The rancher who writes romance novels composed at least half of his first book on the road, one hand on the steering wheel, the other holding a digital recorder.
Sometimes he’d fall so deeply into his story, into the lives of Johannes, Reuben, Sarah, Zeb, Inga, Jacob, Rebecca and Mac, that he wouldn’t notice the cop car blinking behind him. When he finally did, he’d have to tell the officer he was writing a novel. Hadn’t noticed how fast he was going.
Reid Rosenthal says it’s a story he’d been writing in his head for decades. He made a promise to himself long ago to write books, but life has a habit of getting in the way.
In fall 2008, Rosenthal was hunting on his ranch near Douglas, chasing an elusive bull he’d been after for two years.
He remembers it this way: The bull was up on a ridge, drifting in and out of the timber. Rosenthal dismounted his horse and started pulling out his rifle. He noticed the setting sun casting lines of fire across the pond. The clouds were golden, rimmed in orange. He put away the rifle and took out his notepad.
Back home that night, he took the scene as a sign.
So the divorcé who lives alone, the father of two children now grown, began to write the first installment of what will be a six-part series, “Threads West, An American Saga.”
He started with a villa atop a blue, green sea and frothy swells, curtains caressing the windowsill, a flickering candle, and then, “Johannes Svenson’s tall, thin naked body …”
“What a fantastic excerpt. Off to buy this now!” -- Eve
“I love you(r) writing style.......looking forward to the entire book.....when do you expect it will be released?” -- WW
“Perfect.... absolutely perfect introduction to guide us all into your wondrous world. The Unknown will be truly a hit with the true romantics.” -- Front Range Woman
Rosenthal doesn’t look like the author of a historical western romance series. He’s 57, smokes Camel straights and drives a one-ton Ford F-350.
When Rosenthal first told male friends what he was writing, he was met with skeptical expressions.
Friend Howard Messinger of Carmel, Calif., laughed at the idea Rosenthal could make a livelihood out of writing romance novels. The two met nearly 30 years ago in Denver, when Messinger was a young attorney and Rosenthal was navigating the real estate business. He knew Rosenthal studied journalism in college, but most of the writings Messinger read by his friend were dry, legal documents, contracts the two worked on together.
“I knew he could write,” Messinger said. “I didn’t know he could write romance novels.”
Romance Writers of America doesn’t keep data on the percentage of female authors in the genre compared to male. But male romance novelists aren't common.
"At least not men who don’t write under a pseudonym,” said Page Lambert, Colorado-based author and Rosenthal’s editor. “I think that’s one of the strengths in Reid’s writing. He brings to the romance genre a masculine sensitivity, which opens it up to a broader readership.”
Rosenthal self-published a western romance short story, “End of the Circuit,” two years ago, but “Threads West” is his first novel, published by Cheyenne-based Rockin’ SR Publishing in October. The series about adventure, romance and the American West begins in 1855 and follows eight primary characters whose lives ultimately cross.
In response to naysayers, Rosenthal says: “I’m a romantic guy.”
But then people like Messinger read it, and Rosenthal no longer needs to explain.
Rosenthal is fourth generation land and cattle. His great-grandfather was a cattle farmer in Germany, later killed along with his wife at Auschwitz. Rosenthal’s grandparents made preparations to get their kids out of Germany and fled the country themselves in 1939, on a boat out of Bremen Harbor, which appears in Rosenthal’s book.
Rosenthal grew up in both Colorado and Connecticut, where his dad had agricultural properties. His childhood was spent outside, helping his father with the land, and later managing a painting company and demolishing old barns to sell off the wood. He was encouraged by teachers to write, and he devoured the works of Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, Leon Uris, Larry McMurtry and Louis L'Amour.
Today Rosenthal’s company, Ranches of the West, Inc., manages 16 ranches in Wyoming, Montana and Colorado. He’s been in Wyoming, living at LaPrele Creek Ranch near Douglas, for nine years.
After they met, Messinger and Rosenthal went fly-fishing in Montana, where Rosenthal told his friend of the value he saw in land and place. The open spaces were his passion, and although he wasn’t writing “Threads West” then, the relationship between man and land stands at the center of his series.
“I think it’s all inextricably interrelated,” Rosenthal said. “I think when you look out this window it generates a feeling, which generates a great story. I don’t think you can detach ranching from land, and in my case, you can’t detach either one of those from what you want to write.
“… Who has not been involved in a romance, or more than one? And who has not stood on a hillside and breathed deeply and looked out at a landscape and felt something?”
Rosenthal said he had no clue how to navigate the book publishing business when he started. He attended writing conferences and tried to absorb everything he could from the authors there.
He had a rough version of his first book in three weeks. It took months of rewriting with his editor to get it in publishing shape, he said, adding in historical context and reworking the female voices in his book with her help.
For the Oct. 12 release, 5,000 copies were printed.
Here’s the thing about "Threads West." It’s a romance novel written by a guy’s guy, a rancher from Wyoming.
And it’s been selling. Well.
On the morning of release day, Rosenthal got a call from a friend who couldn’t but a copy off Amazon.com. The sales button didn’t work, she said.
He found out later from Amazon customer service: The 5,000 copies sold.
All Reid could think: This is really cool. Is this really happening?
Since, the book has gone through three additional printings, a total of 36,000 books, and has reached the top of sales charts on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in multiple categories, including Western Romance, Women of the West, Historical Romance and Historical Fiction. “Threads West” won the National USA Book News 2010 Award for Best Western and was a finalist for Best Romance.
He’s done dozens of interviews for newspaper, magazine, radio and online publications. He appears on “The Balancing Act” Feb. 11 on the Lifetime Channel.
Rosenthal started a website while writing the book, sharing excerpts with early readers, which he believes might have helped generate initial interest in the series. But he said he’d like to think it’s the story and characters that keep people coming.
Rosenthal is currently writing book two, which he plans to have published by the end of March. The third book, which takes place in Wyoming, is scheduled for fall of 2011.
And at the back of the first book, Rosenthal offers glimpses of what happens next: "... Pressed against the side of the wagon box, Sarah fumbled in the saddlebag, draped over the wagon wheel, for the next round. She heard a whisper in the air, almost the sound a small bird makes on a calm and peaceful evening in the stillness just before dark, and then a sudden, hollow resounding thud. A woman's voice screamed in pain and terror."
Reach features reporter Margaret Matray at 307-266-0535 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
* On TV: Watch for Reid’s appearance on “The Balancing Act” Feb. 11 on the Lifetime Channel.