I’ve asked Dr. Bob Rich, author, conservationist, and professional granfather, to join me today. After reading two of his books and sharing a number of long conversations, which covered a multitude of esoteric topics, I thought it would be interesting to share some of his insights and witticisms with my readers.
Tricia, I am delighted to accept your invitation for a chat at your blog. I hope to give your visitors a few laughs, and plenty of food for thought.
You live in Australia and are passionate about conservation and improving the quality of life for everyone. Can you share some thoughts about that with us?
I currently live in two realities.
One is utterly crazy, and I stay sane by occasionally escaping into the other one.
To illustrate the crazy reality, let me tell you about a phone call yesterday. It was from a computer asking to survey me about politics.
It then asked me to push a button to indicate which of 6 options would influence my vote if an election was held today. The options were 6 different ways I might be bribed, so I disconnected.
If I’d written that survey, the questions would have addressed matters like species extinctions, climate change, the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, homelessness, wealth inequality, the toxic role of money in politics… real issues.
So, I spend considerable time and energy in doing my little best to address such things.
The other reality hides within my computer, and it’s a much better place to be.
What are you currently working on? (If it’s another book, give a short summary of it, please.)
At the moment, I am in the middle of processing a steady stream of entries for my free book edit contest.
The prize is the free edit of a book-length manuscript.
The deadline is October 15, so I expect the stream to increase to a flood.
An entry consists of a 200 word book summary, and the first 1000 words of the manuscript. (If the entrant follows instructions. I am surprised at how rare that is). I edit this approximately straight away, stuff it full of helpful feedback, and send it back. I can then feel good: even people with no chance of winning will benefit from our contact. I enjoy being a teacher.
In between, I visit my young friend Bill Sutcliffe, and his little son, Albor. This is in the 4th volume of my science fiction series, The Doom Healer. I want to finish all 5 volumes before having the first published, so they can follow each other in rapid succession. As a reader, I hate getting captivated by the start of a series, then having to wait for the sequels to drag themselves out of the author’s mind.
Bill is the Doom Healer. His task is to well, heal the doom hanging over our planet. You know: species extinctions, climate change, greed and cruelty… the list of issues in the imaginary world outside my computer. In the real world within, there are solutions, and Bill is their champion.
He achieves his aim at the end of the third volume, and now I am working toward finishing the fourth, The Prince of Light. That’s Albor, who is 2 days old at the start of this volume. My current task is to wait for him and his friends to tell me how his 5th birthday was celebrated. I know the end of the story. It’s when he turns 15. I just have to fill the intervening 10 years.
How has writing changed your life (for good or for worse)?
I don’t know!
Some people’s lives may well be like a plate of food with visibly different components: a steak, 3 vegetables and a side salad. My life is more like a stew, or to jump to a different metaphor, a symphony orchestra rather than a bunch of soloists.
That is to say, writing is an organic part of life. From infancy, I’ve always solved problems and exercised my creativity intuitively, in the background while doing other things. Since writing has become the main expression of my creativity, it’s the ideas I need to record that simmer away in the pressure-cooker of my mind. Actually pecking at keys on my computer is not writing, but documenting the result.
Certainly, I have changed enormously. I feel that in this life I have grown spiritually, and have had the privilege of helping a great many other people to do so. Much of that was through my decades of psychotherapy practice, and hopefully also through my books and stories.
Here is my take on how writing can be meaningful without preaching: “What Makes Writing Memorable?”
Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?
Sorry, I can’t help it. That’s my invariable answer to any disjunctive question.
Nonfiction is bread and butter (though I haven’t put butter or margarine on my bread for 32 years). You work out what you need to say, organize the material in a logical order, then say it.
Fiction is the chocolate icing on the cake of life. You create a reality, introduce some people, then become one of them, or one at a time if you switch from witness to witness.
So, I mix them. There is plenty of nonfiction even in my fantasy and SF writing. And there is plenty of creativity and imagination even in my nonfiction.
My upcoming book (From Depression to Contentment: A self-therapy guide), which is nonfiction, is designed to help people overcome depression using some self-guided lessons. One of my beta readers has already sent me an advance review. She concluded it with “All of Bob’s novels I’ve read are full of therapeutic lessons. Here is a book designed as a set of therapeutic lessons that is as enjoyable to read as any novel.”
What question do you ask yourself most often?
When I was a severely depressed young fellow, the question was, “What the hell am I doing on this planet?” This eased off in my mid-30s, when I left a high-status, high-paying job in order to work on self-sufficiency, enjoying the benefits of voluntary poverty, and becoming effective as an activist for a better world.
In turn, my education in practicality started my writing career. I wrote regular articles for a marvelous magazine, Earth Garden on building your own house, and this resulted in my first book, published in 1986. The fourth edition went out of print in early 2018.
I actually got an answer to this question in 2007, when I recovered a few of my past lives. The story is told in fictionalized form in my novel, Ascending Spiral.
For perhaps 25 years, my most frequent question was “How?” rather than “Why?” I was, and am, a problem solver.
During this century, “How?” has expanded into “How can I be of service?” An example is my nightly meditation. An invariable part of this is sending healing thoughts. Sadly, there is a long list of targets. I have no idea if my activity is effective for them, but it’s guaranteed to be more effective than not doing it.
Sometimes I am on my list, since I am old enough to be working toward a body transplant, but then, it’s OK to be of service to yourself, right?
When I answer the phone, I typically say, “Bob here. How can I be of service to you?”
What part of your writing has improved or changed the most over the years?
I’ve always had the knack of explaining complex issues in simple words. That’s why my self-help magazine articles took off.
I’ve always had way more empathy than is good for me. Empathy is the major tool in psychotherapy — and in creative writing like fiction and biography. So, getting into a character’s reality, and putting the experience into words, was a strength even in my early fiction writing. Here is my first prize-winning short story, way back in the 1980s: “Peace for the Joker.”
Having a tight storyline was a problem early on. Two or three attempts ended up going nowhere. Then I started explicitly plotting, which helped. What I found, though, was that as I gained experience, I departed from the original plot, and let my characters guide me. By the late 1990s, writing was fully organic. My first novel to win an important award was written entirely without a prior plot. Oh, the plot was still there, only I didn’t know it until it emerged. This was Sleeper, Awake.
Beyond that, several of my fans have written to me that my most recent book was my best to date. This was after the publication of each of Ascending Spiral, Guardian Angel and Hit and Run. Being a scientist by training, I have the urge to ask three groups of people to read the three books in different orders. Perhaps each group will judge the last read to be the best?
In any case, this is evidence that my writing is improving, but I am not sure what aspect tickles these lovely people’s fancy.
What (in life) brings you the most joy?
Only one thing?
Human puppies would have to be the top of a long list. That’s kids from 0 days to 25 years old. They give me the greatest joy, and the worst heartache, which I need to handle using Buddhist equanimity.
They are all my grandchildren. That’s why I am an environmental and humanitarian activist. If I had a magic wand, I’d transform our insane society into one that will last indefinitely into the future instead of rapidly heading for extinction — and one worth surviving in.
During school term, twice a day bunches of teenagers walk past my house. I enjoy the sound of their chatter. Without being obvious about it, I watch the way they interact with each other (or don’t).
Tiny kids consider me to be funny. Whenever I capture the gaze of one, the little mite laughs at me, or at least smiles. Maybe they like the light glancing off my scalp?
I love storytelling to kids, to get a laugh, to open little minds to ideas.
Having a serious discussion with a teenager or young adult is wonderful, whether it’s face to face or via email. I often learn a lot from such exchanges.
Oh, why the heartache? When encountering a youngster, one of my frequent automatic reactions is inner grief because of the coming world. I wish for them to have a good life, knowing that a series of environmental and economic disasters is far more likely. In part, that’s the motivation for my latest book, which is waiting within my publisher’s computer: From Depression to Contentment: A self-therapy guide. It shows how I can live a GOOD life even though I struggle with this issue on a daily basis.
Tricia, thank you for the honor of being here. I look forward to chatting with your visitors via comments.
To purchase his books or to read more of his articles and insights on depression, mindfulness, conservation, and other topics:
Bob’s Writing: https://bobrich18.wordpress.com
Writing showcase: http://bobswriting.com
Anxiety and depression help site: http://anxietyanddepression-help.com
Conservation and practicality: http://mudsmith.net
To contact or follow Dr. Bob Rich: