Ask the Author: Pamela Richards

“I will be answering one question a week during my giveaway of Singing from Silence. I look forward to hearing from you!” Pamela Richards

Answered Questions (9)

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Pamela Richards Although I did not date Richard, I have been called "the love of his life," even by those who object to my writing. I did encourage Richard in his career, along with others who went on to be better-known than I am. We each had our own roles in his life, and each saw him differently. I preferred to stay in the background more than others, and as gifted as Richard was, he included parts of our conversations in some of the songs he later recorded. I am glad to know his songs touched your heart!
Pamela Richards I've offered giveaways at other times of the year, but yes, this is one of the ways I honor Richard's yahrzeit. I also often light a traditional candle for him and frequently I'll travel to his grave 80 miles from my home to add a stone to it. I began this little observance because in the Jewish faith, which Richard admired so much, it is customary on this anniversary to do a good deed in the name of the one who has departed to keep his name alive. I have written Singing from Silence to pass on even a fraction of the hope, meaning and purpose Richard's life gave to me, so I am grateful on this anniversary to freely share a number of copies with the public. Thank you for caring enough to ask.
Pamela Richards Choice of subject matter is what keeps me most inspired. I like a subject I find intriguing, fascinating, beguiling. If it transfixes me enough to keep me awake at night, or if I dream about it, it could be a good topic for me.

My current subject matter is the creative process of a real-life prodigy turned creative genius, so the topic itself has opened doors and windows for me into "how to" produce creative work.

I've learned we may be more inspired to write when we build on some of our personal weaknesses in our creative process. For example, obsession is a fantastic trait for writers to exploit--which may explain why so many outstanding writers describe themselves as obsessive.

Obsessive writers probably have less need for inspiration--because they find it all around them--but more need for focus and organization. Being accountable to a writing companion has been helpful to me. I have been blessed with a writing companion who is one of my Quaker elders, so she also helps me with the practical spirituality of owning my own stuff, and letting go of what's not mine.

Pamela Richards Hi, Bill! That's an interesting question. I wonder what you mean by "unremarkable?" Most of the things about Richard that stand out were remarkable rather than otherwise. Do you mean, "difficult to deal with?"
Everyone's answer to that would vary.

My own answer would be that Richard was so sensitive, he could virtually only express his heart through his songs. Any situation that even hinted the possibility of personal rejection would result in songs, songs, and more songs. But not conversation or resolution. It couldn't have been easy to be Rich Mullins.
Pamela Richards My work in progress is Let the Mountains Sing, an exploration of Richard Mullins' creative process. There's a lot to say, because Richard was a child prodigy who grew up to be a creative genius. Not all prodigies have what it takes to make that transition, which has little to do with raw talent. I wish I could say there was a formula that any one of us could follow to travel Richard's creative path, but I don't want to mislead anyone about what the book is meant to do. I believe Richard was one-of-a-kind. And so are all of us.

The prodigy can certainly inspire us, but my premise is that he is meant as a sign to send us in the right direction, not an example to follow slavishly or an idol to adore.

Let the Mountains Sing focuses on the time frame of his formative years as an artist during Bible College. It concludes some time after that, but prior the release of the Rich Mullins album.

I believe one of the stunning things Richard can teach us is that not only can we survive our worst experiences, but that we can use them to fuel the creative process. God can make our obstacles into our allies when we Let the Mountains Sing. The book develops along themes demonstrating Richard's challenges as well as his innate gifts, elaborating on some of the life experiences that molded him during what I think of as his hidden years.

I will also be including some perspectives from a musician who played with Richard during this time. He's bringing his own gifts, speaking from the personal experience of playing with Richard, and assisting with articulating the musical side of his songs. Both of us have a pre-Zion focus, because that was the time frame of our direct first-person experiences with Richard's process. Someday there will no doubt be plenty of material written about Zion. There were so many people involved in that project, it's hard to believe none of them will have an inclination to write about it.

I also hope to include a good representation of Richard's "unknown" songwriting, describing and discussing some of his earlier works in some depth. Although these songs are presently not released in the form of an album, they deserve consideration, as many of them were created with greater artistic freedom than can be expected in a more commercial setting. Richard's faithful archivist, Beth Snell Lutz, has made many of these songs available on her youtube channel, Rich Mullins Old Songs.

It's going to be a journey, and I hope you will come along.
Pamela Richards
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Pamela Richards Thank you, JoAnn!

Now that you ask, I find I have the opportunity to answer your specific question more directly. I grew up in a family that loved reading, writing, and storytelling. All day I hid behind a book, even reading while walking home from school. Before making a stab at homework and going to bed to read with a flashlight under the covers, every night at supper I sat and listened to my father's stories of the day--the good, the bad, the mundane.

The one subject my father never discussed was his experience in World War Two, which he entered at age seventeen in time for the Battle of Okinawa. When we asked, we got very little from him but those bare facts. When I was growing up, we didn't have all the knowledge about healing trauma that we have now. His war stories would never have been appropriate for family table conversation, perhaps. But sometimes I wish he had a better outlet for his unresolved memories than nightmares.

My mother was an editor for a Christian publishing company when they met after the war--he was a graphic artist working under her direction. Despite her Cambridge postgraduate education, his command of the language was at least the equal of hers, and for entertainment, the two of them liked to place astronomical bets on the spelling or the meaning of some archaic word. "Five thousand dollars!" was the standing bet. I believe my father ended up well ahead, although he never collected the thousands he was owed.

My father was employed by a prominent printing company as a salesperson--a profession which had some resemblance to the account men described in Mad Men, but set in Pittsburgh, not Madison Avenue in New York. So I grew up around wordplay and to some degree, the publishing business.

All of this emphasis on language I carried with me when I met Richard Mullins during our freshman year of Bible College. Of course, I never imagined that I would write about him some day. But I knew he was remarkable, to be writing songs of that caliber at our age.

I have gone on to lead a life which for many years I wished I could forget.
I began to understand why my father would not speak of his war years. It was to my own surprise that I eventually began to write a memoir. I'll explain how that happened in response to the next question.

Pamela Richards I like the opportunity to make some sense of my life experiences from a broader perspective. It gives me not happiness or pleasure, but joy to organize life experiences in ways that express meaning, purpose and hope.

I appreciate simplicity, but often I have found my life isn't simple. The more involved I get with trying to look good, the sillier I look. I think God has a better sense of humor than I have, and as I write I try to learn to laugh at myself with him. Despite my wish for simplicity, I am actually drawn to complexity, so I enjoy writing about my friend Rich Mullins.

I don't rely too much on chronology to dictate the sequence of my topics when writing. There are themes I hope to pick out for the reader, and I prefer to rely on sequence to develop them. Symbolism and metaphor are also important elements of writing for me. I attempt to use them to retell anecdotes in a sequence which I hope maintains balance, tension, and cohesion for the reader.

I spend a lot of time--maybe too much!--thinking about the sequence of my anecdotes. But this is one of the parts of writing I like best. Changing the sequence of just one story alters the entire framework, and the "conversation between" the parts of the story. To juxtapose one story against a different one suggests a new way of looking at the same events and compels the writer to find a way to open interplay between the expected and the unexpected in storytelling.

This is where I believe life is breathed into writing--in the conversation that arises between the mundane in our lives, and the unexpected truth.
Pamela Richards What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

If you haven't started writing yet, do it now. And keep it up.

There are those among the wise who tell us to write what we know. For those writing in the non-fiction genre of memoir, I believe the antithesis also applies: don't write what you don't know.

The memoirist's challenge is to write from the first person. This leaves a narrow margin of subject matter for the writer, but there is the point: memoir can be approached as a discipline which confronts us with ourselves at at every turn. Honest self-examination is the touchstone of human development.

If you want to write a memoir, be guided by your life. You know your life, your point of view, your experiences. As in life, you cannot be authentic when you attempt to tell someone else's life, someone else's point of view, someone else's experiences. For example, it would be inappropriate for me as an outsider to assume I knew what someone's relationship with someone else was like. As in any matter where only two are present, I must admit I was not there. God knows what happened, but anyone else who claims to know the inside of another person's relationship is falsely claiming to be omniscient. An omniscient point of view from an ordinary human is unnecessary, unkind, unbelievable--and naive.

If you choose to let your imagination into your writing, be careful to cite your sources. "I wondered what his response would be. . ." "I dreamed of a time when the darkness would end. . ." "I drifted into a daydream about. . . " would all be appropriate. It's also a good idea to mark your return to reality so the reader does not become confused. ". . . but today it was raining, so there would be no picnic on the hillside. I picked up my Art History textbook and flipped through the pages."

Even when offering suggestions about what I think may have motivated someone else's behavior, I am better off providing clear reasons for any deductions or guesses I have made and claiming them as guesses, not facts. I can explain my thought processes, but to describe my opinions as though they were irrefutable facts leaves me open to valid criticism.

It would be incredible for me to claim to know every moment of another person's life, or everything they thought or felt, no matter how well I believe I know them.

I could state with integrity, "She claimed their relationship was on hold, but I did not believe it." This statement may reveal the writer as callous, suspicious or lacking in empathy, but it isn't speculation; I am speaking for myself and no one else. It's a statement I can genuinely own.

If the writer went on to give her reasons for doubting the relationship was as described, she could recount the couple's actions that led her to her conclusions. At this point, the honest writer may grapple with the issue of whether she feels inclined to overstate her case because she is biased: is she jealous of this couple? Is her assessment based on intuition, information, or involvement? After all, she was not present during the couple's decision-making process. Writing with discipline and integrity forces us to examine ourselves as we write. As an honest memoirist, I can admit to my fears. "I was reluctant to be caught up in this couple's mess," is a frank admission which flatters or favors no one, but at least it earns the writer credibility for confessing to human limitations.

What if this event is a turning point in my story? If my former misjudgment of this couple's status has now become a matter of critical importance to me, I can use this incident to demonstrate falling on grace as an example of a weakness of mine which ultimately reveals God's strength. If this is the hinge your story turns on, it needs to be given more focus than other minor incidents in your work. Prepare to involve these individuals in your writing process if you plan to publish. Privacy laws, which protect the rights of private individuals to be left alone, vary from state to state.

Journalists may make exceptions to the rule when in their writing when they claim "the public has a right to know," a story, but few memoirists are members of the press.

On the other hand, if I recognize that I have deliberately distanced myself from this couple's sticky situation and I believe I was right to do so, I may begin to question why I need to include their story in my account at all. Is there a reason why I feel the urgency to address an issue that does not directly involve me? Are the events of my life in some way contingent on my understanding of their story? Is their presence in my book important to its theme? If not, am I muddying the waters for my own amusement at the expense of others? If I can eliminate this material entirely without losing the focus of my work, perhaps it would be wise to do so.

One example of specific behavior can tell us more about the people in your non-fiction work than a thousand speculations. Make sure these incidents are ones you witnessed, not rumors based on second-hand stories or gossip. These anecdotes will become as subject to the readers' interpretation as they are to your own. Vulnerability happens. Just remember you own your point of view. You were there. Know your truth. Claim it. Stand on it.

If you need to tone your claims down, do it boldly, as in, "I can never know the truth behind the rumors that circulated about their relationship status." A statement that acknowledges limitations rings true to human experience and declares respect for humanity at large. Know your truth: even when integrity insists you temper your statements, the truth will not let you down.

Writing with integrity reflects the greater challenge of living with integrity. That alone is a very good reason to write.

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