Oakland Trib Interview
Give ‘Em Hill: Never too old to start living the dream
By Angela Hill Oakland Tribune
Sunday April 29, 2012
Richard Wren is living the dream.
Not the one where I’m in a really cramped elevator and the buttons don’t work and the elevator misses my floor and just keeps going up and up and finally opens onto a super high rooftop and there’s no railing around the edge and I freak out and wake up half dangling off the side of the bed, which surely doesn’t mean anything at all.
No, I’m talking about the more pleasant dream of writing mystery novels, starting my own publishing company, making my own deadlines, occasionally sipping iced tea in the backyard and maybe building a planter or two for strawberries in the spring.
Richard, who resides in a lovely home in the Oakland foothills with his even lovelier high school-sweetheart wife, Betty (they both went to Oakland Tech), has not only accomplished all of the above, but is also one of those annoying people who has developed a happy regimen of writing at least three pages a day without fail, immersing himself in a world of characters, counterplots and copyrights and pounding out a book in a matter of months — all while I toil away with barely two synapses to rub together, trapped by daily deadlines, constantly on the verge of bypassing them because the buttons on my keyboard don’t work and …
Anyway, Richard published his first book last fall, an Oakland-based mystery called “Casey’s Slip” (available on Amazon in hard copy and e-book form). In addition, he already has a second novel in the bag (“Joshua’s Revenge,” to be released in June), plus a booklet on writing books, plus a third mystery in the works, plus a slick website, plus dozens of ideas “circling around” in his head at any given moment.
Left to his own literary devices, he can turn a phrase on a dime into a 400-page novel.
The plot thickens
Oh, and he’s 86. Did I mention he’s 86? Well, he’s 86, and this is a brand new career for him after more than six decades in the insurance business specializing in estate-tax planning. He’d always wanted to write, always had a rambunctious imagination, coming up with fantastic bedtime stories when his four daughters were small — things like how a wee hamburger yearned to be a beefy New York steak (maybe he could publish a children’s book and call it Casey’s Slab!). But he never took pen to paper back then.
Now with fingertips to keyboard, he has completely reinvented himself (he even pitched the headline for this column: “Old Fart Gets New Start”) and is working toward his very own dream.
“My dream is to be known in Topeka,” he said chuckling between sips of iced tea in his backyard, winking a sea-blue eye and showing off his new strawberry planter. “Or it could be Cleveland. That’s good too,” he said. “The point is just to have a legacy, a little bit of a reputation as a writer out there in the world.”
So far, he’s becoming well known locally through networking and book signings. But the day is young and so is Richard’s spirit, so anything can happen.
Just as it does in his books.
Art imitates life?
“Casey’s Slip” is about a happy-go-lucky guy who delivers sailboats up and down the coast, docks one day in Oakland’s Fifth Avenue Marina and soon finds himself knee-deep in the midst of murder charges, biker gangs and turmoil.
Now they say you should write what you know and, surprisingly, Richard knows about all of these things. (Some, like the murder charges, only vicariously through a son-in-law police detective — whew!) But he certainly knows Oakland firsthand, having lived here since age 3. Plus he and Betty are seasoned sailors, having owned four boats over the years.
And a good friend of his is a Hell’s Angel.
That one requires some explanation.
Turns out Richard and Betty always kept their boats at that Fifth Avenue Marina, which if you don’t know, is filled with, oh, let’s say, free spirits — it’s a little bit artist colony, a little bit ThunderDome. At the time, there were a couple of Hell’s Angels on live-aboards, and “for some reason, nobody ever stole anything around there, so it was a good place to keep your boat,” Richard said. One of those gentlemen became a lifelong pal and is the basis for a character in the book. “Fortunately, he got a kick out of it,” Richard said.
Well, if Richard can churn out the books, then maybe I can too.
Yes, I will get right on it.
Not today or the next because, well, I have to go to the store and then, let’s see, wash my hair and then I’ll probably have to go to the store again and …
But at least I can dream.