What follows is an interview with a very successful writer, Richard S. Prather, who sold 36 books and 4 under pseudonyms. His genre wasn't TG Fiction, but detective stories with a popular hero named Shell Scott. I've pasted the whole interview here, so ignore the parts that don't have much to do with writing and publishing your work, but DO pay attention to how he says he plotted and wrote what he wrote and how he wrote it.
"It was among the beautiful Red Rocks of Sedona, with a little Scotch Whiskey on the Rocks, the evening my husband Don Pendleton and I met author Richard S. Prather and his lovely wife, Tina.
Don and I were vacationing in Sedona, Arizona, November, 1989, and although Richard and Don had shared the same New York literary agent for a number of years, they had never had the opportunity to meet. So Don picked up the telephone and called Richard, and that evening we had the pleasure of visiting with them in their home. Not only did we discover that the four of us had a lot in common in regard to writing, but also a common interest in metaphysics and the paranormal.
Richard S. Prather’s long and successful writing career began years before Don Pendleton’s did. It was in 1950 that Richard’s first Shell Scott mystery novel, The Case of the Vanishing Beauty, was published by Fawcett’s Gold Medal Paperback Originals. His successful and best-selling Shell Scott series of thirty-six novels plus four short story collections, published between 1950 and 1987, have sold over 40 million copies in the United States and have enjoyed foreign language publication, selling millions more world-wide. In addition to the Shell Scott mysteries, Richard penned three novels under pseudonyms. He wrote the first Dragnet novel based on the television show, Dragnet, titled, “Dragnet: Case No. 561,” published under the name, David Knight; used that same pseudonym for the initial publication of Pattern for Murder, later republished by Gold Medal Books as The Scrambled Yeggs by Richard S. Prather; and used the pen name Douglas Ring for The Peddler, which was later republished under his own name by Gold Medal. He also published a number of short stories; and lent his name to the Shell Scott Mystery Magazine.
Richard Scott Prather was born in Santa Ana, California on September 9, 1921. He served in the United States Merchant Marine during World War II, from 1942 until the end of the war in 1945. Richard married Tina Hager in 1945. He then worked as a civilian chief clerk of surplus property at March Air Force Base in Riverside, California until leaving that career to become a full time writer in 1949. Tina, his wife of 58 years, passed away in April of 2004.
Richard S. Prather’s last book, Shellshock, was published in hardcover in 1987 by Tor. He received the Private Eye Writers of America Lifetime Achievement Award in 1986, and was twice on the Board of Directors of the Mystery Writers of America. His Shell Scott mysteries are now back in print with ereads.com and available as POD paperbacks and ebooks, and a number of his novels are at booksinmotion.com as unabridged audio books. The Peddler is now back in print, published by Hard Case Crime, November 2006.
Although Richard Prather has not published a new novel for several years, his mystery writing and classic Shell Scott character remain an inspiration to fans, both old and new, and to aspiring and established writers. And for that reason, I asked Richard to have a discussion with me about his life as a successful writer.
Linda: Richard, tell me a little about your early life growing up–your parents, what were you interested in as a young boy, and then as a young adult. Did you have an interest in metaphysics and spiritual matters in those early years?
Richard: I spent the first half-dozen of my growing-up years in the house where I was born, a huge rambling two-story frame house on the corner of First and Pine Streets in Santa Ana, California.
Only fragmentary memory remains now of those early years in the Pine Street house (and later temporary homes in Tustin and Orange, also in Southern California). More “real” but still-fuzzy memories begin surfacing after the family moved to Riverside, California when I was, I guess, about twelve years old and began going to “Junior High” (grades 7, 8, and 9 in those days).
I know that by the time I was born my mother Pat (born Effie Alberta Kuykendall), and my father (Sydney Scott Prather) were separated, then divorced. So I grew up, very happily, as an only child living with my mother and grandparents (Hulda and Phillip Kuykendall)–often with only Grandma and Grandpa there. That was because Mom, especially when we lived on Eleventh Street in Riverside, sometimes worked as a waitress in a nearby city in order to keep food on the table and, then as now, make monthly mortgage payments so the nice bankers wouldn’t seize our property and kick us all out onto Eleventh Street. As a kid, starting Junior High School then, I didn’t really know what a mortgage was. I just soaked up by a kind of osmosis a sense of worry and apprehension that “paying the bank” aroused. At the end of the month. Every month.
Parenthetically: Later in life I learned a little about “fractional reserve” banking, and how local financial institutions—much like the privately owned malefic monstrosity the non-Federal Federal Reserve System, a private corporation whose stockholders absolutely control the entire economy of the United States and its citizens—create “money” out of nothing then lend this nothing to people (or, in the case of the Fed, to the U.S. Government), who have to pay the nothing back along with usurious interest or the nice banks will take away their real property (collateral) and keep it for themselves. This possibility struck me as a sophisticated form of non-prosecutable criminality committed by well-barbered bankers with smiles like knives. Those aren’t the precise words I might have used to describe the situation then; those are the words I use to describe it now.
Anyway, the mortgage payments were somehow made, and I got through Junior High and High School and a year of Junior College before World War II was arranged for by Our Leaders and I became a Hero, simply by enlisting in the U.S. Merchant Marine and sailing off to War (well, to Noumea, New Caledonia, which was close enough).
But, to get back to your specific questions Linda, from which I may occasionally seem to have strayed: As a young boy (and old boy) I was interested in books, books, and more books. From the time I learned to read I read and kept on reading. Everything from infants’ books to young-adult books to old folks’ books, from Tom the Telephone Boy to Dr. Dolittle, from Robin Hood to Robinson Crusoe to The Swiss Family Robinson, from The Tennessee Shad, to Sir Walter Scott’s memorable Ivanhoe and Men of Iron, eventually to perhaps the most real and vivid vicarious adventures of them all, the wonderful Tarzan/Jungle (“Me, Tarzan—you ape”) and John Carter/Mars books written by that prolific literary genius, Edgar Rice Burroughs. And a thousand more….
And no, Linda, I had not the least interest then in metaphysics (a word said to have been invented by Aristotle). If I’d heard the word in those days I wouldn’t have understood it (still don’t, not really), and I thought spiritual matters were what scared the hell out of you in church. Fortunately, I had stopped going to church (Presbyterian Sunday School) while I was a tot in Grammar School. Which may have been one of the smartest things I ever did, or didn’t. Because it kept out of my head a lot of blatantly-contradictory Churchisms and unbelievable Bornagainiptions, hopefully leaving room for the (to me) authentic spirituality of Illuminated Masters and WOGS (Wise Old Gurus) when they came along starting in the 1950s…like Ding Le Mei, Yogi Ramacharaka, Doreal, and later Vernon Howard and beautiful Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, and (today) the Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll.
To bring all this in a circle back to the beginning, Linda, it may be worth mentioning that years later, as a young adult starting to write books in Laguna Beach, Southern California, I decided to revisit, for the first time, the house in nearby Santa Ana where I was born.
I located the corner of First and Pine Streets with no trouble. But I couldn’t find the great rambling mansion I remembered so well. Oddly the house there was similar…two stories, wood framework, same color and shape…. But it was just an ordinary wooden structure, shabby, in need of gray paint, shrinking into the earth, seeming to sag at every corner as though falling deeper into decay…. Where were the acres of rooms and shadowy corners, the stairways and secret places I remembered? There wasn’t room for all that, because this house—I still recall my shock—was small.
So, slowly, I realized I’d found the right house but also the wrong house, and I drove back to Laguna Beach thinking about the total unreliability of human memory, wondering abut the mind and other tricks it may play on us, and asking myself—quite seriously, and not for the last time: Where is that grand house where I was born?
Linda: I understand, Richard. It is interesting, especially, how things seen through the mind’s-eye-of-a-child may be exaggerated beyond reality. And I suppose that works for the positive memories as well as the negative ones. But apparently those mind tricks often do not end with the approach of adulthood.
When did you first decide you would become a writer or at least dream about being a writer?
Richard: It wasn’t so much a decision as merely something that was, and I didn’t dream about it or even think much about it. When I got old enough to answer the question, “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” my answer, from as far back as I can remember, was always “I’m gonna be a writer.” Why? How would I know? Maybe because I loved reading books so much I wanted to write some myself. Maybe because I didn’t want to be a fireman or policeman or soldier or anything dangerous. Now I believe that was a decision I had already made “in Spirit,” between lives, before being born into that huge sprawling mansion on First and Pine Streets. But I certainly had no conception of anything spooky like that when I was a tot. It just was.
Linda: In those early days when you first realized you had a creative drive, what books inspired you?
Richard: In those early years practically everything I read inspired me one way or another. Not only books, but scores of wonderful old (but then brand-new) raggedy-edged pulp magazines like Amazing Stories and Wild West Weekly, and (blush) Spicy Detective.
Indeed, even the pulps’ garish cover art inspired me—like those Spicy Detective covers displaying thinly-clad female people so recklessly provocative they gave me my first dim intuition that female persons were really different from male persons, and a lot better…more “inspiring” than any I ever saw until years later when some of my own books flaunted magnificent female-person cover art magically painted by the incomparable Robert McGinnis.
In sum, printed and painted inspiration (Webster, Theol. “a supernatural influence which qualifies men to receive and communicate divine truth”) was all over the place, everywhere. So it’s not possible to identify a single source. However, for me in those formative years and even until I was, say, 30 years old and writing books myself, the most important influence on my thinking and beliefs was Ralph Waldo Emerson. I hadn’t at age 30 read every word of Emerson’s work, (still haven’t), but I had read and re-read his “Self Reliance” and “Compensation,” which was enough to reshape my brains a little and give me at least a glimpse of “divine truth.” And that glimpse was enough for me to continue loving the words and wisdom of Ralph Waldo from then until now.
Linda: Did you ever take creative writing classes in high school or college? Do you recall the first thing you ever wrote as a kid?
Richard: No. And no.
Before I began writing, and afterward for a long time, I read dozens of books and articles (Writer’s Digest, The Writer, etc.) about writing by those who had successfully done it, but I never talked about my work to anyone, not even to my beloved Tina, wife and partner (and, by my request, my first critic). And not even she knew what I was working on until it was finished, done.
Early on I became aware of an old occult law about “silence and secrecy” advising that talking about one’s important goal or work-in-progress would inevitably diminish one’s desire and need to actually achieve the goal…that talking about it would relieve the build-up of creative pressure (like steam escaping from a boiler) better expended in doing it. So the idea of attending writing classes—with a lot of wanna-bes like me, all us jabbering endlessly about “the delicate creative process,” was a no-no.
Indeed, I suspect there are billions of literary fragments littering some astral plane, billions of begun-but-never-completed stories and books by embryo authors who talked, and talked, and talked about them until they no longer needed to write them. Yes? No? Maybe? Beats me. But that’s what I think.
Linda: The first Shell Scott novel, Case of the Vanishing Beauty was published in 1950 and your long career was off and running. Was that your first publication or sale of your work? Did you have an agent for your first sale?
Richard: Case of the Vanishing Beauty was my first published book but the second one I wrote. The first book I wrote—and the first book featuring Shell Scott—was The Maddern Caper (my title, which turned out to be temporary), written during the last half of 1949.
In those days a top literary agent named Scott Meredith had a full-page ad in Writer’s Digest Magazine each month, listing dozens of recent sales he’d made for many of the best known writers in the business. Well, his first name was Scott, and I’d just finished writing a mystery novel about a private eye named Scott, so….. In late 1949, with many misgivings but a lot of hope, I mailed my manuscript to Scott Meredith, along with a letter asking him to “please send me several thousand dollars.” Wonder of wonders, he not only accepted The Maddern Caper for immediate marketing but wrote me a letter encouraging enough that my wife (beautiful Tina) and I both quit our jobs, packed up our few belongings, and moved to Laguna Beach to continue writing there full-time for as long as our fortune ($600) lasted.
I don’t have that letter before me now (all my manuscripts and correspondence were donated to the University of Wyoming in the early ‘80s) but it impressed me enough that I can still quote it pretty much word-for-word. Of The Maddern Caper Meredith wrote: “Most first novels, even if salable, need a lot of work. But not this time. This one’s smack on the beam from start to finish.” I almost levitated.
Fortunately, I didn’t wait for The Maddern Caper to find a market but kept on writing full-speed—fortunately because, despite my new agent’s enthusiasm, it took him 2 ½ years to actually sell that first manuscript (to Graphic Books, which published it as Pattern for Murder by “David Knight” in 1952). However, by then, in addition to a couple of “straight” or non-Shell mysteries published elsewhere, I had written—and Scott Meredith had sold, to Fawcett Publications’ Gold Medal Books—not only that second-written Shell Scott mystery novel, Case of the Vanishing Beauty, but also Bodies in Bedlam, Everybody Had a Gun, Find this Woman, Way of a Wanton, and Darling, It’s Death…and Shell Scott was indeed “off and running.”
Linda: As most writers, I have read a number of books on creative writing and techniques of novel writing. In fact, you have recommended two books to me that you said you found invaluable. Tell us about those and why you felt they had such value for a writer, yourself included.
Richard: Of the many books on writing that I read in those early years, the three most important and valuable for me were: Writing and Selling (originally Trial and Error) by Jack Woodford; Characters Make Your Story by Maren Elwood; and Writing to Sell by Scott Meredith.
Writing and Selling was the only one of those three that I read (and re-read) before beginning to write for publication myself, but in retrospect it was the perfect initial guide for me (and might be the same for brand-new writers out there, particularly for any hopeful but unsure wanna-be novelists). Because Woodford made the writing of a whole novel seem, especially to a rank beginner like me, not an almost impossible task but a creative adventure that I might actually enjoy.
So it was Woodford’s approach, his encouraging words, that helped me move from just thinking about writing a novel to actually doing it. Even more importantly, in Writing and Selling, Woodford set forth his own procedure for plotting an entire novel in advance, before writing a single line of the manuscript itself, a formula I was thus able to employ for that first mystery novel—and for every book (and even short story) I’ve written since then.
Maren Elwood made the art of creating believable characters (both Good Guys and Bad Guys) more understandable than any other author had for me. But she did more than that. She listed (and illustrated with convincing explanation and example) several of her “Rules” for writing—for not only creating believable characters but believable scenes and stories and books, believable fiction that will help suspend the reader’s disbelief and keep him reading (our primary goal, right? Keep the reader reading!).
Note that the word repeated here several times is “believable.” If the reader doesn’t feel that your characters’ actions and the results of those actions make good sense, that they’re logical, and believable, he may simply overlook those flaws and enjoy the read…but he’ll never save the book, and prize it, and maybe even one day read it again. A temporary diversion, soon forgotten, isn’t what I want, and shouldn’t be what you want, either. So, herewith, three of Elwood’s Rules, with a little embellishment by me (for the full treatment, with examples, see Elwood).
First (and also the title of her book), “CHARACTERS MAKE YOUR STORY.” Second, “SHOW it, don’t TELL it.” A common and deadly auctorial crime committed by many beginning writers: “Joe went to the Circle K and held it up and escaped with $1200.” That’s a pretty dumb (on purpose, because it happens so often) example of the author telling the reader about it. Those 14 boring words could become 1,400 words of interesting and exciting action, vicariously experienced by the reader, in which the author shows Joe approaching the Circle K, feeling the weight of the old Colt .45 heavy in the pocket of his shabby jacket …entering, smelling the odd mustiness inside mingled with his own sweat collecting in hairy armpits…Joe beginning to shake uncontrollably when he pulls out the automatic pistol and points it at the clerk, the visibly terrified clerk …etc, etc, etc. In sum, show the reader pictures for him to see—and feel—instead of telling him about them.
Rule number three, “The reader wants to FEEL.” The reader wants to feel/share Joe’s building anxiety, the fear grinding in his stomach, the checked butt and heaviness of the gun in Joe’s hand, the clerk’s terror, Joe’s relief when he gets away…and on and on. The reader wants to experience all the emotions you allow him (fear, excitement, sexual arousal, shock, suspense, amusement, whatever). What he doesn’t want is “Joe went to the Circle K and held it up and escaped with $1200.”
Add to those three Maren Elwood Rules one of my own: “Milk your BEST scenes.” Plan—in the beginning, when you’re plotting your story’s scenes and action, before writing any of it—to give 90% or more of your wordage to the best and potentially most interesting/exciting action you’ve dreamed up, and 10% or less to the dull and dumb stuff and even without any of the other Rules you’ve got a Formula for creating a pretty good novel.
Title number three, Writing to Sell, by Scott Meredith (my literary agent for 25 years) is, no question, the best single book I’ve read for answers to nearly every question a beginning writer (and many old pros, for that matter) might ask about how to write commercial fiction, or fiction that will sell. And Scott knew whereof he spoke. He was for a good portion of the last century one of the best agents in the game, a man out in the arena doing it, reading and marketing fiction that he actually sold to publishers—as well as writing and selling “about a thousand” (or so he told me) short stories of his own in the years before he founded SMLA, or the Scott Meredith Literary Agency. Moreover, as agent he represented not only raw beginners (like me, in 1950) but, for several decades, many of the best and most successful writers in the business. So he knew what sold, and what didn’t—and, importantly, why it did or didn’t. And he put what he learned during those decades into Writing to Sell, which any budding or blooming author can read in a few hours. [Scott Meredith died in the early 1990s and his agency was sold, although it retained the SMLA name].
I first read each of those special-to-me books a long time ago, so they’re probably all out-of-print today. Even so, I think you’d profit from finding and absorbing the words of Woodford and Elwood and Meredith. Who knows? They might prove as valuable to others as they’ve been to me for more than half a century now.
Linda: You have had a number of short stories published almost from the beginning of your career. Have you enjoyed writing short stories as much as novels?
Richard: No. I never wanted to write short stories. Perhaps because of Jack Woodford’s influence on my thinking (the chapter “Warm Plunge” or “Writing the Novel,” in his Writing and Selling) I always wanted to write novels, never the short stuff.
The truth is that every short piece of fiction I ever wrote was done because Scott (my agent) asked me to do a story for Manhunt or Cavalier, or one of the other popular magazines of the time. I did them all, but reluctantly, begrudging the time it would take from the next novel. I certainly didn’t do them for the money—there wasn’t any money worth mentioning. For a Manhunt story, featured on the magazine’s cover, I was paid $100, maybe even $200. Not exactly a bonanza. But: eventually there were four published collections of those stories (Have Gat—Will Travel, Three’s a Shroud, Shell Scott’s Seven Slaughters from Gold Medal Books, and The Shell Scott Sampler from Pocket Books) all today available on the Internet from present publisher www.ereads.com, and other sources. They contain a total of 21 individual stories and novelettes, each one written reluctantly, with much groaning and protesting by yours truly. And the monetary mini-bonanza, to cheer me up after all that blood-curdling groaning, came from several million copies sold of those collections. Moreover, many of the readers who enjoyed the individual stories went on to buy copies of my other books, the novels that were the only creative work I wanted to do.
So who was right? Persistent Scott Meredith or reluctant me? All I know is: it wasn’t me.
Maybe “everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen,” as some of the smarter people tell me. Maybe we only think we’re doing what we think we’re doing. I don’t know. I do know that Vernon Howard, one of my all-time favorite Gurus, wrote (in There Is a Way Out), “Individual plans do not exist. Everything is a movement of the Cosmic Whole, which includes you.”
Yeah? But I thought I decided to write a bunch of novels, and the hell with dinky short stories. And it was cruel Scott Meredith, who…. Forget it. You figure it out.
Linda: Let’s talk about the creation of your Shell Scott character. Obviously, with the number of books you have written in the Shell Scott series, and the huge success you achieved, there must be special qualities about him as a protagonist that stay with your readers. Many fans have found your stories to be full of humor and some fans even refer to them as hilarious. As the creator of Shell Scott, what do you consider to be the essence of Shell Scott? What qualities did you give him as a character that made him outstanding and appealing to readers? I assume he “grew” during the years of writing the series. In other words, how did his world view evolve from his “younger” days.
Don Pendleton stated this about his character, Mack Bolan and The Executioner series:
“The writer is always working from his own individual world view, whatever the subject, so an honest writer cannot conceal himself in the work no matter how hard he may try to do so. So in his essence, Mack Bolan is me, operating from the same world view.”
There is also a similar quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.”
What are your thoughts on that, Richard? In what ways is Shell Scott like you, and in what ways is he not?
Richard: Wow, that’s several questions and I don’t have definitive answers to any of them. But I’ll try to give you inadequate responses, Linda, instead of no responses at all, if you’ll keep in mind that we have to go back again all the way to 1949, and remember what I’ve already said about “the total unreliability of human memory.”
I created Shell Scott as essentially a light-hearted, optimistic, happy-go-lucky fellow, and from the beginning I wanted my books—even though they’re mystery novels about murder and crimes and troubles and crooks—to reflect that upbeat attitude, to focus more on the “mystery” than the “murder,” more on the approaching light than the gathering darkness. There’s always enough misery in the world, and I didn’t want to add more to it.
So, ok, sure, to a degree Shell Scott is “me, operating from the same world view,” but only to a degree. Certainly I’ve given Shell qualities like integrity, self-reliance, courage, love of truth and justice, that I consider admirable in him—or anyone else—along with a few flaws and foibles to make him seem more human, like us ordinary people. But he isn’t “ordinary,” and isn’t supposed to be. For an obvious example, he’s a lot bigger and stronger and braver than I am. But we authors know (or should know) that our Heroes or Heroines are ten feet tall and invincible, even if we’re not. Because we want (or should want) to write about extraordinary people living extraordinary lives, and thus give our readers relief for a while from what are often Thoreau’s “lives of quiet desperation” punctuated by shopping at the supermarket and paying the monthly bills. We’re avenues of temporary escape for them, just as other authors (especially if they lift our spirits instead of depressing them) are respite for us fellow scribblers.
So, yes, I’d like to say that Shell Scott’s virtues, his good humor and honesty and ingenuity and optimism, and his belief that all women are Goddesses, are positive qualities that he inherited in part from his creator. But we can’t stop there, can we? If we authors profess that our admirable Heroes reflect much of what we ourselves are, we have to be consistent and also admit that the most villainous characters we’ve invented must reflect much of the darkness and “evil” that’s somewhere within ourselves. So the negative qualities of my numerous bad guys (and gals)—their crookedness, dishonesty, greed, cruelty, nastiness and so on ad infinitum—must have come from somewhere within me, and my experiences of many lifetimes, or I wouldn’t have been able to pass them on to my fictional progeny. After all, I created those villains too, didn’t I?
As for the “mechanics” of Shell Scott’s creation, that’s a little easier to explain. In 1949 when I decided to write a novel, I didn’t know anything about writing salable fiction or creating memorable characters from doing it, but I had absorbed a lot of good advice about doing it from dozens of published authors who had, one way or another, actually done it.
As mentioned earlier, I had by then read, and been powerfully influenced by, Jack Woodford’s Writing and Selling, and had read a few other How-To-Write books. But also (not mentioned earlier), I had for several years been reading magazines like “The Writer” and “Writer’s Digest” (WD), even clipping articles that made the most sense to me and saving them in a “Writing” folder.
I still have—today, more than half a century later—a large folder of those old “Writing” articles, getting yellowish and tattered now but still readable, still as valuable to the beginner or wanna-be as they were to me then. In fact, still as valuable to me now as they were then, when I remember to dig them out and review them.
So… getting back to 1949, and The Maddern Caper, and the creation of Shell Scott: I spent several weeks (or months—I don’t recall the exact time frame now) deciding what the story would be about, trying to make sure the actions and motivations of my characters would be logical and believable, and most important of all deciding who those characters would be and what they would do—with most of that effort devoted to creation of my lead.
To me, this lengthy process of “plotting,” or filling page after typed page with “plotstuff” (possible crimes/punishments/actions/clues/motivations et cetera) before beginning to write the book, is a way of digging down below the mind’s surface (where there’s always lots of garbage, easily found) into the deeper (subconscious?) levels where the gold ore and a few jewels may be hidden. And it was during the plotting process that my lead became not only a “different” character but alive and real, at least to me. He also became Sheldon “Shell” Scott, because in the beginning that wasn’t his name. When I started plotting Maddern Caper I called my lead character—are you ready for this?—Brad Crane.
“Brad” came from Bradford Ridley Voit, a very good friend of mine during Junior College years. He was a remarkably good-looking guy, very bright, well-built, with long wavy blond hair and slightly “angled” blond eyebrows. I kept the blond hair but cut it very short and made it white, and exaggerated the whitish angle-iron brows. Plus I made my lead bigger, less handsome, and beat him up a little (nose broken twice and properly set once, small piece clipped from left ear, fine scar over right eye) to give him additional “tags” that would help distinguish him from other characters and make him more alive-and-kicking (and kicked) to me.
That explains the “Brad.” But where did the “Crane” come from? Beats the hell out of me. Possibly temporary insanity. Probably I hadn’t yet dug deeply enough to find the gold.
No matter. As the single-spaced “plotting” pages rolled out of my typewriter, both names were dropped. I don’t recall the exact date, but at some point during the last half of 1949 I had a plot and chapter-by-chapter outline for The Maddern Caper—and finally, after a few miscarriages, my P.I. Hero, Sheldon “Shell” Scott, was born.
After all of that preparatory work was done—and only after it was done—I rolled a fresh new yellow second sheet into the Royal and typed “I was as uncomfortable as the defendant in a rape case” followed by 6,000 or 7,000 other lines reaching all the way to “Maybe Maxine was different” and The End!!!
I don’t think I actually typed in all those exclamation points, but I know I felt like doing it—because I had just finished writing my first mystery novel, and I liked what I had done. Whether anyone else would like it, I didn’t know. Who of us ever knows? But I had a beautiful and beloved wife who was willing to “risk it” with me…and hope…and youth…and a lot of enthusiasm. And that was enough.
Linda: You are a master at plotting credible stories and I know you personally believe that careful plotting is of utmost importance as you’ve already mentioned. Do you have more to say about your technique for plotting a novel?
Richard: I’ve covered part of that already. For the rest of it, I can’t even now do much better than quote from my first-ever published explanation of the technique, since the basic procedure never changed during subsequent decades. Here, then (with a few editorial “improvements” at last eliminated), are the paragraphs on “Plotting” from my article “How to Clap One Hand” published by Writer’s Digest way back in 1955.
“Every story I’ve ever written was first thoroughly plotted in the manner I originally saw described in Jack Woodford’s ‘Writing and Selling.’ I fiddle around for days or weeks (which sometimes seem years) trying to get a plot, a Basic Idea or Basic Gimmick to hang the story on; when I’ve got what I hope is a fresh idea and some interesting characters starting to become three-dimensional in my mind, I keep messing with it, taking out a scene here, adding a couple more there, piling up alternatives and choosing from them.
“I talk to myself on the typewriter, much like a guy in a cackle factory: ‘What’ll I do with Joe here? He knows from his talk with Ellen that the astrologer lied about his relations (platonic) with her; that’s important info, but what will Joe logically do with it? Come on, come on, get with it—he’ll do something. What does he do?’ Sound silly? O.K., but that’s the way I plot. I wish I knew an easier way, but that’s what works for me.
“When the plot looks right, I do a Synopsis, each chapter outline being written on separate pages. I usually wind up with a 5,000 to 6,000 word synopsis and 100-200 single-spaced pages of ‘plot-stuff,’ with the parts I can use underlined.
“I number the usable sections with the number of the chapter into which they’ll fit; sometimes, when I reach that point in the first draft, I merely lift them bodily and put them into place like a piece of jigsaw puzzle; more often I rewrite and shape them, then slide them in. Mechanical? Sure, but this article is for writers.
“Using this method I never get lost in the middle of a book or chapter and wonder ‘What the devil will I do now?’ I get lost in the plotting. I get griped, sick, angry, but when that sweet agony is over the first draft is fun.”
A final note here, to clear up a misconception. I have repeatedly, in articles like the one above, and in interviews, used the term “first draft” when referring to my manuscript for a new book, or the stack of yellow second sheets growing day after day. But that’s misleading, because there was never a “second draft.” What came out of the typewriter when I was typing as fast as I could (or “taking dictation” as fast as I could, a phrase I’ll explain later if I ever get around to it)—after pen-and-ink corrections or changes, xxxing out of clumsy lines, a minimal amount of tweaking and fixing—was it. That’s what was published.
Many authors have written about their endless care in rewriting their manuscripts, making revision after revision (examine that word, re-vision), doing a second draft, a third, God knows how many drafts. Maybe that admirable attention to detail, to “making it better,” produces a more perfect manuscript in the end…or maybe it squeezes some of the juice out of their original vision. Who knows? Not me. But I do know of some successful authors who never did any more revision of their “first draft” than I, and maybe even less. Two I’m sure of were Robert A. Heinlein and Mickey Spillane. Maybe such care-lessness wouldn’t work for all writers. But it worked for Robert A., and Mickey, and me.
Don Pendleton and Richard Prather, 1994 Sedona, Arizona
Copyright © 1994 by Linda Pendleton
Linda: It also worked for Don Pendleton, Richard. Although, he didn’t plot in the way you do. His plotting was all in his head, I assume, and by the time he hit the keyboard, it was all there, and when he finished a chapter, the next morning he would read it over, make any minor correction (seldom necessary) it may have needed, and it went into “the box.” That was it.
When you are at the plotting stage and are plotting a scene, do you visualize your scene?
Richard: I definitely visualize. For some writers it may be different. If I didn’t see it I don’t think I could describe it.
Linda: Yes, I visualize the scene and then describe it, too. Don often told me he did not visualize a scene. When questioned about that he would explain that he built a scene with words, phrase by phrase. And I suppose those words did build a good picture in his mind. His words upon the written page were always visual and vivid for the reader. But for him, which seems somewhat strange for those of us who actually visualize the scene and then describe it, it was the words that built the image first, before it became visual for him on the page.
Richard, you took a big leap when you quit your job as a civilian chief clerk of surplus property and salvage at March Air Force Base in Riverside, California in 1949 and decided to move to Laguna Beach, California and write full time. I believe you have said you had an old car and as mentioned, $600 in your pocket. I’m reminded of Don and his early career when he left aerospace engineering in 1967 to write full time. For both of you, those were daring moves! Obviously, it worked out for both of you. Did the transition go smoothly for you? How long was it before your career took off and you realized you had a successful career ahead of you?
Richard: Tina and I moved from Riverside, California to Laguna Beach during the last two or three days of December 1949. We settled into one of four apartments called “Holly Cliffs” (owned by Mr. and Mrs. Holly, fondly remembered) at 2597 South Coast Boulevard. Holly Cliffs wasn’t fancy, but it was cheap—and wonderful. On the east was South Coast Boulevard, on the west all of the Pacific Ocean. We lived only a few steps (down a sturdy wooden staircase) from a sheltered strip of sandy beach, and the booming surf. It was gorgeous.
There I began writing full-time—and I mean really full-time, at least 16 hours a day (often more) with time out only for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, 7 days a week for as long as it took to finish the “first draft” of a new novel.
As previously mentioned, before moving from Riverside to Laguna Beach, I had sent the manuscript of The Maddern Caper (now The Scrambled Yeggs) to Scott Meredith and he had accepted it for marketing. During those first months at Holly Cliffs I wrote the second Shell Scott mystery (titled by me Laughter of a Cadaver and later published by Gold Medal under their title, Case of the Vanishing Beauty) then plotted the third book and began writing Bodies in Bedlam (Tina’s title, the first of “my” titles not changed by the publisher). When I was about halfway through the “first draft” of Bodies, we received a telegram from Scott Meredith, who by then was officially my full-time agent. He had to send a telegram because we didn’t have a telephone; couldn’t afford it.
The telegram said that Scott had sold Laughter of a Cadaver to Gold Medal for an advance payment of $2,000! Even more important, if such a thing was possible, he was arranging for me to do a series of four books yearly around the same lead character.
I was ecstatic. Tina was ecstatic. Tina and I were ecstatic together. Also, we could now afford a phone.
And the date? You think I could forget it? The date when I finally knew, knew for sure, that I might have a “successful career ahead” of me? And that at least one of my books was actually going to be published? And that Tina and I were going to get $2,000 minus the agent’s 10% or the incredibly gigantic sum of $1800 just for us? The date was July 7, 1950.
So, Linda, the final answer to your question is: After Tina and I quit our jobs and moved to Laguna it took from December 29th or 30th 1949 until July 7, 1950 for everything to change, for the whole world to become more beautiful. And for me to know that Tina and I together had somehow made the right decision when one day I said to her, “Let’s move to Laguna Beach and write books and get drunk and have fun and make a lot of money—or go broke…” and Tina simply said, softly and sweetly, “Let’s go.” God bless her.
Linda: You’ve been one of the lucky authors who was able to have a solid career and write full time. And I know you had the support of your beautiful wife, Tina, throughout those years. Having lost Don, I personally know how difficult it has to be for you since Tina’s death two years ago, and after 58 years of marriage. You very well may hold the record for the longevity of marriage for a writer! I understand Tina helped you with your work, such as suggesting that good book title you just mentioned—and typed, and I would imagine gave you some critical appraisal of manuscripts from time to time. Writing can be such a lonely endeavor as we are sequestered with our fictional characters, sometimes for long periods of time. How important was it to you, and to your relationship, that she was so supportive throughout the years?
Do you believe as I do, that for any artist it helps to have a supportive spouse, or someone else close by to appreciate your work? And without that, it’s my view that a relationship may suffer. Do you agree?
Richard: Tina’s support during the more than 58 years we were together, was more important in many ways than I can easily say. But to me, more than anything else it was simply her presence, her “being there” all the time, no matter what life did to us or for us.
Yes, she did all “usual” things, she was my first reader, commented on and typed all the manuscripts, kept all the records and paid all the bills—so her husband could concentrate on doing his job. Plus performing a wife’s “duties” (they of course aren’t really duties, wives just generously do them) like cleaning…and washing…and cooking three meals a day day-after-day and year-after-year (one of those “forever” jobs most men never do, those jobs with no light at the end of the tunnel, just more tunnel). But she did, and was, so much more. She planted gardens, and flowers, and made me happy.
Tina died on April 8, 2004, in the evening, shortly before nightfall. I’m not going to dwell there, but will say this: Even though both Tina and I believed that what we call death is merely a transition, that life and individuality always continue in a different level or frequency of being—the empty cocoon remains but the butterfly is gone—when her physical presence left me it was by far the worst thing that has ever happened to me, and it changed everything in my life. I’ll leave it at that, but others who’ve experienced similar loss—like you, Linda, and many of our friends—will know what words can’t say.
Looking back, I’m struck by the number of different places Tina and I lived, the unusual number of times we moved from one house to another house, from one city to another. And, thinking of that, Linda, I’m going to attempt an answer to your “supportive spouse” question in what might seem like a strange way. Or, by talking about those many times Tina and I moved from one place—one home—to another. And, most of all, that Tina never complained. No matter what, she never complained.
I’ve already spoken of our first such move, from Riverside, California to Laguna Beach, and how—when I suggested, hopefully, “Let’s move to Laguna and write…” Tina said “OK…let’s go” instead of “No way, dear” or even “Forget it Richard!” So it’s abundantly clear that, without Tina’s continuing support, I might not have become a professional writer at all. And I certainly wouldn’t have had the freedom to write what I wanted, when I wanted to, and even where I wanted.
“Where” because, after those first two years in Laguna we moved to Mexico City/Colonia Polanco for a year, and after that lived for varying amounts of time in La Jolla California, Laguna again, Lake Tahoe, Paradise Valley in Arizona, Fallbrook California among our avocado trees, San Clemente California, Scottsdale Arizona, and more—but none of that would have happened unless Tina was willing to say again, and again, “OK…let’s go.”
Tina and I had “permanent” homes in a dozen different places over those years, and usually when we moved from one home to another it was in a different city. And this was entirely my doing. No matter how perfect it seemed where we were, to me there was always something else out there—a new place, new people, new sights and sounds and smells, something new that I hadn’t experienced before. Maybe it would be better than “now,” maybe worse, I didn’t know…but I needed to “go there” and find out.
I think it’s fairly easy for a man to pull up stakes and move, but very different, much more difficult, for most women. A woman is maternal, nurturing, caring, a homemaker—a home becomes her “nest,” a place where sensible people put down roots, and grow, and stay.
But every time I said “Let’s go” Tina went along with me. Maybe reluctantly, often with tears, because the home we’d be leaving was her nest, she loved it, it had become part of her heart. But she never complained, never said "No!", she went along with me because I was a bigger part of her heart than a home was.
Now that she’s no longer here, and for me sitting in this Sedona home which is the last one we shared together, looking back over wonderful years and remembering, I know better now than when it was happening how much each of those moves to a new place, a new home, must have cost her. I understand better her times of sorrow, the sometimes tears. My own eyes get a little wet remembering how Tina would take a last look around the now-empty nest she was leaving, at where pieces of furniture had at last been exactly where she wanted them, the kitchen finally just right, the flowers she’d so recently planted beginning to show a little color, like a promise of the splendor they would bloom into—later. There’s also memory of Tina saying “temporary” goodbyes to old friends, and new ones—“Oh, Richard has this itch, and he’s got to scratch it. So we’re…we’re going.”
Most of all I remember those few tears, quickly brushed away…and understand, now, maybe there were sorrows deeper than my awareness of them. Maybe there were other tears I never knew about.
“Supportive spouse?” Linda, my dear friend, you don’t have to tell me how important that is. I know what those words mean.
Linda: That is so moving and beautiful, Richard. Thank you for sharing those intimate thoughts and feelings with me—with all of us.
You recently told me you did not do research prior to writing a novel, but when the story needed research as you were writing, you would do it. I saw an interview with author E. L. Doctorow on the Charlie Rose Show (which I very much enjoyed) recently, and he said the same as you about research: that he did not research prior to writing the story and would do so when it came up within the story. Did that approach work well for you? I would imagine having Shell Scott set in Southern California made it easier as you were familiar with the area.
Richard: If that’s what you heard me say, Linda, I was not communicating accurately. I did a lot of research before writing a novel, and after writing a novel, but never while writing a novel. That is, I never interrupted the right-brain creative process to do left-brain checking-of-facts “when it came up within the story.” I did that after the book was entirely finished, after all the creative work was done.
One more compressed excerpt from that already-mentioned 1955 Writer’s Digest article, “How to Clap One Hand,” should clarify this. Here it is, under the WD editor’s heading, You Can be Too Logical.
“The creative process is a delicate one at best; if, in the middle of a tense dramatic creative scene you have to stop and become judicial, you’ve got the ‘Stop…is this logical?’ part of your mind working at cross-purposes with the let-‘er-rip creative part. And creativity may suffer; you slow down, lose that white-hot, happy outpouring of words…. As a literary researcher, I may not be as thorough as Guy de Maupassant, who wanted to know how human flesh tasted, so he could describe it, but I do go over the first draft line by line, listing on separate pages everything I’m not sure of, from the spelling of a word to a question of plot or fact. Then I ‘re-search’ the items. (In case you’re curious, Maupassant sent out for a chunk from a corpse being dissected, and ate it raw. Tasteless, said he—and that’s research.)”
Linda: The first time you saw your first book in a bookstore, what did you think?
Richard: I thought: “My God, that’s a beautiful book!"
It was. It still is. And on that long-ago day in November (in 1950…in a drugstore), my first published book became even more beautiful when I opened it up and, for the first time, was able to read some of my own words in print. They seemed different, very different from the words I’d typed rapidly and sloppily on yellow manuscript pages, or even those same words typed prettily on white bond or (today) in a computer printout. Because printed words in a handsome bound book almost magically become cleaner, more professional, better.
Jack Woodford makes this point in Writing and Selling. Essentially he says that when you see your own words in print you will be astonished by how much better they are now than when you wrote them. Every published writer already knows this.
And it should encourage every unpublished writer to keep plugging away and get those wonderful words of yours into print—because they (and you) deserve to experience some of that magic.
Linda: You’ve mentioned earlier about long work hours. I assume you had a disciplined working style to have been so productive. What was your normal routine? And did you polish as you completed each chapter?
Richard: During my entire active writing career, my routine or working procedure was always the same. Or, rather, the two procedures, because for each new book there was what I thought of as the Plotting period, followed by the Writing period.
During those weeks or months of Plotting I was doing what all authors do before beginning a new story: simply thinking of what the story would be about. Only I did my thinking at the typewriter, and wrote it all down, including the garbage.
Eventually in that growing stack of plotting pages were many failed attempts (and hopefully, each time one successful attempt) at posing a problem and trying to solve it: Whodunit? Why did he/she do it? How does my hero catch the villain… what’s the Gotcha!?...or developing and “tagging” the major characters…digging deeper, trying to come up with something better, more original, more logical and/or believable, something that excited me, and therefore might excite a potential reader.
Near the end of this period I had a thick stack of Plotting pages in which were all of my major (rarely minor) characters and most of their actions and reactions in the scenes I was going to write, all of that buried in a whole lot of garbage and pure crappola. So I then typed another two or three single-spaced pages, extracting from that mass of crappola the best and most interesting (I hoped) of the characters, their actions/reactions and Hero-versus-Villain opposition and conflict, the most logical (to me) chronological sequence of scenes I wanted to include in the novel.
In other words, those last two or three single-spaced pages contained the bare-bones summation of my entire beginning-to-end framework for the book I was now almost ready to start writing. Almost…not quite. (Stay with me here, Linda. We’re nearly there!).
Those bare bones needed some flesh on them, so I divided those last pages into what seemed like natural “Chapter segments” and numbered those segments consecutively from #1 to (usually) #20. Next I copied the few lines summing up Chapter One onto a separate sheet of paper, expanding upon them, adding any embellishments or new action that occurred to me as I re-typed them. Thus three or four sentences sketchily indicating the content of Chapter One might become three or four times that number, occasionally a full page of fleshed-out actions and reactions of the characters who would appear in that opening Chapter.
I repeated that procedure with each of the remaining Chapter segments, winding up with perhaps 25-30 pages, containing separate and more-detailed outlines for each of the book’s 20 Chapters. These pages were placed in a folder which I thought of (and called) my Synopsis, or my complete outline for the entire novel. And with that, all the preparatory work was finally done.
Then I began putting the story down on paper, beginning with Page one, Chapter One, line one, and continuing on to The End, or actually writing the manuscript which, with minor daily revision, would be published (if published at all) pretty much as it came out of the typewriter day after day.
That “minor daily revision” constituted most of my “polishing.” Each day I went to the typewriter right after breakfast—which might be at six a.m. in the morning or six p.m. at night, because I worked until I ran down and then went to bed, no matter what time it was. So my working day might begin at noon or at midnight; each “day” was different. This was possible only because I had a supportive wife willing to put up with this nonsense, since it certainly wasn’t a normal schedule or a normal life. But, because Tina would without protest or complaint begin her day and fix breakfast for me at two a.m. or two p.m. or whenever, it worked for us.
Before beginning to type new pages, I read all pages written the previous day. Pen in hand, I made corrections, deleted or “polished” awkward or too-repetitive lines, made any changes that made sense to me at that time. This not only constituted 90% of my revision or rewriting of the manuscript but brought me up to speed with the last line written on the previous day. Then I wrote the first line of the first page of the new day’s work, and kept on typing as fast as I could for as long as I could, always hoping to set a new personal record for the number of pages completed.
This part of the work, or writing of the already-plotted manuscript—because of the considerable amount of work already done—was usually accomplished very speedily. I might spend three months, or six months, sometimes even longer, plotting the book and only two or three months actually writing it. There were, of course, exceptions over the years. Once (Find This Woman) I plotted the book, wrote the manuscript, spent three days in Las Vegas doing needed research (after the manuscript was finished), revised the manuscript wherever changes were needed and typed the final bond-paper copy, all in thirty days. But…that only happened once.
Incidentally, I’ve gone into probably boring detail about how I plot and write a novel because some other writers might want to adopt the same method. It works for me, and might for you. Other side of the coin: it might not work for you. Some authors say they couldn’t sustain their interest in writing a book if they knew what was going to happen in it. A few of them say this because they don’t want to do the damned hard work of plotting—and plotting—and plotting in advance before they get to the fun part; others say it because, for them, it’s true.
The bottom line is, each of us has to do our own work in the way that seems and feels right to us, and for us—not in the way advised by somebody who thinks he “knows better” than you do. Well, he doesn’t know better, not for you he doesn’t. For that matter, not for me, either.
Anyway, I didn’t invent any of this Plotting-in-advance Process. I stole it from Jack Woodford. (Actually, he gave it away, in Writing and Selling…and for some it can be a priceless gift).
Also, to me anyway, plotting each novel in advance is the only sensible way-to-go. It’s what an architect does when he draws the plans for a house, deciding on its size and shape, where the electrical lines and plumbing will go, whether the kitchen will be next to the living room or bathroom, what the home will look like when it’s finished. Or the contractor, the builder: he doesn’t complete the roof before there are walls to anchor it, doesn’t finish building the house and then figure out where the plumbing will fit, doesn’t start actual construction until he’s bulldozed the land and poured cement for a solid foundation—he follows the architect’s plan. And if he doesn’t, if he just plunges ahead allowing his unbridled creativity complete liberty or even anarchy, that house won’t stand, it won’t last through a stiff gale, much less a Katrina.
In writing a novel, the author is both architect and builder, and if he neglects either of those jobs his finished product may be filled from beginning to The End with avoidable weaknesses. Or so it seems to me. But all I know for sure is that when I read and re-read Writing and Selling Jack Woodford’s “Formula” made absolute sense to me. It became my way-to-go then and thereafter. I followed it when plotting-in-advance my first book, The Maddern Caper, and for every story or novel I’ve written since then.
I rest my case. Except for: Thank you, Jack Woodford.
Linda: How important do you feel the first sentence of a novel is?
Richard: The first sentence is very important…but not as important as the book’s cover, followed by its title. Those are two things over which, alas, the author usually has little control. So, that first sentence is the first thing in his book that the author controls, and he should do his utmost to make it as arresting and eye-catching as he can, at least interesting enough that the book-browser will read the second sentence…and the next…until he turns the page. That’s our goal in the beginning and throughout the entire writing of our novel: get that rascal to turn the pages!
If he does turn the first page and reads a few more lines, he’ll probably flip through the book and sample bits here and there. If he likes what he sees, he may even buy the book and take it home and read our wonderful masterpiece with huge enjoyment. But we knew that would happen, didn’t we? Sure we did.
The first sentence is very important….
Linda: Looking back over your life, Richard, if you had not been a successful writer, what would you most likely have been doing?
Richard: I might have been a bum. Or…I might have become a crook. And I almost shrink from confessing I have a few reasons for mentioning the latter occupation. Some Clues:
Two clairvoyants have told me, at different times in my adult life, the same thing: that writing was a natural occupation for me but, if I wasn’t a writer, I might have become a lawyer or a doctor (first clue: most of them are crooks aren’t they?)
Second clue: a professional numerologist (meaning only that she got paid for doing it) did my numerological Chart and, somewhat puzzled, told me that all three of my basic Chart numbers—my “birth-path” from my date of birth, and from my full name my outer-“something” and my inner-“something” (I never said I knew what she was doing)—were the same number: 22.
Clumsy explanation: In numerology, all multiple-digit numbers, except for the so-called Master Numbers, 11 and 22 and 33, are added together to produce a single digit. Thus the year of my birth, 1921, is 1+9+2+1=13, which reduces to 4. And my full birth date (her “birth-path” number), September 9, 1921, is 9+9+4=22, which isn’t reduced but just stays 22. Why? I have no idea.
Well, the lady numerologist was also a good friend, and I asked her, “All three are 22? So? What does that mean?”
She said she wasn’t certain of the numerological ramifications (or words to that effect), since she hadn’t seen this curiosity before, but she was sure it represented a lot of power that could be used for good, or—and here we’re getting to it---EVIL. I clearly recall her using the word EVIL. Almost that loud.
Third and final clue: Not long after this I read a newspaper article about a man who was doing hard time in the House Of Many Slammers. He was a black man who had been convicted for committing some acts that were, if not horrible, at least highly felonious. His birthdate? September 9, 1921.
I was thus led to the conclusion that it’s a good thing I did become a writer and spent most of my adult life writing about crime and criminals, or I might have been one of those crooked outlaws committing those crimes, those burglaries and murders and larcenies and other felonious nastinesses. And Shell Scott might have wound up in the House of Many Slammers, instead of remaining the happy-go-lucky thirty-year-old lad he still is today, just like me (Joke). So…
Thank you again, Jack Woodford!
Linda: Have you achieved what you set out to do with your life? Any regrets?
Richard: Linda, dear, you ask some damned tough questions. In fact, you ask some impossible-to-answer questions. Like both “innocent” parts of this brief 14-word assassination. So don’t be surprised if, for both parts, you get back from me a little “Yes” and a little “No” and a lot of “Duh…..”
Re the first part: Looking back over these past (so far) 85 years it seems to me now that most of the changes that occurred in my life, from the super-good on down to the super-bad, were more events that just happened to me rather than things that, with deliberate and inflexible intent, I “set out to do.”
Perhaps more accurately, often there was some intent or wish or desire, overpowered by a maelstrom of causes and effects leading to other causes and effects and invisible pushings and pullings and outrageous coincidences and synchronicities and what happened? until, hey-presto, here I am, right where I wanted to be! (Am I a powerful Wizard, or What? The correct answer is “What?”)…OR here I am, right where I didn’t want to be (What dirty rat, cruel Fate did this to me?).
The two “most super” of the super-good things in my life were: #1 my long (nearly 59 years) marriage to Tina, and #2 my long (1949 until now) writing career. I wanted both, wished for them, thought about them, but there’s absolutely no way I could have begun to imagine how or when they would in fact occur or how powerfully each would transform my life.
Those two supers were enough, even accompanied by a few super-bads and a lot of not-so-goods, to make it (like the James Stewart movie) “A Wonderful Life.” Plus, since the most important part of every life is people, I’ve had treasured friends like you and Don, Linda, and many others not here mentioned; plus a few false ones. But none of it was planned. At least, not by me.
Shakespeare writes in one of his plays something like, “The world’s a stage, and all the people in it merely players.” And Vernon Howard, one of my all-time favorite Gurus, tells us, “You do not carry, you are carried.” Maybe part of the answer to What? and Why? and Duh?… is in there; and maybe it isn’t.
Re the last part of your double-barreled question: “Any regrets?” Are you kidding? I regret every dumb, bad, rotten, foolish, painful, wrong decision I ever made, and there were billions of them. I regret not being smarter, wiser, richer, taller and as handsome as Cary Grant or the latest epicene teenage idol. Despite all this and more, I’m reasonably happy with who I am and what’s happened to me.
Besides, most of my billions of regrets are temporary blots that in time fade away, leaving only masses of gruesome scar tissue. So the fact is, probably my only real and lasting regrets are of the kind referred to by a wise old geezer who, looking back over a long and interesting life, said: “I regret…not the things I did but the things I didn’t.”
Don’t we all?
Linda: Richard, you and I have discussed the “magical” aspect of writing when we tap into something beyond ourselves that ends up on our written pages. Don often talked of that happening, and I have experienced it, also, as you have. I personally find it exciting that we receive creative input from the other side. I recall a television interview with author Taylor Caldwell, sometime in the late 1950s, and she spoke of “automatic writing” as she sat at her typewriter, aware what she was writing was coming from beyond her, and in some cases, she knew nothing about the subject matter she was writing about. Her books, wherever they came from, are best-selling, classic novels. I found that idea fascinating then, and still do. Doctorow mentioned that Saul Bellow spoke of being a medium whom the book came through. I believe a lot of artists receive inspiration–(breathing in spirit). So it may help to be open to the creative flow from beyond us as we create. So who are our Muses? Tell me what you’ve experienced in this regard.
Richard: To borrow your words, Linda, this “creative input from the other side” is unquestionably real. It happens, and it has happened to me many times. Unfortunately, it took me years—despite numerous hints and nudgings, from “somewhere”—to suspect that anything so spooky was possible, and years more to accept that it might actually be happening to me.
This is a subject I’ve never before discussed publicly, and very rarely privately. But I do remember well one night when Tina and I were with you and Don at your home in Sedona, and the conversation was about writing and “Whodunit?” Don asked me if, when writing, I ever had the sense that the ideas, the words, were coming not so much from me as from someone or something else, maybe from somewhere outside of “me” (or words to that effect).
Because the four of us were “people of like mind” (one of Don’s remembered phrases), I overcame my reluctance to speak openly about such a fuzzily-metaphysical subject and said something like:
“Don, sometimes when the work is going really well, I feel like just a secretary taking dictation and I simply keep typing-without-thinking as fast as I can, trying to get it all down on paper while whatever-it-is is still flowing.”
I remember Don, head slightly tilted to one side, smiling, nodding, and saying, “Yes…Yes…”
All four of us knew precisely what I was talking about, even if I didn’t express it precisely. Because we’d all been-there done-that in our own ways. We knew it was a gift of some kind, from somewhere else, and we were grateful for it.
For me, the most prolonged and convincing experience of “guidance from the other side” occurred in 1974 or 1975, when Tina and I were living on Mummy Mountain in Paradise Valley, Arizona. I had finished plotting a new book and was writing the manuscript of one of my last published titles (The Sure Thing). That morning I went to the typewriter and the words started flowing and I typed them down as fast as I could because the words kept on flowing—all day long. That day and that night I worked for 24 hours straight, and wrote 24,000 words (a personal one-day record for me), which—with virtually no later revision or “improvement”—became 96 pages of the final retyped manuscript. All of it was just-right the first time, when it came out of me…or wherever it came from.
This happened late in my active writing career. Curiously, something of similar nature (though unrecognized by me as such at the time) occurred a quarter-century earlier, at the very beginning of my writing years.
In 1950 or 1951, I several times awoke remembering the same (or same kind of) long and vivid dream. In those dreams I was reading a typed manuscript, page after page of it. On awakening, details swiftly faded. I could never remember what the ideas or words were. All I knew for sure was that what I’d been reading was my own manuscript. Same yellow second sheets, same pica type, same xxing-out and pen-and-ink corrections. But I also knew these were pages not yet written.
How in hell could I be reading pages typed by me for a manuscript I hadn’t written yet? I knew not; didn’t have a clue.
After those first two getting-started years (’50 & ’51, at Holly Cliffs in Laguna, near the sea) this never happened again. But that it happened at all—and it did—is remarkable enough.
Way back then, I just considered the “impossible” occurrence a fascinating curiosity and didn’t think much about it. Certainly I didn’t think enough about it. Because I—we—shouldn’t be surprised when this sort of thing happens, but when it doesn’t.
The world is much different today from what it was “way back then.” We’re told that Earth’s frequency is increasing, that our own vibes are changing, that all of Earth (including us) is moving into a higher or more “spiritual” vibration. Whether we believe this or not (I believe it), all we have to do is look around us to become aware of the enormous amount of information, words and—sometimes—wisdom from “the other side” being channeled right now from somewhere to here.
Of that information, some of the most valuable and extraordinary (in my opinion) is in The Kryon Writings, ten (so far) Kryon Books channeled by author Lee Carroll (see www.kryon.com) In Book Ten, A New Dispensation, Carroll defines “channeling” as “the word of Spirit (or God) as given to a human or humans for their enlightenment and information.” Elsewhere (Kryon Book Six, Partnering with God ) Kryon of Magnetic Service tells us, “Channeling is information, data. It is no more than that. It is information that your Higher Self and your human nature can use for spiritual food.”
When it truly is spiritual food, it comes from what I sometimes call WOGS (Wise Old Gurus) …or Avatars, enlightened Beings, some of whom (like Kryon) have never incarnated upon Earth…or Angels or Spirit or God…or from Humans like us who lived for a while upon Earth but live here no longer and thus are erroneously referred to by us as “dead people.” Erroneously, because nobody is dead and nothing dies; everything is alive.
You think not? You think I’m a fruitcake? OK by me. But Kyron says something abut death (in the September 2006 “Sedona Journal of Emergence”) that I like very much, and some of you might like it, too. Referring to death as not termination but rather transition, Kryon said, “From our standpoint, ‘death’ is what you do when you’re not on Earth.”
Among others who’ve already given us much “spiritual food” (examples chosen by me because I love what they’ve told us): Ruth Montgomery, famous Washington journalist, wrote a whole series of wonderful books dictated to her by the late Arthur Ford and “The Group” on the other side; Jane Roberts channeled several Seth books; J. Z. Knight still channels Ramtha; and you and Don yourselves, Linda, wrote and published a great book (yes, dear, that’s the right word: great), To Dance With Angels, filled with the channeled (by Thomas Jacobson) wisdom of one of those “dead people” the late Grand Spirit, Dr. Peebles, who lived on Earth for nearly 100 years and died in 1922 and is now more filled-with-life than when he was “alive” here.
Of course, not all channeled Wisdom is actually Wisdom; some of it is crap. Lee Carroll says it more delicately, and I would be remiss not to include here what he wrote—later in the same paragraph already quoted above (Kryon Book Ten, page 42)—“An angel of God will never give you a message of fear. It’s often one of liberation, escape, fulfillment, action instructions, or just plain joy!”
So you might want to keep that admonition in mind, along with my own words of wisdom, “By their fruitcakes ye shall know them,” and beware of any self-deluded doom-and-gloom channelers, because some are out there, still loose. Fortunately there are plenty of others, several already mentioned.
I’d like to wrap this all up with a couple of quotes, germane to the comments above, that I read earlier this year (more synchronicities?). First, from Out-of-Body Exploring by Preston Dennett:
“…several people have been able to successfully read long messages in dreams and there is compelling evidence that many works of literature are first written in the higher dimensions and then translated into the physical dimension. Jane Roberts claims that many of her books were already written on the astral planes and she simply translated them. Robert Moss has also been able to translate long dream passages into the physical world… I have also had many lucid experiences where I am reading long passages of writing that seem to make sense while I am reading them, but I can’t seem to translate them into conscious memory.”
Finally, from Kryon/Lee Carroll again (Book Ten, A New Dispensation), speaking of “spiritual texts” for our rapidly-changing times, texts not yet written:
“The new texts are in the pen being held in your hand…ready to be written. The ones in this room and rooms like this everywhere are writing them…for the now also contains all time, both ancient and future. Therefore, as you pen these new texts, you draw upon the learning of the ancients as well… Here is the admonishment for those who have been waiting for this—do it! The wisdom will flow onto the page. Don’t pay any attention to what others say; don’t listen to your head when it says you’re making it up. Let it flow. The words are already there; just trace them! And you know whom I’m talking to, don’t you? Perhaps that’s why you’re reading this page…”
Linda: What part of writing a novel is most satisfying to you, Richard?
Richard: I’ve already hinted at the answer to this question, because the honest Answer is:
When, on the last page of a new manuscript, I type THE END. Especially, when I know it all came out of me (or through me) as I hoped it would when I plotted it—and sometimes (with thanks to those helpful Muses or Angels or Guides or Spooks) when it appears on those pages even better than I’d hoped it would when I began.
Linda: Richard, I get a chuckle when you refer to those on the other side as Spooks. I’m reminded of a special and beautiful woman, the world-renowned Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who I knew personally and spent time with. One afternoon while visiting with her in her home in Scottsdale, we were having a discussion about the other side, and I got the biggest kick out of her when she referred to her Spirit Guides as Spooks. Your comments took me back to my conversation with her that day, and it still gives me a big smile more than ten years later. It really is a joy being “fruitcakes,” isn’t it?
So, on to my next question.
Don had Executioner cover art by artist/illustrator, Gil Cohen on many of his books, who captured the essence of Mack Bolan. You mentioned many of your Gold Medal editions cover art was done by well-known illustrator, Robert McGinnis, and he just did the cover for your recent reissue release of The Peddler—and, by the way, the cover looks very nice. Obviously, McGinnis’ illustrations of beautiful sexy women on the covers of your books may have caught the attention of book buyers. I understand you wrote an Introduction to The Paperback Covers of Robert McGinnis by Art Scott, published in 2001. You covered some of this already, but again, how important do you feel cover art is for the sale of a book? Did you have any influence on cover design on your novels?
Richard: Until readers become familiar enough with an author and his work that they deliberately look for books by that author, cover art is the most important element that might lead to a sale of the book. More important than the title, usually more important than the author’s name, more important than what’s inside the covers like the book’s first line and first page, already discussed.
We’ve got to get the reader’s attention before we can hold it, catch his eye before we can lead it to that first line, and second one, and on until we get him to (remember?) turn the page. An ugly or repulsive cover—like the one on Tor Books’ reissue of my Shell Scott mystery, The Kubla Khan Caper—can push the potential reader away instead of pulling him in…and if that mattoid male lump blemishing Tor’s reissue of Kubla was supposed to be Shell Scott then I’m Arnold Schwarzenegger at his peak. On the other hand, really great cover art—like the work of Robert McGinnis, whom you mentioned—may, I’m convinced, get some potential readers, especially guys, to buy the cover and take it home even if the book itself is lousy. Certainly it can accelerate sales dramatically…and at the very least, get a potential reader to pick up the book and look inside and thus give you a chance to hook him.
Yes, Robert McGinnis did the cover art for 18 Gold Medal editions of my books, and they were individually and collectively the best covers I ever had, (happily, McGinnis # 19 will soon distinguish my non-Shell novel, The Peddler, selected by editor Charles Ardai as a Hard Case Crime paperback published November, 2006). Moreover, I’m convinced that McGinnis’ eye-catching and heart-melting ladies on those 18 already-published GM titles were directly responsible for millions of copies sold that otherwise wouldn’t have been picked up and paid for.
So, to this day I remain grateful to Bob McGinnis—and to another wonderful artist, Barye Phillips. Just as you say that Gil Cohen “captured the essence of Mack Bolan” on many of Don’s Executioner novels, it was Barye who captured almost exactly my image of Shell Scott, which appears in the circular logo prominent on the covers of many of my Gold Medal editions.
As for the last part of your Question, about my “influence on cover design” of my novels, it was zilch. I didn’t have any.
Linda: I guess we seldom do have any say so. Richard, in doing a little research on Fawcett’s Gold Medal early books of the 1950s, and their authors, I was surprised to see that they had published The Flying Saucers Are Real by Major Donald Keyhoe, after the January, 1950 publication of his article in “True Magazine” caused such a sensation. I believe I read the book years ago, I would guess during the 1950s as my Dad would have had it in his paperback collection. He and I often discussed the possibility of alien life and UFOs. And as you know, my interest in UFOs, and the government cover-up, still hold my interest all these years later. Of course, having my own sightings has enforced the belief that they are out there. Did you read Keyhoe’s book during those years, Richard?
Richard: Yes, I read Keyhoe’s book in the 1950s, and during that decade and the next I read a lot of articles and books about Flying Saucers/UFOs, and extraterrestrial visitors and “aliens” (to whom, of course, we’re the aliens…just as the only difference between a “terrorist” and a “Freedom Fighter” is which side you’re on, no matter what people like George W. Bush and his co-conspirators keep trying to tell us).
So, perhaps because of all that reading, I somehow never doubted that Earth might have been visited by extraterrestrial beings many times during recent millennia (some of those visitations even being colorfully described in our own Bible), or that “aliens” might on occasion be right here among us real people. And I believed in the existence of UFOs, even if I didn’t know what they were or where they came from, and even though the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice cabal of that day, along with a lot of pundits and experts “of like mind,” kept telling us they were all weather balloons.
In other words, I believed in UFOs, even without real evidence to support that belief. But I really believed when I saw one myself. Yes, I did, Linda. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this experience before; but I know you’ve seen UFOs yourself, and have written convincingly about them. Well, here’s what happened to me.
It was a bright, clear summer afternoon in the late 1960s (probably ’68 or ’69). Tina and I were in our car driving around Scottsdale, Arizona, accompanied by a lovely lady named Sandra Bonnar. Sandra was a remarkable psychic and clairvoyant, who early on had done some on-the-mark “readings” for Tina and me, since which time we’d become good friends. As the phrase goes, I didn’t have enough psychic ability to stick in your ear, but Sandra was a powerful psychic/clairvoyant, and we were sitting together in the car’s front seat, sort of blending our individual auras together into one glob so to speak—which may account for what then happened.
On the way back to our home in Paradise Valley, I had driven about halfway up Mummy Mountain to a level area off the road, where we could park with a splendid view over Scottsdale to the buildings of Phoenix, half a dozen miles or so away as the crow (or UFO?) flies. I’d turned off the engine, ready to enjoy again that wonderful unobstructed view, when somebody, I think it was Sandra, said, “What’s that in the sky over Phoenix?”
We all saw it at about the same time. Couldn’t miss it. The thing was huge. It was some kind of aircraft, circular in shape, metallic-gray or dull-silver in color, motionless, just hanging in the air over downtown Phoenix. To me it looked almost exactly like the Daddy of all Flying Saucers, as captured in fuzzy photos or depicted in more detail by science-fiction artists—shaped much like two aluminum pie pans pressed together, one upside-down over the other, with a clearly-visible row of ports or windows around the circumference of the craft. I was awe-struck.
I—or rather all three of us, confirmed by the bubbling of words from us then and in later conversation—knew that what we were seeing was some kind of UFO or Flying Saucer unlike anything we’d ever seen before. One reason is that this thing was ten times the size of any commercial airliner or any craft I’d ever seen in the air or even on the ground at airports or anywhere else. Another thing: I’d always been puzzled that nearly every photo or video of “UFOs” I’d seen had for some reason been fuzzy, indistinct; it was difficult to be sure of exactly what it was you were looking at. Not this time. This craft was as clearly visible as the buildings of Phoenix below it, or the homes nearby on Mummy Mountain.
After a few minutes it moved, to our left, away from Phoenix and away from us, but in a long slow arc that—more excitement—was bringing it closer to us. After two or three minutes it was actually over Paradise Valley, almost over Mummy Mountain, when it stopped moving again. It didn’t do anything, just hung there in the air, about a mile up in the sky overhead, motionless and completely silent. I would have sworn then, and would swear today, our “UFO” was several hundred feet, perhaps several hundred yards, in diameter, maybe a quarter mile wide. I repeat: it was huge.
After about five minutes it moved again, and went out of our sight behind Mummy Mountain. I drove home, where the main topic of conversation was, of course, the remarkable experience we’d shared. Curiously, I never saw anything on the television news, or any stories in the Arizona Republic, about The Giant UFO Over Phoenix, so I don’t know if others saw what we’d seen.
But “you only have to see one white crow to know that not all crows are black,” and Sandra and Tina and I knew we’d seen some kind of UFO/Flying Saucer, that it was enormous, and that it was as solid and real as anything we’d seen before in our lives.
So I can’t tell you for sure what that great craft was or where it came from, but I can personally say with absolute certainty what thousands of others have said: It wasn’t a weather balloon.
Linda: And it wasn’t flares, either! Your experience in the late 1960s is so similar (location) to the now-famous Phoenix Lights incident in the early evening of March 13, 1997, when a huge triangular-shaped craft was seen by commercial pilots, air traffic controllers, and thousands of citizens, over parts of Northern Arizona, (to the west of Sedona, a few short miles in the Cottonwood area), over Prescott, then Phoenix, and on south to Tucson. At least the media gave that sighting a lot of coverage, and interviewed a number of credible witnesses.
It’s interesting, Richard, that one valuable witness, a physician, Dr. Lynne D. Kitei, lived in Paradise Valley, where you had your sighting thirty years earlier. She was able to get some excellent photographs and video of the “Phoenix Lights” and she then did a documentary of her investigation, and published a book, The Phoenix Lights. She has numerous photographs of the orange orbs, she has seen over the area prior to the March 13, 1997 event and since. Orange orbs, just like the two orange orbs I saw one evening at dusk over my home in Sedona. And I had a witness, too. My cat saw the orbs out the window at the same moment I did!
It sure makes one curious as to why the extraterrestrials seem intent on making their presence known over the Phoenix area, along with the numerous sightings that have been reported in the Sedona area for years. Those areas seem to be “hot spots” for UFOs.
Of course, as you recall, the local government and the military made a joke out of the Phoenix Lights incident—Or at least tried to brush it off, calling the lights, flares, and/or weather balloons. Yeah, sure. How gullible do “they” think citizens are?
And I really identify with you being “awe-struck” by your UFO sighting. That is exactly how Don and I felt when we had the huge triangular craft moving slowly, and very low, over our home in West Covina, (Southern California) in the late 1980s. I recently received an email from a woman who had read my article on my website and identified with our sighting. The huge triangular craft she and her husband saw low in the sky over the Palm Springs area (east of us) sounded exactly as our sighting, which she believed to be in the same time frame (possibly the same evening?).
Richard, here it is at the end of 2006 and you are now eighty-five years of age. What are your thoughts on the technological and scientific advances you’ve seen in your lifetime?
Richard: I’m the wrong person to ask about technological and scientific advances, since I was born a technology dork and have been going downhill every day since then, which is a lot of downhill. I don’t use a cell phone, don’t own an iPod, don’t have my own website, don’t blog, and do have an email address but keep it a secret.
But that’s not going to keep me from talking about technological and scientific advances, is it? Of course not! Linda, have you ever known me to shut up merely because I didn’t know what I was talking about? No. After all these years, I should start now? No. And you asked me, didn’t you? Yes. Ok, here we go:
However, Linda, remember also that I go wa-ay back to the time when a precursor to modern zipping-through-the-air radio was a little “Crystal Set.” Unfortunately, hardly anyone these days, including me, remembers exactly what a Crystal Set was. Well, basically it consisted of a metallic crystal that looked like a small raggedy rock but was actually a crystalline receiver-transmitter (one pretty good description, incidentally, of our own DNA). This was connected to an assortment of sound-transmitting technology of the late 1920s and early ‘30s including a small raggedy speaker, plus a length of fine wire—the free uninsulated end of which was moved by hand over the crystal’s surface.
When this didn’t work you hit it and swore at it. But when it did work, this produced magic. Like, well…
Like: I recall sitting in Anaheim, Southern California, along with my Mom, Grandmaw and Granpaw, Aunt Billie, and my girl-cousin Tootie (that’s how I pronounced Mildred), all of us watching expectantly as my Uncle Ed, hunched over his new Crystal Set and holding a thin wire in his fingers, carefully moved the wire’s free end over the crystal’s surface, producing—a lot of static. But also, sometimes, producing intelligible sound—voices, words, music, people talking, their voices forming from the very air, coming from far far away, from “space” somewhere , and into that rock and through the fine wire and out of the speaker into our living room…and thousands or millions of other living rooms. Rooms filled with people like us. People amazed, excited, delighted. Because we all knew we were experiencing an honest-to-God high-tech miracle of modern technology. It was awesome, unbelievable, but at the same time undeniably real because we were really experiencing it. And there has perhaps been, since then, no greater technological miracle. At least, not for me.
Since then, we’ve all seen the magical become commonplace, seen the creation and growth of radio and AM/FM, followed by television, videos and video cassette recordings, micro-miniaturization and nanotechnology, lasers and real-as-life holographic images, to now with the Internet and Web and the whole world in a speck on a New-Age “crystal set” inside your laptop computer.
And all this and more is only the incidental baggage of one lifetime, only the beginning. So what’s next?
We’re told we all create our own realities, and I suspect that’s true even if I don’t understand how it works. And, speaking of all those miraculous “technological advances” of yesterday and today and tomorrow, I also suspect we’re moving faster and faster toward a day when we’ll be able to know those “advances” without the “technology,” or experience all those miracles of radio and TV and the Internet and lasers and 3D holograms et cetera ad infinitum solely with our minds, or souls, or the “essences” of the godlike beings we’ve forgotten we already were when we came here.
We might not be far off the mark if we spoke of the myriad events and actions of our lives the way some golfers describe their wonderfully enjoyable/miserable, glad/sad, exciting/depressing, but in-the-end-glorious game: “Golf is 90% mental and the rest of it’s all in your head.” Substitute Life for Golf and maybe that’s us.
Maybe…maybe not. But whether that’s true or it isn’t, and whether anything else I’ve said is true or not, I’ll bet a buck to a bean this is true: “We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Linda: I suppose that last question should also include your thoughts on present day America and the world situation. With your long experience at observing our country, economically, politically, socially, and environmentally, where does it look like we are heading? And in your view, to what end result?
Richard: We’re being sucked into the toilet, and unless we flush George W. (“TERRORists committing TERROR are gonna attack our Homeland with their nookyouler weapons and kill everybody who loves freedom unless I as PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA lay the foundations for peace by committing WARS ON TERROR against Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and…uh, whatyoucallit” or, more simply, “Dubya”) Bush—along with Cheney, Rumsfeld, and all the other real terrorists in Washington, D.C.—we’ll get there…unless there is some kind of Divine Intervention, which I confidently expect there will be.
Linda: A few months before Don Pendleton’s death, he wrote: “There is another reality enfolding ours–as close as our breath!” What are your thoughts on that?
Richard: I agree with Don, except that I’d make the noun plural: realities. I think there are a perhaps endless number of other realities enfolding the one we’re experiencing right now.
More than fifty years ago I discovered the wonderful works of Yogi Ramacharaka. In a priceless (to me) little book titled The Life Beyond Death, first published by the Yogi Publication Society in 1912 before I was born, the author speaks of “a class of souls that rise above further reincarnation in earth-life, and ascend to planes and stages of existence far above anything which the earth can offer.” And “There are planes upon planes of existence higher than earth or its Astral Plane…Even the wisest sage bows his head in reverence at the mention of such spheres of existence, which transcend even the human imagination.” And a little later in the same book, “Enough to know that there exists an infinite scale of being, composed of realm after realm, ever rising higher and higher and higher—and that the soul is destined to move on and on and on toward the Infinite.”
So those, Linda, are “my” thoughts on that subject—because I copied them from Yogi Ramacharaka. Thus, obviously, it’s only what I believe. I won’t really know until I experience some of those realms myself.
But that’s O.K. I’m in no hurry.
Linda: What is your favorite quotation and why?
Richard: Ask me next month and you might get a different answer. But right now my favorite is the following quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Spiritual Laws.” Here it is, as it appears in Vernon Howard’s The Mystic Masters Speak!
“A little consideration of what takes place around us every day would show us that a higher law than that of our will regulates events; that our painful labours are unnecessary and fruitless; that only in our easy, simple, spontaneous action are we strong… Place yourself in the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which animates all whom it floats, and you are without effort impelled to truth, to right, and a perfect contentment.”
Why is this my favorite? Because when I’ve totally screwed up and nothing seems to make good sense (which is much of the time), these words of Ralph Waldo’s feel like mystical truth to me.
Maybe I haven’t found Emerson’s “stream of power and wisdom” yet, but obviously he and others like Bhagwan/Osho and Vernon Howard have found it. So maybe, some day, I can too.
And that thought gives me comfort…it gives me hope.
Linda: What does the word “peace” mean to you personally?
Richard: The word “peace” has so many definitions and nuances that this answer could be endless. But, most simply, peace to me personally means not being at war with myself; and peace on earth means a time when human beings are not slaughtering other human beings, not murdering their brothers and sisters, not killing other members of their own spiritual family.
Whether or not you believe as I do, that all of us Humans are eternally “connected,” that all of us individual souls are in the end One Soul, the “part of you which knows” understands that any time of war is a time of suicidal insanity, that war is always and without exception an abomination. And we shouldn’t pretend—or let ourselves be brainwashed into believing—it’s ever anything else.
I take it as a truism: our leaders have always—yesterday, today, and tomorrow if we continue to let them—lied to us about the urgent need for their latest war, the need to “make the world safe for democracy,” the need to “protect our beloved homeland,” the need to forcibly impose our idea of “democracy” on less-democratic nations, the need to start the killing again and keep on killing them before they kill us with their bullets or bombs or bugs, or with their terrible weapons of mass destruction even if they don’t have any.
One more time: our leaders succeed in misleading us only because we believe their lies. We don’t have to hate the liars, in fact for our own good (and theirs, for that matter) we shouldn’t; but we do have to learn to recognize their lies as lies and reject them. If we all-together did that one simple thing the same old liars with their same old lies could never again lead us like lemmings into another ocean of blood.
I think it really is that simple. And the truth is out there, enough of it, parts of it in books and articles and speeches and channeled information, and a myriad sources now on the Internet. If we haven’t found it, it’s because we haven’t looked.
With that said, I’m going to calmly sum up the rest of this answer by quoting from a wonderful and moving book published earlier this year (2006; Andrews McMeel Publishing): Just Peace: A Message of Hope by Mattie J. T. Stepanek with Jimmy Carter.
Nearly everybody knows that Jimmy Carter is a former President of the United States, but who’s Mattie J. T. Stepanek?
I’m well aware that you, Linda, know who Mattie Stepanek is, because you’re the smart lady who told me I ought to read Just Peace, which I did. (I obey!) For those who may need an introduction, Stepanek authored a number of other books, including several volumes of poetry, spoke to thousands of people in his many lectures, and inspired millions of others through the words he spoke and wrote and lived. Plus more here unmentioned—while battling a terminal and terrible illness that finally ended his life on earth. Ended it when he was a brand-new teenager, less than a month before his fourteenth birthday.
The part of his “life’s work” I’m quoting here is also, like the book itself, titled Just Peace: By Mattie J. T. Stepanek, February 17, 1998, in Hope Through Heartsongs (Hyperion/VSP, 2002). I call your attention to the date above. Mattie was born on July 17, 1990. Which means he wrote the following when he was seven years old.
If I could change
One thing in this world,
It would be war.
Instead of war…peace.
But I especially don’t want
World War Three,
Because we would
Blow up the earth.
If I could change
One thing in this world
We would have no weapons.
No knives or swords.
No guns or bombs.
That’s good enough for me, Linda. Maybe for you, too. But I’d like to add one more line from Mattie because it was one of his own favorites, and is now also one of mine. It isn’t about peace, but remembering it might, from time to time, help us find some. Here it is:
“Remember to play after every storm.”
Plus this wish from me—and, I’m pretty sure, from Mattie as well: Even in these stormy times, may peace be with you.
Linda: Mattie was something special, an angel, and he gave us a treasure chest full of beautiful words and ideas, and a smile I will never forget.
Do you read a lot, Richard? (as if I didn’t know the answer to that…).. What are you reading presently?
Richard: Yes, Linda, I read a lot. I read all the time. To me, a day without reading something new (or, often, something old that I’m re-reading) is like a meal without nourishment or a kiss without lips, just not nearly as satisfying as it could be.
Right now, I’m writing this before dawn at the breakfast table in my kitchen, and there are books and miscellaneous stuff all over the place. A woman would say the place is a mess. In fact, most guys would say it’s a mess. So what? To me, a room with books and magazines and newsletters and junk all over the place is not a mess, it’s a library.
So…here in my kitchen library, about a foot from my nose is a stack of (counting) 13 books. Behind me, in my bedroom on a small table next to my bed, is another stack of, coincidentally, 13 more titles. That’s a total of 26 books I want to keep handy, not on shelves or in boxes or virtually inaccessible in my garage.
Finally, the third magazine in my stack is the Sedona Journal of Emergence. This is a locally produced (Flagstaff AZ) magazine containing a wide variety of “channeled” messages, from Lee Carroll/”Kyron” to Pepper Lewis/“Gaia” to Steve Rother/”The group” to Kahu Fred Sterling/ “Kirael” to Summer Bacon/“Dr. Peebles” and more…along with columns on numerology and astrology and other crazy stuff.
Atop that already-wobbly pile is a single copy of Gary Lovisi’s excellent Paperback Parade, “The Magazine for Paperback Readers & Collectors.” Always a great read for writers as well, this is issue #66, the 20th Anniversary Issue, and it’s on top because I got it in the mail only yesterday (9/28/06), and because I always start reading Paperback Parade on the day it arrives.
Now, back to those books I’m “reading presently.” I’m not reading them all simultaneously, of course, haven’t figured out how to do that. But I either have already read or will be reading each one of them from beginning to end—without interruption if it’s really fascinating, or a little at a time from time to time as the spirit moves me.
Directly beneath Alice in my kitchen-library bookstack is Kryon Book Two: Don’t Think Like A Human, channeled by Lee Carroll. I’m reading the ten (so far) Kyron titles for the third time; that’s because for what it’s worth as one man’s opinion, I think these are the most important Metaphysical/ Spiritual/Channeled books available on the planet right now, and that they’re telling us the Truth.
In The Life Beyond Death; already once quoted, Yogi Ramacharaka says:
“It is not easy to escape from a truth, once it has been presented to you. It has a way of itching your mental ear, once it has lodged there. For behind that ear is a part of you, hidden though it may be, by many sheaths, which knows—which KNOWS!”
I think Kryon’s words will itch your mental ear if you give them a chance.
Underneath Kryon is A Physician’s Guide To Natural Health Products THAT WORK by James A. Howenstine, M.D., a book that fulfills the promise of its title. Very valuable for those who, like me, have come to believe that synthetic chemical concoctions totally foreign to the human body (i.e., pharmaceutical drugs, available at any drugstore for an expensive doctor’s prescription and more money than you’ve got left plus an arm or a leg) have never actually cured anybody of anything. Or for people like me who believe that the natural is always better than the unnatural. Try it, you’ll probably like it. And so will your natural (not-synthetic) body.
Among the remaining 10 books in my kitchen stack is Mystic Path to Cosmic Power by one of my all time favorite Wise Old Gurus, Vernon Howard. This is the first of his books that I read, decades ago, the one that made me a reader (and re-reader) of Vernon Howard ever since.
And Truth vs. Falsehood by David R. Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D. Plus other Alternative health-and-healing stuff like The pH Miracle by Young and Young, and The Immune System Cure by Vanderhaeghe and Bouic.
Moving into the bedroom: Among the 13 books handy here are:
The Mystic Masters Speak, another highly re-readable title by Vernon Howard. This one is 1360 Questions asked by the author and answered by Howard’s selection from a wide variety of “mystic masters” including Schopenhauer and Amiel and Epictetus and Emerson (most quoted of all), plus Buddha and Lao-tse and Jesus…and many more.
Remote Viewing Secrets by Joseph McMoneagle. Fascinating (to me) spooky-stuff about using psychic ability to obtain information. Or “what he learned and how he learned it” by the former Remote Viewer #001 in the Army’s Stargate program.
Lost Continents & The Hollow Earth by David Hatcher Childress & Richard S. Shaver. More believe-it-or-not spooky-stuff, about Lemuria and our maybe-hollow Earth.
How to Fight Cancer & Win by William L. Fischer. Exactly what the title says, even if your own innocent-but-misinformed orthodox physician gets pissed off and yells: “That’s quackery!” Much good info (also available from other scattered sources, especially the Internet) on case histories of cures of cancer patients and many other so-called diseases.
Adventures Beyond the Body, by William Buhlman. Fascinating “astral” experiences including what he did and how he did it by a veteran out-of-body traveler.
What the Bleep Do We Know!? by Arntz, Chasse, & Vicente. What the bleep do I know!?
That’s it. I’m done. And, Linda, if this lo-ong mini-book about books is too long, you have my permission to cut it severely. For example, a much shorter and simpler Answer to your original Question would be: Yes, Linda, I read a lot.
Linda: Yes, a lot, Richard, and such a unique variety of informative books. Of all the books you have read in your lifetime, if you had to pick one book that has had the most influence on your life, what book would it be?
Richard: Linda, when I first read this question I thought it would be reasonably easy to answer, but it wasn’t. Not when there have been so many books, thousands of books, a lot them by such wonderful writers and teachers already mentioned like Yogi Ramacharaka, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, Vernon Howard and Kryon, and many more.
From that entire small library pick only one book? Impossible!
But I think I’ve managed to do the “impossible,” and do it fairly. Because I was exposed to, and fell in love with, this remarkable man’s work at such an early age—and because that influence has been pervasive in my life ever since those pubescent years—the final choice had to be Ralph Waldo Emerson. And the “one book” (though I’d read some of Emerson before buying this particular volume) would have to be: The Complete Essays and Other Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson; Edited, with a Biographical Introduction, by Brooks Atkinson; Foreword by Tremaine McDowell. It’s one of 372 titles then available from “The Modern Library of the World’s Best Books,” and my marked-up copy (which I still have) is Copyright 1940 and 1950 by Random House, Inc.
Linda: I understand you have a Shell Scott unpublished manuscript, The Death Gods, of 1,000 pages. What are your plans for this novel?
Richard: Ah, yes. The Death Gods.
You’re right, Linda, I do have that 1,000-page manuscript here. It’s packed in a box in my closet, and is the completed but still somewhat messy original yellow-page manuscript that I started writing more than a decade ago. It turned out to be the longest Shell Scott mystery I’ve ever written, which, if eventually published, would be #41 in the series. And it hasn’t been published because it has never been submitted to any publisher for publication.
Why not? Well, for a lot of reasons that make sense to me, and may—or may not—make sense to you, Linda. We’ll see.
For one thing, the author’s creative work (the fun part) is finished, but the boring stuff remains to be done. Some of those marked-up pages need to be fixed, some fussed with to smooth out rough spots, before they’re all retyped or (these days) printed on 20-pound bond, or even converted to computer-readable format on something like a Word for Windows disk, whatever that is. Mainly, the whole manuscript needs to be checked and updated because it took me so lo-ong to get from page 1 to The End.
After fairly speedily, and without significant interruption, writing 43 so-called “first drafts” (so-called because, as previously mentioned, I never wrote a “second draft”), on this one—#44 overall and #41 in the Shell Scott series—there were two long interruptions. I twice, for reasons there’s no need to go into here, had to stop work entirely on the manuscript before it was finished…stopped the first time for nearly three years, and the second time for longer than that. Add it all together, including recent years “on the shelf,” and that’s a lo-ong time.
During those years we’ve moved from the old Millennium into the new, and the world has changed. Not just automobile models and computers and new same-old politicians and a “new” war or two, but us, you and me. And I’ve changed (as Damon Runyon used to say) more than somewhat. Part of that change is: I no longer give a hoot whether The Death Gods is published or not.
I no longer need my name on another book to make me feel like (harking back to childhood) “I’m gonna be a writer,” I’ve been there/done that—43 times. Plus, money is always nice, but (harking back through my long publishing history): few publishers have ever wanted to pay writers what they’re worth, and they certainly (with rare exceptions) don’t want to today. In fact, even though the entire multi-billion-dollar Publishing Industry couldn’t exist without authors and their “product,” most publishers really hate to pay them for it. Indeed, a number of today’s publishers offer advances so small they’re almost invisible, or make no advance payment at all. This wouldn’t be a big problem except for the fact that usually (with rare exceptions) the “advance against future royalties” payment is all the author ever sees, because additional royalty earnings will never accrue and be reported to him. Presumably because his book was so lousy.
Back in the days when I was suing publishers for plagiarizing my work, and even worse, for alleged fraudulent (gasp!) reporting of my royalty earnings, I discovered that a number of other published writers had shared my own puzzling experience. Which was that, with some publishers, no matter what the amount of the author’s “advance against royalty earnings” was, those royalty earnings when reported (much later) to him would approach the amount advanced but, curiously, never exceed it (which would of course have required additional payment to the author).
Like: advance payment of $1,000; earnings (sales of book) slowly rise to maybe $988 and get stuck there forevermore. Or: advance of $10,000; reported earnings rising to $9,001 and then screech, brakes on, ain’t no more. Or, rarely—never, alas, for my writer friends or me, but occasionally for some lucky bestselling fellow—a healthy $100,000 advance for a single book. Wow! Even then, though, it was almost predictable (not always, but more often than not) that there would be an equally-healthy earnings rise to say $99,666 and then Halt! Who/What goes there? That’s all she wrote, Writer.
Isn’t that curious? Were these publishers clairvoyant? I—and those few other authors who’d noticed such coincidences (those few, because most writers, busy writing books, give little attention to their books’ royalty statements, which are mystifying even when given lots of attention) thought so. Ah, but that was then; that was a long time ago. Maybe it was Karma (or something impenetrably called “creating our own reality”). Maybe we were just youthfully paranoid. Or maybe we really did write really lousy books.
Anyway, for these several reasons (and a few others here unmentioned), it’s all just not worth the hassle. I’ve had my hassles—and, by the way, won most of them—but it used up seven years of my life to fight those ‘negative” battles full-time (the only way there’s a chance to win them), meaning a lot of books remained unwritten. I’ve got better things to do with my life these days. And probably did in those days, too, if I’d been smarter. So, who’s smart? What the bleep do I know!?
The bottom line is, I’m content to let those 1000+ pages rest unmolested in their box in the closet, while I sit here in my kitchen-library reading lots of books written by other people, and listening to the tweeting of happy birds optimistically screeching outside, where I scattered birdseed in payment for their songs. And there’s no cut-off point for them where there “ain’t no more,” not in this house. I’ve got lots of birdseed, and I can’t eat it all myself.
So there you have it, Linda. Are you with me? Or, do you think I’m nuts? You don’t have to answer that second question, unless you really, really feel it’s necessary. How about, instead…
Linda: Recently I read that one of your fans characterized your books as life-affirming and optimistic. Is that a theme you purposely intended for your novels?
Richard: Definitely, yes. It never occurred to me that I might write novels that were life-denying and pessimistic, or hit myself on the head with a hammer.
From the very beginning, way back in 1949, I wanted each book to be the most enjoyable experience for me and for the reader that I could possibly make it at the time…and for my lead character to exemplify not only the Emersonian virtues of Self-Reliance and a stubborn belief in the essential “goodness of all things” (The Over-Soul); but my own personal still-forming beliefs that virtue is better than vice, truth is better than falsehood, living fully is a whole lot better than dying before you’re dead, and laughter is a lot more fun than getting sour and pissed-off and putrid over peccadilloes, since in the end every sin or screw-up is a mere peccadillo, right?
Indeed, as part of what I “purposely intended” for my novels, before beginning the actual writing of each manuscript (after all the previously-discussed plotting work was done) I typed one final page of Notes-to-myself about what I hoped the book, once I got to The End of it, would accomplish out there in the market place. This was my final “preparatory” page, the last thing I wrote before typing the first line of the new manuscript.
In those Notes was always some version of the above goals along with my hope that the book would contain enough “originality, wit, and humor” to keep the reader entertained along the way, plus an expression of my intention, my hope, my desire that when a reader finished the book he would feel better, feel happier, maybe even be a little healthier than when he’d started reading it.
And that never changed over the years. As evidence, I here include another quotation—this time quoting myself—from The Comfortable Coffin, the 13th annual Mystery Writers of America Anthology, published as a Fawcett Gold Medal Book in 1960.
I was MWA’s editor of their Mystery Anthology that year, which means I gave the book its title, wrote an Introduction for it, selected the 14 stories by other authors included therein, and exercised my corrupting power as editor to make the 15th story one by the corrupted editor.
In the Introduction I explained what I intended the collection to be—which was, at the same time, an encapsulation of what I always hoped my own books would be for readers, from 1949 to now.
Here’s part of what I wrote in that Introduction way back then… and would still write today:
“This book has been designed for your uninhibited enjoyment, with the hope that while reading it you will smile, and chuckle, and—more than once—laugh out loud.
“When I first wrote the membership of Mystery Writers of America about this year’s Anthology, I asked them for ‘the light touch’ merry mysteries which would leave readers in a warm glow instead of a cold sweat…you will find in these pages everything from light-hearted larceny to death without sting, each piece written in the light vein rather than the gory artery. In this book the blunt instruments are velvet saps, the daggers merely tickle, and the blood (if any) runs pink instead of red…
“This collection has been planned to amuse you, but it has, perhaps, another virtue. It seems—at least to me—that we are beset these days by much designed to make us feel miserable, created by people who would send ‘Get Sick’ cards to convalescents and, at weddings, throw cooked rice: plays that rise to peaks of dullness, paintings that look like upset stomachs, books that read like long suicide notes…such a flood of woe and weeping, of pessimism and Freudian cuckooism, that we are in imminent danger of drowning entirely in misery and tired blood.
“But not this time. Here is a raft—or at least a straw—in that rotting sea of tears, for this is a book intended to make you feel good, jolly, even healthy.”
There you have it, from 1960. You’ve even got, again, that same wacky word healthy, as italicized by me then in the Introduction. Am I wacked? Am I nuts to think, or even hope, that a little light-hearted humor—a few lines on a few printed pages—could actually do something physical to a reader? Perhaps even beneficially tweak bent-out-of-shape cells or soured blood? Doesn’t seem likely. Maybe I am a little cracked, and have been since 1949 if not sooner. Maybe, but…Hark! Maybe not!
I’ll bet you knew I was sneaking up on another quotation that would make me look good. Well, you’re right. I’ve got an up-to-date dandy right here, handy. It’s one more from The Kryon Writings (Book Ten: A New Dispensation, Copyright 2004 by Lee Carroll). Here, shortened by me (from page 351, if you want to read the whole thing), is the quote:
“Humor is one of the only energies passed through the veil completely untouched. The other is love. They are related… They both affect Human biology, too, and so they are catalysts for chemistry changes…
“Truly, humor is sacred. It calms the Human spirit, and creates the chemistry of tolerance, forgiveness, and even health.”
Linda: Now, for aspiring writers, what wit, wisdom, or advice would you like to share—other than the wealth of information you’ve already given here?
Richard: This was also a Tough Question, because I don’t think I’ve personally got enough wit or wisdom to share any. Or advice—though I’ve been known to share plenty anyhow. So…I’ve decided to do what I usually do: borrow some.
What I’m borrowing—especially “for aspiring writers” but also for anyone who writes anything, whether it’s just letters, or scholarly essays, or a hundred books—is the first long paragraph (here shortened by me) of Emerson’s Essay, “Self-Reliance,” plus two additional sentences from later in the same Essay, (all from my old Modern Library Edition of The Completed Essays, etc., cited earlier).
Emerson was writing for all men and women, for everyone; but I’ve selected his words that seem to have been directed especially and powerfully to other writers of words. At least, that’s what I think. Let’s see, fellow writers, what you think:
“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius…the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his… Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility the most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.”
The pair of additional sentences mentioned above are copied here in reverse order of their appearance but the order that seems most natural and meaningful to me. They are two separated lines that came together and resonated with me, and “itched my inner ear” when I first read them long ago, and still do today; and I hope they’ll resonate with you from now on. Here they are, writers:
“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind,” and “God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.”
Linda: Please feel free, Richard, to add any comments you feel your readers may find of benefit or interest.
Richard: To wrap this all up, I’m going to do some more borrowing: six words (again) from dear Mattie Stepanek, and three words from thousands of WOGs and Gurus and regular People. After these thousands of words of ours, Linda, here at the end are a mere nine words that, I think, say it all:
“Remember to play after every storm,” and “Love one another.”
Linda: Richard, I want to thank you for such an intimate discussion of your work, your personal thoughts, and sharing your life with all of us. I’m sure your fans will appreciate learning more about Richard S. Prather, the writer, but also more about Richard S. Prather, the man. Your answers to my many questions, more than you expected (laughter), are very informative for writers, for your Shell Scott fans who have probably wanted to know more about the author and the creation of Shell Scott, but also informative for everyone.
Richard, my friend, I very much appreciate you taking your time for this interview, an interview I believe to be unique and informative, and that was my hope in asking the questions I did. I’ve always had this “thing,” (call it curiosity, I suppose), of wanting to know more about people I admire, such as authors, artists, psychic mediums/channelers, more beyond their gift, more about their life-view, their philosophy, and spiritual views, and you have provided that here in our discussion, in intimate detail. Thank you for sharing.
© Copyright 2006 by Linda Pendleton and Richard S. Prather, All Rights Reserved.
Brief Quotes or Brief Excerpts from this Interview may be used for critical articles or reviews with proper Copyright attribution to both authors. For Permission to use other than brief Excerpts, in any form, please contact Linda Pendleton or Richard S. Prather.
NOTE: Sadly, Richard S. Prather passed away February 14, 2007 at his home in Sedona, AZ. And as it has turned out, this was his last interview. He will be missed by family, friends, fellow writers, and many fans, both old and new. His legacy will live on through his written word.
Richard S. Prather Bibliography
Shell Scott Unabridged Audio CD and Mp3, Books in Motion. http://www.booksinmotion.com
Shell Scott Novels, POD and Download, ereads.com
Shell Scott Series available for Download at Palm http://ebooks.palm.com/
The new release of The Peddler is available at www.amazon.com,
Barnesandnoble.com and your favorite bookstore.
Cover Artist, Robert McGinnis, www.mcginnispaintings.com
Kryon—Lee Carroll website http://www.kryon.com
David Icke website http://www.davidicke.com
What the Bleep Do We Know!? http://www.whatthebleep.com
MATTIE STEPANEK BOOK REVIEW
Just Peace, A Message of Hope by Mattie J.T. Stepanek, with Jimmy Carter
by Linda Pendleton
Shell Scott Home on the Web, hosted by Dean Davis. http://user.dtcc.edu/~dean
The Jack Woodford Book, Trial and Error (Early edition of Writing and Selling) is available in new paperback from: Woodford Memorial Editions, P.O. Box 55085 Seattle, WA 98155, Telephone 1-206-364-4167,
Linda Pendleton's UFO Articles http://www.todancewithangels.com/triangularufo.htm http://www.todancewithangels.com/orboversedona.htm
To Dance With Angels Book by Don and Linda Pendleton http://www.donpendleton.com/todancewithangels.htm
Linda Pendleton Biography http://www.todancewithangels.com/lindapendleton.html
To Dance With Angels Website