Thursday, April 4, 2013

An Interview with Dr. Bob Rich!!

Where are you from?

I live in Australia, in a place of beauty with lovely mountains. The city of Melbourne is far enough to be ignorable, but close enough that I can go there when I need to (as seldom as possible).

You're a psychologist and mudsmith! Tell us a little about those interesting facts.

You can read all about that at

Because I am a conservationist and like recycling, this is actually the introductory part of my short story collection "Through Other Eyes"

A mudsmith is a person who crafts buildings from mud. A psychologist is a catalyst for inner change. You are suffering? I can't fix you up, but can show you how you can do it for yourself.

How did you like the writing challenge? Have you done anything like that before?

I cheated. :) The story "Duck" is actually one of the 26 in "Through Other Eyes." But yes, I have done things like that when I had the time to enter short story contests.

Short stories are a great discipline, and an excellent way to improve writing. I have three collections published. "Through Other Eyes," "Striking Back from Down Under" and "Bizarre Bipeds"

They are very different collections, but all were fun to write.

Have you ever been to any writing conventions, conferences, etc? How was that experience?

No I haven't, only the online Museitup conference, about 3 times. I offered courses in writing. It's a lot of work, but worthwhile.

What inspired you to write your first book?

From 1980 on, I had a byline column in a wonderful magazine, "Earth Garden"

You see, when I started to build my house, I was certified and licensed as the most impractical person on the planet. So, I worked as a builder's laborer in whatever field I wanted to learn about. For example, I worked with a carpenter, installing timber floors. Then I did it for myself in my budding house, and wrote it up for the magazine.

By 1984, I was teaching a course on building. I wrote a letter to Keith Smith, the publisher of "Earth Garden," suggesting the two of us could write a book together. He'd already had 8 published titles. I posted the letter, then checked my PO box. In there was a letter from Keith, with the same suggestion. So, it was meant to happen, and did, after 2 years of work.

That was the first edition of the "Earth Garden Building Book: Design and build your own house" The fourth edition is still in print.

Do you have a specific writing style?

Yes, mine. Well, "Duck" is a good example.

I want my language to be invisible. Writing can scream, "Look how clever I am! Admire me!" Or it can do a job so well that you don't even notice the words. They are the medium, not the message. The first is Literary. The second is readable. :)

For this reason, when I write:

·      I use the minimum number of words that will do the job.

·      I'll say, "He climbed the stairs" rather than "He ascended the stairs" -- the most common available word is the best, except to avoid repetition.

·      I keep to the simplest syntax I can, again without falling into a repetitious, boring pattern of sentences.

·      I avoid anything that will attract attention to the language rather than the message, such as repeating words.

·      In fiction, I avoid author intrusions. Everything is from the point of view of a character.

   All of this can be summarized by the motto of the Australian Army Engineers: K.I.S.S.: "Keep It Simple, Stupid."

How did you come up with the title?

My new release, "Ascending Spiral," is about the journey of a particular soul through many lifetimes. The first one was perhaps 12,000 years ago, when that person was quite self-centered and not really aware of the welfare of others. Life after life, sometimes as a male, sometimes as a female, and on one occasion as neither but an intelligent plant, this person grew in wisdom and maturity, as we all do. The lives went round and round, usually going up, but often needing to go back in order to pay restitution for a mistake, but overall, upward toward being able to learn the ultimate lesson.

This is not because I believe in reincarnation. I don't believe in anything, being a scientist by training. Instead of believing, I look at the available evidence, and construct a tentative model of the universe. Well, the evidence supporting reincarnation is surprisingly robust. You don't need to believe what comes after death, any more than you need belief about the shape of the earth (it's flat, right?) or the causation of illness (it's a witchdoctor casting a hex, everybody knows that). If you're interested, look up Peter Ramster and Jim Tucker

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

You've sprung me. The book is a partial autobiography of my past 12,000 years.

Actually, everything a fiction writer produces is autobiography. Hemingway said, "Write what you know." We go through life, gathering raw material even if unaware of it, and combine it in many ways.

OK, the heroes of "Liberator," the main story in "Bizarre Bipeds" are little, have green skin, no head, and three arms and three legs. As far as I know, I have never been a person like that, but the story is autobiographical all the same. Their emotions, reactions to their situations, hopes and fears and joys and sorrows are that of any person, including me.

What books have most influenced your life most?

When I was in high school, I read every book in the school library, and every book in the public library. Reading was a joy, and an effective antidepressant. I've been a keen reader since. So, to give a proper answer would need a library catalog!

Part of my reading has been to study the Bible, the Koran, the Buddhist writings, Confucius, the Tao Te Ching, even Zoroaster. I did try the Hindu sacred texts but found them too complex to follow. I realized that they share a common body of wisdom, and you don't need to follow any religion to benefit from their teachings.

Actually, this wisdom is best summarized by something that is not religious: "Above all, do no harm," part of the Hippocratic oath all medical practitioners are supposed to work by. It's a good guide to all living.

What book are you reading now?

You think I have time to read for pleasure? I wish!

Actually, I have had a great deal of pleasure reading a series of very good books, as part of publicizing "Ascending Spiral." I have arranged review swaps with several writers I respect and even admire. So far, I haven't been disappointed, and my partners have posted very positive reviews. This is good, especially since none of these people will lie to please me or anyone else. You can read their reviews of my book, and my reviews of theirs by going to

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

Sorry, haven't had time to seek them out. As I've said, I've been reviewing books by people I know write good stuff, and also I do a lot of editing, but that's not necessarily new writers, and if they are new, they are not necessarily good yet. My work is intended to move them in that direction.

One of the first writers I edited a book for was Max Overton, in the late 1990s. I have just finished reading his coming book, "We came from Konigsberg," as part of a review swap. It's a masterpiece. I flatter myself that I've had a part in helping him to improve his writing to the level he shows in this wonderful book. Keep an eye out for it.

What are your current projects?

As a counseling psychologist, I work with many suffering people. They come first. I am also currently editing a science fiction story for a lady. A major time investment is letting the world know about "Ascending Spiral."

In the background, taken out and lovingly continued when I have the time, is a story I started some years ago. Here is the start of the Preface:

A blind old gentleman was referred to me as a victim of crime. He and his old seeing-eye dog had both been beaten up by some teenagers.

You can’t do therapy with a person if you share their emotions; if their issue becomes personal for you. I needed to do something about my outrage.

So, on the evening after my first session with him, I started a story I could invest the emotion in. I invented old Sylvia, who witnessed a horrendous crime.

I thought the story would be one of just retribution, but... but once you create a character, that person comes to life. Sylvia had different ideas. The story has become one of compassion, and changing the unchangeable through love.

So, Sylvia has become dear to me, one of my teachers. I hope you will also make her special in your life, and learn from her.

I've now written a bit over 80,000 words, so am thinking about how to draw the various subplot lines to a close.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

I did, over and over. I revise my work all the time. So, I don't think it's necessary any more.

There is one exception. I sent a copy to my daughter in Sydney. She found a typo in it: an "an" written as "and."

She takes after her father all right.

Anyone else who spots that same typo has earned a free copy of one of my books.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I started creative writing in order to avoid breaking my marriage vows. I was a student nurse, living in a nurses' home, and needed something to distract me from the hordes of young women around me. So, I wrote short stories instead.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Finding the time for it.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

There are many favorites, but if I must choose one, it's Dick Francis. All his heroes start as ordinary-seeming people, who are then put into an unbearable situation, and cope. There is always a mystery element that is fun to solve. I am not interested in horse racing, and every book has that in it, but I can forgive Dick for the horsy bits because there is always some other specialty, impeccably researched, so I can learn while I am being entertained.

Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?

I travel as little as possible. We live on a planet with finite resources that have been over-used. Some years ago, humanity was consuming one and a half earths' worth of resources, and we only have one. Since then, the global economy has grown, so it's even worse.

Did you know that globally, we use more fresh water than falls on all the land areas combined? We are mining the aquifers. We are destroying the complexity of nature, and we are kept alive by the web of life.

So, I do my best to live as simply as possible. Above all, do no harm. Traveling does harm. I do it only when I must.

Who designed the cover?

My publisher, Victor Volkman, came up with the concept, and he has a favorite cover designer, Doug West, who actualized it.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Nothing really. Perhaps finding names for the minor characters. All the main characters came with names; I had nothing to do with choosing them. But I had to experiment with the walk-ons. For example, Amelia is one of the major characters. She is Amelia Margaret McQuade nee Poole, and that's a given. But in childhood she had a couple of friends, and I gave them three sets of names before settling on Ethel and Mary, simply because they were very common names for the times.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

I learnt a great deal about Irish history of the 18th and 19th centuries. I already knew about the Viking times in Ireland and the Victorian era in Australia from previous writing.

Australian Aboriginals feature strongly in the story. While I already knew a fair bit about their pre-colonial culture, and the effect of the European invasion on them, I learned a lot more about these wonderful people.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

A lot of advice is archived at Some is from me, some from other contributors to my newsletter Bobbing Around.

Perhaps the most important for beginning writers is to seek feedback. In the early days, I paid for the editing of three of my manuscripts, and learned lots from each. And don't be precious about your work. Praise doesn't teach you anything much. It's when someone picks up what you are doing wrong that you have an opportunity to improve.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Go to and enjoy the offerings. I hope lots of people will buy my books, particularly "Ascending Spiral," because I think that's my best to date.

I have a standing policy. Email me proof of purchase of any of my books, anywhere, in any format, and you get an electronic book for free.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

I lived for 33 years on a mountain of beauty and power, much of it in the house I built myself. Because nowadays I need a body transplant, my wife decided to export me, and I now live in the town nearby. I'd love nothing better than to return HOME.

If you could pick a super power, what would you choose?

To transform people ruled by greed, hate, resentment, self-pity and other negatives to becoming motivated by compassion and caring for others.

Not only would this make our world a great place to live in, but it's also the transformation necessary to allow humanity to survive.

If you want to understand what I mean, read "Ascending Spiral."


  1. Where is your favorite place to write?

  2. On the keyboard of my laptop. That can be in my recliner chair at home, on the train, in a doctor's waiting room, wherever.
    You see, everywhere I go, I take myself with me, and that's the only essential tool for writing.

  3. I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this interview, Dr. Rich. I especially appreciated when you said that everything a fiction writer produces is autobiographical. I've always thought it ridiculous when writers and educators have said to me that a good work of fiction is one that does not reflect the author but the story - as if the story could exist or be realistic without the author feeding something of themselves into it. I reTweeted this article because I hope others out there will read it and realize that they don't have to twist themselves into a mental pretzel trying follow this impossible advice. Thank you.

  4. Hi Leigha (what an unusual name!)
    Thank you. And thank you for tweeting -- that's a mystery I haven't touched. My current challenges are Facebook and Pinterest.
    When I write fiction, I BECOME the character whose point of view I am using. In the story "Duck" displayed on this site, that's arrogant lady-killer and hunter Harry, and then a Being from off-planet with everything different from humans. I have never been either of these, but all the same, I can only bring them to life from within my personal experience.
    Have fun,

  5. Leigha, there is something else.
    At the same time, you as author should be invisible, a string-puller behind the scenes, never on the stage.
    This means avoiding author intrusions and other info dumps. The fiction writer's job is not to tell information to the reader, but to bring characters to life, and let THEM do the work.

  6. Bonnie Newcomer posted on Ascending Spiral's timeline at Facebook:
    "Your interview with Kenya Lee was very informative and inspiring to this writing neophyte. I'm finding the more I learn about writing fiction, the more I realize how little I know. I will be visiting and for more insight. Perhaps I should be doing more writing and less reading about writing! Thank you, Dr. Rich."
    My reply to her:
    Bonnie, it's my pleasure.
    I learned lots early on from 2 things: writing short stories and entering them in contests, and having my work edited by a professional.
    Writing is a craft, and you learn a craft through doing.