About Richard A. Thompson

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I was born in Austin, Minnesota, whose only claim to fame is that sixty-some years ago, it gave the world Spam. Real Spam, that is, the kind that comes in cans. My parents were farmers turned townsfolk, children of the Great Depression who spent all their lives trying to run away from poverty and never quite felt that they had made it. My father worked two full-time heavy jobs all his adult life, and my mother buried money in Mason jars in the back yard, because banks, like all big institutions, were not to be trusted. For all I know, some of it is still there.

The earliest ambition I remember was to be a comic book artist. Later, when I learned that there was such a category, I wanted to be a sculptor, the Henry Moore of the prairie. I never even considered writing in my youth, mainly because what I learned in the public schools was that writing was something teachers assigned as punishment, for transgressions that were never actually named. Books, I assumed, were written by incredibly smart people who knew all about life, had a million stories to tell, and probably also had rich patrons.

At about age 14, I learned to pour and finish concrete, never imagining that I would spend the next fifty years involved in construction in one way or another. For then, it was just an incredibly hard summer job that earned me more money than all my friends put together.

After high school, I went to Macalester College, in St. Paul, to major in mathematics and studio art, not because I thought they logically went together but just because they were the two things I did best. I also seemed to be working on a minor in folk music, playing my banjo and home-made twelve-string guitar in the coffee houses around the universities in the Twin Cities. I had an academic scholarship at Mac, but it didn't cover any living expenses, and I dropped out after two years, having learned exactly how the term "starving artist" came to be a cliché. I put my artistic urges behind me and soberly went back to the world of construction to make a living.

It was the 60s, and the military draft was hungry for college dropouts. On the assumption that I would rather find myself saving lives than sitting in some rice paddy trying to take them, I enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. It was a decision I have never regretted. After a four-year hitch, I went back to college on the GI Bill, this time in civil engineering. I got my degree in 1977 and my professional engineering registration ten years later. I also became certified as a Minnesota building official, and I spent twenty years working for the City of Saint Paul, as the Senior Building Inspector and later as a design engineer.

By the mid90s, I had lived in six different states, been impoverished and well-off and in all stages between, snatched hapless souls away from the angry sea, and worked on every size of construction site and in every capacity imaginable. And I had accumulated a lot of stories. I began to write them down. And I found that doing so satisfied all the creative urges that I had pushed sternly aside so many years earlier. I was hooked.

I started taking classes and going to workshops and conferences and reading authors I wanted to emulate. I wrote a lot of bad stories, then better ones that occasionally sold to obscure publications. I wrote science fiction, mystery, horror, memoir, and a lot of stuff that has no label. I wrote a novel about the construction industry, called Carpenter Gothic, which is about 200 pages too long and has enough characters and sub-plots for three more novels. Someday I will go back and retrieve those three and do them right. In 2000, I wrote a short story called "Numbers Game" for the Boney Pete competition at the Bloody Words mystery conference, in Toronto. It won, and after one more mediocre novel, I went back to its main character and its narrative voice to create Fiddle Game. It took a year or so to write, three years to sell. And the rest, as they say, is current events.

Now I live in a 104-year old house in St. Paul, with my wife of 44 years, Caroline, a semi-feral cat named Nikita and a more sociable one named Charlie. I have two adult daughters, Mary Gwen and Andrea, of whom I am immensely proud. I don't think of myself as a joiner, but I am a member and former chapter officer of Sisters in Crime and a member of Mystery Writers of America, Crime Writers of Canada, and the International Association of Crime Writers. I also belong to the Experimental Aircraft Association, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Minnesota Historical society, Chi Epsilon and Tau Beta PI honorary engineering fraternities, and probably half a dozen other things that I only remember when they send me a renewal notice. I play tennis four days a week and 12-string guitar a bit less often than that. I build museum-quality ship models, go for long walks, and write. And write. And write. It's a good life.

10/15/2007