Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with R.M. Ritchie

Share |
Ten Questions with R.M. Ritchie

R.M. Ritchie talks to Open Book about his novel, The Day Burt Lancaster Died (General Store Publishing House), offers reading recommendations and lets us in on his plans for his next project.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your book.

R.M. Ritchie:

The Day Burt Lancaster Died is a novel about unhealed wounds, failed dreams and guilt. I take the reader, through expansive flashbacks, into the dark shadows of the novel’s central characters, Archie O’Connell and Arthur Mudder Wosyloski, where their painful secrets are unlocked. And I might add, the novel is about hope, it’s about despair and it’s about sin and atonement.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

RMR:

No, I didn’t. Having said that, as it turned out, the novel has a firm male sensibility which may very well narrow its readership. But then, I taught The Stone Angel to 17 to 18-year-old high school kids who enjoyed the novel in spite of outwardly having very little in common with 90-year-old Hagar. My point is, if the story deals with universal themes, if the story is richly written and engages the reader at different levels, then whether the sensibility is male or female I don’t think matters a lot.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

RMR:

I write downstairs in my office in my finished basement. Before I begin writing, I put on something by Loreena McKennit. Her soothing, mystical sounds get me into a groove. They have helped me write some pretty good paragraphs.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

RMR:

In the spring of 2000, Upney Editions of Waterloo, Ontario released Walking the Skye Road to Skinidin. It’s an adventure, travel book that I put together following a walking journey into the Western Highlands of Scotland and the Yorkshire Dales. It’s lightly satirical and self-deprecating. I enjoy poking fun at myself which is easy given the fertile fodder at my disposal.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

RMR:

A large part of my book is set in the Upper Ottawa Valley. I recently spent a few weeks with friends a short distance outside a village in the Madawaska Highlands. They are good, decent folk whose ancestors are likely Scottish, Irish or Polish. Up there, to be accused of dishonesty is the gravest shame.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

RMR:

The National Dream by Pierre Berton,
Al Purdy’s North of Summer (1967) and Wild Grape (1968).
And, of course, Margaret Laurence, The Stone Angel.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

RMR:

I’m reading a book by Ahmad Rashid. The title is Descent into Darkness. The U.S and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan And Central Asia. Rashid posits that the real aim of the Taliban is not victory in Afghanistan. Its true target is Pakistan, which is very scary considering Pakistan’s 50 or so nuclear warheads.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

RMR:

I have never received advice as a writer that I can recall, good, best or otherwise. I do recall however a well-meaning publisher once telling me that if I was doing this (writing) for the money then I should forget it. "Open a lemonade stand for the summer at the end of your driveway," he said, "you’ll make more money."

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

RMR:

Be persistent and tenacious. Draft, re-draft, and get yourself a good editor. Develop a thick skin because you’ll be receiving a lot of rejection letters. William Faulkner’s, The Sound and the Fury was apparently rejected 17 times and Mark Twain self-published at one point.

OBT:

What is your next project?

RMR:

I’ve traveled to the Middle East, and I have traveled extensively throughout Italy, France and the UK. Currently, I am putting together travel pieces based on my trips. They’re coming along very nicely. I spent five years on The Day Burt Lancaster Died. Travel pieces take much less time.


Ron M. Ritchie was born in Ottawa, Ontario. He taught English with the Ottawa and Carleton Boards of Education and retired in 1997. He is married, has two grown children, and has travelled extensively throughout Israel and the United Kingdom.

His first book, Walking the Skye Road to Skinindin, a travel/adventure book, was published in the spring of 2000.

For more information about The Day Burt Lancaster Died please visit the General Store Publishing House website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

Dundurn

Open Book App Ad