Thursday, August 8, 2013

Feature on Mystery Writer T. Dawn Richard

Christal Cooper – 1,791 Words
Facebook at Christal Ann Rice Cooper

Mystery Writer T. Dawn Richard:
A Whole Lotta Readin’ To Do
A Whole Lotta Writin’ To Do
A Whole Lotta Livin’ To Do

         There is that famous Stephen King saying, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others:  read a lot and write a lot.”
         There is that great school of writers who agree with King but feel he has left out a third very important component to being a writer:  to live a lot.
         Mystery writer T. Dawn Richard has done all three all of her life and to the fullest.

Richard always had a love for words, which she says, is partly due to her voracious-reader parents and her many visits to the library.  Her first book memory was when she was four years old, reading Dick & Jane, while in the car, driving to Texas to visit relatives.

         Richard, along with her four siblings, grew up in Montana to a Southern Baptist Minister/Missionary and his writer wife.  She became a voracious reader of animal classic stories such as Where The Red Fern Grows, The Yearling, Old Yeller, and Black Beauty.

         When she was ten years old Richard wrote her first short story called The Reincarnation.
         “It’s about this boy who is reincarnated into different things until he turns into a rock.  Then his mother comes along and says, “What a pretty rock and drops the rock into the family aquarium.”
         Richard continued to write but held a variety of other interests – including cheerleading, basketball, track and acing all of her English classes. 
In 1978, right after high school graduation, Richard attended Judson Baptist College in Portland, Oregon, where she received her greatest compliment.
         “My college literature teacher gave me an A+++ on a paper I did on Interpretation of Shakespeare – King Lear.  She talked about it in class and because of that one paper I found the confidence to finish college.”

         Judson Baptist College moved to another city in Oregon, and Richard decided to stay in Portland to work.  Richard, like her father, felt that her career calling was that of helping people.  She worked with the elderly and handicapped children, and later moved to Washington and California where she held nursing positions. 
She then enlisted in the army where she worked in the medical field:  combat medic, ambulance driver, labor and delivery, pediatrics, and physical therapy.  Her first assignment was in Bremerhaven, Germany.

         “I worked lots of nights in this old German-turned-Ameican hospital.  There were stories about these secret tunnels occupied by Nazis to escape to the North Sea.  It was always a rumor.  The idea of a ghost story sparked my interest.  I wrote a short story called The Tunnel.”
         Richard entered into the Reserves and moved to Monterey, California where she studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute.  She then moved to San Angelo, Texas where she majored in psychology at Angelo State University.  She also took creative writing courses, one in which she had to write a story in 200 words or less.
         “It was about a man on death row and the doctor who was going to have to pronounce him dead.  My professor was reading my story and said, “This is the way it should be done.”  I had never felt such a rush.  I was honored and it gave me confidence that I could actually do something with my writing.”
In 1988, a semester before Richard was scheduled to graduate she was bitten by a brown recluse spider and almost died.  She was admitted to the hospital, where, at first, doctors thought she had leukemia.  She managed to overcome her illness and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.

         Richard worked as a civilian intern in the Air Force Palace, Acquire Program where she was an instructor teacher, technical trainer, and curriculum writer.  Her first job was at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio where she also attended the University of Texas at San Antonio working on her master’s in Adult Education.
During this time Richard began writing her first novel, about a college professor’s involvement in an espionage ring.  She never turned it in because she felt it was bad writing, but continued to write, even after having two babies, a busy career, and being a full-time graduate student.  

         Richard began writing her “labor of love”, her second novel The Medicine Tree, which takes place in 1960s Seattle, about young brothers Rick and Corey, who run away from their father to find their missing mother. 
         “It’s a sort of lost-in-the-wilderness story.  The brothers come to the edge of a cliff and get stranded and they meet a young Native American girl, Raven, who is in search of the medicine tree.  In her village everybody is dying and she sets on a horse to find the medicine tree.”
         During the ten years of her writing and research, Richard learned that there are numerous Native American tribes who believe medicine trees hold special healing powers that can be called upon by a villager, such as Raven, by laying totems, which helps them to appease their gods into granting their wishes.
         In 1998, she moved to Spokane, Washington where she attended her second of many writing conferences.  The first writing conference she attended was in Texas, but her second conference in Spokane changed her life as a writer.   
         “It spurred me ahead – and that’s where I met editors, agents, and writers.  I got the big shot of adrenaline, energy and inspiration and I got serious about thinking I could send what I wrote to be published.”

Richard attended the Pike’s Peak Writer’s conference in
April of 2000 where The Medicine Tree placed 3rd in their Paul Gillette Memorial Writer’s Contest. 
Richard made numerous changes and revisions to The Medicine Tree throughout the years before she made the big step submitteding The Medicine Tree to publishers and agents only to receive rejections.
         She received a little sense of inspiration during a writer’s conference in Whitefish, Montana when her writer friend Cindy showed her a newspaper article.   

         “It was an article about the medicine tree with the headline “Historical tree survives Bitterroot fires of 2000 but succumbs to powerful wind.”  It was rumored that somebody poisoned it and after it died, the heavy storm blew it over.”
         The medicine tree that was destroyed was the specific medicine tree Richard was referring to in her novel.
         After ten years, the seriousness of the novel took a toll on Richard, so, to escape the dark side of writing she began another novel – a comedy-mystery titled Death For Dessert.

It took Richard four months to finish her first draft of the 260-page long book Death For Dessert.  Richard attended another conference, the Whidbey Island Conference in Washington state, where Death For Dessert received a good response, and Richard’s short story The Deacon’s Closet placed second in their writing contest.  When she returned home she received more good news. 

         “I got a message from an agent I had been trying to get in contact with, Robert Brown of Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency.  He said he wanted to get in touch with me and wanted to sign me on.”

Brown sent Death For Dessert to numerous publishing houses and one publishing house, Five Star Publishers, was interested.
Death For Dessert was published in hardback and in large print in 2003.
Thus far Richard has published four books of the May Bell List Mystery Series:  Death For Dessert, Digging Up Otis, A Wrinkle in Crime, and Par for the Corpse.

The heroine of these books is senior citizen May Bell List who solves crimes in her bumbling and silly way.  Kirkus Reviews described Richard as “A kind of geriatric Janet Evanovich.”    

         Richard’s advice on how to become a better writer is to read voraciously, become aware of one’s senses, and to write every single day.

         Now that Richard’s children are off to college she finds more time to write and to do other things.  Her daily routine is household chores, working in the stables with her horse Khyssie (, training for a marathon, the occasional writing commitment, and writing, which she normally does in the evening. 

          “I'm working on three projects:  a young adult novel, a mystery, and a screenplay. I work on plotting stories or I edit but when I'm energetic I add to my pages until I notice the clock is heading toward 1:00 a.m. I try to end what I'm working during an exciting event so I can pick up where I left off the next day. If I'm bored with my writing I'm sure my reader will be, too!”
Even though she has an office, Richard finds more
inspiration writing in bed or in the living room with the television on.  When she does final revisions she has to have total silence.  
Her greatest challenge is not writer’s block but being satisfied with what she writes. She helps conquer this by writing something every day even if she doesn’t feel like it.
         “The stuff I write might not be wonderful, but it’s a way to “prime the pump”.  You would be surprised what comes out after you give yourself permission to be awful for a few pages.  Once I begin a story the inspiration follows!  I love to see what my characters do, what they say, and it’s so fun to throw problems their way and see what happens!  I do plan my stories, but I leave enough wiggle room to veer off if things don’t go according to plan”

Richard resides out in the country in Spokane, Washington with her husband Glenn and their four children Genny 24, Calin 22, Jesse 21, and Summer 20.

“I live in one of the most beautiful areas of Washington state. We're close to fruit and vegetable farms and during the summer I can drive five minutes from my house to pick my own cherries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches and apples. We are surrounded by towering pine trees and live peacefully with coyotes, wild turkeys, deer, the occasional moose, and plenty of incredible birds. In the winter bald eagles perch on the trees outside of my windows. Raccoons drink from our cat bowl on the porch and at night the stars are brilliant, not muted by city lights. It's not easy living here in the winter when the snow can fall for days at a time but everyone in my neighborhood has learned to adapt and we help each other. Having a tractor with a plow helps! It's a very close community and I can't imagine living anywhere else.” 

Email Richard at for more information.  All of Richard’s books are available on iPad, Nook, Kindle, Amazon, and at Gray Dog Press (

Photo Description and Copyright Information 

Will be posted on Friday August 9, 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment