Island author never knows where her characters will take her
As islander Saralyn Richard sat down to write her second murder-mystery novel, she only knew two things about the direction she would take: The novel would involve another case for detective Oliver Parrott and it would take place again in Brandywine Valley, Pennsylvania. Other than that, Richard had no idea where the story was going — until she got there, she said.
“I know my characters very well,” said Richard, who recently released the novel “A Palette for Love and Murder.” “They ‘tell’ me what’s next. I don’t do an outline for the plot. I just let it evolve. If it is too planned, it is not a pleasant experience for me or the reader.”
Richard, a Galveston native, returned to the island in 2005 and moved into the house her parents owned since 1963. She and her husband, Ed, remodeled the house in 2007 and then Hurricane Ike destroyed it in 2008. The experience of living through a hurricane in Galveston has given her material to someday write another book based on the 1900 Storm, which originally drew her grandfather to the island from Latvia to work on the reconstruction.
“I can now describe the sights, smells and sounds of the destruction after our experience in Ike,” said Richard, who has since rebuilt the home.
But for now, she’s focused on her latest book. It centers around the art world in a peaceful Pennsylvania township near Philadelphia and some rather complex relationships involving residents there.
“There is love and there is murder and there are relationships that are complicated and not always involving trustworthy people,” she said. “They are not impervious to tragedy in their lives and the secrets they keep.
“It doesn’t matter how much money someone has — whether they are rich or poor — but how they handle their relationships, which can be troublesome for anyone.”
This new book, although not a sequel to her popular “Murder in the One Percent,” revolves around police detective Oliver Parrott, who is drawn from the personalities of young men Richard taught in inner city schools, she said.
“I really love him,” she said. “He’s my guy.”
There are fewer characters in “A Palette for Love and Murder” than in her earlier book. But Richard was able to dig in deeper this time to develop these characters for her readers, she said.
“They all have a little something of me in them, but they aren’t me,” she said. “I just try to put myself in their shoes to create them. They are all very real to me and I love them all — some more than others — and I just hate killing them.”
Before she was an author, Richard was a public school teacher and administrator in Chicago. In Galveston, she regularly teaches popular classes in creative writing and literature in University of Texas Medical Branch’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, she said. Since childhood, she has been an avid reader of mysteries, fiction and non-fiction and focuses on the writing style, storylines and characters of other authors, she said. She likes to encourage others to write and has “complete admiration” for people who are trying to learn the trade, she said.
Her first book was a children’s book, “Naughty Nana,” which features a very bad shaggy sheepdog, which actually is rooted in reality. Richard owns Nana, an irrepressibly exuberant pup who has become somewhat of a celebrity with children and adults. The theme of the book, which has been published in eight countries and is narrated by the dog, teaches children to be nice and not naughty. Nana has made more than 100 visits to schools and since 2013 has been an unofficial ambassador dog for Galveston.
“She’s a diva now,” Richard said.
Richard already is planning her next novel, which won’t involve Parrott, but will be fiction, she said. And once again, there’s no outline or strategy.
“I want my writing to be real, organic and evolve,” she said. “I realize that after I write a book, it is no longer mine. It is the readers’ and what they bring to it changes the context of it. It is their interpretation and their understanding of the story. Actually, I learn from my readers.”
Richard plans to launch her new book this month.