Rich Ritter - The New Voice of the American West

Although I resented it at the time, I must now thank my eighth-grade English teacher for two excruciating months of lessons on the arcane subject of sentence diagramming. She aroused a latent desire to write, which eventually blossomed in high school when I was mistakenly chosen—along with two other students—to represent the school in a district-wide writing competition. The contest did not go well because the teacher in charge of our team loathed my uniquely-chaotic prose and forced me to write in the dreary style he preferred. Stunned by failure, but mostly due to a five-year diversion to study architecture, I did not submit my first short story for publication until the year after college. I would offer proof of this significant event, but I have since misplaced the rejection letter from the Atlantic Monthly.

I wrote extensively during the next twenty-five years, producing many important works of literature including A Proposal for Professional Services for the Dzantik’I Heeni Middle School, The West Douglas Planning Study, and Technical Specifications for the New Juneau Police Station, to name a few notable works. I did not rediscover fiction—although my competitors might argue this point—until the age of 49. My wife and I adopted our sons in 1983 and 1985, which eventually led to family upheaval and the attendance at four multiday sleep-depravation seminars. During the second seminar, the facilitator challenged us to commit to a “big bodacious goal.” This goal theoretically represented our true purpose in life. When I awoke the next morning, I foolishly scribbled on the little piece of paper next to the hotel phone that I would write a novel. However, I may have overdone the exercise because when we each announced our goals at the seminar the woman sitting next to me promised to take a multi-vitamin every day for a year.

I commenced within the week. Five long years later, I self-published Toil Under the Sun, a novel of the Korean War and an adopted son who does not believe he is worthy of love. Although I spent countless hours researching (even learning to operate and shoot an M-1 Garand without cutting off my thumb), much of my inspiration derived from my father, who served as a First Lieutenant with the U.S. Army in Korea, and my oldest son, who served as a sergeant with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq. My younger son provided source material as well, in his own way. When book sales did not go well, I embarked on a six-month effort to find a literary agent. I wrote numerous query letters, sent numerous emails, made numerous phone calls, and produced only one glimmer of interest from a New York agent who was on a desperate search for “Chic Lit approximately 80,000 words long.” When I told her that Toil Under the Sun clocked in at 133,000 words, our conversation quickly ended.

Undaunted, I decided to plunge into my next project: a novel of the west set in Silver City, Idaho during the late 1800s. Concerned about the effort required to produce Toil Under the Sun, my wife suggested I take a break and write something “smaller and funner,” possibly set in Juneau during the time of the great gold mines. I followed her counsel, and one year later completed the manuscript for Heart of Abigail: A Lyric Novella of Juneau, Douglas and Treadwell. At 28,000 words though, my writing speed had not increased. Unsatisfied with the previous self-publishing and literary agent results, I began fishing around for a publisher in Alaska by reading the “published by” information on book covers at local bookstores. I eventually found an interested publisher in Homer, but I declined after the editor told me that she would “…bleed all over my manuscript, but I can’t start until next spring.” A bit discouraged, I found myself wandering down the book aisle (after browsing the food carts) at the local Costco. A very handsome paperback caught my eye, and when I looked on the back I noted “Publication Consultants” in Anchorage. I called the owner, a man of integrity named Evan Swensen, and Heart of Abigail was published four months later.

Having satisfied my wife’s desire for something “smaller and funner,” I embarked on Nor Things to Come: A Novel of the American West. Another five years and more than 268,000 words later, I submitted the manuscript to Evan. He reviewed my work, then called me on the phone to let me know that no one would pay for a book this big from an unknown author. My wife stepped in once again to propose a solution. She suggested I publish the book as a trilogy because the story was already organized in three parts. Evan declared the idea “brilliant” and prompted me the get to work right away. I originally assumed very little effort would be required, but four months and five revisions later I submitted The Perilous Journey Begins, the first book of Nor Things to Come: A Trilogy of the American West. The second book, Gathering of the Clans, followed in six months. I do not yet have a title for the third book, but I know something interesting will eventually pop into my head—or maybe my wife will suggest a title: she has come through before when I needed help.