Thursday, April 23, 2015

Interview with filmmaker and debut novelist Richard A. Lester

Debut thriller novelist Richard A. Lester is my guest today. He’s talking with me about The Check Out. You’ll quickly see that Richard isn’t new to writing by any stretch.

Richard A Lester is an American writer of short stories, screenplays, and novels. He has worked on productions for Azbest Films and Piano Man Pictures. His debut novel, The Check Out, was nominated for a Southern Independent Booksellers Award in 2014. The audio version of the novel received the award for Best Narration, Male in the 2014 Television, Internet, and Video DC awards for narrator Steve Ember.

Richard's first independent film will have clips featured in an upcoming program on The Weather Channel. He has a short form documentary, as well as a noir inspired short film coming this year. In addition, Richard and his music will make an appearance in the horror film I Filmed Your Death in 2015. The film stars Micheal Horse, Lloyd Kaufman, and The Monkees' Peter Tork.

Welcome, Richard. Please tell us about your current release.
The Check Out is a “satirical thriller,” similar in style to Carl Hiaasen or Christopher Moore. It’s about a group of shady employees at a failing grocery store who become mired in their own bizarre circumstances. They each decide to steal $10,000 worth of prize money from the store on the same night. As you can imagine, things don’t go so well for some of them.

What inspired you to write this book?
I actually worked at a grocery store for a while, and I would get bored rather easily. I know it’s hard to imagine that a grocery store wouldn’t be the most exciting place to work! To pass the time, I would come up with crazy scenarios that could happen. I’d look at a customer and create a back story for him or her. I’d catch a line of a conversation that would make me laugh, and riff on that in my head for a while. I had written scripts for a number of years, and worked on a few films, so I always kept these ideas around for a future project. One day, they all clicked in place, and I decided to try my hand at a novel.

Excerpt from The Check Out:
The flow of smooth jazz overhead was shattered by the booming voice from the Megasaver’s intercom. It was gruff, proud, and threatening. All around the store, employees stopped and raised their heads like obedient dogs. They abandoned customers and tasks alike as they awaited their master’s command. Everyone that is, except for Maxine Watkins.
            Maxine walked toward her cash registers with deliberate ease and stared straight ahead. She nodded and said hello to everyone that she passed, and even stopped a few times to give directions. She showed absolutely no sign of acknowledgement when she heard her name ring from the overhead speakers. She smiled and kept walking at her own pace, refusing to be disturbed by the little man above her.
            Maxine stood at five feet two inches, about the same size as the chip on her shoulder. Her curly, dark hair was pulled back, and she peered out at the world through large, dark lenses in frames that were twenty years old. She found no reason to update her style of dress, nor had the money to do so. In the five years she had worked at the MegaSaver, she had amassed just enough money for a small apartment a few miles away, a used Pontiac Grand Prix that barely got her back and forth to work, and the paperwork that finalized her divorce. Though it wasn’t a lot, and she wanted better, she was proud of what she had, and protected it fiercely.
            “Miss Maxine!” a short, chubby woman in a MegaSaver polo shirt exclaimed as she trotted up to her supervisor. “Mr. Larry just paged you! Didn’t you hear?”
            Maxine huffed with indifference and walked up to her nest at the customer service desk. Her eyes scanned the counter as she mentally took inventory of her clipboards, staplers, tape dispensers, paperwork, and various other items.
            “Miss Maxine!” the chubby cashier repeated with panic, as if Maxine had missed it the first time.
“Yeah, I heard him.” Maxine idly replied as she began rubbing cocoa butter lotion over her dark skin. She massaged her elbows and arms until her skin gleamed in the fluorescent light.
            The chubby girl’s breath grew more forced as she stared at Maxine, waiting for something to happen. Maxine continued kneading herself, purposefully ignoring the office above where she could feel Larry’s eyes blazing towards her. A wry smile crossed her face as she set the lotion down, only to pick up a pencil, and begin writing something unnecessary on a sheet of paper.
            “But Miss Maxine!” the chubby girl protested.
            Maxine lowered her pencil and turned towards the chubby girl.
            “Listen, child. If you jump just one time when a white man tells you to, he will own you the rest of your life. You understand that?” Maxine’s voice held more anger than she meant for it to.
            The chubby girl took a shocked step backwards.
“But, I’m white…” she stammered.
“Hmm,” Maxine said as she resumed her needless scribble. “I guess that’s your problem, sweetheart.”

What exciting story are you working on next?
I am putting the finishing touches on a short that I directed last year. I hope to have that in some festivals late this year and next. As for writing, I have started on my second novel. It is connected to The Check Out, as a sort of prequel. It can easily stand alone, so you don’t have to read both to understand the story. It’s a different type of story with a darker tone. I’m really excited about how it is going so far.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I have written stories and things since I was a child. I wrote and directed an independent film about 12 years ago or so. Since then, I’ve written numerous scripts, short stories, and now novels. I suppose I considered myself a writer most of my life. Now that I have a novel out, it does feel more “official.”

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
At this point, I do work a regular 8-5. I also work a lot in independent film. When I have a novel that I’m working on, I spend a long time gathering ideas and working them into a loose outline. When I feel that I have enough of an idea of where things are going, I start writing the first chapter. I make sure to schedule at least 3 or 4 days where I have a few hours to write. Weekends are usually spent writing for most of the day. I try to take a break from film while I write and vice versa. They are such different ways of telling stories, and I enjoy all the different aspects of both.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I’m not sure. I use a lot of flashback in my writing. I like starting in the middle of a situation and then showing how the character got to that point. Usually, the path is a strange, crooked one.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
That changed every day. Some days, I wanted to teach. I also wanted to be a famous rock musician. Once, I even wanted to be a seismologist!

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
If readers enjoy The Check Out, I would invite them to visit my web site ( or to see all of the movie projects that I am involved in. We have produced a couple of exploitation themed shorts, a documentary about a car museum, music videos, and my film noir short. We have a lot more scheduled for the future, including a space hero web series.


Thanks, Richard!

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