Richard Fidler – teacher, family guy, and history buff. These days you will likely find him on field trips noted for “mud, sand, mosquitoes and wildflowers.”
“I am overeducated,” says Fidler. He has a BA in Far Eastern Languages, BA in Biology, MS in Biology, and a doctorate in Education, all from the University of Michigan. “My education failed to earn me fame or fortune, but it did make me aware of the world around me, from the weeds in the cracks of the sidewalk to the struggles of Asian students trying to master English. I taught ninth grade biology for the Traverse Area Public Schools for 31 years, retiring in 2003. From that experience I learned the value of writing concisely and tuning my communications to the needs of my students; I learned not to blather.”
Shares the author: “Somewhere along the line I took on the role of husband and father, my wife Sharon and I looking after my son James and daughter Anna until they successfully fledged some years ago. Now I am pursuing my twin interests of history and natural history through ill-conceived book projects and field trips to places noted for mud, sand, mosquitoes, and wildflowers.”
How did you become a writer?
I’ve written most of my life—lesson plans, learning exercises for students, letters, blogs, and occasional magazine articles–but I did not write seriously for publication until after my retirement. I decided to publish my work after I was convinced that I had something to say: My books about local history fill a niche that begged to be filled. While writing in itself disciplines the mind, sharpens the intellect, and clarifies thinking, it needs to be read—even if only by a few people. I had to publish.
How do you write? What is your process?
My writing begins with questions: When was our post office on Union Street constructed? Who designed it? What architectural style does it represent? Are there others like it? Who carved that magnificent granite eagle above the entrance? And, finally, what does it all mean? What does the building tell us about the people who built it and use it today?
Then begins the research, mostly historical—and this is one of my favorite parts. I camp out at the library impressing my mark on the seat in front of the microfiche reader. I write when I have found out most of the answers, but I do not let unfinished research slow me down.
I once read in a self-help book, “Start before you are ready,” and I practice this advice constantly. I do not necessarily start at the beginning either, but get engaged with any subject that beckons. Of course, the rewriting is a painful but necessary activity, saving me embarrassment at the very least. Then, of course, you must plague some unfortunate soul with the task of reading your work and evaluating it.
Who are your favorite authors?
Oliver Sacks, E.O. Wilson, Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel.., Aldo Leopold, Henry David Thoreau, Haiku poet Issa, Chuang-tsu.
What authors have inspired you?
Kevin Boyle, author of Arc of Justice, a tale of racism in 1920’s Detroit; Buddhist author Pema Chodron; Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States.
What books are on your bedside table?
Napoleon Chagnon’s Noble Savages, Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing, Alan Brennert’s Molokai’i, The Biology of Spiders
What writing projects do you have planned next?
I have many ideas for short articles on a variety of topics having to do with local history and natural history. Am thinking of creating a venue through which new authors could get published—local publications now do not buy or print good writing—they seem stuck on writing about local businesses, presenting new recipes, describing restaurant experiences, or visiting tourist hot spots. Boring! And why does everything have to be 1500 words or less? Are readers unable to stick with anything longer? If nobody is printing good stuff, then we will have to create our own magazine, print or online. Let a hundred flowers bloom! Let a hundred zines flourish!
What advice do you have for young writers?
Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Do not aim high but aim low. Most likely you will not become a successful writer like Stephen King, but you can become skillful at using words and you can write for smaller audiences. Find something new to say, say it beautifully, and cast it into the winds of publication. You never know what will happen.
His latest book:
Fidler’s fourth book about local history, Traverse City, Michigan: A Historical Narrative 1850-2013, is published by Horizon Books and may be obtained at all independent bookstores in the area. A soft-bound book, it retails for $18.95