Seattle a couple of years ago. He’s been writing most of his life in support of his work in management consulting, public speaking and training. Since 2009 he's devoted himself to the craft of writing. When not writing he’s either hiking/walking with the dog or on his scooter (he has a Vespa). He also an instrument rated pilot, enjoys cycling, history, cooking, hiking and has recently taken up Nordic skiing.
BRIAN: Richard, welcome to the Underground. First, let’s talk about Toxic Relationship, which we just reviewed here on UBR. As someone who has lived in Texas several times, I was impressed by how well you brought Central Texas alive. Was it your familiarity with the Lone Star State that made you chose it as your setting for Toxic Relationship, or was it something else?
RICHARD: Thanks for having me on the Underground. I read the reviews and interviews every week. Great stuff. And I’ve enjoyed getting to know you through our work together at Author Salon.
Thanks for noticing the setting of Toxic Relationship. I have to say, I considered the setting one of the characters. As you know, I live in Seattle these days, but I called Austin home for over thirty years. I love the vibe, the culture, the music, the people, the food, yes, even the heat of Central Texas. When I thought of my protagonist, Nick Sibelius, and then the characters populating the story, they defined the setting for me. I just couldn’t imagine them anywhere else. As a bonus, I got to use a unique setting for the series --Pflugerville, Texas. How many novels can you name with Pflugerville as the setting? I’m not aware of another novel set in the town, which is really a suburb of Austin, other than the television series Friday Night Lights. They shot in the Pflugerville area, but set the story in a fictional town. I actually lived there for many years. Of course, writing a novel that makes Pflugerville sound like a nest of criminals and psychopaths may keep me from getting a key to city.
RICHARD: I was driving down a state highway in East Texas a few years ago with my wife at sunset. The speed limit, if I recall, was 70 miles an hour over a two lane, hilly road without shoulders. Topping a hill I see, just in time, two good old boys on four wheelers --no lights, no markers -- just two camouflaged four wheelers, which probably have a top speed of 35 mph driving down the road, cars swerving to miss them. We joked about Darrel and Darrel out to win a Darwin award for the most stupid way to die. Junior probably rose up from that experience. I wanted Junior to be the kind of guy, who at his core, means well, but who’s judgment continually sabotages his intentions. In his own mind everything, in the moment, makes perfect sense. But in hindsight and I imagine as a reader observes him, you know whatever he has planned is going to turn ugly. Often I think we make a false distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. Often, bad guys have some redeeming qualities and either carry some baggage or damage which leads to bad behavior or like Junior, simply lack good judgment.
BRIAN: Your website says we should expect Dirty Water, the sequel to Toxic Relationship, next year. Is there anything you want to tell your readers about it?
RICHARD: Dirty Water continues the Nick Sibelius series and has a release date of June, 2013. Like Toxic Relationship, I wanted to continue with quirky characters in an almost “theater of the absurd” environment. Something fun and a bit crazy for these serious times. I think Dirty Water will continue the tradition. At the start of the novel business is slow for Nick’s private investigation firm, but just in time, wealthy businessman, Dan Hoyt, calls after someone vandalizes his beloved Ferrari. What should have been an open and shut case, soon devolves into web of back room political deals and eco-terrorism. Water is scarce in the State of Texas and Nick discovers that water is indeed, a dirty business.
BRIAN: As a fellow writer, I categorize writing into three phases: writing, editing, and selling. Which of these presents the greatest challenge to you and why?
RICHARD: Selling. I love writing, to the point that I lose all track of time.
I have often found myself closing a place down after five or six hours of writing, when I thought I had only been there a couple of hours. Editing, while not my favorite thing, has become an increasingly important part of the process. As you know with Author Salon process, we engage in some serious, detailed critique. The mindset required to do that kind of critique for each other is also the mindset I think we then bring to our editing after the first draft. Now selling, well, I’m comfortable putting my work out there, hoping folks will be interested. But in the writing world today where the author, unless you’re Stephen King, has to do most of the marketing for a book, I’ve had to step up my game. And much of what I do is not what I used to think about in regards to marketing a book. I’m not doing a physical book tour, book signings, etc. My publisher, Champagne Books, has an eBook strategy. They see the real profits in eBooks versus overhead heavy analog books (traditional paper books). So my selling is primarily online, through reviews and interviews from bloggers, Facebook, Twitter, my own blog and website. In fact, I’m doing my first blog tour beginning September 17th. I have no idea what a blog tour really looks like yet, but I’m hopeful it will give me a chance to raise the awareness of Toxic Relationship among a large group of potential readers.
BRIAN: I thought about asking about our mutual love of flying, but then I read about your Vespa. How did you get involved in scooters? What is their appeal over
RICHARD: Well, for a variety of reasons, I stopped flying a year ago. In Seattle you really need an instrument rating and the rental on a good instrument aircraft gets pretty pricey. The rub is, as you know, once you fly it’s hard to find something close to the feeling of being in the air. I live in an urban neighborhood in Seattle, called Ballard and much of the city is very accessible by bicycle and by scooter. I had never ridden a motorcycle or scooter before in my life -- really. But watching folks ride around town, the ease of moving through traffic and parking, even downtown, gave me the idea that maybe a scooter would be a fun way to get around. And since I had no experience at all with motorcycles, I figured a scooter was a good place to start without damaging myself. Plus, it’s hard to argue with 70mpg. I took a safety course for the endorsement and frankly, to be sure I really wanted to do it. What fun! I had a blast and have been enjoying my ride ever since. I ride to my favorite writing haunts most days and often will take a spin past Sunset Park to take in Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains in the distance. In fact, I started a blog on scootering in the Pacific Northwest called Sküterblahg. I think I have three readers to date: Two writing colleagues and some guy in Germany. I need to find out if sküterblahg means something in German! Scooting is not flying, but for a tiny fraction of what it would cost me to fly, I get a little of that feeling. And I love how the scooter culture doesn’t take itself too seriously. Now I’m jonesing for a motorcycle, probably a cruiser to enjoy the back roads.
BRIAN: You’re working on several other projects, including The Inker War: The Five Pens of Johann and Shaper Emergence. Can you tell our readers a little bit about these books and where they are in the publishing process?
RICHARD: Shaper Emergence is actually a novel I wrote four years ago, edited over the course of another year or so and then submitted to the Texas Writers League’s literary contest. The manuscript won its category, science fiction, but I had difficulty finding an agent. I thought about self-publishing, but I realized I couldn’t find an agent because the manuscript needs work. I imagine many of us who write novels have one or more “in the drawer” we hope to one day bring into the light of day. I know what I want to do with it, but as you mentioned, I’m working on The Five Pens of Johann and the third installment to the Nick Sibelius series, which is tentatively entitled Chain Reaction.
Inker War: The Five Pens of Johann is a young adult fantasy about an eighteen year old who inherits his father's role as an Inker, a member of a secret society of alchemists fighting an ancient war across the centuries to protect the future from history. He discovers that to defeat his enemy and save present Reality, he must learn the most difficult of all Inker lessons--you must die to live, and as often as possible.
I’ve got this in a completed draft and have been working on the manuscript with a group of talented peers (you’re one of those, Brian, of course) at Author Salon. I really want to challenge myself to write the very best piece of work I can and the rigorous process we use to critique our work has been both challenging and very rewarding. I’m not sure what the timeline is on The Five Pens. It’s more like a fine wine (okay, or a good beer) -- it’s ready when it’s ready.
The other novel I’m working on is the third Nick Sibelius novel, Chain Reaction. Nick gets pulled into helping out a bass fisherman who thinks someone is trying to kill him, but as he peels back the layers of the onion, he runs across bad people with increasingly larger visions of destruction and mayhem for the state of Texas. I’ve got a competitive striped bass fisherman, a high school band director/amateur online porn director, a biker chick accountant, a model airplane enthusiast/military wanna-be, a corporate executive with delusions of grandeur and a governor who will do whatever is necessary for her political success -- what could go wrong? I’m working on the first draft now and hope to have something to the publisher by March, 2013.
BRIAN: What’s the most important piece of advice you could give a writer struggling to bring their first book to market?
RICHARD: Be open to critique and never, ever, give up. Criticism is tough. You spend so much of yourself putting a story on the page that it’s very difficult to hear someone tell you your protagonist isn’t fully developed or the middle sags or the climax doesn’t resonate. Being open to the truth, however, is a powerful thing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten feedback which made my insides churn, but I knew had merit.
Persistence is the other thing. If creativity, craftsmanship and all the other components of a writing career are equal, what sets apart those who are successful, which I define as having your work read, is persistence. Write, learn from critique, hone the craft every day. If I share a scene with a critique group and I can tell I’ve made a pig’s breakfast of it, I don’t go into a tailspin, but instead take in the critique and learn. Okay, sometimes I go into a tailspin, but I try to pull out of it quickly. And that persistence continues whether I go the traditional route through a publisher or self-publish. Persistence means write, write, write, write, write, edit, edit, edit, edit. It’s about demanding more from yourself than anyone else. It’s taking rejection in stride and believing in yourself. And it’s promoting your work in the marketplace, even if you’re uncomfortable with social networking and other tools of the trade.
Be open to critique and never, ever, give up.
BRIAN: Richard, thanks for joining us here in the Underground. You can read more about Richard on his blog, follow him on Facebook or purchase Toxic Relationship.
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You can also follow Brian Braden on his blog, Facebook and Twitter and buy his book, Carson's Love.