Richard A McCullough
I'm just a writer like you.
Richard A McCullough began his writing career at age 10 with his horror story, To Commit a Murder, loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart.
Richard has completed over a thousand poems, and dozens of short stories. His science-fiction short story, Mirror Image, was awarded "First Runner-Up" in L. Ron Hubbard's international Writers of the Future contest.
Recently, Richard completed two novels in mainstream/historical fiction and is working on a third. He has also working on completed the first two of a four-volume set of non-fiction books titled Cracking the Master Storyteller's Code, which will be available soon.
P.S. Title is subject to change with little or no notice.
Richard A McCullough believes:
"Writers are crucial to the survival of a culture.
"For a culture transmits itself to future generations through its fiction, in whatever form; be it novel, movie, short story, poem, play or song. It is not the dry, dusty textbooks that tell us where we've been, nor where we're going, but the storyteller who codifies who we are and who we wish to become.
Write on. . ."
(Please note - I'm forced to use, "Richard A McCullough" more often than prudent on this page or the dumb little search engines
won't be able to figure out what this page is about - "Forgive them, for they know not what they do.")
Richard A McCullough - the Long Biography
Only for those who are really interested.
Richard A McCullough never set out in this life to become an expert on writing fiction. But it became a matter of self preservation. Perhaps you might better understand what you'll find on this site if you know a little about where Richard A McCullough is coming from.
Between phonics and "sight reading", it wasn't until after 4th grade that Richard learned to read. And that only thanks to a white-haired teacher named Mrs. Grinner. She discovered his fakery -- and the fact that he couldn't see the blackboard from the back of the room -- and promptly called his mother on the carpet and dictated her marching orders.
"Enroll him in a Book of the Month club. Let him pick any book that he wants. You read to him while he looks over your shoulder [he was too big to sit on her lap] and then take turns. Any word that he doesn't know, just tell him what it is and keep going."
And so Richard started with Geronimo. He still remembers some of the details of that remarkable book, as well as a few of the photographs. He finished the book before summer was over and was excited to pick another. Mother insisted on Florence Nightingale -- in which Richard was completely uninterested. But he found Eger Allan Poe in the school library a week after school started and was hooked. By the end of the year, he was reading everything. The next summer Richard got glasses.
In the 6th grade Richard wrote his first short story, To Commit a Murder by Richard A McCullough, with a stubby number-two pencil on that brown lined paper - the stuff so cheap that you can see chunks of wood floating around in it.
It was torture. The pencil got shorter and the erasure wore holes in the paper.
Parts of the beginning he stole from Poe's A Tell-Tale Heart. For the middle he had to get some help from Larry Enslier. Larry's dad was a brainy guy who worked for Aerojet General Corporation, down the hill in Sacramento. And Larry, it seems, was a chip off the old block. Larry was Richard's best friend and a walking encyclopedia. If it had to do with science - Larry had the answer.
Richard's character (Mr. Smith) had committed a murder and there was a body to dispose of. Larry assured Richard that carbolic acid would do the trick. So, a bathtub, a meat grinder and a quantity of carbolic acid solved the disposal of the body.
But from there on - Richard A McCullough was on his own. Eraser crumbs flying, countless trips to the pencil sharpener, and God pity the soul who tried to interrupt him.
Mr. Smith, you see, had to get back to his apartment, up the fire escape, and past the landlady to take his morning walk (that was his alibi).
Richard managed to finish the story. But when it came back from the teacher (not Miss Grinner), it had so many red marks it looked like a measles epidemic. And Richard still can't spell for beans to this day - although he keeps working on it.
Mom helped him correct it, and then something truly transformational happened.
The teacher asked Mr. Richard A McCullough to read his story to the class.
And just when he thought it couldn't get any worse, they opened the partitions on both sides and suddenly there were three classes staring at him. There he stood: crew cut, striped T-shirt, wore-out Levi's and holes in his tennis shoes -- and nothing to hide behind except that hand full of cheap brown paper and the words so laboriously printed on them.
Richard swallowed, took a deep breath and started reading. "Louder", someone said and he started again. Three teachers and the Principal stood in the back, and 75 bright, young faces stared at him while he read To Commit a Murder by Richard A McCullough.
Somewhere in the process the room got deathly quiet and then the room itself faded and disappeared. Richard watched as Mr. Smith strangled his victim, dragged the body into the bathroom, and there with detached precision dismembered the corpse, ground it up, dissolved it and washed it down the drain.
He sweated as Mr. Smith hurried back to his apartment, only to find another car in his parking spot. Then up the fire escape, past a window where just a moment ago a yawning head poked out. And finally to his own window and a sash that wouldn’t open. Richard felt his fingers straining against the peeling wood, heard his alarm clock ticking down to 7:AM...
And then the landlady knocking, then pounding louder at his door.
He felt beads of perspiration dripping from Mr. Smith's forehead, from Richard's forehead. Felt his heart pounding in his chest, their panicked breath fogging the glass...
Then the sash flew up with a bang, the alarm went off, Smith threw a robe over his clothes and opened the door, apologizing to the landlady. "No, no everything is fine. The window... it was just stuck."
And now secure in his crime, Mr. Smith takes a walk.
Several minutes passed before the classroom came back. No one clapped. But the response was more profound than applause - it was stunned silence. Minutes ticked by before even the teachers managed to collect themselves.
But Richard A McCullough didn't ever come back - not completely. He'd been transformed. He had tasted that electric connection between the storyteller and his audience and it changed him somehow.
Decades passed while Richard wrestled, cajoled, and fought with the Muse.
In those years Richard A McCullough wrote hundreds and hundreds of poems, character sketches, story snippets, and then in the '70s he tried to quit. For almost 9 years he tried to put it out of his mind. Richard packed up all his writing in boxes and hid them in the back of the garage, buried so deep that he almost forgot they were there. Almost.
In 1980 Richard picked it up again, and went on a streak, writing a few hundred poems and short pieces, and then he decided that it was time to write a novel. Richard reasoned that he'd been practicing long enough -- it was time to write something major.
That first novel wondered off in the bushes after a couple hundred pages and died. He consoled myself with short stories and wrote a dozen, having grown tired of poetry; but something was missing - and he just didn't know what it was.
It was just a feeling - nothing he could not put his finger on - just a feeling.
One of his short stories, Mirror Image, by Richard A McCullough, won First-Runner-Up in L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future contest - close but no cigar. But what really galled him was that he didn't know why it didn't win. He submitted several others - and didn't finish even that close.
And that confused him even more. He studied all the winning stories. And he began to ask questions. What did those stories have, that his stories didn't? And he kept asking questions, and reading - and he tried to study the writing of fiction as a subject. He tried, but he had no clue where to start.
Looking back now it's easy to see one major omitted datum from his "education". No one ever told him that writing was something that could be "learned". No one ever said that writing fiction was a subject, a skill, a craft and like any other -- it not only could be learned but that it had to be learned. No one ever said, "Here is this subject - Fiction Writing - and here is where you start."
Rather, for some strange reason, Richard was under the impression that writing was an Art. And like any "art" it could only be "practiced". We can only guess at his exact rationale - but we can say that he was "confused".
Although many people told him (over the years) that he had talent, no one offered any advice on what to do with it, how to harness it.
Back when Richard was 19 he introduced himself to two guys in a bar in Washington. They were talking about "literature" so he showed them his stuff and they invited him to read at a high school - one of them was the head of the English Department and they wanted him to read his poetry for their creative writing class. Three days later Richard A McCullough had read to the entire school and they even had him reading on tape. And two weeks later he was reading at a junior high school.
There was that electric connection again -- like a copper penny on his tongue and a jolt of lightening up his spine.
But he didn't understand any of it. Where do these words and ideas come from? Where was it going? And worse still, Richard couldn't write anything for months afterwards.
Over the next 30 years Richard read hundreds of books on the subject of writing fiction. He read books on plot, characterization, dialogue, on and on, even attempting a couple courses, but they all seemed to just go 'round and 'round the subject. Something was missing, but he couldn't figure out what it was. It was like walking into a strange room and trying to spot the missing object - virtually impossible.
Then one day in 1999, Richard A McCullough got lucky.
Through an interesting collusion of events, Richard found the door to the subject.
That’s really the best way to describe it. It was a doorway leading straight into the heart of the subject. And it was the "front door" - that's for sure - because Richard already tried all the side and back doors only to find that they didn't lead anywhere.
This door had appeared by simply asking the right question.
Like the answer to many of the puzzles of the universe - the right answer depends on asking the right question. And after five decades Richard A McCullough finally happened to ask the exact right question.
The question was, "What is the Valuable Final Product of a writer? What am I trying to produce as a writer?"
He was trying to "be a writer" that was clear. But what was it exactly that he was trying to produce?
Richard quickly realized that it wasn't a "book" because a book is just a stack of paper, fastened between two covers with word symbols all over them. And it wasn't just "words" because then any words would do. No, they had to be the right words. And then it hit him like the proverbial "lightning bolt".
The word was "story". Story is what a writer is trying to produce.
"My product is a 'story'! And that's what I'm trying to produce! As a writer that's what I exchange with people for money; so that I can pay my bills, put food on the table, etc." And Richard was elated for about 30 seconds until this little voice in the back of his head demanded, "So, smartass -- what exactly is a 'story'?"
The other side of his brain froze and remained deathly quiet as the seconds ticked off... until: "Buzz! Time's up. You don’t really know what a 'story' is. Do you? You don’t really know what that word means."
Richard was flabbergasted, shocked, pissed off. For a second he considered faking an acceptable answer. But as quickly as that thought flicked across his mind it was followed by the equally shocking realization that the answer to "what is a story" was vitally important and that it couldn't be "faked".
A writer either knew, right down to the bottom of their soul, exactly what a "story" was, or they didn't.
And Richard had to admit that he didn't know. Not even close. He yelled, "Son of a bitch!" and slammed stuff around on his desk for a while. He felt stupid and cheated all at the same time. All these years, all those books, all that writing, and he still had no real understanding of what it was that he was trying to create, trying to make - that was almost too embarrassing to admit.
After the shock and humiliation began to wear off he decided, "Ok, I'll just look it up in the dictionary".
Richard started with the word "story". Which seemed logical enough, because that's the word for the thing that he'd realized he was trying to create as a fiction writer.
But as short as that definition was, there were two words in that definition that he wasn't completely sure about so -- he looked them up. And that lead to even more words. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Two years later Richard A McCullough had unraveled the subject of "storycraft". This, he discovered, is a much better word for the subject, because the word "fiction" is too general to be of much use.
In the course of this great adventure Richard at first kept a journal, which turned into writing essays (over 265 of them at about 250,000 words), each addressing specific aspects of the subject of writing fiction that he'd unraveled. In addition Richard picked up his once-abandoned novel, as a test vehicle to apply what he was learning, and finished it (900+ pages and 187,000 words). That's a lot of words and pages; writing part-time and in only 18 months.
One of the early discoveries that Richard A McCullough made, and one that you'll find he harps on continuously, is that the definition in ALL the dictionaries for the word "story" are wrong. Not only wrong but dead wrong. Not only dead wrong but so wrong that anyone trying to work from that definition will get absolutely nowhere in understanding or increasing their understanding of the subject of storytelling. For that is what we are - we "fiction writers", we are actually storytellers.
But the definition of "story" in current dictionaries is so distorted as to make the whole subject incomprehensible.
Only after many months of intensive research was Richard able to circle around and come at the subject from the back side and therefore understand what was wrong with the definition in the dictionaries and come up with something workable. But it took several more years and repeated attempts to finally nail it.
The correct definition of story is: story - a narration; consisting of an introduction leading either to an event (or two causally related incidents, culminating in an event) and ending with a conclusion of the premise of the narration.
That's the correct definition; although you will not find it in any dictionary - even the oldest ones.
I know this seems preposterous. Who is Richard A McCullough, after all, to declare that Webster's and the Oxford dictionaries and all that came after could make such an error as to completely mis-define such a fundamental word as "story"?
Consider this telling point regarding the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.
"Despite the participation of some 800 volunteer readers, the technology of paper-and-ink was the major drawback regarding the arbitrary choices of relatively untrained volunteers about 'what to read and select' and 'what to discard.' Late during his editorship of the dictionary, Murray learned that a prolific contributor to it, W. C. Minor, was in fact an inmate of the Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Minor was a Yale University trained surgeon and military officer in the U.S. civil war who had been sent to the asylum after murdering a man in London."
Click here to read more about the creation of this book and you'll see that they didn't necessarily have the "best minds" or the best tools working on it.
Richard A McCullough realized the vast majority of citations in the most extensive dictionaries, such as the Cambridge Unabridged Dictionary, are from writers - particularly novelist and playwrights.
Even a causal observation of language reveals the fact that writers own the language. We own it, shape it, and codify it by our very usage. And who is more expert in its use and varied meanings than the storytellers and writers who use it every day?
Dictionaries are a very new invention that attempts to standardize a set of definitions for words that have already been in use for hundreds if not thousands of years. And this massive work of codification was not conducted by Murray or Webster, nor any other single man, but by teams of people poring over "published" material relentlessly searching for the various ways writers had used words; and then attempting to reconcile the resulting diversity into a uniform code. But the whole system was flawed by "arbitrary choices of relatively untrained volunteers about 'what to read and select' and 'what to discard.'"
Is it then inconceivable that a word as ancient as "story" and the words that define it could have become slightly tainted? And one last thought to consider: Just how precise did the lexicographers feel they needed to be in defining each word? Certainly not as precisely and extensively as a storyteller attempting to understand and practice his craft.
Does the man that eats bread need to know as much about it as the man that bakes it?
The word "biology" might be reduced to, "The science that deals with all forms of life, including their classification, physiology, chemistry, and interactions." This might even be accurate, as far as it goes. But that definition is only a reduction, an irreducible minimization of the subject, the complete explanation of which would fill a small library. So too it is with the word "story". Its definition is merely an attempt to reduce the entire subject to a handful of words (a definition) which further reduces to a single word.
And any chemist will tell you that when you reduce something, any errors or flaws will only be magnified.
So, Richard A McCullough understood that yes, the linguists got the definition of the word "story" wrong. To casual observation, it's not so far off - but for an aspiring writer attempting to use that definition as the entry point for the subject - it's far enough off to completely bar entry to the subject.
The entry point to the subject of writing fiction is the correct identification of the product.
That product is a story or stories.
The key to unlocking that door is the precise definition of the word "story".
But Richard found the definition of "story" in all the dictionaries was skewed. So, he had to go all the way around the subject, work his way back to the front and rewrite the very definition of the subject. Richard A McCullough had to correctly redefine the word "story" itself.
In the course of which he had to more precisely dozens of other associated words. Richard A McCullough was forced to create his own dictionary - a dictionary for fiction writers - storytellers. This dictionary will soon be released as The Fiction Writers Dictionary by Richard A McCullough.
And when Richard could finally lift his head up from this intensive task, he was confronted with a choice...
Having compiled this massive amount of information on writing fiction (none of which he had ever encountered in the hundreds of books he'd read on the subject), Richard A McCullough could either:
Keep it to himself and use it quietly -- or not so quietly -- to go about writing his own novels and short stories, or...
He could share what he'd found with the world of other struggling writers.
Richard remembered himself as that 6th grader with the crew cut and the holey tennis shoes - and he decided that this information must be shared.
All of it - must be shared. So, that perhaps, just perhaps, the next hapless kid, who for whatever reason is smitten by the Muse, would have the tools and technology to causatively create his little stories - instead of struggling for five decades to comprehend the incomprehensible.
And so, my friend, we come to this website, the purpose of which is to make available the results of everything Richard A McCullough found in his odyssey to understand and control the Muse; to understand the subject of stories and storytellers.
It will take time - but it will all be here.
There are answers here now and there will be more. Answers that you may not even have questions for - yet.
And he's still questioning, still researching, and still writing - because there is a whole other section to this craft that we writers have been blinded to. That section deals with selling the stories we writers create. The publishing industry has been bleeding us dry.
Currently Richard A McCullough's collected essays on the subject of writing fiction are 265 articles at 347,000 words - not even counting what is currently on this site - and still growing.
Richard's objective is to slice and dice this subject of writing and selling fiction down to a simple sequence of understandings and practical exercises such that anyone can attack the subject from wherever they are and learn how to Write Better Fiction - Faster, with less stress and less guess, and sell more of what they write for more.
And one must be able to learn the subject quickly. The world needs more stories - they are vital to the survival of man.
And that means we need more storytellers.
Whatever the format, genre, or style you choose, Richard A McCullough's objective is to help you achieve your dreams and the purpose of your stories.
That's Richard's goal and therefore the goals and objectives of www.write-better-fiction.com
Richard A. McCullough
© copyright 2011 - Richard A McCullough is the creator & editor of http://www.write-better-fiction.com the Fiction Writers source for Writing Better Fiction Faster and Selling More of What You Write.
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