Monday, May 7, 2012
Pen & Prosper Gets Personal With Author and Attorney Randy Richardson
Can you tell us a little about who you are and your background?
My writing has been published in the anthologies Chicken Soup for the Father and Son Soul, Humor for a Boomer’s Heart, The Big Book of Christmas Joy, and Cubbie Blues: 100 Years of Waiting Till Next Year, as well as in numerous print and online journals and magazines. The online publication Gapers Block named my debut novel, Lost in the Ivy, one of the notable Chicago books of 2005. I am active in the Chicago literary scene, serving as president of the nonprofit Chicago Writers Association and as a member of the Chicago Literary Alliance, the Evanston Writers Workshop, and the Illinois Woman's Press Association. My latest novel, Cheeseland, is coming from Eckhartz Press on May 29.
As for my background, I have a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois and a law degree from Northern Illinois University. I worked as a reporter for newspapers in California, Illinois and Indiana for five years and as an attorney for the Social Security Administration for the last 16 years.
I live in Evanston, Illinois, with my wife and son and a goldfish named Ralph.
Describe your creative process. Do you write every day?
I suppose the answer is yes and no. I do write every day, but it is not always creative writing. In my day job, at least half of my time is spent writing – but it is legalistic writing. This is the writing I do for money. The creative writing I do during lunch breaks and late at night after my wife and son are both asleep. This is the writing I do for love.
How would 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 as a writer by money. I also don’t define it by sales, or awards or other kinds of recognition. To me, success as a writer is writing the story I wanted to tell the way that I wanted to tell it. Simple as that.
What has been your most rewarding accomplishment thus far?
I would have to say that my most rewarding accomplishment thus far was completing my second novel. It took me about five years to write my first novel, which I finished just before the birth of my son, who is almost nine now. When I finished it, I didn’t think I’d every write a second novel. Once I began to embark on the journey of writing my second novel, I discovered how much more difficult it was going to be with all of my additional responsibilities as a father. You have to learn to write not when you want to write but when you can write. Oftentimes that means giving up sleep in exchange for time to write. You squeeze in an hour of writing time here and an hour of writing time there. But once I had started, I knew that I had to finish. I gave myself a deadline: I was going to finish that second novel by the time I turned 50. I reached that goal with about a month to spare. It was a great feeling of accomplishment, especially because I had done what I had set out to do: I wrote a story I wanted to tell the way that I wanted to tell it.
What would it surprise others to know about you?
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.
It might also surprise a lot of people to know that the seeds for both of my novels were inspired by true events from my life.
Can you tell us a little about Chicago Writers Association?
The Chicago Writers Association is a creative community of Chicagoland writers whose purpose is to share information, experiences and encouragement. We are dedicated to promoting what we call the 4 C’s of writing: creativity, commerce, craft and community. Basically the idea is that there is more to writing 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.
We currently have about 330 members, mostly from the Chicagoland area but we do have some members from as far away as Florida, California and Washington D.C. Our membership is open to all writers, no matter your genre, style or level of experience, for a nominal fee of $15 a year, which gets you a personal web page on our website, chicagowrites.org, access to our Facebook and Yahoo groups, opportunities to be published in our e-zine and our blog, to join our speaker’s bureau, and to participate in our annual book awards and in author reading and book signing events throughout the year.
In your opinion, how has the publishing/writing industry changed in 2012, and how does it impact today’s writer?
The biggest change has to be the movement away from print to electronic publishing and reading. This has no real impact on the craft of writing. The nuts-and-bolts of writing remain the same. The impact is rather on the doors to publishing. Some of the doors are closing because of the movement away from print publishing. Fewer and fewer titles are being taken on by the big publishing houses. But at the same time electronic publishing has, in some respects, leveled the playing field. Anyone can electronically publish and sell their work. Self-publishers and small presses can more easily compete on an e-publishing field, and there is a better opportunity for the money to go to the actual creators of the work rather than to the publishers of that work.
There are also more opportunities for the little guys to get noticed. That of course puts more pressure on the little guys to demonstrate that they deserve to get that attention. It still ultimately boils down to writing a good book. If you don’t write a good book, nobody is going to want to buy it. That hasn’t changed.
But I do think that in this new publishing frontier, there are greater opportunities to let the free market work the way it should work and ultimately we all can benefit. The best authors will get paid what they deserve to get paid and readers will get to read the work that deserves most to be read.
Who are some of your favorite authors and/or bloggers?
My top five favorite authors are Ernest Hemingway, Jay McInerney, Nicholson Baker, Nick Hornby and Michael Chabon. They’ve written the books that have most inspired me as a writer and they all have prominent places on my bookshelf.
My favorite blogger is the one-and-only Jennifer Brown Banks, who inspires me with her passion for writing and teaching about the business of writing and her unyielding support of writers like myself.
What‘s the biggest myth you think others have about writing or publishing?
The biggest myth about writing is that it is easy. It isn’t. At least it isn’t for me. I agonize over every word, because I always want to find that perfect word.
Are good writers born or made?
I think probably a little of both. I think the writer has to be inside you but that writer can be made into a better writer.
Has your role as a lawyer helped you as a writer?
I think my role as a lawyer has helped me to be more precise and selective in my use of words.
And, last but not least…
Can you share a little about your new book, and how it’s changed your life as a writer?
Cheeseland is a tragicomic coming-of-age novel about loyalty, friendship and the self-destructive nature of secret-keeping and unresolved anger. In Cheeseland, two suburban Chicago high school seniors skip graduation to go on a road trip to Wisconsin, where they crash head-on into an adventure that will forever alter their lives. Told in two parts, set thirty years apart, the novel's long and winding road comes full circle when these two friends must finally confront their past and come to grips with their present lives.
The novel is of course fictional but is inspired by a true event from my youth, and I think it has given me a fresh perspective on my own life.
For more information, or to purchase the book, visit www.cheeselandthebook.com/
Your turn. Thoughts? Questions?