• City Room: Finding the writer within
    December 29,2012
    Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo

    Lloyd Devereaux Richards, author of the new thriller “Stone Maidens,” sits in his Montpelier home Friday.

    Lloyd Devereaux Richards is a stubborn guy. That’s a good thing when your novel is at stake.

    The Montpelier resident has walked that long, hard publishing road with his first novel, “Stone Maidens” — a journey that started more than a decade ago with an idea and extended through revisions until it became something he could show an editor.

    Then it became subject to constructive criticism (and the not-so-constructive versions as well) before it went — a rather far cry from his original idea — to another editor. Once it got the attention of an agent in 2010, “Stone Maidens” had picked up steam.

    Writing a novel is a journey that can take years. And for Richards, it did.

    The payoff is an acclaimed first novel — a thriller — that not only represents the sum of the parts of his hard work but is truly a summation of some of the key lessons he’s gleaned throughout his life.

    What makes that even more impressive is that Richards was not a writer. He became one.

    For 28 years, he worked as a lawyer for National Life. He moved here from New York after a friend had recommended the job to him. He wrote a few legal articles in journals, but his life was not rooted in writing.

    Richards, now retired, likes to draw — perhaps doodle is a more accurate description. He has little scenes drawn on scraps all around his house. He has written many poems, none ever published, but he has used both as creative outlets.

    Then, in the late 1990s, he took a writing class that a friend was offering at a local college. He wrote an autobiographical work that really got the teacher’s attention. It had legs, the teacher said.

    But, the professor cautioned, the jump from writing to publishing was too great for a non-writer — and even some accomplished writers.

    So Richards started thinking about writing and stories and fiction. The scraps of paper and small notebooks in which he jotted ideas started to coalesce. And soon the germ of an idea came to be.

    He spent weekends and evenings (between work and raising his three children) writing. With the idea pouring out of him, he lost 40 pounds “burning the candle bright” until that idea came more deliberate and fashioned.

    “I had to teach myself to write,” he said. “It was hard work for me. … I had to smack into a lot of walls and get a lot wrong.”

    He sought advice from friends who taught writing. He read lots of books on writing. He read lots of thrillers by scores of authors.

    Finally, the self-taught exercise started to pay off.

    An old girlfriend with anthropological interests turned into his protagonist, FBI agent Christine Prusik. His own anxiety issues were written into her character. A key piece of the investigation — carved figures — had been part of Richards’ own course of study at one point. (In fact, he maintains he has a novella-length substory just on that part of his novel.)

    The story tracks the investigation of a serial killer in the Midwest. (Yes, I am deliberately keeping this vague so as not to spoil any of the intricate, well-crafted story lines.)

    He sent off manuscripts to publishing houses that came back as fast as he could mail them out. “The mailman must have been sick of me. At least his carrying arm was,” he said.

    Finally, after his sister published a memoir, she directed Richards to her editor, who gave “Stone Maidens” a look.

    While HarperCollins had eyed the novel and St. Martin’s Press was eyeing it at the time, Amazon.com, which has its own publishing house, was the one that bought it.

    “It was such a relief,” Richards said, except that the expectation was that Prusik would return for a sequel.

    Richards is researching for that now.

    The soft-spoken man, a true perfectionist, speaks of writing today like it is his lost love. He longs for his time to write, create and revise.

    “Enjoyment of the process as much as my dogged perseverance kept me pushing the story forward, finding fresh improvements, ratcheting up the tension, tying the hunter more inextricably to the hunted, gaining a stronger, clearer foothold in my book’s inner meaning — the universal story it revealed about human nature — the book was actually yielding itself to me ...” he wrote in an email. “There is no denying how lonely the world of writing is much of the time. But authorship is not a solitary experience, not if I was serious about publishing.”

    Because of Richards’ “never quit” attitude and his devotion to craft, the lawyer truly became the writer he wanted to be. He has his name on the cover of his book to prove it.

    Lloyd Devereaux Richards’ book, “Stone Maidens,” is available at Bear Pond Books and Amazon.com.

    Steven Pappas is editor of The Times Argus.

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