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Interview with Dave Shields author of The Race
 
By Vaughn Trevi
Date: 4/24/2004
Interview with Dave Shields author of The Race
 

Vaughn Trevi: First off I loved ďThe RaceĒ Dave, has my response to the book been typical of the reviews you are getting?

Dave Shields: Thankfully, yes. In fact, the response has exceeded my highest expectations. Thatís saying a lot because Iíve been dreaming about this bookís release for a long time. Iím getting very positive comments from a wide range of readers: everyone from pro-cyclists who understand the topic intimately to grandmothers who didnít even realize there were people in this world who make a living riding bicycles. Iíve received lots of notes from non-cyclists saying that my novel has changed their opinion of cyclists entirely. That makes me very happy. A business owner ordered copies for all his employees to motivate them. The other day a guy even told me that reading this book changed his life. Another note I got was from a Belgian teenager who says he normally hates to read books but couldnít put this one down. If I can improve the impression of cyclists while simultaneously increasing the number of readers in the world Iíll have accomplished two very cool things.

VT: Is there a rider or athlete that helped you create the character of Ben?

DS: (Laughing) Yeah, me! Iím a cyclist and triathlete so I just reorganized my personal fantasies. Actually, my characters tend to be a sort of compilation of many people and events. Personal experiences seem to find their way into my writing quite often. Thatís because in order to write passionately I must be intimately familiar with my subject. For example, though Iíll admit I didnít realize I was researching anything at the time, I perfected one scene by sliding face first across asphalt. I repeated this experiment many times over the course of several decades. Until the modified events found their way into this book the only thing I had to show for them were scars. Itís amazing what bits and pieces of life I find myself cobbling together into my stories. I drew from all sorts of experiences to create Ben and others in the book. None of the resulting characters are really based on actual people, though.

VT: What motivated you to write The Race?

DS: The idea for this novel has been brewing for a long time. Iíve been a fan of cycling since the LeMond days and always thought it would be a fun topic to write about. I saw cycling as a fertile ground for exploring all sorts of ideas that interest me, and it definitely didnít disappoint. In fact, I found this story encompassing far more than I initially imagined it would. I really enjoyed writing this novel because it gave me the opportunity to research some fascinating subjects.

VT: Will there or is there a sequel to follow up on the characters in The Race?

DS: I hope so. Iíve got a couple of other ideas for cycling related novels, and it would make perfect sense to continue to explore them with these characters Iíve already developed. Iíd love to put Ben and his pals into new pressurized situations and see how they react. I hope Iíll eventually have an opportunity to do that.

VT: How long did it take to write the novel? How much time did you research it or was the research basically your being a racer and triathlete? It reads like you actually raced in le tour ... did you have a pro rider consulting on it with you?

DS: As I mentioned before, the seeds of this idea have been in my head for years; but it wasnít until I had the opportunity to show (former pro cyclist and 2 time Tour de France finisher) Marty Jemison the outline of my idea about two years ago that I started to write things down. My involvement as a cyclist and triathlete were important to the story in that Iíve experienced firsthand certain unique feelings like that of taking the lead in a long race, but by no means did I have the background to relate what a world-class athlete like Marty goes through on a stage like the Tour de France. I never would have attempted to write this story without someone like him to give me feedback.

Marty shared unique perceptions that altered the course of the story in ways I could never have anticipated. Marty is a guy who made his living as a domestique. He routinely turned himself inside out in the service of others. The sacrifices he made for the sport speak volumes about his character. If youíve met Marty on one of the bicycle tours he now guides you know that heís an incredibly generous guy with a wealth of knowledge. When I was picking his brain heíd be relating an experience that, to him, was as ordinary as breathing and Iíd say, ďSlow down, this is awesome stuff! Iíve got to take notes.Ē As a result there are pieces of Marty in Ben, too. There are other guys as well, some of whom Iíve never met but whose careers Iíve followed closely.

Another part of my research was visiting last yearís Tour de France to watch the race and also to ride the route described in my novel. Only by experiencing these same hills could I accurately represent them on the written page. Interestingly, Iíve been told that I have produced the most detailed and dramatic description ever recorded of the road to Alpe dí Huez. I donít know whether thatís true or not, but as I put the final touches on the last draft one of those fortunate coincidences that keeps life so exciting occurred. The Tour de France organizers announced an unprecedented uphill time trial on Alpe dí Huez for the 2004 version of the race. Itís also the first time that mountain has been visited by the tour in consecutive years. Having now climbed that amazing road several times and studied it intimately, I can hardly wait for July 21st to watch the decisive stage unfold.

VT: This is your second novel, could you tell us a little bit about your first novel?

DS: My first novel is called The Pendulumís Path. Itís about a man who is in his mid-thirties when he discovers that his family has lied to him for his entire life about his origins and also about their past. Like The Race, it has a strong connection to sport. In that novel the climactic scenes center around rock climbing.

VT: Are there writers you admire or are favorites?

DS: Like most novelists Iím a voracious reader. The list of writers I admire goes on and on. The two novels I found myself thinking of most often while constructing this story will probably surprise you. The first is Memoirs of a Geisha. I was fascinated by Arthur S. Goldenís techniques of revealing the Geisha culture. I thought, if an American man can write so convincingly about what itís like to be brought up as a young girl in this complex Japanese sub-culture I ought to be able to provide readers a window into how it feels to be a young American male testing himself as an endurance athlete.

The second book that strongly influenced my story is The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway. My goal was to explore the human condition in much the same way he did in that fantastic book. What happens when you create a character whoís unwilling to admit defeat no matter how ugly the odds get, especially if you continue to throw increasingly complex complications his way? The results are bound to be fascinating.

VT: The book from what I hear reads well among a range of readers. I think this could be a great book for the youth market as well as adults. Did you start out with this in mind?

DS: I didnít write it as a youth book, but at the same time I was cognizant of keeping the language and subject matter such that youth could enjoy it. I think the most exciting compliment the book has received so far was from a pro cyclist who said, ďEvery junior rider should read this book. I believe within five to ten years there will be a cycling champion who credits reading The Race to attracting him to the sport.Ē I said before that I was a dreamer, but an outcome like this had never occurred to me. What an incredible honor that would be!

VT: I think this book will raise the awareness and understanding of Pro Cycling and the Grand Tours to people not familiar with cycling; did you start out with this in mind?

DS: Absolutely! It amazes me that Lance Armstrong is one of the most famous athletes in America, yet only a very small percentage of people in this country understand the sport he dominates. Once people learn something of the tactics, technique, and turmoil that make up a pro cycling race they canít seem to get enough. Cycling is so rich and vibrant, and it translates so well to television using modern technology with the motorcycle and helicopter mounted cameras that I expect it to continue growing in popularity among American sports fans. I partially set out to write a novel that would boost the sport in that direction. Encouraging a growing fan base is my way of trying to pressure American television networks into broadcasting more cycling. That may sound outlandish, but I already admitted Iím a dreamer.

I hoped to write a novel that would boost the sport in that direction. It would be great to see American television networks broadcast more cycling, and I hope The Race helps by building the fan base. Encouraging a growing fan base is sort of my self-serving way of trying to pressure American television networks into broadcast more cycling. That probably sounds outlandish, but I already admitted Iím a dreamer.

I also had another motivation for writing this novel. I began cycling in the 70ís. Back then my friends and I would often be pelted by insults and garbage while training. Iíve been the victim of two hit and runs, one where a car veered into a parking lot in order to hit me and then jammed on the brakes to throw me from their hood into a gutter. I think conditions are improving, but I continue to see stories in major media like Skip Baylessí ridiculously uninformed article titled, ďLance Armstrong is Not an AthleteĒ and the insulting diatribe by John Kelso titled ďPedaling is Not a Sport.Ē Just last year there was the North Carolina radio shock jock who encouraged callers to share methods of scaring cyclists off the road including throwing bottles at them, hitting them with car doors, startling them with blaring horns, and speeding past them then slamming on the brakes.

Iíve never understood why some people take such offense at bicycle riders. I figured that a story like The Race might cause a few people to reassess what weíre doing on the roads. For my part, Iím just trying to stay in shape while participating in an activity that I enjoy. I love cycling and Iíll continue to promote it at all levels. To me, the bicycle is the purest of inventions. Iíve craved the feel of the wind in my face from the first time I experienced it.

VT: Where do you see this book and your career going from here?

DS: For me, writing is an incredibly intense, but also an incredibly solitary activity. In revision it becomes reliant on some critical input, but itís not until publication that light is truly thrown on whatís been created. I believe this book is well prepared for that moment thanks to an amazing critique group called NovelDoc. This book wouldnít be a fraction of what it became without their input.

Career wise, I want to write stories that force me to refine my perception of the world. It makes me happy when others enjoy the stories that result. I read recently that itís a wonder humans ever stop dancing given that they are the premier example of molecular organization in a universe almost entirely ruled by confusion and disarray. Yet that isnít what happens at all. Some people rarely dance. How come? Until I figure it out I guess Iíll continue writing stories that explore why we are what we are. I canít imagine anything Iíd rather do, with the obvious exception of loading my daughters in the bike trailer and taking them for a ride.

VT: Thanks Dave and weíll see you out on the road. Keep up the writing and the riding.

ďThe RaceĒ can be purchased at http://www.threestorypress.com/DP-LAF.html

Dave generously is donating $5.00 for each copy of The Race purchased to the Daily Peloton Ride with Lance game fundraiser for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

 
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