Studio Velo is pleased to be offering Chain Reaction, a new novel recently released by Ross E. Goldstein, a Mill Valley cyclist, former racer, and cycling enthusiast. Chain Reaction has been called “A ‘Breaking Away’ for the 21st century” by Austin Murphy, one of Sports Illustrated’s senior writers who covers professional cycling for the magazine. We recently invited Ross into the shop for a chat and talked with him about Chain Reaction.
SV: You’ve just released the novel. How is it going so far?
RG: I’ve been pleased by the response Chain Reaction has received, particularly some of the comments from other riders who tell me that it has rekindled their love of the sport. Just as gratifying are some of the positive comments from non-riders who tell me they simply enjoyed the story and now have a deeper understanding of what their friends or spouses love of about cycling. One reader, a non-cyclist, told me that she finally understood what it was that her husband was watching on television all the time. When you release something like this, you feel pretty vulnerable. You take a deep breath and wait to exhale, wait for the response to come in.
SV: Have you exhaled yet?
RG: Not completely. But I’m getting there.
SV: Why did you decide to write Chain Reaction?
RG: The kernel of the idea came a long time back, more than fifteen years ago or so. I was racing as an amateur here and in Italy. Just amateur stuff, but along the way I had some experiences, met some people, heard a lot of stories, and started collecting them in my mind. I always thought that there was a great narrative to be told about professional cycling. I started writing Chain Reaction three years ago and just released it in mid May. I wanted to time the release with the start of the big tours.
SV: So, CR is a story about the professional bicycle racing scene?
RG: Bicycle racing is the background for the story, the context. It sets the stage. But, the real story in the novel is the tale of a young racer’s coming-of-age experience, his growing up. I don’t want to give too much away here, but the hero of the story is a promising young professional racer who quits his team under mysterious circumstances. The novel tells the story of how and why he made his decision, how he comes to grips with its impact on his life, what he does about the choices he has made, and how he moves forward in his life. Along the way, the reader enters his world, both locally and in Italy, and sees the life of a young professional cyclist through his eyes.
SV: Without giving anything away, big climbs figure prominently in Chain Reaction. Why is that?
RG: There are several reasons. First, big climbs are where the drama happens. Watch the queen stage of any tour and the steep, extended climbs are the places where the race is determined. In Chain Reaction the big climbs are almost like characters in the book. They have a personality. They are the canvas on which the character of the players come into focus. And it is there where the characters in the book actually come to know each other.
SV: So, can we assume that all of your characters in Chain Reaction are climbers?
RG: Well, you’ll have to read it to find out. But the thing I’ve tried to communicate in the book, and it comes to the fore in the climbing sections, is that climbing isn’t just power. It is strategy, pacing, technique, mental strength, and team strategy, which is so important. Too often we make the mistake of equating climbing ability to some simple, quantifiable ratio of power to weight. But the physical part is only part of the story. Climbing is where you have to go deep inside yourself. It’s where you come to grips with your own notion of your limits and what it means to endure, to suffer. In Chain Reaction, and I don’t want to spoil anything here, we have a rider who picks the climbs up the big pitches in the Dolomites as a platform to use his experience against other competitors. You might say that the climbs test him as much as the other riders do.
SV: You’ve set the beginning of the story in Marin. Why is that?
RG: Well, there is an old adage amongst writers, “Write what you know about.” So, setting the story in Mill Valley, at least the beginning of the story, was a natural. In fact, some of the readers who live around here will recognize a few of the places that local cyclists frequent. Then I moved the story to Italy, Bassano del Grappa, to be exact. It’s in the Veneto region. I used to go there every year to ride and race, and I fell in love with the region. It’s the motherland of cycling as far as I am concerned.
SV: How much of your own experience is in the book?
RG: I’d love to think that I was as good a rider as Cal, my main character. In fact, I was a good, not great, racer, certainly not a professional. By the time I had stopped racing I had figured out what my strength was…flat criteriums. In fact, I used to joke that I never entered a race where I lost sight of my car. Climbing was, I guess, my idea of hell. But in writing this I got to live out my fantasies in my main character.
SV: What was the hardest part about writing Chain Reaction?
RG: I’ve written and published non-fiction before, but writing fiction is a whole different process. It is infinitely more difficult. Along the way there was an interesting process that happened. At some point the characters became real. They took on a life of their own. And then, they began to guide the story. I may have been the one that created the basic story line, the beginning, the middle and the end, but, as strange as it seems, the characters I created made some of the decisions that make the story interesting and, I hope, unpredictable.
SV: What are your hopes for Chain Reaction?
RG: Well of course I’d love for it to be a huge success and sell a million copies. But, more realistically, I hope that readers will find the story engaging and entertaining. I also feel that there is huge potential for Chain Reaction to be a great movie. Cycling is so visual, racing is so exciting, and the narrative of a race can be so compelling. There has never truly been a great cycling movie. Breaking Away was a great movie, but it really was more of a love story. I’d like to see Chain Reaction become a successful movie and bring some of what I love about cycling to a wider audience.
SV: Your son has recently started racing. Did that play a part in writing the book?
RG: I actually started writing before he made the decision to ride competitively. But, going with him to races and watching him compete, especially seeing and feeling the passion for the sport again, live and real, reminded me of what it was that got me addicted to cycling. It added incentive to tell the story.
SV: Any parting words for the Studio Velo audience?
RG: Next time you come into the shop to pick up a tire or a tube, or look at a frame, take a peak at a copy. Skim it. Read a few pages. If you like it, take it home. And, if you do, drop me a note. Getting feedback about the work, even if it is critical, is something that I really like.
SV: OK. Get ready for some responses. Where can readers of the novel or readers of this interview connect with you?
RG: E mail is email@example.com, but you can also usually find me hanging around some of the Mill Valley haunts like Peets late morning after I’ve done my ride.
Studio Velo has copies of Chain Reaction for sale at the front counter and online at Books & Magazines