Reporter: Ellie Mahan
April 27, 2022
Murray Richter, now a published author of two children’s books, attended Whitney High School and graduated in 1988. When he moved from Alice to Whitney in the early 1980’s, he spent time fishing, skiing and soaking up all the nature and fun that Lake Whitney had to offer. His award-winning middle-grade novels, “Lucky Rocks” and “Fishing For Luck,” follow a group of best friends who learn life lessons as they go on adventures, fishing trips and pranking missions.
“Fishing For Luck” was created to be a sequel to “Lucky Rocks,” but it can also be read as a stand-alone middle-grade novel.
“The main characters are on their bikes. They’re fishing, and I think there is a huge influence that Whitney had on that, getting into trouble, getting out of trouble, all that stuff that we did here too,” Richter said.
Richter’s grandfather owned multiple companies in Whitney, and Richter has fond memories of working for his grandfather as well as fishing with him when he took the time out of his busy schedule. Richter’s favorite aspects of Whitney are the lake and the people. He said, “All my memories were such a fun time. I think it was the way the people interacted here and the way they helped each other out that has always left an impression.”
Another piece of Whitney that led him to become an author were two of the teachers he had at Whitney High School, Jay Thiele and Sandie Hanks.
About Mr. Thiele, Richter said, “He was strict but fair. Ronald Reagan couldn’t have gotten anything past him. He was amazing in that he cared about us enough to discipline us… For our senior paper, and this was before autocorrect and all that, if you had two mistakes in it, then it would be an automatic 50. It was that kind of thinking that brought you focus and helped you realize your full potential.”
Richter remembered his science teacher Mrs. Hanks for working with each student individually and encouraging them to pursue their true passion and not be swayed by the opinions of others.
When Richter first started college at University of Texas, he found his passion in helping people as a pre-med student. He changed gears when he noticed the emotional impact that laughter can have on children in hospitals. He realized that books can be emotionally healing for them and can provide some relief from the physical struggles they are enduring.
“I think they needed humor. I’ve asked a hundred doctors over the years, and they’ve all said ‘yes laughter is the best medicine,” Richter said. “A family comes in that is stressed out, and that probably can’t be healthy. There is so much uncertainty and worry. There is so much going on, and laughter can help them tap out for a bit, and just alleviate some of that.”
Before this epiphany, Richter was already considering writing down his experiences and life lessons that he had received from family members and friends so that his own children, who are now ages 19 and 21, could learn from them one day. Seeing the need for laughter in hospitals helped him create a clear audience that he was writing to.
Richter said, “Once I figured out I can do this not only for my kids, but for those kids. I can go back in the hospitals and not be the bad guy giving shots. That’s what really helped pick it up. When you really boil it down to who you’re writing to, that is when it’s best. ‘If you’re writing for everyone, you’re writing for no one,’ someone said really well at one point. That is what helped bring focus, and then it kind of wrote itself.”
Richter kept his audience in mind when writing, remembering that as long as the children he was writing for got something out of it, that was all that mattered. One of the most rewarding parts of his job is doing school presentations and book readings for entire schools or smaller classes. He feels that the purpose of his book is fulfilled when a student volunteers to read a chapter of one of his books and starts laughing in the middle of it.
He said, “My favorite part is when they’ll hit a part where they get a little tickled, and they’ll start cracking up. Then it’s like a chain reaction, and the whole class or a big chunk of kids will start laughing. That’s like music. That is better than any kind of payment.”
One thing that helped Richter take his book from a vision to a reality was joining writing critique groups. He was able to find a local group to join as well as a national group. These groups were a place to provide feedback on written work and share insight on what type of work certain publishing houses were looking for. He found the workshop process to be inspiring and productive.
He said, “To me, it’s not a competition. To me, there is always room for another good book, or play, or work of art in general. Anything I can do to help somebody else get there, I want to because the world needs it.”
One particular group that assisted him in polishing his work was Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI, which has 20,000 members worldwide. About SCBWI, he said, “It is the most helpful group of dreamers I’ve ever met. Everyone is on their own path but working together. That was amazingly helpful.”
Richter’s advice for young writers who want to write a book but do not know where to start is to set aside time each day to write.
He said, “What you want to do is take a little bit of time each day. The minimum each day, 15 minutes, which is achievable. Don’t take away from school time or family time, or fishing time. If you take that time, 15 minutes a day, at only 20 words per minute, which everyone can do more than that. In that little sliver of time, in six months, that’s 45,000 words.”
Richter said that at first, he didn’t worry about grammar, spelling or phrasing. He just got the story down on a page and worried about editing it later. The next step for him after creating a word pileup was taking it to others to get a different perspective and to get help on removing pieces of the story that were unnecessary or didn’t fit.
One recent collaboration with a friend of his, who has been doing projects for Hallmark, helped him finalize a screenplay for his books. The plot of the screenplay will likely be a combination of “Lucky Rocks” and “Fishing For Luck.” It could function as a feature-length film or could be split into a series.
Richter is already working on his next book, which will be a nonfiction that will detail his experience with catching a fish in every county in Texas. The book will teach children the best methods for traveling and fishing and will share the lessons Richter learned along the way.
Richter recalled one fishing trip at Lake Granger with a friend of his who was fighting multiple illnesses and was in a wheelchair. The trip to the pier was difficult, but when they made it to the water, the people who approached Richter and his friend shared kindness, offered to give them bait and treated them with complete respect.
He noticed that when people were out on the water, they put their differences aside and bonded over their shared passion. This supportive atmosphere is one thing Richter hopes to convey in his next book.
A book that he set out to write to inform and entertain kids gained a greater purpose when he thought back on the many positive exchanges he had while fishing.
He said, “There is good out there. I can tell kids now, if you’re good, and you look for good, you’ll find it. It exists.”
He found that during the beginning of the pandemic, when loss of life brought negativity and dark times, the light in the world became more pressing to share.
“It has made that human compassion more impactful because it has always been there. I just think because of everything, it has made that a brighter thing,” he said.
Thinking back on his memories of fishing with his grandfather and uncles in Whitney, he enjoyed even the fishing trips when they didn’t catch any fish because during every trip, he absorbed stories and wisdom from the conversations he had with family and friends. He also acquired a greater appreciation for nature as he gazed at beautiful sunrises, sunsets and shooting stars.
Richter said, “Later fishing with my dad and brothers-in-law, the things I learned from them in just off-handed rabbit hole conversations, we never would’ve done that in front of the TV.”
“Lucky Rocks,” published in September 2014, was the winner of the 2017 Gertrude Warner Book Awards for Middle-Grade Readers, achieving First in Category at the Chanticleer International Book Awards. It also received the Silver Award in the 2019 Feathered Quill Book Awards Program for the Backlist – children’s and young adult category.
“Fishing For Luck,” published May 2021, is a Readers’ Choice Award – Best Children’s Book (7-10+) – Silver Award Winner, The BookLife Prize 2021 quarter finalist, Feathered Quill Book Awards Program Bronze Award Young Readers and Book Cover Design categories (both), The 2022 Gertrude Warner Book Award for Middle Grade Fiction – Short List and The 2022 Mark Twain Award – Short List.
To learn more about Richter or his books, visit murrayrichter.com or follow him on social media @mrichterauthor. Both “Lucky Rocks” and “Fishing For Luck” are available now on Amazon.