An interview with Randy Richardson

Randy Richardson is fabulous! And I’m not just saying that because I have the pleasure of working for him, although that’s certainly one of the perks of my job. His writing is fresh and innovative; his demeanor is the same. And, he’s just a really good guy. He doesn’t write mystery, per se, but then life is mystery and he writes life. If you haven’t read one of his books yet, I promise doing so will enrich your life. I hope you enjoy!

PJ: Randy, how long have you been writing?

Randy: I’m probably considered a late-bloomer when it comes to creative writing. I studied just about everything but creative writing in college. I earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science, a master’s degree in journalism, and finally a law degree. Never took one creative writing class through all those degrees. While working as a lawyer, at the ripe age of 33, I got this seed in my head for a novel. That seed grew into Lost in the Ivy, a murder mystery set against the backdrop of Chicago’s Wrigley Field.  I’m now 50 and just published my second novel, Cheeseland. So, how long have I been writing? Well, you can do the math, I suppose. But I think I have always been a writer, it just took me some time to accept that and, obviously, I took a circuitous route to becoming one.

PJ: It seems to me that you select your topics with great care. How do you decide what you’re going to write?

Randy: Well, I pick topics that interest me.

My first novel, Lost in the Ivy, for example, is a murder mystery set against the backdrop of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. I’m a die-hard Cubs’ fan (I know, woe is me, right?), so this was obviously a topic that interested me.  I took that interest an extra notch by constructing a story arc that followed the heart of a Cubs’ fan.  If you’re a Cubs fan, you already know the story.  There is going to be hope and there is going to be pain and anguish and ultimately futility.

In Cheeseland, my second novel, I tackled much more serious issues, including teen suicide.  The story isn’t about suicide, but rather about boys and how they tent to avoid confronting difficult issues, like suicide, only to have them fester and grow over time.  In this case, I constructed a road trip that took thirty years to complete – a road trip becomes a roller-coaster ride. One moment the reader laughs along with the characters and the next he is crying along with them.

The one thread that ties both novels together is that the seeds for both were inspired by true events from my life, but I suppose that’s another question.

PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?

Randy: Do writers ever reach that place? I suppose the answer depends on how you define success as a writer.  Creative writing, for me, is a hobby; it’s not my profession. So I don’t measure my success by money. I also don’t define it by sales, or awards or other kinds of recognition. To me, success is writing the story I wanted to tell the way that I wanted to tell it. Simple as that. By that measure, I suppose I have achieved success as a writer, because I’ve been able to write two novels the way that I wanted to write them.

PJ: Is the writing life what you expected when you started out? If not, how is it different?

Randy: I don’t know if I had any expectations when I started out. I was pretty naïve, for sure. That might have been for the best in some ways. If I’d known then how hard it can be, I’m not sure I would have chosen such a path. Would anyone? The reality is that I don’t think I chose it so much as it chose me. By that I mean, that writer is inside me. I probably did just about everything I could to deny that I was a writer, as evidenced by my college choices.  Once I accepted that part of me, I found out how hard it can be. Then I found that it doesn’t have to be so hard.  There are a lot of others out there struggling, just as I did. That’s how I came to get involved in the Chicago Writers Association, a nonprofit organization of which I now serve as president.  I saw that writing is much more than just the act of writing, and that we, as writers, can help one another to achieve our writing goals, no matter what those goals may be. We can all learn from one another and support each other along the way. So, for me, the biggest difference from when I just started out and now, is that I’ve got an entire community of writers to help me along the way.

PJ: The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?

Randy: They really think that? They must be reading too much fiction! I know very few writers who are making a living solely from writing. As I mentioned earlier, creative writing, for me, is a hobby; it’s not my profession.  I earn a living as a lawyer. There’s a part of me that has fantasized about being John Grisham or Stephen King, but there’s another part of me that wouldn’t want any part of that kind of success. The demands they face, both in terms of writing and publicity, have to be all-consuming. It’s a big price to pay. As it is now, I write on my own schedule and write only what I want to write – not what an agent or an editor or a publisher is telling me to write. Do I hope that others will like what I like? Of course I do. We all want some degree of acceptance of our work. But at the same time I don’t think I’d be happy writing if writing were my job. It would feel like a job, and I already have one of those and don’t really want another one.

PJ: Early on, so much focus is given to getting published. Now that you’re published, how has your focus changed?

Randy: I honestly don’t think about getting published until I’ve written something that I feel is worthy of publication.  I try not to be influenced by the publishing marketplace, because it is too fluid, too temperamental. One day everyone wants vampire stories and the next they want erotica.  I simply try to write the best story I can write. To me, the one thing that always sells is a good story.

PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?

Randy: Well, that’s a long story in itself, filled with rejections, disappointments, mistakes, and even death. The death part was quite tragic. I was scheduled to meet a small mom-and-pop publisher, and the night before I was to travel to meet with them, I got a call from the pop that the mom had died, quite unexpectedly, and that the pop wouldn’t be continuing the business. The biggest disappointment was with a bigger indie press that rejected the manuscript at the last level after reviewing it for six months. The mistake was giving up at some level after all of those disappointments and making the choice to publish with a POD publisher that claimed to be something that it wasn’t. That was a tough lesson to learn, but I really don’t regret that it happened. I always take such lessons as exactly that, lessons. We learn from them, hopefully, and don’t make the same mistakes. This is another reason why it is helpful to have the support of a writing community where you can learn and share information with one another so that others don’t make the same mistakes.

PJ: Would you do anything differently if you had it to do over again?

Randy: Would I have done things differently knowing what I know now? Yes. But, again, I look at those pitfalls as part of the learning process. Was it a tough price to pay? Yes.  Have I recovered from it? I think so. I honestly don’t think I’d be where I am today, leading a 400-member writing community, if not for those mistakes I made in the past. I can’t dwell on those past mistakes. I learn from them and I move on, and I try to help steer others in the right direction.

PJ: Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?

Randy: Like just about everybody else, time is probably my biggest challenge. I have a day job as an attorney, I have a volunteer job as president of a 400-member writing community, and I have a family. I have to squeeze in writing whenever I can. Lunch breaks. Late at night, after everyone else is asleep. I also give up a lot of things I used to enjoy, like TV and movies. The reality is that my family and my job have to come first, and there isn’t a whole lot of time left over for writing. Fortunately, for me, I don’t have to make a living as a writer. That’s what my day job is for. I write for the love of writing. I honestly don’t think I could make a career as a writer. I’m much too slow. I am always amazed at these authors who are able to crank out a novel every six months.  Both of my novels, from start to finish, took about seven years. My son was just a baby when I began writing Cheeseland. It was released just a few days before he turned 9.

Even though writing is not my job, I still try to present myself to the world as a professional author. I’ve found that the only way I am able to do that is to break up all those various parts of the writing life into segments. I do one segment at a time and never overlap segments. When I’m promoting a book, for example, I set aside 9 months where that’s the only segment of my writing life that I’m doing. After those 9 months are over, I call it quits on marketing and shift gears back into writing.

The simple answer to the question, for me, is that I can’t give adequate attention to all needed areas, so I break them up as best I can and focus on one at a time and do each as best as I possibly can.

PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?

Randy: It hasn’t happened yet, but it will happen, any day now. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the next. I don’t know, but I know it will happen. All authors have to believe this, don’t they? Isn’t that what keeps us going? Isn’t that why we’re sneaking peeks at those Amazon rankings or those GoodReads reviews every chance we get? I think maybe it just happened. I better check those Amazon rankings again.

PJ: What is the single most disappointing thing that happened to you as a writer?

Randy: This has happened, and it stung. Rejection always stings. It is that girl who turned you down for the Homecoming dance, or that job you really, really wanted. I wanted that one publisher to say ‘yes’, when I was shopping that first manuscript. They said ‘yes’ twice, but then said ‘no’. You forget about those two yeses but you never forget that one no. You keep asking what did I do wrong? What could I have done better? The questions are unanswerable. Sometimes it is nothing you did. You’re just not what they’re looking for. Doesn’t matter, it still stings. A lot.

PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?

Randy: This is a true story of my first book tour, when I was promoting Lost in the Ivy, where I really hit the road. It is a story that is, I think, a little sad but more funny than anything. It, to me, represents the life that we, as authors, have chosen to take when we set about on a book promotion tour. I had traveled from my hometown in Chicago to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.  The previous day I’d spent at a literacy bookfair in Waynesboro, Virginia, a small town nestled in the scenic and historic Shenandoah Valley. I’d driven two and a half hours through a rainstorm to get to D.C. This is an excerpt from a blog post I wrote later, titled “Only in America.”

Overnight, the skies finally cleared. Bright and early that morning, I beat the tourist buses and toured The Capitol Mall for the first time since I was a toddler. Take away the politicians, and it’s a pretty amazing place.

From there, I went to a less impressive mall, The Shops at Georgetown Center, where I did a book signing at Waldenbooks. I didn’t have huge expectations for this but I at the very least thought that the bookstore would know I was coming. They didn’t, even though my publicist had confirmed with them – not once, not twice, but three times. Which just goes to show that you should never have any expectations when it comes to book tours.

I will say that the assistant manager at Waldenbooks was quite apologetic and accommodating and quickly tried to make amends by setting up a table for me. In two hours there, I sold a couple of books. One went to a friend of a friend who was kind enough to make a special trip to see me. The other went to a woman who was touring D.C. with her son, Raffi, to whom she wanted the book signed.

Before I learned that she was from Austria, I asked the woman if her son is a baseball fan (my book of course having a baseball theme).

“No, I think he is now a fan of America, though,” she said.

Now there is at least one copy of my book in a home somewhere in Austria.

I signed eight other books that were put on display by the front desk, and then drove off to my final stop, which I thought was going to be a bookstore but turned out to be a Middle Eastern restaurant that used to also be a bookstore. A few weeks ago they went out of the bookstore business. That brings us back to rule No. 1: Never have any expectations when it comes to book tours.

I didn’t sell any books at that Middle Eastern restaurant, but I got a really nice dinner on the house. Unfortunately I came two days too late for the belly dancing. Next time I’ll have to plan better.

PJ: Unbelievable! Oh the glamour of an author’s life, eh? With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?

Randy: I think what sets my work apart is that you get a lot thrown into a small package. I write small stories that both entertain and hopefully make you think.  You get thrown on an emotional roller-coaster where you’ll laughing at one moment and then crying or screaming at the next. In the end, I hope they are stories that make you think and stick with you for a while.

PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?

Randy: Don’t think about publication. Just write. Write the best damned book you can write. Then start thinking about publication. If the book is good, really good, they will come.

PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?

Randy: This may go against the grain a bit, but I don’t think that book reviews, or book signings, or radio or TV appearances (Oprah was once the exception but she’s too busy promoting herself now to promote other authors) are the most effective tools for promoting your published work. They’re all necessary, and I think that all authors should do all of them, but the most effective tool, in my mind, is the one that doesn’t cost a penny. It does take time and it does take energy but it doesn’t cost money. It is word of mouth. It is building a community of fans and friends who are writers, through social media and your website and through writing groups and writing events. There’s a sense of paying it forward to the writing life, and I try to always say yes to fans and other authors, because you never know when you might need them, when they might be able to help you. I’ve built a whole network of writing friends through my work with the Chicago Writers Association, and all of those relationships have paid off in various ways. I found a publisher for my latest release through a connection I made with CWA. When I needed blurbs for the back of the book, I called upon some of the amazing writing friends I’ve made over the last few years. Every single one I asked said yes. The point is, we, as writers, are all in this same leaky boat together. We can all help one another, we can not only stop that boat from sinking, we can patch it up and make it sea-worthy again.

PJ: Excellent advice! What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?

Randy: Standing in front of a crowd, looking at their eyes, and opening my mouth. It terrifies me. I suspect that it comes as a surprise that a lawyer and the president of a 400-member writers’ organization would find public speaking to be a challenge, but I’ve never been comfortable with it. I’ve battled shyness all my life. I’ve never conquered it. But I keep putting myself out there, even though I don’t enjoy it. I’m sure I’m not alone. We, as writers, tend to communicate better through the written as opposed to the spoken word. We tend to work in solitude. Public speaking doesn’t come naturally to most of us. But we’ve got to do it. If you’re going to be successful as a writer, you have to get up and speak in front of a crowd. That’s part of the business. I tell all writers not to wait until that book is published. Get up off that seat and out of that writing cave and get yourself to a local reading event. Start reading your words in public. Now. It’s a great way to meet other writers, it’s a great way to start building a fan base, and it’s a great way to learn to build confidence as a public speaker.

PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?

I love all independent booksellers, but my personal favorite is The Book Cellar, located in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. Operated by Suzy Takacs, The Book Cellar has been an ardent and active supporter of local independent authors. They host a monthly Local Authors Night, which I will be reading at on November 15. Come on out. It’s a wonderful bookstore. They even serve beer and wine. What more could you possibly want out of a bookstore?

Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:

Novels

Lost in the Ivy (Out of Print, 2005)

Cheeseland (Eckhartz Press, 2012)

In addition, I have contributed to the following anthologies:

Chicken Soup for the Father and Son Soul (2008)

Humor for a Boomer’s Heart (2008)

The Big Book of Christmas Joy (2008)

Cubbie Blues: 100 Years of Waiting Till Next Year (Can’t Miss Press, 2008)

Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:

Cheeseland is Mystic River meets The Last Picture Show: a wild coming-of-age road trip that takes thirty years to complete.

Where can we buy it?

Cheeseland is available in trade paperback from Eckhartz Press (www.eckhartzpress.com) and in e-book format from Amazon, Sony, iTunes and Barnes & Noble.

What last thing would you like to share with us that nobody knows about you and your work?

I mentioned that I took a rather circuitous route to becoming a writer and that I did just about everything other than write before I became a writer. I think most people would be surprised to know that I began college studying to be a pilot, a career that literally never took flight. I had been learning to fly single-engine Cessnas at Parks College in Cahokia, Illinois, and had collected nearly 40 hours of flying time. After my first solo flight, my legs were shaking uncontrollably and I realized that I probably wasn’t cut out to be a fly boy.

Randy, thanks for taking time to talk to us here! One thing’s for sure – you haven’t led a boring life! I hope this effort has gained you a few new fans. Now we’ll all know we have to pace ourselves and savor Cheeseland because it’ll be a while before your next book! Any comments for Randy?

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One thought on “An interview with Randy Richardson

  1. Pat Reid says:

    I enjoyed reading Cheeseland. Best wishes on future books.

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