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The Write Stuff

Couple guys with books

James and Randy Richards

August 2015

The Unseen Hand of Peter Gyges was going unseen.

Turns out, all it needed was a hand.And when James Richards '02 convinced his father Randy '71, PhD, to revisit the manuscript Randy had started more than a decade earlier, the son also started the presses on a fictional novel of his own.

The Black River Players, written under the pen name j. Thomas richards, was self-published through the CreateSpace arm of Amazon in July, just four months after Randy, a professor of philosophy and co-chair of the SAU Master of Organizational Leadership program, self-published The Unseen Hand of Peter Gyges through that same outlet.

The near-simultaneous arrival of novels that both authors describe as dark is a particularly proud moment for the father, although he readily credits James as the impetus for seeing both books through to the finish.

The Unseen Hand of Peter Gyges originally began as a stage play, but Randy realized early on it would need to be re-imagined as a novel in order to properly develop its characters. After a period of prolific writing, those 700 pages resulted, and Randy summarily shoved the manuscript in a drawer, intending to rewrite and tighten it later.

Later arrived only when James - who has put his SAU Bachelor of Arts degree in English to work as a part-time editor while also working as an artist and musician - offered his editing skills to get the book back on track. Randy readily accepted.

It was through the process of editing Peter Gyges that James realized he needed to attack his own project. The Black River Players, a noir crime story in the tradition of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, was conceived and originally written as a screen play. While editing his father's book, James realized the story of an unsolved murder in a murky Iowa town also could be better told in the form of a novel.

Randy read the manuscript and provided plot line suggestions, but stressed, "I would not presume to edit for James. His editing skills and command of the English language are better than mine."

Although Randy called the arrival of both books in the same calendar year "totally coincidental," it is certainly true that the son sparked the father's progress and,vice-versa."

We pushed each other to get them done, although he is more important to my book than I am to his," Randy said. "James has been a real inspiration to me. As a musician and as a poet, it has been wonderful watching him be driven by the creative spirit."

Randy said two tales are both somewhat similar and very different. "If they have anything in common, I think it is what we both would say is a realistic view of life. But there are different levels of darkness. Mine might be gray."

James, 36, said his exposure to liberal arts at St. Ambrose helped him develop his artistic sensibilities, but he said the process of producing The Black River Players was educational in its own way."

You meet yourself pushing through obstacles, self-doubt, your own insecurities," he said.

In the spirit of the tortured artist, James claimed his book "doesn't feel completely done." On the other hand, he said, "I'm proud of it and there is reason to be proud of it. It is a story I wanted to be told. And I wanted me to tell it." 

MORE LIKE THIS:AmbroseZine, Faculty & Staff News/Achievements, Master of Organizational Leadership

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