Writers Exchange Author Interview
Dr Bob Rich is the latest author Exchange Personalities has interviewed. Bob refuses to be imprisoned within genres, and writes both fiction and nonfiction. In his stories, he is merely a scribe and records what his characters tell him. This makes some of his books historical fiction, others SF, or paranormal-contemporary-inspirational, or approximately whatever. Oh, the paranormal-contemporary-inspirational is Hit and Run, published by Writers Exchange. John Klawitter has decided it is a new genre: Elderly Adult fiction, similar in intent to Young Adult fiction. You can find Hit and Run at https://www.writers-exchange.com/hit-and-run/
Bob lives in a little town 50 miles east of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Having the city to the west leads to WONDERFUL sunsets, thanks to the air pollution. See, there is good in everything!
- What is the single most important fact about you?
I am a Professional Grandfather. Anyone born after 1992 qualifies as my grandchild; anyone after 1967 as my child. They merely need to apply. Trivia like nationality, skin colour or religion don’t matter. Many hundreds have applied, and been adopted with love.
The job specification is that everything I do is working for a survivable future, and one worth surviving in. Both are equally important.
A survivable future: A December, 2020 report by Flora Graham in Nature summarised evidence that “the mass of human-made things just exceeded the planet’s total living biomass”. Even the most conservative estimates put us within the 6th great extinction event of Earth, and unlike previous ones, this is entirely due to human actions. We are killing what keeps us alive. When we have unravelled the web of life, we also fall through the hole.
Whenever I see loving parents with a darling baby, I bleed inside. Certainly within this little person’s expected lifetime, horrors on an unprecedented scale will strike every human, and every other kind of life. Actually, it’s been happening and growing for decades, but we adapt to the present, even during rapid change. The proverbial frog does jump out of gradually heating water. We humans are more stupid.
So, as a Professional Grandfather, I need to do everything possible, and even the impossible, to save a future for the youngsters of the world.
And one worth surviving in: I’ve done my best since 1972 to strive for a future for my children, and their children in perpetuity. But survival isn’t enough. What’s the point of survival if millions starve so a few can splurge in meaningless luxury? What’s the point of survival if people kill each other in the name of the God of Love? For the sake of profit, the agrochemical industry is poisoning every living being on Earth, including their CEOs and shareholders. How sane is that? For the sake of profit, factory farms have replaced animal husbandry, destroying the effectiveness of antibiotics. For about fifty years, fossil fuel industries have been aware of the coming climate catastrophe but spent billions to create fake controversy. This is the ultimate insanity: destroying all complex life on earth in order to increase short term profit. Instead, the future I strive for is one of decency, honesty, compassion, cooperation.
If life is to continue, it should be a GOOD life. So, as well as advancing environmental issues, my job as Professional Grandfather is also to oppose my country’s shameful treatment of asylum seekers, to be there for every disadvantaged group, for reviled minorities, for all those society has spat out and spat on.
Mother Teresa has said, “Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.” Although I’ve retired from psychotherapy, it’s a joy that my words heal. I can improve life for one person at a time by answering cries of despair. I have acquired a great many grandchildren and children, and some brothers and sisters too, by doing so.
- What do you do when you are not writing? Do those activities contribute to or shape your work?
Writing has two components: composing and recording. I am always composing–asleep or awake, digging in the garden, attending a meeting, sitting quietly watching a sunset (remember, they are lovely where I live). Whatever I am doing, “Little Bob” in my head is writing in the background. I describe this at more length here: http://wp.me/p3Xihq-Lx
The many activities of my life give Little Bob a chance to compose. When I am actually pounding a keyboard, I am recording what has already been written. This goes for both fiction and nonfiction, and for creatively planning anything.
As I’ve said, all my many activities are within the job specs of being a Professional Grandfather. I am an active member of the Australian Greens political party, of a refugee support organisation, a wonderful local group that offers many kinds of assistance to people who need it, and of about a dozen environmental and humanitarian organisations.
Having retired from five different occupations so far, I now have time for fun. This includes playing correspondence chess over the internet, and writing. As I said, I am writing even when I am not writing.
- What led to your first published work?
In 1980, I was building my own house, with my own hot little hands rather than hiring experts. The walls were mudbrick (adobe), and I’d developed a more efficient way of making the bricks. One morning, I was trampling around in the raw material when a deputation of local teenagers kidnapped me. They had a boys vs. girls soccer game and were short of a male. Who was I to disobey? Off I went, and eventually slipped on the mud still attached to me, and tore a cartilage in a knee. Let me tell you, that’s not a good idea.
There I was in hospital, with nothing to do. So, I borrowed the office typewriter (remember those?) and wrote an article about my new mudbrick-making method for a wonderful magazine of self-sufficiency, Earth Garden https://www.earthgarden.com.au/ This resulted in a regular column for 4 decades. In 1984, I wrote a letter to the publisher, Keith Smith, suggesting we collaborate on a building book. Having posted it, I checked my mailbox, and there was a letter from him with the same suggestion. Synchronicity!
It took us two years to get it right, but then it SOARED. It went through 4 editions between 1986 and 2018. When my daughter was 18, she and a friend travelled around Australia as WWOOFs https://wwoof.net/ and found a copy of The Earth Garden Building Book in about 80% of the places they visited.
- What person or event do you feel shaped who you are today?
Probably the two most important events were when my stepfather “transported me to Australia for the term of my natural life,” and when I forgave him and even got to like him. For readers not fortunate enough to be Australians, that term will need an explanation. After the United States came into existence and kicked the Brits out, there was nowhere to deport all the many convicts the undeclared class warfare in Britain created, including a large proportion of the population of Ireland. A typical sentence for a criminal (or a “criminal”) was to be “transported to Australia for the term of his natural life”. The sentence might have been 7 years, but after that the convict got a “ticket of leave”, which made him a free man–sort of. But he had to stay in the Colony. This is all vividly described in my novel, Ascending Spiral.
My stepfather knew that when I was old enough, either he would have to murder me, or I’d murder him. So, when the Iron Curtain developed a rust hole in Hungary during the 1956 revolution there, he shoved me through, and kept the rest of the family behind. This story is part of the biography of my mother, Aniko: The stranger who loved me which is the book that has won me the largest number of awards.
So, that stepfather was a major reason for the intense, terrible depression of my childhood and teenage years. Although I rejected everything about him, I took on board his opinions of me: “If there is a wrong way of doing it, or even if there isn’t, he’ll do it that way first.”
I met him again when I was 21. I learned his story, and found he had many admirable qualities, So, I forgave him and we became friends. This was the start of my healing.
I could not have become a highly effective psychotherapist; a healer; an inspiration to many, if it wasn’t for my stepfather.
- What do you feel is your greatest personal achievement?
Only one? (he asks modestly).
- In 1972, while writing up my Ph.D. thesis, I also constructed computer models that forecast the future. That was horrendous: I accurately predicted today’s world! When the Reports of the Club of Rome were published, I was gratified that they were in close accordance with my conclusions.
- Through my many years of writing in Earth Garden magazine, and my so far 18 published books, I have succeeded in inspiring people to care about our wonderful natural world, and about each other. My way of healing, and of leading, is not persuasion, but “I am on a good path. Walk along with me.” I do my best to live the way I think everyone should. For example, my average electricity bill is less than one-tenth of that of my neighbourhood. I live simply so everyone may simply live, and it is not hardship but liberation.
- The most important thing is, I have led many hundreds of people from despair, often suicidal despair, to a good life. My latest nonfiction book is the distillation of how: From Depression to Contentment: A self-therapy guide. It is a course of therapy in your pocket, and if you work through my program you have a high probability of following in my footsteps. Many reviewers have stated that the book will benefit even people who have never been depressed. This is because about a third of the program is positive psychology and spirituality (not religion).
- What do you think other people would find interesting about you?
I am a grumpy old man with no sense of humour. When people laugh at what I say or write, that shows THEY have a sense of humour.
- If you became omnipotent and could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
The idea of being godlike makes me shudder and shiver and shake (and perhaps a few more sh words as well). No person’s judgment is free from mistakes, which is why you need multiple inputs into any decision. “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And this quote is actually a trivial example. I have always attributed it to an ancient Roman sage, but being obsessive, looked it up, and the source is 19th Century British politician Lord, Acton. All the same I like to act on it.
But if I was required to wave a magic wand loaded with one wish (sounds far more benign), it would be to have every sentient being on Earth (including humans) follow the lesson of all the great religions. In Christianity, it’s Corinthians 13 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Corinthians_13 but it is not specifically a Christian message. It is also at the centre of Confucianism, Tao, Shintoism, Islam, and also philosophies that are not religions such as Buddhism. Look up http://bobswriting.com/bill/metta.html to find out what this message is, and its various expressions.
My personal version, which I attempt to use insofar as I can, is “Above all, do no harm. When you can, do good. When you can’t, change the situation until you can.” And before you set me up as some sort of wannabe saint, I don’t always manage it. Besides, I didn’t invent it but learned it from a character in one of my stories. They are among my greatest teachers.
- If you could charm any person in the world and compel them to read a piece of your work from cover to cover, who would it be, which work, and why?
My currently 18 published books are my babies, and I love them all. Nevertheless, the piece of work I want people to read is my essay, How to change the world, which I wrote toward the end of the last century, but every year since has made it more relevant. You can read it at http://wp.me/P3Xihq-5
As for who, I am greedy. I don’t want to influence just one person, but everyone who can make a difference–and there are over 7.5 billion such people.
- What motivated you to start writing? What keeps you going through the long process of creation?
I’ve been a writer all my life, but I didn’t know until I started actually recording words and sharing them with others. I’ve told you what led to my first writing career. I progressed to fiction because I needed an alternative to making a fool of myself.
At one stage, the money ran out, so I became a student nurse. Nowadays, that means going to college and paying a fee. In those days, I was trained on the job in a hospital, and actually got paid. Otherwise, with kids, I couldn’t have done it. Because I lived in the country, this meant spending time off 5 days a week in a nurses’ home. There I was surrounded by gorgeous 18 year olds. So, rather than playing around, I wrote short stories. The first one I entered in a contest won a prize–and I was hooked.
What keeps you going through the long process of breathing? Terrifying: you need to breathe in… breathe out… endlessly over and over for all of your life, or you die!
Writing is the same.
- Writing: Art, Science or both?
Writing is a craft, like painting pictures, or composing music, or playing a musical instrument, or embroidering, or cooking. To do it well, you need to be competent with the technicalities: word meaning, spelling, grammar, punctuation. All prose is poetry, so you need to know how to use words to stir emotions, and to make complex ideas easy to understand. At my blog, Bobbing Around you can have a look at “Rhobin’s Rounds”, which is my monthly contribution to a round robin with a bunch of other writers. Each month, Rhobin Courtright sets us a topic to write about, and as I’ve said in another context, I am an obedient person, and do so. Another tab leads you to a long list of free short stories, mostly by me. These illustrate the many points my Rhobin’s rounds essays make.
- Are there parts of your work that friends or relatives could identify as something distinctly you?
Approximately all of it, give or take a little. I delight in the fact of being different. Who the heck wants to be normal? What I’ve written so far is a fair sample of my nonfiction writing style. It is unapologetically offbeat, passionately emotional, and meant to entertain. If you don’t find it entertaining, STOP READING IMMEDIATELY!
I write fiction by inviting a character to coalesce from a cloud of electrons within my computer, and dump this person into the cauldron of a situation. Then, my character tells me what happens. So, I always write from within the point of view of someone in the story. Even when that’s a villain, I AM that person during that time. Here is a link to a short story written entirely from within the point of view of my favourite villain: http://bobswriting.com/striking.html#sample
- What do you think readers like best about your stories?
Over the years, my various books have received hundreds of reviews. Of them all, I think two were 3-star. Maybe only one was. The rest are 5-star with a sprinkling of 4. And a typical comment is that my writing has taken the reviewer into the created reality of the book. “I was there.” The second most frequent praise is that the story stays with the reader for a long time. It’s not just something read for fun, though it is that, but provokes thought, provides a new insight.
Here are a few examples from reviews of Hit and Run https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/bobs-booklist#hitandrun
Normally, I read a book and the euphoria I receive from it wanes and the details fade, even though I remember it was a good read. However, Hit and Run joins a special class of books that will have you reflecting on it long after the last page. (Anthony Mays)
This story gripped me right from the first few lines… A Word of caution though. Make sure you have enough time to read it at the one sitting, because like me, you won’t want to put it down until you have devoured every word. (Margaret Tanner)
This is an absolutely phenomenal read which, unusually for me, I read in one sitting because I just couldn’t put it down. Each of the characters seem to actually walk off the page. I cannot recommend this book highly enough — it is one of the best books I have ever read. (Patricia Walker)
This book is a paean of praise to light in the darkness, to the power of love to conquer all. It is a call to go forth and do likewise. (Florence Weinberg)
In a world where violence is a fact of life and where the mantra that ‘the only protection from gun violence is more guns’ has become commonplace, Hit and Run offers an alternative prescription. It is a book that provides hope that there is another way. (Joe Zammit-Lucia)
It is indeed a rare event for me to read a book twice in a row… third time just doesn’t happen, but in this case the rule was broken. (Carolyn Harris)
- What is your current writing project?
I have three current projects, and several more quietly waiting for my attention.
- When I sent the manuscript of From Depression to Contentment to my publisher, he told me to cut it down to below 50,000 words, because people looking for self-help books tend not to buy longer ones. The book was a mixture of instruction and illustration. That is, I presented a short story or creative essay, then showed how the reader could apply the lessons in it. Sob, sob, I had to cut all the stories.
This resulted in far better instruction than the original was, but I had all these great stories. So, one of my current projects is a companion volume: Lifting the Gloom: An antidepressant primer of writings.
You’ll find several of the stories at my blog.
- One of the projects gathering electronic dust within my computer is an instructional book on writing. In 2015, I wanted an example of characterisation. Two teenagers introduced themselves to me: scrawny Bill with glasses, and sports champion Grater, all power and speed, who rescued him from bullying. I brought them to life in a couple of paragraphs, which was all I needed for the writing book, but then they wouldn’t leave me alone. An alien kidnapped Bill, but turned out to be humanity’s benefactor rather than a villain. Then the real villain introduced himself. He is an invader of our Universe from another one, and his task is to destroy all complex life on Earth, with as much hate and misery as possible. Look around–he is doing well, isn’t he?
This is my Doom Healer series. Four volumes are complete, and I am about half finished with the fifth, which I intend to be the last, but as I said, I’m merely a scribe, so we’ll have to see.
- For some years, I was the counsellor at an (Australian) Aboriginal Health Centre, and got to love these people who can have fun and joy in their lives despite centuries of genocide, disdain, prejudice and hate. Within a few months all the youngsters called me “Uncle Bob”, a title reserved for Elders, and this gives me a warm glow whenever I think of it.
One morning, a baby was born within my computer. She was a Superior Spirit assigned as guardian angel over humans, but had never lived as a human, so needed to experience a few lives as one of us. She chose Her first life as Maraglindi, born in 1850 because a white man had raped her Aboriginal mother. I started with her birth, then wrote her horrendous death 14 years later, which was a lead-in to the second volume. The fun was then filling in the middle. When it was as good as I could make it, I sent it to Sandy Cummins of Writers Exchange, but she turned it down, because the ending spoiled it. Having read her critique, I agreed with her. There is no such thing as a mistake; there are only learning opportunities. I put the book away, and when I needed something new to think about years later, got it out again. The rewritten story has hugely improved, and at the time of writing is getting ready to fly.
The current writing project is its sequel, The Protector. I’ve got about 20,000 words written.
- If you didn’t have writing in your life, what would be doing with that time instead?
As a young man, my creativity was invested in research. Then it was practical skills like building my house, and wood carving, and stone laying for fun. If I was forced to stop writing today, I think I’d invest the time and energy into even more environmental and humanitarian action. We have so little time to save a life for the youngsters of the world!
- Criticism: how do you feel about it and how does it factor into the construction of your material?
I am too close to my writing to be dispassionate about it. It is literally impossible to do your best without external feedback. So, when I’ve got a story as good as I can make it, I send it to my wonderful team of beta readers. One is an English teacher, another a builder, but sharp and observant in the critique department. All the others are fellow authors, and I beta read their writing in turn.
- Thank you for taking the trouble to answer all these questions. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
No trouble. Will, thank you for taking the trouble of doing such voluntary work for our mutual publisher, Writers Exchange.
There is just one thing, and it is a sharing. Anyone who sends me proof of purchase of any of my books has earned a free electronic copy of any other of my books. Emailing me a review qualifies as proof of purchase–unless the book was free, from me. I may be old, but not THAT old.
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