June 15, 2015 Leave a comment
For the month of June, I bring to you an interview with author Richard David Bach, and perhaps a new summer read!
- Let’s get to know you a bit. Where are you from, and what genre do you write?
I was born in the Bronx, NYC, grew up (or was raised – a distinction I need to explore) in a working class family on the south shore of Long Island by a single mother after my father died when I was 13; went off to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy NY for a degree in Civil Engineering and an Air Force ROTC commission; spent two years on active duty designing and building a radar defense system in the Arctic; worked as an engineer in NYC for a couple of years and then accidently migrated to Portland Oregon when a friend and I came out here for a two week summer vacation and I never went back. (he did).
Not satisfied with an engineering career I went to night law school, graduated at the top of my class, joined Portland’s largest and most prestigious law firm, founded its environmental law practice group and practiced as the dean of Portland’s environmental lawyers until I retired in 2001.
My wife and I have four children, nine grandchildren and a great-granddaughter between us, and spend a lot of energy being proud of them.
My genre is airplane books. They’ll get you from Portland to Chicago if you’re a fast reader … to Dulles if you need more time. The four I have written and published in my Common Denominator Series are essentially thrillers with erotic and romantic overtones. Smart, good looking recovering-lawyer hero and even smarter and better looking kick-ass private detective heroine having a good time exploring mysteries and each other’s’ bodies.
- With all the risks and uncertainty around publishing, what was it that drew you to a career in writing?
The short answer is that I’ve never really considered this to be a career. Not long after I retired my youngest son gave me a new laptop for a birthday present and said: “You’re a great story-teller. Go write something.” So I did. A couple of days later some friends and my wife and I were having lunch and laughing over Nancy Grace’s latest tirade over a woman who had gone missing from a cruise ship. “What,” I thought, “if a serial killer is working the Love Boat?”
I went home, wrote the first and final chapters and then it took six months to get from one to the other and when I finished it was awful. I was a lawyer and I wrote like a lawyer … no adjectives or adverbs and a lot of telling instead of showing. So I began to take some courses in fiction writing at Portland State University, and gradually learned the craft – dialogue, scene setting, character development, etc. Thankfully, I didn’t have to learn grammar or vocabulary (as a matter of fact, in my early attempts I showed off a lot vocabulary wise and had to learn to write something that didn’t require the reader’s immediate access to a dictionary). And then, when I felt I was ready, I went back and rewrote the first book in the series (Common Enemy).
And after sending queries to all of the agents in the English-speaking world, I snagged an agent. She promised to find me a publisher, but when I received very few rejections (even though they were all nice) I realized that she wasn’t sending out a lot of submissions either.
At about that time the stigma on self-publishing was beginning to fade, and I liked the idea of eBooks, so I fired my agent and self-published Common Enemy for availability on Nook, Kindle, etc. While I was waiting for my agent to sell my first book, I continued writing the second and third of the further adventures of my protagonists, and published those as soon as they were ready.
I must admit that my venture into fiction has not been a great commercial success, but I’m not sure I ever expected it to be. I may have harbored some secret hope of becoming the next Lee Child, but I’ve read the statistics and know that my chances were slim. I’m not very good at selling, and have made few feeble attempts at social media marketing and inquiries to blogger/reviewers (such as yourself) but I’d rather be writing than sending out self-aggrandizing messages to strangers.
But I’ve had nothing but good reviews on Amazon & B&N and Smashwords, and that encourages me to keep on writing. I’m now working on a new novel – totally different genre and characters and once it’s finished (I’m about 2/3 through) I plan to look for an agent and try conventional publishing again.
Fortunately, my career in the law left me with sufficient resources to pursue writing without a desperate need to earn a living out of it, and I hope that won’t disqualify me from the pool of authors you “love to promote.” I can assure you that I am passionate about my words and characters and would be no more so if they hit the best-seller lists or became a movie.
- What was your biggest influence for writing your Common Denominator series?
This was a difficult question. Because I’ve never been particularly introspective it would be hard to pinpoint any specific influences on my writing (other than my cultural background and my political, religious and sexual preferences). But if I had to name two, they would be my love for good writing and my dislike of bad writing. I read good writing (interesting plots, fascinating characters and creative word use) with admiration and envy, and I read bad writing with the sure certain knowledge that I could do better. Perhaps it was just hubris, but one day I decided to see if I could prove that boast I had made to myself.
If “what” influenced me is understood to include “who” then I have a short list: Lee Child, Neil Gaiman, John D. MacDonald, and Carl Hiaasen. Those are among the ones I try to be as good as.
- Now that you have a few books under your belt, what’s your take on the whole process? What was the hardest part for you? What was the easiest?
The process was amazing and worthwhile just for the ride. First, I had to learn to write fiction and unlearn everything I had been taught about legal writing. Then I had to learn to edit and proofread; then I had to learn about self-publishing and its benefits and pitfalls; then I had to learn about formatting and ISBNs and … most difficult of all … marketing. And the best part is that ride is still going on. This may be a carousel and I may be going around in circles, but I’m still having fun telling my stories.
The easiest part is the writing and the editing … mainly because I’m merely the amanuensis for my characters. I give them a plot (“tell me about the time you …”) and they tell me the story. I merely write it down as they dictate into my ear. Editing is usually not a problem because my characters don’t always tell me everything the first time around and I have to go back and ask them to fill in the gaps. And very rarely do they say “take that out.” My edits usually add length and content rather than cutting back.
The hardest part is the marketing. I’m not a salesman and I find it difficult to ask anyone to buy something from me. I’ve got a very attractive website and I’ve done the social media route – Facebook and Twitter – and I’ve posted on websites that feature my genre, and I’ve sent out releases to local media and all my affinity groups, and I’ve paid a publicist to design a marketing plan … but somehow I’d rather be writing than selling. (Even though I would enjoy the income).
- Let’s talk a little about your latest project. What is the title and what is it about?
My latest project (the first draft of which, by coincidence, I finished just last night) is tentatively entitled “The Progenitor.” Completely unrelated to my first four romantic/erotic thrillers, this is a family story with courtroom drama, pathos and some humor. My first shot at a logline would be:
“Rear Admiral Kester J. Bannerman II (USN Ret.) is the patriarch of a family with a long and distinguished tradition of military service. And when his only grandson is killed by an IED in Afghanistan, the Admiral will do everything he can to keep the frozen sperm his grandson left behind out of the hands – and the womb – of his granddaughter’s lesbian partner.”
Other claimants for the frozen sperm include the grandson’s estranged wife and an ex-girlfriend, and the legal battle (referred to in the local media as “SpermGate”) sets the stage for a family conflict with social, cultural and deeply emotional overtones.
The story emerged as my characters narrated it to me, so now I’m going back to make sure that the thread is consistent all the way through. I also have to to fill in some of backstories that I discovered as I got to know my characters better. (And pick up the typos). I hope to have it ready for prime time in another month or so.
- You’ve self-published your novels, but have you ever thought about becoming a hybrid author and trying for an agent?
Yes! I definitely plan to try the traditional publishing route for “The Progenitor” and I plan to look for an agent. I’ve been working on a query letter and making a list of the agents in this genre and their submission criteria, and as soon as I have the manuscript in decent form, I’ll start sending out queries. (If you could recommend an agent, I’d very much appreciate any advice or help along those lines.) As I said in an earlier answer, I had a less-than-satisfactory relationship with one literary agent, but I’m willing to try again.
I also thought I might send queries to some of the small independent publishers who will consider submissions from unrepresented authors. I’m hearing that this is a fertile field for new writers.
- Was there any one influence that made you want to write?
I’m not sure there has been any one influence that made me want to write. I’ve always enjoyed writing … but writing with an objective – persuasion – which is what a lawyer’s writing is all about. And it was always a pleasure to come up with the exact right words and express your position in a minimum number of those words. (The old adage: “Sorry for the long letter but I didn’t have time to write a short one.). And a lawyer has to “tell” not “show” because the judge or lawyer on the other side might not be able to figure it out for himself or herself.
Fiction writing is so very different, and I think I may have always had a hankering to see if I could do both. The four thrillers I’ve published and this new novel have proved to me that I can (he says modestly).
So, if there was any single impetus behind my interest in writing, it would be my desire to prove myself to myself.
- Is there a genre that you would like to write? Something you would find a challenge?
Science Fiction … hard science, space travel and all that stuff, no fantasy or supernatural. I grew up on science fiction in the 50’s and still read some on occasion, but with all the technological developments since then – there is no more science fiction – it’s all coming true. I’ve never tried SF, though. I’m not sure I have enough imagination to create a whole new world or universe, and I’d be foolhardy to try to predict what humankind and the earth will look like 50 or 100 or 1000 years from now.
I suppose I could go through a list of genres and indicate why I would not want to try them:
Memoir: I have a terrible memory.
YA: It’s been much too long and I don’t understand them.
Military: I’m fast becoming a pacifist as I watch the middle east.
Espionage: I’ve read all the George Smiley novels but I know nothing of spycraft.
History: Requires too much research.
Romance: There is some in my first four novels.
Sex: There’s some of that, too.
Fantasy: I’ll leave that to you.
Supernatural: I’m a materialist. I believe in a universe made up of quarks and other physical particles and find it hard to accept the notion of a hidden world of spirits and magical powers.
- If you were given the opportunity to write a fan-fiction novel, who is the author you would choose, and what would be the book?
Your question caught me by surprise because although I had heard about people writing unauthorized versions of popular fiction, I had never heard the term “fan-fiction” and I had to google it. And I had never thought of doing it myself. But once you brought it up on my radar, it got me to thinking and my perverse sense of justice kicked in. If I were to do a straight “further adventures of” novel it would probably be something like a Lee Child/Jack Reacher thriller … but what I’d rather do is find an interesting villain or antagonist in some novel and tell the story from his or her point of view. (e.g. Let the old crone narrate Hansel & Gretel). If I find the one I’d want to do, I’ll let you know.
- Most writers have manuscripts that will never see the light of day. Do you have a few of those?
I have two partially finished manuscripts that I got bogged down on and put aside while I wrote my latest (The Progenitor) and tried to market my first four Common Denominator thrillers. The first unfinished novel is tentatively entitled “Subprime” and revolves around the subprime mortgage market meltdown, and the second, untitled, tells the story of what happens when an ordinary couple wins the lottery. Maybe someday I’ll pull them out of the drawer and finish one or both.
Attached are my photo and the covers for each of the four books in my Common Denominator series of romantic/erotic thrillers.
Where to find Richard online:
Where to purchase Richards book: