Richard Herman of Gold River published his first book, "The Warbirds," when he was 50. He has just finished his ninth novel and he may write a few more. But he doesn't define himself as a writer.
"This is my third career," he said in a recent phone interview. Herman served in the Air Force for 21 years before retiring. Then he taught social studies and English at a junior high in North Highlands. Now he's writing.
"My wife keeps asking me what I'm going to do when I grow up," he said. "I don't define myself as a writer. It's just what I'm doing now."
His fourth career may have to do with some serious sailing. He's leaving his options open.
But in the meantime he's happy with his current day job.
"My first six books were techno-thrillers. I can't complain, they got me established. But I got tired of destroying the world and building it back up," he said.
So his seventh book, "Power Curve," published in 1997, took a slightly different approach. It was a political thriller, the story of the first woman president, Maddy Turner, and her uneasy relationship with a military aide.
"She gets in a lot of trouble because she has no experience handling the military," Herman said.
He added that "Power Curve" has received excellent reviews, the best of all his books.
"My wife also said 'Power Curve' was the best," he said. "But I think my new book, 'Edge of Honor,' is even better. I could subtitle it 'The Love and Vengeance of Maddy Turner.' "
"Edge of Honor" will be out in 1999.
Herman's novels are very much grounded in reality. Uncannily so, sometimes. He says "The Warbirds" basically predicted the Gulf War. His most recent book, "Against All Enemies," had the president of the United States bombing Sudan before Clinton's air strike took place earlier this summer.
"Plot and character are important, too," he said. "I like to think I am doing character-driven action. I like action, I like thrillers. But it's the conflict that makes the person. How do they rise to the occasion?"
Herman says he reads a lot of character-driven literary novels where the action is weak. Perhaps, he suggests, the author can't think of anything for the characters to do.
Take Richard Ford's "Independence Day," for example.
"It's a great book but the thing mushes to an end," says Herman. "What has the character done? I don't write literary fiction but I write mass market entertainment. That requires character and conflict."
Herman says he belongs to a book club where members meet and discuss what they read.
"It's really an eye-opener because of the way people react to what they read," he said. "They want to talk about how they feel after reading a book. I want them to read one of my books and talk about how the characters change, what they become."
Take President Maddy Turner again.
"She has lots of areas for conflict: she's a widow, she has a personal life, she has a political career and she's a mom. But at the end of the book she's not conflicted at all and I get there through the action line."
Herman says he is part of a Sacramento-area group of writers known as "Karen and the Boys." The Karen is mystery writer Karen Kijewski and the boys are Herman, Bill Wood and John Lescroart. They get together for dinner once in a while to complain about agents and publishers.
"No one can believe we all live in Sacramento," he said. "This area is a gold mine for authors."
Herman, born and raised in Los Angeles, landed in the Sacramento area when he left the Air Force. He and his English-born wife, Sheila, make frequent trips back to England.
"But we live here because this is where I make my living," he says. He also takes research trips to interesting parts of the world although he says much of his research also is done on the Internet.
He spent nearly a month in Poland last year researching themes that will appear in "Edge of Honor." He won't say too much about the plot but it does have to do with drugs, the Russian Mafia and President Maddy Turner. He did several TV, radio and newspaper interviews in Poland, where all his books have been translated.
"I'm well-known in Poland," he said. "And so is John Lescroart."
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