My name is Richard A Lester. I am a filmmaker and author. I have worked with Azbest Films, Piano Man Pictures, and a number of other production companies. My current novel is entitled The Check Out.
Tell us about your latest book.
The Check Out is a satirical thriller in the vein of Carl Hiaasen or Christopher Moore. It is about a group of devious grocery store employees who end up in their own dire circumstances. The only way each of them can find a way out is through heisting $10,000 worth of prize money that the store is giving away. It will only be there for one night, so they each have to make their move. As you can probably guess, it doesn’t go so well for some of them.
What do you have coming out in the future?
I am currently putting the finishing touches on a short film that I directed. Stacked Deck is a noir inspired piece about a man with a unsurmountable gambling debt, and the toll it takes on those around him.
I am also working on my next novel. It is still in the early stages, so there isn’t a lot I can say about it just yet. It’s going to be darker than The Check Out, and with less humor.
What genre do you enjoy writing the most and why?
I really love the horror and thriller genres. I believe that the best works in those styles are character heavy with the plot serving as transportation for them. Horror is especially fun, though, because you get to add some humor and think of insane ways for people to meet their ends. It’s also the easiest type of project to “sell.” All you have to do is say “It’s a horror film,” and people know what they are in for.
From where do you draw your inspiration?
I spend a lot of time with my eyes and ears open. I soak up every interesting piece of conversation I hear, or thing that I see. I jot them down or type them into my phone. Once I have enough little bits swirling around, I try to put them together in some order. Most of the time, I see or hear something that instantly sparks, and it becomes clear how to tie them all together.
Do you ever base your characters on real people in your life?
I try to base all my characters on certain qualities that people I know have. I have to be able to reference their personalities or behaviors, so I take aspects of people I know and shape those into the characters. I don’t believe in taking someone and directly putting them on the page. That would be a violation of privacy. By the time I’m through with the character, the initial inspiration would have no way of knowing who it was based on.
What authors inspire your writing?
Carl Hiaasen and Christopher Moore are big inspirations. I love absurdity, and I believe they get it perfectly. Life makes no sense whatsoever. I enjoy seeing best laid plans go up in flames. Their books magnify that idea so that it is more obvious, but I believe you can see examples in almost everything that happens.
I also like Stephen King. His early books are great character studies, and excel in creating ambiance. ‘Salem’s Lot is a fantastic example of taking a personal struggle and projecting that into a supernatural element.
Donald Ray Pollock is a recent writer that has really blown me away. He came from a dismal town in Ohio, and his work reflects that bleakness. His characters are so well written, and you can feel the desperation eek from the page. I am studying his book The Devil All The Time as I am writing my next novel.
What kind of books do you like to read?
Interestingly enough, I read a lot of non fiction. I love history and sociology. I always like to try to understand the events that occurred to lead to this point in time. I get obsessed with topics and read as much as I can about them. Some of my favorite subjects are the Space Race, World War II, and, more recently, social movements of the 60’s and 70’s. I’m reading All The President’s Men at the moment. When I’m finished with that, I have a book on the Black Panthers that I’m going to read.
How have your real life experiences influenced your writing?
I definitely take little nuggets from real life, however I distort them. I like to take something and see what would happen if I pushed it to the nth degree. I want to make it as scary as possible, or as funny as possible. Every once in a while, something is so great that it makes it in unaltered. There are a few of those moments in The Check Out.
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I work on film when I’m not writing. I love the entire process of making movies. I love sitting in a room, especially with someone else, working on a script. I like finding the right actors for the role, the locations, and getting the shots put together. The actual filming is always rough, with 12-15 hour days. However, it’s always invigorating. When you start looking at “dailies,” it gets very exciting. Even the editing process, which is the most tedious thing in the world, is great. You really get to shape your story there.
I also play guitar and write songs. I’m starting to put together a little musical project with another singer/songwriter. It’s another way of exploring characters and telling a story. In this instance, the character just happens to be myself.
What was your road to publishing like? Tell us about it.
Coming from an indie film background, I knew it would be a hard road to get a traditional publisher. I tried for months, though. I probably queried 100 agents. I had a few read the manuscript, and they were encouraging. Ultimately, the book just didn’t fit into a neat “hot” genre, and they passed. Expecting as much, I decided to do the indie published route. It’s hard work, trying to break through the thousands of other authors out there, but I feel like I have ultimate control. I have a friend who is a traditionally published author, and some of the stories she told me were cringe worthy.
For my cover, I hired a graphic artist through a web site called Crowdspring. I wanted something that looked like an exploitation film poster, and that’s exactly what I got. I did all the formatting and everything for the ebooks and paperbacks myself. It was a pain, but it saved a lot of money. For the physical copies, I went through Lightning Source, which is a division of Ingram. That way, I don’t have to keep track of ordering and shipping. I developed a good relationship with the local bookstore, and they really supported my book signing and marketing. As a result, I have done very well with the paperback editions.
How did you come up with the title of your book?
I am terrible at titles. I find it incredibly difficult to sum up an entire work in just a couple of words. This one, though, came really easily. I wanted it to evoke exploitation film titles like The Big Payback. The Check Out is a double entendre, referring to the grocery store as well as death.
It is a stand alone, however, my next book will feature one character from The Check Out. They are each written to be read alone, though. I am not really a series author. I just don’t think I could find ways to make a story interesting enough to carry it through multiple volumes. To do that, I would definitely have to involve other writers.
Do you read the genre you write for or do you prefer other genres?
I am picky about the fiction I read. I don’t stick to a particular genre, per se. I just look for well written characters and engaging stories.
What celebrity would you chose to play the main character(s) in the movie rendition of your book?
As a filmmaker, I actually completely avoid thinking of The Check Out as a movie. When I decided to do it as a novel, I made a conscious effort to separate the story from my movies. I would love for someone else to take the book and turn it into their own film. It would be great to see someone else’s interpretation.
Have you won any awards for your writing?
The Check Out was nominated for a Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Award. The award can only be voted on by employees of independently owned bookstores in the South.
The audio version won a Peer Award at the Television, Internet, and Video Association ceremony for Book Narration. I am really proud of Steve Ember, the voice actor, who produced the audio book. He did an incredible job, and deserved the award.
What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?
The hardest part is finding the time. I am always so busy, and life is so chaotic, that I have to schedule times to be an author. I am really sensitive to noise, so I have to put on headphones or find a quiet time at home to write.
What is the easiest part of the writing process for you?
Once I get started writing, it’s all pretty easy. I have my ideas mapped out well enough so that I rarely get stuck. If I do, it’s usually because I’m trying to figure out how to get from point A to B or how to make a scene more interesting.
What is your preferred writing environment?
I would love to a have a quiet office away from home to write. I have an office in my house, but there are SO many distractions. I get off track when the dogs need to go outside or the cat jumps into my lap. If the TV is on in the other room, it draws my attention. I need either a quiet room at home, or a coffee shop with ambient background noise.
How would you describe your writing style?
I would say that I am very character and plot focused. I don’t dwell on details and description a lot. I try to give enough so that the reader can come up with an image, but without bogging the narrative down. I also use flashback a lot, generally trying to tie it into what is happening at that moment.
Do you have a careful plan when plotting your stories or do you just go with the flow?
I work up a very broad outline before I start writing. I usually have the key events lined up, with a general idea of how they connect. Once I have that, I write the first chapter to kind of create the style that I want the whole novel to have. From there, I create detailed outlines of the next few chapters. It gives me a very good road map while allowing me to find more interesting paths when they pop up.
With many publishing routes available today, which felt the most reliable to you when it came to the many choices?
I’m not sure there is a reliable choice any more. Getting a book deal is very difficult, and always has been. Given the shifting trends in electronic books, I don’t even know how stable the publishing industry is at this point. Having said that, becoming an ebook author is far from a sure thing, as well. There are so many of us out there and very few ways of standing apart from each other. You have to become an author or filmmaker because you have a passion for doing it. If you make a little money out of it, then that’s a bonus.
When did you know you truly wanted to give writing a shot?
I have written short stories since I was a child. I wrote my first script about 12 years ago, and turned it into a low budget film. I’ve been writing steadily ever since. Most of those scripts never got made, but I kept plugging away. When I got the idea for The Check Out, I decided to see if there was another avenue to explore. That’s when I decided to write it as a novel. Self publishing isn’t easy, but it doesn’t demand the resources that making a movie does. As long as I have ideas, and the platform exists, I will keep publishing.