FROM READERS: Local author shares experience of writing first book

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 | 10:00 a.m. CST
Richard Houston is currently working on the second novel in the Jacob Martin series. He shares an excerpt from his first novel in the series, "A View to Die For," and some insight into his writing process.

Richard Houston was as a carpenter and roofer for 20 years while working his way through college. After earning a bachelor's degree in math he spent the next 25 years as a successful software engineer. He now devotes his time to raising his great-granddaughter and is currently working on the second novel in the Jacob Martin series.

Like most English students (my college minor), I’ve always wanted to write a book. It only took me thirty years.  I started “A View to Die For” shortly after we moved to the Lake from Colorado. I had been working on several novels using Colorado as the background but never got beyond the first chapter. Then shortly after moving to Missouri I discovered a cave on our property. This was about the same time that the History Channel was airing an episode of Jesse James and the Golden Circle and how they had hid some of their loot in Kansas. Well, I thought, why not Missouri too. These guys were from Missouri — could they have hid money on the Osage?

I went back to my computer and started writing. I didn’t have an outline; I only had an idea where the story was going. It was more fun than anything I’ve ever undertaken. It was like watching a movie that I’ve never seen before. The characters just came from nowhere and seemed to write their own story.
The creative writing courses in college always said “write what you know”, and “show – don’t tell.” Those were the only two criteria I used. My protagonist is part me and part what I would like to be. The other characters are composites of people I’ve know and some I wish I didn’t. Fred, the golden retriever, is himself.

The result of these experiences is "A View to Die For." It is a mystery novel of a divorced, over-40, outsourced software engineer, Jacob Martin and his dog, Fred, who leave their Colorado retreat to help out family.

His sister has been arrested for the black-widow murder of her fourth dead husband and his father is on life-support. Jacob tries to solve who really killed his sister's husband, but not after hunting for a stash of gold coins buried by Jesse James, and a brief love affair with a beautiful nurse.

I want to share an excerpt of the book:

The cave itself looked more like an Anasazi cliff dwelling than the dark hole I had envisioned. It was simply a very large, deep depression in the limestone bluff. Fred had managed to make it to the cave before me – several times before me, in fact. He would run ahead, turn around and look at me as if to say, “Are you coming slowpoke?” then come back to see what was taking me so long.

That’s when I saw the footprints. A cold chill came over me and stopped me dead in my own tracks. We were not alone. The prints had to be fresh because they were as deep and visible as mine and Fred’s. There were none of the tell-tale marks of boots or tennis shoes. The stranger must be wearing street or dress shoes or the prints would have left grooves like my hiking boots. Fred stood at my side panting while I tried to listen for the intruder. “Quiet, boy,” I whispered. It did no good. I couldn’t hear anything besides Fred’s panting. Whoever had been here before us was gone now.

I followed the foot-prints to the cave. Other than a still damp spot next to the wall of the cliff where someone had recently relieved himself, there wasn’t much else to see. There were no signs of digging or anything – just the spot on the wall and ground. I went up to the wall and made my own contribution; not so much to mark my territory, but to gauge the height of the intruder. I figured he had to be less than six feet tall because his spot was several inches below mine. Of course, he could have been much more endowed than I, in which case all bets on height assessment were off.

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.

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