Richard Stickann to discuss new novel at Columbia bookstore

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:31 p.m. CST, Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Richard Stickann is an alpaca farmer and writer. He recently wrote his second novel, "Hobbledehoy Boy," a tale about an awkward boy trying to navigate his way to manhood on the South Side of Chicago.

ROCHEPORT — Every morning, Richard Stickann puts on his boots and heads to the barn with his wife, Catherine.

They work together on the daily chores — mucking the floor, shoveling grain into bins for their 19 alpacas and caring for two dogs, four cats and a bird.

If you go

What: Local author Richard Stickann will be reading from and signing copies of his second novel, "Hobbledehoy Boy."

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Yellow Dog Bookshop, 8 S. Ninth St.

Cost: Free admissions; copies of the book will be available for $13.95.

Call: 442-3330

When Stickann returns to the house after the chores are done, he shifts gears mentally from farmer to novelist for much of the day. Writing has become a way to come to terms with a childhood in a middle-class Chicago neighborhood that is starkly different from the way he lives now on seven acres near Rocheport.

The disconnect between his childhood in the South Side of Chicago and his adult life in the country was the inspiration for "Hobbledehoy Boy," Stickann's second novel.

The book was published in September on an independent platform and will be the subject of a reading Wednesday at Yellow Dog Bookshop on South Ninth Street.

Like Stickann's first novel, "Glory Be to the Father, the Son ...," the second book is a coming-of-age novel about growing up in Chicago amid family turmoil and internal conflicts over faith.

Quest for manhood 

"Hobbledehoy Boy" follows a character named Kirk through adolescence on Chicago's South Side. Unlike Stickann who eventually moved away from the city, Kirk is stuck in an urban cocoon and bedeviled by temptation.

Advice from the adults around him adds further bewilderment. His mother and older brother nag him relentlessly about his inability to score a date, and he feels as if the girls his age are mocking him.

A passage from the book describes him this way: "Kirk really didn't know what he was; not so much what he was, but what it was called or even if there was a name for it. Whatever the term, he knew it had a lot to do with sex — never having it when he wanted it and having it when he shouldn't." 

Stickann and his protagonist had in common awkwardness with girls and an unsteady ascent into adulthood. He was always shy, he said, and hardly dated. At one point he flirted with joining the priesthood and was enrolled briefly in a seminary.

But Stickann, 64, always wanted to be a writer. As a boy at St. Patrick Grade School, he had a knack for writing science fiction stories, which sometimes unnerved the nuns.

As he grew up, he abandoned the idea of joining the priesthood, but the passion for writing never wavered. Stickann studied political science at Eastern Illinois University, but it was an English class that captured his imagination and continues to inform his writing.

He is still in touch with the professor, Roger Whitlow. 

"(Roger) just didn't get you thinking about the literature we were reading in class," Stickann recalled. "He went beyond that and talked about the world around us." 

Life and writing

These discussions encouraged Stickann to think about the connection between life and writing,  between reality and a fictional world. 

It was around this time that he met his future wife.

During their 42-year marriage, Richard and Catherine raised four children together while he worked for the Missouri Senate and the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Stickann continued to write, but it was always a sideline, never more than a few freelance magazine writing jobs at any given time.

Work and family constraints made it hard for Stickann to focus on the novel he was trying to write. It came together gradually over the course of his career, and in 2001 he released  "Glory Be to the Father, the Son ..."

Nine years ago, when Catherine was looking for a way to supply material for her fiber art, she asked her husband, "What about alpacas?"

The couple purchased land in Rocheport and every April, the alpacas are sheared and the fiber is turned into shawls, scarves and other products. 

Stickann retired in 2008 and worked part time until 2012 when he was finally able to focus on writing and the farm. 

Move to the country

Stickann writes every day, some days more than others and usually with his wife on her loom in the same room.

Just as the couple collaborates on other tasks, Catherine also had a part in the book as an editor and cover designer. Working with CreateSpace, Stickann completed the book with only the help of his wife and daughter.

When Stickann thinks a book is ready, Catherine and daughter Keturah read it for errors, adding a few suggestions about the content.

They understand that his work is fiction, but both women agree that they have gotten to know him better through the novels. 

“I feel like there’s a special part of his brain that only comes out in his writing, and I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to know him that way," his daughter said. 

He's even been able to impress his former English professor with the novelist he's become. 

After reading "Hobbledehoy Boy," Whitlow sent him a letter: "I read your novel—a considerably most sophisticated take on the teen-years, sex dreams, fantasies and assumptions of boys than 'Catcher in the Rye' — closer to Roth's 'Portnoy's Complaint.'"

"Very nicely written," he wrote.

Next steps

On Wednesday, the public will have a chance to interact with Stickann at the Yellow Dog Bookshop, 8 S. Ninth St.

"It's a great way for people to meet and be aware of writers in the community," said bookstore owner Joe Chevalier. Copies of "Hobbledehoy Boy" will be for sale at the store, but the book can also be purchased online

Chevalier said Stickann's view of adolescence is a powerful way for readers to relate to the novel.

"It looks at an adolescent boy who doesn't know what he's doing," Chevalier explained. "It brought back memories from junior high and high school." 

The book can be especially relevant for older readers who could revisit their youth through the lens of old age, he said. Stickann agrees that sharing common experiences can be meaningful to readers.

"I want people to read the book for the same reason any artist wants people to view his or her creations," he said. "What is created is a personal expression of that artist whether it be a painting or sculpture or book. Any creation like that should be shared with others." 

Stickann is already busy working on his next book. It will be months before the novel is published, and he's still not quite sure what the title will be.

It's about a priest who wrestles with his vocation. Again, the subject recalls a struggle Stickann went through early in his life.  

"It's not about religion, but more about who he is as a man," he explained. 

That's a common thread that runs through much of Stickann's work — how men relate to their fathers, how they negotiate the awkwardness of those teenage years, how they struggle with who they are and what they're meant to become.

For his part, Stickann never thought he'd become a farmer. But he has become the writer he wanted to be. 

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.

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Matthew Schacht March 4, 2014 | 10:18 a.m.

A nice story on local writer Richard Stickann. Thanks for the timely article on the release of his new book and his presentation at Yellow Dog bookstore.

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