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Author of entertaining, snappily written and well-researched western histories Alton Pryor gives a good writing tip, talks about growing up on an alfalfa farm in the Salinas Valley, California, and interviewing Ronald Reagan...

READERSVOICE.COM: I like the snappy style of the chapters in your books on various people and events in the history of California and other states. What was your approach when you were writing features for California Farmer magazine? Was it just instinctive, or did you look for some conflict that somebody solved?

ALTON PRYOR: Early on in my journalism career, I seemed to have developed a knack for writing “feature” stories. While I think I can write a news story as well as any one else, it was my feature stories that garnered the biggest audiences. It’s a style of writing I feel I’m good at. I’m also very modest as you probably picked up from my last statement.
For tips on writing, I tell people to write like they are talking to their best friend. It really does work.

RV: What topics did you write about and what places did you visit when you were a journalist for magazines and other media?

AP: Most of my feature stories were about people although I did delve into writing about places. People, though, all have a story to tell. Sometimes it’s like prying rusty nails from an old wooden plank to get their stories out of them, but with good and easy going questions, it can be done.

RV: What sort of farm did you grow up on, outside King City in Salinas Valley, and what do you remember about it?

AP: I grew up on an alfalfa and vegetable farm. It was very common during my teenage years to have my father roust my brother and me out of bed at 2 a.m. to go bale hay. That’s when the moisture was right.
We would go back to the house and change clothes in time to catch a school bus. After school, we took the bus home again, changed clothes and went out to load up the bales of hay that we had baled that morning. It was hard and tiresome work. You know, it didn’t hurt us a bit.

RV: How did your interview with Ronald Reagan come about and what were the circumstances, and what were your impressions of him?

AP: During my journalistic career, perhaps the biggest highlight came in 1964. I was working for California Farmer magazine. I was invited to a press conference in Los Angeles where Ronald Reagan announced, “I’m going to be a candidate for Governor.”
As a writer, I was allowed 10 minutes with him, alone in a crowded room. He made me feel like the only reason he was there was to talk to me.

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-copyright Simon Sandall