Danville Express

Column - August 24, 2007

Diablo Views: Killing off the competition

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Realtor Rob Rittenhouse had a lot of free time when he hosted open houses during last winter's real estate slump. So he pulled out his laptop as he waited for perspective homebuyers and let his imagination run wild. What if a Realtor were found dead after an open house? What procedures would the police follow? How would the unfortunate homeowners react? How would it affect other Realtors at subsequent open houses?

He had a plot for a murder mystery in his head, and he began to write, and rewrite, and call upon experts to help him get the facts right. He did historical research on the San Ramon Valley plus explored the field of self-publishing. And now his murder mystery - "Slain in San Ramon" - is in its second printing.

Rob, 60, said he's read a lot of mysteries, especially during his frequent traveling days when he did technical writing and sales training. He knows that good dialogue and strong characters are important. He centered the book on the homicide detective, calling it "A Chip Wellington Mystery." Chip is based on his son, Rob Jr., 33, a sergeant with the Berkeley Police Department, who just finished a stint as a homicide detective.

"He's a Type B person in a Type A role," Rob explained. All of which gives Wellington an engaging personality. And, lo and behold, Chip calls upon his father Mac, a Realtor, to help him go through the records of the murdered woman. This results in a bit of trouble for Mac, which I won't give away. Let's just say the two policemen assigned to protect him let their guard down for a minute, and it ain't good for ol' Mac.

Rob dedicated the book to his wife, Cal, and when he told me about their high school romance it all sounded a bit familiar. Rob is Mac! Or rather, Mac is Rob. Except in the book, Mac's loving wife has just died of cancer. But! he is beginning a romance with a woman named Annie, which happens to be Cal's middle name. The names used throughout the book will have meaning for Rob's friends and associates, just one more way he had fun with the twists and turns of writing a mystery. I found his descriptions of Blackhawk particularly interesting, as were his other Realtor insights.

He settled on WingSpan Press out of Livermore to publish his book, which let him pick and choose what parts of the process he wanted to do himself. Rob created the open house sign for the cover and took the photograph; he also sold two ads that run in the back to pay for the cost of the printing, around $1,000. After paying the publishing costs, Rob receives royalties as the book sells. Although the book is in its second printing, he modestly points out that each printing was only a couple hundred copies.

Rob said he now spends many hours at home in the evenings working on his next mystery, "Dead in Danville," which will be out in the fall. The body of someone from another area will be found in a vacant house in the west side of the town. This time, he has outlined the story, and he said the new book will be more narrative and rely less on descriptive phrasing. He added that his mystery writing has become more than a hobby; he wants to pursue it as a vocation and hopes to get better and better.

"I feel a responsibility to my readers to improve," he said, "but I think my characters were good." He plans to minimize Mac's role, although I hope he keeps us informed about his romance with Annie. He said the buyers and sellers in the real estate market provide him with an unlimited source of characters. And he has fun thinking of other titles to pursue: "Accident in Alamo"? "Wiped out in Walnut Creek"?

Rob will be selling and signing "Slain in San Ramon" tonight from 5-8 p.m. at a reception at the Danville Interior Design Gallery, 9000 Crow Canyon Road. Call 648-0100. Otherwise it's available for $14.95 at Amazon.com or by calling Rob at J. Rockcliff Realtors, 648-5377.

-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.


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