Name Dr. Bob Rich.
Actually, Bob is my spiritual name. Also, if my mother had known that the Russians rather than Americans would conquer Hungary, I might have been named Igor or Boris instead of Robert.
Age 71 and three-quarters.
Where are you from
I’m a visitor from a faraway galaxy. At home, I’m an Historian of Horror, so Earth is my favorite place in all the Universe. Where else do you find an organized game (called war) in which intelligent beings kill each other? Where else are child-raising practices designed to damage children? And best of all, where else do you see the entire economy of a species designed to destroy the life support system of their planet? For an Historian of Horror, that’s delicious.
A little about yourself, i.e., your education Family life etc.
When I was 13, I was transported to Australia for the term of my natural life, to prevent a murder — either my stepfather was going to murder me, or I was going to murder him. By 17 years of age, I knew that Australia was home, and Hungary, my country of birth, merely a way station.
My most important education has been in the University of Hard Knox, but I also became a research psychologist, then learned enough about building to write a book about it and teach a course. Then I trained as a nurse, which toughened me up enough to do therapy. For 3 years I was a Director of a professional association.
I’ve retired from all of these. Now, I am still a writer, editor and professional grandfather.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
My 15th published book, the novel “Ascending Spiral: Humanity’s last chance,” continues to get 5 star reviews. A publisher is considering my next book, and in response to nagging from editing clients, my current work in progress is titled, “The Art of Writing: An editor’s advice on creating page-turner fiction and effective nonfiction.”
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
When? Before I was old enough to go to school. Of course, that was in Hungarian. When I got to Australia, I couldn’t even read the street signs.
Writing for a public started in 1980, when my first article appeared in “Earth Garden,” a wonderful magazine, www.earthgarden.com.au . I still write for them, on owner-building and stuff like that.
Why did I start? Because the local kids invited me to take part in a soccer game while I was making adobe bricks. My muddy feet slipped in the grass and I tore cartilage in a knee. As a result, there I was in hospital, with nothing to do. So, I borrowed a typewriter (remember those?) and wrote my first article.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In response to another period of boredom. Nurse training was far from home, so I lived in a nurses’ home. I had a choice: make a fool of myself chasing gorgeous 18 year old girls, or find something to fill my free time. So, I wrote short stories. I got second prize in the first contest I entered, which convinced me that I could write more than instruction on practical building skills.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
It wrote itself, though it took two years to do so.
I was building my house, with no previous experience. So, I found laboring jobs in various building trades. I worked for a concreter, used the skills I learned in doing the concreting for my house, then wrote it up for “Earth Garden” magazine. I worked for a carpenter, did the carpentry on my house — and in the meantime wrote it up for “Earth Garden.”
In 1984, I was asked to teach a course for owner builders, and researched anything I still didn’t know about building. After awhile, I thought I knew enough to write a building book. I was ignorant about publishing, but Keith Smith, the publisher of “Earth Garden,” already had 8 published books, and he was a journalist by trade. So, I wrote to him, suggesting we write a building book together. Having posted my letter, I checked my PO box, and there was a letter from him, with the same idea.
The resulting book, “Earth Garden Building Book: Design and build your own house,” has been reviewed as “the Australian owner-builder’s bible.” When my daughter went WWOOFing around Australia (Don’t know what that means? Look up www.wwoof.org ), she found my book in 80% of the homes she stayed in. The 4th edition is still in print.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I don’t think about it, but just write. However, when I analyze it, I can see several implicit principles:
- KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid, the motto of the Australian Army Engineers).
- All prose is poetry.
- Less is more. If you can say it in 20 words, don’t use 25. Writing is a cartoon sketch, not a photograph.
- Vary everything. Repetition, going on too long with one device, distracts the reader away from the content.
- Everything is from someone’s point of view. In fiction, this witness should NEVER be the author, but one of the characters.
- Nearly good enough is never good enough. I edit and edit, over and over.
- The writer’s underlying values color everything (even a shopping list).
- People in my story need the freedom to act according to their nature, not according to mine.
- Everything should be entertaining. I learned this from Isaac Asimov. His textbook on chemistry is the only scholarly book I’ve found fun to read.
- Write what you find fascinating to read.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
My title is Dr. because I have a Ph.D. Oh… you mean a book title? Then we have a wide selection: currently 15 to choose from.
One is the biography of an exceptional woman. She achieved the impossible and survived the unsurvivable several times. She also happened to be my mother, although for most of my life we lived on opposite sides of the planet. So, we were strangers — but she loved me anyway. The title is her name, with this fact coupled to it: “Anikó: The stranger who loved me.” This is my book with the highest number of awards, and it was the most difficult to write. http://bobswriting.com/aniko.html
Another award-winner is my design for an ideal society. This is not a utopia, because people need challenges, grief, striving and surprise. Once I designed the reality, I wrote a science fiction book about it. Flora Fielding, film star turned billionaire businesswoman, decided to escape breast cancer through having herself frozen. She awoke into my future, so the title is “Sleeper, Awake.” http://bobswriting.com/sleeper.html
I’ve often had fun with science fiction, and put a novella and three shorter stories together. Their common theme is that us humans are anything but crowns of creation. So, the title is “Bizarre Bipeds: What IS humanity’s place in the universe?” http://bipeds.html
But, according to my beta readers, and the reviews to date, my best published novel is “Ascending Spiral: Humanity’s last chance.” When I started writing it in September, 2011, I just labeled it “September story.”
You see, I woke up one morning with the thought, “The first time I saw my love, she had long, straight dark hair held in place with a red band, and pansy-blue eyes, and a long elfin face that was quick to flash into a shy smile.”
At the same time, I knew that “The second time I saw my love, she had golden hair, and a square face, and a terrible temper,” and “The third time I saw my love, I didn’t recognize her.”
I knew these things from personal experience. In 2007, for the first time in my life, I sought out therapy instead of giving it to others. My infancy and childhood were terribly traumatic. Therefore, I had no memories of my earliest years. We used age-regression hypnosis, but my friend didn’t stop at my birth. She took me back into past lives. I met my wife over and over, in different physical bodies, but very much the same person.
Oh, you “don’t believe” in reincarnation?
I don’t believe in anything, thanks to the handicap of my scientific training. Instead, I go by the evidence. Look up
The resulting book was about a group of people going round and round, life after life, growing, learning and developing: an ascending spiral. What else could the title be?
So, this is my story, including the past lives, with one exception. The hero is not me, but the person I’d like to be. The subtitle, “Humanity’s last chance,” is from my wonderful publisher, Victor Volkman of Loving Healing Press www.lhpress.com because it’s an accurate description of what the story is about.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yup. As I’ve said, a writer’s values always underlie anything written. Since 1972, my passion has been to work for a culture that can survive indefinitely, and be worth surviving in. The current global culture fails on both counts.
Humanity is currently on a rapid slide toward extinction. Not that this is such a bad thing, but the crime is, we are hurting all sorts of other people such as dolphins, and elephants, and frogs, and sharks, and ponderosa pines, and the forests of the Rocky Mountains, and the sedges of the Tundra, and unnamed vines of the Amazon… the entire web of life of this little planet is threatened.
The current global culture of greed and conflict is a crime against the Universe.
The message of my novel is that there is hope. We can still do something about it. The wisdom is not my wisdom, but that of Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, of the young couple hiding in Paris because both their families want to kill them — he is Palestinian, she an Israeli Jew.
The message is to replace greed with generosity and compassion; hate and conflict with acceptance, sharing and Love.
Only, I don’t preach about it. I take you through an exciting adventure story spanning several lives, then invite you to join my team.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
All of it. I love writing speculative fiction, but this is not it. “Ascending Spiral” is an accurate account of my experiences. I only changed names and other details to protect the guilty.
Fiona: What books have influenced your life most?
By the time I turned 17, I’d read every book in the School library, and in the local library, even the encyclopedias, I kid you not. And I have a memory like a computer. (Now, what was your name again?) So, the simple answer is, all of them. Some showed me what I wanted to do, some showed me what I wanted to avoid. But everything was raw material.
Major influences who took me to where I am include Paul Ehrlich, Donnella Meadows, the “Ecologist” magazine, David Suzuki.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
You’ve never heard of him. His name is Olaf Ruhen, and actually he wasn’t a very good writer. I’ve started several of his books, but only finished one: “Writing: the craft of creative fiction,” published in 1964. His analysis of how to write fiction is brilliant, even if he wasn’t personally that good at keeping me interested.
I’ve also learned from reading the work of writers I admire. Dick Francis, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, David Eddings are a few.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
None. I am answering your questions.
And I can find time to do so because I’ve finished a demanding task 7 days early. I was sent 12 books to judge on the 11th of October, and finished them all by the 24th. I can’t tell you what categories they were, because that could sabotage the contest. Judging rules include judge anonymity.
At present, when I am not doing your interview, I am editing a chapter in a scholarly book. Waiting are two or three books I promised to review. This morning, I edited a newsletter for a professional association. And just before the judging marathon, I edited a wonderful novel for a lady who has used my services for previous books.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
- Victoria, Australia is about to have a State election. I am a member of the Greens party, and am very busy helping with our campaign. The Greens are a political party that stands exactly for my values: environmental sustainability, compassion, decency. We’re practical idealists.
- I’m promoting “Ascending Spiral” through review swaps. Here is how:
If I consider a book to be worth 4 or 5 stars, I will provide a public review. I’ll publish it in my newsletter http://wp.me/P3Xihq-1 and post it on any web site the author specifies.
However, I don’t trample on another writer’s baby. If I don’t consider the book to be excellent, I will privately let the author know why, pointing out what in my opinion are its good points, and where it needs improvement.
Also, I am not interested in certain genres.
Naturally, I expect the same in return.
- This is the time of year for serious preparation for the bushfire season. This means fuel reduction burns, which will be forbidden within a few weeks.
- As far as writing goes, I am writing about writing, as I said at the start. But that’s been somewhat interrupted by the judging jag.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Well, I’ve had 11 opportunities to die, including things like falling from considerable heights, and very near misses in cars. Someone wants me alive though. I found out the reason in 2007. If you want the details, read “Ascending Spiral.” I don’t think She has a name, or at least She hasn’t told me what it is.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
At my age, I just do what I want to, and that’s writing when I find the time for it.
My real lifetime career is leading people out of despair. Doing therapy is often a joy. Now I have retired as a psychologist, but am still allowed to work as a “counselor.” I don’t seek clients, but a few seek me out.
Also, I do a great deal of it through email. No one pays me for most of it, but then I am not that motivated by money anyway. Every issue of my newsletter Bobbing Around http://wp.me/P3Xihq-1 has a few answers to cries for help.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Only two things.
Buddhism is based on the 4 Noble Truths. It also has a central concept of the Golden Middle. In one passage of “Ascending Spiral,” I stated the Golden Middle as the 4th Noble Truth, which it isn’t.
Second, a perceptive reader informed me that the first time I introduced an important minor character, I’d given him a particular name. Every other time in the story, he had another. This proves that no one is perfect.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
When my mother could spare the time, we had fun together. A special activity was her reading picture books to me. After a couple of passes through a book, I could read it too, although she never believed me. She thought I said the words from memory.
I’ve made up stories, and essays on subjects I found interesting, for as long as I can remember, but didn’t write them down because I didn’t think anyone else would be interested in my ramblings.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I’ve been editing for other writers since 1999. I’ve honed my craft, and now want to share it.
OK, here is a sample:
The Art of Critique
The considered, honest opinion of a discerning reader is growth hormone to a writer. It consists of two components: a massage to the ego and a goad to change.
Praise is powerful. It validates, reassures and motivates. However, used alone, it is deadly: like honey, it is a kind of adhesive that glues bad habits firmly into the work. “It’s wonderful, I loved every minute of reading it” makes me feel fantastic, fires up my imagination and raises my hopes for the future.
But what if it was not entirely true? What if there were errors, big or little, that the reader was too kind to mention? When the work enters the cruel world of publishers, agents, reviewers, readers who paid money for it, its reception will be far more hostile. Will it die at the first dispassionate encounter with a stranger?
The longer term effects are important too. Practice does not make perfect. Praise confirms habits, and if these habits are bad, practice makes pathetic. I need to know if something in my writing needs improvement, and how can I learn if I am kept in ignorance?
Think back to your teenage years. Remember growth pains? The words I produce are part of me. Being told that a story I wrote and thought to be great is less than perfect is hurtful. But nothing is ever perfect; growth and improvement are always possible — and they come only through the honest acceptance of criticism, honestly offered.
The role of the editor or critique partner is primarily negative, however it is dressed up. As an editor, I need to find every misplaced comma, every typo and malapropism and grammatical glitch. I need to point out when a sentence has poor syntax, when dialogue is dead, when a character is a cardboard cutout. I need to help the author to produce a plot that goes somewhere, keeps the attention and satisfies the intended audience.
Certainly, if that’s all I do, I risk squashing my client’s spirit. It is both right and effective to also praise everything I can honestly praise, so that upon reading my comments, the recipient will be motivated to continue, and to benefit from my efforts. After all, I am supposed to be a growth hormone, not a suicide pill.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Finding the time for it!
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I’ve answered this already. There are too many to mention. I read widely, ignoring genre as much in my reading as in my writing.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Fiona, I travel as little as I can. Partly, this is because I am content to be wherever I am, and partly for environmental reasons. Travel is one of those activities that is costing us the planet.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
“Ascending Spiral” and my building book have professionally designed covers. I did the others, using artwork from generous friends, or an artist commissioned by the publisher.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
This varies with the book. For my mother’s biography, it was getting through enough time after her death to be able to face up to the task. Then I researched and wrote the book in 3 months. With my 3 short story anthologies, the problem was selecting which story to include. Mostly, my fiction writing just flows. I create some people and a situation, and let them get on with it. I am only a channel, recording.
Mind you, this needs many years of intelligent practice, and learning from mistakes. As a beginning writer, I soon realized that I needed a detailed plot.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Well, we have the choice of learning from every experience. However, as far as writing goes, I am now at the stage of an experienced craftsperson. If you’ve cooked appetizing meals for 34 years, cooking is just something you do. Same for writing.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Perhaps the main thing is, welcome negative feedback. The most valuable learning experience is a mistake, carefully examined.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Anyone who buys any of my books anywhere, in any format, has earned a second book, free, in electronic format.
And please review my book! You can email the review to me, or have a chat about anything and everything, by clicking on an “email” icon on my web pages.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Goingu the Giant. That was a Hungarian book of course. He liked eating little boys.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
As you will have noticed, I have no sense of humor whatever. I carry on with the grim task of living like an automaton.
Cruelty, discrimination, victimization are the kinds of things that get my eyes wet. I don’t tend to cry about anything that happens to me. That’s what Buddhist equanimity is for.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
I am not a Christian, and have no interest in becoming one, but would love to have a chat with Jesus.
Fiona: What do you want written on your headstone, and why?
I don’t want a headstone. If I die before you, put my discarded body into a sack (no embalming!), and bury it. Plant a nice walnut three over the body. Then, friends and family can come together once a year to gather Bob’s nuts.
Fiona: Other than writing, do you have any hobbies?
Life is too short to be treated with the seriousness it deserves. Everything I do is a hobby, even if I get paid for it.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Guess what. I haven’t owned a TV since 1975.
My favorite movie is “The Gods must be crazy.” Second is “Gandhi,” then Peter Sellers’ last movie, “Dr. Fu Manchu.”
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
My favorite vegetable is chocolate. Second favorite is potatoes.
I like all colors. They color my world.
Chopin is my favorite composer. Beethoven next, then Khachaturian. Dvorak, Vaughan Williams, some J. S. Bach, some Mozart are also great.
Fiona: If you were not a writer, what else would you like to have done?
All the many things I have done. My desire is to be part of a global movement that yields a miracle, and creates a new, decent, sustainable society.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
I have 3 web sites and a blog.
http://bobswriting.com is my writing showcase.
http://mudsmit.net is my environmental site.
http://anxietyanddepression-help.com is where I offer inspiration, advice and solace to people who are hurting.
My blog is where I publish my monthly newsletter Bobbing Around, and have lots of other interesting stuff. http://wp.me/P3Xihq-1
And, Fiona, thank you for hosting me.