Behind the story

Rhobin Courtright asked: “Most novels have an easily understood point to make to the reader. Do your stories ever have more subtle or intuitive themes?”

One of my clichés is, you can’t even write a shopping list without revealing your value system.

My values are:

  • Above all, do no harm. If we can, do good. If we can’t do good, change the situation until we can.
  • All of us are apprentice Buddhas. This means that insofar as we can, we need to act as if we were already enlightened.
  • Live simply so you may simply live: wealth can cost more than it is worth, but it is greed rather than wealth that does the damage.
  • All living beings are my family.
  • Never tolerate unfairness, bullying, discrimination, but the perpetrator also deserves compassion.
  • Even what kills me will make me stronger.

I am not saying I always live up to these values. Being an apprentice implies making mistakes — and learning from them. All we can do is the best we can do, at any moment.

These values have evolved over time. My early writing, such as many of the stories in Striking Back From Down Under and the Stories of the Ehvelen were more about just retribution than about compassion.

Nor do I shout them from the rooftops. I hate people preaching at me, and so refuse to do it to others. Occasionally, one of my characters may make an impassioned statement. One example is the final pages of Ascending Spiral.

Another example is from my as yet unpublished Doom Healer series: Bill Sutcliffe’s speech at the Australian National Press Club, toward the end of the first volume.

However, mostly, my characters do their thing, and I report their actions, words and thoughts, and they are all through the filter of how I see the world. Some of these people have similar filters, others entirely different, or even completely opposed.

Here are the first few paragraphs of The Greatest Force in the Universe to show what I mean:


    Alexandria, 682 AD

    Bdud Mara, Emperor of Magog, hugely enjoyed his ongoing project of creative writing. He’d written an amusing insertion into the Torah: the episode of Sodom and Gomorrah. His first draft was already brilliant, but now, now he inserted the crowning act of genius, having Lot offer his two virgin daughters for the crowd’s sexual enjoyment in order to protect the visiting ‘angels.’

    This was a superb addition to his previous tweaks to Moses’ legacy, like stoning adulterers to death, and guilt carried for the third and fourth generations — what a wonderful tool of control!

    Then, to further another project, the depiction of females as stupid and wicked, he had Lot’s wife be punished for an idiotic act, then his daughters to commit incest with him. The main tool for subjugating women was the revision of the writings of St Paul, but it was good to provide multiple sources.

    This project was secondary to the work of dividing Islam into Sunni and Shia, with great promise of perhaps centuries of hate and fighting. Meanwhile, in Europe, his soldiers were using greed, always among the best of tools, to corrupt the Church.

Bdud’s value system is the opposite of mine in every way — but I can sense my disapproval of his attitudes even while I faithfully report his thoughts and emotions.

Hit and Run has upfront, visible themes: the terrible damage abuse of children causes; the power of compassion; the way a positive role model can lead a youngster to a personality transformation. In addition, as Rhobin’s question implies, there are also subtle themes, never stated but there. I did not deliberately insert them, but they came through because they are on my list of values.

If you have read this book, you might be kind enough to let me know if you have spotted these subliminal themes. If you haven’t yet read this book, WHY NOT?

(Sorry. I promised Rhobin that for once I’d give a serious response. Well, I kept it up to the very end, but then succumbed. You can’t teach an old wombat not to dig holes.)

I’ll be interested to find out what my fellow round robiners have contributed. Have a look with me, AFTER you have commented here of course:

Rhobin L Courtright
Helena Fairfax
Fiona McGier
Anne Stenhouse
Skye Taylor
Connie Vines
Diane Bator
Victoria Chatham
Judith Copek

About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
This entry was posted in Rhobin's round robin, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Behind the story

  1. I like your principles. I think there is far less angst in life if you can live simply to simply live.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your five values, Bob, and I like how you say you don’t shout them in your writing. This is the type of book I really like to read – something with a message that isn’t hammered home, but is thoughtful and makes you think about how you live your life.
    Please don’t ever read my shopping list 🙂 Thanks for the great post!


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you Helena.
      The greatest praise for any of my book is when a reviewer states it kept them thinking about things for a long time.

      Liked by 2 people

      • fionamcgier says:

        That’s the whole point of reading, right? To think the author’s thoughts–in essence, to become the author, albeit briefly. With a good book, or even just a well-constructed sentence, your brain can gnaw on the ideas for quite some time. What a joy!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dr Bob Rich says:

        Thank you for coming back, Fiona. For some reason, WordPress allows me to reply again to Helena’s post, but not to your comment.
        I don’t know that I have ever become Wilbur Smith of Dick Francis or Hemingway, but I have sometimes become their characters.
        Have fun and stay safe,


  3. fionamcgier says:

    I love your 5 things to live by. See, we don’t need 10 commandments. We only need to remember your 5 things, which are all variations on the “treat others as you wish to be treated” Golden Rule. Every religion in the world has a variation on that, but none of them actually walk the talk. I especially love the 3rd one about greed.

    There’s an old anecdote about one time when Kurt Vonnegut was walking into a rich man’s party with Joseph Heller. He asked Joe how he felt knowing that the guy had made, in one day, more money than Catch 22 had made since it was published. Heller remarked that he had something that man would never have–“the knowledge that I’ve got enough.” How much misery could be avoided if we all had that knowledge?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Fiona. That’s a new story to me, but I could have added “too much is worse than too little” to my list. That’s an essential Buddhist value.


  4. Rhobin says:

    My grocery list tells a lot about me. Someone else buys the groceries and makes a lot of changes. It says a lot. You put into words the values I believe, especially all life being family. Many people disregard the chain of life concept, which is bringing disaster to our families.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Rhobin, years ago I joined your Round Robin because I was impressed by our similarity of what we considered important. Now all we need to do is to convince every politician and CEO to agree with us.


  5. Skye-writer says:

    I love the idea that we are all apprentices of Buddha. It’s a theme that runs through my life and who knows, may do so subtly in my writing.


  6. Skye-writer says:

    I love the idea that we are all apprentices of Buddha. It’s a theme that runs through my life and who knows, may do so subtly in my writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. i love that phrase ‘through the filter of how I see the world’ Bob. Sums it up for this month. anne

    Liked by 1 person

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