“My writing often includes themes of growing up,” said Russell Ricard, author of The Truth About Goodbye. “That includes aging, family dynamics, and romantic couplings.” His debut novel does just that. Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the current New York resident has worked as an actor, singer, and dancer in regional, national tours, and international productions, including appearing on Broadway. He has a BA in Psychology from CUNY/Queens College, and earned his MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. Read on to discover why Kirkus Reviews called The Truth About Goodbye an entertaining treat for fans of LGBT romantic fiction, as well as thoughtful and endearing.
- Your debut novel, The Truth About Goodbyes just released in April of 2017. Congratulations! What can you share about the story?
Thank you so much! It’s been a long road and I am so grateful for every twist and turn and where the novel is today. The Truth About Goodbye, centered around a gay widower who happens to be a forty-year-old Broadway chorus boy who desperately wants to be a choreographer, and is stuck because he blames himself for his husband’s accidental death, sprang from all my years as a chorus boy on the New York theater scene. Like the main character, as I aged alongside the younger chorus boys I came to a crossroads: what’s next?
And even though I am not a widower, I certainly have known loss since early childhood (that’s another story) and I know what it’s like to be in love with my husband, therefore loss, or the thought of loss and renewal that would have to be struggled with from such a loss, helped me craft the novel. Any transition is a form of loss: when you wake up one day and you must re-evaluate your identity (I was a trained theater professional from the age of 10) and navigate toward a newfound place in the world it is a struggle.
I first crafted this story as a screenplay and then a stage play. Ten years ago, in my MFA program at The New School, I adapted it into a novel. Many drafts later, including rejection letters from many agents along the way, I worked with a freelance editor and did another round of pitches to traditional publishing entities. Cut to a year ago, at the Writers Digest Annual Conference in New York City where I met the wonderful publisher, Wise Ink Creative Publishing, that provides services to indie authors and decided that there were the perfect fit for help me bring this story to publication.
3) Why did you choose to go the independent route?
While I did get many rejection letters when pursuing a traditional path of publication, I did get many bites along the way from a few agents and just before I decided to self-publish had a small traditional press express interest. But after meeting, in person, the wonderful Dara Beevas from Wise Ink Creative Publishing (and hearing her business partner, Amy Quale, speak in a marketing panel) at the Writers Digest Annual Conference in NYC I decided that they were the perfect fit for my debut novel. The right decision indeed: After this experience, I realize just how much I love being in control of the process toward publication that Indie publishing allows: making all the decisions (of course with stellar guidance from my partners at Wise Ink), and all the responsibility that goes with those decisions. I’ve learned just how capable I am of running my own business, and how much I like it.
4) What is your definition of diversity? How do you encourage people to honor the uniqueness of everyone? How do you challenge stereotypes and promote sensitivity and inclusion?
Diversity is anything you are, feel you are, or feel you aspire to be—all that makes you unique and that which should be celebrated. You are entitled to define who you are. I pride myself of having a high level of Emotional Intelligence, as in a sensitivity and innate mindfulness of emotional cues that others around me give in interpersonal interactions. And I honor that in others: I work very hard to not force my beliefs, feelings, or agenda on others. I find it’s important for me to make space for others to define themselves; also make space for myself to allow my self-discovery of who I am, day by day, as a diverse person.
In terms of challenging stereotypes? I suppose I don’t worry about it. I was a brown, cisgender boy who played with dolls and trucks. By 10, I was taking piano and dance lessons and singing the scores of the musicals Annie and Gypsy, etc. alone in my room. And by sixteen I was out and open as gay in my catholic high school. Again, I’ve always just tried to make space to be who I am. Stereotypes, or not, I try hard to not judge that identity as one thing or another. Certainly, I identify as a gay, cisgender man of Louisiana Creole decent (a gumbo of ethnicities) whose lived fifty years of diversity because of all I’ve mentioned, but I strive to let who and what I am be based “my” own definitions.
5) Diversity is central to your novel – from life/death, guilt/grief, love/loss, past/present. What other opportunities have you had working and collaborating in diverse, multicultural and inclusive settings?
Beyond the scope of this interview, my life’s trajectory has been quite a fascinating observation in diversity. From childhood I have lived, worked, and socialized in vast arrays of settings and been exposed to (I’m happy to say) a multicultural life. Born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I moved to Los Angeles, California when I was eight. And for the past 29 years I’ve lived in New York City (most of the time in the borough of Queens, which is considered the most culturally diverse population in the United States). From the above, one can gather the psycho, social, racial, and economic worlds I’ve seen. Also, from a very young age I was a theater professional and toured extensively, including appearing on Broadway, so that world (the theater world) exposed me to a ton of different cultural backgrounds. P.S. I’m glad to see that the theater world is becoming (at least in the past two decades) more inclusive with casting…gaining a better awareness of “otherness.”
You capture the “psychosocial aspects of otherness: the quality or fact of being different” through the behaviors of and events that happen to your characters. How do you achieve that relatable quality in your characters while still maintaining a sort of otherness? What do you think this says about us as readers/writers?
Otherness happens to be one of my favorite words. And as I do in life, I do on the page. I allow my characters space to be, or aspire to be, who they are. Also, as in life, and on the page, I believe that every human being, at one time or another, experiences “otherness” (or at least is likely to experience it) if they travel beyond their comfort zone. And today more people are traveling outside their comfort zones and intermingling (whether they want to or not—for school, travel, interracial marriages, etc.). Even if someone doesn’t think they’ve experienced what it is to be the “other,” if they think really hard they have been just that. For example: the only one in the room with brown skin; the only one in the room with white skin; the only one in the room with red hair; the only one in the room without a child, the only one in the room without divorced parents, etc, etc.
I don’t mean to simplify the concept of “otherness,” but that’s been my observation as someone who has lived, worked, and socialized among vastly different types of populations. I suspect that even in private moments most human beings have wondered (or will wonder on their deathbed) about their “otherness,” and how and where they fit into the world around them. I’ll say, too, that I don’t think of “otherness” as necessarily a negative concept, rather a unique quality or set of qualities that makes a person who they are. And in terms of readers and writers, I think that we’re always in search of seeing the “otherness” in characters (or subjects, in non-fiction stories). Anyone invested in reading and/or writing seeks self-reflection and a better understanding of what makes us who we are—and in relationship to others in the world. I have heard that exposure to literature (particularly fiction) does increase Emotional Intelligence. It must at least exercise that part of our brain that allows for self-reflection and a better understanding of others.
What does your writing process look like?
I am very fortunate to have an amazing husband, and the ability to write full-time, because we can survive on one income. And I don’t take this for granted. My writing days are workdays. Up early: it’s either the gym or yoga and then some short meditation to prep my brain and body for the day’s writing; Breakfast; Then to my desk: It’s a black standing desk that reminds me of the rounded edges of a judge’s robe (she’s named Ruth, after Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg, because she’s tiny yet powerful when she stands—the desk’s upper platform is on a lever that allows me to raise and lower her). Alternating between a seated and standing position throughout the day (good for brain circulation and body fitness) I always start with a pencil to paper. Pencil to paper is golden. Then eventually it gets typewritten.
I assure myself to have several projects so as not to get “writer’s block” (there’s always something to work on). I act out all my characters as I write (dialogue, etc.) and also have discussions with them. I sometimes use movie soundtracks to write particular scenes, or to get into the mood of a character’s mindset—my favorite movie soundtrack composer: Alexandre Desplat. I do research. I make room for social media check-ins. I also tackle marketing during the day. It’s a business, too, remember? And finally, I read other writer’s work (across every genre: fiction and non-fiction). Reading does help my writing process.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
It’s related to my lifelong experience as a musical theater performer, but if I could focus on anything other than my writing I’d be a big band singer, one who belts out standards with a huge orchestra. Think Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, or Michael Buble, or even Michael Feinstein.
Keep up with Russell!