hard you write, you cannot compel success to come. The writing itself has to be sufficient success if you are to sustain yourself. Writing is an act of faith over darkness. There have been several dark times for me—one was when I handed my mother a copy of my first book, and she never called me to offer a single comment. She found one of the scenes too profane. But the bleakest hour came after I had published two novels with dismal sales. My father, for whom I had the deepest respect, took me for a long drive. "Son," he said, "this writing thing hasn't worked out for you. Your responsibility as a man is to feed your family. You need to find a better way."

Rather than quit writing, I dug in harder. That's when I decided to write what I wanted to read. And that's when I began writing Braveheart.

AUTHORLINK: In Love and Honor, you tell an old Russian story about wolves. How does that story go?

WALLACE: I was inspired by the Russian proverb that when you are born there are only three possible roads you can take. To the left, the wolves will eat you. To the right you will eat the wolves. In the middle, you will eat yourself. The moral is to choose the path where you can eat the wolves!"

AUTHORLINK: How long did it take to write and sell the screenplay for Braveheart?

WALLACE: It took me only six months to write the screenplay. But it took Mel Gibson six months to read the work, and another year for Mel to tell my Hollywood agent Dave Wirtschafter yes.

AUTHORLINK: You began your writing career first as a songwriter, then as a novelist, but your films Braveheart, The Man In the Iron Mask, Pearl Harbor, and We Were Soldiers have gained global acclaim. Why did you decide to return to writing novels with Love and Honor?

WALLACE: Love and Honor will be a film in the not too distant future; but I first envisioned it as a novel. Writing is my first love. Movies are visceral, powerful things, but a novel lives in the mind. No other art form can connect the reader with the characters in that way.

AUTHORLINK: Did editor Rob Weisbach at Simon & Schuster have many revisions for the book, Love and Honor?

WALLACE: Rob didn't make many revisions, probably because I am such a relentless rewriter, and I have a number of people read the work before I send it to a publisher. But he did suggest places where I needed more clarity, and I agreed! Editing is a special art, and Rob is fantastic at his job.

AUTHORLINK: How did Braveheart change your career?

WALLACE: The success of Braveheart gave me a lot of professional freedom. After it won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1995, people in the movie industry were interested to see what else I had to offer. So Braveheart gave me the opportunity to tell other epic stories, and it gave me the opportunity to direct my first film, The Man in the Iron Mask. " If you have succeeded once, you feel it might just be a fluke, and you need to repeat that success to really prove it to yourself inside."

—Randall Wallace AUTHORLINK: At what point in your career did you feel you had succeeded?

WALLACE: Oddly enough, the feeling of success didn't come with Braveheart. T.S. Elliott once said that all art is qualified by what comes before and after. After Braveheart, I felt compelled to achieve success again. If you have succeeded once, you feel it might just be a fluke, and you need to repeat that success to really prove it to yourself inside. That feeling probably came with the second movie I directed, We Were Soldiers. That is when I felt I had really accomplished something. I was blessed to spend time with many of the real people that the story is about. We Were soldiers affirmed for me that real heroes exist; when the film was finished I felt inspired to return to writing Love and Honor. "In many ways having reached

a level of success is lonelier

than the struggle to arrive."

—Randall Wallace AUTHORLINK: How does it feel to have your writing talent rewarded by wealth and fame?

WALLACE: In many ways having reached a level of success is lonelier than the struggle to arrive. When you have fame and recognition in Los Angeles people believe you have everything—that you have no needs. That is difficult on personal relationships. Writing is a reclusive profession. The characters in my head give me such meaning. It is always difficult to balance my imaginary life with the real one. I believe the struggle to be okay with one's solitude is part of the natural order of things. Yet relationships are necessary for survival, and I am always reaching out for them.

AUTHORLINK: How do you deal with the yearning for meaningful relationships?

WALLACE: Fortunately, I am able to gather friends close around me. Also, the people who work with me in my company, TheWheelhouse, are more like family.

AUTHORLINK: So you don't measure success by money or fame?

WALLACE: For me, success is something that can only be measured internally. I find it on my knees. It's between me and my God.

AUTHORLINK: In your books and movies you often write about "real men." Have there been any real men in your life?

WALLACE: My father was my model of manhood. A real man has the heart to face his enemies, and the wisdom to recognize the greatest battles are within himself.

Editor's Note: The final pages of Love and Honor perhaps best sum up the man, Randall Wallace. Hero cavalryman Kieran Selkirk is saying goodbye to his friend and mentor, Gorlov: I turned to Gorlov, and we looked at each other for a moment. I reached to the ground, lifted my saber from the place where it had fallen, and tossed it to him. He caught mine, then drew his own and tossed it to me. We smiled.

"So," he said, "you have eaten the wolves."

Randall Wallace lives in Los Angeles with his two sons.

Read more about Love and Honor and Randall Wallace at www.loveandhonornovel.com.

—Doris Booth

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This post was written by Doris Booth