Rick and Sandra Dee Richardson are the types of individuals one instantly feels at ease with. Separately they are both equally warm and engaging, but it is their collaborative creative efforts that set them apart from the average married couple. To interview the two of them is to be in the presence of true love, and the inspirational effect they have on one another is immediately clear upon meeting the duo.
Sacramento Press had the privilege of doing just that at the couple’s book signing held outside of the Kennedy Art Gallery on Saturday for their recently released novel “Southern Secrets: Sins of the Past,” published by Outskirts Press.
Rick and Sandra (pen name Sandra Dee) met while Sandra was working as an event planner in San Francisco.
“Luckily this handsome gentleman showed up at one of the events,” said Sandra. “That was many years ago. We just fell in love.”
"Working with your spouse, when it’s good, it’s good. When it’s bad, it can be very trying at times," said Rick. "We always strive for the middle ground. She’s my harshest critic and biggest supporter."
The two have been working on their first novel for three years. Theirs is a work of historical fiction that melds the true stories of Rick’s ancestors with fictional elements.
As described on the book jacket, “ ‘Southern Secrets’ is a riveting fictional story based on true facts of the adventures of the last slaves brought to America. Almost fifty years after the importation of slaves was outlawed, a mysterious group of southern gentlemen made an unforgettable bet that would change the south forever. Strength, unity, and perseverance were crucial to the last slaves building their new lives in America. African-American history, American history, and African history take root in this spellbinding story.”
Rick Richardson hails from Mobile, Alabama. The book chronicles the last slaves brought to America on the Clotilda, the final slave ship, which docked in Mobile Bay.
“I talked to a lot of my relatives; a lot of it was passed down through the generations,” said Rick about his research for the novel. “I’d go fishing with my father and he’d tell me stories. I looked online to see if it was actually true and it said the last slave ship was called the Clotilda. My great-great grandmother was actually on that ship.”
“His father was the one who introduced him to the piece of the ship that was in Mobile Bay,” added Sandra, “but it’s gone now.”
Clifton Richardson is Rick’s 81-year-old father, and he too remembers the days spent fishing with his son amidst pieces of the ship’s wreckage. However it was the lessons of Clifton’s late grandfather, Philip Robinson, that formed his initial concepts of personal and African-American history.
“He was the greatest man I ever knew — worked eight hours a day, took care of the farm, and he was a preacher at two churches. He made his own wagon wheels and axles, an overall handyman and go-to guy,” said Clifton. “I was wondering how he could’ve done all that. I could have learned a lot from him, but I didn’t want to know. I was too young and stories of those days were too sad for me. I just didn’t want to know.”
When asked how he felt about his family’s history being woven into a fictitious novel, Clifton smiled before replying, “History is man-made. All history has a little bit of fiction in it. So I guess all this is okay with me.”
“We’re really focusing on getting kids to understand history and to know more about black history,” said Rick upon being asked his motivations for writing the novel. “The only way that can be done is if the older people share their stories and you know, you do your research.”
In addition to co-authoring their first novel, Sandra serves as president and Rick as vice president of the couple’s fledgling publishing company, Rich Books Inc.
“We knew we wanted to write, but there are so many people out there with so many stories and who want their story told, and a lot of people can’t afford the large publishing companies,” said Sandra regarding the decision to start their own company. “We decided okay, we’re pretty good writers and we’re really good editors. I’m a marketer and my daughter is a communications specialist. Let’s pull all of these talents together and start helping people, especially young people, who are very talented. Let’s go into the schools and help them learn more about history and at the same time learn how to write and put their stories into books. So we decided to start a publishing company.”
The couple has a nationwide book tour planned for the summer. Starting this fall they plan to use Rich Books Inc. to work with schools and inspire local youth to make the most of their creative talents as well as provide struggling writers a gateway into the publishing world.
Additionally the two are currently working together on a screenplay entitled, “Casino Royale.” Readers can also look forward to a sequel to “Southern Secrets” and a novel based on Sandra’s life story.
All of these efforts have a strong familial foundation. While Rick and Sandra are at the helm daughter Rachael Gallodoro handles public relations, and the couple’s son Julian Richardson is the graphic artist who created the video trailer for “Southern Secrets.”
“Thank you to the community for their support. We are overwhelmed,” said Sandra in closing. “And encourage kids to read. People are bored with reading but reading can open up your eyes to a lot of things. If people, especially children, are interested and they don’t have a way to put their writing into book form, contact us and we’ll be able to help you.”
“Everyone has a story to tell,” said Rick, “every one of us, so don’t be afraid to just start writing, and writing and writing. Tell your story.”