Warsaw author Richard Houston, a former NASA computer software engineer, created a mystery series featuring a Golden Retriever that is being noticed by eBook readers. “Letters to Die For” was purchased by 7,000 readers in one day, expanding the book’s recognition not only to Amazon and Barnes & Noble but also to the USA Today Best Seller list.
The book propelled him to No. 1 recently in the Barnes & Noble Top 100 Nook Books list, beating out “The Girl on the Train” written by Paula Hawkins listed as No. 2. He also made it to the top on Apple’s iBooks.
Houston said to help his series reach a larger audience he went “wide.” Going wide allows an author to make their book(s) available through many different sources, not one exclusively.
“I went wide and made it to the top of Barnes & Noble,” he said. “Not just in mysteries but overall. It’s like Andy Warhol said, 15 minutes of fame.”
Houston added that he took out a BookBub ad for his book also, and in return they sent out an email to more than 3.5 million people.
“Because of that ad I sold nearly 7,000 books in one day,” he noted.
He added that he always wanted to write and although he majored in math in college, he took English as a minor.
“I’ve been trying to write a book for 30 years,” he noted. “I’ve had so many creative writing classes I can’t even count them all, but I never got anywhere trying to write the great American novel. Then out of the blue I decided to write a mystery. Mysteries seem to fit me a lot better because of the logic involved.”
Houston said his first book, “A View to Die For,” was centered around the Truman Lake area. The others take place in Colorado. He is working on the fifth book, which will also feature the Warsaw area. Book No. 5 will be about modern-day Confederate grave robbers.
Before becoming a writer, Houston was a carpenter for 20 years, but he also took college classes during that time.
“Once I had my degree I went to work for NASA,” he said. “At first I worked with the Air Force on the Space Shuttle out in California, when they were going to launch out of Vandenberg (Air Force Base). But, that was cancelled and I went to work down in Johnson Space Center.”
Houston oversaw the CAD system, or computer-aided design, for compartment configuration drawings for the crew. He noted that he always wanted to live on the water and that eventually led him and his wife to Warsaw and the Truman Lake area.
“I started doing Internet searches and this seemed like a great place to live,” he said.
Living near the lake for the last 13 years has been good for Houston’s writing skills and it often helps with ideas for his books. Houston said he writes three to four hours a day and usually spends one hour blogging on Facebook.
Locals received his first book well because it was based in the Truman Lake area; he hopes they will be excited to learn his fifth book will feature the area again.
An animal lover, Houston, who lives with his wife, Cherie, and great-granddaughter, Samantha Blake, 14, on the Osage arm of Truman Lake, released his first book in 2012. The Houston household boasts a cat, Kit Kat, two dachshunds, Sweety and Noodle, and Oliver, a Golden Retriever mix.
The Houston’s Golden Retriever, Fred, who died in 2013, is the namesake for the dog in the family-friendly books, “A View to Die For,” “A Book to Die For,” “A Treasure to Die For” and “Letters to Die For.”
Houston said “A Treasure to Die For” is dedicated to Fred. In all of the books Fred solves the murder before protagonist Jake Martin. Martin is a “handyman” who is a “burned-out software engineer.” He is a reflection of Houston’s life, and Fred of course is Fred.
“These are sort of what they call a cozy mystery, in that Jake is not a private eye, he’s not a cop or a detective but for some reason like Jessica Fletcher (‘Murder She Wrote’) he always ends up being involved in a murder,” he said. “Fred tags along of course. Everywhere Jake goes, Fred goes. I always manage to work Fred into the story so that he’s in almost every scene, and in the end it’s usually Fred that does something to solve the crime.”
Houston said in real life Fred’s personality mirrored his mystery novel counterpart.
“He was the best dog,” he noted. “Unlike Ollie, who’s a little wild, Fred was just the best dog anybody could ask for. When I had my bypass, I was in bed for well over a week. Fred never left my side.”
Houston’s fifth book in his mystery series will also feature Fred and Jake. It will be published some time in 2017.
“The remarks I got from the locals, they really liked the local color … so my newest book will take place in the area again,” he said. “For any local readers who are wondering when I’m going to come back to Missouri, the next book will be in Missouri.”
For more information about Houston and his work visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/richard.houston.7737?fref=ts. Houston is available for speaking engagements; contact him at [email protected]
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.