The Statler Brothers’ Don Reid ~ Interviewed

Don Reid, a member of country music’s legendary Statler Brothers, has established himself as a professional writer in multiple fields. As a songwriter, Reid is the recipient of 3 Grammy awards, 9 CMA awards, 13 gold albums, and 8 platinum albums. He co-wrote The Statler Brothers Show for television, and has published three nonfiction books. Reid lives with his wife, Deborah, in Staunton, Virginia.

Time to crow: What new book or project do you have coming out?

O Little Town [was my] first novel. I have finished a new novel with the working title of One Lane Bridge. My son, Langdon, and I have also finished a new non-fiction titled MYTHunderstandings of the Bible. It’s all about things people think are in the scriptures but really aren’t.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?

Part of the story takes place in the 50s and part in 1904. The 1904 part was inspired by a circus tragedy that actually took place in my hometown, Staunton, VA back around the turn-of-the-century. I made it a theatrical tragedy and then all the rest is fiction.

Don, you have had a successful career as a member of country music’s legendary the Statler Brothers. You’ve had Grammys, CMA awards and gold albums. Why the turn to fiction?

I spent wonderful decades as a songwriter and after we retired I just wanted to do something different. I have been writing 3-minute fictions for 40 years set to music. Now I’m sitting at a computer screen instead of a keyboard and loving every minute of it. I write now because I want to and not because I have to in order to propel the next album or next tour. It’s a sweet luxury.

Did you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it?

I have never suffered from writer’s block (thank the good Lord!) If I ever do, I think I’ll just write through it. Write about the block itself. Face the problem and make it your subject until you break it.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What’s the most difficult part of writing this story?

This story rather flowed out of me. I suppose the hardest part was the timelines I had to keep with the different decades involved. The flashbacks and making all the ages work out.

How did you climb out (overcome it)?

I never felt like I hit a hole and I only hope the reader doesn’t either.

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

I write in my office on the second floor of my home in Staunton, VA. I have everything in this room a writer could ever need. Besides my research books, I have a TV, DVD player, telephone, CD player, computer, copy machine, printer, scanner, radio, refrigerator and intercom. My son, Debo, says one day the office is going to self-implode and we’ll never see it again. But I’m comfortable here. I have an office across town I never go to.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I’m up early. At the track by 7:00 AM with my wife, Debbie, and my dog, Chipper. Then back and in the shower and at the computer by mid morning. Since the Statlers retired in 2002, I usually have lunch with one or both of my sons or my brother or any number of good friends. And then in the afternoons I’m back at the desk doing the things I love to do to keep me busy. I have 3 little grandchildren that keep me busy, too and they live close. I don’t write everyday like some do. I write when my mind is free and I have something to say. That works for me.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

I don’t force the creative process. Never have. I used to write songs in the middle of the night and I tend to do the same with prose. I like the house quiet and dark. If scenes don’t flow freely, I leave them alone. They’ll come better if they come naturally. You can often tell by the way a sentence reads if the writer had to struggle with it or not.

Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.

I get an idea. From heaven only knows where. Something someone says in a conversation. Riding by a building that catches my eye. Seeing an old friend on the street. Anything can trigger an idea or a plot. Then I carry it with me in my head for what can be months.

The first time it hits the paper it is usually in an outline form. A page of two of the entire story. Then I start with the listing of characters and I draw lines from one name to the other and write on those lines what their connections are. Then I outline the chapters with just a sentence or two per as to what I want to cover in each chapter. And then I’m ready to write. And the charm for me is finding that perfect opening line. The one that will grab their attention and also give me something to hang my hat on for the next 300 pages.

What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?

I discovered John O’Hara in high school. (When I was in high school- not when he was.) I read everything he wrote and was taken by the history he covered in his fiction. I like that. He could tell a wonderful story and yet when you came away from it, you felt you had lived in that era and gotten to know their times. Their fashion and their music. I learned and lot from just reading him and enjoying him.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

When we first got in the music business (I was 18 years old), we worked for 8 ½ years for Johnny Cash. Did all his records, concerts and TV shows. He was a great songwriter and I was learning. One day in an airport, I was having trouble with a lyric I was working on and I asked John for advice. Instead of giving me a lecture on structure, he simply said, “Donnie, the best way to say anything is to just say it.” Wow! I have used that in everything I’ve written since. Just go to the heart of the matter and get it said in simple and words. Wonderful advice for any young writer.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

I think I did learn it early in my life and career. I was writing hit songs in my early 20s and was a music publisher before I was 30 (thank the good Lord, again). So I think I took advantage of the people around me to learn from them. I was always aware of the talent of others and I soaked it up – never thinking what I was doing was anywhere near the importance of those who had gone before me.

How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?

PR is my strong suit. I can do interviews in my sleep and often have over the years. I like talking to the press. I like talking about writing. So I’ve never been one to run from marketing in anyway

I thoroughly enjoyed O Little Town. Can we expect any more Don Reid novels?

I would hope so. I have others in the can and in the mill. I enjoy creating and I’m just happy you thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

I don’t often give advice. But if I did I’d say, “You learn by doing.” If you want to be a writer, then write. If you want to be teacher, then teach. And you can apply any noun and verb at this point and make your own sentence. But don’t be content by just dreaming. Do it!