Mystery Writers Key West Fest: Murder and Mayhem in Paradise!

Author Rick Ollerman

I was born in Minneapolis some time in what seems like the distant past. My parents told me I taught myself to read using the Sunday comics and a particular comic strip that showed each letter of the alphabet and, apparently, how to use it. This might be so. I've read of other people who have made that claim themselves. Regardless, I was an early reader. The Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigaorsi, biographies, history, pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I won the reading contests at the library in Simsbury, Connecticut for a few years.

Like many people I followed a trajectory of science fiction to westerns and on to crime fiction. I still read what a good amount of science fiction, especially when I walk outside and see the stars and the Milky Way shining down on my house in the New Hampshire north country woods.

I have a huge shelf full of true-adventure books, covering mountain climbing and exploration, the Mahdi uprising, the search for the Northwest Passage (and subsequently the search for John Franklin), the quest for the source of the Nile, treks across Australia, Livingstone and Stanley's adventures in Africa, etc. There is always more.

I'm also a huge Custer fan. We know him now as a soldier who was massacred by Native Americans near the banks of the Little Bighorn River. Many people were massacred through that period of history. What really made Custer important to the culture was that he was already a household name, a Civil War hero whose exploits helped save the day at Gettysburg, who led many charges into the face of the enemy and losing horses but escaping serious injury himself. Why was history so boring in school and so fascinating in real life?

Anyway, after attending the University of Minnesota, I left for the great state of Florida where I was a skydiving junky for many years. Team competition, coaching, and participating in organizing and being part of world record dives was a consuming passion. This is why Joan Collins and I appear in the same issue of LIFE magazine. I've also been on CNN and other programs, some for good things, others for more tragic ones. I'm one of the bodies on a poster that can be seen in the opening credits of the American version of "The Office" television show.

I was also an extra in the movie "Purple Rain." When I saw the film on opening night from the back row of the crowded Skyway Theater in downtown Minneapolis, my date shouted out, "That's you!" Toward the beginning they cut to a shot of my own self filling the entire screen, dancing away to the music of The Time. I loved those guys. I met them playing basketball in south Minneapolis.

So I was born in Minneapolis, moved to Chicago, then to Simsbury, Connecticut, back to Minneapolis and then down to Florida, where I've lived for most of my life though currently I have a house in northern New Hampshire.

I started writing books a long time ago though finishing them wasn't a phenomenon that occurred until much later. I attended a writer's retreat in the Everglades with Randy Wayne White and two-time National Book Award winner Peter Matthiessen. That whole experience turned the key that allowed me to go home and start as well as finish my first novel.

During the retreat, Randy came up to me and asked me where I wanted to go with my writing. At the time he was writing a monthly colum in Outside magazine and was just about to publish his third Doc Ford novel. I told him I wanted to be him--the travel writing, the novels that so captured the flavor of Florida--that's what I wanted.

He gave me his phone numbers and although I did call him once, I didn't want to be "that guy," one of the many that follow their writing heroes around at every convention. I'm sure Randy promptly forgot about me but the experience allowed me to gain the confidence to work through that first book, something I think every writer needs to conquer when they start out. You have to get past that point where you question what you write: is it good enough, is this too slow, is this too fast, etc. A writer has to learn to banish self-doubt and write the book that's in your head, all those other things be damned.

I now travel a bit to various conferences where I like to meet new people and make friends in the writing community. A lot of people seem to know me from the essays I've written on various writers that have been used as introductions for other books. Those are fun to write but very time consuming. The research, which is mostly reading, can consume great periods of time. Reading all twenty-two of Charles Williams' books, for example, or the nearly thirty I read of Ed Gorman's, take much more time than the actual writing. Hopefully people continue to find the effort worthwhile.

I've written a few short stories, but not many. I'd like to write some more but there are only so many hours, as they say. Regardless, I'm going to keep on writing and hope that every book is at least in some way better than the last.
Author of: Truth Aways Kills, Turnabout, Shallow Secrets; Editor and contributor of: Paperback Confidential – Crime Writers of the Paperback Era.

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