Today we're talking with Bill Raney, author of Letters to Zerky: A Father’s Legacy to a Lost Son…and a Road Trip Around the World
FQ: I would like to say that I was beyond ecstatic to read this book. My young daughter and I took our own journey when she was very young, and although it was only through the U.S., the deep meaning and beautiful words you offer in this novel brought back many amazing memories.
When my wife and I returned from our VW bus trip around the world, we would tell people about our marvelous adventure, much of which had been in the Middle East, For example, we would tell them about the time we were surrounded by soldiers with guns, near Mt. Ararat in Anatolia, and about the time Zerky almost got kidnapped in Iran, and about what Iran's Capitol, Tehran, was like. Most of our friends had no idea where these places were. Nor did they know the difference between Iran and Tehran, Iran and Iraq, or between Pakistan and Afghanistan, let alone Baluchistan. But by 1987, when I came across my old letters, I realized our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had changed all that. People had a hunger to learn something about these places. So I started thinking about turning these letters into a book. And then in 2009, they finally were a book.
FQ: I must say that I love JoAnne. From her love of animals to her way of “heading toward the oldest part of the city” wherever you went she was fascinating. Could you expand on what the most amazing site was to explore, as far as historical significance?
Probably Ghazni in Afghanistan, once the seat of an empire where Mahamud of Ghazni's hoards of horsemen had come thundering over the Khyber Pass and down into India to lay waste to the cities below. The medieval European history of Andorra was also fascinating.
FQ: I am a huge lover of the history of Greece. I know that this was not one of the places you found very interesting, so I was wondering if you ever did return and ‘take another look?”
No, our problem there was that Greece was where we made our decision to cross over the Bosporus and go to Iran, which made us impatient to get on our way and out of Greece. Greece is country to travel around leisurely, with plenty of time to investigate its many nooks, crannies and marvelous history.
FQ: When you speak about the Middle Eastern nations back in the 1960’s, there is so much happiness and light. Considering how the world has changed, would you want to return to places such as Afghanistan or Iran, or to remember them as they were when you were there?
I would love to return to Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Unfortunately, the latter two are now war zones, and Iran may be soon becoming one too.
FQ: Are there other “Bill Raney” works that readers should be aware of? I know you have a great deal of information at your site waltzingaroundtheworld.com. Is this where all readers should go to know more?
On my website at www.letterstozerky.com, under Other Writings I have posted a few snatches from the new book I am now working on, In Search of a Lost Penny, the story of my little sister who disappeared into the night when I was a child, No one would ever tell me what had happened to her. Until she tracked me down.
FQ: Do you have a ‘favorite’ place? I know that may be an impossible question to answer, but you speak about Andorra so vividly that I wondered if that was the village you most remember?
Andorra is an actual country, one steeped in a history of border wars between Spain and France. Joanne and I had once talked about going there to retire someday, but this could never happen because of her untimely death. However the urge to retire there someday had never left me, so in 1994, when I sold the Nickelodeon, I took my new wife Nancy there to retire. We were shocked at how commercial it had become, and how much its beautiful little Capitol had changed for the worse. So we quickly headed for the Picos of Europa in the gorgeous Liebana region in Northern Spain, where we lived for six months in the village of Potes.
FQ: JoAnne loved her movies. I know you are an art theatre aficionado. Could you speak a bit about that and The Nickelodeon?
JoAnne and I had to finally terminate our thirteen-month long trip around the world for two reasons: because Zerky was growing up and needed a more stable environment, and because our money was running out and I needed a job. The solution to both these problems was for us to go back to California, where I soon came across a business opportunity in Santa Cruz, where I started the Nickelodeon Theatre, which is still going strong today. Like JoAnne's little "THE MOVIE" had been in San Francisco, the Nickelodeon was and still is an art theatre which back then meant mostly foreign language subtitled films. That way we got to go traveling all over the world again.
FQ: On a personal note, I must ask, what was Spielberg Castle like, or even Dachau? Places that once held so much pain? Were they more touristy, or still representative of the past?
Spielberg Castle, with all its dungeons and torture devices, was being used by the Communist government back then as a tourist attraction to make money, and also as a propaganda device to help along its puppet government, which the Russians had set up in Czechoslovakia shortly after World War II. Dachau, on the other hand had been truly a horror chamber during World War II when the Nazis were exterminating the Jews and the gypsies. Interestingly, most of the tourists Joanne and I and Zerky found there (Tarzan had to wait out in the car) were Jews, some of whom and some of their families had once been slated to be burned in the ovens there. It seems like to revisit your past is sometimes the best way to get away from it.
FQ: What is one place you never saw that you wish you would have seen? Is Mount Ararat still the one?
Well, we did see plenty of Mt. Ararat, from down below, but we truly wanted to transit the legendary Burma Road into China. Unfortunately the Assam link to it had been taken over by the jungle, so we had to settle for shipping our WB bus back to San Francisco and taking an airplane to Thailand and Hong Kong, from where we too a ship back to the real world of San Francisco. Tibet and Papua New Guinea and Africa had to wait.
To learn more about Letters to Zerky: A Father’s Legacy to a Lost Son…and a Road Trip Around the World please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.