Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Dr. Bob Rich, who is the author of 20,000 books, but who has informed me that so far he’s only had time to have 17 published, because he has other things to do. His Amazon.com page describes him as an Australian writer, mudsmith, psychologist, and several other things that are none of your business. He writes in many genres, is a professional editor, and his writing has won several awards. He is also a Professional Grandfather. His aim in life is to convert our culture into one of compassion and cooperation instead of greed and conflict, because he loves so many children.
Norm: Good day, Bob, and thanks for participating in our interview.
How did you get started in writing? Why do you write? Do you have a theme, message, or goal for your books?
Bob: It’s my honor to be here, and thanks for the invitation.
My writing career started when a bunch of kids kidnapped me to play in a boys vs. girls soccer game, because they needed one more male, RIGHT NOW. I was making mudbricks at the time (adobe to you). Since it was cold, I was wearing rubber boots, and didn’t bother to change them, and mud is slippery...
I ended up in hospital, with nothing to do but heal after a knee operation.
Since I can never do anything conventional, I’d invented a new way of making my bricks, so to keep boredom at bay, wrote an article for Earth Garden magazine.
Thirty-eight years later, I’m still writing for them. My “how-to” articles struck a spark and the resulting book, published in 1986, sold hundreds of thousands of copies, through four editions. The last one went out of print earlier this year.
When my daughter went around Australia, about 80% of her hosts had a copy of my book.
Why do I write? Heavens, why do I breathe? Writing is the chocolate icing on the cake of life.
Creativity is a natural part of everyone, although schooling, and the rigid cultures of some families, bash it out of many people. As a young man, I found an outlet for my creativity in scientific research.
After I retired for the first time at 35 years of age, it was learning all about building houses, then learning to be a nurse, then developing my skills as a psychotherapist. That was in the last century. Now, it’s all focused on writing.
Do I have a theme, message, or goal for my books? The primary goal is to entertain, even in my nonfiction books. Stodge doesn’t teach. And even with fiction, I aim to be of service.
Every piece of writing has messages. One of my clichés is, your shopping list tells me a lot about your value system. So, no book can be free of messages. Most writers don’t realize this, but they convey their messages all the same.
My early fiction had the theme of justice, of being on the side of the victim. This is why one of my short story collections is titled Striking Back from Down Under.
As I have matured and grown, this gradually shifted to compassion. I still get outraged at discrimination, unfairness, cruelty, but I no longer want to punish the perpetrators. Rather, I want to bring them to empathy and decency. So, like it or not, whatever I do, say or write carries this message.
Only, I hate being preached at, and won’t do it to others. One of the reviewers of Hit and Run, Erik Fogg, has written, “It is a book that shows rather than tells: it grips you in the story and explores its themes using the story rather than by taking breaks to preach at you (think War and Peace as the contrast).”
Norm: What do you think most characterizes your writing? As a follow up, do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Please summarize your writing process.
Bob: Whatever I do, I do it 110%. Obsessives of the world, unite! So, no one is allowed to see anything I write, even an email, until I’ve checked it a few times for typos, grammatical slips and even poor expression. I must have gone over my answers to you 30 times before sending them off. Only the best I can do is good enough.
Logic or intuition? Do I pedal my bike with the right foot, or the left? They must go together, in perfect teamwork.
Winston Churchill once said that the problem is not to find a solution, but to select from the dozen possibilities. I also have this problem. Ideas are never in short supply, only, life is too short to follow them all up.
So, a situation with a few inhabitants comes to me. This may be the start of a story, or the next development in an ongoing one. I then listen to the characters, and record what they tell me.
This is not how I started, of course. I’ve been writing fiction since 1986, and practice does help.
Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive?
Bob: Early in my writing career, I paid for content edits for three different novels. I also entered short stories in contests, and even found a few in which feedback was offered. The critique of a knowledgeable, thoughtful coach is the most useful guide for learning anything, including writing.
I don’t know that anything was destructive. There are no mistakes, only learning opportunities. I sometimes do get stuck. This is usually when I allow the stresses of life to get to me, and forget to use my tools for handling them. The saying “Necessity is the mother of invention” is wrong. A peaceful, playful mind is. Therefore, I play, or meditate, or switch projects. I always have several on the go, and I am very involved in volunteer activities. So, I let the problem writing get cold. When I return to it, I’ll probably sail past the sticking point.
Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Bob: I was born in a Nazi-occupied country into a Jewish family, while the bombs were falling. Then I lived with an abusive stepfather, until he managed to deport me to Australia. This is why I am passionate about any form of victimization.
But also, at 24 years of age, I discovered that my belief system was Buddhist. It wasn’t anything I decided, it just was.
Combine these two influences, and there I am, all colored in.
Norm: Many people have the skills and drive to write a book, but failure to market and sell the book the right way is probably what keep a lot of people from finding success. Can you give us 2-3 strategies that have been effective for you in promoting your book?
Bob: The first one happened without me intending it. My regular articles in Earth Garden magazine, and occasional freelance publications in half a dozen others, made me well known among Australians interested in an alternative to the alienating, competitive, over consuming urban lifestyle. However, that was, as I said, in the last century, and hasn’t helped much with fiction. But the principle applies: build a name for yourself, then people will at least look at your books.
Another method was more for my editing service than for my books. When I started up, I ran two “free edit” contests. I invited people to send me the first 1000 words of their manuscript. I edited this for free, then selected the best ten. Naturally, I advertised the contest far and wide, and even today, despite all the crowd on the internet, free contests still have traction.
Then, I required my ten finalists to get people to vote for them, on the grounds that being able to do that is part of being a successful author. In both contests, I had thousands of visitors who came to vote. Some of them still subscribe to my newsletter, Bobbing Around, and buy my books.
My third method is to be of service to others who share one of my many interests. And, Norm, isn’t that what you’re doing by running interviews like this? For example, I have a long-term friendship with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, who is an award-winning writer, and is a top advisor for writers with her Frugal series of books. I promote dozens of people, and they promote me.
Norm: How many times in your various careers have you experienced rejection? How did they shape you?
Bob: Let’s make the distinction between me-the-person, and something I’ve produced. I have met a few people who rejected me, or judged me negatively. My typical reaction is to feel sorry for them. You must be little inside if you feel the need to put someone else down.
When you submit writing to a magazine, publisher, agent, whatever, rejection is the most likely outcome. Any venue has a great many more submissions than they can accept. I once attended a conference where a speaker from Penguin said, they get 3000 submissions for every book they can publish.
So, you can’t win unless you give it a go, but then, life goes on regardless of the outcome.
Norm: Do you worry about the human race?
Bob: I have beaten depression decades ago, but this is the one thing that drags me down if I let it. I keep having to use the Buddhist tool of “equanimity” to keep smiling.
I care deeply for all living things, including humans, and yet, we are now in the 6th extinction event of Earth. When we unravel the web of life, we all fall through the hole. And the terrible wars that rage, the concentration of wealth that has people starving and homeless... I won’t go on.
The problem is overpopulation, multiplied by environmental footprint. The guilty are not the people in the poor countries, but us. The average American or Australian or European causes as much damage as perhaps 100 African villagers.
If we don’t reduce population in a planned, compassionate way, Mother Earth will reduce it for us. We need to live simply, so we may simply live. The cause is a global culture that rewards and encourages the worst in human nature, but people are also magnificent. We have the power to devote ourselves to cooperation, compassion, decency. I discuss this in many posts on my blog.
Norm: You write in many genres, what genre are you most comfortable writing?
Bob: I don’t believe in genres/silos/boxes. For example, my book that teaches woodcraft, Woodworking for Idiots Like Me is actually a string of short stories. Some are fiction, others are autobiographical. But you can also do the projects, and learn how to work with timber.
I just write, and that’s that.
Norm: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Bob: When I was struggling with depression, I wouldn’t have believed that anyone would be interested in my ongoing internal monologues. But when I wrote them down, people found them fascinating.
Norm: What inspired you to write your current work, Hit and Run?
Bob: As a psychotherapist, you need to keep professional distance. This is why I couldn’t do therapy as a young fellow. I worried more about other people’s problems than they did! But nursing toughened me up. “You’re not there to share the pain, but to relieve it.” Well, as a psychological healer, you don’t even relieve the pain, but empower your client to do so.
I had a
client: a blind old gentleman a bunch of teenagers bashed up. They
even hurt his old seeing-eye dog. Given the kind of person I am, this
pushed all my buttons, and I was furious after hearing his story
during the first session.
Either I needed to achieve professional distance, or refer him on. And I was strongly motivated to be of service to him.
The standard technique of displacement is very effective. If the doctor told you not to scratch that itchy spot, scratch somewhere else! To displace my outrage, that evening I invented 14-year-old Chuck, who did something far more terrible. I needed a narrator for the story, so put 84 year old Sylvia in there, and gave her artistic ability so she could draw him in order to assist the police. I thought this would be a story of justice and retribution.
Sylvia, however, had other ideas. She reformed the boy instead, and has stayed on as my teacher.
Norm: Can you share a little about the story with us and what would you say is the best reason to recommend someone to read it?
Bob: Several of my beta readers told me it’s my best to date. All the reviews have been very positive, and so far all but one are 5 star (one is 4 star).
I think the reason is that I didn’t write this book. My old lady witness, Sylvia, did. The entire story is her journal of nine months, in her words, not mine.
I of course thoroughly approve of her writing, even though it’s very different from how I’d have done it. For example, in her youth she was trained never to say or write obscenities, so she blanks them out, as in “f--.” If I wrote the book, I’d have let them rip on the page.
The concept is, 14-year-old Chuck hates everyone, and steals a car to kill people. He drives over 6 little kids and the crossing guard, narrowly missing Sylvia. That night, there is a mysterious contact between them. Chuck, Sylvia and I are all puzzled about it, but then the Universe is a mysterious place. There is only one person Chuck loves: his little brother, Tommy. Sylvia uses this as the lever. Initially, she convinces him to talk to the principal of his school without obscenities, and it grows from there...
My Ph.D. is in psychology, and I’m aware of a great deal of relevant research. I wasn’t thinking about these studies as I wrote, but they were there, under the surface. So, apart from the paranormal fun bits, this book is entirely realistic. It is perfectly possible for a drug-and-alcohol-abusing, illiterate, savage teenager to turn into a decent person. All the kid needs to do is to decide to copy one or more positive role models. Remember this, next time you have the opportunity to be an example to a youngster. And there are many real-life cases of people grieving for the victims of a crime who move from hate, from the wish for vengeance, to compassionate support, while actively disapproving of the crime.
If you want to know how, read the book.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your books?
Bob: Most of my online presence is at my blog, Bobbing Around
My writing showcase is bobswriting. Among many other things, each book has a page with extracts, a few sample reviews, and buy links.
Help for Anxiety, Depression and Other Emotional or Interpersonal Problems is where I provide information and inspiration for every way people make themselves and each other miserable.
And my Environmental Site
Norm: What is next for Dr. Bob Rich?
Bob: My next book is complete, and currently I am gathering feedback from my beta readers. Its title is From Depression to Contentment: A self-therapy guide. My publisher wants it to be under 50,000 words, and I’ve managed that by having links to lots of material, some of it other books I am asking people to read, the rest my own work, for example short stories I’ve posted to my blog. These are enjoyable in their own right, but also instructive.
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your books, but nobody has?
Bob: If nobody ever read any of my books, would I keep writing?
A potato plant grows in a forest clearing. It sets flower. A potato flower is sterile, but if you look at it, it’s beautiful. All summer the little flower is there. No one sees it, not even a bird. Autumn comes, and the flower wilts. It was still beautiful, and still deserved existence.
In the Himalayas, there is a special Buddhist monastery. They take 3 years to make a giant mandala from colored sand. When it’s complete, they wipe it out, and start over again. The point is the doing, not the having.
All the same, I DO want people to read my books.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.
Bob: And thanks once again for having me here. I’d like to let your visitors know that anyone who sends me proof of purchase of any of my books qualifies for a second title, free. Emailing me a review is suitable proof.
And finally, I have a wish for everyone who reads our exchange, you included:
May you live in contentment;
May you be healthy;
May you rise to your challenges;
And above all, may you grow spiritually.