Paperback Writer welcomes on this first Monday in April, humor novelist Richard Arneson, author of the novel, Citizen Dick.
Richard Arneson’s thirteen years working in corporate America drove him up a tree―literally. Once he escaped the telecommunications industry after ten years of service, he built a tree house―ostensibly for his two young sons―installed electricity and cable TV, and set out to fix himself, deciding that dealing with the memories of working in the goofy-as-hell world of corporate America could only be accomplished by getting them down on paper. CITIZEN DICK is the result. Arneson is currently working on his next novel, THE TREE HOUSE, which, ironically, is not being written in his tree house but in the cab of his 1950 Chevy pickup truck. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife, a two-time cancer survivor who can’t remember why she married him, and their two young sons. He plans on building a second story on his tree house in the summer of 2010, one large enough to accommodate a baby grand piano and two dental chairs. Find out more about CITIZEN DICK by visiting the website at
Welcome to Paperback Writer
Q: Do you plan your stories first with an outline or does it come to you as write it?
A: I definitely need some type of outline to start with, but when I think about how Citizen Dick ended up when held up against the original outline, it’s pretty amazing how many circuitous routes it took to get there. It’s like somebody giving you directions to a restaurant, but you take a slightly different route because it’s more interesting, but you still end up at the right restaurant. I knew where point B was, but I didn’t know exactly how I was going to get there.
Q: Do you know the end of the story at the beginning?
A: I do. I have to know where I’ll ultimately end up. As I mentioned above, I’ll take any number of routes to get there, but I have to know where I’m going. When I review what I’ve written the day before, I always ask whether or not it supports the story, whether or not it’s forwarding the plot and characters to ultimately get to point B. If it doesn’t—even if I think it’s brilliant writing—I’ll cut it out. If it doesn’t forward the plot, it’s really wasting the reader’s time.
Q: Do you have a process for developing your characters?
A: I like to visualize them, then hear how they talk, determine what part of the country—or world—they’re from. I love character building probably more than anything else in writing. I love to think about what type of person they are, then build a life behind them, let the reader know why they are the way they are and why they do the things that they do.
Q: It is said that authors write themselves into their characters. Is there any part of you in your characters and what they would be?
A: I’m definitely in many aspects of Dick Citizen, especially his belief that things even out, that if you have a super high in life then there must be a super low to counter balance it. I don’t believe that as much as I used to, but, around the time I was in college, that was something I thought about a lot. I think I sabotaged myself on several occasions, even opting out of potentially good experiences because of what I thought might be lurking around the corner. God, I read that and it sounds so pitiful. But it was, for a long time, the way I thought about things.
Q: What is your most favorite part about this book?
A: I loved writing the chapter about the big corporate sales kickoff, which was based on the dozens or so that I’ve actually been to. They’re so moronic, and the only thing the salespeople really want to do is get drunk and laid. But before they can, they have to sit through inane presentations and these silly, sorority-like skits in which senior executives perform in an attempt to make their thousands of subordinates in the audience believe that they’re really good, fun people after all.
Q: When in the process of writing your book did you begin to look for a publisher?
A: I began looking for a publisher after I completed the first draft, even though it was about 700 pages (the final book is about 400 pages). But I knew I was onto something, even though dozens and dozens of re-writes awaited.
Q: What struggles have you had on the road to being published?
A: I think giving somebody’s opinion too much weight has probably been the toughest thing. When I’ve heard something negative, I take it too personally, then start to doubt myself. But when I go through the Citizen Dick, I’m glad I didn’t change anything. I was very selective when it came to editing out parts that I didn’t think forwarded the plot, so I’m very comfortable with the finished product. And I remind myself that there were people who hated certain pieces of literature, even though they went on to be—for the most part—critically acclaimed. You can’t please all of the people. You’ve got to keep reminding yourself of that.
Q: What has been the best part about being published?
A: Seeing the finished product, then flipping through the pages and thinking, Wow, this is mine. This all came out of my head. It’s definitely one of the 3 or 4 biggest accomplishments of my life. It’s the most proud of myself that I’ve been in, well, maybe ever.
Q: What do you want readers to remember and carry with them after reading your novel?
A: I’d like them to remember the characters, even more so than the plot. I hope that I’ve crafted characters they’ll take with them, that they’ll remember. I like to imagine readers saying to themselves, or to others, “Is that a real Kent Battdarfen or what?”
Q: Do you have plans to write another book?
A: Yes, I’m currently working on The Tree House, which is loosely based on my experiences building this very “controversial” tree house that I built for my sons. I say controversial because my neighbor—a real sweetheart of a guy—hated the project so much that he called Code Compliance on me and tried to get the project shut down.
I admit that I got carried away with the tree house, eventually extending conduit out to it, then putting in air conditioning, cable TV, a phone line and an Ethernet jack. In fact, it’s where I wrote the majority of Citizen Dick. My kids don’t spend nearly as much time up there as I do. It’s really an office more than anything, which makes my neighbor hate it even more. In fact, he won’t refer to it as a tree house. He calls it a lookout tower. Weirdo.
Q: Where can readers find a copy of your book?
A: It’s currently available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com and Borders.com. It’ll be in stores around the first of the summer.
Q: Do you have a website for readers to go to?
Absolutely. It’s http://www.citizendickthebook.com.
Thank you, Richard, for sharing your book with us today. It has been a pleasure and I hope you have a successful virtual book tour.