I hope you're been enjoying these interviews as much as I have. Our clients are fascinating writers and engaging personalities. Today, I'd like to introduce Rich Hill, a skillful writer of enjoyable, often humorous, slices of his life gathered into two memoirs -- Lake Effect: A Deckhand's Journey on the Great Lakes Freighters and Hitchhiking After Dark: Offbeat Stories from a Small Town.
So, let's see what Rich has to say today.
RICH: As near as I can remember, I have wanted to become a writer ever since I was about eighteen. There was a need that I slowly became aware of to express myself in some way. Over the years, I've found outlets through music and woodworking. I have played the drums in a number of different rock and country bands and still jam regularly with friends and other local musicians. With a degree in Art & Design, and a concentration in furniture design, I started building one-of-a-kind designs, then entering a number of art fairs around Michigan, only to discover that this was a hell of a way to make a living --- feast or famine. My wife and I eventually segued into a retail business custom finishing wood furniture. We live near the eastern end of Lake Superior just outside of Sault Ste. Marie.
WALT: When did you start writing and what inspired you to start?
RICH: When I was fresh out of high school, I found a job as a deckhand aboard the lake freighters. Running across so many colorful characters and situations, I began keeping a journal and continued for many years. Journaling has helped me to record how I felt at particular times in my life as well as some of the key moments and events as they happen. Looking back and rereading these journals has helped me tremendously in writing some of my stories.
WALT: Can you identify any books or authors that influenced your own writing?
RICH: I've always been a big fan of Thoreau's Walden. For me, that book crystallized the power and importance of the individual and showed me the value of being a nonconformist, challenging society's accepted ways. It was a breath of fresh air that has never left me. Also, I would have to say I have been greatly influenced by the writings of Garrison Keillor, the affable host of Prairie Home Companion every Saturday evening on public radio.
RICH: After eight months of making very little progress in lining up a traditional publisher, I joined UPPAA and discovered a fine group of people who had similar concerns. UPPAA prevented me from making many rookie mistakes that could have cost me dearly and also gave me confidence to self-market my books. Writing and marketing are very solitary pursuits, so it's helpful and encouraging to be surrounded by kindred spirits.
WALT: Do you have any lessons-learned you can pass along to other writers considering the self-publishing route?
RICH: Self-publishing should be your first resort. Although it can be a lot of work at times, it's a great feeling knowing you have complete control of the process. And what a time to self-publish! The internet has opened so many doors so quickly, it's mind boggling. There are so many tools and resources available to writers and self-publishers that it's difficult to keep up with them all. Look for recommendations for good resources from other writers and publishers. That alone can save you valuable time.
WALT: What avenues have you pursued to market your books and which have been the most successful for you?
RICH: I have knocked on the doors of many bookstores all over the U.P. as well as northern Michigan, and that has been fairly successful if not costly in terms of driving time and expenses. I have found it very helpful to enter book award competitions and occasionally win something. That makes marketing a bit easier. And getting your book reviewed and posted online seems to always help out. What has not worked very well for me is gathering long lists of bookstores and doing a blind mailing. Unfortunately, that was a total flop. I speak at various gatherings during the year and usually do well with the back of the room sales afterwards.
After lowering the prices significantly, as a trial, my eBook sales on Kindle and Barnes and Noble have picked up quickly. I have also had very good luck selling my books through Lightning Source. After setting things up with them, the work is virtually effortless. And they are a very professionally run company to deal with.
WALT: What's next on your writing horizon?
RICH: I have been flip-flopping on various ideas so much lately, I'm starting to feel like a politician. I am considering a humorous look at building my log home, all the fits and starts and unbelievable missteps that came my way. The other book I want to pursue is long series of interviews with people all over the Great Lakes Region who have worked in some capacity in the shipping industry; I would gather together their best stories over the years from working on the lakes. Meanwhile I continue to write in my journal whenever something striking comes along.
WALT: Your books are both, at heart, memoirs, a genre that has caused a lot of debate over the past few years. What's your opinion on the issue of how much fabrication is acceptable when writing a memoir?
RICH: To be credible with your reading audience, a memoir has to stick fairly close to the truth, the basic gist of the real story. But I feel that a writer has to take poetic license occasionally to "round out" a story and make it more interesting. As long as the story doesn't wander too far off track, I find it acceptable to embellish slightly. I don't quite mean what Mark Twain suggested: "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story." I lean more towards Davis Sedaris' viewpoint: "My stories are realish."
WALT: Now for the kind of question that most writers hate to answer: Can you provide a two-sentence "elevator pitch" for each of your two books?
RICH: Lake Effect: A Deckhand's Journey on the Great Lakes Freighters --- A deckhand's coming of age story of sailing the Great lakes steamboats during the social and political turbulence of the early 1970s, Lake Effect is a vivid and memorable account, told in an entertaining style, of life aboard the giant ore boats. Come aboard for the Journey!
Hitchhiking After Dark: Offbeat Stories from a Small Town --- A wry and irreverent collection of stories, Hitchhiking After Dark offers a comical and sometimes ludicrous look at growing up and working in small towns, mostly in northern Michigan. This memoir is eccentric, often outrageous, but always engaging.
WALT: Finally, is there something you wished I'd ask but didn't?
RICH: "If you didn't earn a dime from your writing, would you continue to write?"
Of course, most of us would prefer to be paid adequately for the work that we do. On the other hand, writers will always have a need for self-expression, a condition without a price tag. We write to entertain, to inform, to share experiences...and always will.
Thank you, Rich!
If you're looking for some well-told stories about growing up in small towns or coming of age on an unusual job, check out Rich's books on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or ask for them at your local bookstore!