PUBLISHED: 4:50 PM on Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Juneau man writes first novel
When Richard Ritter was a young boy he wanted to be an architect, which he saw through. He's now the chief school architect in the City and Borough of Juneau's engineering department.

Also at a young age, Ritter wanted to write.

With a portfolio of stories and journal entries, he dabbled with words as a hobby. But with a bit of prodding, Ritter started work on his first novel, "Toil Under the Sun," six years ago, which is now on sale.

Ritter's two sons attended school in Montana, and Ritter attended a seminar at the school devoted to help people find a purpose in life.

"We did these sessions all day, and then had to go home and journal for hours. The next morning you were supposed to write down the first occupation that came to mind. Writing came to me. The next day you had to commit, they call it a bodacious goal, so I committed to writing a novel," Ritter said.

"I got myself in deep. One lady committed to taking a multivitamin everyday so I may have overdone it."

Ritter said making the commitment to write the novel was the most difficult part of the process. He said the outline took about six week with the first draft taking 17 months.

After a heavy revision of a second draft, Ritter gave his novel to a group of people to read and critique.

He used the suggestions to make a third draft, then realizing he was missing some key skills in his writing. A six-month sabbatical gave him time to read several books to acquire the skills he wanted to include in his own writing.

"I read seven or eight books like a college course. I would highlight, mark the books, take notes and basically ran myself through the ringer," Ritter said.

  Richard Ritter
"One of the things missing was I felt like I was being too cute with words. There was something in my mind, an image, and I was caught up in words and realized there was a breakdown in what I was writing and the image. That's why that fourth draft was brutal because I was so self-critical, and I ended up rewriting whole sections."

He said the storyline of a young man who was adopted and goes to the Korean War came to him quickly.

"It is a work of fiction but as with all works of fiction it has semiautobiographical stuff. My dad was in the Army in the Korean War, one of my sons was in the Marine Corps, and both of my sons are adopted," Ritter said.

"The primary subject is about the child's belief that they are not worthy of love because they have been relinquished by their birth mom. That's the fundamental premise of the story.

"Even though there is the backdrop of the Korean War, it's not a war story. I basically wanted to explore this idea that an adopted child does not believe they are worthy of love because of a deep sense of relinquishment or abandonment."

He said that while both of his sons don't agree with his concept of adoption and abandonment, his research has supported his theory to an extent.

"I'm an advocate of adoption but I don't think the child comes out of the womb as a blank slate and you just hand the baby over to the adoptive parents and it's just smooth sailing. There's a fundamental bond between the birth mom and the child in the womb," he said.

"I don't know how to describe it but it's physical, spiritual, emotional - however you want to say, and when that child comes out it expects to be with its birth mom and when it's handed over to strangers, it knows that. It creates a sense of abandonment that carries with them forever, that was the main theory of exploration," Ritter said.

"I had the notion I needed a desperate situation so the character could have their epiphany. It's not about war, that's just the backdrop. Not that I believe we should go to war all the time, but basically the world has been at war almost constantly, and I'm fascinated by that whole idea and why we do it.

"When you come right down to it, the men and women are really not fighting patriotically for their country but they're basically trying to protect their fellow soldiers, marines and sailors. They're doing it for their buddies."

After several revisions Ritter sent his novel to be published. His wife Kristine Larson Ritter designed cover.

"She supported me through the entire process. It wouldn't have happened without her support and her creative guidance," he said.

"It's interesting when I finally sent the book in, I went back and forth - there would be a sense of accomplishment and then the next day a sense that I didn't do as much as I could have."

Ritter will hold a reading and book signing at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 14, at Hearthside Books in Nugget Mall.